Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Family Milestone: First Camping Trip

Last month we finally got around to taking the boys camping. It would have happened a lot sooner, but I had been resistant (OK, stubbornly refused) to go until both boys were stable on their feet and sleeping through the night. We would have gone last summer, but we were too busy getting settled in after our move to Washington from Idaho.

We probably STILL wouldn't have gone camping yet, were it not for the genius of our friend Lisa Marie, who organized a 30th birthday party for herself at Beacon Rock State Park. There was a Friday night chili cookout, and whoever wanted to stay and camp, did.

It turned out to be a perfect entry-level camping experience for the boys. There were lots of friends to play with, there was a giant rock to hike up, and we were only 15 miles from home! No long car ride to fuss about.

Little minivan in the woods.

The boys spent HOURS hanging out on this rock. I wish we had one just like it at home.

Mila easily wins the "cutest camper" award.

Here's the Morgan family at the start of the hike up Beacon Rock (disputably the second-largest rock monolith in the world, second only to the Rock of Gibraltar.)

Turns out Willem is as nervous about heights as I am, but Nels isn't bothered at all. He sped on ahead...

but that didn't stop me from holding his hand in a death grip as we crossed some of these open walkways. I would never, ever, ever take a badly-behaved kid up there. Holy smokes.

Willem settled in for a nap when we got to the top. Poor kid was tired and hungry. This winning combination results in...


Ugh, this photo gives me vertigo every time I see it. I was way out of my comfort zone on this hike.

Beacon Rock! We climbed it!

Camping dirt-face.

Yes, ma, we love camping.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Kind Of Nerd I Am

I am embarrassed to admit how much fun I had doing an exercise from my writing class last week. The gist of it is that you take a poem in a foreign language and write what you think it says.

When I first tried this, the linguist in me kept wanting to actually attempt a translation, which was definitely not the point. Write a poem based on your impressions of the words that make up the original, not what you actually think it says. It helps to find a language totally unrelated to one you've ever studied. That way you can't cheat.

Yes, it sounds cheesy. That's why I'm abashed that I enjoyed it so much.

The original Hungarian poem I used is here. And following is my "translation":

It's curt and lazy, a fat little novel.
Hello? This call I'm making is collect.
Just the same, the bulls at the dock are half curry;
Casks of Beaujolais wriggle vigorously.

Mind the Beaujolais' vigorousness;
We have less vigor.
We have sung less, in front of their banners,
And gaze less madly at vigorousness.

The jet, its sock is a pip of a sock.
Do you hear me, jolly, wiggling sock?
Just as their games see and find them,
Magnanimity eludes them.

Death is not gone; I am not gone;
Little napkins, big napkins have eclipsed my village,
Leaving it a sterling mirage.

I know you're all way cooler than I am, so I'm not expecting anyone else to want to do this. But if you DID, and then put your goofy poem in the comments, it would totally make my day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Heart Update

Today we took a family excursion to Doernbecher's to find out how Willem's heart is doing these days since his surgery.

Here's what we learned:

1. The small opening that remained after the hole was patched has closed up on its own. Good!

2. The fibrous bundles of muscle tissue partially obstructing his valves have not grown back at ALL since they were removed in the surgery, which they sometimes inexplicably do. VERY good!

3. His aortic valve still has a "mild to moderate" leak. Could be better, could be worse.

Right now, Willem's heart is doing a great job. If it stayed like it is, he would be just fine. The valve function could even improve over time. It hasn't gotten any worse in the eight months since his surgery.

It COULD get worse, which is something that happens slowly, and is easily monitored. The next step would be treatment with blood pressure medication. And if it got still worse, he'd need a new valve. This could happen over a period of years or never happen at all. He'll have an echocardiogram every year for the rest of his life, which would have been the case anyway.

