Sunday, October 27, 2013

What our children have lost

This week's Monday Listicles theme is "trappings of modern life." I've been thinking about how things have changed since I was a child, and how my kids' childhoods are SO different from mine because of the trappings of modern life. It's a bit sad, actually, although in many ways their lives are better now. They do have it easier in many ways, but this week I am going to focus on what we've lost in the 21st century:

1. Blissful ignorance
When I was a child, we were aware of some environmental degradation (for example, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson), but we had no idea just how damaging global warming and climate change would be on our planet. We didn't know much about the deadly exposure of DDT, plastics, nuclear power, coal, chemicals being pumped into our water bodies, or asbestos. Because I work for an environmental consulting firm, I cannot close my eyes and be ignorant about the havoc we are wreaking on our planet. Sometimes I wish I could.

2. Young independence
The other day my 10-year-old cycled about 1/2 mile to a farm stand and bought a (heavy) pumpkin, and then brought it home in a backpack. I was really proud of him, and I remembered how much more independence I had at that age. We rode our bikes all over kingdom come (WITHOUT HELMETS)...every allowance day we'd ride up to the 7-11 a couple of miles away (across several busy roads) to buy candy. When I was in junior high, I rode my bike to school (3 to 4 miles away) and nearly got wiped out by a truck one day while cycling along a really busy road. Bicycle helmets are one of the best trappings of modern life!

3. Kids running things
When I was in high school, my friends and I ran our church youth group completely on our own. Every Easter, we'd put on a massive Easter breakfast, shopping and cooking for our entire congregation. Nowadays, the adults seem to run everything. The kids have to work, but the adults often do the organizing. I see this everywhere, and it's a shame. I think we do too much for our kids.

4. Less temptation
When I was in junior high and high school, the wild kids drank alcohol and smoked. The "stoners" would smoke pot, but that was about it. It might have been because I grew up in the suburbs, but the hard drugs didn't seem to be as plentiful or accessible as they are now. No crack, no meth...less temptation for kids craving an escape. Remember "Saturday Night Fever"? They were smoking and drinking, not doing drugs.

5. More time outside
Most of my great childhood memories were from being outside--playing in the backyard, roaming the neighborhood, camping, going to summer camp, running free. Nowadays it seems we have to make a conscious effort to get our kids outside, and because of heightened awareness of the dangers out there, we are less likely to let them roam freely.

6. Less scheduled time
I played intramural sports in grade school and junior high, took music lessons, and participated in Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls, but that was about it. There just wasn't anywhere near the variety of after-school activities when I was a child, and the sports didn't take nearly as much time. Now the overscheduling starts when they are in preschool! I was going to add as #7 that Americans had more family dinners together, but the good news is that myth has been disproven: "A study of a nationally representatives sampling of adults or guardians of children under 18 found that 71 percent of respondents said their families eat dinner together as often or more today than their families did when they were children."

7. Less fundraising
I remember selling Girl Scout cookies and Campfire candy (door to door), but that was the extent of it. The Girl Scout cookie fundraising wasn't anywhere near the huge production it is now, either. We never had to raise funds for our schools. No auctions, run for the arts, readaloudathons, wreath sales, cookie dough sales, wrapping paper sales, etc., etc. I long for those days!

My simple Christmas presents--dolls and a tea set!

8. Less crap
We didn't have as many possessions or toys to choose from. Mass production in China and other countries means that Toys R Us carries a huge volume and variety of toys. We didn't have that kind of selection, and toys were not as cheap either.

9. Less to watch
I remember the excitement when MTV came out, around the time that we were going to the video store to rent videos. It was such a novelty to be able to rent movies! Cable didn't exist, and if the video store didn't have "The Exorcist" available at the time, you had to come back on another day. 

Now kids watch on cable, Netflix, Hulu, illegal streaming sites, by DVD, etc., on TVs, computers, iPads, and iPods. There's no shortage of content or places to watch. We are really mean parents because we don't have cable. We've found when we've had Netflix occasionally, it increases their TV addiction. The less available, the less they're drawn to it.

