Friday, May 29, 2009

Barefootin': Life Lessons on the Road to Freedom

Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom by Unita Blackwell

Unita Blackwell's story brought me to tears several times, and I would love to meet her and shake her hand.

She was born to poor cotton workers in Mayersville, Mississippi, and finished the 8th grade before going to work full time in the cotton fields. She picked and chopped cotton until she was in her mid-30s, when she was inspired to join the civil rights movement. She was raised by loving parents, with a good dose of "mother wit," such as:

"If you lie down with a dog, you'll get up with fleas."

"Don't lay it on the cow when the milk goes sour."

"A new broom sweeps clean, but the old one knows where the dirt is."

"Every shut eye ain't asleep, and every grinning mouth ain't happy."

"Wear life like a loose garment."

About six months after she had her son Jerry, Blackwell nearly died. In fact, she was pronounced dead but she came back to life. From that point on, she believed that she was not done on earth yet...and that she had work to do. She didn't go out looking for her life's purpose--but when it found her, she knew it was what she was meant to do.

She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and began fighting for the right of African-Americans to vote. It took Blackwell several efforts herself to register to vote. To say she was persistent and courageous is an understatement. She was arrested multiple times, beaten to a pulp (once in front of her son), assaulted and abused, and humiliated repeatedly. Blackwell makes the point that when she hears all about the torture Americans have inflicted on Iraqi prisoners, it feels strange to her because most people today--especially young people, and whites in general--"do not have any idea the price that ordinary black Missippians have paid...they don't know what kind of hell we went through...I can hardly bear, even now, 40 years later, to think about it."

In 1964, she was part of a group (with the famous and incredibly gutsy Fannie Lou Hamer) who went to the Democratic Convention. They represented the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and they fought to be seated as delegates at the convention. The "real" Mississippi Democratic delegates were planning to support Barry Goldwater instead of Lyndon Johnson. That was the year when southerners began to leave the Democratic party over race. Reading this book made me feel grossly uneducated, because I was never aware of this very important event in history. Fannie Lou Hamer made an impassioned speech to a congressional committee, appealing for their delegates to be seated. (That speech is what made her famous.) Learn about Hamer and this historical convention in this video:

In spite of all the hatred and prejudice Blackwell experienced, she clung to her faith and her belief in the inherent goodness of people. She turned her anger into compassion and worked to right the wrongs she saw. She wrote that "Even at my most angry I never hated white people. I hated the way I'd been treated and the way I was always having to look out for snakes and be uncertain and afraid. But I had grown to see that people can change. My faith became more steadfast as I saw people willing to open their minds and respect each other and work together. When that happens, there's almost no limit to the good that can be accomplished for the betterment of society."

About being part of a delegation that welcomed President Jimmy Carter to Mississippi: "A cotton-chopping, cotton-picking black child from Lula, Mississippi, raised up with absolutely nothing, who hadn't been allowed to vote, couldn't even look white people in the eye, had represented the state of Mississippi in welcoming the president of the United States to MY state."

Blackwell exhorts Americans to get involved, to become community organizers (my word, not hers). "A small group of abolitionists writing and speaking eventually led to the end of slavery. A few stirred-up women brought about women's voting...It's not the president or Congress that makes change happen. It's the people. Us. We are the movers. The president and Congress follow us."

The title of the book, "Barefootin'", refers to a song they used to hear in the juke houses and on the radio--it's about dancing one's way through life. Blackwell does that and more. She helped the people around her to dance too.

This is how she ends her book: "When you're barefootin' on the road to freedom, you have to watch and fight and pray. Watch the road so when you run up on a roadblock, you can cut a new path and go around. Watch the other fellow on the road and yourself as well. Fight for the right of way. Fight for the right to stay on the road. Fight to keep yourself open to understanding. Pray for the strength to finish what you started. And don't let nobody turn you around. You can do it. Your spirit is in your feet, and your feet can run free."

Blackwell's life and work are truly inspiring. I have googled Unita Blackwell, and sadly, she appears to be in the early stages of dementia. But I found this great video of her speaking last year, speaking about the civil rights movement:

Blackwell was a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. But I can only imagine how amazed and delighted she must have been when Obama won the election last November. How far we have yet to go, but how far we have come.

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The Wisdom of Moms and Dads

Since our NICU days, when we were thrown into a completely overwhelming, terrifying environment with no guidance or precedence, I've been a big believer in getting support from people who have had similar experiences. When Christopher was born at 24 weeks, we could find only ONE book on premature babies. It was called The Premature Baby Book, and it had been published several years before. It didn't even mention the possibility of a baby being born before 28 or 29 weeks. So here we were with a 1 pound, 6 oz baby, and we had nowhere to turn. He was the tiniest, sickest baby in the hospital until 1 month later, when two more 24-weekers appeared. You can be sure that we made connections with those families immediately.

Although we had amazing support from our family, friends, and work and church communities, no one on the outside could truly understand what we were going through. So the wisdom and support of other NICU graduate parents was absolutely critical for us. They were the ones who gave us the hope that we would actually leave the NICU with a baby in our arms. Similarly, when I experienced multiple miscarriages, the only reassurance I could find was to talk to other women who had experienced the same thing.

