Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Windfalls

Windfalls: A Novel Windfalls: A Novel by Jean Hegland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this book started out quite slowly, I came to appreciate its quiet prose and subtle depiction of the strains and blessings of motherhood.

Hegland takes two separate young women who each become pregnant and follows their lives as they take separate journeys.

One, Anna, has an abortion, but never tells anyone. The decision, and the process, is not treated lightly. Hegland portrays the deep anxiety and pain that go along with this decision. In Anna's case, this decision follows her for the rest of her life, into her life as an artist, wife, and mother.

Cerise is persuaded by a couple at a crisis pregnancy center to carry her child to term. They promise her help in raising the child, but of course this is an empty promise. Cerise's life is extremely difficult as she struggles to raise her child--and eventually two--completely on her own without any safety net or support.

Hegland deftly describes the difficulties in making a choice to have a child or not to have a child and the gray areas in the abortion and teen pregnancy issues.

My only quibble with the book is that I felt that Cerise was easier to relate to. It was difficult to understand why Anna closed herself off so easily to other people--what was her childhood like that led her to refrain from confiding in anyone when she got pregnant? Why couldn't she even tell her husband about her abortion? She seemed tormented by her art--or what she felt was her lack of art--and I couldn't quite understand why this was so. Was it all because of the abortion and the loss? What about the life she had created for herself with her family? Even when she was living in her grandparents' house, she wasn't really happy.

The book also covers issues of homelessness and helplessness for women who have no support systems. The central differences between Anna and Cerise were socioeconomic class and education. Anna had choices that Cerise never really had.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. Anyone who has difficulty reading about the death of a child should stay away. I include this in my review because I often wish that I had been warned of this in a book or movie. In the end, I found this to be a very sad story, but a beautiful one nevertheless.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Utah bill poised to criminalize miscarriage

In the bizarre legislative body of Utah (which recently proposed to honor gun manufacturers on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and considered eliminating 12th grade to save $), the Senate has joined the House in allowing homicide charges against expectant mothers who arrange illegal abortions....or who have miscarriages, either through "reckless" acts or by intentionally arranging for termination of their pregnancies.

According to Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Utah's proposed law is designed to be punitive toward pregnant women, not those who might assist or cause an illegal abortion or unintended miscarriage (such as a battering husband who assaults his wife). Instead, the victim could be charged with criminal homicide for "allowing" a miscarriage to occur. The bill criminalizes any actions taken by women to induce a miscarriage or abortion outside of a doctor's care, with penalties including up to life in prison.

So theoretically, if a woman rides on Splash Mountain at Disneyworld...or falls down the stairs carelessly...or doesn't give up smoking, she could be held legally responsible if she has a miscarriage caused by her "reckless" behavior. "This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," says Missy Bird, executive direct of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah. The standard is so broad, Bird says, "there nothing in the bill to exempt a woman for not wearing her seatbelt who got into a car accident."

I used two "abortion" procedures after two of my miscarriages--I had a D&C once, and another time I used medication prescribed by my doctor. In both instances, the embryo had died. (In my other two miscarriages, I just let nature take its course, but in retrospect I think the D&C was the easiest course for a most difficult time in my life.) As this blogger writes, what's next? Make every miscarriage a crime?

If you think this is insane, please help spread the word about this bizarre proposal. Activists in Salt Lake City have said that the only hope of stopping this from becoming a law is national media attention and widespread public outcry. Tell someone about this law right now. Post this on Facebook. Tweet it. Forward it to five friends. And ask them all to do the same.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Musical-obsessed family

Mike and I have always loved the theater, and while he was on the stage in school, I was behind the scenes, doing props, working the box office, or ushering. Beaverton High School had a phenomenal theater department, and I got to see the shows for free when I worked.

We've been season ticket holders at Portland Center Stage for over 15 years, and we also regularly attend the Northwest Children's Theater. Theater, storytelling, and music are part of our family culture.

