Friday, April 30, 2010

Strong hand

When we were at the Northwest Women's Music Celebration last weekend, Mom and I went to a class on "Americana" music taught by a talented young woman named Coty Hogue...who is studying for a master's in Appalachian music in North Carolina. She introduced us to a sampling of "Americana" music, much of which I'd never heard before. This was one of the songs we sang--and it has stuck with me ever since last weekend. I can't get the tune out of my head.

It's a song that Emmylou Harris wrote for Johnny and June Carter Cash, when she heard that June Carter Cash had fallen ill. It's poignant, simple, and beautiful. Here's Emmylou singing it in concert.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I initially planned to give this book three stars, but then I realized that I was relieved to be done with it, so I decided to downgrade it to two stars.

I found Reading Lolita in Tehran to be lacking. It had been on my shelves for years, and I finally dove into it, almost to nearly give up on it at my 50-page rule (i.e., if I'm not enjoying a book at 50 pages in, give serious thought about whether I want to continue). However, friends urged me to continue and said it gets better. True--it did improve for awhile.

Given my typical reading preferences (particularly the fact I was an English major and love Jane Austen, and I enjoy reading about women in different countries, especially Asia), this seems like the kind of book I would thoroughly enjoy.

I found the writing to be stand-offish and pompous at times, and pet peeves alert, I didn't like her condescending use of "my girls" to refer to her students. Also, what's with "my magician"? Did I miss an explanation of that term?

I had a hard time keeping all of the students straight, because we really do not get a very vivid picture of any one of them. Nafisi, her husband, and her children also do not get a lot of details...same with her "magician." She used a very broad brush for her characters, both in real life and in the novels she was using to teach.

I found her descriptions of life in Iran to be interesting, although I was curious about the fact that she seemed to want the revolution herself before it happened. I found it hard to understand why her husband didn't seem to get the fact that she was being stifled in Iran, but I think back to living in Japan (which is nowhere near the same situation), and how much more my husband enjoyed our life there than I did. In a society where the status of women and men are so unequal, life is infinitely easier for a man. As much as I look back fondly to my time in Japan, I was ready to leave after 3 years...while Mike was much more regretful to depart.

Some have criticized her book for being anti-Iran, and I wouldn't agree with that. It's definitely anti-totalitarian. I will never forget attending my sister's medical school graduation and meeting her close friend's Iranian parents (who had just flown in from Iran). I was struck by her mother's colorful clothing, vivid makeup, and most of all, vivacious personality. It was nearly impossible for me to imagine her in a chador! Nafisi describes living life in a totalitarian regime as sleeping with a man you abhor. To me, I imagine it as a canary in a coal mine.

I am disappointed that I didn't get more out of this book, and I wonder why so many people I respect really enjoyed it. I must be missing something.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amazing Marimba!

A few hours after I returned from music camp (where I learned the rudimentary basics of marimba), we went to a benefit marimba concert at the Multnomah Arts Center. And this was a serious marimba band--they were from a prestigious secondary school in Botswana called the Maru-a-Pula School, and their marimba band was touring the west coast to raise money for scholarships in orphans. (Botswana has one of the highest AIDS rates in the world and has more than 30,000 AIDS orphans. The school now funds 30 full orphan scholarships and hopes to raise the money to fund 60 full scholarships.)

Mike and I have enjoyed marimba music for years--going back to when we were first married and about the only marimba band in Portland was Boka Marimba. But I've never heard an authentic marimba band from Africa, and man...American marimba bands just do not compare! This group of kids was phenomenal! Their music had way more variety and dynamics, and CHARACTER. I thoroughly enjoyed it...and as you can see from the photos, so did the boys!

Here's a video of the Maru-a-Pula School band performing in Seattle--you can get a flavor for how talented they are:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Making music with the women at camp!

This past weekend I went to camp with a bunch of women to make music.

About 10 or 12 years ago (I can't even remember how long ago it was), I attended the Northwest Women's Music Celebration, a music camp held annually at the YMCA Camp Collins in Gresham, Oregon. The camp was founded by a great women's folk music band called Motherlode. This year marked their 20th year of holding this camp at Camp Collins. The first time I went to the camp I attended by myself, and the following year I took along my mom.

Then life got crazy with kids, etc., and I didn't go back again until this year...when not only my mom decided to go along, but also two friends! We had a fantastic weekend. In the intervening years, the camp organizers vastly improved the organization and the offerings: more teachers, more classes, and way, way more laughter. I noticed a distinct effort to reach out to newcomers and up the fun factor.