Ever since those experiences, whenever I've known anyone else who is going through a tough time in his or her life, I have encouraged them to seek out the support of others who know what they are going through. A community of shared experience helps us get through the tough times in our lives.

Every parent faces tough choices each day of our lives. Because every child is so different, no parenting book or one single advisor can help us figure out how to make the best choices for our kids. Mike and I have a whole shelf of parenting books in our study! But sometimes it's much faster just to do a search on the internet than to look through a stack of books.

Here's a site that could help in dealing with some of those tough decisions: (As a woman with a stay-at-home dad for a husband, I have to point out that the site name is not very inclusive.) It's a great resource for parenting questions. People can post questions about parenting (or many other issues), and the Mamapedia community will post their responses and suggestions. I searched the site on a number of topics, and each question came up with a hit. As is typical with web sites, some of the opinions are strident and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Next time I'm trying to figure out the best way to tackle one of my own parenting challenges, I will go to this site first to see if I can find any good suggestions. After all, it takes a village to raise a child!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Skinny Cows

Tonight we did another ice cream taste test for We sampled Skinny Cow ice cream products. Ice cream is always a popular event in our house!

We tried out two different products: Vanilla and Caramel Dippers (for my wheat-free hubby) and Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches. The kids and I have always loved ice cream sandwiches; in fact last week at Powell's I bought some ice cream sandwich molds so we could try to make some wheat-free ones ourselves.

The verdict on the dipper: Mike thought it was pretty good for a low-fat, low-calorie ice cream treat (one dipper is only 3 grams of fat and 80 calories). The kids seemed to like them a lot; both 6-year-old Kieran and 2-year-old Nicholas requested a second dipper!

Chris and I sampled the ice cream sandwiches, and we both enjoyed them. I love anything mint, and mint chocolate chip ice cream is one of my favorite flavors. The ice cream sandwiches were 140 calories and only 2 grams of fat. However, Christopher (who usually does not read labels!) informed me that they have high-fructose corn syrup in them. We try to avoid that when we can...but we are not hypervigilant about it. The dippers contained corn syrup, but not the high-fructose variety.

So the taste test was a happy success, although we would like Skinny Cow to find a way to make their ice cream sandwiches without high-fructose corn syrup. Then we'd be even more enthusiastic about buying them. The sandwiches were yummy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Drifting Apart

Today a coworker and I drove down to Salem to meet two former coworkers for lunch: one of them had left the firm and now works in Salem, and the other one retired.

I just got a nice instant message from the retired friend, who said she hates the thought that someday we might drift apart. I assured her that I rarely drift apart from anyone; they usually drift apart from me. The only thing that would cause me to drift apart from someone else is if the friend has done something that has hurt me, or if I feel that the person sucks me dry.

That prompted me to think about all the people who have passed in and out of my life over the years. I am typically the one who tries to stay in touch, even if not very regularly. We keep people on our Christmas card lists for years until they finally get struck off (if they haven't contacted us at all).

Our Christmas card list consists of old friends from school, college, or church, people we knew in Japan (mostly British people, for we found that many Japanese are not very good about maintaining contact), people we've met through our children's various schools, people we've known through participation in various groups, people we've met through the NICU experience (either staff or other parents), current or former coworkers of mine, and various other people we've met along life's way. We send a lot of Christmas cards, both snail mail and e-mail. We feel very fortunate to be a part of many vibrant communities.

As a young person, I was a voracious letter writer. I collected stationery, and I kept in touch with people far and wide. I even kept in touch with my all-time favorite teacher, Mrs. Pressman, until she stopped writing back a few years ago. I have no idea why. I've lost touch with some of my good friends from college, who just don't seem to make an effort. I was active in a women's group for several years and formed some close friendships. I've lost touch with nearly all those women now, not for lack of effort on my part.

I don't consider myself a paranoid person, but sometimes I wonder why some people do not work harder to stay in touch with me. Have I said or done something to offend them? Am I obnoxious? (Annette will get that joke...)

This happened with one friend living here in Portland. She suddenly just dropped her friends. I was not the only victim. I think it was connected to a new relationship she was in. Then out of the blue, a few years later, she invited me to have lunch with her. Throughout lunch, I was waiting for her to bring up her several-year silence. Nothing. She completely avoided the subject. I did too, because I wanted to see if she would bring it up. This was someone who came to visit me in the hospital when Christopher was born. She was a good friend, but not a close one. I still do not know what happened to that relationship.

Looking back at all the people in my life, I suppose it's expected that people have arrived in my life when I needed them and then others took their places when those people left. I am not lacking for friends or connections. But sometimes I do think of all of those missing people, the driftaways, and feel a sense of loss. Especially Mrs. Pressman, who I stayed in touch with for nearly 30 years.

Thank God for the people who have filled those gaps. Clearly, the ones who really matter never drift away.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Comments on Mom's Hair

"Mom, what happened to your hair?" said by Chris as I returned home this evening.

"Mom, your hair is yellow!" said by 6-year-old Kieran, followed by assurances that he in fact liked it...

