CHRISTMAS IN BELLEVUE

December 30, 2013 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

Bellevue, WA is a city east of Seattle, located near the interchange of two extremely congested highways. It is home to a multitude of high-rise business offices, apartment buildings, and the biggest upscale shopping center in our area. In other words, I try to stay as far away as possible to avoid the traffic and the crowds…except at Christmastime, when Bellevue turns into a magical fairyland of Christmas delights that I can’t stay away from.

This year, I managed to partake in two quintessential Bellevue Christmas activities that I have never done before.

Bellevue Botanical Garden d’Lights

Photo from the Garden d’Lights website

I have been wanting to visit the Garden d’Lights for several years now, but somehow this activity always manages to get pushed aside. Not this year, though! I was determined to see the over ½ million lights arranged in whimsical scenes, and I heard there was even a “scavenger hunt” of sorts, where you could seek out certain creatures hidden in the light displays. What could be more fun than that?

As it turns out, a lot of things, actually.

First of all, it was rainy and cold: not the best combination for an outdoor excursion. Secondly, I went with five boys: my three plus two of their friends. The final hurdle? Of the five boys, absolutely zero of them wanted to be there and they weren’t shy about letting me know.

The lights were beautiful, at least as far as I could tell between trying to keep the five boys together as a group and breaking up their impromptu wrestling matches. It’s safe to say I missed a lot, including a marriage proposal that I didn’t even know was happening until the boys told me about it in the car. No one was interested in the scavenger hunt, and although the displays were beautiful, it was much too short. We had walked the entire grounds in approximately five minutes, leaving me with an entire Friday night still to fill.

You can visit every night from 5:00pm-10:00pm through January 4, 2014.

Snowflake Lane in Bellevue Square

Since we needed something else to do after the Botanical Garden d’Lights and no one wanted to see Frozen in 3D with me, we decided to get some dinner at Bellevue Square.

In many ways, this was a ridiculous idea. Trying to find a restaurant with availability for a party of six on a Friday night during the peak of holiday shopping at one of the most popular malls in our area which just happened to play host to a Christmas show in the street, snarling up traffic for hours? What was I thinking?

We tried waiting at The Cheesecake Factory, but that place was a madhouse and the kids were hungry and grumpy, so we bailed out and tried to find somewhere else to eat.  Just when I was beginning to despair that we’d have to eat at McDonalds, we stumbled upon a bit of Christmas magic. One of the restaurants, Cactus, had a 45 minute wait, but the people due to be seated next didn’t show. Not only did we get seated immediately, we got the prime spot in the restaurant: a window view overlooking Snowflake Lane just in time for the show to start!

I’m sure we were a sight: five boys and one grown woman with our knees up on the seats, our backs to the table, and our noses pressed to the window to watch the snow fall on the toy soldier drummers, the women singing and dancing, and the audience member pulled onto the street to show off his dance moves. It was a wonderfully warm way to see Snowflake Lane for my first time, and because we stayed for dinner and dessert, by the time we left the traffic had eased enough to make it a painless drive home!

Snowflake Lane is definitely something I’d like to visit again, but I’ll have to wait until next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GIFT OF SELF CARE

December 19, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Making Life A Little Easier

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it can also get a bit crazy. Lately, I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off, tackling Christmas shopping lists, holiday baking, wrapping presents, and mailing packages in time for a Christmas delivery. My patience and time are wearing thin.

The kids are hopped up with excitement and have short fuses themselves, so we have entered a complicated stretch of days filled with overwhelming joy descending into wicked tantrums. Direct quote from my youngest son: “I don’t like you and my teddy bear doesn’t either!”

I can think of no better time to indulge in a little self care. While we’re all so busy trying to make the Christmas season special for our families, it can be easy to forget that this should be a special time for us too. Instead of filling every minute with Christmas preparations, wouldn’t it be nice to take a moment to do something enjoyable for ourselves?

My gift to you this holiday season is a list of suggestions for things you can give yourself. After all, there is a reason this saying exists: “If the mom is happy, everyone is happy.” If you’re feeling guilty about self-indulging, don’t. Just think of it as a gift of happiness to your family, from you with love.

