Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quiet Christmas

For most of my life, we've had a tradition of gathering with my dad's large extended family on Christmas Eve. But then my aunt who hosted these holiday dinners died last year, and now many of my cousins are not speaking to each other. This makes me feel sad, but I know my only choice is to accept it and let go.

So in the last few years, we've been adjusting to a new way of celebrating Christmas Eve...a quieter, more intimate gathering. My sister and her husband alternate coming down south for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and this is the year they stayed home for Christmas. Instead, they will come to Portland tomorrow (December 27), and Mike's mum and sister and our niece and nephew will arrive on the same day from the UK. We will have a delayed Christmas celebration the next day.

So on Christmas Eve itself we opted for a quiet, family dinner at a restaurant--what a novelty! I found it strange to be on our own for Christmas Eve, but we had a nice time.

Chris buried in the first Game of Thrones book while we wait for our table
Kieran and Mike at dinner

With my youngest and oldest sons
After dinner we went to church to rehearse music for the candlelight service, at which Chris got to play drums with our talented pianist Jonathan Swanson and acclaimed Portland bassist Andre St. James. This year our small church decided to have two Christmas Eve services, which was necessary but unfortunate because we didn't get to see all of our friends. Last year was the first year we'd ever attended Christmas Eve at our own church, and it was incredibly meaningful for me...the upside of not having a big Christmas Eve extended family dinner. Our dear friends at church are our chosen extended family.

I was feeling a tiny bit blue on Christmas Eve after church but felt better after talking briefly to my sister. Fortunately my brother Stephen and his girlfriend were with us at church and the next day, but I've missed Nadine.

On Christmas morning the kids enjoyed opening their presents.
Opening stockings
Chris got concert tickets, Kieran got a Nook HD tablet (great 1/2 price deal!), and Nick got Indiana Jones Lego (eBay, since they are no longer being issued). I gave Mike tickets to see a tennis exhibition with Andre Agassi (my favorite!), Jim Courier, James Blake, and John McEnroe, and he got me tickets to see Storm Large with the Oregon Symphony on Valentine's we were big on experiences this year as usual.  
Big brother helped little brother assemble his
 new Indiana Jones Lego after the presents were opened
Then we went to my parents' house for brunch. They had invited members of both of their families, but only a few people showed up. In the end, it turned out okay because we had more time to talk to the people who were there...including my maternal cousin Mike's daughter Jennifer, who I rarely get to see. I forgot to take any photos there though!

Now we are gearing up for the big arrival from England and Puyallup, after which the real Christmas celebrations begin...on the third and fourth days of Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Most grateful Christmas

With his nurse Marcia on discharge day--
those chubby cheeks were from the steroids
In 1996, we brought our tiny baby home from the NICU a few days before Christmas. His due date was December 17, but he was born on August 23, four months early.

About a month before, one of his neonatologists told us that he wouldn't be able to go home until he gained more weight, and he might have to get a gastostromy tube. I remember feeling frustrated, because another 24-weeker who had been born a month later had been discharged, even though he'd had a brain bleed and a shunt. (I have to wonder if that had something to do with insurance companies now...that baby sadly did not have as good of an "outcome" as Chris.) Fortunately, our new pediatrician was on the case...he was determined to help get Chris out of the hospital for Christmas.

Snuggling with my baby, at home at last--
So happy!
For weeks, we'd been in training with the NICU nurses. Chris went home on multiple medications...including oral iron drops (blech!), theophylline (caffeine--a tablet that had to be split into quarters and crushed up), breast milk fortifier (which made him spit up--too rich), and many others I can't remember. He was hooked up to an oxygen tank, so we needed to learn how to manage that too. And he was also on a medical study called Stop-ROP, which was trying to determine if extra amounts of oxygen could arrest the advancement of a preemie eye disease, Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) not only did we need to keep his oxygen at a certain level for the study, but he was also hooked up to a laptop computer! Finally, he was also connected to an apnea monitor, which had sensitive leads that would beep wildly if he stopped breathing or his heart stopped beating. 

Our high-tech baby!
Chris struggled big time to gain weight, and after he came home he was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux...those first few weeks were not easy, as he projectile vomited a few times a day, often exacerbated by my attempts to breastfeed. Those struggles to gain weight and grow continued for many years; in fact he did not even get on the growth charts until he was three or four, and then it was at the bottom. I am still amazed that he is as tall as he is at 17! Effectively eating and gaining weight were key requirements for going home, so it was touch and go.

