Monday, December 30, 2013


It's been a strange few days. We celebrated Christmas at our house this year. That part was not strange, but nice. My mom and Shaun's folks joined us for crab bisque and church on Christmas Eve, and presents and roast beef on Christmas Day.

My mom left at 11 on the day after Christmas. I didn't think I'd been feeling a lot of stress, but I settled into an instant state of profound "down time." I didn't get dressed. There was nothing that had to be done and I had nowhere to go. I must have been more tired than I realized, because I didn't hear a single siren or notice the smoke billowing outside our windows.

"Our neighbor's house is on fire," said Shaun. I would have said it with an exclamation point, but it takes more than a fire across the street to get an exclamation point out of Shaun.

We have two large windows in our kitchen that look onto the street. It looked like someone was filming a movie outside. The house next to the house directly across from us had orange flames coming out of an upstairs window. The wind was blowing the flames towards the house next door, where our fastidious neighbor (the one who occasionally scrubs his driveway on his hands and knees) was standing on his roof, spraying it with a garden hose.

The fire chief's truck was parked in our driveway. There was a fire engine in the middle of the street exactly in front our house (with two more farther down the street.) A small crowd of neighbors had gathered in front of our house as well. It seemed to take an eternity for the firemen to pull the hoses out and get the water going. We watched the corner of the burning house's roof blacken. Our across-the-street neighbor was asked to come down and his roof was saved by the professionals.

I don't watch the news anymore, but when I did I always felt so bad for the people whose houses were on fire and who just had to stand there and watch with everyone else. You would want to grieve in private, but you can't go in your house. So there you are.

I took a few pictures from our kitchen, but it felt intrusive to take pictures outside. The burning house belonged to our neighbor, S, and she and her teenage son were standing there on the sidewalk with us. They had come home to find their family room couch on fire and called 911. They were watching their house burn. They were crying.

Most of us on our street don't know S very well, apart from one neighbor who works at the school district with her. I hadn't even realized that her husband had moved out of the house earlier this year until he'd stopped by to grab some charcoal out of the garage that morning. But it didn't matter that we hardly knew her, because we were the ones who were there.

Her son had his arm around her, but we came around as well. A shoulder squeeze, a hug, a touch on the arm. Phone numbers and offers of help.

"Is your jacket warm enough?" I asked, because I was cold.

"Blankets! We just stopped in to get blankets and pillows. We were on our way to the beach," she said.

The house doesn't look that bad from the front, but it is uninhabitable. All of the windows on the back side of the house blew out. The skylight melted in. The smoke damage is extensive. We thank God no one was hurt. Eventually family started to arrive, and we neighbors backed off, gave them space. The owner's teenage daughter. Her sister. Her parents. A white-haired woman put her arm around the boy's back just as he'd done for his mother. He cried on her shoulder.

After a while all of the onlookers and even the homeowner dispersed. Only the firefighters were left, laying out and spraying off their hoses. I had no idea how long it takes to clean up the equipment after a fire. Shaun said, "I feel bleh." And of course I thought he meant that he was feeling bad about what had just happened. Because I was thinking about feelings.

But what he really meant is that he was achy and fever-y and getting sick. He's been in bed with a stomach bug ever since. So the days after the fire have been quiet. Very quiet.

I'd been thinking about neighbors even before Christmas, for some reason. Many of the people I love most live far away from me. But the people who are physically near us shape our lives, and we theirs, just because they are there. And thinking about that made me see Christmas a little differently this year.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. - John 1:14a

He made his dwelling among us.

Immanuel, God with us.

Or, as I like to think of it,


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Imnaha Out and About

Oh hey! Here's part two of our adventures in the Rouge River-Siskiyou National Forest this summer.

We did a lot of driving on the extensive network of Forest Service roads, which was something I had only vaguely realized existed before. 

When we turned onto the Forest Service road that leads to Imnaha, we were greeted by a surreal landscape. There had obviously been a fire there in the recent past. Smoke from the current wildfires tinted everything orange, and the effect was much more extreme than we could capture on camera. It looked like a Seussian version of the Australian outback. At times it felt like another planet altogether. 

On our first full day at the cabin, Shaun took the boys fishing in the Rogue River. He STRONGLY ENCOURAGED me to stay behind and enjoy some alone time. Yes, it was difficult for me to transition from the solitude of the school year to summertime's all-boys-all-the-time, and it may have made me a little crabby. Shaun reported back that they are both very good at casting. I am glad they have skills.

While the boys were gone, I explored the campground in blissful ignorance. It wasn't until I came back from from my wandering that I picked up the guest book and read about all manner of bear sightings. It had occurred to me while I was out alone that I'm not really up on my "what to do if you encounter a wild beast that can harm you" knowledge.

We did a lot of driving around on this trip, which I enjoyed because I haven't seen much of southern Oregon. All of the tall skinny trees made me feel like an ant in a giant lawn. I liked that. We have lots of trees here, but they are not so tall and skinny and densely packed.

One of our outings took us to the world's tallest sugar pine tree. Willem now owns a very long pine cone from the world's tallest sugar pine.

A bigger thrill than viewing the sugar pine was watching (and hearing) a pileated woodpecker do his thing in a nearby tree. (He's smack-dab in the center of this photo.) It sounded like someone was driving nails into wood with a hammer on a construction site. Very loud.

And as if that little interlude in the woods weren't magical enough, Shaun found a dollar.

The boys ate giant ice cream cones in a giant chair at Union Creek Resort's ice cream shop before we went to see the Natural Bridge.

