Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ten memories from the 80s

After two weeks' hiatus while I recovered from surgery, I'm back on my Monday Listicles schedule. This week we were given three options: ten things totally 80s, ten tweets, or ten crushes. I'm opting for some of my memories of the 80s--a great, adventurous decade for me!

1. Legwarmers and big hair!
Being silly at the beach with my brother and sister
2. Youth Encounter

With Youth Encounter friends Jeannette and Amila
When I was a junior in high school I went on a weekend retreat called Youth Encounter, which was sponsored by the Episcopal church. I'm not sure how I first heard of it, or how I ended up going alone (that first weekend I knew no one!), but it's a good example of something I've did independently even though I was nervous and scared. It became a big part of my life during my junior and senior years in high school...a group of girls would go out to a beautiful old house overlooking the Columbia Gorge and have a weekend retreat that consisted of girls giving talks about their spirituality and singing songs. After the first experience, we could return to serve on the team running the weekend. It was run by girls, for girls, although we had adult supervision and a priest onsite. (The boys had a separate program.) It looks like they still have something similar, but it's in Lake Oswego, coed, and called "Teens Encounter Christ." I became the music leader on a few Youth Encounters and I made some wonderful friends through the experience, especially my friend Jeannette who now runs a charter boat company in the San Juans with her husband and her homestay sister, Amila, from Sri Lanka. It was also my first experience of religious division, because I wanted to be rectora (leader of the weekend) and I couldn't because I was not Episcopalian. In spite of that, it really grounded my spirituality as a teenager and was a blast!

3. College life

In my dorm room during junior year
From 1982 to 1986 I attended Pacific Lutheran University and first majored in education before I switched to English. PLU gave me a great foundation for life!

4. Travel! My best memories:

  • Cross-country trips: The first vivid memory was in 1981, when my family took a 6-week trip across
    Meeting up with a childhood friend
     in Salem, Massachusetts
     the U.S. in a Buick Regal and three pup tents. We camped all the way, in addition to staying with friends and family in Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado. It was a phenomenally fun journey...and all before technology. We had Sony walkmans and books--that was it. We headed out through Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, through the Midwest, and to the East Coast, and headed back through Kentucky and Colorado. We hit most of the big cities with the exception of Chicago. I had just studied American history in school so loved visiting all the historical spots, especially in Philadelphia, throughout Massachusetts, New York, and Washington DC.

    In 1986, after graduating from college, my friend Debbie and I flew to Boston and spent a week there...and then flew down to Washington DC, where my aunt was doing a sabbatical at the Smithsonian. We drove their car all the way back to Seattle for them, with my friend Peary from Colorado. It was quite an adventure!
  • First airplane ride: I flew down to the Bay Area with dorm friends to visit another friend whose family lived in Sacramento. We spent time in San Francisco, floated down the river, went to an amusement park, and hung out in her family's wonderful pool, ringed with rosemary. So much fun!
  • First weekend in Japan
      First trip abroad:
      In 1986 after I graduated from PLU I left for a year in Japan with my college roommate Debbie, and the following week my parents said goodbye to my sister who spent the year in China. I ended up staying in Japan for three years, since I met the love of my life there!
    • Christmas in Chengdu, 1986
    • First big solo trip: For Christmas in 1986, I took a boat from Kobe, Japan, to Shanghai, China, and spent a night in Shanghai on my own. That's another blog post in itself. Then I flew to Chengdu, where my sister lived, and I'll never forget getting off the plane and bursting into tears, because I missed her so much! We spent a wonderful and unique Christmas in China together.
    • Global travel: Traveled to Korea, Thailand, Taiwan (one night only), Hong Kong (several times), Macau (twice), Singapore (twice), Malaysia, Indonesia, and India between 1986 and 1989. By the end of the 1980s, I'd been to over half of the United States and 11 countries.
    5. Graduations

    First, from high school in 1982:
    I loved my Gunne Sax dress!
    and then from PLU in 1986, with a B.A. in English and minor in religion:
    My lei was sent to me by a PLU friend in Hawaii
    6. Spending time with children (not my own):

    I've always loved children and knew I wanted my own (I'd planned on becoming a single parent had I not gotten married). I spent tons of time as a teenager babysitting and teaching Sunday school and formed close relationships with many children. 

