Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Pai!

Grande e Eu (pois era assim que ele sempre o chamava...)
I love you Dad. You are my friend, my teacher, my inspiration. I am honored to be your son and to have watched you closely all these years (I'm sure you were doing the same). I have learned so many things from you! I consider myself a better husband because of how you constantly demonstrate your affection and respect for mom. I believe I am a better leader because you taught me that being a leader means being in a position to serve and also to teach those around me so that they can also have opportunities to serve and become better leaders too. I know that I am a better son to our Heavenly Father because you took the time to teach me by word and mostly by example how to trust in him, lean into his understanding and to obey his commandments.

Eu te amo Pai! Feliz Aniversário!! Parabéns!!!

The Poem my Mother Wrote

This is a poem my mom wrote in 1991, when I was ten years old. She shared it with Marcos and me this summer when we visited Hawaii for her graduation from Graduate School. It was among the relics found while she was sifting through all of her possessions in preparation to pack up and set off for her current adventure. She read this poem to us and my Uncle John at a beach park near Ala Moana, as we ate our bar-b-cue chicken plate lunch and watched the waves crash on the rocks. When she read the last stanza she had to pause to fight back the tears, and they ricocheted into my eyes as I saw myself just like she had imagined I would be: Married to a man whose lap I sit on, whose neck I kiss and whom I tell endless times daily "Marcos? I love you"...

In my Razor Blades Soccer Uniform, about ten years old

When you Were Young

When you were young, I held you in my arms
In your entirety
Your small, warm body, draped across my chest
after a midnight meal
I made up songs for you,
And you smiled at me in the heat of the October nights.

I watched you, my first, my only child
And marvelled, as you led me, hand in hand, through the paint-puzzle-story-naptime rituals of your days.
And when, assured and four years old, you gave that piece at graduation,
It caught my breath, to glimpse the child you were becoming.

We moved to Oregon the year you were five,
Two years in a gray, wet state.
You loved it, as you love everything that's new
Your school, the rain, the berries, the skating, the cousin you came to know.
And back in the warm state of our birth,
First, second, third grade
Here look at you!
Only a foot below me.

You face the camera, and smile; I love those straight, white teeth.
I look to find myself in you but you are much more vibrant, your eyes are green, not blue like mine; you are not shy, like I was.
You pose in the black and red soccer uniform of the "Razor Blades", a ball tucked under one arm, your hair's tied back in regulation style, rebellious wisps escaping where they may.
I appreciate that in this game you find a challenge, when everything you do comes so easily.

When you were young,
I held you in my arms,
In your entirety.
Now I can barely fit you on my lap.
And someday, twice as many years from now, when you find another lap to sit on,
Will you do as I do now?
Will you kiss the nape of his neck and tell him how much you love him?

Vicky Pratt

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's not California here...

For fall break we went to Atlantic Beach on the North Carolina coast with our friends the Empeys and the Hills. Think boogie boarding, and games, and candle-lit dinners. Think great music, collecting shells, and dolphins. Think pelicans, fish tangled in massive nets, and throwing sting rays back into the ocean. Think skipping rocks, too many photos and sandy bums. Think three couples and a baby, banana pancakes, and a funky pull-out bed.

Here are a few images to help your imagination. Click on the little speaker icon to experience the full sappiness of our sweet existence.

Breathing deeply...

I love the fall. I love the weather getting cooler, and I love the seasonal produce turning into squashes and zucchini, cabbage and citrus fruits. I love the leaves changing colors and the excuse to make herbal tea at night. I love hazelnut hot chocolate and pumpkin bread at Starbucks for a quick date night with Marcos. I love intramural volleyball season with friends, and holiday festivities at church. I love dreaming of a few weeks from now, when school will be over for the semester and I will have a chance to be creative with abandon and unleash the domestic Goddess inside. I love Thanksgiving at dad's house, I love preserving electricity by snuggling with Marcos, and I love the spices that appear during the fall: cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. And I even love the things that remind us that we're poor: I love that we have no central heating and that our home is cold in the morning, and I love standing in front of the space heater to dry my hair after I shower. And I love carving pumpkins!

