Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Here comes four!!!

Nicholas turns four this Saturday (over Labor Day weekend), and we began celebrating his birthday (in true G-G style) last weekend with a trip to the Enchanted Forest. We've been making regular trips there since Chris was very young. It's getting shabbier and kitschier each year, and just about as far away from Disney as one can get. Even though they've seen the same old nursery rhyme dioramas and figures year after year, the kids still enjoy it--even the older ones. It was especially fun because they got to hang out with their cousins, aunt and uncle, and grandma, who arrived after we'd been there for an hour or so.

During our first walk-through of the nursery rhyme land:

In Sleeping Beauty's castle

Posing with an elf

On a fallen log stretched like a bridge over the path

Near the "old woman in a shoe" slide

Listening to the gossip on the old-fashioned phone in the gift store:

When we went back to the picnic area near the entrance to meet Nadine, David, the boys, and my mom, who should we run into but my cousin Scott's wife Stephanie, her twin girls, and her niece Victoria (daughter of my cousin Tim)? Unfortunately, they were on their way home, so our meeting was all too brief!

Nick insisted on being in the very first car of the train, so he could "steer"!

Kieran crowded onto this ride when he spied Daniel and Ryan...

With the Enchanted Forest's "mascot," Chip!

Nick riding the bumper boats with his cousins

After watching the high-camp, slapstick play "Hansel and Gretel" (which has many predictable jokes and routines, like a British pantomime), the kids posed with the stars of the show:

Going into the witch's mouth!

In the English village:

Time to go home! Posing by the castle:

Saturday night we had a family birthday dinner for Chris and Nick: sausages, chicken burgers, and salmon burgers on the gas grill. Unfortunately, we couldn't take advantage of eating outside because we've discovered a yellowjacket nest in the backyard.

Chris with his candles!

And Nick with his:

And opening presents...

When my mom arrived and asked Nick to guess what she had brought him, she said "presents!" to which he expressed a disappointed "what about my chocolate cake?"

Our nephews are so great about making cards for every single birthday (and every other occasion). And here I am, the card-making wannabe. They put me (and my kids) to shame! Truly impressive.

Nadine and David and family gave Chris his own Enchanted Forest t-shirt--he was thrilled.

Nick is our one child who actually PLAYS with the toys he receives! Chris and Kieran would be happy to receive toys initially, but they seemed to lose interest and the toys would sit neglected. Nick gets use out of his toys...except when they have lots of little pieces. In that case, they inevitably get lost and misplaced. :(

In addition to a friend's 50th birthday party on Friday night and a thank you celebration for our spiritual programs facilitator at church on Sunday (Chris and I played music at both services), it was quite the busy weekend!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: The More You Ignore Me

The More You Ignore Me...The More You Ignore Me... by Jo Brand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author Jo Brand is a former psychiatric nurse-turned comedian-turned writer. Her first novel is about Alice, whose mum Gina suffers from schizophrenia. She's in and out of the mental hospital, and when she's heavily medicated, she's a shadow of her former self.

Alice and her dad Keith do their best to care for her and love her--but she's not terribly unlovable. Finally, Alice conspires to give Gina a break from her medication, and all hell breaks loose. Gina's form of mental illness is to fixate and obsess on a particular man, convinced that they are meant for each other. This time, Gina's target of affection is Alice's own obsession, Morrissey from the rock band, The Smiths.

In the Herefordshire countryside, Alice and her family are surrounded by Alice's school mates, a horrible bully, Gina's crazy family (aptly named the Wildgooses), Keith's social-climbing parents, and the family doctor (named Marie!), who is in love with Alice's dad.

The book veers into slapstick and tries to accomplish way too much at times (with bunches of side storylines), but Brand handles the subject matter sensitively and wisely. She gives insight into what it would be like to live with a mentally ill mother (or wife), and she manages to make Gina into a sympathetic figure, even as she is difficult and unlikable.

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Do you know how safe your seafood is?

Most people are aware that we have to be worried about the amount of mercury and other contaminants in our seafood, and whether the seafood we choose is being overfished and at risk of being endangered (although I note some contradictions in these sites regarding what is at danger of being overfished and what is not!).

And now we need to be cautious about
eating seafood from foreign countries (and our own country). The fact that seafood from the oil-drenched gulf is purported to be safer than other seafood should put the fear of God into all of us.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, the following types of fish and seafood are your best alternatives (as of May 2010):

--Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
--Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
--Mussels (farmed)
--Oysters (farmed)
--Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
--Rainbow Trout (farmed)
--Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)

Other Healthy "Best Choices":

--Arctic Char (farmed)
--Bay Scallops (farmed)
--Crayfish (farmed, from the U.S.)
--Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
--Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
--Pacific Cod (longline-caught, from Alaska)

Note that shrimp is NOT on this list, yet the
average American eats 4 pounds of shrimp each year. However, this Environmental Defense Fund site claims that shrimp from Oregon (yay!) are "eco-best," with other shrimp from the U.S. being "eco-okay." (Here is the Environmental Defense Fund's list of eco-worst seafoods.)