    With my little friend Emily (now a nurse and mother
     of two with another on the way!)
    With her brother Aaron, at a shower my mom and I threw for him
     (now a Portland police officer!)
    My sweet cousins who I nannied for two summers (and had a horrible,
    tear-soaked time saying goodbye to when I left for Japan in 1986!)

    Same cousins in 1988, when Mike visited Oregon for the first time
    Found some Japanese children to cuddle

    And another one

    7. Karaoke!
    Debbie and I singing karaoke in Osaka, the first weekend in Japan
    I was singing Karaoke before it hit big in the U.S. The company I worked for liked to send us out with Japanese businessmen--we enjoyed the nightlife even though we were being used as pseudo hostesses. Fortunately they behaved themselves, except I remember two of them who had a hankering for Debbie!

    8. Romance!

    In Japan, fall 1988
    In college I dated a guy named Todd for about a year. He was just the rehearsal for the love of my life! I met Mike in Japan in 1987 and my life changed. Between early 1987 and the end of 1989 (when we got engaged in India), I was having the time of my life being in love!

    9. Music!

    I remember listening to a lot of Billy Joel and Cyndi Lauper in college...interspersed with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. My college boyfriend Todd loved Toto and Chicago (not my favorites!) and we saw both of them in concert. My favorite college dance tunes were "Tainted Love," "Don't You Want Me," "Rock Lobster," "Karma Chameleon," and "Modern Love." And let's not forget Michael Jackson and Prince.

    In Japan my Scottish friend Cath introduced me to UB40, Steve Winwood, the Gipsy Kings, and the Eurythmics. I introduced Mike to James Taylor and Billy Joel, and we saw Billy Joel, UB40, and Bryan Adams perform in Osaka. We listened to Squeeze and Simply Red a lot when I visited Nadine in China. Madonna was hugely popular in Japan at the time, and some of my students even said I looked like her! (They also said Mike looked like Bruce Willis, so you can tell how accurate they were. I think we must all look alike!)

    10. Maturity

    In Udaipur, India, in September 1989, Mike asked me to marry him. At the end of that month I went back to Oregon and Mike returned to England until January. I started planning our wedding and looking for a job. And I grew up. So by the end of the '80s, I was 24 and officially an adult!

    Listicles is brought to us by Stasha Check out her blog and the links to the others!

    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    Ingredients for a strong marriage or relationship

    Yahoo featured "10 Unspoken Marriage Rules You Must Follow," which made me think about my own rules for a successful marriage (or relationship). Here are Yahoo's rules (for more detail, follow link):

    1. Don't criticize your partner's parents or friends.
    2. Tell your spouse about any ex encounters.
    3. Keep unsolicited advice to yourself.
    4. Don't take charge all the time.
    5. Don't bring up past arguments.
    6. Choose your battles, but don't stifle your feelings.
    7. Don't post private thoughts or photos publicly.
    8. Log off. (We need to do this more often!)
    9. Don't use the "D" word (divorce, that is).
    10. Be each other's number one.

    I agree with all of these rules, but I want to add a few more of my own, after 22-1/2 years of marriage. These apply to any kind of relationship, be it straight or gay:

    1. Be affectionate. When Mike and I first started dating nearly 26 years ago, we were embarrassing to be around because we couldn't keep our hands off each other. The passing years and our maturity have changed that, but I still love to hold his hand and snuggle with him every night in bed. We say "I love you" every day at least once.

    2. Be supportive and respectful. This is SOOOO important. I can't imagine being with someone who did not respect me and show me respect in public and private. This means no put downs, insults, criticisms, or eye rolling. It means treating the other person the way you want to be treated. It means cherishing your spouse and honoring your wedding vows every day, and supporting each other at all times.

    3. Laugh together. I love the way Mike is silly with the kids. We both come from families who liked to be silly together, thank goodness. I've discovered one show that consistently makes Mike laugh out loud: "Modern Family." I have always loved to see/hear him laugh out loud so hard he can't stop. The first time I witnessed this was watching "The Milagro Beanfield War" when we lived in Japan. I never tire of it. I LOVE to see him laugh!