A few weeks after being home
Before he could be discharged, we had to spend the night in the hospital, in a little room off the NICU ("rooming in"). That way the nurses and doctors could monitor all of us and make sure we felt prepared to take care of him on our own. It was not a restful night, to say the least! But we were so excited by the prospect of going home.

Finally, the day dawned...he had to pass the car seat challenge, too, in which he sat in a car seat for awhile to see how he would do. We felt a bit ambivalent leaving the NICU, because we had grown attached to the nurses and we were nervous about meeting Christopher's extensive care needs. But excitement overshadowed any worries he had.

Daddy cuddling Chris
December 21, we finally left the hospital and drove the few miles home. Mike's mother was visiting from England, but we asked her to stay with my parents that evening so we could have our first night with just the three of us in the house together. I'll never forget the feeling of walking into our front door with our baby in our arms. After 117 days in the NICU, it felt unreal to have him with us all the time. We had a life-size (5-foot-tall) oxygen tank in our living room, with a portable one for leaving the house. He was on oxygen and the Stop-ROP study for 1 month, and after that it felt liberating to take him anywhere in the house without oxygen tubing!

When preemies leave the hospital, they are often agitated and have difficulty settling into their new routines. Sometimes they miss the noise and bustle of the NICU, where it is rarely quiet or totally dark. Many preemies are highly fussy and difficult as babies, but Chris was an easy fact, he was our easiest baby! He slept in a bassinet in our room and we had to wake him up to feed him in the middle of the night (he needed the calories). He loved to snuggle as much as possible, but he was also able to sleep on his own. We held him as much as we could after all those weeks of rationed holding!

Christmas 1996 was a quiet, understated affair...we didn't attend the usual extended family gathering or go to church and instead stayed home and had a quiet celebration. 

Santa visiting the pediatric unit, December 1997
Because we were terrified of him getting sick, we rarely ventured out of our house except to take walks or go to various doctors' visits. An older preemie we knew (34 weeks) contracted the deadly-to-preemies disease RSV after he went home, returned to the hospital and was on life support, and tragically died--all in the time we were in the NICU. It was heartbreaking. We required everyone who visited to wash their hands thoroughly as soon as they walked in the door. Our pediatrician's office staff ushered us in the back entrance so we wouldn't have to sit in the waiting room and expose him to germs. Our efforts paid off, because he did not get sick during the first year of his life. He unfortunately contracted RSV right before Christmas 1997...and was in the hospital for a week in isolation, with a horrible case of pneumonia. The NICU nurses told us how lucky we were that he didn't have to be readmitted to the hospital for a year, but that was small comfort for us! So 1997 was another grateful Christmas spent at home after a hospital stay.

I often get emotional at Christmas time...singing Silent Night at the candlelight service always gets me, and I think it's because of this bittersweet resonance Christmas contains. I think of the Christmases when I've been away from my family...those years when I was in China and Japan over the holidays, and a few times we've been in England for Christmas. And I will never forget those Christmases of 1996 and 1997, when I was overcome with blessings of the miracle of my child, alive and well. I am so grateful for my family and for my healthy preemie, now a young man!

Christmas 1997, at home from the hospital the second December in a row

Monday, December 16, 2013

What I read in November (2013)

This is my monthly recap of the books I've read and reviewed on my book blog. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Best fiction of the month, and one of the best books of the year:
The Sleeping Dictionary (Daughters of Bengal, #1)
The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

This book is the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. The story follows her life as she ends up in a series of difficult situations. The Sleeping Dictionary starkly paints the life of a girl and woman in India, especially during this era. She had hardly any choices if she wanted to survive. Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately. I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I have read great quantities of Indian fiction  but this book taught me things I did not know. Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Kamala herself. As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. Books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life. I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy. If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! 

Book that made me the most nostalgic:

Cross CurrentsCross Currents, by John Shors

This book took me back to March 1987, when my friend Debbie and I spent a few days--not long enough--on an unspoiled Thai island, Koh Samet. Our time on this island was wonderful because we were on our own, and it was absolutely of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. 

