Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review: Snarky but Spiritual

Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Susan Isaacs when I googled her name, expecting to find the web site of the novelist Susan Isaacs (not the same one). Instead I stumbled upon Isaacs' great blog (Gray Matter). She is one funny and snarky Christian.

At the church I attend (which is a Lutheran-Catholic community, one of a kind in the world as far as we know), we like to joke about the fact that Catholics are not the only ones who experience guilt. Susan Isaacs' "snarky but authentic spiritual memoir" proves that point. Isaacs was raised as a Lutheran and over her adulthood sampled a wide variety of Christian flavors, which in the end turned her off to Christianity, at least for a time.

The book cleverly intersperses Isaacs' accounting of her childhood (including that awful Kirsten in her Lutheran school who made her life a misery!) and subsequent life trying to make it as an actress and writer, with her "marriage counseling" sessions with God (the Father), and the saintly Norwegian Jesus in that famous painting.

Along the way, she dabbles with anorexia, bulimia, and alcoholism, and as she says, she became a slut (by sleeping with two guys). She feels great guilt over everything, even for feeling guilty--because, after all, aren't her troubles middle-class white girl troubles? I CAN relate to that--feeling guilty about feeling sorry for myself.

I too grew up Lutheran, belonged to the Luther League (even though my Luther League was full of nerds like me, unlike Isaacs I loved it!), and my freshman year at PLU dabbled in 7/11 churches full of "James Dobson mix tapes" until I attended a bible study, where the other girls told me my Jewish friend would go to hell. That was when I walked out and never went back.

I too had a dark night of the soul when I had to throw out "God the Father" and a spiritual moment when I realized I needed to replace him with a different version of God (which, in my mind, was a Creator God).

I enjoyed this book--Isaacs has a refreshing style of writing--but I did feel sorry for her, wasting so many years on SO MUCH GUILT...and on an angry "God the Father." I can understand how she felt empty being with men who didn't really understand her, but to feel so much guilt about premarital sex? As even God said (in her counseling session), 40-year-old women are not meant to be celibate!

I also couldn't relate to Isaacs' image of a marriage with God, and feeling that she needed to love God more than anything or anyone else in her life. I know that's what a lot of (especially fundamentalist) Christian churches say, but for me, I experience God through the love of others. They are not mutually exclusive. God is not a big white man up in the sky for me--he is not someone I'm married to or need to go to marriage counseling with. I don't need to love God more than I love my husband, children, family, and friends. They are one in the same, for me.

Ultimately, though, Isaacs' memoir is funny, snarky, and real. I'm glad she found happiness and contentment (in the epilogue)!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Yay for Grandparents!

Grandma and Grandpa did double duty this week, first attending a program at the middle school, visiting Chris' classes with him, and then listening to a concert at the grade school and visiting Kieran's classroom.

Chris and my dad in math class--he's lucky to have a former math teacher for a Grandpa!

Chris in band:



The grandparents and Chris (with a typical middle school pose):

Then on to the grade school--we all went to the concert, which consisted of each grade performing two songs. Cute!! Nicholas was thrilled when the fifth grade sang "The Monster Mash" (a family favorite).



Kieran singing (and dancing) his little heart out:


And afterward, he gave Grandma and Grandpa a tour of his class:



That night, I reminded the boys how lucky they were that they have grandparents to visit their schools on this special day! And Mike's mum arrives in 10 days, so it's Grandparents' Month!

Promising Developments in Immigration Policies!

Today I've read about two excellent developments in President Obama's policies toward immigration and inclusion:

As reported today in the New York Times, "the administration has recommended political asylum for a Guatemalan woman fleeing horrific abuse by her husband, the strongest signal yet that the administration is open to a variety of asylum claims from foreign women facing domestic abuse." Finally, an option for women fleeing domestic abuse in other countries.

And another encouraging development:

Today President Obama announced the lifting of a 20-year ban on travel into the U.S. for foreigners infected with HIV. They will now be able to travel and immigrate without restriction. The travel ban has barred HIV-positive foreigners from obtaining permanent immigration status or entering the U.S. without special waivers. We are one of only 12 nations, including Armenia, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, that still deny entry to HIV-infected people.

Many years ago at Holden Village we met an HIV-positive, gay Canadian pastor (who was unable to be rostered at the time because he was in a committed gay relationship), and he spoke of his fear and anxiety each time he crossed the border into the U.S. He was terrified that Immigration would search his bags and find his supply of medications and figure out that he was HIV positive. At the time, not only had his church rejected him, but he couldn't even travel freely across the border without fear.

These two news items might not garner a lot of attention in the press, but they are deeply significant actions, expressing hope for a more inclusive approach to the world and victims of HIV and domestic violence.

