Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turning A Corner

It is fun to reminisce about the lavish family vacations we have taken over the past 10 years or so. We have been to Japan, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Finland, the Caribbean, England, Scotland, Italy, Turkey and Greece and we have enjoyed all of them. We also have fond memories of some wonderful US destinations like Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Alaska and Hawaii.

But now we have turned a corner. We have officially entered "college mode". We are going to have to, temporarily--hopefully, suspend lavish vacations to exotic locations. All is not lost, however, as we will now incorporate Joey's favorite travel accessories into our upcoming vacation plans: backpacks, hiking boots, sleeping bags, compasses, maps, tents and freeze dried food--NO!!! Just kidding about the freeze dried food thing. That is not going to happen.

One of the really nice things about living in America is... this country is filled with awesome State Parks, forested hiking trails, gorgeous scenery and lovely campgrounds. I am thinking about a road trip that includes the Grand Canyon, Utah and Yellowstone.

Maybe every few days we will throw in a classy motel with a real bed and a real shower... maybe. I haven't figured all that out yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A thorough cleansing....

I have this strange obsession of needing to finish a book once I start it. No matter how boring or disturbing I find the subject matter, I must keep reading. I don't think it is really because I feel the book will somehow redeem itself, but is in fact just some facet of my slightly obsessive compulsive personality.

A couple of years ago, I read 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan. At the time I did not even know there was a movie in the works. Joey had asked me to order him some books for summer reading. He gave me a list of authors and just said "pick some". When the books arrived, I decided to grab a couple of them and read them myself before handing them over. Wow, I wanted to stop reading Atonement about 3/4 of the way through. The writing was good but the story was incredibly depressing and I swore I would never see the movie (why torture myself?).

Last year I gave in and decided to read 'Twilight'. Oh man, about half way through I thought I would die if I had to read one more description of Edward's skin. Not to mention that the book is actually considered "teen reading" and is written as such. Not to say teens cannot be sophisticated, but.... it really is like a Harlequin Romance written for a 12 year old. But I plugged along and by the end I was hooked and ended up reading the whole series of--Edward vs. Jacob, Vampire vs. Werewolf, Bella vs. herself--books, and I liked them (cringing right now waiting to be struck by the literary gods), although by about half way through the last book I was starting to really question my own sanity.... I don't want to spoil anything since I know at least a couple "women" out there who have not read the books--yet!

Now, the real reason for this post. Many years ago when the kids were little and I was heavily involved in the Jewish Community Center, a book was sweeping through the community like wildfire. It was being read and talked about by women of all ages and was the latest, greatest top of the list novel for book clubs across the country. I was much too busy for things like adult novels and book clubs. I was obsessed with reading Harry Potter books to the boys and making up voices (apparently) for all the characters and mispronouncing Hermione's name. About five years ago, I ran across that book club book in Barnes & Noble and even though I probably knew at least a half dozen people with the book on their shelves (for borrowing), I purchased it anyway. And then, it sat in my closet until a couple months ago when I picked it up and started reading it. The book: 'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant. In a nutshell, a completely fictional novel about some of the characters of the old testament. Well, it sounds silly to say "some of the characters" when in fact we are talking about such heavyweights as Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel and Joseph. Basically the Mothers and Fathers of Judaism and we all know where that leads.... The story is written from the perspective of Dinah, Jacob's lone daughter. Now, I am certainly no historian. I am not religious. I am not a feminist or a prude, but people, I am telling you I did not like this book at all. Some call it Historic Fiction. I call it, at best, historical fantasy. This story strays so ridiculously far from the bible that it is just purely, in my mind, a work of complete fiction and no reference to history or the bible should be made. But that, in itself, is not the problem. I mean, a good story is a good story.

About half way through the novel, knowing I would--by my own standards--need to finish, I went looking for some positive remarks about the novel to keep me motivated. I did find a lot of positive, but none of it reflected my point of view. I did find negative criticism (which every book has, of course), but I was not expecting it to be criticized for the reasons it was--a lot of the critical comments were written by people concerned that some of the readers would believe Ms. Diamant's version of history as fact. What? No seriously, really? And, who cares? I guess I shouldn't be so cynical since that is kind of what happened with the Dan Brown novels???!!!???

I did find one commenter who I thought spoke perfectly eloquently of my feelings:
Dinah's life was REALLY crummy!

