Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's a Rite of Passage, so Shout!

We are on vacation in Sunriver, Oregon. Last night, as part of our Sunriver summer vacation tradition, we went to the mall here to spend the evening reveling in the joy of a performance by a local entertainer, Michael John. We stumbled across Michael John some fifteen years ago and his performances have been a highlight of our summer vacations ever since. In fact, we count Michael and his wife, Kim as friends; they were part of the group that helped us celebrate our 30th anniversary in Disneyland last year.

A Michael John performance is not just a concert; it’s an audience participation event. There’s dancing, sing-alongs, the occasional audience member spotlight and lots of laughter. When we first started going to Michael John’s performances, he always ended the evening with You’ve Got a Friend. I remember many evenings, standing outside in the warm summer air, arms entwined with friends and family who were with us, swaying back and forth to the lyrics of You’ve Got a Friend. Twelve years ago or so, he changed the last song from You’ve Got a Friend to Shout! Now, there’s a lot of difference between swaying back and forth to You’ve Got a Friend and jumping up and down to Shout! Personally, I used to think I preferred the former, but, as with most changes, over time I learned to love the new ending. Part of what I loved was that our children really loved getting involved with Shout! They jumped, they lowered themselves to the ground (A little bit lower now, a little bit lower now), they threw their arms in the air and, the highlight of the acrobatics, their dad, my husband, would take them, one at a time, and throw them into the air while singing, “Shout!” The kids loved being tossed up into the air; they would jump around their dad waiting for their turn to be lifted high above his head.

We have a wide age range of children (ten to twenty-six) and, obviously, the oldest have been too big to toss for several years now, but the four youngest have always taken their turn at being tossed, even though the older of them had to help by putting in a good jump as they were lifted. Last summer, our four youngest children (nine to fifteen, at the time) still each took a turn at Shout! with their dad. Last night, none of them did. My husband started out the song on his feet, ready to take on the challenge, but as the song began and he motioned to each of them to come Shout! with him, they each, in turn, declined. It’s true, my husband is recuperating from tennis elbow and is wearing a brace on his right arm, but he was willing to forego the elbow recovery in order to continue this much-loved tradition with the kids; however, the kids (perhaps acting more responsibly than their dad), each declined, afraid of further injuring his arm. My husband eventually went and sat down, rubbing his elbow while the rest of us finished out the song on our feet. This morning, while we were out running, my husband lamented that last night was the first time that he had sat out Shout! He said that, while he’d known that eventually all of the kids would be too big to toss, that eventuality always seemed so far away, that he hadn’t really given it any serious consideration. Then, without warning, last night was the night – all the children were too big and my husband sat out the dance. I’m looking at this as a lesson for us for the future – when we can no longer do an event or activity, when something changes for us, do we just sit out the dance or do we accept the change and figure out a way to adjust? I’m hoping that next week when we go see Michael John perform, my husband will dance with me and Shout! – I don’t need to be thrown up into the air.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Consumed

The process of writing, for me, involves noticing something of interest and then mulling it around in my head so that, by the time I sit down at my computer, the words flow out as complete ideas. As usual, I have many ideas floating around in my head, but for the last week I have been unable to get any of them molded into coherent ideas worthy of being put down on paper. The words and ideas tumble around in my brain, but I haven’t been able to make sense of them because my brain has been consumed! Consumed with the music from Phantom of the Opera. I wake at night and the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind. I put down the very-riveting book that I’m reading and the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind. I pause for a moment during a discussion with my husband and the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind.

The Phantom of the Opera is my all-time favorite stage-play. I saw it twice with friends many, many years ago and then took my oldest son to see it, followed a few years later by taking my middle son and a nephew to see it. I promised my two oldest daughters that it would be their turn to see it the next time it came through Portland. Almost two years ago the announcement was made that Phantom would be playing in Portland in August of 2008. My husband bought tickets immediately. My daughters and I have been talking about and planning our night out for months. Last Saturday was, finally, that night. Without giving away too much of the story, I’d given the girls a quick rundown on the basic story line and I had prepped them for an emotionally charged evening. Well, let’s just say that the evening did not live up to what I had experienced in the past. This particular performance was, simply, not very good. The characters weren’t compelling, the enunciation of the lyrics was so poor that it was difficult to follow the storyline; there were very few moments that brought a chill to my soul. We left the theatre somewhat disappointed – me, more than the girls, because I knew from prior performances just how powerful this should have been.