10. Less pressure
The young, carefree me 
We had no "tiger moms" in the 1960s and 1970s! No parents were trying to create the perfect child (at least, not in Oregon!). Preschool and kindergarten were optional--my parents enrolled us in both because they believed in early childhood education, but they weren't required and most certainly were not "academic" preschools! And there was certainly no "no child left behind"! Many kids didn't learn how to read until first grade, not kindergarten. We took standard tests, but teachers didn't teach to the tests like they have to now.

High school kids had never heard of AP or honors classes (AP was brand new when I was a senior in high school), running starts to college, or 
baccalaureate programs. When I took the SAT, I took it ONE TIME (now many students take it more than once to try to improve their score). No one ever took it more than once back then unless there was something wrong. I applied to one college where I knew I wanted to go, not 10 or 15 like some kids do now. 

Sometimes I think we've lost some things along the way. Our kids are under more pressure but they have less independence, less time outside, and more crap and time online (the trappings of modern life). 

On the other hand, girls have far more opportunities, and we have a black president. LGBT people are in a much better position. My teenage son has a couple of classmates who are gay, one of whom is out and the other one is out only to a few friends, including my son. Being gay is totally normal to my sons. This is a VAST improvement over what it was like when I was a young person. Things have improved in many ways. With progress comes loss, I suppose.

Join in the fun at Monday Listicles at The Good Life!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Happy 50th birthday to my lovely friend, Kristin!

Kristin with her husband Roger and daughter Aimee,
 at a Precious Beginnings event
On Friday my friend Kristin celebrates her big 5-0, one year ahead of me. I've known Kristin for over 15 years now...we met over e-mail when she and her husband had twin girls, Aimee and Olivia. Olivia tragically died soon after birth, and Aimee spent several weeks in the NICU. Little did I know back then she would become one of my closest friends.

At the hospital chaplain's retirement party
We served on the hospital's NICU Family Advisory Board and together with several other families, we cofounded a nonprofit to support other NICU parents, Precious Beginnings. For several years, Kristin and I served as co-presidents of the board, and I loved serving in that role with her. I remember late nights after board meetings, sitting in Kristin's car, chatting on and on! Hers is one of the close friendships I made, forged in the shared trauma of the NICU experience and nurtured through years of follow-up discussions of parenting preemies. When I had all those miscarriages, Kristin and others were able to offer support in a way other friends could not. They knew what loss felt like.

Co-presidents and friends, around 2000
Kristin and Aimee holding Kieran in the hospital
When I was finally able to get and stay pregnant, Kristin was also pregnant. Her son Jonah was born three months before Kieran. It was fun to be pregnant at the same time. 

I realized when I started pulling these photos together that we celebrated Kristin's 40th birthday at our house in 2003, too! 

Kristin's 40th birthday in 2003

With our friends Laurie and Catherine, all NICU veterans
Then Kristin and her family moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to her family, and I missed her tremendously. We got together a few times during that period, but she was really busy with her job and we didn't have much contact.   

Kristin visiting Oregon

Another visit and backyard dinner
I was so thrilled when they moved back to Oregon! We picked up where we left off and have continued to nurture our friendship through long lunches, more celebrations, support through difficult times, and the treasure of shared experiences and values.

Celebrating my birthday soon after Kristin and Roger returned to Oregon

Another girlfriend lunch

And one with a nongirlfriend guest!
Kristin is a nursing professor and I'm sure she is an exceptional teacher and mentor. I greatly admire the way she juggles all of her various roles--nurse, teacher, mom, wife, sister/daughter, and friend. She is fun, bright, compassionate, and generous.

A few years ago we started a book group together. Although it's evolved some since its inception, it's still going strong and we love hanging out and talking about books with intelligent, funny women.

Book group night last winter
Kristin is the only person I know who reads more than I do. I was so excited to tell people at the last book group that I had a copy of J.K. Rowling's new detective novel out of the library, thinking I was so ahead of the trend, and she of course had already read it!

Last night we celebrated Kristin's birthday at book group. I'm so grateful for her friendship and am honored to know her!