Our children, however, have taken it to a completely different level. This week Chris has tried out for the middle school spring play, "Grease." I remember loving "Grease" when it came out as a movie at the end of my junior high school years. As a big Olivia Newton John fan, it was right up my alley. Last summer we went to see a kids' company production of "Grease," and I was dismayed at the content and implications. Sandy becomes a "bad girl" so she can get the guy? The "geek" in the school is constantly made fun of, with vaguely homophobic slurs (such as implying that he is a girl). Drag racing and smoking are glorified.

Then I start thinking about other classic Broadway musicals, such as "Bye Bye Birdie" or others. How many of them have wholesome and modern sensibilities? Their plots are really completely silly and often shallow!

Sometimes I feel that we are already overly strict with what we allow our children to watch (especially when it comes to violence)...and then I think I'm probably being paranoid. It's too late anyway. Kieran loves to watch the movie version of "Grease." I just hope he doesn't turn out to be a hood!

At any rate, last year after seeing the play, we had a "Grease" obsession going on for quite some time. Kieran began "greasing" his hair back every day (with hair gel) and pretending to be Danny Zuko. Nick, for some reason, wants to be "Sonny."

Now that the "Grease" audition process has started (the cast list will be posted on Friday), Kieran and Nick are back in full "Grease" mode. We are listening to the soundtrack again, and they are both wearing their leather jackets around. Nick in particular loves to sing all the songs at the top of his lungs! Thank God the lyrics are over the heads..."Tell me more, tell me more, did he get very far?" not to mention "I've got chills, they're multiplyin', and I'm losin' control...cause the power you're supplyin', it's electrifyin'!" And then there's "Feel your way!" sung in a lusty, lascivious tone of voice. But the worst has probably got to be: "You are supreme, the chicks'll cream, for Greased Lightnin'!"

Sigh. At least the melodies are contagious!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Prescription for happiness: five simple actions

Previously, scientists argued that what determines happiness is beyond a person's control: for example, genetics, health, or upbringing.

In a recent study, scientists from the University of California, Riverside, found that a person's happiness is partly genetically determined and also affected by factors beyond one's control...but they also concluded that we have the power to contribute to our own sense of happiness, by doing five simple things:

Be grateful
Write letters of gratitude to people who have helped you in your life. You don't even need to send the letters (but they might appreciate receiving them)!

Be optimistic
Visualize an ideal future or something you would like to happen, and express it in writing.

Count your blessings
Every week, write down three good things that happen to you. Focusing on the positive helps you remember reasons to be happy.

Use your strengths
Look for ways to use your strengths in new ways. Feeling overcommitted? Choose which activities you most enjoy and most play to your strengths, and focus most of your time on those.

Commit acts of kindness
Help others to help yourself. Donate time or money to charity, or altruistically assist people in need.

The study showed that all five of these techniques helped participants to increase their feelings of well-being and their levels of happiness.

Stupid Callous Homophobic Legislation

A family friend found me on Facebook recently--our moms were high school chums--and she posted this wonderful video this morning. Love it! Happy Monday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What lies beneath that barely suppressed rage

After reading about Dr. Amy Bishop's barely suppressed rage, which came exploding in fury at her colleagues at the University of Alabama-Huntsville last week, it reminds me of an incident in our past that was very upsetting at the time.

Before Chris was born, Mike met an English professor at a writing conference; I'll call him "D." They hit it off and became friends, and their wives were drawn into the friendship as well. We spent quite a lot of time with them during that period. They got pregnant shortly before we did, and then sadly the wife ("L.") had a miscarriage. However, they seemed genuinely happy when we discovered we were pregnant. Having experienced multiple miscarriages ourselves, we now can truly understand that this apparent happiness was most likely ambivalent.

D. and L. had relocated to Portland from Idaho, where D. had been teaching. It seemed that everywhere D. went, someone had wronged him. He left figurative bodies and broken friendships in his wake, but of course it was always someone else's fault. L. seemed much more even tempered. We spent lots of time with them: going on hikes in the Columbia Gorge and sharing dinners at each other's houses. (I remember one dinner at their apartment, at which we waited for literally hours for dinner, with nothing to eat, but lots of wine to drink. We felt very light-headed and starving by the time dinner was finally served!)

