Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Help

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

I will not lie: I could not put this book down. I read most of it over a 3-day weekend at the beach, and my poor husband had to do most of the driving because I wanted to finish it. Whatever Stockett's weaknesses as a writer, she crafted a good story. Comparisons to A Catcher in the Rye, however, not only fall flat but are stunning.

Before I dove into this book, I was aware that some African-Americans were critical of it because it was written by a white woman. But I didn't read the criticisms in depth until I was finished: I wanted to decide for myself. After returning from the beach, I then spent a couple of hours on the internet reading reviews and arguments for or against the book.

The most damning criticism of the book is this: all of the African-American characters speak in a highly awkward and inauthentic dialect (unlike any I have ever read in African-American writing), whereas the white characters speak in something akin to the Queen's English. Hardly even any "yalls" or "ain'ts" riddle their language. Some white reviewers criticized the book because they found it hard to read the dialect: clearly they'd never read books such as Their Eyes Are Watching God. But why, in the deep south, would you have only the blacks speak in dialect? (The author acknowledges that if she had known how widely read the book would be, she would have been much more "careful" with the language she used.)

I must agree with some of the negative reviews that many of the characters are caricatures, as well. Although presumably told from the perspective of Skeeter (a white woman) and two African-American women (Abileen and Minny, both maids), Aibileen is mostly defined only through her relationship to the children she cares for and the son she lost. We find out very little about her upbringing or inner thoughts (unless they are about the white family she works for or her son). Minny is the most colorful character--a feisty, spirited woman who speaks her mind and gets herself into trouble because of it--yet is also an abused woman (this seemed incongruent to me). Then we have the southern white trash woman, good ole' southern boy, the vapid Junior Leaguers, and the villain, who is the most racist of all.

When I watched Katie Couric's interview with the author, I was struck by Stockett's naivete and lack of awareness about her own white privilege. She wrote this book as a kind of homage to her own family's maid, who died when she was 16. Although she did not dedicate the book to this woman, she mentioned her in the acknowledgements. Stockett did very little research before writing the book, and that shows. Clearly, the story is told from her imagination of what the African-American maids might have been thinking or might say, with little regard for whether it is realistic. (Stockett obviously has a great imagination, but she should have done some fact- and reality-checking for authenticity.) When Couric asked her about the dialect being so different for the whites and the blacks, Stockett responds that this is what she remembers from growing up in Mississippi. She appears to have been raised with very high standards in enunciation and speech, although she cannot rid herself of her twang.

Some black reviewers comment that white readers like this book because they want to reminisce reminisce about the "good old days" and believe that African-Americans who worked as domestic help had great fondness for their employers. I suspect that some of these people have not read the book. The whites in this book, except for speaking the Queen's English, do not come across positive in any way, with a few exceptions (and even those are flawed). However, the fact that so many reviewers take exception with the way the African-American characters are portrayed gives me pause. Furthermore, I wonder whether some of the things that happened in the plot could have really happened: most notably, the maids trusting this young, naive white woman (Skeeter) with not only their livelihoods, but their very lives? Why would they do that when they had so much to lose?

So in summary: great idea for a book, compelling plot, but awkward attempts to pull it off. I will be thinking about this book for days to come, and that's usually an excellent sign. As one reviewer noted, the best thing to come out of this book is the dialogue it has started. That's a good thing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Failing to teach empathy

According to a new study, today's college students lack the empathy that college students 20 and 30 years ago had. They scored a shocking 40 percent lower than their elders.

Why do you think this is? In my opinion, those responsible for teaching empathy to children are their parents...and blame for this lack of empathy is to be laid right at the parents' feet.

Many children today are given anything they wish for...without learning about people who are less fortunate. I've heard horror stories from teachers about parents who defend their children no matter what they do and refuse to hear constructive feedback about their kids.

Here are some tips about how to teach empathy to children. Although I would like to believe that my children are empathetic and care about others, I always see room for improvement...they are kids! 

For Kieran's first communion recently, we gave him this book--Have You Filled a Bucket Today? It's a great way to explain to children how their words and deeds can either help others or hurt their feelings. Kieran seemed to really get it. It's basically the new millennium version of "warm fuzzies." Did you ever learn that story as a child?