Two days later my husband and our oldest daughter came home with the 2004 Phantom of the Opera DVD. I have always been hesitant to watch this movie because, just as with a book, the movie version of a story is rarely as good as the original product. However, given our disappointment over Saturday night’s stage performance and finding out that the actor playing the Phantom is a recent favorite (Gerard Butler – watch the movie P.S. I Love You for a real treat), we decided to give the movie a try. The result? I’ve been consumed with the music – the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind. So, I have other blog topics rolling around in my mind, but for now, I’m having trouble getting past Phantom – maybe I need to give myself a good dose of country music.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Know Your Spa

I don’t mean this as in, know the quality level and cleanliness of your spa; I mean, know what you personally find luxurious and relaxing. I know many women love “a day at the spa”. It’s a gift to themselves; a gift of relaxation and pampering. My husband and I are staying at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and the spa here has been ranked as the most romantic in the country. I’m not sure what romance has to do with a spa – maybe I’m missing something. Anyway, we’re here at this beautiful resort with a wonderful spa and I have no desire to make an appointment. Throughout the hotel there are posters and cards with pictures of beautiful women relaxing in the spa environment – they do nothing for me. While I’ve had several non-spa massages, I’ve only done a “day at the spa” once. It was a gift to me and, while I found it basically enjoyable, it’s not something that I would go out of my way to do again. However, I have my own “spa experience”; that is, an experience that I find totally luxurious and which sets the tone for relaxation. That experience is a room service breakfast. I absolutely love ordering room service for my breakfast. Not for lunch, not for dinner, just breakfast. The idea of having someone prepare me a wonderful breakfast and then bring it to me to enjoy in the privacy of my room leaves me feeling totally pampered. The tray with its linen napkins, the hot pot of coffee, the fresh flowers – what could be better? But wait, it does get better! Once I finish my lovely breakfast, I just leave the remains and the dirty dishes sitting where they are and, while I’m out, my used breakfast tray and dirty dishes magically disappear. No, I won’t be making an appointment at the spa; I know that my idea of luxury and relaxation comes in another form. I’ll have eggs Benedict today, please.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Anti-Aging Secret

A few months ago I wrote about the way our faces begin to change as we reach this stage of our lives (5/1/08 Changing Faces). There are, however, ways to fool ourselves into thinking that the years aren’t really showing so dramatically on our faces. For instance, after publishing that blog entry, a friend e-mailed me about a Joan Rivers’ interview she’d seen several years ago. Joan had said that, after a certain age, women should make sure never to let a man see her face from below. This goes along with Oprah’s suggestion that, when being photographed, always keep your chin up.

As wrinkles appear and skin begins to sag, we can begin to feel that the face in the mirror is a vision to be avoided. Well, I have discovered the secret to looking in the mirror and liking the reflection! Yesterday, I went into a restaurant restroom and immediately admired the mirror on the wall. It was a large oval mirror that was set fairly high and held on to the wall with a bracket at its midpoint. The bracket stuck out about two inches, which allowed the lower part of the mirror to rest against the wall, while the upper part tilted out. The end result was that, when I looked in the mirror, I had to look slightly up into the tilted mirror. Looking up stretched the skin of my face and neck taking ten years off my reflection. I think I’ll be tilting all of the mirrors in my home.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Holt Family Campout

We don’t attend our own families’ reunions. There are numerous reasons: timing, location, travel, but the end result is the same – we just don’t go and, frankly, I got over feeling guilty about it years ago.

Every summer, however, we rent an RV, spend a week preparing our camping gear, the food, the clothes and then making the four-hour trek to a state campground on the Oregon Coast for a family reunion of a different flavor. This is a reunion of more than eighty families who have adopted children through Holt International Children’s Services. We come together as separate families with a common bond – the love of our children and the miracle that they are with us. We come together as separate families, but we all claim the same “grandparents”, Harry and Bertha Holt, who began the mission that, decades later, brought our children to us.