Then Chris was born and we were thrown into the crisis mode of the NICU, or what I think of as our "wilderness," after today's church homily, which talked about each of us experiencing a wilderness at some point in our lives, and often it can enrich our lives and our faith. Initially, D. and L. were incredibly attentive, bringing us food and calling constantly to see how Chris was doing.

One of the many difficult things about having an NICU baby is not being able to experience the "normal" parts of a pregnancy, like childbirth classes and baby showers. My parents hosted a baby shower for us while Chris was still in the NICU. We invited D. and L. to attend, and they did.

When we arrived home that evening after the shower, we pressed "messages" on our answering machine, and heard a hate- and expletive-filled diatribe. D. had apparently been horribly offended by a couple of incidences at the shower, beginning with the fact that most of the attendees had been members of my extended family. He was mortified by something trivial Mike had said (can't even remember what it was now!) and as D. was trying to explain the location of their recently purchased house (in North Portland), my dad was trying to give one of my uncles a landmark, and commented that they lived near a gas station one of my great-uncles owned. This D. found egregiously offensive.

As regular blog readers will remember, there's nothing worse in my opinion than intentions being misread. Here we were, being accused of what we understood not. It was completely bizarre, and triply upsetting given the fact that we had an extremely sick, fragile baby in the NICU at the time. These were people we thought were our good friends, and they completely turned on us.

D. subsequently ended up leaving Portland in shame. (Thanks to Google, I know this...) He was convicted of assaulting a student during an off-campus party. The faculty union fought to save his job. He is now teaching at a college on the east coast, and received a teaching honor in 2008. Of course, it begs the question: did the university that hired him know of his past when it hired him? I cannot imagine that the hiring committee would have known his past.

And what happened to L.? We have no idea. The baby gift was returned (although they rejected the returned mail and it came back to us), as was the tupperware in which D. and L. had delivered food to us in our hour of need (soon after Chris was born). All contact since that toxic answering message was cut off.

For years, it shook Mike's confidence. He had never had that much hate spewed directly at him before, and never has since, thank God. D. is who I think of when I read about Dr. Amy Bishop's shooting rampage. And I'm actually deeply grateful that we discovered D.'s true roots and stopped being friends with him before something worse could have happened. I believe that he is a man on the edge of a deep, violent rage. Who knows what could tip the scales of that rage.

If only the University of Huntsville would have known about Dr. Amy Bishop's history of barely suppressed rage. She actually shot her own brother to death at the age of 21 and was never convicted! In many other cases of people who end up exploding in violent furies, friends and family see signs in advance.

D. and L. are now referred to in family lore as "the unmentionables." We never actually say their names. However, I was amused to note that D.'s name is featured in Mike's latest novel, as a bully! That's a fine way to have the last word!

Bad Mama

As I write, I'm listening to Kieran scream and moan because he's absolutely furious at me.

I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather in Portland today by taking out my "new" bike (bought during the winter) for a spin. I hadn't been on a bike in probably 15 years. Kieran expressed his desire to go with me, and I reluctantly agreed (knowing it wouldn't be much of a workout that way).

When the time came for me to leave, Kieran was upstairs in his room inventing something. I said to Mike "I wonder if Kieran would get upset if I went without him." Mike said, "He'll get over it."

Yes, maybe in 2012.

I had a great bike ride, although I certainly felt how out of shape I am! Riding a bike uses different muscles than running on a treadmill, doing Wii Fit, or using an elliptical. Especially with all the hills we have in our neighborhood. I probably pushed myself too hard on my first time out. I came back thoroughly winded and worn out, and no doubt I'll be saddle sore tomorrow too!

As soon as Kieran had discovered that I had gone, he started screaming and wailing. Mike took the boys outside for a bike ride, and Kieran temporarily recovered. (In fact, Mike said he had to push Kieran on his bike much of the way...the hills, again. So it wouldn't have been a very successful bike ride if I had my own bike to deal with.) However, as soon as they returned and he saw me, he started anew.