How empathetic are you compared to the college students? You can take this quiz to find out.

Life is precious

I was just in the middle of watching this very touching video this morning, the story of Nick Vujicic, who was born with no hands and no legs, yet is an inspiration to so many:

...when I received news that a friend at work just received word that her father had been killed in a car accident. She lost her mom a few years ago, and she was very close to her dad. I am left feeling very helpless and my heart just aches for her.

And I am reminded, yet again, that we should never sweat the small stuff. Our small, inconsequential worries are nothing compared to the loss of a loved one. Why worry that your arms or legs are flabby when YOU HAVE LEGS?

Stunned and speechless...hug your loved ones tight!! And appreciate the wonder of your own able body. Each one of is a beautiful being.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Awkward Family Photos

Check out this priceless Web site for a great laugh! The captions are almost as good as the photos. It's a great way to waste some time...just in case you were looking for something like that... :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Color of Lightning

The Colour of Lightning The Colour of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not a lighthearted read.

It's about a freed slave, Britt Johnson, who travels to Texas with his family (and his former "owner"), into a land ravaged by raids and battles with the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. One day while Britt is away, the Native Americans raid the settlement and brutally murder his son and many others and take as captives Britt's wife and children, along with another woman and children. The women are repeatedly raped in front of their children and grandchildren.

Running parallel to Britt's story is that of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker man who is sent out to work for the Office of Indian Affairs and tries to manage life on the Texas plains and dealing with the lawless Native Americans without resorting to violence.

Both men display great bravery and honor and forge their own ways in this difficult period of history. Although the Native Americans' raids and scalping are described in brutal terror, it's also clear that the Texans and American government were no less brutal in stripping them of their lands and rights.

I was surprised to learn at the end of the book that Britt Johnson was a real person and his grave is still there in Texas...along with many of the others whose stories are told in this book. Johnson appears to be a great legend in west Texas, and a quick google search resulted in many hits. I am interested in learning more about Native American culture from that era--many of the children and adults taken captive did not want to leave when they were rescued several years later, even though they were often taken in deep brutality (after being raped or seeing their loved ones raped or murdered).

This is historical fiction at its best--bringing to life stories of people who actually lived and about which we have only sketchy details--and making us want to learn more.

View all my reviews >>

Cookie Monster Metal

My oldest son, Chris, has had a thing for Cookie Monster since he was 3 years old and his Grandma England bought him a Cookie Monster beanie baby in Henley, England. "Cookie" has been loved dearly (and shows it!). He's been stitched and repaired several times, and for years Chris slept with Cookie every night.

Unfortunately, Mike told him once that if Cookie were exposed to water, he would "explode." I think he wanted to deter him from putting him in the bath--I can't exactly remember why he said that. But as a consequence, Chris has been terrified to let us try to wash Cookie in any way. Here's Chris with Cookie many years ago:

Cookie has now graduated to a place of honor on the top of Chris' dresser. But I know he is going to LOVE this video, which a friend recently posted on Facebook--Cookie Monster + drumming? Couldn't find a better combination for Chris.

When he first acquired Cookie, he wasn't much of an eater...but now his fondness for eating nearly matches his idol's enthusiasm. Hope he keeps his amazing metabolism forever!! I give you "Cookie Monster Metal":

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yet more bad news about sunscreen

Last year I read the Environmental Working Group's report on sunscreens and went on a hunt to find oxybenzone-free sunscreen. It is NOT easy to find, and it's also very expensive. The reviews on the more natural sunscreens are not particularly great, either--many of them are reportedly greasy or don't rub into your skin very well. I purchased a few tubes of expensive sunscreen, but we still have leftover bottles of the more-toxic kinds as well. 

It seems that every day I read more depressing news reports about the damage we are doing to ourselves and our environment as a result of heavy chemical use. Links to cancer, reproductive damages, ADHD, you name it...even if we buy organic foods and try to purchase natural products, damaging chemicals are nearly impossible to escape. Who would have thought that canned food would be lined with BPA, for God's sake?