The camp started on Friday afternoon. After registration was the first of many song circles, led by members of Motherlode. (A song circle is a musical gathering where each person takes turns choosing a song.) After the newcomers' meeting (which Mom and I attended since we felt a bit like newcomers ourselves) and dinner was the opening event and a teachers' concert. Each teacher talked about the courses she would be offering and performed. The theme for the weekend was the 60s, and I can't imagine an easier theme--for dress-up, decorations, and especially--MUSIC!

Here are the emcees (and camp coordinators), Sonny and Cher:

And members of Motherlode, appearing as the Fab Four:
Friday night after the teacher concert we went to another song circle until a little after midnight.

Saturday was divided up into three sessions, with about five or six courses per session. I found it hard to choose which one I wanted to attend! For session #1, I went to intermediate mandolin, feeling a bit nervous about that, since I would call myself an advanced beginner rather than intermediate. However, the two other students were at similar levels of experience. I really enjoyed that class and learned some new tricks. More important, I developed more confidence with the instrument.

For Session #2 I went to a session on Americana music, led by a young woman who is pursuing her master's degree in Appalachian music in North Carolina...and who had an amazing voice. She taught us about a wide variety of American roots music, from the Carter Family to Cajun music and a primitive Baptist hymn. After lunch I went to the Beatles/60s music song circle. 

Then we had a bit of free time. Karina and I had signed up for the student concert that evening, so we worked on our song for awhile, and Mom and Lois decided to join us as well. Then Karina and I did some tie dye; I made two t-shirts for my tie-dye-obsessed Kieran.

The concert was the highlight of the weekend. Most of the classes offered a performance--and it was very inspiring to see all these women get up on stage, after having only learned the harmonica/accordion/fiddle/guitar/marimba/drumming, etc., for the first time that day. Many of the acts were moving and serious, while others were drop-dead hilarious. In addition to the musical acts, one woman did a great monologue from "The Vagina Monologues" and a wonderful African dancer (Habiba) did some storytelling. 

Here we are, the "Moms of Miracles," singing Susan Werner's wonderful sassy song, "Our Father (Revised)," which the audience seemed to enjoy (unfortunately, you can't see Lois in the photo):

Karina had never sung a solo before, but she sang two verses of the song solo--yay, Karina!
This was a hilarious comedy sketch in which the leader was trying to sing "California Dreaming," and her backup singers were extremely dense...funny!
Karina performing with the guitar ballads class:
Me with the other intermediate mandolinists (and teacher Gwenlyn Thomas):

Here is an absolutely hilarious video of the Sarah Palin parody a group of women did at the student concert. I don't remember when I last laughed that hard!!!

Here's my friend Lois playing in the marimba band:

And Mom as a flower child, singing in the Showtunes group (the woman who impersonated Sarah Palin was the Showtunes teacher--she was amazing!). I would have enjoyed that class, but it was offered the same time as intermediate mandolin, and I knew I had to take a mandolin class.

After the concert we did some line dancing to 60s music (including The Hustle!). The next morning after packing, cleanup, and brunch, we had one final session--and I chose beginning marimba. Such a blast! It was the first time I'd ever tried my hand at the marimba, and I think I could really get addicted to it. It's trance inducing!

Mom on the marimba:

And Lois enjoyed it so much, she took the class again!

After the final class, we had the closing circle--an emotional tribute to all who helped put the weekend together and the special camp participants. The weekend was often bittersweet and poignant, as one of the members of Motherlode is battling ovarian cancer and is the middle of chemotherapy. It was a true testament to the restorative, caring power of a group of women gathered together, because it really felt like we had encircled her in a healing cloud of love.

All the "senior" members of camp (women over 65), including Mom.

Here I am with my camp buddies--Lois, Mom, and Karina--it was so much fun to hang out with them and make music with them!

Before the weekend was halfway over, I was already planning my return next year. However, in 2011 the Northwest Women's Music Celebration will be held on Easter weekend. If they are able to hold it from Thursday-Saturday, I'll be there in a heartbeat. Otherwise, I couldn't miss Easter morning with my boys. So I hope that's what they decide to do. The weekend passed way too quickly!

Imagine if the tea party protesters were black...

Or Arab, or Mexican, or women...fill in the blanks. Read this thought-provoking post over at Cosmic Navel Lint.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Three-part harmony: an art and a science!

What do all of these groups have in common?

Simon & Garfunkel
Peter Paul and Mary
The Beatles
Indigo Girls

Kick-ass HARMONY! I often describe myself as a lazy musician, but I have a pretty good ear. I can sit and listen to a piece of music and create harmony in my head. I don't know how I can do it (I have not had a lot of formal music training)--it just comes to me. So I get the art part...but wouldn't be able to explain to you the mechanics of how to do it.

