Thursday, December 30, 2010

Abundant holiday theater!

We took advantage of lots of Portland holiday theater this December:

"A Christmas Story" at Portland Center Stage (PCS): In a departure from its usual adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," PCS staged "A Christmas Story" this year. Mike gave his ticket to his mother, and we took Chris and Kieran. Chris and I had never seen the movie before, although Kieran informed us about the faithfulness to the film version. We enjoyed the show, and since we are not the types who see movies or plays over and over again, it was a nice change from "A Christmas Carol."

Next came the "Holly Jolly Hullabaloo," which we saw at JANE: A Theater Company, which does a British-style pantomime every year. This year they did "Hansel & Gretel," and we saw it two weekends in a row (it was presented free, with donations accepted)...first just with our family, and second with my cousin, his wife, and daughter. Nick pronounced it too scary the first time and skipped it the second time. It was full of silly jokes, broad comedy, and music.

Then it was "The Santaland Diaries" also at PCS, this time just for me and Mike. We had seen Santaland Diaries years ago at PCS, but with a different actor. Also, earlier this month I had read David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice, the collection that contains Santaland Diaries (the only story in the collection I liked). The show is still running through January 2 in the wonderful armory theater's Ellen Bye Studio. Mike's snobby side comes out when we go to shows there, because season ticket holders get in 1/2 hour early to get seats. He loves that! The best thing about this show is the incomparable Wade McCollum, who wowed Portland audiences as the emcee in "Cabaret," in addition to other PCS shows. I enjoyed watching this biting satire of Christmas materialism.

Then, a few days before Christmas we all went to see "Annie" at the Northwest Children's Theater (it is still running, through January 2). Of all the theater we saw this month, "Annie" was hands-down the whole family's favorite. The cast, mostly of children, was phenomenal. Annie and the orphans, in particular, really belted out the songs. The adult cast consisted of the talented Melody Bridges as Miss Hannigan and one of my favorite children's theater actors, John Ellingson, as Rooster.

When FDR appeared on stage, Nick announced: "That's not the president! That president looks different. He doesn't look like Obama!"

I'd never seen "Annie" onstage, but I remember memorizing all the songs when I was a kid--I must have had the album. I love the play's message of optimism and hopefulness, and the music is great! Here's a little taste of their talent:

Don't text (or talk) and drive!

My sister's friend Janina shared this powerful video on Facebook yesterday. I urge you to show it to every teenager you know--or anyone else who regularly texts, tweets, or talks while driving. Studies show that you are 23 times more likely to get into an accident while texting and driving. I've posted before about the danger of talking on cell phones when driving. Teens are even more likely to text and drive.

As Janina's post said, "this message needs to get out. If you know someone who thinks that they are the exception, please share this because you love them."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What the heck is going on in the blogosphere?

I was catching up with a bunch of my blogs last night and realized that an all-out war is being waged in the blogosphere...about Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann, famous feminists such as Naomi Wolf, and rape.

If you, like me, have been out of the loop, this article gives an excellent summary of what's been going on.

I'm on the fence regarding Wikileaks. I do believe that the shameful activities conducted, funded, or endorsed by our government need to be out in the open. However, I also believe that many activities need to be kept confidential for the sake of state security. For example, what good could come out of sharing insults by diplomats from one country about another country? And just because the documents are released does not mean they are accurate (for example, Rachel Maddow brought up the example of Wikileaks reporting that Michael Moore's documentary, Sicko, was banned in Cuba, when it was not). Julian Assange appears to be an egotistical rogue, and although I do believe in freedom of speech, I think he stepped over the line.

The blogosphere is buzzing about the charges of rape against Assange. I find it troubling to see how feminists and liberals are fighting each other about this issue. Keith Olbermann claims to be one of the most liberal male news commentators out there, and he is highly offended that women think he's forsaking rape victims. Michael Moore posted Assange's bail on the basis of defending freedom of speech, even though he doesn't know whether Assange is guilty. Assange's defenders believe that the rape charges are trumped up by the government, even though he was wanted for rape before all of this recent stuff came out. (The charges of rape are fuzzy--apparently one victim insisted he put a condom on, and he refused, and he had sex with the other victim while she was asleep...?) Naomi Wolf is stridently claiming that the charges are false, even though she does not have any clear knowledge of the issue. I do not know whether the charges are true or false, but it's not my place to know this. What bothers me is the way people are so sure they are right about this. (I remember feeling the same way during other highly public trials or reports of crimes. How can we, who are not sitting on the jury hearing all the evidence, know with such certainty the facts of the case?)