With the birthday girl
Happy birthday, Kristin!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

10 foods that make me think of Japan

I took a break from Monday Listicles last week to celebrate my birthday, but I'm back with this week's theme, "10 foods that make me think of..." Since I met some former coworkers on Saturday for Japanese curry, I've been feeling nostalgic about Japanese food. I went to Japan in 1986 and stayed there until 1989 after I met my husband there.

Eating Japanese-style curry with Lisa and Janis

Here are the ten foods that make me think of (and miss) Japan:

1. Gyoza
Known to most Americans as "dumplings" or "potstickers," the Japanese word for these is gyoza. I ate a lot of gyoza in Japan and my youngest son, Nicholas, loves them now. I learned how to make them, too, in an old Japanese farm house on the western coast of Honshu. 

2. Incredibly fresh sushi
Although my first exposure to sushi was kaiten-zushi (sushi at a rotating sushi bar, which is not the highest quality), I came to appreciate really high-quality sushi and sashimi, which I was more likely to eat when it was purchased or prepared for me than when I bought it myself (being a relatively poor teacher).

3. Delicious white rice
When I was a child I disliked rice. But when I headed for Japan at the age of 21, I determined that I would eat adventurously, rice included. Japan is a wonderful place to become a rice convert, as Japanese rice is incredibly delicious! Now I eat rice several times a week--I love it. I usually try to eat brown rice nowadays though, because it's more healthy. 
I also LOVE rice balls, especially the kind with the salted plum (shown in the middle of the photo). 

4. Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is a sort of Japanese savory pancake. The most fun thing about okonomiyaki is making it on your own at an okonomiyaki restaurant with a tabletop griddle:
Each time I visited Nara, I would stop in at the restaurant near the station to have okonomiyaki. We have recreated okonomiyaki here in the U.S., but it's never quite as good as it was in Japan!

5. Yaki soba
Most Americans know what yaki soba is now, but when we first returned from Japan in 1989, it was not so well known. And the yaki soba you get here in the U.S. is not nearly as good as real authentic Japanese yaki soba. We used to make it at home a lot (you can buy yaki soba sauce and noodles in Japanese stores), but that was before my husband went gluten free. Yaki soba is a very popular festival food in Japan.

6. Mochi with red bean paste
When I first arrived in Japan, I didn't like red bean paste at all...but it grew on me and now it's one of my favorite food memories. When I used to go to Honolulu for work, I'd go to the Japanese department store and buy fresh mochi (rice cake) with red bean paste. The fresher, the better! I think it's time to hit the Japanese store in Portland again so I can buy some mochi.

7. Yaki tori
Yaki tori is skewered chicken with teriyaki sauce, and it is so tasty! It's also a typical festival/street food. 

8. Fugu
Fugu is the famous puffer fish, which can be fatal if not cooked in the correct way

One time I went to a fugu restaurant with my husband (one of his rich acquaintances took us there), and it was one of the most delicious, delectable things I ever ate in Japan!

9. Ramen
Each week when I went to my Japanese teacher's house, I had a tradition of stopping for a bowl of ramen before I went to work on the train. It was my Japanese comfort food!

10. Takoyaki
Octopus balls. No, really. Balls made of batter and octopus...they are another festival food, and they were the best way to eat octopus. Octopus sashimi is really tough, but the takoyaki were much easier to eat and tastier too.

The two other foods that come to mind are Kentucky Fried Chicken (Mike and I used to eat a lot of that late at night after our classes--that and the alcohol consumption probably contributed to my weight gain in Japan!!) and Indian food. Japan has some amazing Indian restaurants, and that is where I first had Indian food and discovered my love for it.

All this reminiscing about Japanese food makes me long to return to Japan!

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Friday, October 11, 2013

One year until the big 5-0!

I celebrated my ninth annual 40th birthday last weekend. (A friend of ours has been celebrating her 60th for several years now!) I was delighted to discover, a few months ago, that one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, had a concert scheduled in Hood River, a little over an hour from Portland. We had not spent much time in Hood River until we celebrated our wedding anniversary there in June, and now we've been there twice in four months! I broadly hinted to Mike that I wanted to go hear Dar on my birthday, and he made arrangements. The lovely, historic Hood River Hotel has a $100 Sunday night special, so we took advantage of that. Thanks to my parents who had the kids overnight and transported them to school in the morning!!