But...Girlyman, one of my all-time favorite bands (with kick-ass harmony--I describe them as a cross between Peter Paul and Mary and the Indigo Girls) have made a video featured on explaining how to make harmony. Check it out (if you are reading this directly on my blog, you might want to mute the piped-in music by going to "Some of My Favorite Music" on the right nav bar):

I never get tired of listening to those gorgeous harmonies!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Now we know what's causing all the earthquakes...

When I posted a concern on Facebook recently, saying I was concerned to hear about all the earthquakes occurring around the world (and realizing that the Pacific Northwest is on a major fault), one of my Facebook friends posted this response:

"Mother Earth is cleansing. This is a time when we need to get back to living from her. End polluting her. She's yelling at us."

Some scientists conjecture it's global warming, whereas others say that the number of earthquakes is not increasing, but instead they are occuring in more populated areas.

But they all must be wrong--I have just discovered the true answer. It's women! So says a senior Iranian cleric. Women who do not dress modestly lead men astray, thereby causing earthquakes. Boy, I knew we were powerful but I had no idea!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Multifarious readers

My children are typically drawn to books for older age groups, and ever since a certain incident happened when I was in first or second grade, I'm loathe to prevent them from reading (or listening to) books meant for older kids:

Me to the elementary school librarian: "I'd like to check out Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

School librarian nazi: "Oh no--Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is for much older students. You are too young to read that."

Me: "I've already checked it out and read it before!"

Librarian-who-wants-to-be-cop: "Sorry--you can't check that one out. Let me show you the books for younger kids."

Me: "No thank you!"

And so started my tradition of storming out of places instead of staying to argue to the death. I just don't have that gene--I wish I did. Alas, I'm a Murphy Brown wannabe.

At any rate, I shocked a coworker today when I told him that Kieran had read (or listened to, actually) all of the Harry Potter books by the age of 6. (He has two sons aged 3 and 5.)

Kieran's made wonderful progress in his reading this year, but his tastes are way beyond his reading level. And he is literally HUNGRY for literature, so right now I'm in the middle of about six books with him:
  • Some kid private eye novel we started ages ago and haven't touched for awhile
  • Harriet the Spy (haven't touched this for some time--I think I was enjoying this more than Kieran--it was one of my childhood faves)
  • Alice in Wonderland (had to be returned to the school library)
  • Prince Caspian
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which we just started this evening)
Each night that he asks me to start another book, I have to stifle my "But we haven't finished the last one we started" thoughts filling my brain and my mouth. I have never been one of those people who can read several books at once. The only exceptions are reference books or perhaps nonfiction books, with a novel going on at the same time. NEVER would I read more than one novel. It would completely screw up my sense of order.

Another reading quirk I have is that I like to read books in chronological order. Chris was trying to convince me tonight that we could read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw next, but that's not the next book in the series. If Kieran decides he wants to do that, I will have to cave to his wishes--after all, I'm just the reader. He's the readee. (I know that's not a word, but oh know what I mean.)

Chris, too, reads multiple books at once. He's probably got about 20 going on at the moment, at least. Whenever we leave the house, he packs at least three books to take along. The take-a-book-everywhere-you-go part reminds me of myself, both now and as a kid. The reading-20-books-at-once part is definitely not me. I just can't understand how they can tolerate it. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lutherans embrace people outside society's gate

Last weekend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) formalized the statements voted on by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, officially allowing clergy in same-gender relationships to be fully "rostered" (able to be called and serve a church). Now these clergy and their families can be part of the ELCA pension plan.

It means that pastors like Rev. Susan Halvor in Anchorage, Alaska (featured in a video in this blog post) can be formally rostered in the ELCA, after many years of feeling that they didn't have an official welcome or place at the table.

At the same time, churches across the country are being ripped apart by the resolutions. Some friends of ours were personally affected by this when the church where the husband was the pastor voted to leave the ELCA. Although the vote didn't pass, it created an angry and hurtful fissure in the community that appeared irreparable--and our friends chose to leave and move to another church. Seemingly nice people became ugly and hateful. When the Oregon Synod bishop and his assistant visited our church during Lent, they explained the process a church must go through to leave the ELCA. I'm impressed that the ELCA requires communities to go through a great amount of thoughtfulness and listening to make that decision. The bishops and their staff listen to these angry Lutherans and let them speak their peace, while trying to get them to look at the gospel and the meaning of Jesus' message.

