Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Time

On Christmas Eve eve, we had a little celebratory dinner of our own at home. Note to parents:  if a celebratory dinner is what you're after, don't sit down hungry at the table with a bowl of smallish Dungeness crabs and two hungry young children.  Let's just say the champagne had done its work by the time I actually got anything to eat.

It wasn't until the day of Christmas Eve that we found out if our plans would be thwarted by the weather.  Though other flights were delayed and canceled, Shaun's sister and her family made it in to PDX.  And the road to Shaun's parents house, which had been closed off and on for a few days preceding, was open.  Behold Highway 26:

The packed snow above was fine.  I had a few white-knuckle moments on areas of the road that had some ruts and more of a mix of things on the ground, but we all made it safe and sound.

I think you'll agree when you see our destination, that a more Christmas-y place could not be found in all the land:

Did I mention there was a LOT OF SNOW?

The power was out at our House o' Christmas, and that made things a little more adventurous (and a lot more work for my father-in-law) than they would have been otherwise. The rumble of a generator is not my favorite winter noise, but it sure beats the alternative. Shaun's mom managed to work around the inconvenience of only getting to use one major energy-gobbler at a time (water heater, oven, cooktop) and prepared us many delicious and festive meals. Adding to the element of adventure was the periodic dumping of snow off the roof.  It would come down at odd moments with a big crashing noise and shake the house.  Made me a little jumpy.

Shaun's folks were planning to host a big family get-together on Saturday, but that was relocated to his aunt and uncle's house in Salem because the power still wasn't back on.  Much of Shaun's extended family was there, and that was fun as always.  Shaun's cousins and their spouses are all fun to be with, and the kids all love running wild together. 

I got to hold the happiest little baby Nora.

As our kids change and grow, they create fun new Christmas memories.  It will be a long time before I forget the sight of my almost three year-old nephew sitting on his dad's lap, perusing the ceiling fan section of the Lamps Plus catalog he received in his stocking.  And Nels's joy at opening the Wall-E and Eve figures I got for him and Willem was something.  Later in the day he told me that his "dream really came true," and that it made him feel like he had to hug me.

Yesterday Shaun's family came out our way.  We had a nice visit and a salmon dinner.  The boys ran their laps through the kitchen/living/dining room, and we had the obligatory family photo:

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!  New Year's, here we come!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Boys Play With Stuffed Animals

As I was doing some chores this evening, I noticed both boys were snuggled in Nels's bed, reading books with the lights out.

About twenty minutes later, they reported back to me.

"Mom, we put our stuffed animals to bed!"

They read to them.
They sang to them (quickly, because one of the animals kept sneezing.)
They said prayers with them.
Then the bear ate the dog.

Sweet dreams!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Days

As surely everyone knows by now, it is unusually snowy in the Pacific Northwest. NOW we have the kind of weather that's worth canceling school for.

People are making the most of it, and while I find it hard to relate to the excitement after several snow-filled high desert winters, I do find it enjoyable to watch a girl on a sled go whizzing by my kitchen window as I wash the dishes.  The neighbor boys piled up some snow for a snowboard jump, and I even saw a few snowmobiles out and about.

Of course our kids are loving it.  They're happy just to tromp around on our deck, making snow piles and trying to eat large shards of ice.

Our neighbors are very neighborly, and I am wishing that I had made the time to do some Christmas baking.  At some point I'm going to have to stop using Willem's surgery as an excuse for not doing more, but I guess we're still good for now. 

One neighbor sent her son over with some ginger spice cake, and another gave us a giant tub of popcorn.  You know the kind.  It's divided into regular, caramel, and toxic-looking cheese, and it looks totally unappealing in the store, only to become irresistible once it enters your house. Today, our next door neighbors sent their son over to shovel our driveway.  It's rather uncomfortable to accept a kind deed from a middle-school boy who would rather be doing something else.  Character building all around, I'm sure.

Of course the weather is making me want to fix all sorts of hearty meals.  That doesn't mean I do, but one does make an occasional appearance at our dinner table.  I had to share this meal from a few weeks ago with you because of its spectacular color. It's red cabbage with kielbasa, onions, and apples, with roasted potatoes on the side.  I was the only real fan of the dish.  The boys didn't like the vinegar in the cabbage, and Shaun, expecting it to taste like sauerkraut, found it a little bland.  I liked it.

Tonight, though, we'll have crowd-pleasing lentil and kielbasa soup.  I think it's the four cups of leeks (in addition to the four cups of onions) that make it extra tasty.  (No, I don't feed turkey kielbasa to my family every night, it just sometimes seems that way.  I know it's full of awful stuff.)

Of course winter hasn't been all kielbasa-eating and frolicking in the snow.   Because of the weather, lots of fun events like Nels's school Christmas program were canceled or postponed. I even saw on the news that one college had to cancel its winter commencement.  And my mom and grandpa were supposed to drive out from Bend, but the weather is keeping them home. 

Right now we're just thankful that our Christmas plans didn't require flying out of PDX this week, and we're looking forward to letting the boys loose in the two feet of snow at their Grandma and Grandpa's house.  If only we can get there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That's My Boy

You know how it is, parents; you fear that your child will inherit all the character flaws that trouble you most about yourself.  