Yes, that's it in a nutshell. The author takes a character with a pretty sad (and short) biblical reference and makes an incredibly depressing complete life story around her. There is almost nothing good that happens to Dinah. In the process of describing Dinah's awful life, she completely obliterates any positive or inspirational references from the original stories of the bible. Okay, right, this is historical fantasy... but why use the biblical figures at all? That's what angered a lot of critics. OK. Fine it is just a fictional story (who cares about the religious community). In reading some of the authors comments included at the end of the book, I tried to understand what she was trying to do with this book, because she WAS trying to do something. She wasn't merely setting out to write a descriptive novel for all to enjoy. By her own admission she is "mystified by the stigma that has been attached to the idea that women are human beings." Well, I am flabbergasted. Maybe I live in a completely different world than the author, but I have never met anyone who didn't think that women were human beings. Women are lifegivers. This book does not celebrate this fact. It recounts a fictional life of a girl who feels alone and weak and is miserable 95% of the book. She is not inspirational and the relationship she had with her Mothers and The Red Tent was fleeting and depressing. Men are generally barbarians and don't get me started on the Mother-in-Law. I found the book completely uninspiring.

So, there it is. Usually characters from novels stick around with me for a while. I am really hoping that by putting some of my simple thoughts down on paper (well computer) that I have cleansed my mind thoroughly of this book and its characters. I would rather watch Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat a hundred times than have to think about this book any longer.

How about some inspiring book recommendations???? Anyone????

Note: Michael DO NOT comment that I should read the John Adams Novel. Please.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is it my imagination...

or is the commercial aspect of the Christmas Season starting ridiculously early this year?
Have I just not been paying attention the past few years...

Is it the economy?
If they run Christmas commercials non-stop from October 1st until December 24th, will sales really be that much more substantial?

Christmas Carolers were singing at Pioneer Square--on November 13th....
I realize Thanksgiving is not such a hot retail holiday, but wow, it deserves a little recognition.

I was at Fred Meyer last month and they already had Christmas Cards and Paper, Lights, etc... completely set up and ready to go. Seriously?

I'm all for shopping early, but part of the fun for me is actually being ahead of the game, ahead of the dozens of catalogs cramming our mailbox, ahead of the swarms of shoppers at the mall, ahead of the massive waiting lists at the video game store, frankly, ahead of the annoying "buy your Mother a cell phone for Christmas" ads on TV. I'm kind of sad because I have not purchased one present yet--and I guess I am way behind!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why am I doing this?

Why am I writing this blog? Because this past weekend I noticed a large and painful lump in my right breast. It being the weekend and all--and not seeming like a life threatening illness or at least not serious enough to hit the emergency room, I decided to scour the internet for possible diagnoses, pain reducing solutions and/or just plain piece of mind.

What I found, however, were some crazy horror stories which did nothing more than produce a much higher level of stress and anxiety for me while I was waiting through the weekend to call the doctor on Monday morning. Basically all the medical sites gave me the same possible reasons for such a lump: breast infection from nursing (hello, Sammy is 16 years old now!), injury (nope), Fibroadenomas (solid, yet "usually" painless? probably not, but a possibility), Cysts (possible, vary in size and can be "tender"... they may be simplifying things a little here) and Breast Cancer (usually slow growing, not painful and produce other symptoms I do not have so I really wasn't so concerned about this being the diagnosis although you never know). So, I could pretty quickly eliminate a few options, but not completely eliminate other fairly scary options.

Despite my worrying, Monday rolled around rather quickly and the doctor took me right away (sort of a bad sign as this would mean that she was also concerned by my symptoms). Unfortunately, after her rather lengthy exam and a measurement of the bump approximated at 4cm x 4cm, she could not really give me any more information than I had garnered from the internet. Ugh! Plus the fact that the next step was a Mammogram/Ultrasound. Now, I find Mammograms painful on the best of days so I was definitely not looking forward to this, but I really did want to get it over with. Not going to happen... the clinic could not take me that day so I was going to have to live with the unknown for another day. Now, here is where I admit to being really stupid. Once again, in my desperation I searched out the internet. I found a woman with the identical symptoms to mine... even the same exact size lump. So I read her daily diary style story from discovery (on a weekend, just like me!) and then from doctor appointment to doctor appointment (lasting a couple of weeks, yikes!) and finally to surgery to have her (supposed to have been painless, but in fact was very painful) Fibroadenoma removed. They had at first thought it a cyst, but then when they could not drain it, they re-diagnosed it and scheduled surgery to have it removed. At first she was told it would be a dent sized scar but that was revised to a divot sized hole in her chest (even typing this makes my chest hurt, but I know I should not complain). At the end of the page, the writer promised a final post surgery entry, which never happened. WHAT? Man, that did not leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Well, moving along, after a painful mammogram and uncomfortable ultrasound, the diagnosis was in fact a fluid filled cyst. Phew, right? But that was also what's her name's diagnosis right? Well, I think I am going to have to do my best to try and forget what's her name. So after the tech delivers the "good" news from the doctor... she just says, okay. That's it? So, I ask what the next step is... hello, painfully large cyst is still the problem here. Now, because its not cancer, it doesn't exist? Her response is... well, you can have it drained, I guess, if you want? REALLY? Uh yeah, I think I will have it drained... or perhaps I could live with it FOREVER? So, of course I want it drained right then. Well, that took her by surprise and she said that was impossible. The labs would have to be sent back to my doctor, who would then have to send over the proper paperwork for the procedure. Oh man, bring on the bureaucracy.