Now the latest sunscreen finding is that excessive quantities of Vitamin A (which is often added to sunscreens because it's thought to be an antioxidant!) can actually speed up certain forms of skin cancer.

With all this bad news, combined with the monumentally depressing news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, it's all enough to make me want to crawl into a cave.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book review: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

Pink brain, blue brain : how small differences grow into troublesome gaps--and what we can do about it Pink Brain, Blue Brain : How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps--and What We Can Do About It
by Lise Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the mother of three sons, I've always been interested in learning more about what is hardwired into males and females, and what is influenced by environment. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library.

Eliot is a neuroscientist, a graduate from Harvard and Columbia, an associate professor of neuroscience, and mother of two sons and a daughter. The basic premise of the book is that although yes, males and females have biologically based differences, many of our differences are due to environment and childrearing (or in other words, nurture).

She painstakingly analyzes the studies about male-female differences and helps the reader decipher what's been proven and what's been simply extrapolated (and exaggerated).

Here's what's been proven:

*Boys are as much as four times more likely to experience learning and developmental disorders, including autism, ADD, and dyslexia. They are 73% more likely to die in accidents and more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes.

*Girls are at least twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. They are twice as likely as boys to attempt suicide (but boys are three times more likely to succeed at it).

*Girls get better grades, but boys get higher SAT scores.

*Males have bigger brains, but they are also less likely to survive at birth and through the first year of life. They are also more likely to be miscarried. (Any parent of a preemie knows that girls are much more likely to survive and do well in the NICU...white male babies have the worst survival rates.)

*Girls develop more quickly in the womb and in the first few years of life. Yes, there's proof that females mature more quickly than boys.

Along with these, Eliot refutes a lot of gender-related myths out there as well. Many scientific studies showing differences between males and females were later refuted, but those findings were not published in the popular press.

Contrary to the 1970s, "Free to Be You and Me" era, now with the proliferation of boy and girl experts and John Gray types, parents seem to jump all over supposed gender differences, using them to excuse behavior and indulge in stereotypes. (Don't get me started on the pink/princess craze...or conversely, the fact that nearly all boy clothing features sports or action figures!)

Eliot tackles several phases in a person's life (including gestation) and describes the scientific data and environmental influences on shaping a person's personality. She gives excellent recommendations for fighting against stereotypes and helping children achieve their full potential, no matter their gender.
 I strongly recommend this book for parents of boys and girls, teachers, and anyone who deals regularly with children.

View all my reviews >>

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Out of office: providing sparks for my creative child

I am so glad I have at least one crafty child. I can nearly always rope Kieran into a craft project! For his first communion, we painstakingly made cross necklaces for all of his fellow first communicants and the teachers (not a simple process).

We had fun with this project the other day--making bookmarks from a template provided on this FedEx Office blog, Out of Office. It provides ideas for projects, crafts, event planning, and ways to create personalized holiday gifts. It even includes some business ideas, such as how to spice up presentations.

With the amount of books we have in our house (many of which we are reading at the same time), we can always use more bookmarks. Three-year-old Nick saw the leftover stickers and paper scraps and decided to make his own bookmark, which he very proudly placed in a Wizard of Oz pop-up book we were reading this evening.

I'd like to try this one out too--since a friend gave us a bag of authentic Mardi Gras beads--and they tend to get tossed around the house.

Any way to engage Kieran's creative personality, and I'm there! I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of FedEx Office and received the items necessary to facilitate my review. In addition, Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Friday, May 21, 2010

James Taylor and Carole King

Memories of James Taylor:
 Taking guitar lessons in the park when I was 10 (1973!), and one of the first songs the teacher gave us was "Fire and Rain"--not exactly the easiest song for beginning guitarists to play!

Purchasing all of his albums and tapes over the years as a guitar player-songwriter-singer wannabe!

Making a "mix tape" for Mike in Japan because he'd never heard of James Taylor

Attending his concert at the Civic Stadium in 1996--while Chris was in the NICU and his nurses pushed us out the door to attend the concert, told us it would be good for us to have a date...and then he had a horrible night...