Now that Nels is getting older, I am starting to notice some of the less desirable traits that we share.  He is easily frustrated and ready to give up when faced with the challenge of learning something new.  He has a hard time falling asleep at night because his mind is too busy "thinking sad things."  A few weeks ago, I saw tears streaming down his face as he ate a sucker.  I had asked him to try to finish it before his brother noticed he had it, since Willem wasn't getting one.

"What on earth is the matter?"  I asked.  "You HAVE a sucker."

The corners of  his mouth twisted down as he sobbed, "I can't stop thinking about throwing it away!"

Oh, man.

With all of this worry that I am raising a young human who will be as much of a mess as I am, and in the same ways, it is always a tremendous relief when he does something that I would NEVER do.

Behold the thing Nels made out of Legos "for R2-D2 to ride in."  Note the shade-providing canopy and the little stoppers on the platform in front of the robot's feet.  Look how perfectly it fits.  Never in a million years would I do this.  Never in a million years COULD I do this.

Yes, he's my boy.  But he's also his own little fella, thanks be to God.

Monday, December 15, 2008


The Camas School District canceled school today due to "inclement weather."

It was a total set-up.

Last Friday, Nels's preschool handed out notices mentioning that snowstorms were being forecast for early in the following week, and that his school would be observing any district closures.

Well, it snowed on Sunday as predicted.  But instead of continuing to snow that night, it was just really windy. No snow on Monday.  Clear skies.  Clear roads. No ice.  I didn't even bother checking for closures.  Who cancels school just because it's winter?

My first clue that something was up came when we stepped out the door and I realized that I hadn't seen the school bus go by our house this morning.  (It stops right next door to us.)  My second clue came when Willem reached the edge of our porch stairs and refused to take another step.  He just stood there in the frigid air and wailed.  Of course I couldn't really hear his cries all that well. They were carried off by the wind.

I made my way through the empty (and COMPLETELY CLEAR) streets to the school. It was deserted. My theory is that all the teachers in Camas had been counting on taking Monday off and, when the snow failed to materialize, decided to go ahead and do it anyway.  (OK, yes, it was MISERABLY cold.  And I did hit one small patch of ice on the drive home.  Still.)

Nels summed up the sadness of the morning in a poignant moment of self-awareness as we pulled out of the empty parking lot:

"I like BEING at school, but I don't like GETTING there."

Amen, Nels.  Amen.

The Weekend I Needed

The Weather has arrived.  With the windchill it feels like 7 degrees outside.  That sassy wind has twice blown out the pilot light on our gas fireplace.  We've thwarted its evil machinations by switching to the electric baseboard heat.  Blow away, wind.  I just hope nobody needed whatever that metal thing was that just blew clanking past our house and on down the hill.

A better than average weekend should definitely end with a snowstorm.  On Friday night we went to Shaun's work Christmas party.  As usual, it was our only Christmas party of the year.  That put a lot of pressure on it to be fun, but any occasion that involves free prime rib and a chipper duo on drums and keyboard in a ballroom is all right by me.  I even got to wear a skirt (which Nels wanted me to twirl in ad infinitum before I left the house.)

On Saturday Shaun took the boys to see a steam engine (see his infinitely more popular blog for photos) and I did some Christmas shopping.  That evening we watched Jungle Book for the first time, and boy, howdy, was THAT something.

Nels was BESIDE himself with delight.  He stood bolt upright, he cowered in the sofa cushions, he yelped, he arched his back, he made cartoon noises himself; he laughed so hard that I thought he might choke.  It was the most amazing display I have ever seen.  At one point when the elephants were marching he stood up and yelled, "I'M TURNING INTO ONE OF THEM! I'M TURNING INTO A DISNEY CHARACTER!" with total abandon.  So fun.

Today, Shaun (though sick) was kind enough to drive us into Portland so we could see our friends Heather and Joy, who were selling Heather's wares at Crafty Wonderland.  Yes, I was a wuss for not wanting to drive myself, but I felt that encountering "Chains Required in Portland Metro Area" signs on the freeway somewhat justified my anxiety.  We had a nice visit, and I enjoyed ogling the artsy Portland crowd.  We're a little more country here in Camas.  I would never be able to pass myself off as a cool Portlander; I've never mastered the necessary layering skills.

Now we're home and cozy after our adventures.  But I've been out of the house, people.  I've spoken with adults.  I therefore declare this weekend a success.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We Got A New Camera and Now Shaun Has A Blog

That's right, Shaun has started a blog.  You will all appreciate, I'm sure, that his approach is less verbose than mine.  

He has built up a bit of a back-log, so be sure to click the "Previous" button at the bottom to see everything.

Now hie thee to and enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Want In? Want Out?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I made a few changes, among them adding links to several more friends' blogs.  If you know me and I didn't include your blog, it's not a commentary on my opinion of your blog, merely an oversight.  If you'd like to be included, please let me know in the comments.

Conversely, if I've linked to your blog but you prefer to not to be associated with the likes of me, let me know and I'll remove the link.

And now, I leave you with a seasonal lolcat:  (You'll have to click on it, though, to read the entire caption)

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

I'm sorry.  I just can't help myself.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beware the Free Samples

That crafty Whole Foods Market has me totally hooked on 17.99/lb Uniekaas Reserve Gouda.  It may be one of my favorite cheeses ever.