Today I went to the hairdresser for a haircut and weave. I cannot believe that I spend $140 about every 9 months to color my hair (and have it cut at the same time). I am usually loathe to spend money on beauty products or other vanity-related services.

I've never had a salon perm--for years I had my mom give me home perms. Nowadays I opt for coloring my hair rather than having it permed. At least the color covers the gray hairs I have acquired (unlike the curl).

When I read my favorite More magazine, I'm horrified to read about the vast numbers of women who spend a fortune on botox and plastic surgery. So part of me feels guilty about spending money on my hair.

My parents go to a very inexpensive beauty salon and each get their hair cut for around $20. (I'm sure I have that price wrong...but whatever the price, it's way less expensive than most salons!!) So sometimes I feel guilty that I spend so much more on my hair than they do.

However, after having a few bad haircuts in my time (usually at less-expensive salons), I've finally decided that I need to bite the bullet and pay for quality. A year ago, I even tried a different hair salon in Multnomah Village, but it took only one haircut to send me back to my hairdresser. Mike, in the meantime, would never think about trying anyone else. He's 100% loyal...a very fine trait to have in a husband!

I have to admit, as I'm sitting under the hair dryer sipping a glass of Pinot Gris, I feel a slight bit pampered. Mike pointed out that our hairdresser has never offered him a glass of wine! But he's never stayed at the salon for more than 20 minutes either. Hairdressers probably make all their profit cutting men's hair!

My hair isn't yellow, by the way. It's got goldish-red highlights woven into my brown hair. Expensive highlights. But after all, I'm worth it. (Haha.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Where Did the Weekend Go?

We were planning to have our friends visit from Idaho over Memorial Day weekend...but sadly, they called us on Friday with the news that they had gotten sick and were unable to make it. We were disappointed, but we regrouped and decided to make the most out of a three-day weekend at home.

Friday night after the kids settled down Mike and I went downstairs to watch a movie, "Joe versus the Volcano," which is apparently a cult classic. I thought it was a bit odd, and Mike slept through much of it... Halfway through the movie, Chris ran downstairs to tell us that we had forgotten that he and Mike were supposed to go to "The Hobbit" that evening at Northwest Children's Theater! We have never forgotten a play before.

Saturday morning we hit the farmer's market to buy more plant starts and veggies, and then we went to Powell's for Chris to spend his gift certificate. Kieran bought some Harry Potter poster books with his allowance, and Nicholas got a Curious George coloring book. That evening I made huevos rancheros with the freshly bought veggies, eggs, and corn tortillas. Yummy!!
Sunday we went to church and I ran some errands afterward: Michael's to make some returns, and the supermarket and liquor store for ingredients for dinner and gin. Of course, when I returned home I discovered we already had half of a large bottle of gin left over. But now we are stocked for the summer for G&Ts.

Our friends who were going to visit from Idaho had planned to see "The Hobbit" on Sunday afternoon, so we called them on Saturday morning and asked if we could use their tickets. Kieran lucked out, because he had been very disappointed that he was not going to be attending (we bought two tickets for a number of shows and were alternating between Chris and Kieran). So on Sunday afternoon Mike took Chris and Kieran to see "The Hobbit," along with another friend and her son. Kieran in particular loved the play, and it has become his latest obsession. (Thank you, Mary, Shelia, and Ken!)

In the meantime, I stayed home with Nicholas to clean the house and prepare to have friends over for dinner. Dinner was grilled halibut (hot dogs for the kids); pasta with sauteed tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives; lemon broccoli almandine; garlic bread; and strawberries in chocolate for dessert. I'd never made strawberries in chocolate before...and it will certainly not be the last time I make them!! Yum.

After dinner Kieran and Sophie entertained us with a reenactment of "The Hobbit"--Chris and Mike were recruited to play additional roles. (Kieran, of course, was Bilbo Baggins.) Here is the cast hamming it up after the play was over:

Today we hit the Multnomah County Fair at Oaks Park with our friends Lynn, Jolie, Max, and Nico. The fair is a sad shadow of the more agricultural animals displayed except for a few rabbits, and lots of exhibitor booths. But beautiful Oaks Park is always's one of the country's oldest amusement parks and right on the river, full of wonderful old oak trees and lots of shade.
The first big disappointment of the day was to discover that "The Screaming Eagle," my all-time favorite ride there, was down. It had been hit in a windstorm a few weeks ago, and they don't have any estimated time for it to be up and running. Bummer!
The other great thing about Oaks Park is the affordability aspect. Admission to the park is FREE. Basic ride bracelets are $11.75, and deluxe ride bracelets are $14.75 for all day. Compare that to the Rose Festival Waterfront Village (also going on right now), where it costs $5/per person for everyone over age 7. Then the rides are several dollars per ride!
I rode on some of the higher-level rides with Lynn and Nico (the thrill seeker!)...the Disko and the looping roller we are, getting ready to ride:
Kieran went on the scrambler with me, but decided he would wait to go on it again until he turns 7! Chris accompanied me on the Tilt-a-Whirl a few times (one of my all-time favorites)...but most of the day he was at the Guitar Hero tent or trying to get back to the tent! (That's why we have hardly any photos of him!)
Nicholas also enjoyed the kiddie rides, carrousel, big slide, and train, and for a 2-year-old, he was quite brave! Our other boys would not have been this adventurous at age 2. I'm sure it helps that he has two older brothers...have to keep up with them!

