Friday, November 30, 2012


I turned forty this month, which is the kind of round landmark number that puts one in a reflective mood.  My first thoughts were of my thirtieth birthday, a nice round ten years ago. The day I turned thirty was my last day of work at Biola, and it turned out to have been my last day of (paid) work since. To celebrate, Shaun hired my sister Hillary to cater a huge dinner party, which was hosted by our friends the Shackelfords at their home in Whittier. I still remember wanting to lick the sauce off my plate of mussels, and the coq au vin she fixed remains to this day one of the best things I've ever eaten.

The past ten years alone have been full enough for a lifetime. Shaun and I have lived in eight different apartments and houses (in four different states, plus Germany.) We have had two babies who have grown into two schoolboys, and the mystery and joy of that has made my life richer than I could have ever imagined. We've had five surgeries among us, Shaun has worked at just about every flavor of programming job imaginable, and I've switched out my hobby of acting for writing, an interest more easily adapted to family hours. 

To celebrate my fortieth, we decided on a close-to-home weekend getaway. For the first night, we stayed at the Swantown Inn in Olympia. It's old and charming inside, with the old things allowed to just be old rather than being foofed up or torn out and replaced. It's dark and creaky, as a Victorian should be. We made quite a racket coming in late at night after we had dinner with the Shackelfords, who now live in Olympia. I love that they book-ended my decade.

On Saturday morning, we wandered around the Olympia Farmer's Market. It's where hippie culture meets the artisanal meat movement (that's smoked cheese and sausage chunks.)

If you go anywhere in Olympia, it must be to The Bread Peddler, where we had our lunch. A glass of rosé, a croque monsieur, and a pile of greens with tarragon vinaigrette were the next best thing to going to Paris. Nom.

On our way out we picked out several pastries to go, enough to fill a sizable box. The people around us (there was a long line) seemed compelled to make wistful comments. I think it was because deep down everybody wants to stand at the bakery counter and buy every single thing that looks good at least once in his life.

After lunch we headed to Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, an area of Washington I'd never visited before. I thought it was very beautiful and a little spooky, in a good way. (Thanks to The Shining, I will forever associate historic lodges with creepiness.) That's a rain gauge on the chimney, and we certainly saw our share of rainfall while we were there.

Here's the view from our bare-bones but clean and perfectly-situated room.

Out for a stroll.

On our way home on Sunday we stopped just down the road to see the world's largest sitka spruce tree. I thought it was endearingly homely.

It would have looked right at home in Middle Earth. It must have stirred up something in me, because I've gone back to reading more fantasy and other genre fiction since our visit.

We made the most of the last day of our trip, stopping in Astoria at our favorite fish n' chips place on earth before catching the movie Argo in Seaside. I didn't think I was in the mood for a movie, but I liked it.

I was already having a good day when I encountered a bouquet of flowers in a roadside rest stop. As my great-aunt Chicuela would say: Bonus.

Here's a picture that I took of myself on my actual birthday so I can look back some day and see what forty looked like. It is appropriately fuzzy.

In my forty years I'm so grateful for all the books I've read, the countries I've visited, the friends I've made, the meals I've eaten, the shows I've performed in, the songs that have stirred me, the walks I've taken, the family I love, the beauty of the world and all the creatures in it, and the Word of God that lights the way and reveals the truth. Even if these years were all I had, it would be a gift of more abundance than I could have ever hoped for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I know it's all turkey and pumpkin pie now, and nobody's thinking about Halloween. But I just had to share a little about ours, because it was surprisingly...heartwarming.

Shaun's mom has established a tradition of growing pumpkins in her vegetable garden for the boys every year. They always look forward to getting them, and they don't care if the pumpkins manage to turn orange or not, which works out well in our sun-challenged region. Willem sketched out the face for his pumpkin and showed it to us: "I want it to look confused." I think he did a fine job.

A week before Halloween, we were costume-less, with Willem wanting to be a spider and Nels wanting to be Darth Vader (again.) When the internet failed to help me craft a spider costume, it was time for Plan B. I suggested that Willem be a ghost. (Which shows how desperate I was for something simple. I forgot that ghosts would normally be on my prohibited costumes list, along with demons, witches, etc. ) Shaun suggested that Nels be a logger.

Willem did not know that sheet-as-ghost is the most played out costume of all time, so he loved the idea. After an initial mild protest, Nels decided that dressing as a logger would be fun. He wore Shaun's hard hat and carried an ax. (And yes, though the blade was edged with duct tape, it took all I had not to freak out as I imagined Nels tripping over the uneven sidewalks of our dark, hilly neighborhood and landing on the ax.) He wore his own hickory shirt (Grandma and Grandpa make sure the boys always have one) and we bought him a pair of red suspenders.