The important messages? Know where your shrimp are coming from; do not buy foreign-raised shrimp; and urge your favorite stores to stock U.S. shrimp. Nicholas loves shrimp, so I will be taking this to heart.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Afternoon in the gorge--with the best and the worst of Oregon

Back in July a childhood friend came to visit from Arizona. Kathy's mom went to high school with my mom and was a bridesmaid in my parents' wedding. I took one day off work and Mom, Kathy, and I had lunch and went shopping in Multnomah Village. On Sunday afternoon we took her out to the gorge. You can tell what kind of summer we've had here in Oregon by seeing our sweatshirts and cloudy weather that day! But at least there was no rain!

So, the best of Oregon:

Beautiful waterfalls and scenery (Latourell Falls):

Kids tromping around in the forest and enjoying the hike

Can never get enough waterfalls--and Oregon has plenty!

The view of the Columbia River from the top of Latourell Falls--would have been even better on a clear day!

The falls from the side:

The hikers:

And now for the worst. After we hiked up to the top of the falls and back down again, we were enjoying the view from the bottom...until we noticed these insane individuals, who climbed OVER THE FENCE AT THE TOP and skidded downhill ON THEIR BOTTOMS to the very lip of the falls. Note the sheer cliff rock face in the next photo--it's a drop of 249 feet. We watched with horror as they approached the edge. I am freaked out about people falling near waterfalls, since we knew a couple who died while hiking in Silver Falls State Park. I can't imagine what could have possessed these people to deliberately climb over a fence to put themselves in such danger.

Pretty soon a ranger came up behind us and gasped when she saw them. She then raced all the way to the top to tell them to get back on the trail and away from the falls. When she came back down again, she told us that every year she has to "peel people out of the water" who either commit suicide or slip and fall from the top. Sure enough, when I got home I googled Latourell Falls and discovered that a man died just last July because he had skirted the fence and climbed to the edge of the falls. Gosh, wouldn't you think that a path on which you have to scoot down on your bottom (with a 249-foot drop) might deter you just a tiny bit?

With the crazy people safely away from the edge, we could go back to enjoying our afternoon:

We drove to the entrance of Oneonta Gorge (some sunny day I want to walk all the way in!), and the kids enjoyed doing what kids do best: throwing rocks into the water to make big splashes!

This was Kieran BEFORE he dived into the creek and got soaking wet:

Mike and me:

Splendid views...here's the view from Crown Point, looking west:

Looking east toward Hood River:

Kathy treated the kids to ice cream:

The family:

Each time I get to the gorge, I resolve to go there more often. Living so close to such splendor and beauty, we take it for granted by not going there regularly enough. GORGE-ous!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review: Siesta Lane

Siesta Lane: One Cabin, No Running Water, and  a Year Living GreenSiesta Lane: One Cabin, No Running Water, and a Year Living Green by Amy Minato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spotted this book displayed prominently at the library. I typically place library books on hold and have my hubby pick them up for me...so actually visiting the library is always a rare treat. I often end up discovering books I would not have found otherwise. Inevitably, I take a stack of books to a computer and log onto Goodreads to determine whether they are worth my time.

Siesta Lane was one of my good finds from last weekend.

I loved this little gem of a book. Someone on Goodreads described it as Walden if it had been written by a woman. It also reminds me a bit of Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift from the Sea.

Stuck in a Chicago traffic jam, Amy Minato decided she needed to shake up her life and get back to the bare roots.

She moved to Oregon and pursued a graduate degree in environmental studies, but felt that Eugene was still too much of a big city for her. So she fled the city to a remote wooded area where she rented a 10x12 cabin as part of an intentional cohousing community.

Each cabin had electricity, but no kitchen facilities or running water. All of the occupants of the eight cabins used the main house for their cooking and bathing needs. Heat was provided by wood stoves. They grew a lot of their food, and the occupants lived a simple, back-to-the earth lifestyle as much as possible. It was true community living in all its glory and challenges.

As I've mentioned before, I am fascinated by "one year experiment" memoirs. Minato actually did not want to leave Siesta Lane after a year, but she was forced to because of a change in ownership of the land.

Beyond the actual content of this book, I loved the language. Minato's poetic background clearly shines through. She intersperses chapters describing her life in the woods with photos, poems, and drawings.

And here are some passages that illustrate her gift for language and the contemplative life:

"Impulsive people are, it seems, more likely to be outcasts--crazy artists. Western culture values, requires order, efficiency, organization. But it is nonlinear shadows lurking around the edges of society--folk who keep the spirit alive, honor mystery and the irrefutable bent of everything in the unniverse toward chaos."

"I go on one date with a law student and feel my soul slump under the chair."

"The communal spirit is a spider running on slender legs across the threads of the web, strengthening here, slacking there, making sure the relationships can carry her shimmering, necessary weight."

"We pick a few splotchy apples from a wild tree, ones it seemed unlikely other creatures would harvest. They are pinched and tart, keeping their juices to themselves, their sweetness in reserve. As people do, who are unloved for too long."

"It's the Pacific Northwest, after all, and rain's the lover who won't stop tickling you."