There's nothing I can do to make it up to him. He doesn't want hugs, and he doesn't want my apologies. I do truly feel horrible for breaking my promise to him. But I realize I never should have made it in the first place. I need to find a flat surface to take him to for bike riding, some day when he's stopped being mad at me.

Kieran's going through some temperamental developmental phase--he's always been our most-passionate child, but recently we've had all sorts of tantrums for a variety of reasons, most of them entirely unpredictable (unlike this one).

It's really unfortunate, because we had a lovely afternoon before this. We took the family to ComedySportz for Kids, which they all loved. It's right up their alley, and I have a feeling it will be a regular activity from now on.

In the meantime, I'm the worst mother alive (my words, not his...).

P.S. Since writing this post, Kieran's fury has finally passed...we had lots of hugs and apologies, followed by a rousing session on Wii Sports Resort...Kieran beat me soundly at Dogfight and 100-pin Bowling (and I didn't even let him win)! Thank goodness he seems to have forgiven me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crab Cakes for Dinner Last Night

One of my favorite menu items is crab cakes, but they can be very expensive...and often are not the healthiest item, either. We are eating out less lately, and we're finding it easier to eat healthier that way. I splurged and bought a pound of crabmeat yesterday, which is vastly cheaper than paying $20+ for two measly crab cakes in a restaurant. This is my favorite crab cake recipe, which mostly consists of crab (and only a bit of bread crumbs).

Crab Cakes
From How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

Serves 4

Time: 15 minutes, plus refrigeration time

1 lb. fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1 egg
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup minced scallion
1/4 mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. plain bread crumbs, or as needed
About 1 cup flour for dredging
1 tsp. curry powder (optional)
2 Tbsp peanut, olive, or vegetable oil and 2 Tbsp butter (or use all oil) (I actually used nonstick spray)
Lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce

1. Mix together the crab, egg, bell pepper, scallion, mayo, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add sufficient bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes; start with 2 Tbsp and use more if you need it. (I used spelt bread, and used the crumbs from one heel of bread.)

2. Refrigerate the mixture until you're ready to cook (it will be easier to shape if you refrigerate for 30 minutes or more, but it is ready to go when you finish mixing). (I didn't take the time to refridgerate it yesterday.)

3. Season the flour (I used spelt flour) with salt, pepper, and curry if you you like. (I actually put the curry right into the crab mixture instead, and they turned out great.) Preheat a large skillet (I used a pancake griddle), preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the oil and butter (or nonstick spray) and heat until the butter foam subsides. Shape the crabmeat mixture into four cakes (in my case, I made about eight smaller cakes), dredge each in the flour, and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and turning once (very gently), until golden brown on both sides. Total cooking time will be about 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. (We ate them with Trader Joe's bruschetta sauce on top!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Way to Draw Attention, Elton!

In a recent interview with Parade magazine, Elton John mentioned that he viewed Jesus as a "compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems." Of course, the media has jumped all over this, saying that John is calling Jesus gay. The Catholic League was quick to condemn his comments, saying that calling Jesus homosexual is to call him a "sexual deviant."

Now he has had to explain his comments, which he does eloquently in this interview:

As someone who is not a man like Jesus was, I can certainly understand Elton John's desire to relate to Jesus and God. Personally, I believe that Jesus was a feminist...and displayed his radical beliefs in the equality of men and women. The bible gives glimpses of this, but there's so much more beyond the written word, which as we know was written hundreds of years after Jesus' death, by imperfect men.

And after all, if Dumbledore can be gay, why not Jesus? :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

February Spring in Portland

While most of the country faces record-high snowfall and frozen conditions, the Northwest is experiencing a winter warm spell (as anyone who has been following the Winter Olympics will know). Portland hit a balmy high of mid- to upper-50 degrees F today.

I took the advantage of decent weather to start on the new habit I'm trying to forge: regular walks on my lunch hour.

In the past year, my job has become increasingly sedentary. Nearly all of my time is spent on the phone or computer, since I'm interacting with people around the country and hardly ever with people in my own office. I have to force myself to get out of my chair.