Overall, good news, and I'm thankful. I would have liked to hear that the leak had improved, but I have to say that I don't mind that Willem's heart will be so closely watched. Hearts are tricky, and I hate to hear the stories of people who just keel over with no prior history of problems. At least we'll always know exactly how his heart's doing. If only I could monitor the rest of my kids' parts so well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

School's Out For Summer

I'm one of those grumpy people who thinks no one should "graduate" until he or she is finished with high school. So I wasn't thrilled about forking over $18 for a cap and gown for Nels's pre-school graduation, an event which I find gratuitous and a little silly. Fortunately, Willem spent the next week wearing "the hat with the fossil" and "the red dress," so the purchase wasn't a total loss. And Nels's school combined its graduation ceremony with a spring program, which helped to redeem the occasion.

The Pre-K kids made surf boards and did a very elaborate routine to "Surfin' USA." Nels was really into it. Willem learned some of the song too, but he prefers his own rendition: "Burpin' USA."

Nels and his fellow Sensible Seahorses are about to sing their class song.

He's so serious. Like he knows the fun's over.

Hang in there, little buddy. Only thirteen years to go.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

My New Favorite Thing to Do on a Saturday

I have been a thrift store/"antique" shop/yard sale junkie for as long as I can remember. Partly because I love a good bargain, but mostly because I love old stuff.

I've had incredible luck with the thrift stores here in the Vancouver area. They haven't been picked over by hipsters the way they have everywhere else I've lived, so there are a lot of treasures to be found.

Garage sales, on the other hand, have been disappointing for the past several years. There are no old things for sale (and I'm not talking stuff from the 80's, Kylee and any other young whippersnappers who happen to be reading.) Every time I stop at a garage sale, here's what they've got: a rack of clothes from the early 90's, a box of worn-out toys, some books that aren't worth reading, a few ugly dishes, and a bunch of other stuff that was crap fifteen years ago when they bought it new and is even crappier now.

But I am over my garage sale sour grapes, now that I have hit the mother lode of all vintage treasure hunting activities. It's an event which combines the thrill of the hunt with the thrill of seeing how complete strangers live(d) in their homes; it's the Camas-Washougal Soroptimist Estate Sale.

I'd been to estate sales in Southern California before, and I'd written them off. I liked going into people's houses, but the sales were always put on by professional outfits who charged at least as much for everything as you'd pay in a retail shop. Plus, these days I find a lot of people try to entice suckers to their miserable little yard sales by calling them "estate sales." I fell for that two weeks ago.

The CW Soroptimists are another matter. Because it's a charity, and the heirs have already taken all the really valuable stuff, everything is reasonably priced. There's the added bonus of getting to see inside the older houses (usually mid-century) and the original details that some of them still have: open beams, stone fireplaces, brick walls. It might be ghoulish to enjoy combing through the household effects of the recently deceased, but I find it fascinating. Plus it makes me happy to give a home to something that was obviously loved by someone, inexplicable as that love may be.

You'd think it couldn't possibly get any better, but it does; they have an E-MAIL LIST. I signed up at the first sale I stumbled across and now I get advance notice when a sale is coming up, with details of much of what will be sold. It's heaven, I tell you. Last weekend I went to the first one that I'd gotten notice for. I was sorely tempted to stop at the five yard sales I passed along the way, but I knew they would pale in comparison. I was right. (I stopped afterwards.)

After two very thorough laps through the house, yard, and garage, I left with my finds: a brown pottery owl about the size of a cherry tomato for 20 cents, a duck made of some indeterminate plastic with light blue rhinestone eyes for 60 cents, a wood souvenir plaque from Long Beach, WA painted with the words "YOU'RE WELCOME GUEST/BE AT YOUR EASE/GO TO BED WHEN YOU'RE READY/GET UP WHEN YOU PLEASE" for $1, a purse with a garden scene in rhinestones, embroidery, and sequins for $2, and a white Red Wing vase with a chip on the lip for $1.