Me on Koh Samet
The memory of our time on that pristine island, where we had a bungalow on the beach and ate our meals in front of the ocean, was ever present as I read this book, set on another unspoilt Thai island, Ko Phi Phi. It's the story of an American, Patch, who is working for Lek and Sarai, owners of a very small resort. Patch's stay continues longer than any other American...and they realize that he is on the run from the law. Soon Patch's brother Ryan and his girlfriend Brooke arrive to help him, but there's trouble in paradise. Brooke and Ryan's relationship is in trouble, and she realizes she is attracted to Patch. The climax of the story is the December 2004 tsunami, which sweeps everyone into crisis. It's a terribly bittersweet novel, and it moved me at the end. I enjoyed this book because it made me think of that lovely Thai beach...and saddened me to think of what happened to all those people who lost their lives or loved ones in the great wave.

Great essays about faith:

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro 

This is a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40. The title immediately caught my attention. The following essays struck particular notes with me:

  • "The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children.
  • "Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on.
  • "Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church.
  • "High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism.
  • "Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality.
  • "The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. 
  • "Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. 
  • “The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims.
  • "No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church.
  • "The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church.
  • "Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure.
  • "Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church.
  • "What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
  • "My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.

I encourage you to read the full reviews if any of these sound interesting. Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One year ago today, surgery eve

This weekend, as we visited my sister and her family in Puyallup, I recalled how emotional I was a year ago when we visited. I became emotional when we visited their church for Sunday services, and on the trip home to Portland, I had a tantrum. The kids were fighting, and I had no reserves. I asked Mike to pull the van over at an exit, and I got out and screamed for 5 minutes. I'm sure it scared the kids out of their wits. Even though I'm a veteran of surgeries, this particular one, involving the brain, freaked me out. All the stress leading up to it (because of the inept neurosurgeon practice) didn't help, and neither did the fact that it occurred right before Christmas. I worried about getting everything done for the holidays, missing events, having a lot of pain, not being able to sleep, and most of all, not being recovered enough to celebrate Christmas. The whole thing seriously affected my usually sunny outlook.

One year ago today, I went to see Kieran perform in "London Is London" on the Northwest Children's Theater mainstage, after which I tearfully said goodbye to the kids outside of the theater...even though I was grateful to my parents for taking them overnight (as the surgery check-in was early in the morning), I found it difficult to say goodbye. Tonight I will go see Kieran on the mainstage again...deja vu! Fortunately the evening will end differently. I won't have to scrub myself from head to toe in the shower with an antiseptic cleaner (to prevent MRSA infection).

I'm happy to report that after three surgeries in a little over a year, my cholesteatoma issues have resolved. Now I'm on a one-year rota, visiting my ear surgeon annually to make sure that the "speed bump" has not come back. I've also learned that I'm a complicated case--no surprise there!

One year ago I wrote about my feelings of fear, and also about the outpouring of love from my family and friends. I feel so fortunate!
  • My friend Catherine gave me a "12 days before surgery" care package, because she knew I was 
  • Flowers from coworkers and the kindergarten bear
  • anxious. So sweet!
  • My friends Kristin and another Catherine, and my sister, gave me two pair of beautiful pajamas, and they all listened to me vent tearfully about the neurosurgeon's office and gave helpful medical advice.
  • Many friends brought or sent delicious food--mulligatawny, pie, brownies, popcorn, dark chocolate, chicken pot pie, berry crisp, and more.
  • A childhood friend, who I had not seen for many years, sent CDs, DVDs, books, and cards.
  • Others e-mailed, sent cards, helped with our kids, and kept me in their thoughts and prayers.
  • A friend/coworker fasted from media on the day of my surgery so his ears could sympathize with mine.
  • Nicholas' kindergarten teacher had all of the kids make me cards and sign a Build-a-Bear for me.
  • When I had my last surgery in July (a piece of cake!), my friend and pastor came to pray with me before I went under the knife. Such a moving gift!
  • My wonderful husband held down the fort, keeping the kids' noise volume down and away from me until I could tolerate their energy, and kept me in pain meds, during and after three separate surgeries, and provided critical moral support. 
Perky ICU patient, before I could wash my hair!
Although the surgery and recovery period were far from easy (especially the post-op pain when the dilautid didn't work at all!), once I settled in, I was the perkiest patient in the ICU and healing went fine.