1)    Take a nap. There is nothing like a little rest to completely rejuvenate you. It doesn’t have to be long: if I’m pressed for time, I set a timer. Or, as a very special man once told me, lie down on the couch with a tennis ball in your hand and close your eyes. When you have relaxed enough to drop the ball, that is all the nap you need to get you through the rest of the day in good spirits.

2)    When you’re out Christmas shopping, buy something for yourself. This is the best time of year to go shopping for yourself. Everything’s on sale! For example, I had a couple of pairs of shoes that were way past their prime, and had been for months. While out shopping for the loved ones on my list, I came across a huge shoe sale and replaced my worn shoes at 50% off. That’s not selfish; that’s good common sense. As an added bonus, I love my new shoes, which equals a new stockpile of happiness to share with my kids.

3)    Get a pedicure. Think about it: 30 minutes of sitting down, soaking your feet in blissfully warm water, getting a foot massage, and then emerging with a set of perfectly pink (or red or purple) toenails and a sense of calm that you haven’t felt in days? Oh yes. It’s totally worth it.

4)    Commiserate with friends. You are not alone! Call up a good friend and complain about how frazzled you are, preferably with a glass of good wine in your hand.  Laugh, cry, and be sympathetic together. I guarantee you’ll feel better.

5)    Laugh. The other morning, I blatantly ignored my children and their before-school preparations and watched an inappropriate clip from a Conan O’Brien show courtesy of my friend Susan. I laughed so hard I almost cried. Shortly after that, my son, already late for school, wiped out on his bike. Even though the clock was ticking, I had the patience to give him the TLC he needed to get back on his bike and ride the rest of the way to school, where against all odds he made it on time. And I owe it all to Susan and Conan O’Brien for starting my day with laughter! (See the clip here.)

Happy Indulging!

 

SPENDING TIME WITH CHANNING TATUM

December 16, 2013 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I first met Channing Tatum at the movie theatre last year, where he starred in a little movie called 21 Jump Street. I grew up watching 21 Jump Street on TV, crushing on a young, baby-faced Johnny Depp like the rest of America, so there was no way I was going to miss this movie. Not only did I delight in the cameos by Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete, and Peter DeLuise, but I laughed so hard I almost had to leave the theater to compose myself.

Jonah Hill owns his role in this movie, but the real revelation is Channing Tatum. He is supposed to go undercover as a cool jock in high school, but due to a mix-up he is forced to pretend he’s a smart guy enrolled in A.P. classes, or “ap” classes as he refers to them. Tatum has the comedy chops, but he also shows a surprising poignancy in the moments where he realizes he is not as bright as he wants to be.

I got to know him even better when Magic Mike hit the theaters. A lot better, actually, because I got to see his naked butt. But I also learned that this guy can dance. Seriously. The moves he does in the stripper routines are light years beyond what his co-stars can do, and they agree.

So who exactly is Channing Tatum?

He is an all-around actor, equally adept at carrying a comedy like 21 Jump Street and a summer blockbuster action movie like White House Down. He hangs with the “in” comedy crowd in Hollywood, like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, and had a surprising/disturbing cameo in the riotously funny The End of the World. And there is no question about it: Channing Tatum is a dancer.

In Step Up, the way he moved his body in the free-style street dancing segments was nothing short of spectacular. Adam Shankman, producer of Step Up, choreographer, and So You Think You Can Dance judge, called Channing Tatum “one of the best natural street dancers” he’s ever seen. This is also the movie where he met and fell in love with Jenna Dewan, his co-lead then and his wife now. Watch the two of them in their final dance number of the movie here.

He is also a producer, a former model, and an Independent Spirit Award Nominee for his role in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, a heartbreaking film of young kids growing up in a rough neighborhood where hope is hard to find. Tatum is a standout as Antonio, a kid with a tough-as-nails swagger even as he sports the bruises left by his father. He’s not necessarily a nice guy; he’s too comfortable with violence. But he manages to infuse his character with a vulnerability you can see even though it is hidden beneath a lot of layers. The film is packed with powerhouse actors: Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, and Shia LeBoeuf, but Channing Tatum holds his own.