The next round of the crud is making its way through our family. Incredibly, Nels caught a cold about two days after Willem's two-week window of "do NOT get sick!" was up.  Willem got it a few days later.  A mere week earlier, sneezing was very uncomfortable for him, so I was really thankful it waited.  Shaun woke up with a full-blown case this morning, and I have that "I'm coming for you next" soreness in the back of my throat.  I usually manage to avoid getting really sick when everybody else is.  I'm counting on that.

We were to have gone to a birthday party featuring Indian food tonight, but we will keep our germs at home.  Other nice couples with kids will be there.  How sad I am to miss it. 
Today we will decorate our Christmas tree.  Nels made his enquiries:  "Are there more fragile ornaments or more toy ones?" (Meaning ornaments they would be allowed to handle.)  He cried at the answer.  That's right; I selfishly gave no thought to my future children when I collected my ornaments, so they are mostly fragile.  Ah, tree decorating.  Surprisingly less fun in practice than in theory.

We've been chipping away at the furnishing of our new house.  Behold our new table lamps.  We settled on these from CB2 after viewing thousands of lamps online.  The next big project is choosing the art for the wall over the couch.  We're getting there. 

Well, cue the Christmas music.  That tree isn't going to decorate itself.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Fan-freakin-tastic

This year we did something different and drove up to my dad and stepmom's in Bellingham to spend Thanksgiving with them.  It's the first time I've lived so close to them (about 270 miles away), so it was fun to be able to do that.

We drove on Thanksgiving day and had our feast on Friday.  I can now add "single-handedly putting out an entire Thanksgiving spread (with 'help' from her mom)" to my stepmom Juli's long list of talents.  Of course the boys were more impressed with her video game skills.  Of their three grandmothers, she's the only one who plays Lego Batman.

On Saturday my dad took us to the children's museum, which was refreshingly low-tech. The current exhibition had a nautical theme.  Nels liked the "submarine" most.

Willem was pretty good on Thursday, but he got naughtier and naughtier as the days went by.  We usually see a "grandparent effect" with the boys--they tend to get cranky and more disobedient than usual when they're out of their normal routine.  Plus we haven't stayed on top of Willem's three-year-old orneriness as well as we should.  Add a recent open-heart surgery to all that and you've got yourself a recipe for a good old fashioned tantrum.  Or ten.  Shaun and I had to tag-team bedtime duties because it was so difficult to deal with him.  Most of the problems were in the evening though, and it wasn't enough to keep us from having a very nice visit.  Thanks, Dad and Juli!

So, what better to do the morning after arriving home than take the aforementioned willful three year-old to the doctor?  No, Willem won't stand on the scale.  A chest x-ray?  Are you kidding me?  After 10 minutes of useless cajoling, I finally broke it to the technicians that they were wasting their time.  I told them I'd be happy to hold Willem in place if they thought they could get a good picture that way.

He screamed, he ran, he writhed.  Another girl and I had to hold him still, hold his arms back, and hold the radiation shield over his vulnerable bits.  And not just once, because the machine wasn't working properly.  We'd let him go, he'd run screaming for the door, and then I'd go fetch him again.  You know that move where they go stiff as a board and won't bend in the middle when you're trying to sit them down?  Very effective.  But we held him down and they got their pictures.

On to the next office.  Turns out that if a three year-old doesn't want an electrocardiogram, he's not going to have one.  Because it requires the patient to be still.  At this point, I was the one crying.  And when he tore the oxygen reader off his finger and threw it across the room, well, I needed a tissue.  By the time the cardiologist finally arrived I was feeling 1. like a total failure as a parent and 2. mad, mad, mad at Willem.

Everything looks good, though.  The doctor can still hear the valve leaking, which is to be expected since they didn't do anything to it; they just fixed the other things to keep it from getting worse.  They'll do an echocardiogram in six months from now, and at that time I figure we'll ask all our questions about the likelihood of the valve function deteriorating.  My guess is that it will just require long-term monitoring.  Back to that again.

Did you know that November was National Adoption Month?  Well, it was.  And that's why it is incredibly fitting that just last week Shaun's cousin Jared and his wife Amy brought home their adopted daughter Sunita from India.  And Jana, my best friend from second grade, and her husband Rob brought home their adopted son Elias from Ethiopia.  I could never tell it as well as they do; please visit Amy's and Jana's blogs and celebrate this affirmation of the priceless worth of each human life.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You, Thanksgiving

I had a really great time today catching up with two different far-away friends who were in Portland visiting family for Thanksgiving.

I saw Katy (and her husband Adam) and their three kids at her mom's house in Lake Oswego.  It was a short visit, but fun nonetheless, as they have added a baby boy to the two girls in their family since we moved away from Bend.  Her girls are close in age to my boys, and she is one of the few full-time stay-at-home moms I know, so we have common challenges and concerns in our lives right now.  For example, our deteriorating ability to have a conversation with an adult.  I was also somewhat relieved to see their almost three year-old daughter revel in her crabbiness and create a lot of drama.  I am not alone.

When we got back to Camas, we had a visit from our friend Kylee from Boise.  She was an art student of our friend Amanda's and a babysitter extraordinaire.  The only non-family babysitter our boys had ever had.  Kylee is at a very different place in the life experience spectrum--she finished her undergrad last year and is in that interesting and sometimes frustrating (well, for me it was) season when one tries to gracefully navigate the big unknown of what comes next.