This motorcycle ride was really annoying to stand near, because each motorcycle had an obnoxious buzzer/horn on it!

He loved this one!

Kieran loves the Frog Hopper, and Mike said he was laughing and joking a lot with the boy in the middle.
We were all tired out from the day--it was hot and we are Oregon weather wimps--and all the walking around. Nicholas, of course, fell asleep on the way home. When I brought him into the house, I stood him on his feet so he would wake up. When I returned to the bedroom, he was standing on his feet, leaning on the bed. He would occasionally start to fall over and jolt himself awake, only to put his head down on the bed again! So cute!

Tonight we had popcorn for dinner and gave the boys baths. I can't believe the whole weekend is gone already. Can I have another one?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Battle of the Books

The Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program designed for grades 3 through 12. Chris participated in elementary school as part of a team with other kids. They split up the books and then battled it out in a school-wide tournament.

The middle school also participates in the Battle of the Books, but they do it in a more unique, focused way. Chris' block (literature-writing-social studies) teacher encouraged the kids in her class to read some of the books on the list. Then she gave a quiz to all the kids to test their knowledge of the books. The kids in the class who got the top four scores were chosen to represent the block class in the "battle" against other 6th grade block classes. Chris got half of the questions right (he had read about half of the books at that point), but he was in the top four.

In the past few months, he's plowed through most of the other books (he only missed two books on the list). We are delighted because he's been reading high-quality literature as opposed to the biographies of "wrestlers" he seems to be drawn to at the moment!! (His latest obsession, to our chagrin, is WWE wrestling...) The 6th grade block students also participated in writing the questions to be used in the quiz.

We were delighted when he came home from school today with the announcement that his class team had won the battle! They were up against the other 6th-grade block teams in the afternoon. He won a $10 Powell's gift certificate and a $5 Starbucks gift certificate! Needless to say, he was thrilled. I had him go through some of his books and select some to take back to Powell's, so he also has another $24 to spent there. I'm sure a trip to Powell's is in store for this weekend!

Mike and I both dearly wish we had been able to participate in "Battle of the Books" when we were kids. Both of us, bookworms, would have been in our element! I remember winning a poetry recititation contest in sixth grade...and being a speech team geek in high school...but beyond those two things, I don't remember there being very many opportunities for competitive "geeking" when I was a kid! :)

These are the books the team members read for the battle:

A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray, by Ann M. Martin
Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett
Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy, by Jenny Nimmo (this was one he didn't get to)
Indigo's Star, by Hilary McKay
A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck (and this is the other one)
Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau
Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
Crispin, by Avi
Stargirl, by Jerri Spinelli
Flush, by Carl Hiassen
Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
Coraline, by Neil Gaman
Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
Bat 6, by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
Ghost of Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen

We toasted Chris at dinner tonight. It's so exciting for him to get the opportunity to compete in reading prowess!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blessings on a Monday Morning

This morning before backing out of our garage, I looked behind me as I always do.

But for some reason, I was distracted...or tired...or something.

Mike had jury duty (or as they call it now, "jury service) today, and my mom was watching the boys for us. He does the usual morning routine when he's here. I had a busy day ahead of me at work. I must not have been very focused.

As I backed out into the street, I heard a sickening "CRUNCH!"

After emitting an expletive starting with S, I got out of my car and went out to apologize profusely.

The woman, who apparently lived down the street, was very sweet about doubt made easier by the fact that there appeared to be no damage to either car. Both Subarus...perhaps they were well matched (one not being bigger than the other). She even gave me a half-hug!

It shook me up, to be sure, but I had forgotten about it a few hours later. I even forgot to mention it when I checked in with my mom later, and almost forgot to mention it to Mike (who fortunately did not get put on a jury!).

But I don't want to forget. It was a wonderful gift, an unexpected blessing...telling me to slow down, take a deep breath, and stop hurrying through my life.

Well, All I Can Say Is...It's About Damn Time!

The Obama administration plans to propose the first-ever national emission limits for cars and trucks. I don't buy the argument that it will cost consumers an extra $1,300 per vehicle...if Americans didn't have to buy brand new and shiny, enormous gas-guzzling SUVs, we might already be there.

I for one am glad to see some leadership on this issue, at last!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Music and Swimming

Spring Music Concert

Tuesday night was the spring music concert at the middle school. Nearly half of the school population is enrolled in band, choir, or orchestra. This seems astonishing to me! Is that normal for a middle school? The music teacher is very popular and obviously talented. I don't remember music being so popular when I was in junior high school or high school. It's great! (Although similar to my school experience, orchestra is WAY less popular than band--the orchestra had only three kids in it, and only one of them was any good!)

Chris did an excellent job with his drumming. I commented to Mike that when your kid is a drummer, it's really quite easy to pick out his playing in the band! (And clearly, it would be easy to pick out any mistakes he were to make as well!) I actually think all that time spent playing drums on Wii Rock Band has improved his drumming a great deal (and band doesn't hurt either!).