    4. Don't undermine your spouse's authority with the children or say yes to something your spouse has said no to. Unfortunately, our kids have learned that if they ask Mike's permission when he is on the computer, sometimes he says "yes" when he is really not paying sometimes that can be a challenge! But our kids know that if they ask each of us separately, we will not be happy. One of their least favorite responses is "We're a team." If one of us doesn't agree with a parenting decision we have made, we do our best to discuss it later, not in front of the children.

    5. Be forgiving. I know some couples who have forgiven each other for serious transgressions and grown stronger because of it. It's important not to hold grudges and to be able to move on with your life. If you can't forgive and instead will carry around your grudge or anger for the rest of your life, it's not worth it in the long run. I believe it's more important to be happily married and fulfilled than just to be married.

    5.5 On a connected note, never go to bed angry. When we had our first big fight, Mike discovered that I couldn't go to bed angry. (He was ready to do so.) Even if we have to stay up late to discuss a conflict, it's worth it. Going to bed angry only adds to the chance that the conflict will not be resolved and it could fester. Talk it through and get it resolved so you can move on, if possible.

    6. Have couple time. This is especially important if you are parents. Before we had kids, we went to the movies two or three times a month. We went away for every anniversary, and we frequently had dates. Now it needs to be planned more in advance, but every time we get away (even for a few hours), our relationship is renewed and strengthened.

    7. Find shared interests. Fortunately this has never required any effort for us. As English majors who met while living in Japan, we both love reading, the arts, theater, and travel. We like the same movies and are perfectly compatible travel partners (as we found out when we traveled together for 3 months, just the two of us, through Asia--the best test for a couple!). We often think the same way or come up with the same ideas...even such mundane details as yesterday, when I suggested we stop at Trader Joe's (for New Year's Eve fixings) after my post-op appointment with my surgeon...he had the same thought.

    8. Encourage each other to pursue friends and interests on his or her own. Just as important as couple time is friend time. Women tend to be better at this than men. I love having overnight getaways, lunches, and dinners with my girlfriends. I can never get enough of that! This, too, strengthens my marriage because I'm feeding a different part of my soul. Mike's now got a number of groups he participates in, too, although he has yet to have a boys' overnight activity! He was invited to one this spring but is having a hard time making that happen. The other activity I enjoy is spending time with Mike with other couples--it gives me a different perspective of him.

    9. Be flexible and easy going. Make sure you focus on the important stuff and let go of the little things. Marriage requires flexibility every it really that important that he does silly things such as leaving the honey in the bathroom because he's absent minded? (True story--it happened this morning!) Being a great husband and dad is so much more important than being absent minded. (And I have a long list of stories I could tell about that, many of which happened during our first year of marriage!)

    10. Let your partner vent and don't jump in to solve his or her problems. Some dear friends of ours, a lesbian couple, gave us this gem that they use when one of them is complaining: "Do you want sympathy or solutions?" We have tried to use that ourselves. Because both of us are oldest children, not only do we need to remind ourselves to be flexible and easy going, but we also need to realize that the other person might just want to complain and not want directions on how to solve things. I remember when I was managing staff and every time I would complain to Mike about an employee, he'd tell me to fire them! Pretty funny considering the fact that if he were a supervisor he'd be way less likely to fire people than I was.

    We are far from perfect, but we've learned these tips along the way. Do you have any to add?

    One final tip: find a partner who will take care of you
     if you have to have brain/ear surgery (or any other health ailment!)
    Thanks, honey!!

    Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Les Miserables (The Movie)

    Cosette (as a child)
    Mike, Kieran, and I went to see the new "Les Miserables" movie today. Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") attempted a groundbreaking approach of filming the actors singing on set instead of separately in a recording studio. Consequently, the singing was not as polished or perfect as it might have been otherwise. I agree with film critic Neil Minow, who wrote on Beliefnet, "Having the actors sing their parts while they were the music a welcome organic quality and immediacy."