I've been remiss in going to the gym--it's across the river and takes me at least 20 minutes in traffic to get there and back--so I am thinking I should probably cancel my membership. We do have a fitness room in our office, although the idea of working out with people I know does not thrill me. I've also been trying to use the Wii Fit Plus regularly (but with the Olympics on in the evenings, that will be a challenge in the next several days).

Now that spring is coming, I'm going to try to get outdoors more--walking or biking. (This would also boost my intake of Vitamin D, which we Northwesterners lack.) Today was a beautiful start!

My office is very close to the waterfront--it takes just 5 to 10 minutes to get there, depending on the route. Today I put on my iPod headphones and walked down to Riverplace and out onto the river, and then looped around and circled back to the office by another route. It was a glorious walk, and lots of Portlanders were out and about enjoying our early spring weather.

All I had was my BlackBerry camera, so the photos don't do it justice...this shows the deck walkway I walked on, into the river:

Offering great views of Portland's many bridges:

And past where many of the dragon boats were moored:

A goose that was dearly hoping I would have some food:

Scores of ducks and geese enjoying the weather and the waterfront:

I've always been drawn to the water, and I realize that getting down to the river is good for my soul. I must do it more often.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My husband, the blogger

After many years of claiming that he could never write a blog (lest he spend too much time blogging and not enough on his fiction writing), my husband has finally succumbed.

And not only succumbed, but actually seems to be getting into the hang of things!

Apparently, editors and agents are more likely to be interested in writers who have an online presence. Hence, the blog. He still claims he will not do Facebook...he will not sink that low!

So, ta-da, here it is: The Year of Writing Dangerously. Click the link at your own risk.

Best concert of our lives

Last spring we bought tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel in their "Face 2 Face" tour, scheduled to come to Portland in November 2009. When November approached however, Elton John fell ill with e.coli and the concert was cancelled. The rescheduled concert occurred on Wednesday night, and I must say it was worth waiting for!

Both Elton and Billy are long-time favorites of mine. My very first boyfriend (another Catholic named Mike!) got me hooked on Elton John by giving me an album, and "Your Song" was our song.

My college roommate Debbie was a big Billy Joel fan and her enthusiasm was contagious. I have all of his albums (or CDs) and introduced Mike to Billy when we lived in Japan by making a mix tape (remember those days??). We also went to see Billy Joel in concert in Japan--we were in the back row down on the main floor, and being short, I couldn't really see much unless I stood on my chair--and the Japanese security guards kept coming over, telling me to get down. I also remember Billy jumping on his piano, pretending to be a sumo wrestler, and the crowd of Japanese girls screaming "BEE-REE! BEE-REE!"

Well, now it is 22 years later, and Billy was not jumping on any piano. In fact, he made several jokes about his age and actually being Billy Joel's father instead. But man, did he play it!!

It was a completely amazing concert. We were in the second row of the nosebleed seats, but they turned out to be fine because of the video monitor overhead, which gave us an excellent view. I kept thinking throughout that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event--they are both in their 60s now, and who knows how much longer they will tour together. However, I would jump at the chance to experience this concert again.

Before the concert started, we were peering at the stage in wonder, because it seemed to be completely empty, but high-tech looking somehow. When the concert began, two grand pianos rose up out of the stage, and Elton and Billy took their places. They proceeded to play a series of their hits, alternating the ones they had written but singing and playing together. Their band members appeared gradually to accompany them.

The piano playing was fantastic. They are both gifted musicians, and they seemed to have a blast playing together and off of each other. They each had their own back-up bands, full of talented musicians. I was particularly impressed with Billy Joel's, which included some phenomenal trumpet and saxophone players.

Then Billy left and Elton John and his band played for about an hour. He played a few obscure songs that I didn't know, but they were really the only unfamiliar songs in the whole concert. He is not very talkative in concert, but I thought Sir Elton seemed incredibly gracious, taking bows after each song, and often running past the people in the front row, shaking people's hands. (I don't think I've ever seen any performer do that!) He changed his suit, shirt, and glasses (beginning with pink, ending with red) and even with his rotten toupe, seemed more focused on his image and faded glamour. I realized how much I enjoy Elton John's music and determined to get some of his CDs out of the library.

