Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The littlest thespian

The scene last night (as reported on Facebook):

The youngest has gone into drama mode full bore. He just directed the entire family in a brief singalong of "Grease"--after clothing each of us in leather jackets and bossing us around. The leather ottoman in the living room has saucepan lids for hub caps (Greased Lightning).

Of course, I'm asking myself what kind of parents we are to allow our preschooler to watch "Grease" (with the not-so-innocent language--especially in "Greased Lightning"!!!). Guess that's what happens with the third child! I'm afraid he's corrupted now.

I arrived home tonight to see our leather jackets hanging on the mantelpiece (see above, minus Nick's, which was upstairs, taken off before bedtime). Chris was playing drums at a basketball game, so he wasn't around this evening, but the rest of us were conscripted once again into Nick's play. We asked him if it was to be "Grease" again, to which he answered, "No, not Grease--too much love!"
Tonight it was "Tom and Jack and the Forest Elves," which involved him tap dancing in his cowboy boots, and Mike and I pretending to tap dance as well until he tapped our feet, at which point we were to fall down on the floor. Later he declared, "time to deliver the papers!" Unbeknownst to Mike, he had wrapped up a bunch of newspapers in rubber bands and squirrelled them away in the footstool. He and Kieran began flinging them to me and Mike. Then more frenetic tap dancing. (Chris is learning how to tap dance for "Singin' in the Rain," Kieran is taking tap dancing lessons, and Nick LOVES the Nicholas Brothers, so we're in a tap phrase at the moment.) During these plays, if anyone fails to follow his directions or talks out of turn, the entire play must start at the beginning. He is one strict director. He's also got the dramatic actor part down, as he is prone to tears if we try to cut the plays off prematurely. And he's known to declare "I hate this family!" if we don't do what he says.
Drama: is it nature or nurture?

Which is worse: Rich Mormon patriarchy or obnoxious, unethical buffoonery?

I honestly cannot imagine how any intelligent American could bring him- or herself to vote for either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

But I've certainly been surprised before (examples at bottom). Americans have shown time and again that when it comes to voting, they can be downright stupid, like their candidates. They blame Obama for not fixing the nation's ills without remembering that it was a Republican presidency and congress that built the huge mess. And how many could clean up an eight-year-old mess in four years?

So now their options are voting for a filthy rich Mormon (I read today that if you add up all the incomes of the past eight presidents and doubled that amount, you'd be close to Romney's millions...and that he is 50 times richer than President Obama) or an outlandish, morally bankrupt buffoon. I won't waste any time on Santorum or Paul--they are even more scary but do not have a hope of winning the Republican race. (I won't be surprised if Paul runs as an independent, though--Romney's worst nighmare.)

Romney seems to be the least of the evils, in many ways, even though he is completely out of touch with regular middle-class Americans (not to mention poor or working-class ones). But frankly, his Mormonism makes me nervous, as Sally Denton agrees in this New York Times blog post. I'm sure his Mormonism scares many fundamentalists, too, who believe that Mormonism is a cult. As bad as Bush Senior and Junior were, at least they both had intelligent wives who were not scared to share their opinions. In the Mormon religion, women are less than second-class citizens and cannot ascend to heaven unless they are married. They rarely work outside the home once they have children, and the male is the clear, unquestioned leader of the family. A Mitt Romney cabinet and staff would have very few women and you can bet they would be mostly Mormons. Mormons tend to hire and financially support other Mormons.

Then we have our friend Newt, who only knows how to get out of a marriage by having an affair when his wife is sick...and who loves to draw attention to himself by saying the most obnoxious thing he can think of...and who thinks nothing of conflicts of interest or representing interests that are paying him.

None of them are presidential material. And now the campaign has sunk to new lows with its bitter attacks. Even veteran Republicans are disgusted with the name calling. I just pray that Americans do the right thing and elect the only honorable man in November.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Newt Gingrich = Jesus

Have you heard? The liberal media is trying to crucify Newt Gingrich and "rewrite history." Funny...I don't think that anyone has to rewrite history to make Gingrich come across as an unprincipled idiot. His actions and words speak for themselves, throughout history. Video below.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hooked on Downton Abbey

After getting addicted to Downton Abbey when it was broadcast on PBS last year (and enjoying the spectacle of Mike giggling), we were anxiously awaiting the beginning of Season 2.

Mike loves Downton Abbey for the manipulative machinations and because I think he secretly wishes he was "to the manor born"! My only criticism of the series is that the major villain, is pretty despicable--and what was the point in making him gay? The Granthams, who live at Downton Abbey, have three daughters, the two eldest of which are not always very likable. I can relate the most to Sybil, the enterprising young feminist who wants to make herself useful. Of course, Maggie Smith is wonderful as always, as the "dowager countess" who thinks she's God's gift to England.