My favorite part of the book came toward the beginning, when Minato's brother comes to visit, presumably to spy on her for her conservative mom. Minato created a "daily schedule," which she posted on the community bulletin board for her brother's pleasure. The schedule contained such activities as "sun chant/ritual cleansing with guru, colonics, vegan dinner, sunset drumming circle, group howl, and an admonition to wear clothing because her brother would be visiting." Just the kind of teasing I love!

She also ponders the crazy number of choices we demand in our western culture ("why must there be 30 kinds of cereal?...I had always believed that the more choices in life, the better, but now it doesn't seem true.") and she mentions her Norwegian friend who gets irate at the number of choices offered to him in American restaurants--such a broad array of choices is wholly American! I will never forget Mike's first trip to visit me in Oregon, and his bewilderment at the sheer number of choices offered to him when he ordered a sandwich.

After finishing the book this evening, I googled Amy Minato to find out more about what she is doing now. And wonder of wonders, she lives right in my neck of the woods, in Multnomah Village. According to an Oregonian article, she likes living here because of the feeling of community within a city. And she teaches writing regularly in the village. What a delightful discovery!

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UK Prime minister David Cameron taking paternity leave

A news article caught my attention this morning...British prime minister David Cameron has decided to take 2 weeks of paternity leave after the birth of his newborn daughter. He is the first British prime minister to take statutory paternity leave (although Tony Blair took time off after the birth of his son and was criticized for it).

Until this morning, I had not been aware that Cameron's older son died last February at the age of 6. He had severe cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

In 2007, Cameron said of his son Ivan:

"He is a magical child with a magical smile that can make me feel like the happiest father in the world. We adore him in ways that you will never love anybody else, because we feel so protective."

Although a conservative politician, Cameron has expressed support for the National Health Service because of the lessons he's learned as parent to a child with disabilities. Previous prime minister Gordon Brown also had a child die--a daughter who lived for only 10 days. In addition, one of his surviving children has cystic fibrosis.

Kudos to David Cameron for taking paternity leave and being an involved, committed dad (while being a prominent politician). It gives me hope that society is changing, even thought it sometimes seems at a glacial pace. (Cameron is 43. I imagine some crusty older conservative MPs cannot fathom Cameron's decision.) The more we can shine a spotlight on children with special needs and publicly talk about them, the better world this will be.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oaks Park birthday

Tuesday afternoon we celebrated Chris' birthday with four of his friends at Oaks Park. To quote my lovely husband's comments on Facebook upon our return:

"To all those who think today's teenagers are (as the media would have it) a
surly and entitled bunch: I just spent an enjoyable few hours with five incoming
8th graders at Oaks Park. They were well mannered, intelligent, enthusiastic, and engaging (even my own!). Parents (you know who you are): YOU DONE GOOD!"

Nick and Kieran had fun too:

Kieran's new-found thrill ride fondness gave him courage to go on rides he hadn't tried before, such as the Disko. The one thing he did not enjoy was when I asked Chris and two of his friends to watch him (he wanted to tag along) while I went on a ride with a couple of the other boys. Sure enough, they lost him and didn't even notice! Fortunately he was discovered in the arcade by a friend who came to pick up her son. Poor Kieran!

Getting ready to sing happy birthday and eat cupcakes with completely MELTED icing!! It was HOT! (Perhaps the last really hot day of the summer...in the lower 90s)

The boys posing, with the river in the background...

Chris has known all of the boys in the photo, with the exception of the white-shirted boy (Philip) on the far right, since he was a little tyke. He went to preschool with two of them (James and Sam), and has known Nico (in the stripes) since kindergarten (they played t-ball and then attended school together). One of the best things about the afternoon was spending time with these young men who have grown up so much in the past few years! They are all really nice boys!

Kieran and Philip went on this contraption, the "Explosion" (a ride that's been around for ages, repackaged!), twice!! He wasn't even scared! Even though I'm the sort who generally likes twirly rides, I have never ventured onto this one. And now my 7-year-old is addicted. Looks like I'll have to give it a try next time.

Nick was happy with the kiddie rides--and the scrambler, which he loved--and posing in these wooden cut-outs.

As for me, I'm not as young as I used to be! After riding on the Disko, I had to take a break--stomachache! According to my blog post from 2007, that happened to me then as well. And I ended up going on the Scrambler twice on Tuesday, which was too many times. I love me a tilt-a-whirl, but the Scrambler is truly too scrambly. Of course Mike won't go on any of those rides (although he did do the roller coaster), so I'm on tap to go with the kids.
I made it onto the Screamin' Eagle only one time--and that was not enough. I LOVE THAT RIDE. It looks FAR scarier than it feels. I love that feeling of being hurtled through the air. Yes, I'm crazy! I went with Screamin' Eagle addicts Nico and Philip, who rode it three times that day. I was one of two adults on the ride (out of about 24 people), and the other one had her eyes closed the whole time.

I echo Mike's compliments to the parents of these young men. Man, has time flown. When your own child grows up, it's much more of a gradual process. But I haven't seen much of these kids in the past few years, and they have catapulted into their teenage years.
The most important thing, of course, is that Chris had a blast!