A Big Glass of Shut-the-Hell-Up!

I don't often post about work here...I try to focus more on my personal life and opinions in my blog. But yesterday was a crappy day.

(Not in the whole scheme of things--I'm reading a book right now called Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan Isaacs, in which the author expresses a huge amount of Lutheran guilt...including guilt over being dissatisfied with her life, because after all, she admits, her problems are "a middle-class white girl's tragedies..." It's not Darfur.)

I can relate to feeling guilty about feeling sorry for myself--I have a wonderful life, a sweet and loving family, a great job (usually), and health, food, and shelter. Why do I let stupid people get to me and unsettle my usually good spirits?

Something happened to me at work that made me recall an upsetting incident in first grade, in Mrs. Lundgren's class. I stayed after school one day to be an aspiring teacher's pet, and painstakingly erased all the chalkboards clean. Mrs. Lundgren jumped to her feet and spanked me! Little did I know that she had kept a boy after school to copy everything off the chalkboard. I will never forget that one moment of misunderstood and unappreciated good intentions.

That's essentially what happened to me at work this week. I adapted an article from the web (and tailored it to my company) about how to become a cooperative and appreciated coworker, and several of my Publications colleagues elsewhere in the firm found the article to be insulting, and they interpreted me as saying that I didn't believe that we were already cooperative and respectful (and one of them sent me a very disrespectful e-mail). Heaven forbid that we should all think about how we can become better, more cooperative coworkers. Upon reflection, I realize that the people who complained about it were probably the people who most needed to read the message. (I must explain that the vast majority of the 300+ people who read the article across the firm found it to be completely innocuous, and some complimented me on it, but the vocal, angry minority won the battle. I didn't hear word one from any of the general employee base in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Hawaii, all of which received the link to the article.)

Ridiculous, really, but the whole incident really unsettled me...mostly because I remembered the incident with Mrs. Lundgren. I hate it when my intentions are misinterpreted.

A few of my colleagues who were aware of this drama yesterday were very supportive. One of them, with whom I've worked for 19 years, told me that they all needed to drink "a big glass of shut the hell up!" I love that! It made me feel so much better.

Next time someone says something disrespectful, stupid, or nasty to you, consider using that message (silently or out loud, depending on how combative you are)!

Fortunately I'm feeling much better about the whole thing today...and can put it all in perspective. Instead of thinking "Don't sweat the small stuff," I'm thinking "Don't sweat the small people."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Fun to Have a Girl?

I would have SUCH fun buying gorgeous little dresses and stylish tops and pants...like this one I bought for my little niece for Christmas! I must say that girls' (and women's) clothes are so much more interesting than clothes for boys or men. We have all the fun. And those poor little boys are stuck with sports motifs for most of their clothes.

Of course, notice the lack of pink. I don't have anything (much) against pink, but I think the proliferation of pink in little girls has gone way over the top recently. When buying clothing for girls, I do everything I can to avoid it.

On the other hand, I can only imagine how much money I would spend on clothing for my kids if they were girls instead of boys...I'm sure it's much less expensive this way.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Patches and Winnie the Pooh

Kieran dropped our camera last week, and the lens has broken. I couldn't get too upset with him, since I've done it myself in the past...and the previous camera I dropped in a cup of tea! (My dad painstakingly took it apart, blow-dried each piece and then reassembled it, and it worked...although it did affect the quality somewhat.) At any rate, I have ordered a new camera, but it hasn't arrived yet. So all the photos from the past week or so were taken with my BlackBerry or the tea camera!

Last week at the Farmer's Market--Chris with his hand-held pie (he wanted a whole one, but he had to settle for a small one!):
Kieran and Nick, who is modeling the cotton firefighter's coat and hat I picked up at a resale shop--my deal of the week for $4.99--the kid can't get enough of firefighter accessories and his previous firefighter coat is getting a bit small (and holding a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie):
And upon walking back to our car, the firehouse was open (we always walk past and peek in through the windows; the garage is rarely open...when it is, it's a fantastic day for Nick!!):

Last Tuesday both Kieran and Nicholas had separate trips to two different pumpkin patches with their various classes. Nick's class is extremely small--only 4 other kids! Mike went along with Nick, and I accompanied Kieran's class. Fun!