Downtown's creator, Julian Fellowes, is an alum of Mike's Catholic boarding school, Ampleforth. He has been criticized for glorifying the class system, but it's become a guilty pleasure for many both in the UK and across the pond. Although Fellowes is a Tory, he believes it's "ridiculous" that his wife's family title – the Earldom of Kitchener – will become extinct because the current earl has no children and his wife, the earl's niece, is a woman. "If you're asking me if I find it ridiculous that in 2011, a perfectly sentient adult woman has no rights of inheritance whatsoever when it comes to a hereditary title, I think it's outrageous, actually. Either you've got to get rid of the system or you've got to let women into it. I don't think you can keep it as 'men only'." Well, now that the royal family has changed its rules, maybe the archaic inheritance laws will change too.

If you like, you can learn how to dress like you're a Downton Abbey character or take a quiz to find out which one you are most like.

I found a delectable satire on Youtube--take a look. Upstairs/Downstairs Abbey--Part One and Part Two:

I read that a third season is in the works!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Under an eastern sky

Mike in April 1987,
at the fateful second party
I wrote this story a few years ago for a short story competition. It didn't win, but it's a perfect day to post it...because 25 years ago TODAY, I met the love of my life. That is completely mind boggling to me!

Under an Eastern Sky

Each Monday night, in the small Japanese city of Wakayama, I visited my colorful Scottish friend Cath. We had both recently arrived in Japan, although we had followed different paths to get there. After graduating with an English degree, I jumped at the chance to work abroad. My employer turned out to be a crooked Japanese firm that recruited English teachers and contracted them to the local women’s junior college. Cath taught through the much-more-official British English Teaching (BET) Programme, a partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Education. She frequently spoke of her BET colleague, Mike, who taught at Kinki University in Osaka. Cath described him as funny, bright, kind—and much too nice for her.

My North Carolinian-Anglophile housemate, Mary Elizabeth, had decided—before she had even met him—that Mike was the man for her. Mary Elizabeth eagerly anticipated Cath’s Robert Burns Night in January, to which Cath invited her American colleagues and BET friends. As is traditional with Robert Burns Nights, Cath asked her guests to bring a Burns poem to read. Mike had found an R-rated version of Burns’ poem, “Brose and Butter,” from an old poetry edition in the university library. By the time Mike read his poem, we had talked about our mutual love of Jane Austen and I was giddy from chuhais (a Japanese cocktail with a misleadingly innocent flavor). His charm and easy wit delighted me. Later on that evening, he gave me a friendly peck on the cheek. Our warm conversation clearly upset Mary Elizabeth, who after the party informed me that “those British are hard to warm up to.”

Three months passed, we separately traveled to Thailand with friends, and Cath put her mind to matchmaking. During my weekly late-night chats at her flat, Mike would often phone and hear me in the background, laughing and sipping a gin and tonic.

I asked Cath to invite Mike to a party I was hosting with my housemates. As the date of the party approached, I became excited and nervous, with a growing instinct that my life was about to change.

I will never forget the moment Mike walked into my apartment, fresh from a cherry blossom viewing party. I was electrified by his presence. He wore a leather jacket and a copper bracelet on his wrist. I felt immediately drawn to him. He kissed me on the cheek and walked into my heart.

After the various Japanese, British, and American guests chatted and ate snacks, the dancing began in our tiny dining area. Mike and I found each other on the dance floor after shedding our original dance partners, and his lips found mine. We left the party to take a walk and stopped to kiss every few feet. When we finally returned to the party, everyone was gone.

In those first heady days of romance, I remember being drawn to Mike’s beautiful accent, curly head of hair, twinkling eyes, warm smile, and the way he made me laugh and relax completely. I was totally taken with the way he kissed me in full view of Wakayama’s housewives and the way that every activity that we did was infused with romantic electricity.

Traveling around Japan with a girlfriend
while Mike entertained his university friend
After staying the weekend, Mike left me in a state of euphoric exhaustion to return to Osaka. He was expecting a visit from a university friend who he suspected had feelings for him. I was touched by how he didn’t want to tell her about us for fear of hurting her feelings. At the same time, I was desperate to see him again. Over the next month, we corresponded by mail. As soon as his first love letter arrived, I knew that I had a keeper. Reading his funny, romantic letters left me limp with happiness, feeling warm and adored. When I finally saw him again at Osaka’s Namba Station in his suit and tie, I felt astonished at my luck, to have such a bright, witty, caring man waiting to see ME! Over the ensuing few months, we spent every weekend together in Osaka or Wakayama.

Visiting Mt. Koya in winter 1989
I was due to return to Oregon that summer, but I extended my stay for another year. After we traveled to Hong Kong and Macau together, I went home to Oregon for a visit and then moved to Osaka in the fall. Although I shared an apartment with a college friend who had joined me in Japan, Mike and I spent as much time together as we could and traveled around Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. Soon two years extended into three, and our relationship continued to blossom. Although we both enjoyed our time in Japan, life there was much easier for Mike—as a man—than it was for me. As a young American feminist, I chafed against the patriarchal culture, even though I was exempt from many of the restrictions placed on Japanese women. By the time we left in the summer of 1989, I was ready for our next adventure, while Mike departed in tears.