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love wrote an eloquent post in the Huffington Post today about the process the ELCA has undertaken. As she notes, "A great truth has been realized today that Jesus Christ demonstrated throughout His ministry 2000 years ago. It is not blasphemous to include and embrace the prayers and relationships and service of those outside society's gate. In fact, it's a blessing."

Cilantro hatred

My beloved brother-in-law David despises cilantro. So because I like to tease him, I often joke about putting cilantro into various dishes.

Well, now David can cite a scientific reason for his dislike of cilantro. Apparently, many people find it tastes like soap.

Wonder if I can find scientific evidence for my dislike of brussels sprouts...which taste like earwax. (Don't ask me how I know what earwax tastes like...)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amazing bread made by an ex-con drug dealer (but not a killer!)

Those of you who are wheat intolerant know that it's really hard to find a TASTY wheat-free bread. Trader Joe's sells a variety, and it's okay, but it doesn't have much texture to it. The other day Mike had a turkey sandwich on a gluten-free bun at the Deschutes Brewery, and it was pretty good, but not as good as a REAL bun. The best gluten-free bread we've found is made at Buddha Bites, a local Portland food cart down the road from my office. (It's not whole grain, but it's tasty.)

I can't remember how we first discovered Dave's Killer Good Seed Spelt Bread, but it's all Mike eats now, and it's my usual choice as well. (People who are gluten intolerant usually cannot eat spelt [an ancient form of wheat], but Mike and I both have wheat sensitivities, so spelt works great for us.) Dave's regular wheat bread is awesome too. And it's all organic.

The best part about buying Dave's Killer Bread is supporting an amazing success story. Dave is a former drug dealer, meth addict, and ex-con. When he got out of prison and decided to turn his life around, his brother took him back in and made him a partner in the family bakery. Watch a video about his journey below, and if you want to know more, you can read his 18-page story on his web site as a PDF.

Last year we had a crisis when we couldn't find Dave's Killer Spelt Bread anywhere! Everyone seemed to be out of it. I e-mailed Dave to find out what was happening, and it turns out his spelt source was having challenges. We were very happy when those challenges got resolved and it was back on the shelves!

We buy Dave's bread at the Portland Farmers' Market, Fred Meyer, and even Costco (although no spelt bread there). In the past few years, his business and name have really taken off. Our friends in Boise can even get Dave's bread in their local Costco now! It's especially fun to buy our bread directly from Dave himself at the farmers' market. I love the fact that he turned his life around and is using his creative talents for good.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kudos to Roger Ebert for speaking out against gratuitous (and funny?) violence

I scanned over the movie reviews in the Oregonian today and then spied this article on the Web: Chicago movie critic Roger Ebert has panned a recent movie (which the Oregonian rated highly), "Kick-Ass," a super-hero action adventure based on a comic book. Ebert's review has started a minor web controversy, as hardcore comic book fans are weighing in.

Ebert writes: "Will I seem hopelessly square if I find 'Kick-Ass' morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in."

Ebert raises the legitimate concern that although the film is rated "R," many children will be interested in seeing it (and will probably be taken to see it) because it features a child and is about a comic book character.

I deliberately choose to stay away from excessively violent movies, and like Ebert, must be "hopelessly square." I too am not interested in inhabiting a world where an 11-year-old girl stars as a violent killer lacking in any remorse--and this is supposed to be funny.

The arguments circulating on the Web right now remind me of the debates about excessively violent video games...and how the hardcore gamers insist they have no effect on kids' brains and aggressive tendencies. A load of codswallop.

National Day of Silence

Carl Walker-Hoover would have turned 13 today, if he hadn't committed suicide on April 6, 2009, because of constant bullying. Although Carl did not identify as gay, his story is a tragic reminder that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment affects all students. To honor Carl's memory and all children and people who suffer this type of bullying in silence,  students around the country have taken a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name calling, bullying, and harassment.

A local store near my house, Topanien, is honoring the National Day of Silence in the store. A Facebook friend of mine is a teacher in California, and he commented today that 2/3 of the kids in his school are participating, and "Thank God for white boards!"

Typically, conservative organizations (or "family advocacy groups," as described by FOX News!) are claiming it's all a waste of taxpayer money. As described by one blogger, the Day of Silence detractors want to preserve students' right to bully.


Kieran has a long history with the "Wizard of Oz" and before he even knew of the existence of a book and musical presenting the Wicked Witch of the West's side of the story, he's had a fascination with her. He dressed up as the Wicked Witch at his fourth birthday party and acted out her role (I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!) in our mini-play.

When I finally got around to reading Wicked last year, Kieran was constantly pestering me to read it to him. As I soon found out, it's not material for a first grader! I have read him the entire plot of the musical (which is a bit more palatable and understandable) a few times (Wikipedia).