My mom, too, was a drummer. I never really thought about what a maverick she must have been back in the 1950s until I read A Girl Named Zippy, about life in small-town Indiana. Zippy was slightly younger than me, but when she told the music teacher she wanted to play drums, he said "Girls don't play drums." It had never really occurred to me what an unusual choice this must have been for my mom when she was in school. She expanded beyond the drums to play the marimba, and even though she doesn't play any more, I have fond memories of hearing her play--she was astonishingly good!

Swimming Lessons

In an amazing feat of time management prowess, Mike has once again gotten all three boys enrolled in swimming lessons at the same time. We used to trade off going into the pool with Nicholas, but I found the water to be so cold I wasn't really enjoying it I asked Mike if he minded going in the pool instead. He doesn't seem to. Chris is in the lap pool, while the younger ones are in the kids' pool, so I spend my time swiveling back and forth watching them.

We had them out of lessons for 6 months, so when they learned we were restarting, both Kieran and Chris complained bitterly. This is the first time Chris has complained about swimming, but we finally dragged it out of him--the last time he took swimming, a girl at his school was in his swimming class, and she had something of a crush on him. It's a long story, but he was afraid that she would be there again. Chris is focusing on improving his strokes--he has become a solid swimmer--he probably should be on swim team or something like that. But lessons are easier!

Kieran, for his part, was afraid of doing bobs. But by the end of the first lesson, they were both fine and are enjoying it. And bobs are getting easier every day.

Nicholas is loving it most of all! That boy seriously loves the water. He decided to wear his sunglasses today, because he wanted to wear goggles like his big brothers!

The Kieran Firebolt

We are in the middle of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Kieran. Chris loved Harry Potter, too, especially because he has an amazing resemblance to him, glasses and scar and all, but Kieran, with his tendency to go hog wild over things, is obsessed, plain and simple. Chris lost a little bit of steam during Book 4 before he got back into it--it's really the turning point book, when things become much darker and more complicated--but Kieran shows not sign of slowing down. I have a feeling we'll be plowing through all of them until we get to Book 7.

He desperately wanted to buy some Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, which I discovered from an internet search are no longer being made. You can purchase a 3-ounce package for about $9.90 online, plus $9.00 shipping! Highway robbery!! I did discover that Jelly Belly now has another variety called "Bamboozled," which are similar in nature...and I found a location they are sold locally and bought him a 1.6-ounce package for $3.99. (His allowance!) He was THRILLED! I still think it's a complete sham to charge $3.99 for 1.6 ounces of jelly beans!

Today Mike and the boys came to meet me for lunch, and Mike told me that Kieran wants to give another little boy in his kindergarten class (NOT one of his favorites) a howler! He wrote a letter and wanted to make a tape recording of him screaming to go along with it. He was not pleased when Mike told him this would not be appropriate.

When I came home from work, Kieran proudly presented me with his newest creation: a Firebolt broom! They were at the park near the Hillsdale Library, and Kieran discovered some long pine needles. He collected a bunch, plus a long stick, and add a bit of tape and voila! He created a broom. This kid will never stop surprising me. Thank God he has come up with a less-expensive option than the $200 brooms he found in a Harry Potter catalog and was determined to obtain!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eight Things...Times Four!

Eight things to which I am looking forward

1. Taking my first romantic overnight trip with Mike since Nicholas was born…Sylvia Beach Hotel, here we come! (I’m hoping for June!)

2. Going to Holden Village at the end of June with a large group from our church, including my parents and sister and family, and Shelia, Ken, and family from Idaho!

3. Having my friend Kristin and her family move back to Oregon from Wisconsin!

4. Growing our vegetables in our new raised beds--and eating garden-fresh tomatoes and basil!

5. Having the study really, finally clean, and the rest of the house decluttered and organized

6. Nicholas sleeping through the night at last!

7. Taking another trip at the end of the summer—hopefully to Toronto

8. Coming home every day to be greeted at the door with shouts of “Mama!” and big bear hugs

Eight things I did yesterday

1. Went to work, where I sat on lots of conference calls

2. Wrote, edited, and commented

3. Talked to a coworker who moved from Portland to Boise a few years ago—miss you, Amy!

4. Took Chris to an open house for a middle school summer program he’s going to in July

5. Took Chris out for pizza and argued with him about whether I was going to buy him two pieces or not

6. Listened to Chris’ middle school band and choir concert

7. Had Nicholas fall asleep in my lap at said concert

8. Spent too much time on Facebook last night—waste of an evening!

Eight things I would like to do

1. Finish cleaning and organizing our house; also paint and refurbish our house

2. Take a year off and travel with the family--back to Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, and Hong Kong, and also to Australia, Italy, and Spain!

3. Have Mike become a published writer

4. Become a published writer myself, perhaps someday

5. Improve at the mandolin and guitar

6. Be more organized in my life and parenting

7. Live each moment more fully and in the present—not taking things for granted and running on autopilot

8. Make most of the gifts I give to other people

Eight shows I watch—I only follow five, really…

1. Brothers and Sisters

2. Ugly Betty

3. Flight of the Conchords

4. Occasionally, American Idol (but not this season…haven’t gotten into it) and America’s Got Talent

5. ER (until now, since it’s over)

And now I’m supposed to tag other people to have them do this same “eight things,” but I’m going to be lazy like my friend Kristin—who inspired me to do this…so if you see this, and it appeals to you, go forth and write!!