And here is Kieran with the sweet little baby calves:
And posing with his teacher and his buddy Natalie (as his teacher said when I sent her the photo, "it looks like both Kieran and I have swallowed something bad!"):
Yesterday we took Nicholas to his first play at the Northwest Children's Theater, "Winnie the Pooh." Both boys insisted on dressing up (which surprised me a bit about Kieran, who was too "embarrassed" last Halloween to go in the costume parade at the farmers market). Nick wore a Winnie-the-Pooh costume that is sized 18-24 months, and Kieran wore a 4-year-old Tigger costume! They certainly attracted a lot of attention.
The production was fun, and the actor who played Pooh is becoming one of my favorites--he also played the Tin Man in the "Wizard of Oz." However, Tigger did not feature in the play, since it was based on the earlier Pooh tales. When Kieran went to get the actors' autographs afterward, Pooh took one look at him and said "Tigger! There you are!!" Very cute. Nick was overwhelmed by the whole thing and hid behind me while Kieran was getting autographs.

Nick did agree to pose outside of the theater, but the sun was very bright!

On the way back to the car, we passed some gates to an apartment building festooned with spider webs for Halloween:
Nick wore the Pooh costume to church this morning, and this afternoon he wore the Tigger costume on a shopping expedition to Michael's (for a school project for Chris).
The kids are going insane for Halloween this year. Kieran's changed his mind about what he's going to be about four times. I bought him a leather jacket and converse-style shoes so he could be Danny Zuko, but he's lost interest in that. Why do I never learn??? It's my tendency to want to plan ahead and not panic at the last minute. Now he's vacillating between Bilbo Baggins and Dracula, but I keep telling him I'm not buying him another costume. However, I did concede and buy him a black t-shirt today at Michael's (for his homemade Dracula costume--who knows what it will look like?).
Last night I made a yummy (if I do say so myself) pumpkin sausage risotto...typical ambitious weekend cooking project for me. This afternoon Mike has taken the older boys to the movies, Nick is watching his beloved Wiggles, and I'm about to get cleaning. It's never ending, I tell you... know I haven't trained the boys well enough to pick up after themselves, and it's all my fault!
I leave on Tuesday morning bright and early for the first big business trip all year (my job has changed a lot!)...to Denver through Friday. I leave the house around 5:15 a.m. and return Friday night. I will miss my boys and am very sad to miss the Halloween parade and Grandparents' Day (when the kids sing) at the grade school. But I will be back for Halloween!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Honor of Librarians and Banned Books Everywhere

I know I'm a little late for Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3), but as a militant library supporter, I couldn't resist posting this great image:My kids' idea of fun is to hang out at the library. When each boy enters kindergarten, he gets to acquire his own library card. Beyond the elementary and middle school libraries, we regularly patronize two libraries (Hillsdale Library and Garden Home Library) and occasionally others (Beaverton and Capitol Hill). The librarians know us by face and sometimes by name. We frequently (and not-too-unhappily) pay overdue fines, simply because as a family we check out so many materials that it's sometimes hard to keep up with them all.

I have my own personal librarian--Mike. I put materials on hold on the web, and he retrieves and returns them for me on his regular visits there. It's lovely!! We rarely pay for DVDs--instead I put them on hold and wait for weeks until they become available.

This arrived in the mail yesterday--my "I Read Banned Books" bracelet--which a former colleague and Facebook friend told me about when several people were posting during Banned Books Week. I love it!





Monday, October 19, 2009

Lost Generation

This video* reflects my thoughts about the future generation...



after last night's 16th birthday party as well as the forum following our church service yesterday. It featured a young man who is entering seminary--he apparently was quite disruptive in his younger days and often got kicked out of Sunday School and youth group meetings. He's turned out to be an amazing young man who is gifted in working with people and wants to be a chaplain. I knew him when he was a small boy, and it's very inspiring to see who he has become.

*Apparently this video was the 2nd prize winner in an AARP video contest last year. I discovered it when a friend posted it on Facebook. Thanks, Lisa!

Sweet 16 Celebrated by Circle of Women

Last night I felt truly blessed to be a part of a 16th birthday celebration with seven wise women and one very mature and poised 16-year-old. After sharing delicious food with an Asian theme, we shared memories of what we were like at 16, what we had learned since then, what we admired about the birthday girl, and advice for her future. We also brought photos of ourselves at age 16, which were a great source of mirth.

It's so different to be 16 now than it was in the 70s. Teens nowadays face such different pressures. I am gratified to observe how most youth are more open-minded than my generation or the generations that precede mine. For example, this young woman shared with us how she does not stand for homophobic language and tells her peers that it is unacceptable. I admire this in her, for I have always felt I need to be better about calling out unacceptable behavior or language. I tend to internalize my feelings and get angry about it instead of calling it out. (This is why I loved the show "Murphy Brown"--she was so shameless in expressing her opinions and not caring what people thought, and I wish I could be more like that sometimes.) So I deeply admire this in my young friend--and her poise and confidence in the spite of difficulties she is facing in her own life.