One feminist blogger I follow used quite provocative and profane language on this subject about another feminist blogger. If you want to know more, follow some of the links or google the topic.

My point is that it saddens me that progressives are fighting each other so vehemently on these issues. The fact that Assange diminishes his accusers' claims by saying that they are "in a tizzy" says something about him right there. Do you have any thoughts on this issue?

Only in Japan

As soon as I saw the title, "synchronized walking" and a screen capture of the video, I knew it must be from Japan. The Japanese have perfected the art of synchronization and precision in everything they undertake. Typically, there is one correct way of doing things.

In the arts of ikebana (flower arranging), shodo (calligraphy), or tea ceremony, or in the sports of karate, aikido, or judo, students practice and practice for countless hours, days, months, and years to reach perfection. A Japanese "sensei" is one of the most respectable positions possible.

One of the most popular phrases of encouragement in Japan is "頑張って下さい, or ganbatte kudasai," which means "please, do your best." In response, the person says "はい、がんばります, hai, ganbarimasu." Striving for perfection, or at the very least, your very best is tantamount in Japan.

As foreigners, we were considered wild cards and were not expected to achieve or even strive toward such perfection. (In fact, we often felt that we were not expected or even desired to excel at anything in Japan. We often received shocked looks if we were able to handle a pair of chopsticks with aplomb.)

I loved so much about my time in Japan, but I know I could not live there long term. I would chafe against the lack of individuality. I would wither under the expectation that I behave like everyone else.

However, this culture of perfection is the reason they can create such precise art as this:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pregnancy photos

I suppose you could call me a bit of a prude. I was not one of those pregnant mamas who bared her tummy in public. I didn't show any of my midriff at all, in fact. For those women who do so, all power to them. I loved being pregnant, and after having my pregnancy abruptly end at 24 weeks the first time around, I enjoyed seeing my belly grow round. But to show it off in public (or even the privacy of my own home, on the wall)? No way.

These are the only photos I have from my last pregnancy:

A few days before the birth, in my favorite maternity dress

And the morning of the scheduled c-section, at the hospital--
the last time I would ever be pregnant! :(
I have seen some very tastefully done pregnancy photos, but as much as I loved being pregnant, I wouldn't want to spend loads of money on photos of my belly. Much better to spend it on photos of the baby!!

I had to laugh out loud when I read this blog post by Katie, a woman we know who is trying to stave off premature labor...about someone asking her if she was going to do "pregnancy photos." She posted a link to this amazing site that showcases "awkward pregnancy photos." I love them. Absolutely hilarious. And absolutely why I would never do pregnancy photos.

The first few days of Christmas...

In our house, those are Christmas Eve and day, since we celebrate Epiphany and leave up our tree and decorations until then. We enjoyed Christmas this year, although it was marred by the death of my cousin John the week before (we were not close because he was a bit of a recluse, but my parents faithfully visited him in the hospital and helped him tremendously before he died) and concern about various family members. However, I loved spending time with my sister and her family (who were here the week before Christmas), extended family and friends, and my nuclear family. Here are some images from our Christmas celebrations...

A few days before Christmas, I met Mom, Nadine, and Olga (Mike's mum)
for lunch at Pastini after their Christmas shopping trip

Nadine and Olga

Nick and Kieran on Peacock Lane
Aunts Barbara and Terry at the family Christmas Eve dinner
Cousins Cori and Cameron with baby Caden
Two of the oldest cousins in the bunch--Chris and McKenna
The cutest four-year-olds in the family!
The cuties with their mommies--my cousin's wife Stephanie with Abigail and Ainslee

Mike (aka preacher man) saying the prayer

Cousins Daniel and Nick
Aunt Terry with stepdaughter Kim and daughter Cori

Mike's mum, happy with the whiskey she won in the gift swap!

Many of the cousins and their partners (but missing some of them!)
The next generation

My dad and three of his brothers (and Nick)
Nick with his Santa gift on Christmas morning
Olga, Nadine, and David at Christmas Brunch

Nick happy with his new art supplies
My sister Nadine, her husband David, and oldest son Ryan

My mom with Mike's mum (looking a little giddy!)