Memories of Carole King:

"You've Got a Friend"
"Up on the Roof"
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"
"You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" (and that amazing scene on Murphy Brown, when she sings that to her newborn baby boy)
A Tapestry tribute CD, which Mike gave me as a gift years ago

As you can see, I have far more connections to JT than Carole King. In early May, Mike and I attended their "Troubador Reunion" concert, and it was great fun. The most amazing thing is that Taylor is 62, and King is 68!

What I hadn't really realized is that Carole King is a highly prolific songwriter and has cowritten 118 songs that reached the Billboard Top 100. I also wasn't aware that she cowrote the dance fave "Locomotion" until I looked her up on wikipedia during intermission.
 Although we truly enjoyed the concert and were amazed by King's energy, spunk, and creativity, I still vastly prefer James Taylor's style and smooth vocals. This clip, of King's song "Up on the Roof," which Taylor made famous, is a perfect comparison of their voices and styles:

Their Portland appearance was their first concert on the U.S. portion of the tour, and it was clear that they appreciated us as an audience! They did two encores and played for over 3 hours. James Taylor had certainly aged in the 13 years since we'd last seen/heard him, but I could listen to him all day and never get tired of his voice.

One more reason to love Burgerville!

A few months ago Mike and I went to Burgerville in the Lloyd District before the Elton John-Billy Joel concert, and when we received our receipt for our dinner, we noticed that it had all the nutritional information about our food items.

Mike has a weakness for Burgerville shakes. (Or any shakes, for that matter, but Burgerville's are made with real ice cream and are tasty and thick.) His receipt informed him that his cherry chocolate milkshake had 750 calories and 35 grams of fat, but if he had ordered the cherry chocolate smoothie, he could have saved 340 calories and 35 grams of fat.

While Mike was horrified (ignorance is bliss), I was delighted with this information--not that Mike had ordered a fattening shake, but that Burgerville was educating consumers about nutrition. Of course it was easy for me to feel self-righteous with my turkey burger and diet coke. Good for me to know, too, that my beloved turkey burger is 520 calories. (Not exactly a diet food, but I do love those turkey burgers--and now try to remember to ask for one with a multi-grain bun to boost the nutritional quotient.)

Now Burgerville has started using this cash receipt technology in all of its stores, according to this article in the Portland Tribune. Once ahead, this locally owned, sustainable fast food restaurant is ahead of the curve. (They also switched to biodegradeable cups, lids, straws, etc., and replaced their garbage cans with recycling bins earlier this year.) Go, Burgerville!

Finally, one more reason to love Burgerville: their gender-neutral, often environmentally sustainable kids' meal toys, such as seeds and pots, plates or bowls, or coloring books and crayons.

I'm trying not to eat fried food any more...but I do love those sweet potato fries!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A great big thank you to the talented staff at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital

In early May, we attended a fundraising event for Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital called the Red Wagon Lunch. They hold this lunch every year, but this year they focused on the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were invited to be profiled in a video about people who had been touched by Emanuel's NICU.

As part of the filming of the video, Chris went into the NICU for the first time since he left 13-1/2 years ago. Amazingly, the "pod" where he stayed for his first 8 or 9 weeks of life, in Level 3, was empty. We walked over to that spot and I showed him the monitors and the various features of the NICU. That was the most emotional moment for me...thinking back to all those agonized days and nights we spent by his bedside, praying for him to grow...and to thrive. Writing in our journal about what was happening each day. Singing and telling him poems. And imagining him as a healthy toddler, running along the beach.

The Red Wagon lunch was held at the convention center, on the day of the opening night of "Grease"! (Yes, we had a crazy first part of May!) The medical director/neonatalogist (who was the first one to take care of Chris) spoke about the history of neonatology and the NICU. (I had no idea that preemies were displayed in circus sideshows around the turn of the century.)

Then a woman who volunteers with Precious Beginnings spoke about her son. He was born with a growth on his lung, and doctors had advised her to terminate her pregnancy and gave dire predictions for his survival. (The day of his lunch was his second birthday!)