As I've discussed with my family, women tend to be much better at expressing admiration and appreciation for each other. But every person needs to hear these messages. Mike went to a boys' group activity with Chris a few years ago, when each boy was asked to bring an older male (either his dad or someone else). The men expected a ropes course activity--but more was involved. Mike said he was struck by the discomfort in many of the older men when each man was asked to look right into the eyes of the boy he accompanied, and tell him how much he meant in his life. Some of the men were clearly uncomfortable with the situation, but Mike said that it was also very moving and some of them broke down. I expect that if they had known in advance that this was going to be expected of them, they wouldn't have wanted to attend.

I remember when I was 16 or 17 and attended my first Episcopal Youth Encounter over a weekend. One of the most moving experiences of my life was when I received a bag of "palanca": letters and cards from my loved ones and friends, expressing their love, support, and prayers for me. Palanca is Spanish for lever, and just as a lever enables a person to move something beyond his or her normal strength, palanca empowers a person by encouragement or prayer to move beyond what they could normally do.

Every person should be the guest of honor at a "palanca" dinner, where the gathered guests share their hard-won battles and lessons learned and express admiration, hopes and dreams, and advice for the honored guest. My sister and I are already plotting similar events for her niece and our sons (we plan to engage the men in our family to facilitate those ones). Imagine how the world would look and how people would interact with one another if every person were validated and honored in such a way.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book Review: Dragon House by John Schors

Dragon House Dragon House by John Shors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shors has written about India (Beneath a Marble Sky), World War II and the Japanese (Beneath a Burning Sea), and now about street children in Vietnam. I very much enjoyed this book, although I think I enjoyed the first two books of his I read better. They were both more ambitious and sweeping.

Shors brought Vietnam, one of the few Asian countries I haven't visited, to life for me. He paints a compassionate picture of the neglected children on the street and two broken Americans who arrive in Vietnam to open a center for street children.

My one regret about this book was that it starts out with Iris, but as the plot changes we get to know the least about Iris out of all of the central characters in the book. I would have liked to know more about her, what made her tick, and what shaped her into the woman she is today.

This book's plot and style were less complex than Schors' first two, and the writing style was much simpler. At times, some of the authors' emphasis on things (such as mentioning Noah's prosthesis constantly) got tiresome...much like I got annoyed with JK Rowling when she referred to Voldemort's voice as "high and cold" every time Voldemort appeared.

The book prompted me to search Google Images for photos of Vietnam--Ho Chi Minh City and Halong Bay in particular. Schors illustrates how family and love stretch broader than our blood relatives--across generations and across cultural and language divides. I found the story to be heartwarming. If you are interested in southeast Asia, you would enjoy this book. I'm looking forward to Schors' next book.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

21st Century Babies

Earlier this week, the New York Times had an interesting article about the intrauterine insemination procedure and the frequency of multiple births, often resulting in deaths or premature births. This often presents parents with horrible choices, such as the decision whether to terminate some of the fetuses before birth to increase the viability of the others.

Infertility as a medical practice is ill regulated, with fertility doctors regularly ignoring their own industry's recommendations in order to boost their practices' numbers, to attract more clients.

I'm glad to see that the media is publicizing the less-"successful" outcomes of multiple births. The general public see "Jon and Kate Plus 8" or the McCaughey septuplets, and they think that these are typical outcomes for large numbers of multiples. Parents need to know what they are facing when they choose extreme fertility measures. Can you imagine being prompted to choose which of your children you will terminate? That has got to be a heart-breaking decision, knowing that if you don't choose to terminate, all of them could die?

When we were in the NICU late one night, stressing about a disturbing brain MRI, one jaded night nurse overheard us discussing the prospect of talking to a neonatologist about our concerns. She said: "What will he care? He will never see your son again after he leaves here." Looking back, even though her comment was upsetting, I understand her intent. Neonatologists usually are not involved in followup of these very small babies. They can easily say that these kids will be fine, when they know no such thing. It's typical to see neonatologists quoted in the news, predicting good outcomes for preemies. Although as a new preemie mom, I desperately needed hope--I didn't want the doctors to take my hope away--I also craved the candid truth. After Chris had his horrible brain injury and it looked like he wouldn't survive, the neo said "It's hard to say what could happen. I've seen kids who look like they don't have a hope in the world turn it around and do fine...while others who appear fine and take a turn for the worse."

But when parents are choosing to take desperate fertility measures, I know that they are not given the full information of what they could be facing if they are expecting multiples. It's an entirely new world of choices, and none of them are easy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Glad I Don't Have a Baby in the NICU Right Now...

I'm glad for many reasons, but specifically becuase of the H1N1 virus, which is running rampant around us in our community circles.

