Friday, November 27, 2009

The Blind Leading the Blind

This video speaks for itself. Sarah Palin's followers see even more mis-informed and disengaged than she does. Clearly, her personality and all-American mentality are what attract people to's certainly not any confidence or interest in her policies or anything specific she believes in.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why Aren't We Thankful Like This Every Day?

For the past few weeks, several people on Facebook have been writing one item a day for which they are thankful. It's been a wonderful way to stop and think about our lives and express our gratitude. When I was a child, our church used to have services on Thanksgiving. I loved that service, because when we arrived, we were each given an index card, on which we wrote things we were thankful for. The sermon consisted of the pastor reading all the cards...a random collection of thanks. Loved it.

So here, in one collective space, are the items I've been writing on Facebook. I'm including them in the order I wrote them; however, the order is random and not related to my thankfulness!

11/9: Every day until Thanksgiving, think of one thing you are thankful for and post it as your status. If you are up to it, repost this message to invite others to take the challenge, then post what YOU are thankful for today.

Today I am thankful to have a home (Kieran said it would be fun to live in our car, which led into a discussion about the homeless and how unfun it would be to live in a car...)

11/10: Today I am thankful for my Mr. Wonderful. I met him nearly 23 years ago and he asked me to marry him 20 years ago (in September). How did I ever get so lucky? Every day I feel supremely blessed to share my life and family with him!

11/11: Today I am thankful for the safe arrival of my mother-in-law, even though she had to sacrifice our 1.5-liter bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream to the gods of Homeland Security. (She got it on her Heathrow-SFO flight, and she had to go through Security again in SFO--and they wouldn't let her take it on. Guess she looked like a Bailey's bomb terrorist!) Poor Bailey's!!

11/12: Today I am thankful for my 1-pound, 13-oz, tiny miracle baby...who is now 13 and taller than me, and tells me that I am the best mom in the world and he loves me, every single day!

11/13: Today I am thankful for my second miracle baby, who finally appeared after four miscarriages and a very nervous pregnancy...and who is now a creative, sensitive, energetic, and sweet 6-year-old bright spark!

11/14: Today I am thankful for my third miracle boy: who gave me the shock of my life by announcing his existence when I was 41, pre-urologist appointment, after we had tried SO hard to get and stay pregnant before, and we were done with babies. Every day he makes me laugh out loud repeatedly. Our family would never have been complete without him!

11/15: Today I am thankful I live in an industrialized country with the benefit of medical technology. I was born with a cleft lip and palate, and in many developing countries these birth defects are never corrected. Also, if Chris had been born as a 24-weeker even 5 years before he was, he probably would not have survived. Medical technology has helped both of us live normal lives.

11/16: Today I am thankful I was born to AMAZING parents, who not only delighted in me when I was born with 3 birth defects (also a club foot), but also raised me to believe in peace, justice, and a loving God. They taught me that I could be whatever I wanted to be and waved me off to Japan at 21, and my sister to China a few weeks later (at 19), and neither of us had left the U.S. before. Man, that must have been hard!!

11/17: Today I am thankful that I can use my English degree every day. I get paid to write, edit, and create things; work with highly talented, nice people (most of them, anyway); and work flexible a company whose stock just went up 14%...

11/18: Today I'm thankful for wonderful, glorious books...that take us to amazing new worlds and introduce us to fascinating people. I'm in the middle of Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge at the moment--and loving it. And thanks to my great English professors at PLU, one of whom is a Facebook friend--Dr. Dennis Martin, as well as Drs. Chuck Bergman, Tom Campbell, Audrey Eyler, etc., who encouraged me as a book lover and a writer...and urged me to major in English!

11/19: Today I am thankful for the opportunity to see the world and open up my mind to new perspectives--although I did not fly on an airplane until I was 20, I have been lucky to visit 34 states and 14 foreign countries! "I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." -- Mary Anne Radmacher

11/20: Today I am thankful for WEEKENDS!!! As much as I love my job, the days off are the best part!!!

11/21: Today I am thankful for my "date" with my sweetheart Kieran. We went to see Harry Potter 6 this morning (for the second time--in a second-run theater), followed by lunch at Burgerville. Fun!!

11/22: Today I am thankful for our wonderful, progressive church community, where Lutherans worship with Catholics; children are celebrated; rituals are deeply spiritual; and all are welcome (regardless of their sexual orientation or other differences). I am thankful that my children can call themselves "Lutheran-Catholics" and that we have a community where Mike as a Catholic and I as a Lutheran can attend together.