After we searched high and low on Youtube for videos of the musical (and not finding a whole lot out there), he received the soundtrack for Wicked for his birthday from his godfamily Drew, Laurie, and Sophie. And now "Wicked" has become the background for our lives. It's playing on the stereo whenever Kieran is in the house. He always knew that the Wicked Witch (or Elphaba) was the real heroine of the story.

He even told me that he didn't want to go to Orlando in July--instead he'd rather go to New York City to see "Wicked"!

Boys will be boys--really?

In the ways of the childless person who thinks she knows all, before I had children I would have argued that there's not much difference between boys and girls. Surely nurture trumps nature in the types of toys children were drawn to or how they liked to spend their time.

Having three sons shocked that notion right out of me. I am fortunate to have three young renaissance men. They all love to read, sing, and attend theater, but each boy has his own testosterone-driven interests: Chris--WWE wrestling (blech!) and video games, Kieran--sword fighting and battles between good and evil, and Nick--Thomas the Tank Engine, fire trucks, and cars. None of them seem particularly drawn to sports, although there is still hope for Nick. Swimming, rather than team sports, suits them just fine.

The two big gender differences I notice are ENERGY and NOISE. Not that some girls are not as energetic and noisy as boys, but in general this is the biggest difference I have observed.

A new study has found that children as young as 9 months old make stereotypical gender choices when selecting a toy. They haven't ruled out the influence of nurture in these choices (other studies have found that immediately out of the womb, girl babies are treated differently than boy babies). But whereas earlier in my life I might have suspected that nature was not as big of a factor, now I'm not so convinced.

All I can say is thank God I don't have one of those boys who makes guns out of bananas. We've got to take credit for something--maybe that's our nurture. Or maybe it's genetics.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ms. or Mrs.?

A study has determined that women who keep their own names after getting married are more likely to be perceived as more competent and intelligent than women who take their husbands' names (or who hyphenate). They are also more likely to get hired and paid more.

When Mike and I got married, it never occurred to me to take his name. I staunchly clung to my own name in spite of his disapproving aunt deliberately calling me "Mrs. G___________." Why should the woman be the one to give up her name? It's not fair. I always admired couples who combined their names or hyphenated (both of them, not just the female).

It wasn't until after the disapproving aunt died that Mike shocked me by announcing that he wanted to hyphenate our names. I've settled into our double G-G name after some time...although I have to admit that when making a restaurant reservation, I still use my simpler original name rather than spelling out the full mouthful.

I have observed a higher percentage of women who keep their own names or hyphenate in my workplace than in our broader community. When I peruse the school directory, I see a number of hyphenated or different names in couples--reflecting the progressive area in which we live.

I hope we see a day when the scales tip, and more women keep their own names or both spouses hyphenate. That will be a sign of true equality.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Recommendation: Before Women Had Wings

Before Women Had Wings (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Before Women Had Wings by Connie May Fowler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Avocet (Bird) Jackson would be described by her childhood peers as "white trash." She and her sister Phoebe are frequent targets of the alcoholic rage and neglect of their parents. When her father dies, her mother goes into a downward spiral of depression, anger, and abuse. Doesn't sound very uplifting, does it?

But Connie May Fowler's talent is that she portrays the story beautifully. She is able to depict the deep humanity of both parents, even in spite of the verbal and physical abuse. Perhaps this is because the book is semi-autobiographical, as Fowler's story is similar? Only someone who has experienced this type of upbringing would be able to describe how you can hate someone and love them at the same time. Fortunately Bird has a few people who are looking out for her and reminding her that she is not trash, in spite of what her mother and peers tell her. I couldn't help but think of those children out there who don't have anyone to remind them of their value.

This book had sat on my shelves for some time before I finally picked it up and read it, and it was worth the effort. Now onto more of Fowler's books!

I just did a search about Fowler's life and happened upon this book-lovers' blog, which featured a guest post by Fowler. Her description of how books saved her life and encouragement to donate books to kids in need are very inspiring!

View all my reviews

I just don't get high heels...

When I was in junior high, I went through a high-heels phase. After all, I'm short! Wearing 3-inch heels added length to my legs and my height. I always went for sturdy heels that wouldn't fall off my feet though.

Check out these photos of currently fashionable high heels. They have got to be the ugliest shoes I've ever seen! It boggles my mind why anyone would risk breaking their neck just to wear the latest fashion.

Fast forward 30 years later, and you'll never find me in really high heels. My shoes must be comfortable! I have a few pairs of less-comfortable shoes, but I don't wear them very often.