And now I must go down and work on the study, so that tonight is not wasted on the computer like last night!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Little Peter Pan Who Doesn't Want to Grow Up

Said by Mike today when changing Master Nicholas' diaper:
"Soon you will go pee and poop in the potty and wear big boy underwear."

The two-year-old's response:
"I hope not!"

The new bed transition also continues to be bothersome for Nicholas. Tonight when I was putting him to bed, he said "I want my little bed!" (as he refers to a sleeping bag on the floor). I told him it was time for him to sleep in a big boy bed, but he was not convinced. We are hoping that things will improve soon. He's not sleeping very well, and neither is Mike (who is tending to him at night). My joint pain flareups from Fifth Disease seem to be the worst in the middle of the night, so we are a pathetic bunch!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothering Weekend

In the UK, they celebrate "Mothering Sunday" instead of Mother's Day...I think I like that term better, because it's more inclusive in tone and considers other women in our lives who mother us. I have been mothered by so many amazing women, including my own phenomenal mother.

I had a wonderful "Mothering Weekend," making me grateful for my special friends and family.

1. Old Friends. On Friday, I met some very dear friends for lunch, Kristin and Catherine. We got to know each other because all three of us had preemies. Catherine's son, Parker, was born four months after Christopher was; he was a 23-weeker who lived for only 1 week. In spite of their tragic loss, Catherine and her husband Doug dedicated themselves to honoring Parker's memory by volunteering for years to support other families who were going through the NICU experience. I have never seen anything so selfless or inspirational as this amazing couple. They live in Tualatin, but our lives do not intersect often enough. It is one of the great regrets of my past few years that we do not see them more often!

Kristin and I became close friends through being co-presidents of the nonprofit parent support group, Precious Beginnings. Kristin and her husband Roger had preemie twin girls, Aimee and Olivia. Olivia did not survive. Aimee is now nearly 10 and is a beautiful, creative, and loving child. Kristin and Roger moved to Wisconsin nearly four years ago, much to my deep sadness. They also have a boy, Jonah, around Kieran's age. They are preparing to return to Oregon, and I'm thrilled (but will not believe it until they arrive back for good). They came to Oregon this week to look for housing, schools, and employment for Kristin. So on Friday, the three of us had lunch...and it was so wonderful to see both of them again. They are those rare types of friends with whom it seems that no time has passed at just pick up where you left off. I love that.

I was amazed that it has been nearly four years since Kristin left Portland, and this was a huge wake-up call to me that LIFE IS PASSING WAY TOO QUICKLY!!! I need to pay more attention and not take things for granted!

2. Dance Party Bust. Friday night was the Maplewood School Dance Party, to which we were all looking forward. However, Kieran is going through his grumpy end-of-kindergarten phase, so he refused to dance. Chris was disappointed he didn't know more kids there, and Nicholas would dance only if we were holding him (which we could do until our arms got too tired). In general, it was a bust. But when we got home, we put on some Beatles and danced in the living room...

3. Room Changeover. This weekend we transported some bunk beds we got for the younger boys and did the big room changeover. We have two upstairs bedrooms, and we moved Chris to the smaller one and Nicholas and Kieran to the bigger one with their new bunk beds. Chris was initially unhappy about giving up his room but seems to have adjusted well; he is an incredibly resilient kid. Kieran is thrilled with the arrangement--he has the top bunk and has now acquired a desk as well--but Nicholas is less happy. I will not go into our complicated sleeping arrangements in this post, but suffice it to say that we are going through a transition!

We are still in the midst of swapping possessions between the rooms and going through all the books and other stuff the boys (mostly Chris) have accumulated.

4. Baby Shower. I highly recommend going to a baby shower on "Mothering Weekend," because seeing the joyful anticipation of new parents cannot fail to remind you of how excited you once were to greet your precious bundle. And how quickly time passes! How tiny those little clothes many gadgets are "essential" for newborns (ha!) naive you are about what you are in quickly time passes (again). And for me, to whom mothering did not come easily, how especially precious baby showers are for parents who have extra-special anticipation of their babies, because of difficulties. It was wonderful to celebrate with them!

With the monkey that came from the Costa Rica abiding grandparents!

Comparing tummies...

My little babies--grown up!

Kieran and Nicholas posing with Kieran's garden gnome, which he bought specially with his grandma on their Fred Meyer gardening shopping trip--posing like a gnome!

He has to be like his big bro--notice the skinned knees? It's shorts weather!

5. Women's Meal Out. For the past several years, my sister and I have had a tradition of taking my mom out for brunch or lunch the day before Mother's Day. This year it was dinner because of scheduling issues. We had a late-night dinner at JoPa, and it was too short, but a very nice time!