I look forward to seeing more of Channing Tatum, and not just because he winds up shirtless in all of his films. There’s something in his eyes and in the hint of a smile he sometimes gives that speaks of intelligence, passion, and a charisma that I hope is here to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE POWER OF FRIENDS

December 12, 2013 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

I get so caught up with the daily grind of my life that I forget to make time for my friends, and they do the same. “Let’s meet for lunch sometime,” we tell each other, but “sometime” never comes. Kids get sick, or someone’s going out of town, or there’s an appointment that suddenly comes up. But we understand…that’s how life goes.

Last weekend, I attended not one but two parties with dear friends. I drank…a lot. (Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey: you are my new BFF.)

 

I laughed so much so that I got an unexpected ab workout. I had intense and thoughtful conversations with some and hilariously silly ones with others. I reminisced about the old days and caught up with new developments. Through it all, I kept thinking to myself: Why don’t we do this more often?

Because here’s the thing: Not only do I enjoy spending time with my friends, I need it. As one friend and I discussed over the weekend, one person can’t give you everything.

I don’t know what I would do without my mom jumping in to help with my kids, but she’s not the one I’m going to call when I feel like reminiscing about some of the crazy things I did in college.

I can talk about anything with my sister (and I do!) but as someone with no kids of her own, she’s not the one I’m going to call when I have a parenting crisis. (Actually, I would still call her, but then I’d call one of my fellow moms too.)

I get wonderful gifts from my kids on an hourly basis, but they are not the ones I can share a laugh with about the 1oz liquor flasks charmingly disguised as tampons that appeared in one white elephant gift exchange. (I did not bring them, nor did I go home with them, but if you’re interested in smuggling alcohol in a tampon shaped flask, here’s the link.)

These are the kinds of things good friends are for, and I’m making it my New Year’s Resolution to spend more time with my friends. I make time to shower every day, to go to the gym, to tell my kids I love them, and to eat. As far as I’m concerned, spending time with friends is just as important and I’m rearranging my schedule to make time for that.

To My Fabulous Friends: I am so lucky to have you and I couldn’t get through this life without you!

 

 

ATUL GAWANDE: AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN

December 9, 2013 in Book Reviews

 Photo from The New Yorker

I am a stay-at-home mom who dreams of being a writer. Yet somewhere in my day-to-day life, it’s my writing that gets missed. Laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, errands, volunteering at my kids’ school, homework help, and driving my kids all over the county take precedence. Now that we’re entering the busy holiday season, I despair that I won’t get a word written until January 1, 2014. How is it possible to get everything I would like to do done?

Then I came across Atul Gawande. He’s about my age with three kids of his own. He’s a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, so you know he is a busy man. How can he possibly juggle a workload like that with a family?

But wait…there’s more. He’s also a public health researcher, a Professor at both Harvard’s Medical School and School of Public Health, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 2010 100 Most Influential People. Oh, and by the way, he’s a writer. (Thank you, Atul Gawande, for reminding me that there is no place for excuses when following your dreams.)

I recently had the pleasure of plowing through two of his books like a hot knife through butter, or, as a surgeon would say, like a #10 blade through layers of skin, fat, fascia, and muscle. Better and Complications are two books comprised of a series of essays on various topics in medicine, some of which first appeared in The New Yorker.

You can tell immediately that Gawande is a thinker. He doesn’t blindly accept what others before him have dictated. He researches everything. (You’ve got to love someone who doesn’t merely accept the folklore that says Friday the 13th during a full moon will lead to a busy Emergency Room, but actually sits down and researches if there have been any studies that have proven this effect.) He studies, interviews people, and travels to witness different models of treatment, and he admits that there are still broad areas in medicine that don’t have any easy answers.

 

In one of the essays in Better, he investigates whether doctors should be present during the administration of lethal injections in executions. Obviously, the answer is no. After all, their motto is “Do No Harm.” Our state of Washington requires a physician to be present to pronounce death, but our state’s Medical Society threatens its physicians with sanctions if they help in any other way. But after reading the tales of prison employees untrained in administering drugs botching the procedure, causing the prisoner undue pain and suffering, or having the drugs not work at all and having to give repeated doses, it does make a certain kind of sense why other states require or allow a physician to assist in the execution itself.