Shoes, furniture, clothing--I am just not fond of many of the current styles! The other day I went shopping at the Rack, and I ended up buying two pairs of Born shoes with low heels. They are SO comfortable and I love the look too! In my opinion, life is too short to walk around in uncomfortable (and UGLY!) shoes!

Monday, April 12, 2010

How many people would "send back" their kids if they could?

I read this beautiful, impassioned blog post by a woman named Jaelithe, whose younger brother used to have a penchant for setting fires...and whose son developed a brain tumor in utero and now has some special needs. She writes about her anger concerning the woman who sent her adopted son home to Russia. Here's an excerpt:

I when I was going into labor, I didn't get to check a box on some form saying "Not willing to give birth to a child with special needs." It was my choice to have a child. I didn't have a choice about having a child with special needs. It just happened that way.

No matter how you become a parent, you cannot, ever, fully control how your life with your child will turn out. Every child will have problems. Every child will cost money you don't have. Every child will exhaust and hurt you and make you secretly dream, at some point, about running away. And some children will make you have that dream more often than others.

But the point of being a real parent (no matter whether your child was born into your arms or crossed an ocean to come home to you) is that, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how tired you are, no matter how much help you have to ask for, you don't abandon a sick, hurting child who needs you. Real parents don't allow themselves that choice."

When Christopher was born, and we had those first few months when we didn't know if he would live, and a few years when we didn't know what kind of disabilities he would experience...and I would often tell myself that when parents make the choice to have (or adopt) a child, they do not get to choose what they get.

I think about Nicole Conn's beautiful movie, Little Man, in which a loving couple of moms are torn apart by the birth of their extremely premature son. One of them dedicates her life to his care, and the other one just cannot deal with the prospect of parenting a potentially multiply disabled child. We know many parents whose marriages were torn apart as a result of having a premature or ill baby, or experienced loss of a child or a pregnancy. It tests the strongest of marriages, and if any fissures existed beforehand, they grow bigger during crisis.

My brother-in-law is a gifted teacher of adaptive physical education--he travels around to several schools, teaching groups of kids, some of them severely disabled. I remember one story he told us about one of his students, a young boy who was completely "normal" until he swallowed a rock and it got lodged in his windpipe. He became brain damaged as a result of the oxygen loss. That story sticks with me because it's a perfect example of the fact we do not know what will happen. An accident could suddenly cripple someone we dearly love. Life could change in an instant, and certainly not by our choice. Does it change the depth of our love for that person? This story of the rock is why we chose not to have amniocentesis when I was pregnant well over 35 (at 38, and 41). Who's to say what a "perfect" child is? And were we to be blessed with a child who had Down's syndrome or other needs, wouldn't there be a reason for this? (That's not to say that I wouldn't have been terribly upset about it and the disruption it would pose to our lives!)

I realize that none of us know the full details of this case. I'm not one to pass judgment when I'm not fully informed of the situation. Why did they send this child back to Russia? And for God's sake, why did they send him ALL BY HIMSELF? That alone gives me pause and makes me question whether this family really loved him and wanted him, flaws and all.

Even though I'm passionately pro-choice (I consider it a lesser evil, to have a child be aborted than end up unwanted), it gives me pause to read how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal tests (about 90% of them when Down's syndrome is suspected). Because what is a perfect child, anyway? And how do we know that if they don't have Down's syndrome or some other birth defect (cleft lip or palate, perhaps?), they will live "perfect" lives? Isn't the point of parenting to love our children, whether by birth or adopted, imperfections and all?

I've always believed that violence begets violence...

And now there is research to prove it.

How do you teach a child that hitting is not okay by spanking if he or she hits another person?

A recent study found that when children were spanked, their tendency toward aggression increased by 50%. In addition, they found that although spanking may stop a child from misbehaving in the short term, it becomes less effective with repeated use and "it makes discipline more difficult as the child gets older and outgrows spanking."

I believe that parents teach values through their words and deeds. That's why we have never spanked our children, and it's also why we do not allow violent videogames. How can we teach children that violence is not the way to solve problems, when they are allowed to play shoot 'em up games and simulate violence?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tina Fey reprises her Sarah Palin impression

Tina Fey hosted Saturday Night Live last night and Sarah Palin made another hilarious appearance. Love it!

How exposed are you on the internet?

I just read a disturbing post over on Gray Matter about one of the many Web sites containing oodles of personal information for the taking. This is how describes its site:

Spokeo is a search engine specialized in organizing people-related information from phone books, social networks, marketing lists, business sites, and other public sources. Most of this data is publicly available on the Web. For example, you can find people’s name, phone, and address on, and you can get home values from That said, only Spokeo’s algorithm can piece together the scattered data into coherent people profiles, giving you the most comprehensive intelligence about anyone you want to find.