6. Emotional Church Service. Our church community, Mission of Atonement, has a tradition for Mother's and Father's Day, whereby three people get up and talk about their mothers (or fathers). There is rarely a dry eye in the place. In addition to baptisms, these are my favorite Sundays in the whole year at church. Today three people spoke: a mid-20s son of a wonderful Irish woman who is a social worker who works with parents at risk; an 8-year-old girl who shared thoughts about why she loves her mom and grandma; and a late-20s young woman who talked about her mom. None of the moms knew that their children were going to be speaking today before they arrived! They were really amazing.

7. Brunch at Grandma and Grandpa's. The men in the family made brunch for us, and they did an excellent job--sweet rolls, a Mexican egg dish, fruit salad, lettuce salad, and homemade baked beans. Yum! I got a beautiful hanging basket, a cookbook by the kindergarteners in Kieran's class (of recipes their moms make--hilarious!), some coffee from Costa Rica, and some beautiful jewelry.

Me and my sweet boys

The three moms

The little boys table at brunch

8. Margarita candles. This was my Mother's Day project: margarita candles, made over several evenings. It was a fun project, but turned out to be rather time consuming...and I realized that I'm not a candle-making expert...I've only done it once before! I was pleased with the end product, but am always a slight bit critical because of the imperfections...

9. Quiet Evening. After our big brunch, none of us were very hungry, so it was a popcorn and cheese night. I listened to Kieran do some reading, played trains with Nicholas, and did some more cleaning in their rooms. Then it was an early night for Nicholas because of his bad night last night. And now, blogging and more cleaning!

10. Contentment.
Before I began this blog post, I read the guest book on CaringBridge of a family whose 21-year-old son was in a horrible accident and is a quadraplegic. I don't know them; they are future in-laws of a coworker. It was a complete freak accident, and this vibrant young man's life (as he knew it) was cut tragically short. The rehab place where he is at has essentially declared him "unrehabilitable." They are preparing to take him home and do their best with him on their own. Talk about an amazing wake-up call. I feel so lucky to have my beautiful sons--they are loving, spirited, energetic, lively, and sweet. They love their parents and express that frequently. I strive to remind myself of this daily. I don't ever want to take them for granted.
Tonight as I was nursing Nicholas before bed, I had a brief sentimental surge...he's in a "big boy bed," and I will not be nursing him much longer. He is no longer a baby. Even though I thought I was done with Kieran, I've been so lucky to have this one last miracle child. I want to savor every moment of his sweet toddlerhood. Time passes so quickly. I am very lucky.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fifth Disease

A couple of weekends ago, I started to experience quite a lot of pain in my hands and feet. At first I thought I had arthritis (my mom has it), or then my mind leapt to all sorts of worse-case scenarios like lupus. I blame Mike for this tendency to think the worst when I feel under the weather! (Love ya, honey!)

This tendency is not helped by the fact that as I'm getting older, more people I know are developing serious illnesses. Last year a guy I know--in his 30s--developed multiple sclerosis. Last month, the husband of a dear friend of mine had a tumor (the size of a golf ball) removed from his brain. He's not yet 40. A number of friends and relatives have survived breast, colon, and other forms of cancer. Shit happens. Hence my tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario (guess it's not all my DH's fault...).

The Monday after the aforementioned pain began, Mike took Kieran to school. He had unusually pink cheeks, but our children also seem to have sensitive skin, so that's what we thought it was. Fifth Disease (also known as "Slapped Cheek") had been going around the school. His teacher sent him to the nurse, who diagnosed it immediately. While there, Mike was talking to some other parents whose children had been through the Fifth Disease routine, and one mom told him that she had gotten it too, and it manifests itself in adults as horrible joint pain and swelling.

Bingo. When he came home and told me this, I was actually relieved! By the time the symptoms appear, you are no longer contagious. It's not dangerous to anyone except for pregnant women (during the incubation period, that is), and I had not been around any pregnant women.

The bummer about it is that in older kids and adults, it can last for weeks to years! Nicholas also has it, and we've noticed the lacy red rash coming and going on both kids' skin. The joint pain flares up frequently and chronically, and I'm getting tired of it. It makes me feel like an old lady! Ibuprofen helps some. My hands, arms, knees, feet, neck, and toes hurt frequently.

But as I was discussing with friends today (one of whom will turn 50 next month), 50 is better than the alternative. With so many people facing crises, complaining about growing older (or having Fifth Disease) is pretty insignificant.

So now that I've done my complaining, I'll shut up about my joint pain...and just be glad it's not arthritis or lupus, which wouldn't go away...

100,000 Playspaces in 100 Days

KaBOOM! is a new web site that rates fun, safe, and accessible playgrounds around the country for kids. I found out about it through They are attempting to add and rate 100,000 play areas for children around the country. I added the Multnomah Arts Center as one contribution today...and after I take some photos at some more area playgrounds, I'll add those as well. It's going to be a wonderful resource for travel--we have a good idea of the parks and playgrounds around the Portland area, but it's not as easy to know about those things when we go out of town. Looks like it will be a great resource--check it out!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fiction Becomes Life: Sidney Poitier Predicted Obama's Election

In this scene from the great classic film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (I love Katharine Hepburn!), Sidney Poitier discusses the prospect of his biracial children someday becoming President or at least Secretary of State. Forty years ago. I'm sure it was a radical notion in 1967 to voice this in a film. E-mail subscribers will need to go directly to the blog to view the video.