Several weeks before leaving Japan
We then embarked on a three-month journey through Asia. Mike’s airline ticket terminated in London, and mine took me back to Oregon. I avoided asking questions about the future, because I knew how I felt but I wanted him to assert how he felt about our relationship.

Commencing in glittering Hong Kong, we started our detox after the last few weeks of alcohol-laden goodbye parties, ate curried crab at our colonial-era romantic hotel, and wandered lazily around the charming city of Macau. I met Mike’s sister, who was visiting a friend in Singapore. In beautiful Indonesia, we ate street food in Jakarta, toured batik galleries in Yogjarkarta, stayed on the beach in the fishing village of Pangandaran, became annoyed by the Aussie partyers in Kuta, and soaked up the green, artistic mountain hamlet of Ubud. Traveling through India by train on overnight hard sleepers, we gloried at the wonder of the Taj Mahal, ate at a fabulous restaurant run by the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, visited palaces and forts, fended off ear cleaners, and took a painful safari through the vast desert on the backs of camels. And in the exotic city of Udaipur, on the roof of a former maharajah’s palace in the middle of a lake, Mike asked me to marry him. And I accepted with relief. I had already concluded that I would propose to him before we parted ways…so at last we had a plan.

Our parting at the Delhi airport was horrible—I left before Mike, and the nasty security guard would not let him accompany me to the gate. I cried halfway across the ocean. Three long months passed with more letters, phone calls, and wedding preparations.

When Mike was finally on U.S. soil, a grumpy government employee in Minneapolis nearly kept him from me. As the son of a diplomat, Mike had a lifetime U.S. visa, but we had not realized he needed a fiancé visa. In a perfect Catch 22, a fiancé visa lasted only three months, but we had five months until our wedding. The INS officer called my house and spoke to first me and then my mother, grilling both of us about my relationship with Mike. He searched through all of Mike’s suitcases, reading my love letters and his diary and searching for clues that he was an English interloper. By then I was hysterical, waiting by the phone to hear whether he’d be allowed into the country. Finally, just before Mike was due to catch his connection, the INS officer called and announced his decision to let Mike proceed to Oregon. The final convincing piece of evidence that we were not merely marrying for the green card was a calendar I had handmade as a Christmas gift for Mike. Our reunion at the Portland airport was infused with relief, gratitude, and joy.

Now nearly 22 years later, our marriage has grown stronger through the storms. In 1996, our first son was born extremely prematurely at 24 weeks, weighing just one pound, six ounces, and measuring 11 inches long. He spent 117 long, agonizing days in the neonatal intensive care unit and survived several life-threatening crises. Many marriages crumble under this type of pressure, but our relationship grew deeper as we clung to each other through our tears and hope. Later, I experienced four miscarriages as we attempted to add to our family before finally succeeding and having another son—full term this time. Then after we thought our family was complete, we were shocked to discover I was pregnant at age 41. A few years ago we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our first meeting by having a Robert Burns Night of our own. Our family and friends read poems, we tasted whiskey, and I made vegetarian haggis and “neeps and tatties” for the occasion.

After my commitment 22 years ago to support us so Mike could launch his writing career, I continue to be the breadwinner and Mike is the primary caregiver for our three sons. Our children are learning that moms can be the ones who leave the house to work, while dads can be amazing, caring, and fun caretakers. Mike writes fiction when he can squeeze it in, and I am supremely confident that publishing success is around the corner. (Aside: I've been saying this for years, and now it is!)

Sometimes it’s hard to give our marriage the attention it deserves, as our children, careers, and outside activities occupy so much time these days. On those rare occasions when we can get away for a night or spend the afternoon together, I realize—anew—how blessed I am to be married to this loving, creative, and passionate man. I look forward to rare, quiet opportunities for us to rekindle our romance and recall those first few star-struck days under an eastern sky.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Methinks he protests too much!

I can't wait to see what Jon Stewart has to say about this.

When debate moderator John King brought up the elephant in the room (Newtie's ex-wife's claims that he asked her to enter into an open marriage), he fought back angrily:

"I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," he said.

Let's not forget that this man carried on an extramarital affair with a House staffer 20 years younger than him during the Clinton impeachment trial and then married her...and defended his actions by saying, "There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."
What kind of DECENT man has two extramarital affairs, in one marriage after another, when one wife was suffering from cancer, and the second one was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and then attacks Bill Clinton as being immoral? I'm so sick of hypocrisy, whether it's from Repubs or Democrats!

Of course, Newtie got a standing ovation from the obnoxious audience, family values folks that they are. Because the media are leftist commies and always favor the president. I do agree that it was kind of tacky to open the debate with that question (couldn't King have waited maybe 10 minutes?)...but to blame everyone else for his problems, now that's just being a whiney crybaby. None of these people have the right combination of caliber, personal ethics, integrity, compassion, and professionalism to be President. The fact that people will actually vote for these buffoons makes me feel depressed to no end.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Remembering Parker (January 15 to 22, 1997)

Fifteen years ago this week, a star was born in the lives of our dear friends Catherine and Doug. Their son Parker was born at just 23 weeks gestation in January 1997 (a scant few weeks after we had finished our own 17-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit [NICU]).

