Monday, March 31, 2014

A is for art and crafts (Portlandia from A to Z)

And off we go!

First Thursday in Portland
A is for art and crafts

Portland is an artsy place.

Art walks: We have four art walks each month, the most well known of which is First Thursday. First Thursday started in 1986 in a what-was-then-mostly-abandoned Pearl District (now one of the most happening places in the city).

I ;last went to First Thursday several years ago, when one of my coworkers, Kelly Kievit, a painter in addition to being a talented graphic designer, had a show at the Froelich Gallery. Sadly, now she has moved to Denver so I don't know any local artists personally to drag me out on Thursday nights!

Portland Art Museum
Art galleries and museums: The beautiful Portland Art Museum is free for children under 17, thanks to a $1 million endowment. In fact, many Portland galleries and museums offer free or reduced admission on certain days or always.

Education: We are home to the Oregon College of Art and Craft and a fine art school, the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

With my friend April and artist Nikki McClure
 at the Wild Arts Festival last winter

Local art shows: When I was younger, my aunt was a potter. I remember the summer our family painted my aunt and uncle's house in exchange for a full setting of pottery, which my parents still own. She showed her work in the wonderful annual Ceramics Showcase and Local 14 Women's Art Show and Sale.

Last year I went to the Wild Arts Festival for the first time with my friends. It's sponsored by the Audubon Society, and I never even knew it existed.

Crafts: We have great local craft stores beyond the big box Michael's. The most well known are Scrap (a nonprofit creative reuse center) and Collage, but a drop-in arts and crafts studio also just opened up in my own hood and I have yet to visit it: the Craft Factory.

In addition to local craft bazaars held all over town over the winter holidays, the large, amazing Crafty Wonderland (Portland's arts & crafts extravaganza) is not to be missed! Best of all, it's free...and it offers high-quality, all-handmade items, unlike so many of the large craft bazaars nowadays. We also have our own Museum of Contemporary Craft, always a fun place to visit.

Multnomah Art Center: Portland's fantastic parks & recreation district runs several community centers, best of which is the Multnomah Art Center (just .5 mile from my house). In addition to its many performing arts classes (music, dance, and theater), the center offers weaving, pottery, calligraphy, painting, jewelry making, metalsmithing, tie-dye, glass fusing, and mosaic among others. Several years ago I took a fabulously fun mosaic class there. Must do something creative there again soon!

This is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn't even mention all of the great entrepreneurial start-up creative companies that have bloomed in Portland. We love to express ourselves and expose ourselves to art, as our former mayor Bud Clark made famous in 1978:

Next up: Bookstores and breweries!

A to Z Challenge 2014: Portlandia from A to Z

Last year I participated in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge for the first time. I chose to write about all the
places I'd traveled outside of the United States ("Oh, the places you'll go!"). Fortunately, I had kept travel journals for many of those far-flung places, so it was a delectable trip down memory lane for me!

This year I'm staying closer to home and writing about my beloved hometown:
Portland, Oregon.

I am an unusual Oregonian because I was born here (in Oregon City) and although I went to college out of state and lived in Japan for three years, I've returned here to live. I love it here, so I look forward to sharing the best of my city with you!

Come back every day in April to read about my wonderful hometown!

What I read (December-March 2014)

I have fallen completely behind in my monthly recaps of what I've read, so this is my attempt to get caught up. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
I LOVED this story about a female British spy, who is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend, a pilot. I finished it crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. 
The Chaperone
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Cora Carlisle agrees to escort young Louise Brooks (of silent film fame), who heads to New York City to study dance. The story is more about Cora's life (which is fictional) than Louise's. But I enjoyed this book and learned some historical tidbits, always a great thing!

In the Woods, by Tana French
Rob Ryan, a crime victim 20 years before, is a murder detective in this literary thriller/detective novel. A young girl is murdered in the same area where his two best friends vanished when he was a child. My favorite character is Ryan's partner, Cassie Maddow, a tough, tender detective with secrets of her own.

The Weight of SilenceThe Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf
In this quiet, easy read, seven-year-old Calli Clark does not speak, but her best friend Petra speaks on her behalf. When the girls disappear early one morning, Calli's mother is forced to face what she has been trying to ignore. Gudenkauf portrays a family damaged by alcoholism and abuse, with two sensitive children who have been deeply scarred by the disease.
The Ayah's Tale, a novella by Sujata Massey
The Ayah's Tale, by Sujata Massey
This novella is about an Indian ayah and the English children under her care. The children in Menakshi's care are privileged and spoiled, but she becomes attached to to them. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Massey beautifully depicts the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries. 