11/23: Today I am thankful that my husband is a stay-at-home dad...because I got to the office this morning and realized I forgot the power cord for my laptop...and he is going to bring it into the office for me. (So he wasn't exactly thrilled about it, but hey--I don't blame him! When he arrived he had a smile on his face and a kiss for me.) Thanks, sweetie!! :)

11/24: Today I am thankful that Kieran is doing so well in school and his teacher loves having him in her class. "He is a delight! Such a sweet boy!" His reading is coming along nicely (he started out first grade being quite far behind in reading) and here's the biggest shock of all: it appears that he's a math star! I told Mike that I never thought I'd hear a teacher say that about the child of two English majors!

11/25: Today I am thankful for my amazing sister--one of my dearest friends--who loves me even though she knows me inside and out! She is a strong, inspirational mom, physician, aunt, and woman. I am so looking forward to hanging out with her and her wonderful husband and 3 boys this Thanksgiving weekend. Love you, sis!!

11/26: Today I am thankful for my great extended family; school, church, and NICU parent communities; and this FB community that's allowed me to reconnect with people across the world, in my past and present. And my own lovely family of sweet males, parents, brother, and sister and her own sweet men. And saying prayers for my... aunt who is undergoing chemotherapy this week and will be very much missed at Thanksgiving dinner.

Honestly, I think I could go on and on. My incredible friends far and near--I love you all! Health--both physical and mental!--and good, healthy food; the gift to live in a vibrant community with a thriving library system, theaters, musical opportunities, microbrew pubs, great restaurants, and bookstores (including the amazing Powell's!); and feeling loved, cherished, and secure. I know this must not be taken for granted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

For Those of Us Worried about the State of the Country Judging by Recent Bestsellers...

Mike told me this morning that he had read some depressing news. I thought he was going to tell me about some new study that had come out, informing us that we had made some grave error in the way we had raised our children (e.g., organic food causes cancer, or some such new development)...or some current event...

Instead, he told me about the unprecedented success of Sarah Palin's book...and the record-breaking opening weekend of "New Moon." For literary English major types like us, these two statistics are indeed depressing.

I've tried to reassure him by saying that not everyone who buys Palin's book is a fan. (This is very hard to believe, given the fact that we would be loath to put any money in her coffers--if by some miracle we could stomach reading it, we would get it out of the library! But I realize that a lot of people do not use the library and do in fact buy books out of curiosity.)

And regular blog readers will remember that I am so NOT a fan of Stephenie Meyer's trilogy.

Then later today I found these comics, which cheered both of us up a tiny bit:

So there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Two Book Recommendations: Grace Hammer and The Shiniest Jewel

Grace Hammer : a Novel of the Victorian UnderworldGrace Hammer : a Novel of the Victorian Underworld by Sara Stockbridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace Hammer lived in Whitechapel, London, during Jack the Ripper's era. This Dickensian style story features Grace and her four children, who are petty thieves and pickpockets, although living in relative comfort and security. One day Grace's past catches up with her, as an evil man seeking revenge for a wrong she did him years ago seeks her out in London. This is not a light, easy book to read...there's plenty of squalor, thievery, violence, and poverty. But I liked Stockbridge's writing and I had a hard time putting it down.

The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love StoryThe Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story by Marian Henley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marian Henley writes the great comic strip "Maxine." In this comic novel--which took me only a day to read--she chronicles her journey to adopt a little boy from Russia, at the age of 50. In the space of a few weeks, she turns 50, gets married for the first time to her partner of several years, adopts her son from Russia, and loses her father. She does a beautiful job of portraying all of these life-changing, poignant events in graphic format. Loved it. What a wonderful love story in memory of her father and to her son, who share the same name.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Grandpa England

Today my husband's father would have turned 86. We toasted him at dinner and the kids had cake to celebrate.

Hugh died after Mike and I had been married only a year and a half. I saw him only four times:
  • He and Olga came to visit Japan in spring 1988, and we'd been dating for a year and a half.
  • They came to Oregon for our wedding in June 1990.
  • We went to England during the winter after we were married (December 1990).
  • We spent Christmas in England in 1991.
He died in the ripe young age of 68, after having mowed the lawn. Although he suffered from angina, he had just seen the doctor that morning. Mike's mum, Olga, discovered him dead in the garage when she returned home. I can't imagine the shock and grief she must have felt, being widowed at 52...only 7 years older than I am now.

We gave Christopher his name for his middle name (no, he's NOT named after Hugh Grant). We struggled with that decision, because we knew that we wanted to use Hugh as a middle name for our first son, and when Chris was born we honestly did not know whether he would live or die. But we decided that he needed an angel to watch over him, and watch he did.