Stirring Things Up

This morning I grabbed two black trouser socks out of my drawer.

When I put them on, I realized that one of them had snowflakes on them and the other one was striped.

I began to take them off, and then I thought about Kieran. He LOVES to wear mismatched socks, and just the other day I put mismatched socks on Nicholas as well (one Tinky Winky, and the other James of Thomas the Tank Engine fame).

So why not me as well? Adults don't wear mismatched socks.

Why not?

And who the hell would notice my stockings anyway??? I felt incredibly daring as I pulled them back on.

A coworker told me today that she read about a Scottish philosopher who, every so often, decided to write with his left hand for a keep his mind sharp.

I've decided that would be a good topic for a book...unless one has already been written. What do you think?

100 Ways to Wake Up Your Mind and Shake Up Your Life!

Would you buy it?

The Next Musical Theater Star

Kieran's kindergarten class does not have a regular Show and Tell. I think the kindergarten teachers at his school concluded that it would take away from actual learning time, and they have so little time with the kids and so much curriculum to cover as it is.

But after months of the kids asking for Show and Tell, his teacher has opted to have a one-time event. We received a notice asking that the children refrain from bringing toys. Kieran's first idea was to make a booklet with photos he had taken of various possessions (many of them having to do with his current obsession, Harry Potter). Then he decided to take his new rose.

(Aside: I took Kieran to Michael's on Sunday to spend the Michael's gift card he received from his aunt, uncle, and cousins for his birthday. This is one of Kieran's favorite things to do--be given a budget to spend at a store! He's very committed to sticking within the budget. At Michael's, he ended up getting all sorts of things, such as a white t-shirt [not to be painted, but so that he could be a "white rabbit"], a package of pipe cleaners, a package of gold bells, a mirror, glow sticks, and a rose [because Bye Bye Birdie character Rosie does a dance with a rose]. Upon returning home, he strung the bells on a pipe cleaner to make jingle bells and glued the mirror to the top of the toy chest, with ribbons around it--for a face paint mirror!)

Back to Show and Tell...When he called me up at work the other day to let me know what he had decided, I suggested that he also take his Bye Bye Birdie program with all the cast autographs. He was delighted at this idea, and he announced that he would also sing a Bye Bye Birdie song!

So this morning was the big event. He told Mike that he would be doing "The Telephone Hour," because that was his "best song." Mike e-mailed his teacher to see how he did, and this was her reply:

Hi Michael,
Kieran did a great job. He showed us the program and flower, announced he would now be performing a song, and burst into his song. He was great! He did all the motions and everything. We were all very impressed and gave him a big round of applause. I wish you could have seen him!

That boy is just a crackup. Yesterday we started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and as I finished the first chapter (during which the caretaker of the Riddle house is murdered by Voldemort), I commented that this book is much darker than the first three, and I hoped it wouldn't be too scary for him. He had a look of delight in his eye, and he said "I love it!" Go figure.

I am so thankful to have these guys to keep life light!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bye Bye, Bye Bye Birdie!

The third and final performance of "Bye Bye Birdie" was yesterday afternoon, and now life can return back to normal. Chris is very sad about it ending. I think it was great for him to be part of a team working to do something big and successful. On the other hand, we're happy to see a bit more of him now!

Here are some more show photos...

The screaming Bye Bye Birdie groupies (and boy, could they scream!)
Conrad, after getting slugged by Hugo, on the Ed Sullivan show (Chris is in the middle in a black t-shirt--he was the "sound man" during this scene)
Albert and Rosie taking their bows (Chris in left corner)
The leads--Albert (Austin), Conrad (Alex), and Rosie (Paige)

Maureen and Mike at the cast party (Maureen was one of the co-producers)

The cake for the cast party
Signing posters at the cast party (Chris in the middle)
Chris with one of the leads (Austin, who played Alex), and a crew member
The talented and motivational director Andrea White with Chris

Chris posing with the musical director, Andrew Bray
The two #1 fans of Bye Bye Birdie (not only did we attend all three performances and the dress rehearsal, but we also saw BBB at Cleveland High School last month, and the kids have watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack numerous times) I found them playing the bongos and wearing their sunglasses, and singing Bye Bye Birdie songs at the top of their lungs! (Don't worry, Mom and Dad, we got video too!)

Nicholas kept requesting the song "Kids!"

Of course, they know all the lyrics!
When I was waiting in line yesterday before the show, I was discussing the nature of "Bye Bye Birdie" with a woman whose friend was playing in the orchestra. She described it as satire, and I guess that's one way to look at it. I told her that I imagined that it wasn't satire in 1962, but perhaps it was. Rosie's dream is to be "Mrs. Albert Peterson, the English Teacher's Wife." However, Rosie is clearly the strongest character in the story. In the end, she gets Albert, but we all know who will be in control of things in their household, even if he proclaims that he is the man, and she is the woman. When it comes to musical theater, the best way to enjoy it is to suspend reality and just enjoy the music, I suppose!