Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Listicle: 10 clues you are living in 2012

This week's Monday Listicle is "10 clues you are living in 2012."

1. Children are less easily entertained and more easily bored than when I was a youngster. We didn't have videos or DVDs, much less car entertainment systems. The great classic films ("Sound of Music", "The Wizard of Oz") were played annually on television. If you missed them, you were out of luck. Now most children have libraries of DVDs in addition to movies at their fingertips, which they can watch any time of the night or day.

2. Nouns are rapidly becoming verbs, and verbs are becoming nouns:
"Did you friend him?"
"I wrote a tweet about it."
"Just Google it."
"I sent you a text."
"plating the food"
"trending upward" ("trend" is a noun; at least, it used to be just a noun...)

And of course there's "impact," which is a NOUN, people, not a verb! ("Impacted" means "packed in, as in "impacted wisdom teeth.") "Impact" as a verb is prolific in my workplace, and I just quietly change it when I can. Another one, which I've gradually accepted, is "copy" as a verb, such as "I copied you."

3. The war on women rages on. It seems like every time we turn around, another politician, pundit, or talk show host is saying something insulting or downgrading about women. This year has been particularly horrendous. Arizona now has a law that proclaims that women are legally pregnant 2 weeks BEFORE conception. What the hell?

4. The only prominent women actually interested in being president are idiots. You know who I'm talking about.

5. Reality shows get stupider and stupider, just to attract attention. Why would anyone want to watch a show about extreme couponers or toddler beauty pageants, not to mention spend time with Bristol Palin or the Kardashians? Why do people care about the Duggars, or before them, Jon and Kate Gosselin? I can't believe people waste their time on this crap. It makes me very sad about the future of our civilization! Check out this list and see if you can identify which shows are real and which ones are made up.

6. Box wine actually tastes decent nowadays! I remember about 8 years ago when we went camping and I purchased a box of wine, thinking it would be so much more convenient than bottles. Mike gave me hell about it! Now he's come around (as the wine quality has improved tremendously, and you can't beat convenience for travel).

7. Even kindergarteners have cell phones. (Not mine, though--we don't allow our kids to have cell phones until they are in middle school. We are so mean.)

8. Music, PE, and the arts are luxuries in public schools. So sad!!! We were thrilled to learn that our elementary school will once again have a part-time music teacher this school year, after two years without one. Every year it's a battle.

9. Most people know more about the activities of Snooki, Lindsay Lohan, or Prince Harry than what Paul Ryan's proposed budget looks like. People are more likely to get their information about the state of this country from their friends or neighbors (or the likes of Glenn Beck) than from rational, unbiased sources. The arctic sea ice is melting, and some believe climage change deniers that it's all an illusion. Uninformed voters are truly scary.

10. We are only three years away from 2015, the year in Back to the Future depicted with flying cars and dehydrated pizzas cooked to perfection in a few seconds.

I actually found making this list to be a little bit depressing. Sometimes it feels like we have actually gone backward. That's why I'm proud to consider myself a progressive. I much prefer the moving FORWARD!

Thanks to Monday Listicles (organized by Stasha at for the inspiration. Check out some more!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My little one-pound, six-ounce baby is sixteen!

Sixteen years ago today was one of the most terrifying days of my life. Our oldest son, Christopher, was born extremely prematurely at just 24 weeks gestation. He weighed one pound, six ounces and was just 11 inches long. And suddenly we were launched into the crazy world of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where he stayed for 117 days. We named him Christopher because we both liked that name, and we thought the meaning was especially appropriate: Christopher was the strong saint who carried people, including Christ, across a river. His middle name is Hugh, Mike's dad's name, because we decided that he would be Christopher's angel and watch over him while we were not with him.

We were told that he had a 50% chance of survival, and if he were to survive, a 50% chance of major disabilities. All we had to hold onto was our hope. We survived that traumatic period in our lives by:
  • Documenting what was happening in a journal (given to us by a friend whose own son had been born prematurely)
  • Celebrating each milestone (every week Christopher lived, I created a new sign for his isolette and we bought him a new mylar balloon)
  • Praying together and talking to each other about how we were feeling
  • Hoping and thinking as positively as we could (this was extremely important to me)
  • Being buoyed along by the wonderful support of our family and friends
  • Singing to him constantly, each time we visited the NICU

Grandpa holding Chris for the first time

We learned that instead of celebrating the typical infant milestones (holding up head, rolling over, etc.), we would celebrate new milestones (first time we got to hold him, coming off the ventilator, first time he wore clothing, moving to Level 2 [step-down unit], first feeding)...ones that were in no baby book. I silently seethed when I heard women complaining about their pregnancy symptoms...or about how hard new motherhood was. Some people--including my OB/GYN at the time--told us later that he looked like a fetus. We were so grateful to people who looked at photos and told us he was those people who did not run scared or avoid us...and to those people who told us that they knew he would survive and be just fine.
Right before going home
The day we left the hospital, five days after Christopher was born, was one of the hardest days of my life. And the day we brought him home, right before Christmas, was one of the happiest.