Have you ever noticed that the higher level the seats, the less engaged people seem to be? On the floor, the diehard groupies are all dancing and singing. In the 200 level, you can see a handful of people dancing. At the 300 level, hardly anyone. I noticed that we happened to be seated with no one behind us (we were on the aisle, backing the entrance) and if I stood up and danced, I wouldn't annoy anyone. Should I or shouldn't I? I did! I stood up and danced all by myself! It took a great deal of guts for me to do it, and eventually Mike danced with me for some of the songs (and a few people in the row in front of us were eventually emboldened, too). Every upbeat song, I was on my feet dancing. It certainly made me enjoy the concert more that way. And why was I worried about annoying people? The younger people in our row exited repeatedly to get more outrageously expensive beers ($8.50/cup), and they didn't seem to be concerned that we had to keep letting them pass.

Then Billy came on the stage, and he continues to be quite the showman. He was a clear American contrast to Elton John--most of his band members were from New York or New Jersey (except for the lone female musician, from Gary, Indiana), and he gyrated, swore, and flung the microphone about during "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." He too shook hands and signed autographs.

Finally, the icon musicians came together again for the encore. They closed with "Piano Man."

The last major concert we saw in the Portland Rose Garden was over 5 years ago, when we saw Annie Lennox and Sting for my 40th birthday. Annie Lennox was fantastic, and Sting was disappointing. But this time, each performer astonished me with his brilliance and musical talent.
The first concert I ever saw was John Denver, in the Memorial Coliseum. He played for 3-1/2 hours, spoiling me forever. This was probably the only other concert we've been to that went on for 3-1/2 hours. Worth every penny!
Here are a few videos, of "My Life" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," but they really don't do the show justice. Simply amazing!

It's the Winter Olympics! Baby!

The Winter Olympics opens this evening, and compared to other Olympics, it seems like there's been comparatively little fanfare about it. (One article I read said that Americans tend to go ga-ga over the Summer Olympics, which I suppose is true.)

Maybe I am feeling that way because Mike, usually a complete OLYMPICS FANATIC, has been very low key about it this year. Perhaps he's still nursing his wounds because I put the kibosh on going. (Every time the Olympics come around, he makes noises about wanting to go...and to me, the crowds, the costs, and the hassles make it less than appealing. Or perhaps it's because the one time he did go was Atlanta '96, when I was 6 months pregnant with Chris, and started bleeding while I was home alone...perhaps one of the precursors to preterm labor.)

And speaking of pregnancies, that is what the Winter Olympics will always bring to mind. Four years ago, we were watching the Olympics every evening until 11 or 11:30 and I kept falling asleep on Mike's shoulder. Those of you know me well will know that I am the night owl in this family, and Mike's usually the one to fall asleep (while we are watching movies). So I thought it was very peculiar.

Without going into great detail about why a pregnancy was not in the cards for us, the most significant were my age (41), the fact I always needed help to get pregnant before, and had four miscarriages between Chris and Kieran. At two children, we were done. Our family was complete. Two on two. I remember feeling wistful occasionally about being done having children, especially because both of us come from families of origin with three children, but the logical side of me said that it is much easier to travel with only two children--and we travel a lot out of necessity and fun.

I honestly did not believe I could possibly be pregnant, but the night-time fatigue made me wonder just a tiny bit. I didn't appear to have any other tell-tale symptoms. I had Mike pick up a pregnancy test, which proved to be inconclusive. (It was a cheap test.) I asked him to buy a more expensive, name brand one--and one evening as we were getting ready for our Olympics viewing, I took the test. I will always remember sitting in the kitchen nook, waiting for Mike to come downstairs after kissing the boys goodnight.