I wish you could have seen the warm smiles and heard the friendly comments the boys' costumes elicited when we went trick-or-treating. One man told us about the summer he worked as a logger as a teenager. Another told us about when he was a boy and his dad logged. Both Nels's outfit and Willem's classic costume (which made him absolutely miserable, and which he begged to take off twenty minutes after putting it on) seemed to evoke a lot of fond memories. It was as though the men opened their doors and, seeing our boys, looked right into the past.

Knocking on our neighbors' doors and being unexpectedly blessed with their stories filled me with goodwill. It's not a sentiment I've ever associated with Halloween before, but I'll take it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Birthday Season

Nels wanted a science and technology-themed birthday party this year. Needless to say, I was stumped as to how to make that happen. Wandering the aisles of Party City, I found pirates and Spiderman and Sponge Bob and Angry Birds, but nothing remotely scientific or technological. Unless you count Iron Man, which I don't.

It finally occurred to me that I could shop for decorations at the educational supply store. Jackpot! I came home with posters of the human skeleton, the solar system, and (the one Nels pored over) the periodic table of the elements. Plus I got pencils that had drawings of brains on them to include in the party favor bags. (I also included Nerds, but I doubt anybody got the joke.) Best of all, the store was selling a plastic tube designed to facilitate the eruption of an enormous geyser when you drop Mentos candy into a bottle of Diet Coke, which was one of the few activities I was hoping to do.

Nels wanted a microchip cake and, thanks to Shaun, he got one. With his age written on it in binary! 

I always have an impossible time scheduling Nels's party, because it's during soccer season, and kids have games all weekend. So this year I took my cue from what some smart parents had done last year and scheduled the party for the middle of the week on the early release day. I even offered to take everybody home from school with me.

It worked too well. Everyone could come. We were too many for the minivan, so we walked. Fortunately my mom arrived just in time to accompany me. It definitely took the two of us to herd that gabby group home!

For the first time since we moved here four years ago, it was sunny on Nels's birthday. The boys made paper airplanes and flew them off the back deck, with a prize for the one that flew the farthest. Next we did a lemon juice/baking soda fizzing experiment that wasn't terribly exciting but killed a little time and traumatized a few guests because I told them they could taste it if they wanted to. Then it was time for the grand finale, the Mentos in Diet Coke geyser. It was all over in a flash, but it was impressive. Here's Shaun, surrounded by a rapt crowd, setting it up.

Cake and ice cream were eaten, and presents were opened, and the boys dispersed to play until their parents came to pick them up. They were uncannily quiet, they made very little mess, and they at least appeared to be having a good time. I worried for naught. As usual.

*  *  *
Willem's Angry Birds party was on a Sunday afternoon, on his actual 7th birthday, and everyone he invited was able to come too!

I found some amazing paper monster masks (at New Seasons in the checkout line, of all places) for the boys to color in. Shaun and I were astonished at how intently they all worked on their masks, and for how long. Not one of them blew it off. That was a big relief, because the rainy weather limited our activities, and I was afraid we would run out of things to do.

Here's Willem with his custom-by-dad cake. Our boys are totally spoiled, cake decoration-wise.  

Willem got so many thoughtful presents from his friends and family. It made me happy, because he really doesn't ask for much.

I mean, here's his B-L (Birthday List):

1: stapeler
2: very own desk
3: four tires (any kind)
4: bobel head
5: wooden platform

I love him so. And I'm glad to have the parties behind me for one more year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I always get reflective at the start of a new school year. January 1st can do its best, but I will never be able to break the habit of marking time by the school calendar. The way I remember when we moved here is by noting it was the summer before Nels started his second year of preschool. Willem was still home with me. And now Willem is in first grade and Nels is in third grade.

Here they are on their first day of school back in September. We had California weather for the entire month, and it was so glorious that people eventually started getting nervous. Surely the balancing of the cosmic scales would require some horrible meteorological payback. But so far it has just rained all October, which is always the case. 

After adjusting to the longer day, Willem is enjoying first grade very much. The first week he was a little concerned that he teacher was too "snazzy" (his word), but he has gotten used to that too. He much prefers first grade to Kindergarten, where he was always annoyed by being perceived as "little kid-ish." His dignity is very important to him, and he feels he gets at least a modicum of respect as a first-grader.

It's always a relief when school starts. The boys kept themselves entertained really well this summer, but by the end they were constantly at each other's throats. To the point where I wondered if things would ever be good between them. But I hoped. Because I remembered Nels telling me in first grade that when he felt lonely at recess, he talked to Willem ("in his mind" he reassured me) and imagined he was showing him around.

And, sure enough, when school started this year, I pulled away from the curb in front of the school and glanced back to see Nels with his arm around Willem's shoulders and Willem with his arm circling Nels's waist, and not an inch of space between them. They were both looking down at their feet to coordinate their steps, and they marched, together, into the building.