Mike and I both deeply regret the fact that his dad never met any of his grandchildren. When he died, Mike was the only child who was married, and we had not even begun to think of children yet. Hugh loved children, and I remember watching him play with baby Jenna (Mike's cousin's daughter, who tragically died in an auto accident last month). It is truly a loss that he never got to meet any of his grandchildren, who I know he would have loved and cherished.

Hugh loved life--he loved his family, his career (he was a diplomat), travel, and a good meal. I will always remember, at the end of a good meal and a nice helping of wine, he would say "I'm feeling very content!" Although he was a strongly committed Catholic, he loved to have a little bit of fun with his much more conservative day when the priest came to lunch, he got the conversation directed to married priests...just for fun, and much to Aunty Betty's horror! Another time when Mike and Hugh were watching a program about overpopulation on the "telly," he made a comment along the lines of people needing to learn about birth control. Mike was surprised, given that his father was a lifelong Catholic.

He expressed some dismay at our choice of "Sunrise, Sunset" as a song for our wedding. However, I cherish the image on our wedding video of tears rolling down Hugh's face as he listened to that song.

Happy birthday, Grandpa England. We miss you terribly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shocked and Amazed...

Our 13-year-old Chris has never been very competitive. In fact, he tends to be the kind of person who has more potential than he uses. If given his druthers, he'll do the least amount of work needed to get by. He's simply not driven by the need to be better than all the others.

This has been especially hard for Mike to swallow, as the word competitive does not even begin to describe him! When Chris reported that he was the second chair in percussion last year, and the third chair was thinking about challenging him for second chair, Mike wanted to know whether Chris was planning to challenge the first chair. When Chris shrugged and said no, Mike could not understand.

We've asked Chris whether he wants to try out for the advanced choir or the stage band, but he's not really interested. He's satisfied to be in the concert and marching bands. He is a good swimmer and enjoys swimming, but he's not terribly interested in competing on the swim team.

When he is working on a speech or a paper, we'll prod him to keep rewriting or to keep practicing, and he'll allow us to push him...but only so far. He'd rather be doing something else, and he simply does not seem to be driven to be the best he can be....unless he is playing Rock Band on the Wii (in which case he consistently plays at "Expert" level and completely leaves me in the dust).

He follows in our footsteps and has always been drawn to the liberal arts--literature, history, music, etc.--and math has not come easy for him.

As for me, I am somewhere between Mike and Chris. I'm much less competitive than Mike, but I too tend to veer toward activities in which I won't have to work as hard. When I got to high school and I actually had to study for the first time in my life (previously I was able to coast through), I got Ds in Advanced Algebra and Physics (the classes I had to study hard for and didn't enjoy as much as my Liberal Arts classes)...and that was a huge wake-up call for me. I pulled myself back together, fortunately. But I'm very aware of my tendency to be a tiny bit lazy! Chris probably inherited that from me.

So imagine my shock today when Mike called me at work today to inform me that Chris got his report card today and he made the honor roll. We were both amazed. Mike also heard from his math teacher that his math test scores went up by 10 points this year.

I shy away from competitive parenting--in fact, those discussions really bother me intensely. However, any of you who know Chris' humble, difficult beginnings and the struggles he faced in his early years with speech realize how significant a milestone this is for us...all of us. Chris was amazed as well!

KILL ME if I ever put a bragging bumper sticker on my car, though!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Tales of Bobidou

Said to me by 3-year-old Nicholas this morning, as he was cuddling with me in bed:
"Mama, let's tell a story about Bobidou." (Bobidou--not quite sure how to spell that--is Nick's made-up word...which I believe is a noun, although I'm not really positive about that...)

Said I, "Okay--you start."

Said he: "I met Bobidou at the mall. He is a house elf.

He splashed in the puddles...and ran into a rainbow."

"Oh," I said..."is that so?"

"Then he turned into a monkey. Ooh-ooh, aah-aah.

And then he turned into a porcupine. Grandma and Grandpa have a porcupine. That's the end of the story, Mama. Now you can sing some Bobidou songs."

Saved by the opening of the door and Daddy entering the room, at which Nick jumped out of bed to accompany Kieran and Mike to the bus stop. I know I missed a few details here--I didn't have a pen and paper to hand in bed. Next time I will try to be a better transcriptionist!

Know any Bobidou songs, anyone?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh for God's Sake! When in Japan, Do as the Japanese Do!

Conservatives are all upset because President Obama bowed to Japan's Emperor Akihito, saying that U.S. presidents should stand tall and pointing to DICK CHENEY as a model for decorum! (He refused to bow, of course, and instead shot out his hand.) Some are even calling the bow "treason"!