In the end, my procedure is scheduled for Friday. I'm sure it will all turn out for the best (since I have completely forgotten what's her name, wink wink), but it does make me wonder if life was less or more stressful before the internet. Also, for the record, I believe women should get mammograms and do self exams... it just makes sense.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This Old House: Kitchen

I am just going to call our old kitchen:
'circa 1962 schizophrenic pink cocina'
(not sure why it is Spanish, there was nothing Spanish in that kitchen--oh well... )
By the way, if you watch the old Brendan Frasier, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek movie, 'Blast from the Past' you will see an almost identical kitchen to our old kitchen in their "bomb shelter". And come to think of it... we have a bomb shelter too. It's not under ground and it doesn't have a kitchen, but hey, no bomb shelter is perfect :).
Wow, when I first saw this house, not even dreaming that someday it would be mine, I was blown away by the kitchen, and not in a good way. The kitchen was horrible. I mean at one point I'm sure it was the epitome of what every cookie baking, casserole making, happy little housewife would want. But really, after 30 years of hard labor, this kitchen had definitely seen better days. There were also some interesting design oddities in the kitchen. For example, to the left of the sink on the floor below the set of drawers that are sort of visible above, there was a little metal door that could be opened. It took me months to realize what this actually was. It was meant as a little dust pan for floor debris. You just swept everything from the floor into this hole and it just magically disappeared--actually it went into a little metal bin attached to the ceiling in the basement that you would then empty when it was full? Okay. Really? It was just easier to sweep it into a regular dust pan and throw it in the kitchen garbage. Seriously. Also the bottom drawer was actually a little dirty towel laundry chute. Really? There was also a regular full size laundry chute right around the corner in the closet. Even I am not that lazy.
In the above photo, I am not even really sure what the whole contraption in the corner was. I think it was a fancy rotisserie thing that popped up from the counter top... there was a fan above it and everything. By the time we acquired the house, however, nothing was working and I really could not see any point in reviving it. It was not in my "ultimate kitchen" plan so we used it as an elaborate throne for our teeny tiny microwave oven.
And yeah, just about everything was pink... the floral wallpaper, the walls, the kitchen cabinets, the range, the refrigerator. Speaking of the wallpaper, like just about every room in the house there were 4-5 layers, of course. One of the layers was a dark brown and forest green log cabin print. I wish I had taken a picture of that. I cannot even imagine the kitchen at that point. In the winter months it must have been the darkest kitchen in Portland. The floor was the worst though. Amazingly, it was not pink. What it was, was the worst looking linoleum I have ever seen. No matter how much you scrubbed it with bleach, it looked dirty... really dirty!
The range/stove/cook top, whatever you want to call it was pretty cool. It had a pull out 4-burner cook top. Presumably it was designed for narrow galley style kitchens like ours so when you weren't cooking on it, it didn't take up so much room in the kitchen. It also had double ovens on top. Only about half of the whole thing worked and none of it worked very well, but the original design was awesome I think. The bottom was pot & pan storage and yes, it was a lovely shade of pink.

So, we lived with this retro pink kitchen for a number of years. I went to home shows and kitchen showrooms and bought kitchen remodeling magazines and made plans and changed plans and eventually came up with a design that I loved. I ordered the cabinets, remember those ones that sat in the living room for months? I saved and saved until I could afford the 48" Dacor range of my dreams. We painted the walls my favorite color and put in the nice eco-friendly cork floors that have ended up being wonderfully comfortable on the feet.

Below is one of my favorite pictures taken in our then new kitchen. A few things have changed since this picture, noticeably we have traded out the big white counter top TV for a flat screen that folds up under the cabinets.
Below is our kitchen today. It has definitely stood the test of time. I still very much love it. I wish we had had the extra $100K to expand it out and make it big and beautiful but alas, we did not. It is pretty much a one cook, galley kitchen which usually works out well in our house.
Below: my dream range. I use it every day.
I really enjoy my farm house style sink and although I like the concept of the Fisher & Paykel drawer style dishwashers--mainly because after a party you can load one with pots & pans and wash it on heavy at the same time you load the other with fine china and wash it on delicate--we have definitely had some issues with the electrical system and it is more of a dish sterilizer than a dish washer (in case anyone was wondering). Like the cork floors, it was one of our eco-friendly options in that it has great water saving technology.
The kitchen takes full advantage of our view--which is nice:Our "new" kitchen is now about 8 years old and I still love it.

And recently, for purely practical reasons I had the kitchen chairs reupholstered and added a chair rail to the wall. Light pink cotton fabric, sturdy chairs and a tight corner plus years and years of little boys and friends turning into big boys and friends, well, frankly the stains and dents and chips were just driving me nuts!!!