Wordlessly, I showed him the results. "Shock and awe" is the only way to describe our reaction. While Mike was still trying to get his bearings and adjust to the news, I went into overdrive preparation mode (as is my habit): "Where will we put the baby?" "We'll have to get a bigger car, or even a mini-van!" (Note: we still have not purchased a mini-van, but I suspect it is looming in our future.) Poor guy!

We were so shocked by the realization that our lives were going to change completely--Mike had been looking forward to Kieran going to preschool that fall so he could spend more time writing--that we did not even watch the Olympics that night!

After all the infertility we had experienced, combined with all the miscarriages and Christopher's extreme prematurity, we knew that this pregnancy was meant to be. For whatever reason, we were not done. Even though we both consider ourselves pro-choice and strongly support a woman's right to abortion, we also believe that everything happens for a reason, and this baby was choosing us. (Similar to how we felt when we were asked to choose between a radical c-section or vaginal birth with Chris, which meant the difference between possible life, or death. Not really a choice.)

Even though we felt it was meant to be, we still didn't really believe it was going to happen, given all the miscarriages and my "advanced maternal age." When we first told my parents, we were extremely cautious, and said "if the pregnancy goes forward," or something silly like that. Even though we felt somewhat ambivalent about having another child, we also didn't want to get our hopes up.

Well, as you all know, Nicholas was meant to be. And now we can't imagine our lives or our family without him. As I watch the Winter Olympics this month, that evening of shock and awe will be on my minds throughout the next two weeks.

Here's our family 1 month after I discovered I was pregnant, on spring break at Disneyland (I remember feeling disgusted that I couldn't go on the thrill rides, because the last time we were in Disneyland I was pregnant with Kieran, and I had really been looking forward to them!!). When Mike and Chris went on Splash Mountain repeatedly, I was circling the "Winnie the Pooh" ride with Kieran...over and over and over again.

Here we are on the zoo train on the day of our company picnic, about a week before Nicholas was born:

And a few days before the scheduled c-section (Kieran and Nick both had to be born via c-section because Chris' emergency birth had been a radical c-section):

I loved being pregnant. A very small part of me is sad I will never experience that again.(But I don't want more children!! And it's too late for that anyway.)

Grandma reading a story to four of the boys--waiting for Baby Nicholas to be born

Nadine and me before surgery

Mom and me

With my boys...

Nadine and Mike all suited up and ready--Nadine was in the delivery room for Kieran and Nicholas' births--and in addition to having my beloved sister with us, having a doctor observer really put my mind to ease. (She was watching all of the surgery intently and giving reports, while Mike stayed up near my head!) The c-section was kind of stressful, because they had to cut through a lot of scar tissue to get to the baby...and then when he was born, he had some breathing troubles and they had to call in a NICU team to check him out. That freaked Mike out more than me. He wasn't as feisty or big as Kieran when he came out.

Meeting sweet Nicholas for the first time

With the exception of a few very upsetting incidents with the Family Birth Center nurses regarding nursing and bottles, Nicholas was fine. He was just a little peanut at 6 lb, 7 oz (but still huge compared to Chris).
Mike and Nicholas with the best perinatologist (high-risk OB) in the world, Dr. Andy Merrill. He delivered both Kieran and Nick, and one of the best things about getting pregnant again was being able to go see Dr. Merrill again! Love that man.

David and Ryan waiting to meet the baby

Chris in the waiting room, age 10

With Aunty Nadine

With Dr. Merrill, post-op

Brothers holding Nick for the first time

At home, in Grandpa's hands:


First day of school for Kieran several days after birth: my first outing while recovering

A happy cousin Ryan holding Nick:

With his big brother:

Ooh--scary grandpa!

Grandma England visits and meets the baby:


With his fairy godmother Nancie in Seattle, before Christmas (hey--maybe that's why he continues to be obsessed with Santa Claus--that first Santa suit!):

Enjoy the Winter Olympics, baby!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

This afternoon, I organized my cookbooks

Here's a cross-post to my other blog, "One Year to an Organized Life."

Feels so freeing! Now to get cooking...

Most gorgeous song and rendition!

As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of Storm Large and have seen her live and posted her videos before.