If 24 weeks is too early to be born, 23 weeks is much, much earlier. When you are a micropreemie, each day matters exponentially. And the sad fact is that white male babies fare the worst--if you are to be born a preemie, it's best to be a female of color (in terms of your chances of survival). I've always thought this was some form of sick divine justice, since females of color have the hardest road in life.

Parker lived for only seven days. And during those seven days, his parents and older brother learned that each day with him was a blessing. We met Catherine and Doug a few months after Parker died, when they joined the NICU Family Advisory Board, of which we were members. I remember being stunned by their willingness and commitment to continue to be involved at the hospital, and to give back by supporting other parents who were going through the heaven and hell of the NICU. Their generosity and fullness of soul, inspired by their son, blew me away.

A night out with our dear friends, 2007
As soon as we met Catherine and Doug, we were drawn to them. They are two of the kindest, most generous and loving, and spiritual people we have had the honor to know. Through our friendship with Catherine and Doug, and other dear friends who also lost their children, we have come to a better understanding of what it means to lose a precious child. (Of course, I believe that one can never truly understand this unless you go through it yourself. That's why it's important to seek out others for support.) I have heard stories about the completely stupid things people say to bereaved parents, and I have learned how difficult it is for them to answer the casual question of how many children they have. I have learned about how devastating it is for a parent to let go of a child and to allow the child leave this earth. I have learned that the pain never goes away, no matter how many years pass. And how important it is for the child to be remembered, talked about, and honored.

And although part of me that believes that prayer and positive thinking have some value, that value is severely limited. For no amount of prayer, devoted love, and positive thinking saved the lives of Parker, Zacary, Olivia, Grant, Jonah, and so many other little ones lost.

Parker's family honors him daily by lighting a candle for him, and they set aside January each year as a month to go to the beach and remember him in their own ways. He will always be part of their family, no matter how many years go by.

Catherine and Doug, and so many other people we've come to know, have been some of the most significant blessings we've received from the NICU experience (and getting involved with supporting other parents who have had NICU babies). Together, we have weathered more storms. Doug rushed to the hospital the night Zacary died, and his quiet, calming, and loving presence was such a gift. Soon after I experienced my first miscarriage (of four), I remember attending a Precious Beginnings (the parent support organization we all founded) holiday party and being overcome with love and support...from the only people I could have imagined feeling comfortable around...because they all keenly understood loss.

Doug and Calder with our
Baby Kieran, 2003
Catherine and Doug went onto have another son, Calder, who is a bit younger than Chris. Their older son, Pierce, went off to the University of Oregon this fall. They do not live very far away, but we rarely get to see them...between work commitments, kid activities, and other things that get in the way. But they are true soul friends. I am extremely thankful to Parker for bringing them into my life. I just wish that I had been able to meet him and thank him myself.

Our friends are just two of many hero parents who lose children and go on to help others through the process. I will leave you with these beautiful words, which Catherine wrote for a Precious Beginnings newsletter many, many years ago:
Catherine with
little Nicholas

Our son Parker was born in January 1997 at 23 weeks old. He only lived for seven days in the NICU. It was where he lived his life…where he was born and where he died. When he was born we did not know what to expect. We felt so lonely in this new world of the NICU. We wanted to know our future. We wanted to change the past. We were powerless. So we chose to do the one thing that we had total control over…to love him and to appreciate each moment of his existence. To celebrate his life and marvel in the midst of the unexpected, that here before us was our beautiful son.

Through the noise of the machines, from the shock and disbelief that this was happening to us, to the blur of our life having been enveloped by a world we did not choose…somehow, we tried to stay as focused as we could and to remember that this child of ours was a gift.

We now appreciate those days and those moments. For whatever reason, that was all we were meant to have with Parker in this life. But he blessed us with wonderful gifts: experiencing the power and magnitude of love, and the genuine goodness in others. And learning that life, for however long it is or whatever it may be like, is precious, and we should appreciate each moment.
May the power, the beauty, and the love of your child give you strength.

We love you and are keeping you in our hearts, Catherine, Doug, Parker, Pierce, and Calder. Thank you for blessing all the lives you have touched.

Friday, January 13, 2012

This is when you REALLY need a native language editor...

This priceless gem was spotted in Osaka, Japan, in Shinsaibashi no less--my old stomping grounds! I used to teach at an English language school in Shinsaibashi--that was my subway station! Who knows? Maybe I once taught English to the brilliant advertising exec who came up with this campaign? Haha--I'm only a potty mouth very occasionally, if no children are around.

The signs have since been taken down (after they went viral on the internet). Read the story linked in the previous sentence for a hypothesis on how the word came to be plastered all over the store.