We grew very close to the NICU staff and other families who had gone through the same experience, as we were all part of this little world that few outsiders understood. From the beginning, Chris was a tough little cookie. But as one of the nurses used to tell us, Never Trust a Preemie.

He had three surgeries when he weighed less than four pounds and he had all sorts of near-death scares, beyond the severe respiratory distress he was under constantly. Most notably, he had cerebral edema and low flow to the brain, after which he was completely nonresponsive for one day. That was my lowest point--the neonatologist told us that he would be completely brain damaged and we'd have to decide whether to continue life support, and I believed him...but Mike didn't. Then the next day we received the result from his ultrasound, written on a piece of paper: "Normal Head Gettel."  

Another time when he was a few months old (after we thought he'd dodged most of the bullets), he experienced a life-threatening infection and the doctors and nurses were huddled around him for the whole day trying to get him past it. That was Mike's no-hope day. Fortunately we each experienced those low points on different days.
Six months after we took Chris home, he had to have a follow-up MRI to make sure his brain was okay. The MRI found an "arterial venous malformation," which is essentially a clump of veins in his brain that would cause him to have a stroke if we didn't have it removed. We asked the neurosurgeon if we could wait for six months and redo the MRI. He agreed, and six months later, it was gone. Dodged yet another bullet.

Chris had horrible reflux as a baby, and my first Mother's Day was spent in tears as I was trying to force-feed him rice cereal. I was scared that he would be diagnosed as "failure to thrive," because he was so far off the growth charts. (Fortunately our pediatrician focused more on his growth trajectory and his overall health and less on how much he weighed. He also trusted our parenting and knew we were completely dedicated to Christopher.) He walked at 15 months adjusted (medical term for "how old he should have been, not actually was"), didn't talk until he was three, and had balance, fine and gross motor, and social issues as a small child. He did everything on his own schedule. About the only thing Chris has done early is learn how to read!

We had read that preemies can have a horrible time adjusting to their new environment when they go home. They often fuss and cry a lot and have a difficult time bonding to their parents. (In fact, preemies are at higher risk for abuse and neglect, because they can be difficult to care for and the parent/child bond develops more slowly when a baby is sick in the NICU.) So we were both surprised that Chris was an incredibly easy baby--our easiest of all three, in fact...even though he was on multiple medications and hooked up to a huge oxygen tank, a laptop for a medical study, and an apnea monitor). In fact the only time Chris became difficult was when he developed reflux and began projectile vomiting a few times a day, including when I would try to nurse him. (I remember when we took him to see the pediatric gastroenterologist, and Mike showed him his notebook where we'd continued to record every single thing that Chris ate...and the doctor told us we needed to relax!) The feeding issues caused us both no end of stress, but other than that, he was a happy little guy. He always struck me as just simply happy to be alive and with us. 

We kept Chris out of public places for five months after he came home, because we had known another (older) preemie who had died of respiratory synctitial virus and we didn't want to take any chances. We took him for walks outside and allowed family and close friends to visit (after washing their hands, of course!), but  otherwise kept him hibernating until the fateful Mother's Day 1997 (the day I cried because I couldn't get him to eat!). 

The following summer he attended my sister's wedding, got baptized, and celebrated his first birthday! And throughout it all, he interacted with his surroundings, and beamed. Life was good!


From childhood, Chris has always loved music. I'm convinced this is because we sang to him in the NICU. He used to memorize all of our CD cases (musician, album) and we would discipline him by threatening to take his CDs away! 

Chris had his share of challenges growing up--he had to get glasses by age three (because of his retinopathy of prematurity, a preemie eye disease that causes some babies to go blind), developed epilepsy in third grade (diagnosed after a traumatic grand mal seizure and ambulance trip to the ER), was diagnosed with ADD (without the H) in fourth grade, struggled with math, and has had to have years and years of orthodontia (similar to his mom!). But this year he:
Chris continues to be a happy person who loves life. He loves music and is a walking musical encylopedia. Even though he's a teenager and has a few moody teen moments, for the most part he's very easygoing and pleasant. Even though he finds his younger brothers to be annoying occasionally, he also gets a big kick out of them. He loves his family and is not afraid to admit it (even though I have learned not to put my arm around him in public!). He is one of the most forgiving, kindest people I know and would never intentionally hurt anyone else's feelings. Seriously...I aspire to his level of forgiveness. The kid does not hold a grudge; I kid you not.