My Basmati Bat MitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah, by Paula L. Freedman
Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She has a supportive extended family, a great rabbi, and close friends. Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Junior is keenly intelligent and creative in spite of being brain damaged at birth. He doesn't fit in well on the Spokane Indian Reservation and soon finds a way to go to the white school nearby. His community is not happy with him to say the least, including his best friend, who feels betrayed. In spite of the alcoholism, incessant poverty, and too frequent deaths around him, Junior excels in his white school. 
In addition to the stellar, well-crafted writing, Alexie included cartoons by artist Ellen Forney as Junior's art. I love stories of redemption in spite of overwhelming odds, and this is an excellent example of that genre.

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
In this frightening, dystopian novel--the first of a trilogy--cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands." A plague decimates most of the population. I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily.


I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
What an inspiring young woman! Malala Yousafzai tells her story. In her village in the Swat valley, where people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter, her father was delighted to have a daughter. Because of her father's belief in girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. I highly recommend this book, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
Every woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't always call herself a feminist. She admits she has a different perspective than lower-income, less-educated women, but many of her lessons apply to us all. She tackles the systemic issues of sexism and backs them up with personal stories and research. She issues a challenge for all of us to lean in, to rise to the challenge, to be confident in ourselves and the choices we make, and strive for greater equality in the workplace and in our broader culture at large. So yes, Sandberg might be a privileged, educated, white woman, but she is doing good work...necessary and overdue work, prompting women and men to look at our status quo and realize that many things are not right. 


A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters. I encourage you to read the full review, which lists my 10 reasons for actively disliking this book. The other day I read my review to my husband, who DEVOURS these books, and one of my close friends, who also loves them, and I wasn't sure if they'd ever speak to me again! My ten reasons in a nutshell are: far too many characters, lack of character development, lack of sympathetic characters, rape and brutal treatment of women, too much detail, way too long, endless plots, lack of geographic perspective, does not compel me to read any more, and sad outlook on humanity. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it. 
Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Before Hannah commits suicide, she creates audiotapes explaining her "13 reasons why." Many people LOVE this book, but I was not as taken with it. It sheds some light on the plight of a teenage girl who is often objectified and not treated with respect. But some of her "reasons" seemed inconsequential, and in fact they made me think of all the people in the world who endure far, far worse than what Hannah had. Suicide usually happens because the person is deeply depressed...yet the book does not touch on Hannah's depression. I felt that her relationships and personality were not fleshed out. So I was disappointed. 

I will attempt to do a better job keeping up with my book reviews, starting now! :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy birthday, Gloria Steinem

Happy 80th birthday to a woman I greatly admire, Gloria Steinem. I've included Ms. Steinem in my blog several times over the years...for example:

Major news publications are full of articles about Gloria Steinem today, such as Ms. Magazine's "25 Reasons We Love Gloria Steinem" and the Huffington Post's "21 Ways Gloria Steinem Taught Us to Be Better Women." She has aged incredibly well, which is probably a complicated compliment for her, as described in Jezebel's "Gloria Steinem at 80: She Looks Good and Everyone Wants Her to Know It."

She is a visionary, having written about gay marriage and other utopican feminist ideals back in 1970, and she actively supports younger feminists and wannabes (even defending Miley Cyrus). She's been accused of not supporting transgender people in the 1970s, but in 2013 she clarified her comments and expressed unequivocal support for trans folks.  She's always been an inspiration to this 49-year-old feminist, and I'm grateful for her life and her work!

Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two young Boise heroes are shaving their heads

My two young friends Myla and Ari (daughters of my friend Shelia), age 11, are shaving their heads tomorrow to raise funds for childhood cancer. That's right, age 11. How many sixth-grade girls do you know who would SHAVE THEIR HEADS? 

I've always known these two were phenomenal. They share the creative energy of my Kieran, and watch out when they all get together! They have raided the Holden Village costume closet, put on a carnivalproduced plays together, and put on a murder mystery (last summer at the beach). I have no doubt that if Kieran were in Boise with the girls, he'd be shaving his head too. (In fact, he said he wanted to when I told him what Ari and Myla were doing!) Not only are they rock star students, musicians, and artists, but they are also solidly committed political activists and practice peace and justice in their daily lives. 