I entered my name and Mike's name on the site, and we must be doing something right, because it came up empty on us. But when I searched the names of my family members and a few friends, I saw their phone numbers, addresses, internet shopping preferences, education, etc. If you purchase a subscription, you can even see a person's credit history, salary, and photos and videos. Scary! Cleary, some of the information is off...because it estimates just about every person's home value to be $1 million plus. And it claimed my brother-in-law is in his 90s!

But I advise each one of you to enter your name and decide if you really want this kind of information to be public. Here's how to block your information from being posted on this site:

1. Go to
2. Type your first and last name in the search bar at the top of the page.
3. Locate your profile and click on it (the names are separated by state).
4. When your profile appears, copy the URL from your browser address bar.
5. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and locate “PRIVACY” in the bottom right corner, and click on it.
6. Paste the copied URL in the text box.
7. Enter your e-mail (you’ll receive a notification e-mail with further instructions).
8. Enter the captcha code displayed to the right of the text box.
9. Click the “REMOVE LISTING” command button.
10. Go to your e-mail and follow the instructions to confirm deletion.

While you're at it, check out these further tips to protect your privacy while searching on the internet (so people won't be able to know what you are purchasing or searching online) and more information about protecting your personal information.

Please pass this info along!

Old rock star songs

A childhood friend of mine shared this great video on Facebook--what songs rock stars will sing in their old age (some of them are already there). His impression of Neil Diamond is spot on!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy birthday sweet seven-year-old!

It's hard to believe that just 7 years ago our little Kieran came into the world. He was the largest of all three of our babies, at 7 lb, 13 oz. (at 37 weeks--imagine how big he would have been at full term!). He came out loud and feisty, a fitting entrance into the world for our dynamic, creative, and energetic middle child.

Here we are on the day we brought him home from the hospital:

Big brother Chris (at 6) with his baby brother:

Kieran at 3 months--such a happy baby!

Today we went into his classroom to present his birthday book. Chris had the day off today from school, and he had fun catching up with Ms. Byrne--an aide at the school who was in his class in kindergarten assisting some of the children. She actually worked with my dad when he was a school social worker!

Kieran showing his wrapped book to his classmates:

And opening up The Lorax:

In a wonderful bit of synchronicity, Kieran's teacher had planned to get this book out of the library to read to the class on Earth Day later this month!

You can tell how shy our boy is! :)

Tonight we celebrated the birthdays of Kieran and my dad (whose birthday was yesterday) at Red Robin. Kieran was delighted with his gifts--The 70th anniversary edition of the Wizard of Oz from his auntie and uncle in Australia:

The soundtrack from "Wicked" from his godfamily Laurie, Drew, and Sophie:

He also received a Harry Potter yellow/red striped shirt and other goodies from his Grandma England, a Fred Meyer gift certificate from my brother-in-law's brother and his wife, and a great science kit from his aunt, uncle, and cousins in England. We gave him a pair of tickets to see "The Lion King" in June, and $10 for his "wand fund." (He's saving up to buy a wand at Ollivander's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.) He opened his presents from his aunt, uncle, and cousins when we celebrated last weekend, and last night my parents took him out to dinner at Izzy's as part of their present. He is in constant birthday celebration mode.

A hot-fudge-faced Nicholas!

With the birthday boys:

The whole crew at the end of the party:

When we got home, Kieran immediately rushed to put on his "Wicked" soundtrack and start memorizing it, and we looked at photos of him as a baby. How quickly do seven years pass! And what a blessing sweet Kieran is in our lives. I remember how long we waited for him...after four miscarriages...and what a precious arrival he was.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The cheap tooth fairy

Two days before his seventh birthday (tomorrow), Kieran lost his first tooth. He announced that he wanted the tooth fairy to bring him $20. Ha!

After receiving his measly $1 under his pillow, he told us this evening that he thought we should hire the English tooth fairy. His English friend Natalie told him that she gets a lot more money than that for her teeth. (He seemed unaware of the exact amount.)

I asked him why we didn't have an English tooth fairy. Doesn't dual nationality count?

Poor kid--such a miserly tooth fairy.