He's a survivor and a living,breathing miracle, and I'm so proud to be his mom. (Crying now as I write this, which is not good since I'm not supposed to blow my nose for two weeks after my ear surgery!) He will always be my hero. I love you, Chris!

Look! My arm's around him!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Random wonders from the Internet

With all this sitting-around, recovery time on my hands, I've been spending more time than usual surfing Facebook and the Internet. Here are three random funnies I found today:

Kid-made movies

A friend posted this cute video on Facebook..."if movies were written by children." I showed it to Kieran and Nicholas, though, thinking they would like it...and it turns out that the humor is far more appealing to adults. Maybe they're too close to it to find it funny!

Awesome bento art

Bento art is in. In Japan, moms express their love for their family members by creating works of art in their lunchboxes. Bento began in the late Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333). Use of lacquered wooden boxes like today's bento boxes began in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568 to 1600), when Japanese began eating bento at cherry blossom viewing parties or picnics. Bentos began appearing in a more mass-manufactured form (in train stations and stores) in the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912). Nowadays, workers and students frequently take bento for their lunch, or families take them on day trips and picnics. They are typically assembled in boxes with compartments and wrapped up in a furoshiki cloth.

Bento has expanded beyond Japan to hit the art scene abroad. In addition, the Internet is full of Web sites demonstrating creative bento ideas for western families. Here are some examples of great bento art, "insanely cute bento boxes," and some more practical ideas for western bento: justbento,, and

Recipe for ice cubes

This recipe for ice cubes on is worth reading purely for the clever "reviews":
  • This recipe is horrible! Maybe I should have left them in longer than two minutes (the recipe doesn't say how long to leave them in the freezer so I just kind of guessed) but mine came out all watery. I won't be making these again.
  •  I was wondering if you had a crock-pot version for this recipe. I work long hours and I just don't have the time to invest in this kind of hands-on cooking, but they really look yummy.
  • Oh man, so happy to have this recipe! My grandma died and took the recipe with her. You are a life saver!!
  • I can't believe you stole this recipe from Rachel Ray.
  • Woohoo...homemade ice cubes! I've only had store bought, never again. Thanks for posting.
  • Is this recipe available with metric measurements so it can be made in Europe?
  • I am going to print this recipe and tack it to the fridge. I dont think my husband know how to make ice cubes! Now if only there were a recipe here for "How to Change the Toilet Paper Roll" roflmho
  • Water is a living, defenseless thing and should not be eaten, let alone confined in a 1 1/2" x 3/4" x 3/4" compartment and frozen to death!! You people disgust me!!!

I've continued to watch movies as well--today it was a pretty mediocre one called "Did You Hear About the Morgans" with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. Bad script and very little chemistry between the leads. Such a shame because I do like Hugh Grant! I also finished watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with Nicholas and more of "Parks and Recreation," Season 2.
The pain is gradually lessening and I'm able to scale back slowly on the pain meds. I'm looking forward to getting back on my feet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A speed bump (cholesteatoma story, continued)

This is an update for those of you who have been following my cholesteatoma story. You might want to avoid reading it if you are squeamish!

I just spoke to my surgeon, who seemed surprised that I still had questions because he had briefed Mike after the surgery. Not surprised in a condescending or mean way, of of the things I like about him is his willingness to explain what's going on in clear terms. I told Mike that next time I want him to take notes or even better, record his report, so I can get the straight scoop. He did his best to convey what he said, but what spouse can remember details after their loved one has had surgery?

I'm feeling much better about the second surgery, mostly because now I know more about it. In my imagination, it was growing to be something far bigger than it actually will be...even though it will still be brain surgery.

He felt the ear surgery went well, and better since he had ordered the CT scan and follow-up MRI. So apparently when he went in to my ear, he was expecting "complete herniation" of the brain (a little detail that I'm glad he did not share with me beforehand) because he always prepares himself for the worst. The cholesteatoma had worked its way into the middle ear and had eroded the incus bone to the point that it was completely absent; apparently this happens often. Then it moved up toward the malleus, or hammer bone, and that's where he saw what looked like dura (lining of the brain) or bare brain. I think I must have had this thing for a long time (I forgot to ask that question). He removed all of the cholesteatoma and "stayed within the bounds" that he had set for himself in this first surgery.

Now the plan is to let my ear heal so that there will be fewer "land mines" during the next cholesteatoma surgery, when he will rebuild my ear bones in six to nine months. And in the meantime...