I love you, CW Soroptimists. And, when it's my time to go, I hope someone just like me will find a little something to suit their fancy in all the goofy stuff I leave behind.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Heaven Help Me

Willem celebrated Nels's first day off from school today by sticking a Lego antenna up his nose.

It's going to be a long summer.

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Though I don't think I've ever actually used a Valpak coupon, I always open the envelope and see what the good folks at Valpak have to offer. In this case, it was a free dinner for two at Ruby Tuesday. Here's the fine print, exactly as written:

"The dinner is completely FREE! Leave your check books at home. The Dinner at 6:00 pm is for you and up to 3 other adult couples of your choice. There will be a brief Fire Safety Class. Fire escape plans will be talked about and they will light a few things on fire. It is very educational. The evening is completely free. This event is for Adult couples in the Vancouver Location only. Seating is limited and Certificate must be activated before used. Call (360) 326-8892 to activate. Please do not call the restaurant as you will be redirected to the number above. *Subject to company rules. Redeemable only at the location above and must be confirmed with the number above*
Sponsored by Fire Safety ETC"

THEY WILL LIGHT A FEW THINGS ON FIRE! Can you IMAGINE rounding up all of your friends and enjoying an evening of fire safety education at Ruby Tuesday? Oh Valpak, I treasure you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can I Get A Witness?

Thank God for poets. Here's exactly how I've been feeling this year:

Time Management

Luther in the year he spent  
as Junker Joerg in Wartburg towers,  
translated the New Testament  
to pass the everlasting hours.

With dinners late, D'Aguesseau saw
an opportunity to write 
his sixteen-volume work of law
in fifteen minutes every night.

Though living as a refugee  
Erasmus wrote his tour de force.  
In Praise of Folly's said to be   
the product of a trip by horse.  

Today I slept late, took a walk,
sipped coffee on my ragged lawn,
checked the mailbox, saw the clock,
and noticed half my life was gone.

-Stephen Scaer in First Things

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


When Nels went in for his Kindergarten check-up, the doctor gave him the book World's Wildest Animals to look at and take home. As she handed him the book, she warned me that it contained some photos of animals eating other animals. 

That was OK. We've seen a lot of nature shows, and the boys are pretty matter-of-fact when it comes to the animal kingdom. I think they've absorbed a little of their grandparents' attitude; living in a more rural environment, they're not so squeamish about things.

What the doctor DIDN'T warn me about was the photo of a two-headed snake. Nels assumed that it was a picture of a snake molting, and it only LOOKED like it had two heads. Upon any sort of close inspection (which I'd been avoiding), though, it was obvious that the snake had two fully formed and functioning heads.

"I want you to read THIS page!" he said at bedtime. I skimmed the text. The story was as creepy as the picture. Nels will sometimes lay awake for hours at night, thinking about all sorts of awful, imaginary things, and I wasn't sure if an actual two-headed snake was the kind of fuel he needed.

Feeling a little reckless, I went ahead and read it, telling him that the snake had been taken into captivity after one head had attacked the other head. I watched Nels's face to see what kind of expression that revelation would evoke. He threw back his head and he laughed. He laughed until his face turned bright red. He laughed like a cartoon; doubled over, holding his stomach.

This was going well.

"Then THAT head got mad and attacked the first head back!" 

Another howl of laughter, and he was rolling around on his bed. I should have figured. There's no reason this kid's deep love of slapstick shouldn't extend to reptiles.

I decided to quit while we were ahead. Some day he'll find out that the snake eventually launched a successfully fatal attack on itself. When he learns how to read.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Étouffée Had It In For Me

Last Thursday night I was making shrimp étouffée for the first time. In order to get the proper flavor base in the recipe I used, you make a roux and then cook it until it is deep, dark brown.

The evening was warm; I sweated as I whisked and whisked and whisked. My roux had reached a nice toffee color when the whisk went flying out of my hand, flinging bits of sizzling fat and flour all over the kitchen and me.

