Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where have all the flowers gone? Memories of Pete Seeger

Pete and Toshi Seeger
My maternal grandfather died not long after my grandmother. When she died, it broke his heart and he didn't seem to have the strength to go on. At the age of nine, I remember feeling deeply touched by this kind of great love.

Pete Seeger's wife Toshi died in July at the age of 91, and seven months later, Pete has followed her into the great yonder, dying close together like my own grandparents 40 years ago. I am feeling sad today, because Pete Seeger's music and activism has influenced my life in many ways.

My parents joke that they missed out on the '60s because they were too busy raising kids. I've always been drawn to that decade because of my rebellious spirit and passion for peace and justice. I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary, and other folk music, but I don't remember Pete Seeger as a child. Like Dar Williams pondered, it's hard for many of us to remember how we first learned of Pete--he was in our DNA. I consciously discovered him (and other activist-musicians like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Judy Collins) as an adult, and these are my cherished memories of his music:

  • Listening to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "If I Had a Hammer," and "Turn Turn Turn" as a child, and later playing these songs on the guitar
  • Group singing in all sorts of places, using the "Rise Up Singing" songbook (Pete Seeger was a huge champion of group singing and wrote the introduction and did the illustrations for this songbook)
  • Three-year-old Christopher's fondness for a great album by Pete and Arlo Guthrie, and when asked by his speech therapist who his favorite musician was, he said "Pete Seeger!"
  • Discovering how much I loved Bruce Springsteen (and bluegrass) via his tribute to Pete Seeger ("We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions"), which is one of my favorite albums
  • Watching him sing "This Land Is Your Land" with Bruce Springsteen at President Obama's first inauguration...I can't watch this video without crying, especially now!

  • Singing "Wimoweh," "The Garden Song," and "This Land Is Your Land" for several years with the kids at my sons' elementary school...these are three of their favorite songs, and I plan to tell them all about Pete Seeger next time I go into Nicholas' class!
  • Remembering how I sang "We Shall Overcome" with the kids in Nicholas' kindergarten class last year during Black History Month, and the kids all held hands and sang with gusto and passion...how things have changed since Pete sang that song with the freedom marchers...
  • Hearing stories about some of my favorite singers jamming with and being influenced by Pete:

  • Singing "We Shall Overcome" and "If I Had a Hammer" with our band, Consorting with Papists...we usually close our sets with acapella "We Shall Overcome"...so moving.

  • His continued passionate activism...Dar Williams talks about Pete showing up at various events around upstate New York, to lend his voice to causes he cared about. Last August, a month after Toshi died, Pete performed in New York to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the treaty signed by the Iroquois and the Dutch, and remembered the 68th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. In September he performed at Farm Aid.  As Dr. Reagon said, "He has not broken stride in any way," even into his 90s.

The world has lost a great talent and an amazing man. He lived his life and made art to help the less fortunate and do what he could to make the world a better place.

Bruce Springsteen said this about Pete: "At some point, Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament to the power of song and culture, to nudge history along...to push American events toward more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity and the courage to sing in the voice of the people."

He loved his wife, and reading about her own great (untold) accomplishments and steady rock presence in his life, it's easy to see why it was hard to live on much longer. I love the fact they met during the war, when so many Americans felt hatred toward the Japanese (even Japanese Americans).

Rest in peace, Pete, and thanks for the wonderful music that spread peace and justice throughout the world!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Celebrate miracles on Lung Leavin' Day

With hope, the odds don't matter.
Heather's Family

In November 2005, Heather Von St. James was 36 years old and had given birth to her daughter Lily three months before. And she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, "a rare type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body's internal organs, known as the mesothelium." It's usually caused by exposure to asbestos and inhalation of asbestos particles. (Heather's dad used to work in construction and would come home in a jacket covered in asbestos.) This type of cancer is often diagnosed in its late stages, and most patients have survival rates of just a year or two. In Heather's case, she was given 15 months to live...it's rare to get this form of cancer at such a young age. On the day Heather had her lung removed, her sister coined the surgery "Lung Leavin' Day." They've been celebrating this day every year on February 2. On Lung Leavin' Day, they write their prayers on a plate and then smash it with dramatic effect.

Here's the miracle: Eight years later, Heather is still alive and has beaten the cancer. She and her husband Cameron have created a beautiful website to raise awareness of this disease and to give others hope. I received an email from Cameron, asking me to write about the site on my blog, and I thought it was a perfect fit. As I discovered on my own after having an extremely early preemie, hope is way more important than the odds.

You can join them in Lung Leavin' Day by writing your own fears on a plate and smashing it on the dynamic website. I've had several friends and family members battle cancer in recent years, including a friend and coworker who died almost a year ago from Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, so I love these stories of cancer survival.

I found it highly satisfying to write a few of my own fears on these plates and do some smashing! I encourage you to give it a try. Scroll to the bottom of the site to smash your own fears. And pass it on to spread the word!
Smash your own plate in the fire
Listen to Heather tell her story here:

Here's hoping you live a long life, Heather! Happy Lung Leavin' Day!