The next surgery...
Before 2011, he apparently did this type of surgery on his own, but now he involves a neurosurgeon. (He said, "Our world is changing, and everyone wants to make sure it's safer." What that says to me is...malpractice fears!) He will make an incision just in front of my ear up through my hairline. He'll cut a square of five centimeters to expose the dura (brain lining) and progressively lift that up outward to inward...and pull out the intracranial something or other (I was taking notes...but didn't finish that phrase) and do a craniotomy bone flap. He'll cut a small piece to create the new roof for my ear.
I will be observed in the ICU for 24 hours to be safe. He says they take this precaution any time you retract the brain, because of the small chance of stroke, spinal fluid leak, or bleeding. Then I'll be in the regular hospital unit for 2 to 3 days until I'm mobile and functioning well, after which point I can go home. He reiterated that the surgery is much less delicate than the cholesteatoma surgery, and "big by name only."

He referred to it as a "speed bump" in my life.

The world looks a little less bleak now. I'd been imagining I'd have to use up all my vacation time recovering from surgery, enduring horrible pain, and facing horrible risks. I also asked about the urgency of having the surgery (knowing that I could get an infection in my brain!). He reassured me that although it's important to have done, I'm actually safer now than I was before the first surgery. He packed my ear with antibiotic gel so that it's unlikely I would get an infection there. He compared it to childbirth...we want women to recover from having a child before they have the next one (so they will forget all the pain). Ha! I don't think I'll be forgetting the pain. We'll schedule the surgery for sometime in October, probably.

I feel better knowing that Mike can pick up another prescription of pain meds tomorrow. I'd been trying to wean myself too quickly and had quite a lot of pain this morning. I discovered that Tylenol 3 is much weaker than Percocet. I think I'm anxious to get myself off of pain meds because of something that happened 16 years ago...

After I had my first c-section (when Chris was born), I was not resting and recuperating, because I was going to the NICU to visit my tiny, fragile child every day. I had been on Percocet longer than most c-section patients because I wasn't lying still recovering, and one pharmacist refused to fill my prescription because she thought I'd been on it too long. (Never mind that the prescription was written by my OB/GYN!!!) My sister, a physician, was livid at the pharmacist!! I went cold turkey then, because the whole experience was so traumatic for me. The pharmacist thought I was selling them on the street, obviously, while instead I had a child in the hospital at death's door! I think this is why I feel so funny about asking for more Percocet--PTSD!!! Lots of things have an ability to put me into NICU PTSD...this is just one of them.

I've been overwhelmed, during this process, by the support I've received from so many of my friends and family members from far and wide. That's what happens when you have a medical condition in the age of the Internet, I suppose! When Chris was in the NICU, people were just starting to use e-mail on a regular basis. Now the world is completely different.

I greatly appreciate people telling me that I'm strong, because I don't always feel that way. I'll just have to think of myself as a big Mack truck headed over a tiny speed bump. Remember Smokey and the Bandit?

Addendum to movie review post! Joyful Noise...

I completely forgot one of the movies I watched (Movies watched while recuperating)! Must be the narcotics.

The first movie I watched after surgery was "Joyful Noise" with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. As a big fan of both of those two talented singers, I'd been waiting for this movie with anticipation...and I relished the opportunity to watch it, finally, while recovering from surgery.

"Joyful Noise" is an extremely light comedy/musical about a small-town church choir that wants to compete on a national level. Parton (Gigi) plays the widow of the former choir director, and Latifah (Vi Rose) plays the new choir director. The trailers make it appear as if the two women are battling over control of the choir, and this is misleading in fact. They have very different styles, but they both want the same thing: for the choir to get to the national competition. In addition, Gigi's grandson is in love with Vi Rose's daughter.

This film could have been so much better. The script is full of trite dialogue and ridiculous scenes (such as when Gigi gets informed--after her husband's funeral--that the church has decided to have Vi Rose take over the choir...or "God didn't make plastic surgeons so they could starve") The film is a bit of a mess, really.

Gigi is almost a minor role, and I must say that her severely surgeried face really became a distraction to me. I have such admiration for Dolly Parton, and I love her voice, but what a shame she's allowed her appearance to be so dramatically altered for the sake of vanity. Her face looks like it's plastered into position, with nary a movement.

The single most inspiring thing about this movie, beyond the fabulous music, is the multicultural community. The church is meant to be somewhere in Georgia, but it looks completely integrated. The movie is full of interracial romance (white/black, black/Asian), and race conflict is not present. It truly seems like some kind of Christian nirvana--everyone gets along (or fights, but not because of race).

At the end, however, when the choir journeys to Los Angeles to participate in the big competition, I was disgusted with all the glitz and production of these big churchy choirs and that type of Christian culture. Big church is not my thing.

Amazon "Christian" reviewers"of this film are disgusted because of the premarital sex and lack of "wholesome values" in the movie. (Another reason to like it!)

Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan, the young singers in the film, have beautiful voices, and I enjoyed every moment that Queen Latifah or Dolly Parton sang. This movie could have been SO MUCH MORE. Ultimately, it wasted some great talent, I'm sorry to say.

The final mash-up of songs in the choir competition was the best part, and I also liked Keke Palmer's rendition of "Man in the Mirror":

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movies watched while recuperating

I'm such a cheapskate...we don't have cable TV, Netflix, or any bells and whistles. We check out DVDs for free from the library and often have a big stack waiting to be watched. Sometimes they have to go back before they get watched.

Since I've been bed-bound over the weekend while recovering from my ear surgery, I've been catching up on my DVD viewing. Some have been great, some not so much.

First, the bad:

Chutney Popcorn, 2000

Madhur Jaffrey writes great Indian cookbooks, but her choice in movies is not so great. In this indie/Indian comedy-drama, Reena (a body artist and photographer) offers to be a surrogate for her sister, Sarita, when Sarita discovers she cannot carry a baby. Reena's mother struggles with this decision and Reena's life with her lover, Lisa. Bad acting, bad dialogue, and bad story. I finally turned it off after watching it for 45 minutes. I couldn't tolerate it any longer! None of the characters are remotely likable. Sarita is an insufferable whiner, and Reena spends a lot of time brooding on her motorcycle (wearing her helmet only half of the time). Reena and Lisa spend a lot of time hanging around with their lesbian friends talking about "dykes" and acting childish. It was all rubbish and disappointing. Could have been interesting.

Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, 2010

Director (and narrator) Dan Merchant created this documentary about his search for a meaningful dialogue about the true face of faith.

Merchant is from Portland and ends the film here. Some of it was interesting, in particular the "Culture Wars" game show and the confessional booth he set up at the Portland Pride festival one year. He interviewed KINK FM's Sheila Hamilton at the end of the film about the work she has done with World Vision. For some reason, I found it difficult to concentrate on this film. It seemed to lack some focus. Perhaps it's just my state of mind at the moment, but I did not find the film to be that compelling, even though I find the subject interesting. I think the point of the film was a bit unclear, and that's why I found it to be muddled throughout.

Good Morning Vietnam, 1988

Something reminded me of this movie the other day, so I checked it out from the library thinking I would show it to Kieran. I don't know what I was's rated R and certainly not the kind of content I would show to a nine-year-old. "Good Morning Vietnam" is based on the experiences of Adrian Cronauer, an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey whose shows give U.S. troops in the field a morale boost (while upsetting military brass). There's not much in the way of plot--it's mostly a vehicle for Williams' banter and the great music of the 1960s. Williams earned an Oscar nomination for his role. This movie catapulted "It's a Wonderful World" back onto the charts, and in 1990 it became the song Mike and I used for our first dance at our wedding...and then we sang it to Chris in the NICU, and Nadine and David also used it for their first dance.

Camelot, 1968

I've had fond feelings for "Camelot" ever since I was a sophomore at Beaverton High School and our drama program did it for the spring musical. The drama program was directed by the brilliant James Erickson, and this production was nothing short of spectacular. I was an usher and worked the box office, so I saw the show 11 or 12 times! (I'm the one person in my family who is quite happy to be behind the scenes at the theater!)

James Erickson, BHS drama teacher
I hadn't seen the film "Camelot" since the 1980s and again, checked it out because I thought Kieran would enjoy it. I remember loving Richard Harris in his role as King Arthur (and also being delighted that Richard Harris got the role of Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, before he died). What struck me anew was how much I love the story of Camelot...the idealistic Arthur wanting to build a round table to bring knights and nations together, disrupted by the affair between Guinevere and Arthur and the divisions brought on in the ranks. Arthur is a true hero. "Camelot" also has excellent music, made even better in the broadway recording when the role of Guinevere was played by Julie Andrews. Here is my favorite, "The Lusty Month of May," which I still sing to myself on the first day of May every year!

And drumroll....the best movie of the last few days is...

Departures, 2010

In this sleeper hit, Japanese cellist Daigo Kogayashi (played by Masahiro Motoki) loses his job when the orchestra he is playing in goes out of business. He moves back to his hometown and gets a job as a coffiner...preparing corpses for burial. Although the Japanese culture has extensive rituals for death, cremation, and memorial, professions of caring for the dead are considered taboo. Daigo keeps his career a secret from his wife Mika as long as he can and it nearly tears apart his family.