Take a trip around the world in 5 minutes!

Kien Lam quit his job, packed his bag and camera, and traveled to 17 countries in 343 days. This is the amazing result. The original music was composed by his brother, William. Stunning!

Young gay filmmaker commits suicide after making an "It Gets Better" video

This is just completely heartbreaking.

EricJames Borges, aged 19, was raised in a religiously extremist household (his mother tried to perform an exorcist on him to "cure" him.). His parents constantly told him he was perverted and unnatural. A few months ago his parents kicked him out of their home.

"I was physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally assaulted on a day-to-day basis for my perceived sexual orientation," he said. "My name was not Eric, but 'Faggot.'"

He came out only a year ago. He just seems incredibly sad. Can you imagine being humilated, hated, and disowned by your parents, in the name of Jesus? This is the worst collateral damage of homophobia.

If you want to keep your faith in the human race, do not read the comments on the youtube video. It's no wonder he gave up.

It doesn't get better for everyone, and in many cases, the damage is already done. In other sad news related to LGBTQ bullying:
"Resiliently attempting to honor Kameron Jacobsen's memory following his bullycide last January by trying to help make "it get better" for bullycidal kids, Kameron's dad, Kevin Jacobsen, devoted the past year to fight against the HSV that can lead to bullycide. In the last year alone, Kevin helped create the Kindness Above Malice Foundation (KAM), an organization with a simple and noble goal: "Teach kids to be kind."

Even assuming kids are inherently kind and instead are socialized into their discriminatory and ignorant conduct, what a great and understandable message, right? How could you not praise Kevin Jacobsen for his efforts to create KAM following the heartbreaking bullycide of his son?

But whether because of the daily battle he faced to ease bullying and HSV for other kids or the arrival of the one-year anniversary of his son's bullycide or any other conceivable reason or combination of reasons that we don't know about that may have existed, earlier this week Kameron's dad, Kevin Jacobsen -- an advocate for kids to just be kind to each other -- took his own life."  (from "Child Please, How Much Worse Does It Have to Get Before It Gets Better?" by David Groshoff)
I do not see this cycle stopping until each parent teaches each child to be kind. I know there are a few exceptions to the rule, but in general it all starts with the parents. Find a homophobic child, and you'll find a homophobic parent. And most horrifying, they probably call themselves "Christian."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The official contract signing (and the ABCs of how an agent works)

The official contract signing

Mike's agency contract arrived today, and he signed it with great fanfare, with a stack of bestsellers nearby for luck.

Then we invited Nick to get into the photo, since he's been carrying around his stack of "books" and talking about selling them.
With Nick's eight books
Mike's been in a daze, saying that he feels as if he should pinch himself. To work so long and hard toward a goal, and then to achieve the first major step in that goal, is an irreplaceable feeling!

The ABCs of how an agent works

One thing we've realized this week is that most of our friends and family do not understand how this whole agent relationship works. Mike was surprised to learn this, but I think it's like any industry...when you are immersed in it you forget that people in other walks of life have no clue how things work in your own area. I see that all the time when I edit or write for engineers, planners, and scientists! So here, in my wife-of-an-author/layperson perspective, is how it works:

A: Mike writes a novel.
B: Before digging in to edit the novel, he puts it away for two weeks to settle a bit.
C: Commencing edit mode...he begins revising the novel and improving it.
D: Done with first round of edits, Mike begins to show the novel to critique groups (and if I'm lucky, to me!).
E: Editing continues...in some cases for over a year.
F: Finished and ready to send out to agents!
G: Get ready to wait...and (in the case of most authors) receive rejections. This is the hardest part of the entire process.
H: Hard to stay motivated and positive with all these rejections.
I: I'm sure the right agent is out there somewhere!!!
J: Just as the author believes his book is "fatally flawed," he finally receives not one offer, but three, who are interested in his other works in progress as well!
K: Kind wife tries not to say "I told you so, honey" (and fails).
L: Lines up phone calls to interview agents.
M: Makes the very difficult decision to go with one of the agents, after much hand wringing and discussions with wife and writer friends.
N: Now the agent takes over.
O: Signed contract in hand, he starts marketing Mike's book to his contacts at publishing houses. It could take up to a year to sell the book (and worst case scenario--which I'm sure won't happen--it doesn't sell).
P: Publishing acquisitions committee agrees to publish book (cross your fingers!!). Then the revision and production process begins.
Q: Quiet period while Mike waits for printing.
R: Really exciting day when the book is published!
S: Signings and readings scheduled.
T: The New York Times Bestseller List! (Haha--that's why Kieran thought Mike should go with the agent in New York, so he could get on the list--if only it were that easy. But I'm guessing this is rare for middle grade unless you're JK Rowling.)
U: Unless he gets distracted by his overwhelming success, Mike continues to write while promoting his first novel. Then the process starts back all over again, but skipping the most difficult step of acquiring an agent!
V: Very successful Mike gives very successful agent 15% of the profits of the book.
W: Wife gets to cut back her hours at work to part time (it IS all about me, right?).
X: Excellent reviews! (Okay, I cheated a little on this one.)
Y: Your friendly Hollywood studio calls to ask for movie rights. (Dreaming now.)
Z: Zenith of author's career.
Hope that little tutorial was helpful!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hallelujah!!! Mike has an agent!!!