It was truly a pleasure to spend time with these two women today (or yesterday now, I guess) and to be let into their lives a little bit, even though we don't see one another very often.  I hope it's helped motivate me to be more proactive in making friends here, and to take advantage of the connections we already have in the area.  Blogs are nice for keeping in touch and all, but they're a poor substitute for conversation over tea, or watching Nels and my friend's daughter stretched out on the floor reading a Disney book together. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nothing Much Going On Around Here. Hooray.

It really is a slow news day, and that's a good thing.  I introduced the boys to Malt-O-Meal this morning.  It was a hit with Willem, a gag-inducing miss with Nels.  

We showed the movie Wall-E to the boys this weekend, and they are both officially obsessed with it.  I thought the sounds were genius (it was the first time I ever even noticed sounds in a movie) but the story was so weak as to spoil my enjoyment. 

Something I DID enjoy was an interview with director Spike Jonze about the movie of Where The Wild Things Are on Ain't It Cool News.  The article is really long, but they cover a lot of ground.  They discuss everything from the laborious process Jonze used to create the Wild Things to the true wildness of childhood, as opposed to the sanitized version we're often presented with.  Lots of food for thought.  If you decide not to slog through the entire article, be sure to scroll all the way down to the end for two images from the movie.

I also ran across this article on Slate about the lolcats.  I don't know what's more embarrassing--that I never heard about the website "I Can Has Cheezburger" before reading the article, or that I find it hilarious.  Only about 1 in 50 submissions is really funny, but I love how it creates its own little universe.  Read the article and then check out the site if you haven't already.  It takes a bit of familiarity before you can really appreciate how good the good ones are.  

I leave you with an example:

funny pictures
more animals

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Show and Tell

I thought I'd post some photos from the past week.  I'm leaving out the gruesome ones (no ICU pictures at all), so no need to proceed with caution.  The last one is of Willem at home showing off his battle scars, just so you know.  Being a huge crybaby myself, that's the kind of thing I tear up over when I'm not expecting it.

Here's Willem in the "holding room" before the surgery.  They give the kids some medicine to make them tired and loopy before they take them in and administer the general anaesthesia. We shamelessly got some video of Willem giggling in my face in a very drunken manner.

Prior to the surgery, Willem's heartbeat ALWAYS elicited raised eyebrows from everyone (except cardiologists) who heard it.  The chief anaesthesiologist on the case was no exception.  In fact, he asked if we minded if he told some of the med students to come have a listen.  We didn't mind, and the comic sight of the students lining up to chat up Willem before springing their stethoscopes on him was a welcome distraction.  That's what the assisting anaesthesiologist is doing in the photo above.

After Willem was almost asleep, they had me carry him down the hall to just in front of the doors of the operating room, where I handed him off.  I found this to be a far more humane procedure than having them wheel him away from us in a bed.  The sight of him in someone else's arms made me feel like they would be caring for my child, rather than making it feel like a purely scientific/medical endeavor.  Gotta love my "trying not to freak out" face.

A grape Popsicle made an excellent early meal.  Here is Grandma looking through the book that Nels's preschool made for Willem.

Willem's Auntie Kim and Uncle Cory got him finger puppets for his birthday, figuring they would make convenient hospital toys.  Here are Grandpa, Willem, and two of their animal friends checking out the glow-in-the-dark moon and stars built into the ceiling before the four of them settle in to watch a movie.

A barbershop quartet came around and sang to all the patients.  Willem listened intently to a medley of American tunes and then proclaimed, "I don't want to go home."

I didn't get great photos, but I had to put these up for those of you who've never seen OHSU.  Pictured here is the "sky bridge" that runs from Doernbecher's to the VA hospital.  I ventured over it once.  I have a minor fear of heights.  At least the views are spectacular.

Here's the view from the hallway outside the surgery waiting room.  It's a pretty good distraction.  Just to the right of center, you can see the aerial tram.  Which I rode.  Unhappily.

The doctors warned us that Willem would be grouchy (check), disobedient (check), and likely have nightmares (check) upon his return home.  They told us to encourage him to express his feelings about his experience through things like role play.  He needed no encouraging from us:  Me-ma's book light was immediately employed in a thorough examination of her mouth.  The boys have been performing surgery (with lasers) on me all week, and I have been informed that Spiderman had his heart fixed.  It's been really interesting to watch Willem work through it all.

Below you see the first time Willem willingly showed us his chest.  Alas, it has now become his new party trick.  A mom from my MOPS group dropped off dinner for us the other night, and Willem lifted up his shirt and yelled "Look!"  In the photo you can see his incision, the stitch where the chest drainage tube was, and the two bandaids over where the pacemaker wires came out.  The stitch came out on Tuesday and he took the bandaids off himself last night.

So, hopefully this will be the last of the medically-themed posts for a while.  I have a lot of other important things to write about, like raincoats.  

It's wet here.  But I'm not going fishing; I don't need a big yellow or green slicker.  I'm not going to be sporty; I don't need an anorak or ski/snowboard jacket.  I don't work in an office or live in the big city; I don't need a trench coat. How's a stay-at-home mom to keep dry without being dumpy(er) or overdressed?  Yep.  I've got big things on my mind.

What's the Average Lifespan of a Bulimic Cat?

We probably should have looked into that before we bought a house with wall-to-wall carpet.  Or at least budgeted to replace the carpet with something mop-able.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crisis Mode is Hard; Recovery Mode is Tiring

Any time one anticipates a major event, there is bound to be a let-down period after the event occurs.  That's where I am right now.