Mike volunteered last night at the NICU (once a month the nonprofit organization we helped cofound, Precious Beginnings, cohosts a free dinner for NICU parents), and he saw signs at the entrance to the NICU and Maternity saying that minors were not allowed because of the fears of H1N1. Emanuel Hospital has decided to cancel its NICU reunion this fall, presumably to keep potentially sick kids away from the hospital and also to prevent exposure of the staff. Many hospitals are implementing a policy prohibiting children from maternity wards. When Chris was in the NICU, siblings were allowed to visit...but it always made me very nervous when they did, because I was terrified that Chris would get infected (a very real concern when he was that small).

In those days, our biggest fear was respiratory syntitial virus, or RSV. A much bigger preemie, a 34-weeker, who was in the NICU at the same time as Chris, went home from the hospital, contracted RSV, spent a month in the PICU, and died. So given the fact that we had a 1 lb, 6 oz 24-weeker, we were terrified of RSV. Any time people came to visit (after we went home), we'd ask them to wash their hands before even being near Chris. He stayed healthy for a year after he came home--probably because of the breast milk. After we visited the UK and my breast pump blew up (I had to pump for him because he couldn't nurse), we returned home and he got RSV. He ended up contracting pneumonia and spent five days in the hospital in isolation, his lungs full of gunky fluid. All of the NICU nurses told us how lucky we were to stay out of the hospital for a full year. I did not feel very lucky.

I'm imagining how it would feel to have an NICU baby right now, with H1N1 killing fragile babies and children. Those poor, worried parents. I would hope that when they take their babies home, people will be understanding when they are asked to wash their hands and stay away from the babies when they are sick.

I also feel for those moms in family birth centers who have just had babies, and their other children are not able to visit them. Most moms don't stay very long after they have babies, but c-section moms do. My kids would have been very upset if they hadn't been able to see me or their little brother for 3 days until we arrived home. I know this is the way things used to be long ago...but nowadays children are generally welcomed in hospitals. Now they are potential germ carriers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weaning

I know many of my blog readers might frown on the fact that I'm still nursing a 3-year-old. So if you're put off by that, stop reading right now.

Tonight was the last night for me to nurse Nicholas before bed. We've been nursing only twice a day (in the morning and in the evening) for a very long time now (since he was about 1), and I've been hoping that he would wean himself...as many children do. Not happening in this household, baby!

And "baby" is darn right! Every time I talk to Nicholas about not nursing any more, he bursts into angry tears and keeps insisting that he is a baby. I feel like a complete heel, but I feel that the time has come to close the milk bar. Tomorrow we go down to morning only, and by the time I take a business trip to Denver at the end of the month, he'll be weaned. I'm not looking forward to the process. It will not be fun.

Although I know other women who have nursed their children well into their fours, I've always said that I didn't want to nurse past three. Most of American/English/Australian society frowns on nursing past babyhood at all. In fact, 13-year-old Chris himself didn't seem to realize that Nick was still nursing until I informed him that I was going to stop...and his comment? "Isn't he too old for that?" Thanks for your support, sweetheart. Mike informed an older friend the other day that I was going to wean Nicholas, and she was shocked to hear that he was still nursing. (I was not thrilled to hear he had told her, since I would prefer to keep it quiet and refrain from getting judged.) Our pediatric dentist doesn't like the fact he nurses before bedtime, and our pediatrician (who has never been an enthusiastic breastfeeding supporter, although he certainly hasn't opposed it) also expressed surprise that he was still nursing. (Percentile: 50 height, 50 weight, thank you very much!)

Why have I nursed into young childhood? Well, first of all, UNICEF and the World Health Organization both recommend nursing to two and longer. After Kieran was born, a friend passed on a book called Our Babies Ourselves, which was an anthropological study of the way different cultures raise their children. It was interesting to read how our American (and British and Australian) parenting style encourages independence at such an early age, very different from the focus in other cultures, where they are more focused on nurturing and support. It made both Mike and me feel more comfortable with our attachment parenting approaches.

Beyond the health, bonding, and attachment benefits for both mother and child, other factors contributed:
  • I wasn't able to really successfully nurse Christopher--he had horrible reflux and would vomit all over me when I tried. We weren't able to hold him for 6 weeks, or bring him home for 4 months. With my subsequent children, I felt justified in holding them and nursing them as much as I could.
  • My boys have loved nursing. I had to wean Kieran when he was nearly 3 because I became pregnant with Nicholas. He would have continued if he had been given the choice. Nicholas does NOT want to quit. So I will break his heart by weaning him. What a fun prospect.
  • I am the work-outside-the-home parent, and nursing has helped me develop a close bond with my children.