This is the our pumpkin. Marcos and I won him at a School of Social Work picnic for the water balloon toss, so he has some sentimental value in our home. Adding a face really brought out his personality.

Here's the lineup... Baby Pumpkin Whittier, Empey, Prieto and Hill...

Drew and Alicia's masterpiece. They said that they like big mouths, and they cannot lie.

The monkey is the traditional Empey Birthday Monkey. He is a scream!

Kim cracked me up when she chose to do the UNC symbol. When it comes down to it, we all care very minimally about college sports, but I guess she's been feeling pressure from her brother who's at Duke law school to have feelings about the subject... Go Tarheels!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Well-behaved women rarely make history

...And yet, it happened to me. Folks, get excited, I'm famous in a small kind of way! A few weeks ago I suggested using some magical ingredients for a pie in a comment on a foodie blog that my friend Damaris owns. Today I checked her blog and saw my own name: she featured my suggestion in her most recent entry! Visit her well-known blog for the entry entitled "Metta Pie - I am now ready for Monday", featuring a recipe that will welcome you into the holidays! If pumpkin, cream cheese and dulce de leche sound good to you, check out the new dessert idea as an addition to your usual Thanksgiving fare. Thanks Damaris for turning the dreams of one stomach into a living reality!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Special Delivery

Do you remember Kokoro, who is featured in the entry on her baby shower? Well, last week it happened: she gave birth!

I volunteer sporadically at a free clinic staffed entirely by UNC health professional students: social work, public health, pharmacy, nursing and med students. As I was pulling into the parking lot last Wednesday night for a few exciting hours of volunteerism, Marcos called with the news: "You won't be going to the clinic tonight; you're going to the hospital! Chris just called and Kokoro is going to have her baby!".

I was so excited. When I got to the hospital I literally ran across the parking lot to get to her room, and entered three of the wrong buildings on the way there. I think I had seen too many movies with the scene of the woman in the wheelchair being pushed haphazardly down the hall, and that vision of urgent delivery was running through my head. Although I'm sure some people have a similar experience with their delivery, Kokoro's birth was more typical: I arrived at 6pm Wednesday night, and little Ren was born almost 12 hours later, at about 6am the next morning.

After that long night I have a few thoughts about birth:

1) Wow, what a miracle. Making babies, delivering them, surviving the delivery, still liking the father of your child at the end of it all.... truly nothing short of a miracle.

2) Social work is so valuable. What a blessing that I get to learn how to communicate with people, and make sure they are validated and that they are happy and understand their options.

I wish I could say the same for other health professions, but I struggle. When I first arrived at Kokoro's room, my first reaction was to nearly cry because I had never seen her in so much pain, but once I gathered myself it must have seemed like I knew what I was doing because the attending nurse asked me if I was a doula (there is a volunteer doula program at UNC hospitals). I told her no, and that I was just a friend of Kokoro's. Then she proceeded to speak to me in this medical talk I didn't understand, and I finally had to look at her and say, "That doesn't mean very much to me. Can you say it in layman's terms?". That was the first of many versions of that same sentence I had to use throughout the night. One of the doctors made a concerted effort to be user-friendly and I appreciated him greatly, but when the epidural dude arrived and proceeded to try to get Kokoro's "informed consent" in the middle of a contraction when she was very clearly not in a position to consent to anything, much less understand anything from his well-rehearsed, bored spiel, I asked him to back off. We weren't bosom buddies after that, but sheesh! What does a woman have to do to get some respect? The whole experience of having to be at the mercy of doctors and nurses and even the midwife made me appreciate that a vital part of social work is communication and making sure that people understand their options, especially when it concerns their health.

3) I'm starting to have doubts about the plan we have for the future delivery of our babies. Our plan was for Marcos to read "delivery for dummies" or look up some tutorials on line, and then when it comes time for our babies to be born we would rent a van, and park it near the emergency room entrance or the hospital parking lot, where Marcos would deliver the babies. That way, we could potentially save money, and in the case of an emergency, we'd still be close enough for assistance should the need arise. Brilliant plan, right? Right! Totally brilliant, but after Kokoro's birth it was clear to me that even extremely healthy women can come up against some surprises. Our biggest surprise? Little Ren's size! As a petite Japanese woman, Kokoro was not expecting his entire 8 pounds 13 ounces!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


In honor of the life of Belle, my sister-in-law, I've created a playlist of my favorite Brazilian songs! When you're having a busy day and need to remember your Brazilian roots, kick of your shoes, pull your hair back and have a solo/duo/trio dance party around the house!