Kieran with his new Indiana Jones hat
Dad with Garrett

Kieran with the twins
My brother-in-law modeling the sweatshirt we gave him

My mom and me in our Christmas cracker hats

Mike with the teenager :)

Nadine and David
Now that's a real teenager look...
Me and Mike

It seems like we spent more money this year on Christmas than usual...I got Mike a laptop, we bought Chris a drum set, and Mike gave me a gift certificate for the Sylvia Beach Hotel. They were all more extravagant gifts than usual, but at least they will not add to the clutter around the house and two out of the three items are already being used constantly. Kieran got Heelies, which he hasn't yet been able to break in properly. Now we will need to have an austere January!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The next generation gives me hope

Yesterday my sister told our kids that her boys would be wearing little suits today for Christmas Eve, in the hopes that they might be willing to dress up a little too. (My kids are much less inclined to want to dress up!)

Nick's response: "I don't want to wear a suit. I don't want to get married!"

This afternoon Nick and Kieran were talking about Nick marrying his cousin, Daniel. Kieran told him he couldn't marry him because it was against the law for cousins to marry.

I love it that the principle that they are two boys was not the focus of the conversation...instead it was the fact that they are cousins!

In this week of the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, it gives me hope that the times are a-changin'!

Nick is in a little suit after all! Guess he's in the mood to get married. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A thought for Christmas: We are not alone

I've been a quiet blogger recently, I realize, as I'm busily preparing for the holidays. My body also is trying to fight off some kind of a virus--I have a very swollen and sore gland in my neck, which my physician sister tells me is a good sign. It means my immune system is working.

In the midst of the frenzy, I share with you this quote to center us all:
Christmas reminds us we are not alone.
We are not unrelated atoms,
bouncing and ricocheting amid aliens,
but are a part of something which holds and sustains us.

As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations,
compounded by December's bad weather,
it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives
who are worth this aggravation,
and people to whom we are worth the same.

Christmas shows us the ties that bind us together,
threads of love and caring,
woven in the simplest and strongest ways.

--Donald E. Westlake, 1933-2008
American Author
My family and friends (many of you who are reading this blog) are certainly worth the aggravation. Love to you all, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A very sad goodbye

First grader Chris with Mr. Blanck
With our kids spread out so far (6 years between Chris and Kieran, and 3 years between Kieran and Nick), we will be at our elementary school for a very, very long time...a grand total of 16 years. It's a wonderful small neighborhood school with a student size of about 320, generally with two classes per grade.

John Blanck has been our principal since Chris started kindergarten, 9 years ago. He's been there for 11 years total, the longest the school has ever had one principal. The man is truly gifted and beloved. He's out there every morning and afternoon, helping at the crosswalk and greeting each child BY NAME. He walks the hall and visits the classrooms. I've seen him sweeping the cafeteria while wearing an apron. No task is too small for him. He has a rare gift of connecting personally with children, teachers, and parents alike. We were truly hoping he'd be there for our entire tenure, but that was probably too much to hope for. Now he is retiring.

With kindergartener Kieran
We learned in the fall that he would be retiring, and that was hard enough to swallow, but then he announced in November that his plans had changed. He would be spending the last half of the school year working in the district office--he's taken on an interim position hiring principals and vice-principals. We've been given an interim principal, and fortunately John will be in charge of hiring the school's next principal. So good news and bad news.

Friday was his last day, and the school held an assembly to say goodbye. Each class had a few minutes and sang a song, said a poem, or presented him with a book of memories. Kieran's amazing teacher had written a song to the tune of "Wimoweh," and the second graders sang it to him. They were fantastic, and received a resounding ovation. Other parents and staff said that we won the award for the tear-jerking song ("Hush my children, don't cry my children, Mr. Blanck is leaving today...").

Beloved John Blanck, listening to the first graders

Leading the second graders

Kieran in blue stripes, and the wonderful teacher/composer in the red vest!

There's Mike helping me lead the music

All of the kids were so sweet. John has left some very big shoes to fill. I believe that principals are so critical for setting the tone of the school, and he did that wonderfully. It has always felt like a little community. I especially feel for the staff, who are losing a supportive, nurturing boss. Chris' fourth grade teacher told us at the end of the day that when she came to visit the school after having a baby, John not only held the baby but also changed his diaper! How many people can say that about their boss??

As the sign in front of the school said on his last day, the school will be "blanck" without him there.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small Friends holiday celebration

Thursday was Nicholas' first little holiday concert at preschool. The kids sang a selection of songs from their first term at preschool. They are so cute!! Then we had cookies and punch. Very sophisticated, you know!