    "Les Mis" is not for everyone...musical theater haters tend to view it as overwrought and melodramatic. I'm not one of those people...I have seen it on stage twice (the last time in 2010, at Jesuit High School) and I like the music. I had big expectations for this film. I would give it four out of five stars...maybe 4-1/2.

    The digitally enhanced scenery and sets were suitably dark and depressing. The movie opens with prisoners trying to haul a shipwreck onto a dry dock...and continues in stark imagery. It's just not quite as easy to show Jean Valjean hauling a wounded Marius through the shit in the sewer on the stage, or to see the poor and destitute appealing to the aristocracy. After seeing the show quite a ways from the stage, I liked seeing the actors' emotions close up.

    Marius and Eponine
    Anne Hathaway did an excellent job as Fantine, and Hugh Jackman also filled the role of Jean Valjean well (although at times I found his vibrato a little annoying). Amanda Seyfried did fine as Cosette, although her singing voice is better suited for the songs of "Mamma Mia." Samantha Barks stood out in her role as Eponine (according to Wikipedia, others considered for the role were Taylor Swift, Scarlett Johansson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Lea Michele--oh my!!), and Eddie Redmayne was a romantic, heartfelt Marius. Helena Bonham Carter seems to be typecast recently as a comic villain--she and Sascha Baron Cohen played the roles of the obnoxious and ridiculous innkeepers Thenardiers.

    For me, the film had two weak links. Number one was Russell Crowe, who seemed stiff and awkward in his role as Inspector Javert. I've never been a Russell Crowe fan, and I'm not sure why. He just didn't seem to be suited to or comfortable with his role, and as a result his torment was not as convincing as it could have been. The young man who played Javert in the Jesuit High School production had an amazingly deep, beautiful voice, and I felt that he was better suited to the role!

    The second weak link was the reduction in the role of Gavroche, mostly because this is Kieran's favorite character in the show. He sang "Little People" for his first audition and named his fish Gavroche after we saw the Jesuit production. So we were sad that they cut most of the song from the movie. Gavroche sings a couple of abbreviated verses, but none of the funny bits. Instead the film focused more on the Thenardiers, who became a bit tiresome after awhile. Beyond those two criticisms, we really enjoyed the movie, and all three of us cried!
    As one coworker/friend commented on Facebook after seeing the movie, "Did they sing their conversations back then?"

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    Christmas 2012

    On Christmas Eve, I wrote about how I was feeling ambivalent about Christmas because it was the first year we wouldn't be gathering with my extended family. It's been a challenging year in many ways with the loss of both of our aunts (Barbara and Gena), our pastor and beloved friend has been battling breast cancer, Mike's sister has been having marital problems, my mom and our dear friend Annette have both faced more health problems, and then I've had my own aggressive ear tumor and "leaky brain" to deal with. Many of us are looking forward to 2013! At the same time, I continue to be incredibly thankful for all of the blessings in my life and hopeful that all the health problems will resolve. 

    In spite of my ambivalence about creating our new Christmas traditions and my concern about how I would hold up through all the festivities, Christmas turned out to be wonderful. We went to our own church for Christmas Eve services, the first time ever (because our family dinner always occurred at the same time), and it was so inspirational and moving! We have a gifted jazz pianist at our church (Jonathan Swanson), and he brought in a friend of his (Andre St. James) to play string bass. Our friend Brad played drums, and Coleen McMahon, who is a singer based out of southern California, led the singing and played piano for the Catholic Eucharist. So the music was fantastic. 

    My nephews on Christmas Eve
    My boys
    Many people were surprised to see me (and a few people lectured me, too!), and the highlight of the service was seeing our pastor, who had her last day of radiation that morning. During the Lutheran communion service (led by another pastor who has graciously filled in for us often over the year), I got to sit next to our pastor, Laurie, which I told her was wonderful and weird! (Usually she is up offering communion.) I found the entire evening to be highly meaningful, and now it's hard to imagine going anywhere else on Christmas Eve. It also made me realize how much I value the community at our church--I feel closer to many of my friends there than I do to my extended I felt totally okay about substituting the service for the extended family Christmas. After church we went to my parents' house for an Indian stew. 