And for the rest of you brave souls who are looking to expand your repertoire of global music, you are welcome to start here! For starters, try getting ready in the morning with the Brazilian playlist...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My favorite gamble

Folks, I've discovered the problem.

The problem is that checking people's blogs is addictive. When I'm home I have a routine I perform when I get on the internet: I check my emails in various accounts, look at my online calendar, check facebook (which I really need to phase out... bleh), and I check a few friend's blogs to see if they have added anything new. One hour later, repeat. Two hours later, repeat. And so on and so forth.

Now, emails have a somewhat organic flow to them: they come and they go, and I basically don't find it a huge waste of time to check them briefly in order to stay on top of things. Emails come from hundreds of different sources, so there's even a decent chance that I will have new mail.

However, what are the chances that blogs will have new posts every few hours? With rarely more than ONE person contributing to a blog, the chances that I will be rewarded with a delightful new entry is fairly slim, unless I am checking tons and tons of different blogs (but I obsessively check only four). So why do I keep up this addiction?

The answer is because the pay-off rate is random, which makes practices addictive, in the same way that gambling is addictive. In a lot of psychological experiments with rats and pigeons and other unsuspecting creatures, they have found that if the animal is rewarded on a random schedule for performing a behavior (such as pushing a button for a deposit of cheese), the behavior increases more when the animal is rewarded with the cheese on a random schedule than if the animal were rewarded every third time they performed the behavior. If the reward comes on a predictable basis, behavior slows down; if it is unpredictable, behavior increases. So, checking blogs rewards me very randomly, as does dropping coins in a slot machine for people in Las Vegas, which in turn leads to addiction and a loss of something - money in some cases, or in my case, time and a portion of sanity.

And blogging is not slowing down in my life. I feel like the number of people who are blogging is increasing, and I frequently hear about new friends joining the blogging circle. What?! More blogs to check and more time to waste visiting the same unaltered blogs? NO! Google has brought about the revolution: with googlereader it is possible to be informed when there is activity in your friend's blogs, thus minimalizing the need for you to obsessively be checking an entire list of your favorite blogs. The good news: this meeting of Blog Checker's Anonymous can now be adjourned.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Happy Birth-week

Marcos and I have Libra birthdays four days apart; his was October 4th and mine was the 8th. So the celebration just kept on going...

On the 6th, the day right between the special days, we showed up to a surprise Family Home Evening. Our friends had created an ornate ransom note which detailed that our dinner was being held captive, and that we would have to follow clues in order to receive the reward. The hunt took us all over the apartment complex, to the playground and laundry room, and finally to the Empey's back porch. The reward? Oodles of ingredients to make homemade pizzas! With ten friends, we made enough for us to be stuffed that night and for everyone to take leftovers home for lunch the following day...

Kokoro must be about ten months pregnant now... Someone mentioned that in some culture eating pineapple is supposed to induce labor, so she tried it out, to no avail.

I really like these pictures. Nice job, Nicole, taking a clear picture with minimal light!

Nice job, us! Kissing with minimal light!

I just told Marcos he should quit his day job and take up some hours as a model. He doesn't seem convinced, but he just exudes that "buy my shoes" sort of vibe... This was the night of my birthday, and me wanting to capture his gorgeousness before we headed off to the "Vespa Ristorante" in downtown Chapel Hill. Franklin Street is only five minutes from our home, and is basically a long row of ethnic and not-so-ethnic eateries (an example of the latter being "Cluck U Chicken". Don't ask. We don't know).

The food was excellent. We started with calamari, and for dinner I chose chicken with something, and Marcos chose lamb with something and gnocchi in Gorgonzola sauce on the side.

A very happy camper, despite his expression. The lamb was a new flavor and cooked in a very cinnamony sauce, and the gnocchi was really, really good.