We started out our trip by stopping for a quick (1.8-mile round trip) hike at Wahclella Falls, one of my favorite spots in the gorgeous (!) Columbia Gorge. The church we attend is celebrating "Creationtide" this month, and the sermon that morning was about "beholding creation" and being arrested by the wonders of nature. I realized as we were on our hike that one of my very favorite things in the world is waterfalls--I love them. I should have taken my actual camera rather than my phone, but you get the was a great way to spend a few hours on my birthday:

One of several waterfalls along the hike

Wahclella Falls
My wonderful husband!

Lacy waterfalls


Gorgeous mossy rocks
Beautiful fall colors

That evening we went to Nora's Table for dinner (where we had a yummy breakfast the last time we were in Hood River). 

We'd just ordered drinks, when who should walk in but some friends from church, Katie and Jason. We rarely get quality time with them because we are usually focused on our kids (they have an adorable 2-1/2-year old named Noah who is buds with our two younger boys). They were in Hood River for a couple of nights to celebrate their anniversary, so we invited them to join us and had a lovely dinner! So much fun--and I love those types of meetings. (Mike and I have a habit of running into people we know when we go places.) I had an amazing salmon dish, and Mike had a seafood curry. Then Jason and I split a piece of chocolate peanut butter cake!

Katie and me on our spontaneous double date!

The handsome men, Mike and Jason
Then it was off to the concert, which was at the Columbia Center for the Arts. Upon discovering that Katie and Jason also enjoyed folk music, we dragged them along with us to see if they could get tickets, but alas, it was sold out. It's a very small venue, which made the concert especially unique. We are accustomed to seeing Dar perform at the Aladdin in Portland, which is much bigger. I loved the intimate venue! Anne Weiss, a local blues/folk singer-songwriter and old friend of Dar, opened and shared a few songs with her. I loved hearing about how their friendship blossomed over the years (a former boyfriend of Dar's introduced them in Vermont, but he is long gone). I own a couple of Anne Weiss' albums too--she's a great musician as well.
Loved being so close to Dar as she was singing!

I can't remember when I first discovered Dar, but I have loved her for years and seen her countless times in concert. Since I've been blogging, I've written several posts about how her. In fact, she has raised the bar on my concert going, because she's incredibly bright, engaging, and funny at her concerts. And when she's singing upbeat songs, she bounces! We own all of her CDs and I adore her thought-provoking lyrics and the way she speaks out for peace and justice. (She's also written a vegetarian book and two middle-grade novels, both of which I've read.) 

So you can imagine my complete thrill and delight when she came out after the concert and I got to meet her in person. Fangirl crazy!!! It was wonderful to discover how nice and engaging she was in person, not just onstage. I told her that I listened to her album "The Beauty of the Rain" during one of my c-sections, and she told me that her c-section was after several hours of labor and she had no such luxury to listen to music! (I didn't take her valuable time to tell her my whole first c-section story!!) 
Fangirl photo--this made my birthday!!
Back at the hotel, I had some wine in my special "birthday girl" glass I got from a friend!

And I ended the evening by finishing an excellent book, Cinnamon and Gunpowder

The next morning we left our lovely (large) hotel room and had breakfast in the dining room (our room came with a $10 breakfast voucher) and then visited the great Hood River independent book store and fancy Goodwill store (Hood River obviously has a lot of rich people)! 

In June we stayed at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, but I think I preferred the Hood River Hotel for its more spacious room and great location downtown--we could walk everywhere!
Our corner suite

I want an armoire like that!

The large kitchen we didn't use at all (except for our bottle of wine)!

Check out the nice dining area, too, also unused!

View of the river from our room
The rain came on we hightailed it back home. On the way back to Portland we saw TWO rainbows (another one of my favorite things)!

It was a perfectly lovely birthday with my perfectly lovely husband!