    Family photo

    The cousins! (The height difference looks like Gandalf with the hobbits!)

    With my honey on Christmas Eve
    Kieran and Nicholas ready to open up stockings and Santa gifts
    I was feeling really proud of myself because I had all my gift buying, making, and wrapping done before Christmas Eve and didn't have to stay up late getting ready. In fact, I seem to have won the gift procurement race this year--I beat my mom, sister, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, many of whom were shopping up until the last minute. I felt that I had to get all of my Christmas gifts done before my surgery on December 12. The only people who were ahead of us were Mike's brother and sister-in-law in Australia--they are incredibly organized. At any rate, I think our lack of harriedness getting the gifts ready helped us to enjoy the holidays more.

    The next morning, our kids slept in! Amazing and unheard of! (They did owe us one after they fought in the minivan on the way home from my parents' house on Christmas Eve, which did not help my stress levels!) We had to wake up Chris at 8:30 a.m. to join us for opening of the Santa presents.

    Doing the Christmas morning King Tut dance

    Santa brought Nicholas a Hogwarts castle

    Chris and Nicholas starting to put together the castle (brother bonding!)
    We went to my parents' house around 11:30, but we didn't start opening gifts until 1:30 or 2:00. No one seemed to be in any hurry...they were all having fun with their Santa gifts.
    Ryan helped Nicholas finish the Hogwarts castle

    My brother and his girlfriend Trisha (modeling her new hat and scarf)
    Opening up his "Book of Mormon" ticket
    Chris had a musical Christmas--he received a cowbell for his drum set, a large stack of books about various bands (Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, U2, The Killers, and a DJ book), nice headphones, and a ticket to see "The Book of Mormon" with us.

    Kieran had a theatrical Christmas--he received books of scripts, several DVDs (Oliver, West Side Story, PBS series on Broadway), and three Wii dance and karaoke addition to a lap harp (like a zither).

    Nicholas--our toy lover--received mostly toys...Lego, Indiana Jones toys and books, a Lego minifigures sticker book, Batman toys, and an Irish tin whistle.
    With some of his DVDs and games
    My brother made handcrafted bows and arrows for the five young boys...the bows are made out of bamboo, and the arrows have Nerf tips on the end to keep them safe. Such a COOL uncle!!! The boys all loved them, of course!!! And I think about how our parenting views have changed...when we were new parents, we never would have imagined we'd allow our boys to have bows and arrows...or swords...or anything like that. We still draw the lines at guns. Somehow bows and arrows and swords seem a little less violent. Ha!
    The boys and their bows
    As I was recuperating, I made jewelry while I was watching DVDs...even while recovering from surgery I was multitasking. I just can't help it. I hadn't done any beading for years, but I made four bracelets and seven pairs of earrings.

    Bracelet I made for my mom

    Bracelet for Trisha

    Bracelet for Nadine

    Earrings for Nadine
    I received many wonderful "experience" gifts this year...a night at the Hotel Modera (downtown Portland) from Mike--scheduled for late January...a gift certificate from my parents to the Columbia Gorge Hotel...and a gift certificate to Goldstar (which often has theater events on sale). I also got some lovely jewelry and a Pink CD. I gave Mike some Shakespeare books and tickets to the Keane concert.

    After we played "Spin the Bottle" and opened all our gifts, we ate a turkey dinner and played some games.
    Trying out the new "Life" game we gave our nephews
     (after we spent 1/2 hour putting it together!)

    My partner Nicholas
    All in all, we had a great Christmas...and I didn't feel sad at all about having different traditions this year. I felt tired at the end of each day, but it was manageable. On Boxing Day (today), I went shopping with my mom and of the presents I gave them was a gift certificate to my favorite resale shop, Katelyn's Closet.

    It's hit or miss with resale shops, but we all found some good stuff today! Then we went into Multnomah Village and continued our shopping. Nadine and I both tried on some hats at Topanien (one of my favorite stores, which had a great after-Christmas sale today). Neither of us are hat people. I bought a hat for after my surgery in case my hair didn't cover my scar adequately enough, and I took advantage of it in the hospital when I couldn't wash my hair for almost a week. But for the most part, I do not like the way I look in hats, at all. But we each found a hat we liked, and we talked each other into buying them!