What Daigo comes to understand while performing his new job is the sacredness of death and the honor and privilege of what he is doing. "Departures" grew out of Motoki's vision, based loosely on Aoki Shinmon's autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, and it was ten years in the making. They did not expect the film to be a commercial success in Japan. This was a truly beautiful movie; I loved it. In typical Japanese subtle style, it beautifully illustrated the spirituality of death and grief and also depicted Japanese relationships, which can be very different from western ones.
Now I'm watching Season 2 of Parks and Recreation, which is a completely different cup of tea! Tomorrow I'll start working a bit from home as I'm scaling back on the pain meds.

My name is Marie, and I've become a minivan person.

This Monday's Listicle is "10 things about my car." I'm really not much of a car person, to be honest, but we do have two vehicles. One is a white Subaru Outback...which I love for its heated seats in the winter! It's the car I drive to and from work every day. And the other one is a minivan.

We got the minivan around New Year's, and after years of resisting the minivan culture, we love it! We are not terribly picky about cars, so we were not seeking a loaded version, but we ended up with all the bells and whistles since we went through a broker and this was the best option. And for my top ten list, here are ten things I like about our minivan:

1. The entertainment system. The kiddos can watch a DVD with headphones while teenager listens to his own music in the back and we can listen to our CDs or my iPod (through an FM receiver) in the front. Love this feature.

2. More heated seats. Can you tell how much I love heated seats? I don't like being cold.

3. More space. We loved our Toyota Camry Wagon (with its third seat in the back, we could transport seven people), and it had a lot of space for a car of its type, but when we went on a longer road trip or had very many suitcases, we would use a roof bag. With the van, we have plenty of room to spare.

4. Alarm system. We've never owned a car with a security system before, and it is nice to have an extra measure of security.

5. Lots of places to put cups. In fact, probably way more than we would ever need.

6. Leg room. I'm short and don't need that much leg room, but it's nice to be more comfortable on long drives.

7. Ability to transport more people. I had my first minivan mom moment last April when I transported my nine-year-old son and his school buddies from a movie theater home to have birthday cake. It was a trip! I loved listening to their conversation and banter.

8. More storage space. I love all the cubby holes in the van...places to store maps, books, CD cases, you name it.

9. Decent gas mileage for more options. Before I started researching minivans, I thought that they got horrendously low gas mileage. I was surprised to discover that, given their size, the gas mileage is not that much worse than a sedan or wagon. It's the SUVs that have the horrendous gas mileage.

1967 Buick Special
10. Above everything else, I like the height. I'm only 5 feet tall, and I'm accustomed to feeling very short behind the steering wheel. The first car I learned to drive was a 1967 Buick Special, nicknamed "The Blue Bomber." I was tiny in that car! I tend to prefer smaller, Japanese cars because they fit me better and I can easily see over the wheel. But give me a minivan, and I feel like I can rule the roads!!

We've taken a couple of road trips in the van beyond driving to the beach or Puyallup--one to Boise, Idaho for spring break and then our recent trip up to Lake Chelan (to go to Holden Village). It's great for road trips!

Thanks to Monday Listicles (organized by Stasha at for organizing this weekly blogathon. Check out some more!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

10 things I learned in college

Julia with Kieran at his fourth birthday party
 (Dorothy with the Wicked Witch of the West!)
 Last week I went to a fun dinner with women friends to celebrate and say farewell to a bright, beautiful young woman, Julia, as she leaves for college this week. It's been so much fun to see Julia grow up and have her as part of our lives. She's one of Kieran's "godsisters." She's going all the way back east to college, and we will miss her very much!

At our dinner party, I shared with Julia 10 things I learned in college (in rainbow colors, since I was obsessed with rainbows back then...minus the yellow, because it's too hard to read!).

1. It’s the best time in your life to explore new ideas, try new things, and meet new people!

2. Clove cigarettes and seven and sevens do not mix well.

3. College life has tons of free or cheap cultural entertainment; take advantage of it because it will never be so easy or inexpensive to access culture!

Me as a Spur at PLU in 1983 (sophomore service sorority)--
can you spot which one is me?
 4. I love my family and I realized how lucky I was that my parents helped me go to college and supported me in whatever I wanted to do.

5. Many men have a very difficult time with women who are smarter or stronger than they are. Never fear: the right one is out there…but you might have to kiss a few frogs first.

6. I got into an argument with my Judaism professor because I wanted to do my final research paper on Jewish feminists, and he claimed there weren’t any. I did it anyway. He gave me a C- on my paper because he claimed it was biased. I was so mad at him that I skipped class occasionally. He gave me a B- in the class. I have no regrets, but it still makes me mad!!

After performing in the Lucia Bride festival
 7. It’s much more fun to live in a coed dorm than an all-women’s dorm. (I lived in Harstad, an all-women dorm, my first year, and when I moved to Stuen in my sophomore year, my social life expanded tremendously!) And costumes are fun.