I felt a searing pain in my arm as a bit of roux landed. I tried to shake it off, but it was gluey. I was almost surprised when I rinsed my arm off to find that it hadn't melted all the way through my arm to the bone. I ended up with just a small second-degree burn, no big deal.

Unfortunately, I was too lazy to properly bandage the thing up when we went camping for the weekend. I figured a band-aid would do. Bad idea. I won't elaborate. By Monday night I could tell things were going south, and when I woke up this morning it was obvious to me that it was at least a little infected.

I hate to be the person who runs to the doctor for every cough and ache. I know there is often little or nothing that can be done. But I also know that many of the "what the heck?" news stories of people dropping dead before their time involve infections. And, having experienced many an emergency room wait, I had no interest in waiting until I could see a red line headed up my arm towards my heart. I'm pretty sure the only way to get expeditious service in an ER these days* is to walk in holding one of your own severed limbs. And even then, it's iffy. 

So sheepishly I took myself to the doctor. We happen to have an urgent care office about five minutes from our house.

"What seems to be the problem?" asked the receptionist.

"Well, I burned myself a few days ago, and it seems like it's getting..."

"Infected," she said, glancing at my proffered arm.

Sweet, sweet validation!

I am not crazy, I am not the reason the health system is falling apart, and I am now on antibiotics. Nothing says "you made the right call" like handing that slip of paper with its illegible handwriting to the pharmacist.

Best of all, the Nurse Practitioner who saw me referred to my tiny little burn as an "open flesh wound." Awesome.

*NOT the fault of people who work in ERs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Here Comes Kindergarten: Sniff, Sniff, Hooray!

I got a glimpse of the future earlier this month when I took Nels in for kindergarten registration and orientation. The school district makes it a fun experience for everyone. Parents bring in all the paperwork and meet the teachers and administrators. The kids get to go spend some time in the classroom and then ride the school bus around town with the principal.

We weren't exactly in top form for the occasion. I had taken Nels in for his immunizations the day before. "How many pokes are there going to be?" he asked the nurse. There were five. And that kid is pure muscle. He could barely walk the next day. His lurching gait combined with my sore throat and pink-eye made for a difficult morning.

When we arrived at the school, I almost collapsed from sensory overload. There were masses of parents, and new kids, and students. The whole building seemed scaled for small people. Every square inch of available wall space was written on. The school is slated for demolition in the fall (a new school is being built alongside it), so a few weeks ago the public was allowed to come through and write whatever they wanted wherever they wanted. There were several body outlines on the carpet underfoot. Someone even wrote in a toilet bowl. It was fun, but overwhelming.

Unfortunately I missed most of the pertinent parent information because Willem kept telling me he had to go to the bathroom. The first time I took him a helpful teacher said, "Oh, the boys' room is just down the hall, across from the gym," and so in I walked with my two boys. It was very disorienting to see those urinals that went to the floor. My first thought was not that I was in the boys' bathroom but that I was in a European bathroom. My second thought was "thank heaven no one is in here USING those urinals." My third thought was "must get out of here before someone comes in." My fourth thought was "I hope no one sees me coming OUT of the wrong bathroom." My fifth thought was, "so THAT's what the boys' bathroom looks like."

Bathroom misadventures aside, I was glad to get to spend time at the school during the school day. It had a really good feeling to it (sounds cheesy, but it's true), and I am glad that Nels will get to go there. The classrooms were all full of fun-looking projects and semi-organized chaos. I hope the new school is not too sterile. The old school seemed pretty great.

Alas, kindergarten is only 3 hours a day, so I have a few more years yet until I'm free to do something other than be home with the kids most of the day. And I know that school will be busy, and that when my kids are big I'll miss these precious pre-school years. Everyone tells me so. I'm sure I'll need a tissue when Nels gets on that school bus for the first time. But still. Hooray.