I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am to share this news!!! Here are a few highlights in Mike's writing life:

June 17, 1990
1990: We get married, and I tell him that I'll support him "for a year" while he writes his novel. :)

1991: He somehow deletes his first novel (Tally Ho, about hippies in England) off of our computer and I have to consult an IT expert in my office for help in retrieving the files. (Good ole Norton Utilities!)

1992-1996: Mike continues writing...and also begins working as an editor for a friend from Japan who started up a Japanese translation/literary agency. He also works at ServiceMaster cleaning carpets to make some pocket money.

1994: He joins his first writing group, with two other guys in Portland.

Mike with Chris in early 1997
1996: Chris is born suddenly, extremely prematurely at 24 weeks gestation. The last four months of the year are spent in the NICU, constantly, and the only writing that gets done is in our joint journal of our time in the NICU.

1997: He joins a larger monthly writing group, still going strong.

1997-present: Mike is stay-at-home dad and household manager extraordinaire, doing a phenomenal job of raising our three (gulp!) boys, and writing when he gets a chance. In the late 1990s and first decade of the new century, he works on Christopher's Angels, our jointly written account of Chris' time in the NICU (which is still waiting for me to finish!!); a Japanese detective novel; and short stories, among others. I know I'm forgetting some!!

1998: I send him to "The Artist's Way" (a 10-week course in creativity) as a Christmas gift. He gives up TV soon afterward, except for the notable exceptions of tennis tournaments, the Olympics, and occasional PBS specials.

2003 Willamette Writers Awards Banquet (with Kieran!)
 2003: He wins honorable mention for fiction in the Kay Snow Awards sponsored by Willamette Writers.

2005: After writing adult fiction for years, he starts getting interested in children's fiction and begins dabbling. Soon he begins to specialize in middle-grade fiction.

2008: He joins a twice-monthly children's writing group, which really kicks off his focus and determination.

2009: Ever the man with willpower, he starts religiously writing one page a day, every day. He wins third place in the Kay Snow Awards.

2009 award banquet
aka Middle Grade Mafioso
2010: He starts a writing blog, The Year of Writing Dangerously. Immersed in all things Shakespearean, he completes Shakespeare on the Lam, a time travel fantasy/humor novel. Then he begins sending the novel out and receiving rejection, after rejection, after rejection (at least 30 in the next two years).

2011: Noticed online as an active middle grade writer, he coins the term "middle grade mafioso" and starts a blog of that name, which attracts quite a following. He also gets invited to join the team blog, Project Mayhem, for middle grade writers. And he gets asked to be a first panel judge of the Cybils awards in the middle grade category...and proceeds to read (or scan) over a hundred middle grade books in a few months' time! Several agents ask to see the full of Shakespeare, but alas, turn him down. I design business cards and a shirt that says "Middle Grade Mafioso" for his Christmas gifts, confident of his impending success!

All ready with business cards!
2012: The year begins with Mike feeling depressed, saying that his novel is "fatally flawed" when he receives a few more rejections, and his ever-optimistic wife and middle son saying "you just haven't found the right agent!" It got to the point where I had to keep my mouth shut, because I had more confidence in his ability to succeed than he did, and I didn't want him to think I was unsympathetic.

Then...he got offers from THREE agents. It as an excruciatingly difficult decision to make (but as I said to him, "a good pickle to be in") because he is an amiable, and it was hard to say no to any of them. He especially liked one agent who has Multnomah Village and European connections. In the end, he is signing with an experienced agent in New York, who has a lot of confidence in his ability to sell Shakespeare to a publisher, in addition to the two other novels he's working on.

He's on his way, at last!!! And I must admit...I did say "I told you so" at least once. :)

I'm so proud of him!!! We all are. Nick has been going around lamenting that no one wants to buy his books (apparently Grandma and Grandpa turned him down? But not sure if they even knew he was trying to sell them!). Then he told Mike he was trying to sell them for $14. Now he's enlisted Kieran as his agent!

The car saga continues: it's been curbstoned!

Remember a few days ago when I wrote about our suspicious sale of the Toyota Camry Wagon? Well, our suspicions turned out to be well founded.

Not two days later, it has shown up on craigslist...for $2,400, $1,100 more than what we sold it for.

Also, it now has only 119,000 miles on it instead of 180,000 miles. And supposedly two owners. It was also a 1995 Camry, not a 1996. But we can tell it's our car. Toyota Camry Wagons are rare.
The men who bought it clocked the miles and are lying through their teeth about its problems (it's called curbstoning, and it's a big problem in Oregon). It just makes me sick that our old car is going to end up in the hands of a trusting person who will soon find out it needs a new engine...and then maybe they will find out that it really has 180,000 miles and is one year older than they thought.