The surgery and the critical time in the hospital were extreme, but in some ways that helped make them easier to get through.  The focus was single-minded:  comfort Willem; be with Willem; restrain Willem when necessary.

I hardly slept for three nights; if the nurses weren't coming in to administer meds or check his vitals, then Willem's fitful sleep was disturbed by nightmares.  "Mom!" he would call out in a new, distinct way, with an urgency I'd never heard before.  And I'd pop out of bed and put my hand on his forehead and soothe him back into his uneasy sleep.  That's what I was there for.

Now we're home, and the same level of vigilance is not required.  And I no longer have the "We WILL get through this" mentality to energize me.

We DID get through it.  And I am SO thankful for that.  But Willem still calls "Mom!" in his sleep in that new tone of voice.  And he has been as vigorously disobedient as the doctors warned he might be.  Nels, the most sensitive little boy you're ever likely to meet, has been alternating between losing his temper and falling to pieces by wailing in a heap on the floor every time we tell him something he doesn't want to hear.

All of these things are a little more difficult to handle gracefully once one falls even farther behind on sleep and is no longer in emergency mode.

Today I took Willem to the pediatrician for a follow-up appointment.  (He'll see the cardiologist next week.)  He did great until it was time to take out the one remaining stitch from where his chest drainage tube was.  It took 3 adults to hold him down, and all that hospital sympathy I had for him came flooding back.

If only that sympathy would last.  It's easy to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high.  The day-in, day-out love is harder.  I struggle to remain kind when Willem spends a good part of his day intentionally pushing all of my buttons.

We're all just a little beat and out of sorts as we absorb what's happened in the past week.  A little rest, a little "normal" life, and I'm guessing we'll be much better.

And what a luxury that is.  Our health issue was only an isolated incident this time.  I can't imagine what it's like for families with a member who needs ongoing hospital care, and must figure out a long-term way to synthesize the "crisis" and "everyday" modes.  It's draining.  Thanks to our experience, I'll be paying a lot more attention these days to how I can support people in that situation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We're Home!

That's right, home.  Can you believe it?  

Yes, we're home, and just in the nick of time.  I expected Willem to be sleepy from his medication, but, instead, the hospital environment has seriously disrupted his sleep schedule and he has slept only about half as much as he usually does for the past three days. 

A tired Willem is a terrible thing to behold, even on the best of days.  Thus I find myself in the strange position of wanting to strangle my poor darling three-year old child who has just been through the most trying experience of his life.  Of course, I'm a little behind on sleep myself.  In my case this resulted in tears at the dinner table because I thought Shaun was looking at me funny.

Anyhow, there will be more tales to tell of our interesting experiences, but I just wanted to share our happy news.  If today is any indication, we will have a stressful week or two ahead of us as Willem heals up and gets his sleep back on schedule.  Other challenges include trying to remember not to pick Willem up underneath the arms for six weeks and preventing him and Nels from wrestling with one another, an activity they usually engage in several times a day.

So, that's the latest, and I'm glad the hospital portion of this latest adventure has come to a close.  I'm off to sleep on my own pillow in a room that doesn't beep.  Good night!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

MAYbe Everybody Says It Because It's True

"Oh, but little kids heal so fast.  It's amazing."

You may have heard this.  I certainly have, and I've never had reason to doubt it.  I've also heard lots of stories in which young whippersnappers have heart surgery and are up and about the next day.  I believed these stories, but my mind filed them in the "anecdotal evidence" category.  It seemed presumptuous to count on such a thing happening in our case.

Well, today Willem ate a bit at every meal.  He drank a lot of milk.  He came off all the monitors.  His chest tube was removed (poor kid--I would have totally freaked if I were anticipating that, and he was none too thrilled), he went for a first walk, and he had his first poop.  

After that first little walk down the hall, he found his feet and wanted to go to the play room.  He was all OVER the place, playing like nothing was wrong.  He bent over to retrieve toys, dragged an enormous basket of dinosaurs across the room, and had to be told repeatedly that he was not allowed to climb a bench.  I had to tell him NOT TO RUN.

Now the only hardware he's left with are an IV in his hand (not hooked up to anything most of the time) for administering a few medicines and the two slim pacemaker wires that are lightly attached to the surface of his heart.  These are always put on as a precaution, and they are the last thing to be removed.

There has been talk of Willem possibly going home tomorrow, not that Shaun and I are quite sure that WE'RE ready for that.  So, yeah, little kids do heal so fast.  It's amazing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Moving Right Along

Willem is doing really, really well.  The two of us had a rough night last night; in a case of insult added to injury, Willem got an ear infection and his eardrum ruptured.  The good news was that he didn't even notice his chest incision.  The main question on his mind was, "Mom, how do I get out of here?  Can you get me out of here?"  They finally got him settled down at about 3 am.

He's been getting better and better all day today.  He'd had an elevated heart rate and temperature, and those both came down.  They took out several IV's and the catheter, so most of his extra lines and wires are gone and he's a lot more comfortable.  He was able to start eating and drinking today.  The original plan was that he get out of bed and do some walking, but everything else took a little too long, so we'll get to that tomorrow.  This afternoon they moved him from the ICU to a regular room.  Apart from the fairly gruesome chest tube, he looks fantastic.