Childhood cancer is extremely underfunded, so the girls decided to jump in with both feet. Ari's met her fundraising goal of $500, but Myla is $15 from her goal. Would you help them up the ante? 

We donated in honor of the 4-year-old son of a coworker in Boise (Desmond), who is undergoing chemo right now for a sarcoma under his eye. 

Love these girls! They could use our support. I look forward to seeing their shiny heads tomorrow!

The girls today, thinking about losing their hair tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Letter to a Micropreemie Parent

I wrote this for the Love Letters project, a website that encourages people to write "love letters" to people who have faced a difficult experience.

Dear parent of a micropreemie,
Around 18 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. Even though I was healthy at age 31, the pregnancy became complicated when I experienced frequent, massive hemorrhaging. I had to undergo ultrasounds and doctor visits to ensure all was okay. My doctor noted a problem with the placenta, but they couldn’t figure out what was causing all the bleeding. In August I took a business trip to Anchorage, Alaska, and I didn’t feel great while traveling. A week later, at 24 weeks gestation, I went into what-I-now-know-was premature labor. Because I’d experienced a lot of bleeding, back pain, and severe constipation, my husband and I thought that’s what it was. 

Chris not long after birth
I will spare you my entire birth story, but here’s the long story short: our son was born at just under 24 weeks gestation, weighing 1 pound, six ounces, and just 11 inches long.  Because he was born so suddenly, he didn’t have the advantage of prenatal steroids like some premature babies have. Consequently, his lungs were extremely immature and he was very sick. He had to stay in the NICU for 117 days and he endured many close-to-death crises, from serious chronic lung disease and dependency on the high-frequency ventilator, to three surgeries including a patent ductus arteriosus (heart) surgery, cerebral edema (brain swelling) and low flow the brain, and a severe infection when it seemed things were improving.

First few weeks of birth, with my fingers
Although our NICU experience is 18 years old, my advice for new micropreemie parents still applies:

1.      1.  Don’t blame yourself. While I was still in recovery from my general anesthetic (for the emergency c-section), a research nurse quizzed my husband about my medical history. Did I smoke? Drink? Use drugs? I know these are risk factors for prematurity, but I was healthy-to-the-extreme during my pregnancy. But no one deserves to have a premature baby, no matter their lifestyle choices.

I’ve had moments of blaming myself for not calling the doctor sooner when I went into premature labor. What would have happened if I had gone to the hospital right away? Could I have kept my baby inside longer? Would he have been healthier? Even today I sometimes wonder what he would have been like if he had not been born prematurely. In many cases, we don’t ever know what caused premature birth. Some women blame their bodies for failing them if they had an incompetent cervix, preeclampsia, placental abruption, or other things that went wrong. The bottom line is this: blaming yourself does no good, and I would advise doing everything you can to move forward and try not to blame yourself. Your baby needs you.

With my hand
2.       Love and treasure your child. Your experience of being a parent is not what you expected. You are not able to hold your baby whenever you want to. You have to ask permission to perform the smallest tasks. You feel helpless and are grieving. It’s not going to be an easy ride, no matter how long your baby is in the NICU. When our son was born, he was so sick that we were unable to hold him until he was six weeks old. After that, we had to take turns holding him…only once a day. Consequently, we had to find other ways to bond with him. We touched his head and feet…changed his diapers…talked to him and sang to him…prayed over him…developed our own NICU rituals. We read stories and sang songs on a cassette tape and asked the nurses to play it for him when we were not there.

When a 23-weeker of some friends became very sick, one of their nurses advised them to treasure each day. Even when all you can do is sit by your baby’s bedside, he or she knows you are there and feels your presence and your love.

3.      Develop positive relationships with your child’s nurses, doctors, and specialists. Nurses, in particular, are the lifeline of the NICU. We soon developed our favorites, and they asked to take care of Chris because they liked us. We developed such close relationships with the nurses that many of them came to Chris’ baptism, and we’re still in touch with many of them after all these years. We also had our favorite doctors and respiratory specialists…the ones who treated us with respect and involved us in decisions about Chris’ care.
4.       Cultivate support from others who have been through similar experiences. When Chris was born, he was the smallest, sickest baby in the NICU (the only 24-weeker there until a month later). It seemed that all the other babies were huge compared to him. Our nurses offered to set up a meeting with a couple whose daughter was nearing a year old…one who had gone through similar difficulties as Chris. We were too worried and consumed to make this a priority, but one day Marie & Andrew, with baby Maddy, stopped by the NICU. Talking to them and hearing their experiences, and watching baby Maddy chew on a paper cup, gave us so much hope. During our time in the NICU, we got to know several other families—providing and receiving support from them. And Maddy is now 18 years old and a delightful young woman—she’s my Facebook friend!