1. Everyone bows in Japan, regardless of their position. It's culturally appropriate. Although Japanese will shake hands, bowing is the culturally traditional gesture. (Obama's combined bow and hand shaking, together, was awkward and not technically correct, but he should get a B for effort...)

2. Obama was on a mission to mend recently damaged relations with Japan. But in the model of George W. Bush's diplomacy, if a president shows any gesture of kindness or decorum, it makes the U.S. look weak.

3. Just because someone bows to another person, it does not mean that one person is inferior to another. This is how bowing is different in the west from the east.

4. George W. Bush bowed to the pope, and Nixon bowed to Akihito's father, Hirohito, a Japanese emperor with a far-more troubled past:

5. As anyone who has lived in or traveled to Japan knows, Japanese culture is complicated and full of protocol, and every foreigner makes constant faux pas. The emperor's smile probably indicated his appreciation of the president's gesture, combined with amusement at how he flubbed up the bow.

I'd rather have a president who is a diplomat and makes efforts to be culturally appropriate (although he could have received better coaching from the State Department!) than one who is a macho bully and makes enemies abroad.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Recommendation: It Sucked and Then I Cried

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita
by Heather B. Armstrong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn't expect to enjoy this book much. After what I personally went through with infertility; having a very tiny, sick baby in the NICU for four months; and experiencing four miscarriages, I have no patience for women who complain about the common garden aches, pains, and inconveniences of pregnancy and new motherhood. "Get some perspective, woman!" I want to shout.

I was intrigued by the concept, though, because Armstrong writes a very popular blog,, and got fired from her job because she used to rag on her boss in her blog. The book draws heavily from her blog entries during her pregnancy, birth, and the aftermath.

First of all, Armstrong is funny. She makes my blog appear like it is prim and conservative, given the choice language she uses and TOO MUCH INFORMATION she reveals, constantly...for example, pages are devoted to her inability to poop and her daughter's prize pooping, or how much garlic she ate right before birth and the garlic farts that ensued, or about her monster hemorroids. She was raised in a strict Mormon family, as was her husband (although they have both left the fold but still remain close to their families and live in Salt Lake City).

Before getting pregnant and having a baby, Armstrong was on antidepressants. After her daughter Leta was born, she painstakingly made the decision to wean her at 6 months so she could return to medication. It wasn't enough, though, and she ended up in a mental hospital for four days to get the right medication and get herself back together. She writes so openly about her experience, and about her battles with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, that one can't help but feel sympathy for what she was going through.

I liked Armstrong's off-the-wall examples in her writing, such as when she talked about the myth that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt...and everything she'd read about breastfeeding "must have been written by a man with no tits...and the only way to describe it to a man is to suggest that he lay out his naked penis on a chopping block, place a manual stapler on the sacred helmet head, and bang in a couple hundred staples. The first two staples might hurt a little, but after that it just becomes numb, right? And by the 88th staple you're like, AREN'T YOU FULL YET? But then the comparison really fails because a man doesn't have two penises, and after stapling the first boob the baby moves on to the other boob and the happy stapling begins ALL OVER AGAIN."

She describes her book as a love letter to her husband, who truly must have been a saint to not only support and love Armstrong through her darkest days, but also to love her often-screaming-and-fussy daughter so intensely: "When I saw them together in the rocking chair reading stories together, sharing those quiet evening moments, father and daughter, my heart would break into a million pieces."

When Armstrong finally found a psychiatrist who understood the depth of her depression and knew exactly how to treat her, the best thing he offered her was this message: "You poor woman. I am so sorry for what you have been through," proving again that the #1 best thing anyone can do for another person is to LISTEN and try to understand.

Baby Leta had some sensory issues when she was younger, causing her to not want to put pressure on her legs. Although Armstrong was not ashamed that she was not crawling at 9 months, she did get tired of people constantly questioning why she wasn't. I can relate to this--I know that people have good intentions, but it gets very tiresome to hear "he's still not potty trained?", "he's still NURSING?", or "he's not walking?" (All of my sons have been later walkers--the earliest being Nicholas, who walked at 13 months...and he was the only one who talked on schedule.) It got easier with sons #2 and #3, because Chris walked and talked so much later, and I knew that they would get it eventually. After all, at age 10, 20, 30, or 60, who the heck knows or cares at what age someone first sat up, crawled, walked, talked, first used the potty, or even learned to read??? Why are people so fixated on these things?

Baby Leta is now 5 or 6 and is adorable, judging from the photos on And Armstrong went on to have another baby, Marlo.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for parents-to-be, but I would recommend it for anyone who's had a baby and realized it was not the rosy, 100% wonderful experience that everyone said it would be.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Will the Senseless Violence Stop?