As we walk the halls, we hear other parents on the phone, explaining to their loved ones how their kids are doing.  And I feel so blessed that Willem has this fixable problem and that things have gone so well.  I'm also incredibly thankful for all the doctors and nurses who make it their work to care for people.  It's hard to imagine a more important job, and I have so much admiration for all my friends and family in the medical field.

Shaun said it before, but I too would like to thank you all too for your prayers and support.  It has been such an encouragement to us.  I'm guessing that we'll be heading home before we know it.  When Thanksgiving comes we will be feeling particularly thankful, both for Willem's health and for all of you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(This is Shaun writing.)

Surgery went very well, no problems! One of the primary risks of VSD repair is damage to the heart's electrical system (which then requires the installation of a pacemaker), but this was successfully avoided! No pacemaker! We are very thankful (and relieved).

Willem is in ICU now, and hooked up to every machine you can imagine.  He should be off the ventilator in a couple of hours and should become conscious again shortly thereafter.  He's still very much in critical condition, with much attention required, but doing very well.

Thanks everybody for your comments, gifts, thoughts and prayers!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Getting Ready

It's been an unusual few days for us since I last posted.  Every person--and family--reacts differently to stress.  Our way of preparing for Willem's surgery has been to hunker down, stay close to home, and enjoy spending some time together with just the four of us.

Over the weekend, we watched some TV, finished up a few house projects, and got caught up on laundry and dish washing.  Shaun took the boys for a drizzly walk around the lake in the last hour of daylight.  It's too bad that it always takes some major upheaval in my life for me to appreciate how precious these seemingly mundane moments are.

This morning we roused our protesting boys at 6:30 to try to get to the hospital in time for our 8:00 appointment.  Shaun's folks came and got Nels while the rest of us did all of the pre-op stuff.  Willem was a champ like he's never been when it came to all of the tests and procedures.  Up until now he has refused to lay on a table to be looked at, but today he seemed excited to have the opportunity to show how grown up he is.  He was perfectly still when they drew six vials of blood.  His only response was to say "Ouch." 

We met several of the people who'd be working on Willem's case and then took a tour of the PICU.  It was really helpful to see everything and have a better idea of what to expect.  It's pretty amazing how involved heart surgery is.

My sister prayed that Willem would be the first case of the day (so he wouldn't have to go too long without eating or drinking), so I'm going to blame her that we have to be at the hospital at 6:30 tomorrow morning.  Actually, I'm very thankful.  Willem wakes up ready to eat as soon as he jumps out of bed, so the early hour will hold him off a bit.  They'll come take him between 7:00 and 7:30 and get started.

Once they have him under, they'll do an echocardiogram down his esophagus.  This will give them better pictures than they've had so far, and they can confirm what they need to do.  At this point the plan is to close the hole (VSD), break up a muscle bundle (they just snip it and it comes apart), and trim an area near the base of the valve that is obstructing the blood flow.  The last problem has the potential to recur after the surgery, but the first two should be fixed for good.

If all goes well, he'll spend 1-2 days in the PICU and then a few more days in a normal room, with a stay of about 5-6 days.  They gave Willem a bunch of toys today, so he's quite looking forward to going back tomorrow.  I really feel for the parents whose children are old enough to be anxious.   

Speaking of anxious...well...Shaun and I could use your prayers in that area.  They expect to be all done in about 5 hours, and I'm sure that will be the longest 5 hours of our lives.  Of course there is a risk anytime anyone undergoes anaesthesia, so we will be praying for Willem to come safely through that.  

We'll also pray that the surgeon will be able to make the repairs without damaging anything else, and that the heart will return to its regular, healthy beat once it is restarted.  This is considered a low-risk operation (which somehow does not do much to make me feel better.)  The surgeon said the risk of fatality is about 2%, and the risk of needing a permanent pacemaker (if the heart's electrical system is accidentally disrupted by the location of a stitch) is around 5%.  My step-brother's baby had a large VSD and came through surgery swimmingly, and my brain knows that that is the norm.  Sometimes, though, my heart does a very good job of disregarding the facts.

I don't know how much I'll be posting over the next week, but I will make sure to share all of the major things, like how the surgery went, when we leave the PICU, and when Willem is discharged.  We'll be in touch with my mom and Shaun's folks by phone, so family members can call them for updates.  And I'm sure that Willem would love some visitors after the first few days, for those who live nearby.

Deep breath and here we go!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Let's See...

What have we been up to lately?

Well, not to be outdone by his older brother, Willem has decided to do some representational drawing as well.  See above for his rocket.  You'd be forgiven for guessing that the rocket is surrounded by smoke and flames from the blast-off.  But no.  It's a storm.  

Here's his tank:

As for me, I'm just trying to fill the time until next Tuesday.  I went grocery shopping and noticed that my impulse buys are getting stranger as I get older.  This time it was blood oranges.  I discovered blood oranges on my honeymoon in Italy and have since noticed that they are used much more widely in Europe than they are here.  I love them, and, every year as the weather cools, I start to think about what I might make when they arrive.

Alas, the blood oranges never made it to Boise last year.  I called every grocery store in town and nary a produce manager could explain it.  So this year I grabbed a bagful when I saw them at WinCo.  Now what to make?

I settled on this recipe for a blood orange tart.  I figured it would be my belated birthday dessert.

Doesn't this look gruesome?  (I'm referring to the juiced orange, but the faux-stone countertop qualifies as well.)