8. Sometimes the toughest professors are the best for you. In my Advanced Composition class (taught by a tough professor who rarely gave praise), I wrote a paper on a very emotionally difficult topic and read it aloud to my class. This professor was the one who encouraged me to consider majoring in English rather than education…and I did! Which leads me to…

9. Study what you feel passionate about rather than what seems most practical. (I know Julia knows this already, since she loves history and chose her university based on that.) I had no idea what I would do with my English major, but I have used it every day since I graduated—not only in everyday life but also in my career.)

10. Relish in the opportunity to make friends and spend lots of time with them. After you graduate and go off into the workplace, you will not have as many opportunities to make friends. College is one of the best places to make friends who share your interests and values. Three of my college friends (Debbie, Jean, and Tami) joined me to live in Japan, a few others came to visit, and we visited another PLU friend in Thailand. I hope that you find your tribe!

Junior year in Stuen in our wonderful bay window

Graduation, May 1986, with my B.A. in English Literature!

Returning to PLU 25 years later
with PLU grads Mom and Dad, and sister Nadine
 (Homecoming 2011)

Bon voyage, Julia--I know you will have a fabulous adventure!!!
We love you and will miss you!!!
We feel so blessed to know you!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Zapping a cholesteatoma

My lovely bandage
(right before it came off)
 As I wrote a few weeks ago, I found out recently that I had a tumor taking over my ear, called a cholesteatoma. My recurrent ear infections as a child probably set me up for this...and my cleft lip and palate predisposed me to the ear infections. It's a perfect storm.

The bottom line is this: it's a very good thing that I went to the doctor when I started suspecting something was going on in my ear. My hearing has been getting worse in my left ear for a few years now, and I would get it cleaned out when I went for my physicals. My guess is that those techniques, in addition to my home remedies for getting rid of the ear wax (like flushing with water and ear wax removal drops) probably made it worse. It appears that I must have had this thing growing in my ear for awhile now, and getting liquid inside of the ear only worsens it. Cholesteatomas are rare and difficult to diagnose by internists or family practice doctors. They are rarely seen by otoscopes, apparently.

The surgeon suggested I get a head CT so he could understand where to avoid and all that. A few days later a nurse from his office called me to say that my CT was "complicated." (Not that complicated word mammography is also "complicated.") I wonder if they put that word in the radiology report at the imaging center. She said that they suspected I had a "fistula" or a "dehiscence" and they wanted a closer look with a MRI with contrast. So last Friday I had the MRI, my first ever--an hour long. I wouldn't say it was pleasant but it was easier than I thought it would be (no claustrophobia).

On Monday, my surgeon called me to explain the results. He told me that it looks like the bone between my ear and my brain is "thin or absent," leaving a "bare dura" (lining of the brain). Damn--that did not sound good. The radiologist thought that the brain was "herniating down," but the surgeon didn't think so. He told me that he'd seen MRIs be misleading (as have I, with Christopher's--another story). The plan was to proceed with surgery as scheduled, and hope that it wasn't too complicated.

Surgery was yesterday. I was very impressed with the Cornell Surgery Center, which does outpatient procedures. My surgeon was even early so he started a bit earlier than scheduled. Unfortunately, the radiologist was right. He gave Mike a report while I was in recovery. Apparently he described me as an "unusual lady." Well yes, I already knew that! My cholesteatoma was not just on the "attic" of my ear, but wrapped all through my ear in an unusual way. And after he removed it, he was surprised to see brain tissue (the "herniation" the radiologist identified). He said he planned to call the radiologist and congratulate her. I'm glad he can get so much professional satisfaction from my unusual head.

As I was coming to in recovery, I heard the surgeon tell Mike to "make sure she's sitting down" when he explains the next steps, so I knew it wasn't going to be good. I have to have neurosurgery in 6 to 12 weeks to do a bone graft between my ear and my brain. Otherwise, I could get meningitis or a brain abscess (the most severe dangers of cholesteatomas). Apparently I have to spend the night in the ICU because of the risk of brain bleeds. I'm not sure what else is involved. Initially, the surgeon told me that it would be a less delicate surgery than the cholesteatoma, but I gather it's much riskier. They will have to "push my brain back in" before doing the bone graft.

So now I not only have to have another ear surgery in 6 to 12 months (to rebuild the bones in my ear), but I have to have neurosurgery much sooner. I hope the recovery is not too difficult or long. The ICU part scares me.

As for the first surgery, I took my head bandage off this afternoon and am trying hard not to blow my nose or do any heavy lifting. My ear hurts. I'm on Percocet for the pain and have enough to last me until tomorrow night, so I hope that will do it.