Marcos: Let's ask the waiter to take a picture of us from the outside. What's his name? Angelo?
Metta: I think you've been reading the menu too much. His name's Dave...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Birthday Wish

Last night we went out to eat at a really nice Italian restaurant for my (our) birthday celebration. It was time to blow out my candle, so I closed my eyes to make my birthday wish. My very first thought was to wish for my application for NC residency to go through so that I can pay in-state tuition this year instead of out-of-state ($15,000 difference!). Then I thought that I should wish that the company Marcos is working for makes it through the economic crisis, and that the company shares will retain their value over the next year. Then I just thought, "Screw it. Money comes and goes", and I made a wish for us to be happy...

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Aren't we all fairly familiar with this scene from "Ratatouille"? Food critic Anton Ego enters the restaurant, bent on ruining its reputation, and is instead taken back to a touching scene from his childhood by the amazing taste of the ratatouille, which was chosen, baked and prepared in the kitchen by our little rat friend Remy...

Well, rewind two scenes to my entry on the Carrboro Farmer's Market. Imagine me taking the fresh bounty home, putting away the vegetables, and then pausing each day as I pass the colorful display of Italian sweet bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash that are sitting in my kitchen, wondering what I should make with them. Then one day it hit me: doesn't ratatouille require these ingredients? Yes! So I sliced...

...and arranged...

...and baked...

...and ate one of the best meals I have ever prepared. Of course, I wiggled with the recipe quite a bit as my nature almost requires it, but I'm confident that even adherence to the recipe will result in a really great meal. Ratatouille is traditionally a rustic, country peasant's fare, usually presented almost like a vegetable stew, so this version may be a different way of presenting the dish, but it is surely not lacking in deliciousness!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Baby Shower for Kokoro...

A few friends and I threw a baby shower for our friend Kokoro last week. It was my first time, but the others had hosted showers before, so they brought in good experience to our motley crew of various skills. We split up the three jobs of RSVPs/games, decorations and food between us, and everything was so manageable. Delegation is the way to go...

This is Kokoro. I am fascinated with her belly (this is coming from a woman with a closet dream to be a midwife), and she has become quite used to me bending over to kiss her bulge and talk to little "Ren chan". He is due October 7th, a day before my birthday, and I have been invited to be present at her labor! Only three people are allowed to attend, so I feel really honored to have a chance to witness the birth of the little guy! Once I leaned down to coo to him, and some body part lept out and hit me in the face, so I have a hunch that he will be samurai in a big way...

Kristi has mad domestic goddess skills up her sleeves. This is her gift to Kokoro and one of her many creations: a very, very cool monster.

The theme of the party was monkeys. Nicole and I made a "diaper cake" and topped it with a monkey holding a balloon. So cheesy, and so enjoyable. We took the monkey theme from a little Japanesey cartoonish drawing of monkeys Kokoro had made one night months ago as part of a game, and I took her style and made some sketches, which Nicole then made into the shower invitation, thank you cards, etc. This party has served Nicole and I as a creative outlet as well...

Not a hot shot (because I'm so anti-flash, even when I sometimes need it), but here are some of our friends who were in attendance: Ann, Pamela, Pamela, Kaitlin, Alicia and Corvin.

The shower was after-dinner hours, so we kept the goodies simple, and just did Ghiradelli chocolate and yogurt fondue, with tons of fresh fruit, and small desserts, and sparkling punch. Kokoro was the guest of honor, but is a gracious guest, and so she brought home made donuts to add to the smorgasborg!

Nicole, Kokoro, me and Melissa at the end of our celebration. Wouldn't it just be grand if all babies were welcomed into the world with so many people to love them?

Boys and girls are different

My usual method of fixing things - especially technological items - is to whack them a bit. Broken cell phone? Turn it off, and give it a few good whacks. Computer monitor not working consistently? Pound it a few times on the side. And sometimes, it even works.

Marcos has a different approach. Our computer has been acting up for a few days, and he spent the better part of yesterday fixing it. Whatever he did, it took a lot longer than my method would have taken, but no complaints. We're up and running again!