Just in the past week:

Nov. 5: Army psychiatrist goes berserk and kills 13 and injures 30 fellow soldiers.

Nov. 6: Disgruntled former employee returns to engineering firm in Orlando, FL, where he was once employed, and kills one and injures five.

Nov. 10: Man marches into a drug testing center in Tualatin, OR (very close to us!), and kills his estranged wife and himself and injures two of her coworkers.

Washington DC sniper, John Allen Muhammad, was executed for the cold blood killing spree he carried out in 2002, which victimized 10 people.

Nov. 11: Three people were just found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in Bethany, Oregon (also very close to us).

Three thoughts:

1. The domestic violence killings in the Portland area remind me of my sister's dear friend and housemate Diana, who was killed by her psychotic, deranged husband one night, while she slept. He shot her in the head while she was asleep, and then shot himself. My sister learned of this when she saw Diana's house on the news that night. Nadine had been her matron of honor, and we all attended the wedding. Her husband, Kane, had been insanely jealous and clearly unbalanced. Something tipped him over the edge, and no one saw it coming.

2. While driving with Chris yesterday, we were listening to NPR and heard the story about John Allen Muhammad's execution. Chris asked me what the "DC sniper" was, and I told him. I asked him what he thought about the death penalty, and he commented that he thought it made sense if the person had committed murder. I then gently tried to point out that I didn't believe that we as humans had the right to put another person to death...and the death penalty is frequently unjust in the way it is implemented. I told him that I had done a research paper about the death penalty when I was in high school. I also said that I might feel differently if one of my loved ones had been murdered.

3. Where, in all of this senseless violence, is the discussion about gun control? (If people are discussing it, they are doing it very quietly.) Every single killing listed above was committed with a gun. I think the lack of discussion about gun control shows that we have become immune to violence. That and the the fact that the Democratic Party is afraid to face the NRA lobbyists. Has we accepted insane, senseless violence as de rigeur in our society? If not, why not question the ease with which violent Americans can procure and use guns?

Creative Costuming

Some of my friends got very creative this year with their Halloween costumes. As someone who has not dressed up for Halloween SINCE BEFORE I HAD CHILDREN, I salute you! Perhaps my lack of Halloween spirit has to do with the presence of small children in my life, who are themselves obsessed with Halloween. Or perhaps that's a cop-out.

At any rate, I give you--the fisherman:

The river:
The river runs through it:

The pirate captain and his pirate wench:

And my friend who "went rogue" and won for "scariest costume" at the party she attended:

You betcha!

Beauty Is Skin Deep

This video, which my Facebook friend Marcia posted on her page, quickly demonstrates why I eschew fashion magazines (plus the outrageously, often ugly clothing). The more disturbing message is this: what kind of subliminal messages are we sending to girls and women (who judge their own beauty based on what they see in advertising and magazines)? And then there's the boys and men (who put these women on a false pedestal and have extraordinary expectations of female beauty)...

I competed on the speech team in high school (the National Forensics League--I was such a geek!), and one of my key speeches was a persuasive speech on subliminal advertising. This was back in the early 80s. How the world has changed since then. In this Photoshopped world, we simply can't trust anything we see in print or on the commercial Web. Most of it is false in some way or another.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Takes a Village...

When I was growing up, my brother, sister, and I not only were lucky to be growing up around our extended family (most of our parents' siblings and both of their sets of parents lived in the Portland metro area), but we also had an extended community through our church. We called our parents' friends by their first names (as it was appropro to do in the 70s!) and my parents would go to their friends' houses to play pinochle late into the evening, and we bedded down with their friends' children, only to be awoken at 3 a.m. to be carted back home. (I loved the evenings hanging out with the kids, but I loathed being woken up out of my deep slumber to go home in the cold evening!) We felt surrounded by loving adults who were always ready with an encouraging word and a hug. We had friends with three daughters close to our ages and who lived in Salem, and our parents often swapped children for the weekend. I realize now how fortunate I was to experience that kind of adult acceptance and support.

Our children are extremely lucky to be surrounded by similar special friends who love and cherish them. They feel loved and supported by their grandparents, aunts and uncles, people at church, friends' parents in our southwest Portland community, extended family, and other friends we have cultivated along the way.

A few months ago when my friend Nancie was in town (the children's fairy godmother, as we call her), she took all three kids to Starbucks one morning. She was the one who came to stay with us the weekend after I came home from the hospital and spent special time with the two older brothers. All three kids adore her, because she makes them feel so special.