After leaving the NICU, we served on the hospital’s NICU Family Advisory Board with other parents. Some of them became our close friends, because we understood each other. Six years later, when I had my first miscarriage, we had plans to attend a holiday party with these other families. Even though I was in full grief mode, I decided to go to the party. As soon as I walked in the door, these amazing people embraced me and cried with me. Each one of them had experienced loss—infant loss, miscarriage, or the loss of the perfect birth experience. The support we received from other NICU parents was irreplaceable. They understood what we were going through like no one else could.

Holding Chris for the first time,
at one month old
5.       Advocate for your child (and for yourself). In 1996, we had very few Internet resources, but now they are limitless. You can read your baby’s medical chart (it’s your right!), learn about his or her medical condition, ask questions, try not to feel pushed into making quick decisions unless they are urgent, and seek answers anywhere you can find them.

In addition to reading your baby’s chart and keeping up with his or her progress, it’s your job to advocate for what’s best for your child. In the NICU it’s hard to feel like a parent when nurses and doctors are the ones taking care of your baby, but you are the consistent providers in your baby’s life and you know your baby better than anyone. Sometimes this will require great courage.

One day we arrived at the NICU to be told by Chris’ nurse excitedly that she had given him his first bath, even though she knew we would be arriving soon. How could she not realize that we would want to be part of this major milestone? The other nurses saw my anger and disappointment, so the next day they set up a bathing session so my husband and I could be fully involved. I wish I had the nerve at the time to tell that nurse how hurt I was by her lack of sensitivity.

At other times, doctors (mostly specialists) didn’t seem to care about our opinions or involving us in Chris’ care. Our favorite nurses constantly advocated for us and him—I remember one nurse commenting, “I want to deck that cardiologist!” When we were pushing to get Chris discharged before Christmas and around his due date, our pediatrician helped convince the neonatologist. Find your allies and use them as advocates!
Doing Kangaroo Care
     6.  Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. I know it’s hard, but this is important. Outside of your baby’s medical ups and downs (that roller coaster ride they tell you about), one of the most difficult things that can happen to an NICU parent is to get sick and not be able to visit their baby. So you must do everything you can to stay healthy. Develop a visiting routine, take daily naps, take breaks from the NICU, eat well, take walks or exercise, read or play music, indulge in activities that relieve your stress whenever you can. When your baby comes home, these will be more difficult. When Chris was in the NICU, we had tickets to a James Taylor concert we had bought several months before. Although we felt reluctant to go to the concert, our nurses strongly encouraged us to do so. Good advice. Nurses don’t just take care of the babies.

7.       Seek support from family and friends. Our close friends (NICU parents) have a saying: “Grief reorders your address book.” You will learn who you can count on and who will support you in the way you need support. Find people who do not bring drama into your life, who are sensitive and compassionate, and who try to understand what you are going through…and avoid spending time with the ones who don’t meet your emotional needs. We were fortunate to have mostly sensitive people around us who fed us and nurtured us through our crises. Let people know how they can help…for example, bringing meals and snacks, prayers and positive thoughts, child care assistance, and help with housework and errands.
Mike doing Kangaroo Care
8.       Involve your partner in your child’s care. Each parent can play a critical role in the NICU. Moms can pump breast milk until the baby is strong enough to breastfeed (which I strongly encourage you to do—breast milk is even better for preemies than for full-term babies!). While Mom is pumping, her partner can stay
at the baby’s bedside. When babies are born full term, Mom is usually the primary caregiver, especially in the early weeks. In the NICU, the playing field is leveled…both of you can have an equal stake in your baby’s care. Take advantage of this.
9.       Celebrate every milestone. I advise you to write everything down, because trust me…you will forget! One of the best gifts we received was a journal, which we wrote in every day at Chris’ bedside. We wrote the journal to him, giving us hope that he would grow up one day to read it himself. (Nowadays you can keep a blog or use a website to write a journal.) We also created rituals to celebrate milestones. Each week I made a new sign for his isolette, congratulating him on reaching another week. And we bought a mylar balloon to add to his balloon bouquet every Sunday. The nurses joked that he was going to float away. These celebrations helped us tremendously as the days and weeks added up.
Holding Chris while he was
still on a high-frequency ventilator
10.   Don’t forget hope. Statistics are just statistics…they do not predict how your baby will do. When Chris was born,
a woman from our church (an NICU nurse) visited my hospital room and announced, on his second day of life, that “all the odds are against him!” I dissolved in tears and told her how much she’d upset me and I didn’t want to hear things like that. After she left, I asked my nurse to write a sign that said “Think positive thoughts” and post it on my door. I didn’t need to be reminded of the odds—they were staring me in the face (50% chance of survival and 50% chance of major disabilities). I was determined not to give up on my baby unless I had to.