Here's the finished product.  I was a little disappointed in how it tasted -- the flavor was too mild.  Not bad, but I  wouldn't make it again.

As for what our cat's been up to (you were wondering, weren't you?), she's been eating the birthday flowers and throwing up on the carpet.  So the flowers are in the trash now.

Nels has been spending his time thinking of new ways to drive his brother (and, by extension, us) crazy.  Once Willem started correcting people on the pronunciation of his name, Nels figured it would be good fun to start calling him "WILL-Y-UM."  His other tack is simply to not reply when Willem asks him a question.  "Nels?  Nels?  Nels?  NELS!"  It's been a long week already.

In election news, the results of the Bright Futures Learning Center apple election are in, and the red apples have taken it.  Nels was excited to have voted for the winner, mostly because it meant he got a red apple to take home.  According to the pre-school directer, as quoted in the Camas-Washougal newspaper (we live in a REALLY small town), the exercise in democracy was very successful, with only one student voting for an orange.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Democracy In Action

When I picked up Nels from school today, he was wearing a big "I Voted" sticker on his chest.

"What did you vote for?" I asked.


Monday, November 3, 2008

What Does Kindness Look Like?

Like this:  On Saturday night I stopped at Trader Joe's for some dark chocolate sea salt caramels and a bottle of wine.  When the cashier carded me, I couldn't help myself; I told her that it was my birthday, and that I had just gone out alone because my husband was home sick.  SO LAME of me, I know.  Instead of (justifiably) rolling her eyes, she disappeared for a moment and then returned with a bunch of flowers, which she placed in my shopping bag.  I almost burst into tears on the spot.

Now LOVE, love looks like this:

Upon my return home (and I really did have a nice time out by myself, eating and shopping), I found that Shaun had cleaned the house.  It had gotten into quite a state with me being sick for a week, added to the fact that I'm not the keenest housekeeper even when healthy.  Shaun's folks had the kids, so we got to enjoy Sunday with a clean, quiet house.  SO QUIET.  Our own personal resort.  Our "Camas vacation home," as Shaun now calls it.  Best birthday present ever.  I do count my blessings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Ah, Halloween.  I'm pretty sure our kids were talking about it FOREVER before it arrived.  I enjoy Halloween and all, but I won't miss the drama that comes along with a trip to Michael's or Target this time of year.  Nels is weird enough without having to worry about the impact a life-sized motion-triggered ghoul or a headless bride will have on his fragile psyche.  Seriously.  

Nels goes to a Christian pre-school, which chose to throw an inoffensive Noah's Ark party on Halloween.  Each child came dressed as an animal.  When I asked Nels what animal he wanted to be, he immediately said "DEER."  Didn't think about it for a second.  I suspect this is his grandmother's influence.  The boys see lots of deer out at their grandparents' house.

That was fine with me.  It sounded easier than any other animal, except maybe a cat.  Of course there was no way that Willem was going to allow Nels to dress up as a deer without him.  When I mentioned this to the pre-school director, she invited us to come a half hour before the pick-up time, so Willem could join in the fun.  Willem LOVES his big brother's school.  He's made friends with many of the teachers and knows them by name.  He also spends evenings poring over Nels's class photo and memorizing the names of the students.  I'll often hear him yell things like "There's Kaara!" in the parking lot.

I dressed the boys in head to toe brown (thanks to the providential sale at Target where I found brown pants for $2.98) and affixed white puffballs to the backs of their shirts (with a safety pin) for tails.  Of course I handed the headbands and pipe cleaners over to Shaun for the fashioning of antlers.  He once made me a sculpture of a man holding a flag out of wire, so I knew he was up for it.  The antlers received rave reviews from the teachers.

Here's our aspiring school boy.

The antlers didn't hold up so well, but I like them this way too.  I love how it's not even noon and the boys are already totally wasted by all their excitement over Halloween.  That's Nels's teacher, Ms. Treese, in the background.  She reminds me a bit of me.

Now THESE are the costumes the boys had already picked out for trick-or-treating.  We got it all a few weeks ago.  I was thrilled to score Nels's outfit at the thrift store (you can't see the jeweled short sword too well, but he's holding one) and Willem had a complete outfit with just the purchase of the $12 coat and hat at Target.  He already had rain boots with a firefighter insignia on the side.

I realized a little too late that I should have briefed Willem on what trick-or-treating is before we went out.  Apparently he does not share his brother's uncanny ability to remember things, so he didn't know what it was.  After the first house, he asked me if we were going to go home or go to another house.  And he asked that after the next house and the next and the next and the next and after EVERY house until we were ready to hand him off to the next vampire that happened by.

My birthday happens to be the day after Halloween.  I'm pretty sure that for about the next 10 years, my birthday is going to be mostly about "Phew!  Halloween's over!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Willem's heart surgery has been tentatively rescheduled for Nov 11.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the two families of newborns who are in more urgent need of surgery than he is.

Go Figure

Up until a few weeks ago, Nels did not seem to enjoy drawing.  He has a very good vocabulary, nice manners, and is a whiz with Legos, but when it came to drawing, all he could do was write his name or draw a storm.  His storms look just like you'd imagine they might:  a mass of scribbles on a piece of paper.

I'm not one of those pushy parents who think their kids need to do everything and do it well, but it did make me a little bit sad that drawing didn't seem to be his thing AT ALL.  It seemed a little un-American for a kid not to like to draw.