Last night I did not sleep well at all, because I was trying to keep my head elevated and also wanted to take the pain meds every 4 hours to stay ahead of the pain.

Bottom line, I'm not happy about the brain surgery part...but I'm extremely thankful that this is getting corrected because it could have killed me (worst case scenario). Who knows how long it might have been put off? Even when I saw the initial ENT who diagnosed it, he didn't give me a real sense of urgency about it. (Not returning to that ENT, by the way, who did not adequately explain what a cholesteatoma was!)

I'm just trying to focus on the gratefulness part and be brave, even though it is not a fun prospect that lies ahead. And it's a good thing we're refinancing our house, because all these surgeries are not going to be cheap!

Happy 50th anniversary, Neal and Annette!

This weekend a very special couple is celebrating 50 years of marriage. Neal and Annette went to PLU with my parents, and in the early 90s they returned to the USA after living most of their lives overseas. I will never forget riding through downtown Portland on the way to a Boka Marimba concert. Neal was at the wheel, and he went the wrong way on a one-way street. His defense was "that's the way they do it in Egypt!"

At a dinner the other night celebrating an amazing young woman who is going off to college, Annette shared the story of how she met the love of her life. She was working food service at PLU, and Neal came through the food line. The next thing she knew, they were running through a field together, hand in hand! (Okay, so I'm sure I missed a few details along the way, but those are the two images I remember most from the story!)

Annette was the first person at Mike's side
when I was in surgery, giving birth to Chris
Annette was brought up in a large family of a Lutheran pastor. Neal was an only child. They both chose to go into professions of service--nursing and teaching, fitting professions for their generous personalities. After they got married, they had two children, Lindsay and Corleigh (Corey), who they raised around the world--when the kids were young, they lived mostly in Tanzania and India...and later on in Egypt. In fact, Corey is now the vice principal of Kodaikanal International School in Kodai, India, holding the position that his father held throughout his youth. Corey met his wonderful wife, Nandita, at school there and now they have a gorgeous little boy, Tarun. Sadly, Nandita and Tarun are stranded here in the U.S. while they wait for Nandita to receive her visa. We will miss them during their time in India! It's home away from home for all of them, though, and Neal and Annette hope to spend time there visiting as well.

On the shores of Lake Chelan,
before going to Holden Village in 2005

At one of Chris' birthdays
Neal and Annette are some of the kindest and most compassionate, generous, and loving people we know. We will always be grateful to them for caring for us when Chris was in the NICU with prayer, hugs, and food. They are extended family for us. I have so many fond memories of spending time with them over the past 22 years--eating Indian food together, having them be present at so many of our family milestones, seeing them tease back and forth with my parents, sharing silly jokes, figuring out how to care for people who need attention, and tons of laughter and great conversation about travel, literature, religion, and politics!

They lived in Costa Rica a few years ago,
and my parents had a great time visiting them

My all-time favorite of Neal and Annette!
I like to tease them that they know EVERYONE. They have got to be the most well-connected people in the universe...probably because of their friendly, open natures and ability to make connections wherever they go.

Neal is a gifted musician, but he's also incredibly humble and self-effacing. I don't think he has any clue how naturally talented he is. When I tell him, he just turns embarassed...but I will shout it from the rooftops on my blog!
Annette with Tarun, their beautiful grandson,
when he was a baby

Neal with Tarun
Neal and Annette are surrogate grandparents to our kids, and they are always so wonderful at coming to see them in their various plays and such. We truly appreciate their presence!
Coming to see Chris in "Grease" in middle school

Coming to watch Kieran in "Frankenstein: The Little Monster"
(A few weeks ago they went to see "Pinocchio" with Nandita and Tarun)

Reading a poem on Burns Night

Another favorite photo!
 Neal and Annette have taken on the mantle of a new project we've started at our church, the "Community Care Team." They match members up with other members in need. Even though they've both had their share of health problems themselves recently and have their hands full caring for their grandson, they always find time to help other people...whether they are members of our church or out in the community (such as women trying to get off the street in downtown Portland). They live their faith out loud...not by preaching or telling people how to live their lives, but by caring for people openly and lovingly.
Celebrating Annette's and my mother-in-law's birthdays in April--
Mike must have said something obnoxious!
Nicholas' second birthday--
He's always had a special relationship with Neal and Annette,
because they used to watch him that year one morning a week
Neal and Annette are a wonderful example of a marriage where each person respects the other person, appreciates their strengths and overlooks their weaknesses, and truly enjoys spending time with each other, either alone or in the company of friends and family. We look to their marriage as one to emulate, and their lives as inspirations to follow. We love you, Neal and Annette. Congratulations on 50 years together!