Then they unveiled the video--and here it is:

Not a dry eye in the house! We had the pleasure of sitting with the creative team from Rex, who we became very fond of. They are a highly talented group of professionals, and I was amazed by what they were able to do in a 7-minute video.

The event raised $160,000 for the new children's hospital! Here we are with our friend Jamie, who used to be the nurse manager of the NICU and now runs the children's ER:
And after the lunch (I found it deliciously ironic that Chris ate two desserts after all those horrific first months when we couldn't get him to eat!!) with the famous "red wagons." They use red wagons to take sick children on walks throughout the hospital and out to the Children's Garden.

We felt very privileged to be part of this fun event, which allowed us to remember, yet again, how very lucky we are to have such a wonderful young man. As Chris said in the video, thanks to everyone who helped him at Legacy Emanuel--we owe you his life, and we can never repay you our deep thanks and appreciation.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thanks, Catholic church, for ruining my drive home!

This afternoon I booked our accommodation in San Francisco for our 20th anniversary trip next month. We're going to stay in a B&B in Cow Hollow (Union Street)--in the English Garden room, which has a little balcony overlooking the garden. The B&B is situated in a residential/shopping area but nearby to many of the major sights (and with a bus stop right in front). I can't wait!

I was beginning to let myself get excited for the trip after booking the B&B until I drove home this evening and heard this story on NPR.

Last fall a 27-year-old woman was admitted to a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, with pulmonary hypertension and 11 weeks pregnant. Doctors advised that if she continued with the pregnancy, she would die. The hospital ethics committee, of which McBride was a member, decided to allow her to terminate the pregnancy. (They believed that there was an exception in Catholic teachings that would allow this.)

So if the pregnancy had not been terminated, the mother and the fetus would have died. And four children would have become motherless. There was no way in this situation to save the life of the fetus. Now Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has excommunicated Sister McBride. She has also been demoted.

Once again the church has demonstrated that it believes that abortion is murder and a mortal sin. And we all know that it believes that sexual abuse of children is forgivable and no one ever gets excommunicated (or rarely defrocked) for that.

If you would like to express your opinion, send Bishop Olmsted an e-mail. I just did--a more politely worded and diplomatic one than this blog post. I know it will never reach him, but I just had to express my opinion.

And a word to the wise: women, especially of child-bearing age, should stay out of Catholic hospitals. God bless you, Sister Margaret McBride.

Where ya gonna go when the volcano blows?

Everyone in the Pacific Northwest is talking about what they were doing 30 years ago yesterday, when Mt. St. Helens blew its almighty top. Here's a favorite ditty of mine to put you in the mood:

Here's what I remember:
  • Hearing the adamant statements of people who refused to leave their homes in spite of the smaller explosions and constant warnings and pleadings by law enforcement agencies. The most famous of these was 83-year-old Harry Truman (and his 16 cats), who refused to leave the mountain and perished in the blast--take a look at this retro tribute to him: 

  • Going to church the morning of the big explosion and seeing the ash start to settle on everything.
  • Wearing dust masks outside to protect ourselves from breathing in all the ash.
  • Reading about the 57 people who died in the blast--most of them loggers, campers, reporters, and scientists.
  • Driving past the edge of the devastation on I-5 up to Tacoma throughout my college years (1982-1986).
  • Being able to purchase every matter of souvenir with Mt. St. Helens ash in it--I believe I still have some pottery with ash in the glaze.
  • Being famous in Portland, Oregon, for living so close to the volcano! This was before the days of all our infamous celebrities putting us on the global map (Tanya Harding, Bob Packwood, etc.).
The most vivid memory I have of that year was when my brother received horrific electrical burns from falling 40 feet out of a tree and grabbing a live electric wire. He had serious third-degree burns on his hands and feet, and he shared a room with a Mt. St. Helens burn victim when he was in the Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Hospital. I've always wondered whatever happened to that guy--I think he was a logger. He was covered from head to toe in third-degree burns.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Young Brit a hit, and a runaway hiker

We had gap year Ali back with us yesterday for one more night. In the intervening days, he went up to stay with my sister and her family in Puyallup and ventured into Seattle for a couple of days. He was hoping to be able to get a work visa at the Canadian Embassy that would allow him to work in Vancouver BC for a few months before returning home...but as I have found on a number of occasions, anything related to Immigration & Naturalization (of any country) is never that simple. The only way to apply for a work visa is from one's home country.