How babies are made

This evening I took Kieran off to Annie Bloom's to buy a birthday book--they did away with birthday treats at his school, and now each child is encouraged to give the class a book. Last year we did lemon cookies and a book...but this year is simpler. He ended up choosing Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. I also hunted for a birthday present for Christopher's friend, who comes from a much-more-religious Catholic family. I know his mom regularly consults the official Catholic list of acceptable movies, so I figured that she probably wouldn't approve of much of the fantasy fiction Chris reads. Kieran kept pointing out potential books, and none of them looked like they'd be appropriate. Then I spied Heart of a Shepherd, written by Roseanne Parry, who goes to our church. It's a wonderful story of a boy in eastern Oregon whose dad goes off to Iraq...and it's a Catholic family. When I got home, Mike heartily approved my choice!

While Kieran and I were on our errand, Nicholas had an interesting conversation with Mike. They were goofing off on the bed, and Nicholas popped up from under the sheets. Mike said "Where'd you come from?"

"From you. You and Mommy made me!" said young Nick.

"We did?" said Mike, thinking where's this going to lead....

"Yes, and then you put batteries into me!" Phew! I'm sure Mike was relieved he didn't have to go THERE...with a 3-year-old.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pissing on the planet

Gotta love those Canadians!!! Check out the video below. Talk about creative marketing. This would never fly in the U.S.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Post-traumatic stress: returning to the NICU

Today Christopher entered the NICU for the first time since he left there 13-1/2 years ago. And I cried.

His life and our family are being featured in a video for a fundraising lunch for the Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital. Several weeks ago, the film crew interviewed me and Mike in our living room and filmed Chris at a music event one Saturday morning.

Today we returned to the hospital, the place where it all started:

I came on my own from work, and as soon as I left the parking lot and started walking toward the hospital, memories flooded my brain as the distinct smell of hops in the air infiltrated my senses. Did I recall the two subsequent childbirth experiences at Emanuel, one nearly 7 years ago and one 3-1/2 years ago? Vaguely. Did I recall the tragic night we were called to the hospital to sit with dear friends who had just lost their 4-1/2-year-old angel who suffered from a heart defect? Yes. Did I remember all the Family Advisory Board and Precious Beginnings meetings we attended at the hospital, or the pizza nights we've hosted there for current NICU families? No. But what really slammed into me was the 117 long days and nights we spent parking our cars and entering the hospital once or twice every day.

The other family being featured in the video has two surviving triplets who are 16 months old (12 months adjusted). One of the girls was only 360 grams! (Chris was 610 grams in 1996, and at the time, he was on the very edge of viability. He was the smallest baby around. In 1996, survival for a 360-gram baby was unthinkable.) The girls' sister lived for 90 days before she died. Somehow, even though the experience was much more fresh in these parents' minds and experience, and they lost a child in the NICU, they were able to appear on film with some of the nurses who took care of their daughters.

The NICU looks much different these days than when we lived there. Each patient area has a curtain that can be pulled around it to give families privacy. Each spot is labeled with an animal and a number. Amazingly, today the spot was vacant where Christopher lived for his entire stay on Level 3 (this in itself was a miracle--it was a common occurrence for parents to arrive and panic when they saw their baby missing from the usual space). We walked over to the empty spot, followed by the film crew, so I could show Chris where we waited by his bedside and how we studied the monitors for hours. I choked up. One of the nurses who was there in the resuscitation room with Chris (and who we know well through our volunteer work with Precious Beginnings) told him about how she spent a lot of time taking care of Mike, who was scared stiff about both his new baby and his wife.

Later we went into the beautiful children's garden (also not there 13 years ago) and the film crew interviewed Chris about himself and how he felt returning to the NICU. He seemed completely at ease in front of the camera.

The fundraising luncheon where the video will be shown will raise money for the new children's hospital. The new NICU will feature vastly more privacy for the babies and their families.

So much has changed--in the NICU and in our lives--in the past 13 years. But the smell of the hospital soap, the Emanuel atrium where we took lunch breaks, and the painful memories are still fresh. The only thing that saddens me about a friendlier, improved NICU in the new children's hospital is that we won't be able to visit the old NICU to remind ourselves of how lucky we all are.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter weekend

Kieran was born a day after my dad's birthday, so we celebrated their joint birthdays this weekend with my sister and her family. The kids made do-it-yourself English muffin pizzas, while the adults had my special chicken mulligatawny.

While we were eating our dinner, the kids dove into our costume collection and did a series of parades for us through the living room--Chris was the announcer. Here is one of the many assortments:

Dad and Kieran blowing out the candles on their lemon cheesecake:

This morning the children processed into church with flowers:

And then they had an Easter egg hunt after church:

Nick with his helper Quinn

With their Easter egg booty

After brunch at my parents' house--have to take advantage of them being dressed up in their finery!

With Grandma and Grandpa:

Getting ready to say goodbyes:

Chocolate-smeared faces!
Another fun family-filled weekend...Happy Easter!