Little St. Nick ready to sing

Nick sitting next to his buddy Nick
I told Mike later that preschool is like middle school, because Nick told me later he doesn't like Oliver--the boy sitting on the other side of Nick--because essentially he wants Nick all to himself. He doesn't want to share his friend!
Our enthusiastic performer
Singing Jingle Bells with the bells they made
At the reception with all of his grandparents
Daddy reading a Christmas story

With his teacher Sydney
With Teacher Marah (she tickled him to get that grin!)
Here are a couple of videos of the performance--Tommy Thumb:

And "Late Last Night" (one of Nick's favorites):

Friday, December 17, 2010

Portlandia: where young people go to retire

"Portlandia" is the name of a new show coming out in January on IFC (and the name of an iconic statue in downtown Portland). Check out this great music video, which satirizes our laid-back culture in Portland. A friend of ours is playing his sax at 2:22! Enjoy!

Let's take the Christ out of Christmas

Our friend Mark shared this Colbert clip on Facebook--now this is the kind of parody I love!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Marlo Thomas and Phil Donohue

As I wrote on my book blog today, I was a "Free to Be You and Me" girl. I memorized "Ladies First" and "Boy Meets Girl," in addition to many of the songs. My favorite was "Glad to Have a Friend Like You." I will always be grateful to Marlo Thomas for being a feminist who reached out to children and tried to demonstrate that kids have choices and do not have to follow classic gender roles. I love her. I just finished reading her memoir, Growing Up Laughing.

Then there's Phil...the classic talk show host and in my opinion, the best. I loved him. We need more Phils on TV. Recently they appeared on the show of another talk show great, Ellen. If I were home all day and watching TV, Ellen would be my first choice. As it is, I'm lucky if I view an occasional clip on the internet. I love the way they all laugh together in this clip:

Best Books of 2010

(This is a cross-post from Marie's Book Garden)
As is my typical end-of-year tradition, I've created a list of the best books I read in 2010. Generally, these are the ones that received 3 stars and above.

1.  The Crying Tree, Naseem Rakha
3. The Favorites, Mary Yukari Waters
5. Windfalls, Jean Hegland
6. The Day the Falls Stood Still, Cathy Marie Buchanan
7. A Disobedient Girl, Ru Freeman
8. Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler
9. The Color of Lightning, Paulette Jiles
10. The Millennium Trilogy (Girl with Dragon Tattoo, Played with Fire, Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), Stieg Larsson
11. In the Convent of Little Flowers, Indu Sundaresan
12. Vancouver, David Cruise and Alison Griffiths
13. Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
14. When You Least Expect It, Whitney Gaskell
15. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
16. Push, Sapphire
17. Midori by Moonlight, Wendy Tokunaga
18. The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler
19. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
20. Queen of Dreams, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
21. Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
22. The Help, Kathryn Stockett
23. Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin
24. The More You Ignore Me, Jo Brand
25. Small Wars, Sadie Jones
26. Broken Glass Park, Alina Bronsky
27. Supermarket, Satoshi Azuchi
28. The Palace Tiger, Barbara Cleverly

1. This Lovely Life, Vicki Forman
2. Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman
3. Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi
4. Stitches, David Small
5. Dating Jesus, Susan Campbell
6. Living Oprah, Robyn Okrant
7. Cowboy & Wills: A Love Story, Monica Holloway
8. Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle
10. Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Elliot
11. Siesta Lane, Amy Minato
13. Menu for the Future, Northwest Earth Institute
14. The Other Wes Moore, Wes Moore
15. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
16. Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, Ute Ranke-Heinemann
17. Kabul Beauty School, Deborah Rodriguez
20. Rethinking Thin, Gina Kolata

And here are the recommendations from the rest of the family:

Mike’s Mentionables of 2010
1. Duma Key, Stephen King. My first experience with the master of horror.
2. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Best young adult novel.
3. Without Fail, Lee Child. Best thriller.
4. Jesus Freak, Sara Miles. Best religious book.
5. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. Best book about French snobs.
6. Dune, Frank Herbert. Read it to see how to create a world.
7. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. Dystopian before dystopian became ‘in.’
8. Love, Aubrey, Suzanne LaFleur. Most touching children’s book I read this year.
9. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, Josh Lieb.
Most hilarious children’s book I read this year.

Kieran enjoyed the Boys Against the Girls series, the Lemony Snicket series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and the A to Z Mysteries. Nicholas loves Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs and Christmas books, among many others. Chris’ favorites were Cricket Man; Point Blank; #6, #7, and #8 of the 39 Clues series; Eat My Globe; and George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.