 

Gawande tackles a whole host of issues in this way, presenting both sides of the story backed up with research. He’s not afraid to tackle the big questions, such as uncertainty. He recounted this compelling case in Complications: a patient presented to the emergency room with what appeared to be cellulitis of her lower leg, a common skin infection easily treated with antibiotics. Except Gawande had recently seen a case of necrotizing fasciitis, known as flash-eating bacteria. It’s rare, but it is also incredibly difficult to treat and the death rates are high. What if this patient had that instead and he sent her away with only antibiotics? She could very well die.

But cellulitis is common and necrotizing fasciitis is rare. Did the fact that there was a less than 5% chance of it being necrotizing fasciitis warrant a biopsy that could leave a permanent scar? How certain to you have to be to do something? How certain do you have to be to do nothing?

Despite the medical technology available to us in the 21st century, doctors still live in the world of uncertainty, guessing the right course to the best of their knowledge and experience. It’s a fascinating look at how often doctors are making stabs in the dark based on intuition. In this case, Gawande’s intuition was correct. The patient had the biopsy and it came back positive. He saved her life.

But, like a true thinker, he is also quick to show a case where his intuition failed him. This is the quality that I believe landed him on Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People. He doesn’t shy away from the truth, even when he directs the lens on himself. Doctors, even good doctors, make errors because they’re human. The field of medicine has come light years from where it started, and still the gray areas are overwhelming. Doctors do what they can to get better, and Gawande is leading the way.

He has a third book out entitled The Checklist Manifesto and I just placed it on hold at my local library. I cannot wait to dive into it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE END OF MY READING SLUMP: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

December 5, 2013 in Book Reviews

I am lucky to be surrounded by so many good books that I have yet to read, so I find it baffling when I wind up in one of my reading slumps. It’s not so much that I don’t want to read, it’s that I’m not exactly sure what I feel like reading.  And when that mood takes over, the only way to satisfy it is by reading a book that I feel like reading…whatever that is.

In this particular slump, I thought it would be Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire. It was Halloween, after all, and it had plenty of blood, violence and the eroticism that you’ve come to expect with vampires these days. Yet, about 100 pages in, I put it down and haven’t touched it since.

I turned to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a memoir about a young woman’s quest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no experience whatsoever in an effort to make sense of what her life had become. I was excited to read it: I love hiking and stories of women conquering all. Except…her inexperience and the choices she made with a bad relationship and heroin drove me nuts. She’s better than that! Of course she is, or she wouldn’t have written a memoir where she comes out magnificently changed on the other side of the journey. I wanted to keep reading to see that happen, but I just…put the book down.

Clearly, I needed something riveting to jolt my system. Enter Atul Gawande’s Better. He’s a surgeon, and I thought it would be a series of vignettes about medical mysteries and how they solved them in time to save the patient’s life. It is, in a way, except the mysteries aren’t about specific patients. Instead, he has created a meticulously researched Malcolm Gladwell-esque series of essays on how doctors can become better, from something as simple as washing their hands more frequently to whether or not they should be involved in the process of lethal injections in court mandated executions. I love Malcolm Gladwell and I might like this…someday. But not right now. I put the book down. (I did go back and finish this book…and I loved it! I can’t believe I ever put it down.)

I took drastic measures and picked up a book I had been dying to read: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. It’s been hailed as a “riveting literary mystery,” which was exactly what I was looking for: a page turner that took me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until I finished the book because it was that good. This book is good. The language is languid and descriptive, setting an eerie tone as two young girls float along on a raft in the fog-drenched bay at night, trailing their fingers in the murky, oily water. I knew from the book jacket that only one of them would make it back to shore, but I never got that far because it wasn’t a page turner. It didn’t jump—BAM!—right into the action. It was a lusciously slow build up that I will return to one day, but for now… I put the book down.

Four unfinished books in a row? This was bad news. My reading slump had achieved emergency status. I needed a riveting, compelling book to finish, and I needed it fast. I stood in front of my bookcase, studying and rejecting titles right and left until I descended on The One: John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars. Everyone who has read it has loved it; everywhere I turned friends, blogs, and reviews were recommending it. I pulled it off the shelf, packed it in my bag, and took it with me on my trip to New York…where I didn’t even crack it open until I got on the plane for the trip home. There, high in the sky above the United States, my reading slump came to an end.