Visiting the ICU--so glad to see them!
While I was in the hospital, Sandy Hook happened...right after the mall shooting at Clackamas Town Center. This made me feel desperate to see my children, who we were told initially were not welcome in the ICU (not true, as it turned out). Fortunately, they could finally come visit. (Although I also learned how worn out I was when two kids at once exhausted me!)

I was able to go to Christmas Eve services at our church, which made everything better, even though I still felt worn out and in pain.
We were able to have friends over to celebrate New Year's Eve, and I weaned myself off pain meds and returned to work in early January.

One year later, I'm feeling grateful to have overcome this hurdle in my life. Even though this December feels extremely hectic (theater kids, you know), I am lucky to be able to run around and participate in the events. Not sure when I will actually be able to clean my house for Mike's family's visit after Christmas, but after what I went through a year ago, a less-than-pristine house seems like small potatoes.

Christmas 2012, less than 2 weeks after brain surgery
 (still on pain meds though!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Peary Birthday!

Peary and me with my brother Stephen, 1986
Today I celebrate the life of my childhood friend, Peary. My parents and Peary's parents lived and worked in Germany together before we were born. (My dad taught at a school for army children, and my mom was unable to use her own teaching license because the army wouldn't allow both spouses to work.) My mom told me recently that when they arrived in Germany, Peary's parents (Glenn and Carolyn) opened up their home and hearts in hospitality, and they eased the way for my parents as they adjusted to living in Europe (see photo on the far left). They were truly wonderful, warm people, and they enjoyed laughter.

One of the photos Peary sent me in the late 1980s
Peary was born in Germany but grew up in Colorado, and I remember visiting his family several times when I was younger. I always enjoyed his easy-going personality, friendly manner, and sense of humor. In our teen years we grew closer and began writing letters.

When I graduated from college and flew to Boston with my friend Debbie, we then went to Washington DC where my aunt and uncle had been living for the year. Peary flew out and met us there. After being tourists in DC, the three of us drove my aunt and uncle's car all the way back to Seattle, stopping shortly in Colorado to visit Peary's family and meet his new girlfriend (who later became his wife). At the time, Peary was a 20-year-old chain-smoking hippie, and I've always been a bit of a hippie (see us "choking" Ronald & Nancy Reagan's throats, albeit with smiles on our faces--we were friendly hippies!). I remember how deeply we felt the pain at the Vietnam memorial and the plight of the Vietnam MIA activists onsite. One evening in Washington DC we went out to a bar for drinks and deep personal conversation about life.

Later when I was in Japan, I loved to receive Peary's letters. Early in my relationship with Mike, a letter arrived, written on a paper towel! (Mike wasn't sure what to think about those weird Americans.) He was always creative in finding unique stationery. He would send me packages full of photographs he'd taken around Greeley, Colorado, and stories from working at the newspaper...and later at a hospital. We also share a deep love of music.

On one of his medical trips
Now the years have passed...Peary and his mom came to Oregon many years ago when his father died, and our family accompanied his to a memorial for his dad (who had Oregon roots). One time we had dinner with his family in Greeley when I visited Denver for work.

Although I rarely see Peary in person any more, we stay in touch on Facebook. He's married with children and grandchildren--in fact, he became a stepdad long before I had children myself, at a young age. He travels to South America each year as part of a team to help people who cannot afford medical care. His mom fought cancer off and on for many years, and earlier this year she succumbed to the disease. Peary was a faithful, dedicated, and loving son throughout his mom's illness. I imagine this Christmas will be a hard one without either of his parents.

I am not in frequent contact with very many of my long-time childhood friends, but I'm grateful to be in touch with Peary. He is a wonderful man and I feel honored to know him.
Peary with his wife Nancee and grandson

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My teenager's ten favorite words

I decided to follow the lead of many other listicle bloggers and interview one of my kids for this one: ten favorite words. My 17-year-old (oldest) son was the closest at the moment, so he got put on the spot.
This was his look when he was thinking about it
And here are his ten favorite words:

1. Concerts
2. Music
3. Pie
4. Acting
5. Movies
6. Five
7. Compliment
8. Colorful
9. Brightened

And after the pressure was off!

10. Together

Find out other favorite words at The Good Life with Stasha!