On the other hand, the time has come for me to take my body back. I have been pregnant or nursing since I was 38 (7 years!!). I feel guilty that I have never had a mammogram when it seems that breast cancer is rife all around me (even though I know that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of getting breast cancer). I am tired of lugging the cumbersome breast pump along when I go on business trips. And even though Mike is not as optimistic about this, I'm hoping that by weaning Nicholas that he will start sleeping better through until morning. This might take awhile, though, because I think he was conditioned as a baby to nurse on demand throughout the night and he still remembers that somewhere in his subconscious.

I try to tell myself that society's pressure and disapproval do not contribute to my decision, but to be honest, they do. It's only one contributor, but I do find that sad. I'm certainly not suggesting that women should nurse their children into elementary school. But in many cultures around the world, children are not even set on the ground until they are 3. Children nurse long after they are weaned in the western world. They all become independent eventually. It happens. What's the big hurry? Why are people so judgmental about the way we love and nurture our children?

If it were up to Nicholas, he'd stay a baby for at least a little longer. Think of us over the next few days and weeks as we try to "break" him of the habit. I am feeling very ambivalent about this prospect, but I know the time has come.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Love My New Muesli!

When we were in Ontario this summer, I bought some muesli for breakfast. I have eaten muesli in Japan and England, but it's not generally as popular or easy to find here. (My parents have been making their own muesli for years, though.) My usual breakfast cereals of choice are ginger granola and oatmeal. Mike can't eat most store-bought muesli because it typically has wheat flakes in it. After we returned from Canada, I decided I wanted to make my own. But for me to choose it over my beloved Trader Joe's ginger granola, it had to be good. On my birthday, I went to buy the bulk ingredients, and that evening I made my first batch. It's delicious! Here are the approximate ingredients...although it was very spontaneous and unmeasured for the most part!

My mom watched me make it, and she commented that theirs is heavier on the oats. I wanted plenty of fruit and nuts in mine to make it crunchy and flavorful. The cinnamon helped, too. Result: NEW FAVORITE CEREAL! And less expensive than TJ's granola...

Marie's Homemade Muesli

Old-fashioned rolled oats (about 2 or 3 cups)
Barley flakes (about 2 cups)
Raisins
Roughly chopped almonds
Pumpkin seeds
Coconut
Chopped crystallized ginger
Chopped dried fruit and assorted nuts (from a bag I got at Costco)
Chopped dried dates
Cinnamon
Rice Crispies

Ragtime Video

If you live in Portland, love music and history, and want to see a great musical, check out "Ragtime" at Portland Center Stage--it's open through November 1. Here's a new video they just released:

RAGTIME The Musical from Portland Center Stage on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: Clara Callan

Clara Callan: A Novel Clara Callan: A Novel by Richard B. Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was a few pages into this fine, award-winning Canadian novel, it struck me how much I have always enjoyed epistolary novels. Clara Callan is told entirely in diary entries and letters between two sisters and a few other people in their lives.

The sisters grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, raised solely by their father after their mother died. After the death of their father, the younger sister, Nora, moves to New York City to become a radio actress. The older sister, Clara, stays in the small, insular town of Whitfield, working as a schoolteacher.

Wright paints strong multidimensional characters in the parts of the two sisters. I am like neither sister, and they are very different from one another, but I found myself admiring and relating to each sister.

Through their trials as single working women in the mid-1930s, they realize that they have more in common than they first thought. Each sister is strong and independent in her own way, even though that strength and independence is not valued by those around them (or by the sisters themselves).

Nora's friend Evelyn is a wonderful spunky character and her role adds depth to the story. With one exception (Clara's obsession with Charlie, which does not seem true to life to me, given her experience), I believe that Wright did an excellent job portraying the intimate lives of these women and their experiences in a Canadian small town and depression-era New York City.

I didn't want the novel to end!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Birth Week Continues!

I imagine by now you are probably tired of hearing all about my birthday! A woman turns 45 only once in her life, so she has to keep celebrating!

I took my birthday off from work, which I paid for the following day...but on Tuesday I enjoyed my leisurely day. I stayed in bed until 10:00 reading my lovely Clara Callan (which I just reviewed) and drinking English Breakfast tea. I dragged myself out of bed to do a couple of hours of work and then go off to pick Nick up from preschool with Mike. Then the three of us had lunch at Marco's. I had a roasted vegetable scramble, which was lovely!

NEW! Roasted Vegetable Scramble: two eggs scrambled with herb-roasted zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, onions and sweet red peppers

In the afternoon I stopped by Fred Meyer to buy some ingredients for muesli. Then I did some wandering in Hillsdale and Multnomah Village. I hit Paloma, which was having a sale--bought a new top and some earrings for myself--plus my two favorite southwest resale shops, followed by Topanien and Annie Bloom's. What a treat to be able to browse in three separate book stores during my birth week (followed by Borders and Powell's on the weekend)!