She did a holiday show last year in Portland--unfortunately by the time I knew about it, the show had sold out.

Friday night I was driving home and heard the achingly beautiful song "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, and I thought to myself that I must get a recording of it.

Now Storm Large has just released a video of her singing that very song at her holiday show, with Portland actor Wade McCollum and singer Holcombe Waller. Heart-stoppingly gorgeous!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This Valentine's Day, take a stand against chocolate slave labor!

I know very few people who do not love chocolate. Americans spend $13 billon/year on chocolate.

But how many of us are aware of the price being paid in the Ivory Coast, to feed the world's chocolate obsession?

A friend of mine just posted this article on Facebook, and I was shocked to read that at least 12,000 children (and possibly as many as 200,000!) are conscripted into slavery and forced to work in shockingly abusive conditions. (Watch the video below.) Being a person who tries to live according to my principles (refusing to shop at Wal-Mart, or forgoing a diamond wedding ring because of then-apartheid in major diamond producer South Africa), I was horrified to discover that I had been blithely supporting slave labor.

What can we do? Spread the word. Eat and buy lots of chocolate, but only fair trade (now widely available). And spread the word some more!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Weird news of the day

This morning a Toronto colleague brought this up on a conference call, and I couldn't believe it: Mildred's Temple Kitchen, a Toronto restaurant, is actively encouraging its patrons to have sex in its washrooms (not bathrooms--in Canada!) on Valentine's sending out a promotional e-mail to its customers.

According to the Huffington Post, "Toronto's Public Health food safety program manager said the restaurant wasn't breaking any laws as long as there's no intercourse in the kitchen and the bathrooms are kept clean." Not a surprise to me--it's Canada. This would NEVER happen in the United States.

Americans are uptight about sex. Sometimes I'm glad about that (no tabloid nude centerfolds in the U.S., like in Britain, and I'm not so crazy about promoting washroom sex), and other times I'm not (such as when sex repression results in major double standards and anti-gay sentiment).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Evil attack ad--how low can politics sink?

I'm so disappointed to read that the most hostile, evil attack advertisement yet created was done so by a woman.

I will not post it here, because that's exactly what the Fiorina campaign wants bloggers to do.

How can anyone vote for such dirty tactics? I don't know very many Californian Republicans, but I should hope they'd be grossly turned off by this person.

Book Review: Wicked

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years, #1) Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, thank God I'm done with THAT!!!

So much potential, so much squandered. Clearly a talented writer, Maguire greatly disappointed me. I've been told by many book-loving friends that the musical version is far superior to the book.

At times, I was very interested in the plot and its characters, but so much of this book bored me to tears. It just went on and on and on...and I stopped caring. The only reason I read to the end was to find out how the Dorothy story was tied in...and what really happened from the witch's point of view. I'm not sure it was worth it. I want all that time back!

Kieran, of course, is desperate to have me read it to him because of his fondness for The Wizard of Oz. I read him the prologue one evening and then read the reviews on Goodreads, during which I discovered that it is not suitable for children. Well, that's an understatement. The book contains a good deal of bizarre sex and violence, and just plain meanness. Not to mention the fact that it would bore him to tears. Now he's desperate to see the musical.

I just read the plot of the play on wikipedia, and it appears that the playwright changed it quite dramatically (probably why the play is better). Apparently a movie production is in the works. We'll have to wait for that...maybe by the time it comes out, Kieran will be old enough to see it!

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Nicholas and the bossy girl

Nicholas has been fretting about a girl at school called Lucy. One day I asked him who he liked in his class (a huge class size of seven!), and he said "I don't like Lucy."

"Why not?" I asked.

"She tells me not to sing so loud!" He responded.

Apparently they also get into power struggles over a little Scooby Doo mystery machine car, which they both love.

Today, the stakes went higher.

"I'm going to write Lucy a letter," said Nicholas.

"Oh really?" asked Mike.

"I'm going to tell her to stop telling me what to do!" he said.

Mike asked, "Will you sign it 'Love, Nicholas'"?

"No, Dad!"