We wish we could do something about it, but there's really not anything we can do. And the men know where we live, so we wouldn't want them to retaliate against us.

We've always bought secondhand cars directly from the seller--this was the first time we'd bought from a dealer--we've had them checked out by mechanics and run the VIN number through Carfax...but I feel very differently about it now. Next time we have to buy a secondhand car, we'll go through a broker again. The whole thing just makes me sick to my stomach.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Announcing a new beauty break-through!

I've often posted my opinions about plastic surgery and unrealistic expectations for women's body image. This clever little video (Fotoshop, by Adobe') makes the point while skewering the fashion industry's love for Photoshop.

Fotoshop by Adobé from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cancer threats lurking in our homes

A friend of ours, Mark--who recently received treatment for a brain tumor--posted this on Facebook: "The Top 12 Cancer-Causing Products in the Average Home." Full disclosure: the article is on a laundry ball's web site (an alternative to laundry detergent with toxic chemicals). Mark is convinced that he got cancer because of environmental factors. It's sure made me reconsider some of our family's choices!

We need to begin exploring alternatives to these products in our home:

Hot dogs, corn dogs, and smoked and deli meats: Recently we've become lax in allowing Nicholas--in particular--to eat hot dogs. He loves them, and he is notoriously picky. However, I was alarmed to see that "three different studies have come out in the past year, finding that the consumption of hot dogs can be a risk factor for childhood cancer." Nitrite and nitrate are metabolized in your body to form nitrosamines, known carcinogens. Furthermore, all cured meats have nitrites, including bacon and smoked foods. Nicholas also likes eating deli turkey meat, another possible source of nitrates and nitrites. Maybe we need to start buying our own turkey breast and roasting it ourselves...and looking for nitrate- and nitrite-free meats or veggie alternatives.

Toothpaste: possibly carcinogenic? It's the food dyes and saccharin (in toothpaste?). Looks like I need to begin examining our other beauty and health products a lot more carefully, too (e.g., shampoo). And now I'm wondering if I should have my hair colored again. Should I expose myself to chemicals for the sake of vanity?

Cleaning products: Makes me want to go on a clean alternatives kick. This stuff can be nasty, including Lysol. I want to make my own cleaning solution from Tea Tree Oil, which has been shown to have antiseptic properties. Trader Joe's sells a natural cleaning spray that I like, but it would be less expensive to make my own.

We already purchase organic milk and have been doing so since we started having kids, but it makes me think about all the people out there who cannot afford to do so.
Laundry detergents: This was news to me...and I find it worrying. Not only are nearly all laundry detergents (even those labeled as green) filled with toxic ingredients, but we go around all day wearing them on our bodies. And think about the little babies and how often their clothes are washed! We have a big container of Costco laundry detergent to get through, but when it's gone I'm thinking about making my own.

Talcum or baby powder, which I've never really used, is also on the list.

We already purchase buy a lot of organic foods, but it's another depressing reminder of the power of big business and lack of consumer advocacy out there. With several friends and family members who are battling or have battled cancer, it's worth considering how to clean up our homes and our habits as much as we can.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new!

As those of you Facebook friends know, last month we decided we needed to replace our faithful, trusty old 1995 Toyota Camry Wagon, which we had owned since 2001. Mike got backed into in the high school parking lot, and as soon as the car left the body shop, the oil light went on. The mechanic gave a terminal diagnosis...it could need a new engine. He advised us to think about buying a new (preowned) car.

Since we knew we'd end up purchasing a minivan eventually, we decided to take the plunge. After viewing a Toyota Sienna out in Gresham--being sold by a Russian guy and his sister--we started to feel suspicious when he seemed reluctant to negotiate on price after we noticed the van had a crack in the windshield and didn't seem to want to give us the VIN number. Although we thought it was on the up and up, we smelled a rat. We almost bought a Kia Sedona until we called our mechanic to get his advice and he told us to steer clear of Kias. Fed up, we got the name of a broker from a friend and chose to go that route instead. Our broker, Jim Hoff, did the scouting for us. And all this was happening over the holidays!

Yesterday we finally sold our beloved Toyota Camry Wagon, our "anti-minivan," because it had a fantastic third seat. Toyota stopped making this model in 1996; otherwise we might have replaced it with another one. However, our quickly growing young men were outgrowing the car.

We advertised the car on craigslist and autotrader.com as a "mechanic's special," but got little interest in it until we lowered the price. We ended up selling it for less than we were hoping for, but at least it's sold. The buyers were three Middle Eastern men, one of whom was supposedly buying the car for his wife and one-year child. That story is highly doubtful, as the buyer gave Mike a fake address and what looks like a fake driver's license number. Fortunately, they paid cash...but when they burned rubber driving away, Mike had the same suspicious feeling we did with the Russian guy. Apparently Oregon is a profitable place for shady car dealers, as the regulations are not as stringent here. (Typical!) Many foreigners--probably for lack of other employment opportunities--end up in the car buying and selling business, not always scrupulously.