So a trip up to BC would have been fairly expensive for a short amount of time. Instead, he tooled around Seattle and hung out with the boys in Puyallup, going to baseball games and even going to a birthday party at an inflatable play area (where he was apparently the life and soul of the party)! Fortunately, he was able to get a brief bit of playtime in with my brother-in-law's extensive collection of electric guitars and visit the beautiful hand-built log home of David's brother Dennis and his wife Judy.

Yesterday afternoon the sun came out (even though the weather forecast had called for rain), so we decided to be spontaneous. We picked Chris up from school and headed out for the Columbia Gorge, wanting to show Ali a bit of Oregon beauty. Unfortunately, as soon as we hit Troutdale, the clouds descended and the rain soon followed.

Our outing, intended to be full of some wonderful waterfall hikes, ended up being mostly car viewing of waterfalls. The boys were acting as if they hadn't eaten for days and kept complaining about being hungry, so our plan was to make a quick stop at Multnomah Falls and climb up to the bridge, and then be on our way to Edgefield for dinner.

At the bottom:

At the bridge, Chris had run ahead and appeared to be heading up farther. He had expressed interest in climbing to the top, and Mike had told him that we didn't have time because everyone was hungry. It's a mile to the top--all uphill. I mean, REALLY uphill. I climbed to the top once when I was in high school with a group of friends and thought I would literally keel over. It was one of those many embarassing times in my life when I've been hiking with a group and have felt so out of shape and left behind. Not a positive memory!

At any rate, Chris disappeared and we thought for sure he would come back soon. Nope. For some reason, he decided it would be fun to hike to the top.

This was competely against character. First of all, he's not the kind of kid to deliberately disobey. He does have selective listening at times, and I think this was the case yesterday. And second of all, he has NEVER been a hiker. He would prefer to sit in the car and read. He has gone on short hikes, but he's not usually asking to go hiking on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, Mike had to head up after him.

Ali, Kieran, Nicholas, and I were waiting for them, occasionally fielding calls from Mike on the cell phone. Of course, Chris didn't have his cell phone with him because he always keeps it in his backpack. At one point, Mike said he hoped he wouldn't have a heart attack--he didn't have any water and he was wearing sandals. What a way to reassure your wife!

I kept trying to push out my head the news stories of people dying when they have gone hiking. When Chris was just a baby, Mike and I sang at a double funeral of a couple we knew--who had died while hiking in the gorge. Rationally, I knew it was unlikely that this would happen...but a 13-year-old, all alone, on a hike straight up a mountain? It's a good thing I had the younger kids and Ali there with me to distract me.

Chris made it all the way to the top (where he was disappointed because he couldn't see over the falls!) and had started heading back when he ran into an irate Mike. When they finally came tromping down to the bottom, Mike was walking several feet in front of Chris, and our runaway hiker was contrite and apologetic.

Now in retrospect, I feel kind of sorry for Chris--because he desperately wanted us to be proud of him for climbing all the way to the top, and we were just very annoyed (Mike) and worried (me). Ali said he was at a turning point between childhood and adulthood because he knew he'd have to try very hard not to laugh when they returned!

View looking toward the river from the bridge:

By the time we got to Edgefield, ate our dinner, and returned home, it was very late. Everyone had calmed down by then. Chris had accepted his punishment (3 days of no screen time), but even today he keeps apologizing. That's what he typically does if he screws up--apologizes over and over again even though we tell him to stop reminding us.

And the bottom line is...I am proud of him. And I have about ten more gray hairs in my head. Mike's legs are very sore.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kieran's first communion

Kieran had his first communion yesterday. He made cross necklaces for all of the communicants (he spied the pattern in an Oriental Trading Company and was determined to make them). On Saturday they all gathered at the church with their teachers, the pastor, and the priest and made the communion bread.