Then, about three weeks ago, Nels said, "Mom, come see the picture I drew!"   I readied myself to be politely interested in the formless scribbles of yet another storm.

He led me to the Magna Doodle.  "Look!  There's a building on fire.  See the flames?  And there are people at the windows.  And here's the fire truck.  It has a ladder.  And a fireman driving it." 

I just about fell over.  His detailed elaboration wasn't even necessary, because I could easily tell what everything was.  

Now, I don't know if it was the magic of turning 5, or if it's due to all of the writing practice he's getting at school.  All I know is that he seems to enjoy drawing now.  And that makes me happy, because it is an inexpensive and portable way for a child to entertain himself throughout childhood.

I didn't think to take a picture of that first great drawing, but here are some recent ones; a battleship and a tank:

Now if only I could interest him in some less violent subject matter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not Impressed

"Look!  Don't the red leaves on the trees look pretty?" 

I am attempting to distract the boys, who have begun to bicker with one another in their car seats.

"It would be better if they turned shiny and golden."

Turns Out We Live By A Beach

A few weeks ago (when I was in Seattle?  I can't remember why I wasn't there), Shaun was keeping the boys occupied.  He told me that they'd visited a beach just a few miles away, and, despite the nice weather, there were hardly any people there.

I gave the "that's nice" nod and made a mental note to check it out some time.  Now, in my defense, I have not had much exposure to non-ocean beaches in my life.  To this point I've never lived near large rivers or big lakes.  In my mind's eye the beach they visited looked pretty much like the pebbly patch of land on the Columbia by our old rental house in Vancouver, only slightly bigger.  Believe me, I would not have been so nonchalant about his discovery had I realized it looked like this:

Look!  It's so...beachy!  Yes, my friends, let us add "beautiful beach on the Columbia River" to our list of enticements to get you to come visit us.  All three of the boys got to work immediately upon our arrival on Sunday afternoon.  The boys dropped to the sand as soon as they hit the beach.  That's Shaun in the back launching the kite.   

It wasn't until I reviewed the photos afterward that I noticed the boys were always playing TOGETHER in the sand and the water.  Finally, having them two years apart starts to pay off.  Oh, the mom-ish satisfaction.

Poor Willem has been so beach deprived that he would periodically stretch out in the sand, making full-body contact with it.  When I say full, I mean including his forehead.

Nels did a great job flying the kite.  Most of the time his tongue was hanging out.  He was very committed.

A little sand spit made a spectacular play spot.

Building a volcano, of course.

Once they were wet, the wind wasn't so fun.  This is Willem's "I'm cold and I'm done" face.

The fresh air felt good, but I was more than ready to return to the sofa and a box of Kleenex by the end of our outing.  And I'm still really excited that we live by a beach.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Obligatory Trip to the Pumpkin Patch

Don't get me wrong, I like the pumpkin patch.  But, let's face it.  One only goes there when one is a child or when one has a child.  Unless one works with children.

My boys had been looking forward to the pre-school field trip to Bi-Zi Farms (awful name, isn't it?) for weeks.  It was kind of a strange set-up.  The farm was only open to groups, so different school groups rotated from station to station:  hay bale maze (a Willem favorite because he got to participate right alongside The Kids, as he calls them), petting zoo, giant hay bale pyramid, hay ride out to the actual pumpkins and back.

This goat almost ate the camera when I was distracted by the adorable baby miniature goats.

Both boys bucked up and fed the aforementioned adorable baby miniature goats.  Nels giggled.

Willem spent some time in solemn contemplation of the goats.  He wasn't his usual exuberant self.

This was the second-favorite activity to the hay bale maze.  It had tunnels throughout, and I'm not sure that letting Willem disappear into the middle of this pile was one of my wiser parenting decisions.  Thankfully he emerged unscathed and unsquashed by any of the bigger kids.  

We saw corn.

Thankfully, the boys were happy to choose tiny pumpkins, as there were very slim pickings left this late in the season.  I took this photo in the only remaining area of intact pumpkins.  Mostly the ground was covered with large, rotting, caved-in pumpkins, and sunflowers in various states of decay.  Seriously, it was probably the most gruesome thing we're likely to see all Halloween season.  I was surprised that neither of my kids freaked out.  Nels did at one point say, "Mom...what's that?" while pointing to a sunflower head that had grown fuzz and then started to melt into a soupy pile.  Blech.  Nels is notorious for dragging his feet, and, true to form, he tripped on pumpkin vines a few times.  I was incredibly relieved to make it back to the wagon without having him fall into a pumpkin.  I can only imagine the blood-curdling scream that would have elicited.

Our two hours at the pumpkin patch ended, predictably, with a Willem meltdown.  Here is his futile attempt at stopping me from taking his picture. 

My throat wasn't feeling so great all day, and by the time I fed the kids lunch it was all I could do to put on a movie for them and crawl into bed.  I've had a nasty cold ever since.  I very rarely get sick enough that I just need to laze about for several days.  Fortunately I've had the World Series to entertain me.  And Shaun to take care of the kids.  Now he's feeling under the weather, but I figure I must be on the mend.  Just so Willem stays healthy and none of us are contagious by Nov. 4.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is It Just Me...

Or does anyone else think that the teacher who designed this project for Nels's preschool should have considered doing without the tiny popsicle stick?