It made us feel yucky to know that we sold our beloved car--which got us through two babyhoods and many, many miles of driving with our family--to people who appear to be crooks. However, this topic is off limits in our home now, as we had Kieran rather worked up last night. He was dramatizing the situation, convinced that they were going to return to kidnap him and his brothers!

When I told my dad we'd sold the car, he asked if I was feeling sad...and it never occurred to me to feel sad until he said that. Yes, I think I am a little sad. Our last car sale was to a coworker, and it felt better to sell to a nice guy. Now I suddenly feel sentimentally attached to this car. Isn't that ridiculous?

Goodbye, sweet little Toyota Camry Wagon!
But time to move on. A car is a car, right? We ended up buying a 2006 Honda Odyssey EX--essentially a loaded minivan (which we were not looking for!). Leather (and heated!) seats, entertainment system, auto everything, eight seats, moon roof, security system. We've never owned such a nice vehicle. I do like driving it, because I'm elevated so much more off the road (this is good for a short person!). It's also nice for the kids to be able to spread out more. Time for a road trip!

Those of you who know me realize that this is very unlike me, to wax lyrical about cars. We tend to view our cars as utilitarian possessions...something to transport us from one place to another. This blog post is primarily for the benefit of my mother-in-law in England, who has requested photos! So here they are, Olga! Plenty of room for you on your next visit!

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year's with the Australians

We had a great New Year's celebration this year, as Mike's brother Ed and his family came to visit us for a long weekend. They live in Sydney, Australia, and have been traveling in Europe for the past 6 months--my sister-in-law Shemara working off and on, and Ed and the children seeing the sights. We hadn't seen them for four years, since we were all in England together for Christmas in 2007. So we had a great, although very short, visit with them.

Dinner at Mom and Dad's on the day of their arrival
I had forgotten to have us use the Christmas crackers on Christmas,
so we used them that evening!

Digging in

All the cousins together--
Seven boys and one girl!

Jessie in her tutu--
So fun to shop for a girl for a change!

Ed, Shemara, and Jessie

Chris with Christmas hat and the usual accessory

David and Nadine

With Alex, age 10

On the next day (Saturday), Mike and the younger boys joined everyone else at Ed and Shemara's hotel for a swim and lunch, while Chris and I stayed home and cleaned for the party that evening. I think they had more fun!

Bonding over electronics

For New Year's Eve, we invited a handful of friends over with the large family contingent. It was a very fun gathering, with lots of laughter and conviviality.

Jessie and Nick putting on plays

Drew and Ed after dinner

Nadine and David

With Mom

Mike saying something profound to Shemara

Love that look on Ruth's face!


Laurie talking with her hands

Mom, Nadine, and me

Visiting the adults after dinner

With my sister and sister-in-law!

Party planner Kieran in action

Mom and Dad

Breaking out the fancy champagne (courtesy of Ed and Shemara)

My beautiful and brilliant Australian sister-in-law

Dancing to Pink Martini's upbeat "Auld Lang Syne"

Mid-tune! Those pastors can sing!

Conga line time!

Pulling the party poppers
(all the kids, including Nick, stayed up until midnight!)

Ed conked out with jetlag
 On New Year's Day, we all faithfully dragged ourselves out of bed to go to church...I think our family and various extended relatives made up a good percentage of the congregation!

My brother Stephen came to church with his new girlfriend, Trisha. They had just met each other this past weekend, after corresponding online and talking on the phone for almost three weeks. They both feel as if they've been waiting for each other all their lives. I'm very happy for both of them, and Trisha dealt very well with the hordes of relatives she had to meet on Sunday!! She seems like a lovely young woman, and we look forward to seeing her again soon.

Nadine multitasking, cuddling and chatting

My happy little brother

The two lovebirds

Chris (photo by Nicholas)

Grandpa with Nick

Playing Harry Potter out in the yard

My dad deep in conversation with Shemara

With Mom and Nadine
 Then the Puyallup contingent left and my saintly parents watched the children so we could go out with Ed and Shemara to belatedly celebrate Shemara's 50th birthday. They celebrated in France last fall, but we were not able to join them. So we went to Andina and had a lovely adult meal.

The food and company were wonderful, and Mike and Ed were charming to Mama Doris, the restaurant owner, who came by to chat to us about Peru. Showing their diplomatic upbringing, they soon were deep in conversation while Shemara and I started our own sidebar. After all, we do not get to see each other very often.

So sad, but the next day we had to say goodbye.

Jessie hugging Alex

Family shot

Last cousin shots

Not sure why Chris was looking so grumpy!!

Mike taking them off to the train station, with Kieran waving goodbye

They took the train to San Francisco, where they rented a car and drove to LA. And the photo above shows our new minivan, which we bought between Christmas and New Year. But that's another story! What a crazy busy holiday season!

Hope it's not another four years before we see the Australian family members again!