The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful love story between sixteen-year-old Hazel and Augustus, an extremely cute boy she meets at her Cancer Kid Support Group. Hazel’s cancer is terminal. She walks around pulling her oxygen tank on a cart behind her, destined to never be without it again and hoping that she can stay alive a little longer to spend time with Augustus.

Augustus’ cancer is in remission, but it came with a price: he is missing one leg. His outlook is good, but Hazel’s is not, so they enter their love story knowing it will be a short one. And it is: their time together is much too short, but every minute is a poignant delight to witness.

I loved every word—and there are some big ones. These kids have cancer; they are not stupid. Be prepared to crack open your dictionary, but be equally prepared to fall in love with these kids and to cry copiously at the end.

Thank you, John Green, for pulling me out of my reading slump so forcefully. Your book was exactly what I needed.

THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT DAYS OF YOUR LIFE

December 2, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting

My oldest son (age 13) came home the other day with an interesting question for me as part of a homework assignment: What did I think were the five most important days of his life?

Naturally, I wanted to analyze, ponder, and throw out a bunch of days on the table and then sift through them leisurely. Do I pick a day that had a specific event attached, or do I pick a day to represent something more general? My son, however, was having none of that. “Come on, Mom. Just give me the five days. I don’t need the stories.”

How do I pick the five most important days of his life without reliving the stories so I could see exactly what an impact those days had? It was an impossible task, and being interrupted every five seconds by my other two sons and trying to cook dinner at the same time wasn’t helping. Finally, I just rattled off the first five days that came to mind. But now, even a couple of weeks of thinking later, I stand by those five days.

Day #1: The Day He Was Born

This was a no brainer. This was the day he came into the world, the first day I met him and he met his family. Of course it had to be on the list.

Day #2: The Day He Had His First Allergic Reaction

He was four years old on the day I let him have a bite of my Luna bar. A little while later he said he had a sore throat. I turned to look at him and saw that one eye was nearly swollen shut. That day changed his life. No longer would he be able to eat the cupcakes or Krispy Kreme doughnuts his friends brought in to share on their birthdays. Every trip to the grocery store would mean careful reading of the labels and every trip to a restaurant would require a request for an allergen menu or a chat with the chef. From that day on, everywhere my son goes, an Epi-Pen goes with him.

Day #3: The Day He Stood in Front of His Kindergarten Class and Performed a Science Experiment

From the day he was born, my son was a) shy; and b) not shy about expressing his extreme displeasure at being parted from me. Being in his crib did not work. Babysitters did not work (just ask my mom about that night I tried to leave him with her in Las Vegas). Going on a play date by himself did not work. But as time went by, he got older and more confidant. One day I witnessed my shy child standing alone in front of his kindergarten class dressed in a white lab coat and safety glasses as he explained a science experiment. He might not remember that day, but I do. That was the day we both knew that he was going to be just fine standing on his own two feet.

Day #4: The Day He Hit a Home Run

My son wanted to hit a home run his first year in Majors Little League baseball, but he never did. For his second year, it was a definite goal. He thought he just might be able to do it. He practiced swinging the bat as hard as he could. He consistently hit singles and doubles in games, but the home run remained elusive. Still, he kept trying and one day he finally did it. He rounded all four bases and found himself at home plate surrounded by his elated team and a facing a set of bleachers filled with cheering parents. I chose this day to represent something I value and that I am delighted to see that my son has too: perseverance, the ability to have a goal and never give up on it. This was a day that exemplified this quality in the baseball arena, but he has had many other examples of it in his life, although they didn’t all come with a cheering section. Maybe they should, though.

Day #5: The Day He Turned 13

Turning 13 signifies leaving his childhood behind. From here on out, he will be working towards becoming a man. I’ve already seen signs of it happening: he’s taller, his voice is deeper, he is more capable and independent. While I am sorry to see the child I loved so dearly disappear before my eyes, I am looking forward to watching him become a man. I can already tell you this: my son is going to be a great man, and I am so lucky to have a front row seat to watch it happen.