While Chris was in the NICU, he faced serious problems and almost died at least three times. I created an image in my mind, that of him running along the beach as a healthy toddler, and every time I succumbed to tears of hopelessness, I tried as hard as I could to cling to that image.

Sometimes in the NICU, hope is all you have to keep going. Don’t let anyone take your hope away.

Update on Chris: He is now 17 years old, a music-and-theater-loving, drum-playing, sweet, affectionate, bright and funny, and academically focused young man. He wears glasses, has a slim frame, had epilepsy when he was younger, and has attention-deficit disorder, but otherwise most people would never guess he had such a difficult start in life. He loves life and is doing great!

Monday, March 3, 2014

10 things I'd tell my teenage self (Monday Listicles)

I haven't participated in Monday Listicles for awhile, but I couldn't resist this one. This is for all the amazing teenage girls (and boys) in my life!

My teenage self
What I would tell my teenage self:

1. Mean girls (and boys) suck. Your resilience and enthusiasm will pay off in life. Don't let the meanies get you down. They don't matter.

2. Appreciate your youthful body, because your metabolism will change when you get older. That's right, you'll never be a size 0 again after college, Japan, and adulthood. But honestly, does it really matter that much? You'll feel freer in your body as you get older.

The only photo I have of myself in a bikini!
3. Continue taking risks. The best things in life and most satisfying moments will come to you when you take going to Japan at age 21 without knowing a word of Japanese...and meeting the love of your life there!

4. Follow your heart and your gut. You have great instincts for people and situations. Trust them and they will not lead you astray.

So many years of braces, and two jaw surgeries!
My mouth was really screwed up...
5. Don't take things for granted. You were born in the United States, with a loving and supportive family, receiving a great education and with enough food to eat...even though you have had some tough times in your life. Appreciate what you have received but realize that you have privileges that others do not. Use that knowledge to be self-reflective and compassionate toward others.

6. Surround yourself with people who feed your soul, and let go of people and things that drag you down or don't appreciate you. It will take you awhile to learn this one, but you'll get much better at it. Your circle of close friends will feed your soul, and you'll learn how to let go of friends, acquaintances, and family who do not make the effort to stay in touch or who are not good for well as memories that cause you regret or angst.

High school graduation (age 17)
7. Make a list of what you are looking for in a mate, and don't settle. You will find someone who sees your beauty, appreciates your strength, and values your spunk. You'll have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince...but make that list. Amazingly, you will find a partner who has all the qualities you list...even the ones that are not deal breakers (like having a great singing voice)!

8. Continue creating! You always feel great when you express your creativity...keep doing it on a regular basis. 
With one of my favorite little girls, Ailee
9. Who cares if you have daughters and sons? Yes, you always thought you'd have a daughter to nurture and bond with. Gender doesn't matter...the heart and soul does. You will have three funny, affectionate sons who adore and appreciate you. You will find young women out there to be your surrogate daughters, and your female friendships will be one of the greatest gifts of your life. 

In my favorite rainbow shirt (I was obsessed with rainbows as a teenager)
10. Life is short. Cherish each day. You'll come to know many people who die far too your friend and coworker Loretta, who would have celebrated her 59th birthday tomorrow if she hadn't died suddenly last year. Every day is a miracle. Keep seeking rainbows.

Senior photo, with our cat Lady Diana

Read other teenage wisdom at The Good Life, hosted by Stasha.