He is such a shy, retiring wallflower and absolutely hated being the center of attention. (Those of you who know Kieran know how facetious I am being.)

Waiting to go up for communion
With his godparents and our friends Drew & Laurie (also our pastor)
With Father Neil (who officially retired but
still is very active in our community)
Kieran reading a story to us at the small gathering we had afterward

The weather was nice so we were able to eat brunch out on the deck! First al fresco dining of 2010!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guess we have done something right...

Chris has a newish friend from a family VERY DIFFERENT from ours. They are very, very, very Catholic and have several children, many of them adopted. One of their sons is in the military and two other sons are in junior military-types of organizations. She determines what her children can watch based on what the Catholic watchdog organization deems okay (so "Hellboy" is okay, apparently, because it's about good vs. evil, even though it's violent!). She told Mike that most Catholic schools had "watered-down Catholicism"! I think she must have some clue about our "watered-down-to-the-point-of-near-dilution" Lutheran/Catholic community, because her aunt used to attend there.

They have a bumper sticker on their car that says "Abortion is bad." (Guess that's better than "Abortion is murder.")

The mom insists that Chris call her "Mrs. __________" and her son calls us "Mr. and Mrs. __________," much to my dismay! (Aside: I remember when I was a kid and one friend of the family gave me a dressing-down because I dared to call her by her first name--that's what I was used to in the late 60s/early 70s--other adults insisted I call them by their first names. The only people Chris has been asked to address like that are his teachers.)

Yesterday Chris was invited over to their house, and they took Chris along to the military store so his friend could get fitted for his uniform. Chris looked around and noted "This isn't the type of place I usually go to, because there are so many guns!" She explained to him that they were airsoft rifles, so it was okay. (?)

She later recounted to Mike that they then had a discussion about the war, and she concluded by telling him about how great this country is that we can agree to disagree. Mike later asked Chris what he had said. "I told her that the war has been going on for nearly 10 years now and it's got to stop!"

Chip off the old blocks! I am so proud of my son for standing up to what he believes in--and also being able to get along with all sorts of people. I'm glad he has soaked in our own brand of family values.

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not long after I started reading this book, I did a bit of research. The author, Debbie Rodriguez, has been under fire for publicizing (and possibly exaggerating) the tragic stories of her beauty school students. In the beginning chapter, she describes how she helped a close friend fake her virginity on her wedding night. Critics allege that she has exposed these women to great danger in Afghanistan by sharing this information; even though she didn't share names or identifying details, the pieces could be put together and present great risks for the women back in Afghanistan.

With all that aside, I have to admire this brash, spunky, smoking, drinking, multiple-marrying, midwestern, redhead beautician who went off to Afghanistan right after 9/11. I admire her courage and her tenacity. I admire the fact that she taught Afghani women a new trade in a country where their opportunities are extremely limited.

Her personal choices were another matter. She seems to treat marriage as a temporary convenience, with no regard for vows or long-term commitment. When she first arrived in Afghanistan, she was escaping a difficult marriage (her second or third). After getting a divorce, she turned around and married an Afghani man who she'd only known for 20 days (it was essentially an arranged marriage)...and he had a wife and 7 children in Saudi Arabia, but she didn't seem too bothered by that. For all her claims about helping women build better lives and become independent, she decided she needed to find a new husband for financial support and because she was lonely! She is now estranged from him because he is working for a warlord and fears for her life. Completely bizarre...

I can't say whether the events that Rodriguez writes about really happened the way she describes (her critics claim she has exaggerated her role in building the beauty school), and the book is not very well written (it's ghost written by a friend of hers), but I am giving it 3 stars for the sheer courage and gumption she displayed...even though I don't understand her motives.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gap year guest

Sunday Mike's cousin's son Ali arrived in Portland for a visit. Some of you might remember when I posted last fall about his cousin's daughter, who tragically died in a car accident at age 20. Ali is Jenna's brother.

In his "gap year" before he goes to university, he's been traveling around the world: Fiji, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and this week Portland. Mike and I agree that age 18, we wouldn't have felt confident enough to travel around the world, much less completely solo!