    My new hat--with beaded flower on it
    My beautiful sister in her hat
    With my sis
    After shopping we went to Marco's for dinner. Thanks to our great husbands for watching the boys...who had fun with their bows and arrows! Everyone was worried about whether I would be up for shopping, but I told them that being out and about with two of my favorite women would be way less tiring than being around all the loud boys!! My dad also fixed our hot water heater while all this was going on--he is AMAZING!!! By the time we were halfway through dinner, I was starting to feel tired though.

    I am definitely getting better, but I still have a ways to go. I get worn out when I'm around a lot of people for awhile, and I'm sensitive to noise. I'm starting to taper off on my pain meds today..have been taking 15 mg of oxycodone every 5 hours, and am cutting back to 10 mg over the next few days. So far it's going okay. I see my neurosurgeon on Friday for my first post-op checkup, and I'll see my ear surgeon in early January. I'm so glad I've felt well enough to enjoy Christmas!
    With my wonderful mom, who did not buy a hat!

    Monday, December 24, 2012

    Hard to believe it's Christmas...

    After one of Kieran's shows this week
    Christmas is really strange this year. I had to get all my shopping done before my surgery on December 12. I addressed snail mail holiday cards while I was in the hospital, and I made a few more Christmas gifts while recuperating from surgery. I emerged from the house a couple of days taking a walk on Friday, seeing two of Kieran's last shows on Saturday, and going to Peter Pan last night. I had to cover my ears a few times during Peter Pan, as it was quite loud--but great fun.

    Captain Hook Jr. with Peter Pan
    I spent much of the day yesterday wrapping presents (which wore me out a bit--I think from doing a lot of standing). I'm feeling okay--a bit tired with the extra activity--and am hoping to start gradually weaning myself from the pain meds soon. For the most part, I am feeling better each day and am looking forward to getting my energy back.

    Captains Hook
    This Christmas I'm feeling ambivalent...this is the first year in many, many years that we have not gathered with extended family for Christmas Eve. The only times I remember not getting together were times we've been in England, the year Chris came home from the NICU, and the year that we were all snowed in. The reality is that I might not feel up to gathering with a large group of family members, I realize, since I'm still recovering.

    Aunt Barbara at the last Christmas she hosted,
    with my Aunt Terry
    My Aunt Barbara, who hosted Christmas for as long as I can remember, died this year of melanoma, and her husband, my dad's oldest brother, is suffering from Alzheimer's. Christmas also used to consist of a lot of alcohol, including a generic gift exchange in which alcohol gifts were extremely popular. But now many of our family members are affected by alcoholism, and sadly, there are divisions among many of my cousins. Last year we got together, but it was sad because my Aunt Barbara and Uncle John were not able to make it.

    Nicholas with his second cousins
    This year we will celebrate with my sister and her family, my parents, and my brother and his girlfriend. We will attend Christmas Eve service at our own church for the first time ever. (Mike reminds me that he attended Christmas Eve at our church the year that Chris came home from the NICU, while I stayed at home with him.) We usually visit other Lutheran churches in the area on Christmas Eve, because our church always has services at 5:00 p.m., which is usually the time our family meets. We are usually the only branch of the family that attends church on Christmas Eve. I'm looking forward to attending our own church this evening.

    Some of the cousins and spouses
    I feel so blessed with my family and friends, and I realize that we might have to create some new traditions for Christmas. I've always felt so fortunate that I live close to most of my family, so we can celebrate the holidays with them. I get the feeling that Mike and I are sadder about this change than the rest of my cousins. I'm not sure why that is. We will have to find new ways to celebrate. So I'm ambivalent. I'm so glad that I feel up to celebrating and spending time with my family, even if I have to limit the time somewhat so I won't overdo it. I'm looking forward to focusing my attention on my immediate extended family, while missing the larger extended family.

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

    With my honey on Christmas Eve 2010