I waited and waited for the day they would both go to school all day. And my ears do love the quiet. But every once in a while I miss my exhausting little sidekicks with the round squooshy faces.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Day at the Maryhill Museum of Art

This summer we finally visited the Maryhill Museum of Art. From Camas it's an 86-mile drive east along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. 

In 1907 Sam Hill (not the Sam Hill; you'd better believe I googled that first thing!) bought 5,300 acres of land on which to build a Quaker farming community. He built a small town, but the remoteness of the location proved problematic, and nobody moved in. The building he intended for his residence eventually became a museum, thanks to the support of Queen Marie of Romania (Queen Victoria's granddaughter), modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller, and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of San Francisco sugar magnate Adolf Spreckels.  

The museum is every bit as eccentric and eclectic as one would hope, considering its patrons. The very strangeness of its existence out in the middle of nowhere, combined with blazing sunshine and crazy wind made me feel like I'd stepped into an alternate reality. In a pleasant way.

Whatever the opposite of mugging for the camera is, that's what our boys are doing here.

I have never seen Nels stop with a painting like he did with this one.

The view from a window in the stairwell.

We happened upon a strange temporary exhibit. After WWII, the Paris couture shows were too expensive to put on as usual. So these mannequins were made, with all of the dresses and accessories in miniature. Different artists designed set pieces for vignettes of the fashions. Then the whole thing went on tour. I found it  interesting, though my crew was not entirely enthralled with the tiny platform shoes and gloves and handbags. 

When I saw this set, I thought "Les Miserables!" I had no idea that the artwork for the musical was based on an earlier graphic style I had completely missed. 

"Storage closet" as display. Looks like they're having a pretty good time in there.

Both boys' posture cracks me up in this one.

As I believe my friend Amanda pointed out, this sculpture would not look out of place in the Star Wars universe.

It was a fun day out there in the beautiful world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some Summer

Time to catch up.

We went through a lot of paper this summer. Nels got even crazier about origami than he had been before, which was a lot. He has since branched out from making hats and cranes to creating his own original designs. 

And both boys became obsessed with paper airplanes, which piled up in drifts around the house. 

We spent a LOT of time out at the tree farm, and we had grand weather for it.

We ate crawdads from the river thanks to Shaun, who had the courage both to catch the crawdads with his bare hands and then to boil 'em up.

I didn't think the kids would go for them, but I was wrong. We had to share.

Back at home, Nels whittled.

And Willem bought himself a little cactus from Walmart, because that's the kind of kid he is.  

Towards the end of the summer, my dad and Juli took the train down from Bellingham to pay us a visit. We had fun taking them out to the tree farm for the first time.

Ah, summer. We drank it to the dregs, each in his own fashion.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Aw, You Shouldn't Have

When I was going through the boys' papers from last year this summer, I found this little gem from a book that had traveled home to all the families in the class. Somehow I'd missed it:

If I were a pirhana (sic)
On Valentine's Day,
Do you know what I'd do?
I'd wrap meat
In a heart shaped box 
And give that box to you.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Where There Walks a Logger There Walks a Man*

Shaun should really be writing this post, since he's the one who took up logging this summer. As one does.

His interest in logging didn't come out of nowhere. Shaun's parents live on and manage the timber land his grandpa Chick bought after WWII, and Shaun (needing a physical, outdoorsy hobby to balance out all the time he puts in at the computer) has spent much of his free time lately helping out.

Once upon a time, Chick planted Christmas trees next to his driveway. They're still there. Shaun's dad is gazing up at them in the picture below.

These trees are overdue for thinning, so that's what Mick and Shaun have been working on. 

Perhaps Willem will carry on the family logging tradition. After he retires from his career as the first Supreme Leader of Planet Earth.

Limbing a tree with a chainsaw that weighs 14 lbs is a job for someone with more muscles than I have. 

Here's the inside of Chick's saw shop. It's one of Shaun's favorite spots. Quite a sense of history in there.

Shaun has acquired the requisite logging uniform over the course of the summer: hard hat, gloves, safety glasses, chainsaw chaps over jeans, and a hickory shirt. (Red suspenders optional.) I didn't realize how important those work shirts are until the first day Shaun logged. He wore his customary white t-shirt, which was immediately splattered with pitch. The pitch stains dark, so even after a good washing the t-shirt looked as if it had come from a particularly grisly crime scene.

I have no interest in driving any vehicle bigger than my minivan, but I can see how it was a nice departure from the usual for Shaun to get to operate the skidder here.

Of course what's best about logging is that you spend the day out in the woods, and at the end of the work day you smell like trees. When we go to visit Shaun's folks and we pull into the driveway, Shaun slows the car and rolls down the windows, so we can all breathe in deeply at the spot where they've been working. It smells like nothing on earth. I'm sure that that's what Heaven will smell like on the days it doesn't smell like freshly baked bread or an orange tree in bloom.

*Buzz Martin, "The Singing Logger"