I returned home to the wonderful smells of mulligatawny, which Mike had made. My parents joined us for dinner. Yum! Fortunately he made a huge batch, and we're still eating it. It continues to be delicious.


Mom made my very favorite tunnel of fudge cake:

The boys singing to me and helping me blow out the candles:


My gift from them, which Chris was DESPERATE for me to open, was the new Beatles Rock Band for the Wii (just the game, as we already have the instruments). It's a blast--but it's made me realize I need to study up on the more obscure Beatles songs in order to be able to sing them. And my parents gave me two CDs: the new Girlyman, and a Sara Thomsen. So it turned out to be a very musical birthday and a wonderful day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wonderful Pre-Birthday Weekend, Part 2: Powells, Lunch, and Ragtime

Sunday morning: Browsing in Powell's

After leisurely reading the Sunday Oregonian in bed, checking out of the hotel, and stopping for a quick coffee/tea and snack at Starbucks, we went off to spend an hour at Powell's. That is my kind of getaway: two opportunities to browse in bookstores, two days in a row! And especially lovely: no one harassed me and offered me assistance! They stayed behind their desks and helped us when we asked (and we did ask, as Mike was looking for a hard-to-find book).

Sunday lunch: Deschutes Brewery

We met our friends Dave and Christie at the Deschutes Brewery for lunch. We'd never been there before, but it's destined to be a new favorite because they have gluten-free beer and tons of gluten-free food options on the menu. And it's conveniently located right next to Portland Center Stage. It happened to be Dave's birthday today, and we went to see Dar Williams with Christie and Dave last Thursday, so we felt privileged to be spending more time with them today.

Sunday afternoon: Ragtime

Mike and I had both read E.L. Doctorow's novel about 15 or 16 years ago, but we didn't remember much about it. I hadn't heard much about the Broadway production of Ragtime when it premiered in 1998 in New York. Apparently it was quite an elaborate production with fireworks and a real, working Model T Ford, and it didn't last very long on Broadway. I didn't have particularly high expectations, because the Oregonian and Willamette Week reviews were positive but understated. However, Chris Coleman's productions never disappoint me.

The reviews correctly described the set and staging of Ragtime as spare and simple. But. The beauty and quiet power of this production stunned me. The quality of the singing and acting, combined with the poignant, wonderful music of this play brought me to tears several times. When we left the theater, we felt emotionally exhausted...which is always a sign of excellent theater. The woman sitting next to Mike had seen Ragtime on Broadway, as well as the movie and the traveling version of the play, and she found PCS' version to be excellent. She commented that she missed the car, but she found the quality of the singing to be even stronger than the other productions. In particular, the actors who portrayed Mother (Susannah Mars), Coalhouse (Gavin Gregory), and Sarah (Rachael Ferrera) were phenomenal...but all of the singing was excellent.

And as we left the theater, 1 hour past our allotted parking time on our meter, we arrived back at our car to find no parking ticket. A wonderful day indeed!

After picking up the children at my parents, we arrived home to find a card and loaf of banana bread that had been delivered by our friends Lynn and Jolie. Lovely!

I feel very blessed. How did I luck out in finding such a wonderful, romantic, and sweet husband, great family and friends, and a city full of fun and opportunity?

And I still have two days to go until my birthday! Let the celebrations continue!

Wonderful Pre-Birthday Weekend, Part 1: Kidnapping and Dinner

What a great weekend!

Friday night: school carnival

Saturday morning: our regular visit to the Portland Farmer's Market

One of our favorite market performing groups, Shicky Gnarowitz, was on stage. They perform a sort of gypsy klezmer music, with an amazingly talented violinist. On a fluke, I looked up the group on YouTube, and found two videos of the performance. We were tickled to note that Kieran, Nick, and I all made cameo appearances in the second video. Kieran and Nick are at about 1:56, and I walk right past the band after the song ends (to go get a cup of coffee). Take a look!











Saturday afternoon: the kidnapping

I ended up taking a phone call for work after we returned--a woman in Washington DC was thinking of hiring me to do some editing of a grant proposal, so we talked about what she had in mind.

When I got off the phone, Kieran handed me a note: "In honor of your birthday, you are being kidnapped. Go pack an overnight bag while I take the boys to Ridgecrest Drive. All will be revealed on my return. Your loving husband." About 1/2 hour later, Mike took the boys off to my parents, and I waited for him to return. My sister-in-law Shemara called from Australia, and we spent an hour chatting and catching up, while I wondered where my kidnapper had gone! (He took a couple of side trips, including Target!)