Last month Kieran got to spend a very special day with one of his "godfamilies" (our pastor and her family). They took him to McDonald's (a rare treat for one of our kids!) and home with them to make cookies and hang out. As a middle child, Kieran absolutely THRIVES on special attention. He just laps it up. He had a great day.

Last Sunday after church our dear friends Neal and Annette took Nicholas out to Burgerville for lunch--just the three of them. I could tell that he felt very grown up by this prospect! He blithely said "Bye!" as I strapped him into his car seat in their car. He felt safe and secure in Annette and Neal's capable, friendly hands, and he returned home happy with a green balloon.

Wouldn't the world be a different place if every child grew up with that kind of support system? Thanks to all of you who cherish and love our children--we are grateful!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Worse Behaved than Out-of-Control Preschoolers...

I am truly horrified by the House Republicans, who shouted down and constantly objected to a group from the Democratic Women's Caucus, who were trying to make their points in favor of health insurance reform this morning. Among them was Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), the sister of the wonderful neighbor who lived across the street from my parents for many years (and whose children Nadine and I babysat). Capps was not even able to get a sentence out of her mouth before being shouted down.

The presiding chair, John Dingell (D-MI), made pathetic attempts to subdue the unruly Republicans, but they paid him no heed. And these are the people elected to make laws and run our country? Vote them out!!! What happened to common decency and respect? Dead in the U.S. Congress.

One of My Favorite Things: Lunch with a Friend!

"Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart."

Eleanor Roosevelt

This week I had lunch with two old friends, on Thursday and Friday. This is one of my favorite indulgences: a leisurely lunch and catchup with an old friend!

On Thursday, I had lunch with my friend Nadine. We were in a women's group together for several years. We saw each other through weddings (hers as well as another member's), pregnancies and births (and the NICU for me), miscarriages (on my part), and loves lost and gained (for our lone lesbian member, who had the most exciting, constantly changing love life of all of us). I brought some photos from our women's group days, including one of Nadine holding Chris and another member holding her daughter, while we were all staying in a condo in Breckinridge, CO, attending the wedding of another women's group friend. One thing I remember distinctly from that period is learning that Nadine loves slasher movies! She is a beautiful, dynamic, dark-haired woman with many sisters, and I always enjoyed hearing about the interactions of such an estrogen-filled family. And of course, being with her always reminds me of my own close relationship with my sister Nadine.

Many of us in the women's group used to work together, and I am the last person from the firm who still works there. A couple of the members have moved out of the area and are not terribly good at keeping in touch. Nadine left the company four years ago to start her own business. Recently, she retired for good and is enjoying the task of being a "household manager" for her family and full-time mom to her son Charlie.

Nadine and I hadn't seen each other for FOUR YEARS, since she left the firm. We met for lunch at Pambiche, a wonderful Cuban/Caribbean restaurant in Portland. Her son Charlie is now nine years old! I remember when she was pregnant with him. It was so wonderful to catch up. And I was reminded, anew, of the fact that there are certain people in my life...who, no matter how much time passes, I immediately feel connected with...and can pick up right where we left off. I have truly missed having her in my life.

On Friday I met my friend Caley for lunch...Caley is another friend from work, although she left the firm many years ago. She and her husband have had a hell of a year, since Mark was diagnosed with a brain tumor last spring and spent the summer in treatment. Caley is one of those people who spends most of her energy caring for others...she is one of the most compassionate, gentle, and kind people I know. I never can get enough time with her. Our lunch, although nearly 2 hours, was not long enough by far. She is another person I feel that I don't see often enough, but time stands still between our meetings.

I feel extremely blessed by the friends who have left footprints on my heart. Nadine and Caley are only two of the many people in my life who have richly blessed me over the years. Thanks to each one of you, dear friends!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Review: The Voice That Calls You Home

The Voice That Calls You Home: Inspiration for Life's Journeys The Voice That Calls You Home: Inspiration for Life's Journeys by Andrea Raynor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got the opportunity to read this book before it is officially published, because the author's publicist sent me an advance review copy. Raynor has worked as a chaplain, both in hospice care and caring for people during the 9/11 recovery efforts, and she is a cancer survivor. Knowing these facts, I was intrigued. What I didn't expect, however, was how much this book would deeply move me.

In recent years, I rarely keep books that I've read unless I think I will read them again someday. Even then, I try to keep books moving along--I will post them to or give them away instead of keeping them on our many bookshelves--but this one is a keeper and a loaner. I can already think of a long list of people who would appreciate this book.

I found myself needing to pause occasionally at the end of the chapter, because not only did the book make me cry several times (and I admit, I'm very emotional since becoming a mother, especially after surviving the NICU for 4 months), but I also needed to absorb the power of the message.