It's been fun having Ali stay with us--we have rarely had young male houseguests. The boys have loved hanging out with him. He watched Nicholas on Wednesday morning while Mike went to his writers' group, and Chris enjoyed playing video games and Rock Band with him. He even went to the middle school music concert on Tuesday night--a penance only parents should have to make! (Kidding--I actually enjoy MOST of the concerts. But I imagine most others don't...)

I've also enjoyed hearing another male English accent around the house. You know...that's why I fell for my husband! (Well, not entirely, but it certainly didn't hurt! Neither did the quoting of Jane Austen and Robert Burns.)

Today we said goodbye to Ali as he took Amtrak up to stay with my sister and her family for a few days. He plans to venture into British Columbia and perhaps even get a work visa to stay there for awhile and work. Before he left, we had lunch at the Spaghetti Factory with a beautiful view of the water:

Nicholas adored him--just before I took this photo he was gazing up at him with admiration:

We are all hoping he comes back to visit again--he's a delightful young man, and I hope all three of ours turn out that well!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sun for Mother's Day

Portland has been experiencing many gray days recently, a bit unusual for May. But Mother's Day turned out to be nice and sunny and appropriate for dining al fresco. We were able to have our Mother's Day brunch outside in Mom and Dad's backyard.

The puppies! (or as Mike called them, the "Naked Mole Rats"!)

Cousins playing basketball
The moms--on Saturday afternoon the three of us went to dinner at Seasons and Regions between the "Grease" performance--this is always my highlight of Mom's Day weekend (a meal out with my sis and mom!)

My beautiful sister with Daniel
Playing in Mom and Dad's spacious backyard
Ryan with Grandpa (it's hard to get them both to smile naturally for photos--so I thought this was a great shot!! Good job Mom!)
The kids gathered around a tiny DVD player, with our English houseguest, Ali. Ali arrived in Portland on Sunday--he's Mike's cousin's son, and he's on his "gap year," traveling around the world. He's been to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, LA, and San Francisco. Next he's headed north to Seattle and British Columbia. Mike and I have agreed that we can't imagine ourselves traveling solo around the world at age 18! He's very intrepid--and it's been fun to have a young man as a houseguest!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Grease is the word

For the past few months, Chris has been working diligently after school and on the weekends as part of the cast of "Grease" at his middle school. We all wondered if it would all come together, but it did! Last Thursday was opening night, and they also had shows on Friday and Saturday (matinee and evening). Many of the roles (including Chris') were double cast--I'm not sure how those kids managed to keep their separate parts and choreography straight, but they did!

Here are Kieran and Nick in full Grease regalia for the Saturday matinee performance:

Since it was Mother's Day weekend, my sister and her family were able to come for the performance! (Last year when Chris was in "Bye Bye Birdie," Nadine, David, and kids and my parents all missed the performances, so it was fun to have them there this year.)
Grandpa and Daniel:
My cousin Tim, his wife Ginger, and their daughter Victoria also came to the show:
Chris as a "Burger Palace boy" (nee greaser):
Asking Jan to the dance:
Intermission--Hi Neal and Annette!
Chris (or Roger) dancing with Jan at the high school hop:
Roger arriving late for the rumble:
Beauty School Dropout (with Queen Angel):
We Go Together:
Here is a glimpse of "Greased Lightning":

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who came out to see Chris in Grease: 
Catherine and Brad; Ron, Linda, Robert, and Nicole; Aunt Terry and Uncle Bill; Christie and Kate; Nadine, David, Ryan, Daniel, and Garrett; Mom and Dad; Tim, Ginger, and Victoria; Jeanne, Erin, and Nora; Neal and Annette; and Maureen. (Forgive me if I've forgotten anyone!!) Chris really appreciated your support--you have no idea!

He's very sad that the play is over--as are Kieran and Nicholas. Thank you also to Andrea (the director) and Sarah (the producer) for giving Chris such a great opportunity to experience musical theatre. We could see how much he had grown as an actor and dancer since last year, and we really appreciate your coaching and support of him. He had a BLAST!!