We camp in two connecting “loops” within the park, electrical sites on the inside of the loop, tent sites on the outside. Children ride around the loop on bikes, blades, and scooters – anything with wheels. Parents, coffee cups in hand or dogs in tow, wander around the loop, stopping often to greet, to talk, perhaps to meet a new child or a first-time family. “I’m going around the loop.” It’s rarely a direct trip.

People accidentally driving through our loop all have the same surprised, questioning look on their faces. This obviously isn’t a place where eighty individual families are camping, each staying nicely within the bounds of their campsite, careful not to look through the invisible boundary walls between sites. Instead, small groups of people stand talking in several places, teens are gathered at the intersection of the two loops, children are everywhere – not a typical loop. And then there’s the diversity. Not the diversity of back-at-home lifestyles that would not be apparent to these accidental visitors, but the diversity of color, the diversity of ethnicity. These children that bring us together come from all over the world. Added to the mostly “vanilla” variety of the occasional birth child, they are a rainbow of color. Some have handicaps that might seem daunting, but they run, they ride, they play hacky-sack, they climb sand dunes – handicaps do not define the person. The accidental visitors cannot possibly understand the depth of what they are driving through.

Then there are the activities. Beginning with the ethnic potluck, the week’s activities are as diverse as the families who sponsor them. Each day includes a schedule of arts & crafts, outings and activities; each coordinated by a different family. Some are specific to children of certain ages, some specifically for parents, some open to all. But each has a special flavor, a hint at the interests or background of the coordinating family – diversity at its best.

This family reunion is a special type, a special time. There’s a warmth and a camaraderie that defies explanation, but that brings us back, year after year, to share the joy of our families. It reminds us of all that is good in our world. What would our world be like if we could transfer this atmosphere to the larger screen? If we could all forgot the invisible boundaries? If we all focused on what we have in common rather than what makes us different? At this reunion, we come together as separate families, but within hours we are a community.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Too Old?

Last night my husband and I attended “Last Thursday” in Portland’s Alberta Arts Neighborhood. We had a wonderful time, though we hadn’t even known that the event existed until a week ago. At that time, my future daughter-in-law asked if my husband and I were going to our nieces gallery show on Last Thursday. I didn’t know anything about the show and was surprised that our niece hadn’t invited us to it. When we asked her about it at dinner a couple of nights later, she turned a lovely shade of pink and said she hadn’t invited us because (and here she stumbled and stammered a bit)…because, well, let’s see….the people who would be there would be sort of like hippies….it would be an eclectic type of crowd…. At this point my husband and I both jumped in, smiling, with, “You mean we’re too old!” Our niece backpedaled a bit more, trying to assure us that she didn’t think us too old, so we wondered if perhaps she thought us too stuffy. The end result was that she said that she would, of course, love to have us attend her gallery showing and we let her know that in this teasing family, she will never live down not inviting us because she thought we were too old or too stuffy.

So, we went out to dinner in the neighborhood at an absolutely wonderful restaurant. We were joined by our not-too-old and not-too-stuffy oldest son, his fiancĂ© and our nephew. We had a lovely Thai dinner sitting outside on a charming patio with great music blasting from the house next door. After dinner we walked down the street to our niece’s gallery showing. We enjoyed seeing her art as well as the other art on display. My husband and I then wandered down the street, looking at some of the art, browsing a couple of galleries, picking up a wonderful maple bar for our dessert at the local bakery. It’s true that the majority of the people attending the event were young and many could perhaps be described as hippies, but my husband and I noted that we weren’t the oldest people in the crowd; we were, however, amongst the best dressed. We had a great time! We wondered, though, at being categorized as not being the right fit for this event. We all have expectations about people based on what we see of them. I think I’ve written before about living with my 85 year-old grandma when I was a teenager and being surprised when she told me that she still had the heart of a young girl. Now, here I am, being classed as too old and I just don’t feel that way. This isn’t meant as any offense to our niece; we love her dearly! But I’m intrigued at the ways we label people, perhaps even how we label ourselves. Do we restrict ourselves and others by how we see them? Because of this experience I’m feeling a little more open-minded than usual. Bring on the eclectic!