Much to Mike's disgust, I'm sure, I've dog-eared this book several times to mark the passages that touched me most. I'm not sure whether I can get him to read it now, since he will be so disturbed by the dog ears!

Raynor opens her book with the story of a Buddhist tale about a woman named Kisagotami who is grieving the loss of her baby. She goes to the Buddha, begging him to bring her son back to life. The wise Buddha tells her that he will do what she asks, if she will do one thing. She must return to her village and get a single mustard seed from one household that has not known death. Kisagotami returns to the Buddha without a mustard seed, but she has experienced healing because she heard the stories of her community and realized she was not alone.

After becoming an advocate of family-centered health care and coming to know so many people who have grieved their children's deaths, two incidents in the book highlighted the need for continuing work and education in this area. Raynor describes the death of an older Italian man, and the nurse who told her that she was going to ask the family to leave so she could prepare the body. Raynor suggested to the nurse that they ask the man's wife to stay (something she herself would never have asked for because of her limited English and respect for medical authority). The nurse assented, and she and Raynor watched as the wife cleaned her husband's body so tenderly and lovingly that they both felt blessed by the experience. But it never would have occurred to the nurse to ask the wife to participate. It reminds me of the time that an NICU nurse proudly informed me, when we arrived in the unit, that she had given tiny baby Christopher his first bath, even though she knew we would be arriving soon...and forever eliminating our opportunity to experience that first milestone. (And consequently she will forever remain in my mind as "that nurse.")

Another moment desperately needing family- and patient-centered care was when Raynor went in for her second lumpectomy and was treated like she didn't even exist, by the technician, nurse, anesthesiologist, and surgeon. When she woke up from surgery, the nurse was plying her with coffee so she'd be able to get up and leave. When Raynor found out that she would have to have a mastectomy, she wisely sought a new surgeon and a new hospital, one that would care for her spirit as well as her body.

Raynor's memoir is unusual in the sense that she was raised in a warm, loving family environment, by wise, spiritual parents. She appears to be the kind of person who has always had a transcendental connection with spirits and death. Her parents used to have seances when she was young, and her Methodist father had a unique ability to connect with spirits. Her father's mother died when he was young, and Raynor's daughter was born on the anniversary of her grandmother's death, transforming that day for her father into a happy, doubly meaningful one.

In the dark weeks and months after 9/11, Raynor volunteered at Ground Zero, going down to New York at night time, after spending all day doing hospice work and caring for her own family. When bodies or fragments of bodies were recovered, she would say prayers over them in the morgue. She ministered to the police officers, fire fighters, and other workers, and she tried to find meaning, somehow, in the wasteland.

She writes openly and honestly about her own battle with breast cancer, and the circle of friends and family who lifted her up during her darkest days. She writes about well-meaning friends who tell her "at least you're here" or "at least you've got your health" without understanding how discounting that is. (I can remember similar feelings when Chris was in the NICU, or when I had miscarriages.) I loved the story of her "buzz party" surrounded by women friends, and how her son asked her whether she'd rather die of cancer or be bald for a little while so she could stay with him.

Raynor writes beautifully of her experiences seeing people through to the other side. Although she witnesses and supports the deepest kind of pain and grief imaginable, she tries to find meaning and mystery in this sadness and suffering. She does not offer easy answers or platitudes, but suggests that the best we can do is to keep calling out for help, and "keep believing that there is One who hears, and to be open to the ways in which God comes to us. As the German theologian Dorothee Solle wrote: 'God has no other hands than ours.'" What I valued most about this book were the underlying themes of being God for one another and helping each other through the scariest moments of life.

The ultimate message of Raynor's book is that we can be each other's angels on earth. The most important thing we can do for someone who is suffering is to be present, to listen, and to be present again. We cannot take away another person's pain and we should not even try, but we can be present. We can be ministers to each other, and be the voice that calls each other home.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Fun in Puyallup!

Originally, I was planning to be in Denver most of last week for training; however, the night before I was due to depart, I felt myself coming down with something. I didn't want to end up stuck in a hotel room in the middle of a snowstorm, with the flu or worse, H1N1, so I ended up cancelling my trip. I felt badly about missing the training, but I think it worked out for the best considering the freak snow storm Denver had last week. My virus lasted only a couple of days, fortunately. We had decided not to go up to visit my sister and her family for Halloween because I had been scheduled to fly in late on Friday night, and I didn't want to leave again the next morning.