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Mr. Sposito opened my eyes about race

With my siblings (me on left), around 1972
Around 1972, a scant four years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, my third-grade class was traveling by school bus to visit another third-grade class across town as part of a sister school activity. Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, was white bread as you could get in the 1970s. I remember only one or two African-American students in my entire (large) high school.

As we approached the other third graders waiting outside to meet us, my beloved teacher, Mr. Sposito, who was in his first year of teaching and wanted us to call him "Stan," pointed out the girl who would be my partner for the day. She was African-American. As an eight-year-old child who had never been exposed to anyone with a different color skin, I was more than a bit nervous. But I said nothing: I was brave but also polite. How could I protest? Mr. Sposito told me that of all the students in his class, he had specifically chosen me to be April's partner.

What did I find? April was an outgoing, funny, and friendly girl. When her class came to our school, I enjoyed spending time with her again. Mr. Sposito changed my life and challenged my ivory tower world.

My parents were always progressive, but they were raising children and trying to make a living during the civil rights era. And we lived in Oregon, a long way from the deep south. My dad worked as a social worker in inner-city Portland, with African-American students, parents, and teachers. He worked to make a difference in their lives, and I will always admire him for how he lived out his belief in social justice. When he was transferred to the west side of town (less diverse), he missed the inner city.

Nicholas' school worksheet
I don't remember learning much about the civil rights movement or Martin Luther King Jr. as a child. I am delighted to see that this has changed. Not only do we have a national holiday to honor Dr. King, but the kids also study him and his work in class, have school-wide assemblies, and write about his work. We also have a lot more diversity in our schools, even though we are still white bread Oregon.

The most important thing I learned from Mr. Sposito is that we are scared of things we do not know. That's the reason I was nervous about being matched up with an African-American girl as an eight-year-old. I had no other reason to fear her.

That's why it's important for our children to be around people who are of different races, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, etc...so they will be more open minded than we were as children.

My white face with coworkers and students in Japan
It's also good for us to be in the minority for a change. When I lived in Japan for three years, I experienced what it felt like to be an outsider, the other, the only person who didn't have black hair and couldn't speak Japanese. Being a white person in Asia is not the same thing as being black in America, however, because of the systemic racism connected to power. I will never be able to understand what it feels like to be scared of the police, have people fear me while I'm walking down the street, or have people make assumptions about me based on the color of my skin. After all, even though the Japanese seemed to look down on many American characteristics or cultural mores, white skin was a desired commodity.

In "5 Tips to Raise Racially Sensitive Children: Honoring MLK’s Legacy by Ellie of Musing Momma," Ellie talks about simple ways to raise racial awareness with our children. We need to talk about race with our families, examine our own stereotypes and be open to change ourselves, expose our children to differences and celebrate them, and promote diversity in our lives. We need to be brave enough to talk about our own prejudices and attempt to open our own minds.

Clementine Hunter
My children are way more open minded and receptive than I was as a child...as a result of our changing cultural mores and more progressive education, growing up with an African-American president (this is huge!), and a more diverse population in our schools. They actually have much to teach me about race. Last year I remember singing "We Shall Overcome" with Nicholas' first-grade class during Black History Month, and my eyes teared up watching them all hold hands and singing with gusto. Another time he told me me all about Clementine Hunter, an African-American painter, whom he had learned about in school.

My seven-year-old's best buddy is biracial, and he takes this stuff extremely seriously. Many of his drawings of people have different-colored skin. He believes in racial justice in his core. He has a big dream, too. My dream is that when he too is 49 and thinks back to his childhood, he is amazed to recall the racism prevalent in our society when he was a child, and how it has vanished.

Nicholas' drawing of Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Jackie Robinson

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Best books of 2013

With my family at the City Lights Bookstore
 in San Francisco in August
Here are the best books I read in 2013. Click the title to read my review. These are listed in approximate order of how much I liked them (#1 being the best). I'd love to hear what you thought of any of these books. If you've read any, please leave me a comment.

You can also refer to best books lists back to 2001 here. Enjoy! (This is cross-posted in Marie's Book Garden.)

1. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki: Canadian novelist finds a diary of a Japanese girl washed up on the beach…loved this lyrical, spiritual tale and got to see Ozeki read from the book
2. The Sleeping Dictionary, Sujata Massey: Pom loses her family in a tsunami, and her life takes many difficult courses around Indian independence (another one of my favorite authors)
3. Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Eli Brown: England, 1819…female pirate kidnaps a male chef…great foodie adventure!
4. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini: vivid landscape and complex, multilayered, and interesting characters
5. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, Gail Tsukiyama: sweeping, WWII-era story of two orphaned brothers in Japan
6. The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith: J.K. Rowling’s new detective novel—worth a read!
7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson: stiff English major and Pakistani shop keeper fall in love
8. In the Woods, Tana French: Irish literary detective novel
9. Bruised, Sarah Skilton; young adult fiction
10. Cross Currents, John Shors; takes place in Thai desert island struck by the tsunami
11. The Burning, Jane Casey; another Irish detective novel
12. Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear: historical detective novel
13. The Little Book, Selden Edwards: time travel in Austria
14. The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams: young adult fiction

15. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall: coming of age novel of abandoned Native American boy

1. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber: the title says it all—memoir of a tattooed, alcoholic ELCA pastor with an emergent church
2. Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her HomeLaura and Lisa Ling: one sister rescues the other sister in North Korea
3. Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala: A woman loses her entire family in the Sri Lankan tsunami and battles huge grief
4. Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith, Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, ed.: essays by female Christian leaders about taboo topics
5. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth: Inspired “Call the Midwife,” which I love
6. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, Piper Kerman: Inspired “Orange Is the New Black” show, even better than the book
8. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson; author returns to USA after living in the UK
9. The Invisible Girls: A Memoir, Sarah Thebarge: cancer survivor befriends Somali refugees
10. Bruce, Peter Ames Carlin: the life of the Boss
11. Loud in the House of Myself, Stacy Pershall: poignant memoir of mental illness
12. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer: insider account of what makes the hateful Westboro Baptist Church function
13. Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn: she’s quirky, strong, and fascinating

Thursday, January 16, 2014

End of 2013

Nick with St. Nick
We had a second Christmas in 2013 after Mike's mum and sister (and her two kids) arrived from England on the same day that my sister and her family arrived from Puyallup. Introducing Christmas, Part 2!

As the eldest grandson, Chris (17) is usually surrounded by his much-younger cousins and brothers, so it was especially nice for him to hang out with his closest-in-age cousin, Mark, who is 16.

Christmas #2, Chris with his cousins Mark and Victoria

Nick with Daniel, who was playing his new guitar

Of course, Ella is part of the extended family now too

The presents in a circle, ready for our tradition of "Spin the Bottle," which takes a long time!


My sister Nadine and her husband David

Mike's sister Kath with her daughter Victoria

Mike with the young men

Mike loved his new mug!

Chris with my brother Stephen

Nick hugging his Aunty Kath

The circle kept getting added to and added to, and finally started shrinking!

My dad and Mike modeling their new hats

Mom and Dad

Kieran loving Ella

The teenagers

Kieran with the mask and paint set from his Uncle Stephen

With my honey

With my wonderful siblings

Mike with his mum and sister--so glad to have them with us!

Christmas "Pass the Parcel" a few days later
A few days after they arrived, Kath and I went off to Edgefield for a girls' night. Nadine was going to join us, but she got sick so she had to miss out.

Dinner in the Black Rabbit restaurant

With my Rubinator beer at dinner

Kath modeling her fingernails, which she had done in the Ruby Spa

Goofing off in the gift shop--my sister-in-law, the unicorn!
The next day we did some shopping in Multnomah Village with my friend April. 
Kath making friends with a frog in the village

April and Kath modeling some trendy coats in Switch

Happy Hour at Marco's--so much fun!
 We had a full house at New Year's with two types of soup.

Sisters at New Year's Eve!
Kath and the kids were only with us for less than a week, and Mike's mum leaves for the UK tomorrow (three weeks in total). Here's to a great 2014 for all of them!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ten Fabulous Plans for 2014--the Unresolutions: Monday Listicles

I haven't participated in Monday Listicles for awhile, but last week Stasha (the web host) forgot to post a topic...and it's a free-for-all. Sounds like my cup of tea!

Here are my Fabulous Plans for 2014. I'm calling them "unresolutions" because they are fun and low pressure...and I'm not going to be hard on myself if I do not accomplish all of them.

Monterey, CA (August 2013)
1. Spend money on things that are worth more than money (such as education, experiences, travel, and activities with family and friends)

2. Eat delicious food, heavy on flavor and freshness and light on artificial ingredients and preservatives. 

3. Be more active--take more walks, go to yoga or other classes, and build muscle.

4. Send more letters and cards--to my friends and family, a prisoner I've started corresponding with through a LGBT pen pal program, and people who need TLC and support. Today I sent off a sympathy card and a letter to my friend Quinn who is spending the month at Holden Village.

5. Create more, using the art supplies I've amassed over the years, mostly paper and beads.
Bracelet I made for my sister last year

6. Be more intentional about the use of my time. That means less unstructured time on the Internet and more time doing what is most important in my life.

7. Write more...not just blogging publicly, but also for spiritual introspection, personal exploration, and creative expression. I have started a writing partnership with a friend, so now I'm accountable and feeling jazzed about writing more.

8. Spend more time outside...walking down to the river at lunch on nice days, taking hikes with my family, going to the beach. And more camping, but with my air mattress. :)

With my favorite band, May 2013
9. Make more music. This is what I would love: to become accomplished enough with the mandolin that I can jam harmonies. 

10. Become 50, fit, and fabulous! Yes, it's the big year for me. I'm already thinking of ways to celebrate. Even though I'm an extrovert, I think I will forgo a big party and instead find ways to celebrate with close friends and family. I am becoming more of an introvert as I age.

I'm tagging some blogging friends in this prompt in the hopes they will join me in making "un-resolutions." 

And of course, my blogging husband, Middle Grade Mafioso! If you join me in this list, please link your blog post in the comments. Happy 2014!

See other random Monday Listicle lists at The Good Life