We finally hopped in the car and drove into downtown Portland. We ended up at the Hotel Modera, not too far from my office! When Mike planned this little outing, he had a hard time finding a hotel room downtown. He couldn't figure out what was going on, until we saw a friend who was planning to run the Portland Marathon (today). All of the usual hotels were full, and the Hotel Modera was priced well beyond its typical room rates. But what is money to my romancing husband? :) We seemed to be the only ones staying downtown who were not running the marathon!

Around 5:15 we headed down towards Old Town, stopping for about 1/2 hour in Borders. Borders must have a new policy of placing clerks in the prominent browsing area (new books) and having them ask everyone if they can help customers find anything. I just did some research on the Web and discovered that Borders has a new CEO this year who is focusing on customer service...and Borders has not been known for its customer service. Perhaps Borders does need to improve its customer service, but I for one found the extremely perky sales clerk who said "Hi--can I help you find anything today? I'm Regina--just let me know if I can help you!" about four times in the short time we were there. I am a grumpy shopper, I suppose--I like to browse, and if I want to ask a question or buy something, I like good service. But otherwise I like to be left alone, especially in a bookstore! Bah humbug! :)

Saturday evening: dinner with friends

Mike had told me that we had reservations at 6 at our favorite adult Chinese restaurant, Sungari. When we arrived, the waiter said: "Table for four?" and Mike informed me that we had surprise guests arriving. The surprise soon revealed itself as I spotted our great friends Kristin and Roger walking in front of the restaurant. They have just returned to Portland after five years of living in Madison, Wisconsin, and we are SO DELIGHTED to have them back on the west coast. It was a wonderful treat to spend an uninterrupted (by children) dinner socializing with them and catching up.
We began our meal with a beautifully presented pot of alcoholic tea--Jasmine and pomegranate teas laced with ginger vodka and other things I can't remember:


Lovely dinner and a great way to celebrate my pre-birthday!

After dinner Kristin and Roger went home to relieve the babysitter, and Mike and I returned to the hotel to share a 1/2 bottle of champagne and chocolates Mike had brought. We also indulged in an expensive in-room movie, "The Proposal." It was a silly romantic comedy, but Mike stayed awake (which is high praise for a movie nowadays!). We enjoyed it...and it was fun to watch a movie in bed drinking champagne!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sleeping Beauty, Singing Beauty, and School Carnivals

I never get tired of watching my children sleep. Look at this little cherub! He loves to come into our bed early in the wee hours and fall back asleep...and wake up next to me. So sweet!


Last night we went to the Dar Williams concert, often an annual outing for us. Dar is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and it's hard for me to pass up her concerts when she comes to Portland. Over the years, her audiences have changed and grown older, as she has mellowed a bit as a musician. Years ago, she had college student groupies who would dance in the aisles. Now the audience is much more sedate. We arrived at the Aladdin, expecting lines all the way around the block...yet we were toward the front of the line and snagged seats in the fifth row! We went to the concert with our concert-going buddies Dave and Christie...who are about 10 years younger than we are, but have very similar musical tastes and life philosophies!


Right before the encore, Dar mentioned that she and her husband had just adopted a baby from Ethiopia...and she had just arrived in a colossal move of bad planning. When one is a musician, and concerts have been planned for months in advance, one can't just cancel them when the baby one plans to adopt is ready much sooner than expected. She said she'd been taken advantage of Skype! But I couldn't help but feel great pity for her, missing the first few weeks of critical bonding with her new daughter.

She closed with this song, which she wrote before she was a mom--as a tribute to parents and others who love children everywhere. How can it fail to induce the tears? It's gut-wrenching and made me want to go home and kiss my boys.

Tonight was the school carnival at Kieran's school. We will be at this beloved elementary school for SIXTEEN YEARS!!! (That's how well we've planned our family!) ;) Carnivals are blasts for the kids and somewhat stressful for the parents. Actually, it wasn't too bad. Chris worked as a volunteer staffing one of the booths while we wandered around following the younger kids. It's fun to see other parents we like, but we never have time to really chat much with them. Both Kieran and Nick won stuffed animals, so they were happy!
Nick at the dime toss:

Kieran with his new tattoo:

Nick getting his new tattoo--the tattoo artist wasn't very skilled, though, and it rubbed off nearly right away...oh well...

Me and Kieran:

Chris working the putt-putt booth:

Kieran, Mike, and Nick on the cake walk:

No cakes, but I wasn't too despondent. One year we won two cakes, and they were awful! A supermarket bakery donates them, and they're one-layer cakes with sugary frosting. I'm a very picky eater; why waste the calories on something that's not good?

Kieran in "jail"--for some reason, this is one of the most popular features of the carnival!

Snacks at the end--popcorn, pizza, and cotton candy!


So let's see--eight carnivals down, and eight to go?
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