However, with the change in plans, we decided to head up there so all of the cousins could go trick or treating again together, like they did last year. We decided to surprise my nephews--we went directly to their flag football game on Saturday afternoon:

Daniel was out of the game when we showed up, so he saw us immediately. Garrett took a bit more time to notice us--I loved the look on his face when he looked out at the spectators and spotted us! Garrett is in the far left; Daniel is second from the right:
Garrett getting hugs from his Daddy after getting squashed (there's not supposed to be tackling in flag football, but tackling happens...even by accident):

Nick and Kieran cheering the boys on:

Garrett with my wonderful brother-in-law, David:

Daniel with his Halloween treats:

Garrett and Daniel:

Garrett was one of the quarterbacks that day, and he was the recipient of the day's "game ball." The coach praised all of their boys for their great work during the game and their improvement since the previous week, but he really called attention to Garrett's hustle and outstanding performance on the field that day. We felt very lucky to be able to witness this! (Unfortunately, my sister had to miss it since she had to take my oldest nephew home, since he wasn't feeling well.)

Chris and Nick at the game:

Back home, Nadine had all sorts of Halloween activities for the kids...making a jack-o-lantern cake:

Carving pumpkins:

My dad was the pumpkin flesh and seed scooper, and I was the pumpkin seed cleaner. We ended up with TONS of pumpkin seeds to roast--with curry powder. Yum!

Mom scouring the kitchen--doesn't she look like she could be in a Soft Scrub commercial, with that smile? :)

The boys' amazing nanny had made a big pot of her lentil chili (which we all love), and I made a huge pan of mac-and-cheese. Nadine and David had invited some friends over for dinner, as well as David's brother and his wife. We had seven little boy trick or treaters, and one big boy who helped give out candy. (He wanted to collect candy, too, without a costume, but I put the nix on costume=no he is getting a tad old...)

Kieran in full makeup--and Nick in his third costume of the Halloween season!

Getting ready to go out trick or treating:

Star Wars characters, Dracula, a transfomer, and Scooby Doo--no princesses in our group!
I had been commenting to Nadine about how she goes all out for Halloween (she says it's to honor the spirit of her former housemate and residency pal, Diana, who was killed in a domestic violence murder-suicide several years ago--Diana LOVED Halloween). However, Nadine & David's decorations pale in comparison to some of their neighbors...their neighborhood is festooned in all manner of Halloween regalia.

Mike and Nick trick or treating...we took him home before the older boys. Three-year-old little legs get tired more quickly than five-, six-, and seven-year-old legs!

Chris back at the house, hanging out and handing out candy:

Nadine & David's sister-in-law, Judy, who was supervising the candy distribution (and reading about vampires...):

The next day, Nadine and I drove my parents to Sea-Tac, where they caught a flight to Kauai! We were all extremely envious of them. They'll be there for a week.

Mom and Dad with me--wearing the first scarf I've ever knitted (I just finished it on Friday--my mother-in-law gave me a kit with the yarn for my birthday!):

We stopped at Burgerville in Kelso on our way home for a quick dinner...and Nick was goofing off as usual, and hamming it up for the camera!

All in all, we had a quick--but fun--Halloween weekend up north!

Pre-Halloween Parties and Parades

Kieran's school has a new policy this year banning birthday treats (suggesting, instead, that the child donate a book to the library in lieu of treats), and he is quite disgusted by the whole affair--which I completely understand--being a big birthday person myself. Last year we donated a birthday book to the library in addition to bringing cookies and juice for the kids in his class. I'm not sure what was behind the decision--concerns about children who were Jevohah's Witness or couldn't eat sugar, or trying to promote more healthy eating habits--but it does seem a bit birthday-scroogey to me.

At any rate, Kieran doesn't know how lucky he is that he gets to celebrate Halloween at school. Many of the schools in the Puget Sound area, including the Puyallup school where my nephews go and the Federal Way schools where my brother-in-law teach, do not allow children to wear their costumes to school or have Halloween parties.

Nick's festivities came first on Thursday, when he wore a costume to school and had a little party and parade with his four classmates. He has a teacher-student ratio of 2:5! (He's in a class for 2-1/2-year-olds because he missed the September 1 cutoff by 3 days.)

Then on Friday came the Halloween parade and party at Kieran's school. Fortunately the weather held out so they were able to parade outside.
Nick, in his constantly changing array of costumes (this one is 10 years old--Chris wore it when he was 3!)

Taking photos in the class before the parade...this is the first year we've had a child who wanted to be really SCARY for Halloween. I shudder to consider what is to come!!

With the blood:

Dancing to "The Monster Mash"--his favorite song...

Okay--not so scary now...

Me with Cookie Monster:

More dancing:

Kieran's teacher, trying out a little bit of the fake blood!