The Natural Bridge area of the Rogue River is a spot where the water flows through a lava tube. It's right off the main road and has a paved trail, so it's a very accessible spot for folks who aren't up for big hikes or rough terrain. It's well worth seeing. Here's the one spot where the water comes out of the tube.

This is a different spot that looks more tube-y but isn't open on the other end.

The water is underneath the lava here. There are a few blowholes, but they weren't blowing much.

We'll have to go back some time and see how different the whole area looks without the smoke haze.

On the drive home we stopped at a charming spot populated by colorful locals and festooned with baggies full of water with pennies in the bottom. I'd noticed a tree in someone's yard similarly decked out earlier in the trip. I had never seen such a thing before, so of course we had to Google it ASAP.

We ate a tasty lunch and more giant ice cream and headed for home.

Here's Willem writing in the Imnaha guest book while Shaun and I cleaned the cabin before we left.

I hope he'll have happy memories of our time there. I know I will.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Imnaha Guard Station

One of the best things we did this summer was rent the Imnaha Guard Station cabin in southern Oregon. I'm the kind of person who drools over the National Park lodges built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps, so I could hardly believe that we could stay in a cabin built by the CCC in 1939 (and now on the National Register of Historic Places) for $40 a night. 

When the government is not shut down, you can go to and find all sorts of places to stay: in addition to camping in a tent or a trailer, you can rent a yurt, a cabin, or a retired fire lookout.

Imnaha was a bit of a drive from where we live, but it was well worth it. Once we turned off the freeway, I enjoyed seeing unfamiliar (to me) parts of Oregon. Little towns popped up in the middle of what seemed like nowhere and it was fun to drive through and wonder about them.

A storm had sparked wildfires in the area the week before we came, so we saw a lot of firefighting activity. We drove by a field that held a varied assortment of helicopters (we got to watch one land), and we also passed the firemen's tent city, which was something I hadn't ever realized existed. It was an impressive sight. The cardboard signs of thanks to the firefighters alongside the country roads kept me tearing up. I'm sappy.

Here's our little cabin in the woods.

Here's the inside of our little cabin in the woods. The living room furniture is custom-made, except for the antique dresser in the corner which houses the guest book, some games, and the remnants of a mouse nest.

The boys shared this spartan (in a good way) bedroom, and Shaun and I took the futon by the fireplace.

An old horse pasture adjoins the cabin. It's not a bad spot for airplanes, both paper (Willem threw one) and RC (Shaun flew one.)

Here's an old water tower in the back yard. All of the smoke in the air made for lovely light. I had to include this picture because it looks to me like it should be one of those cheesy photo wall murals that gets used in an ironic way in a hipster bar in Portland. But also, it's pretty.

Apparently I walked right by this hornets' nest at the end of our driveway TWICE without even noticing it. Shaun drove by it when he took the boys on a fishing expedition without me and stopped to take a picture. 

One of the best things about staying at the Imnaha Guard Station is the spring that bubbles up just beyond the back yard of the cabin. It is other-worldly. It's like Tolkien, Lewis, and MacDonald all rolled into one. The sound is enchanting. I've never seen anything like it. Just glorious.

Perhaps because staying in a cabin with a full kitchen and a bathroom is so much less work than tent camping, we ended up playing more games before bedtime than we usually do. Shaun taught Nels and me how to play Solitaire, which is officially my new favorite way to unwind. And here is Nels playing his first game of Scrabble. 

Our only regret about the trip is that we spent so much time exploring the area (pictures to come) that we didn't sit around and enjoy staying put as much as we would have liked to. Next time we'll stay four nights.

Friday, September 20, 2013


When I first became a parent (a milestone in itself), it was all milestones all the time. If you've been a parent or known a parent, you know what I mean. You start with the first time the baby sleeps for more than three hours in a row. (Is he breathing?) Then his first smile. The first time he rolls over. The first time he sits up. The first time he crawls. Eats solid food. Says his first word. Walks. 

I think moms and dads need those milestones the way they come, in rapid succession, in order to keep us putting one foot in front of the other. It helps break up the exhausting job of caring for a baby into manageable stretches.

Eventually the milestones get farther apart. First day of preschool. First day of kindergarten. Lost teeth. First day of all-day school. The significant events trickle down to almost nothing before they pick up again in the pre-teen and teenage years, when they are fewer but bigger.

All that to say, we are in the lull years right now. So the closest thing we have to a milestone is that Nels is ten years old today. First time double digits! Not earthshaking, but not nothing.

In Nels's third grade class last year, each student got to be the "star" for a week. On one day of that week they were to bring in something written by their parent for the teacher to read to the class. It could be a letter to the student, or a funny anecdote about him, a poem, or a fictional story featuring him. I know Nels would have liked for me to share a funny story, but I couldn't think of anything (believe it or not.) He would have loved to star in a made-up story, but I waited too long to start and ran out of time. I settled on writing a poem. It rhymes only because Nels would not have considered it a legitimate poem if it didn't.

I'm sharing the poem here because all of these things are still true of Nels on his tenth birthday. And we just couldn't be prouder of him or love him more.

His eyes are blue,
His heart is true,
He uses big words
When small words would do.

He plans and he builds,
He invents and he schemes.
At bedtime he imagines new worlds;
Then he dreams.

His memory's grand--
His dancing's great too.
To perform for a crowd
Is his dream-come-true.

Nels is silly and goofy;
He jokes and he plays.
He loves to ride airplanes.
He reads books every day.

He cares about fairness
And doing what's right.
In our little family,
His life is a light.

His eyes are blue,
His heart is true.
We love our Nels so;
Most surely we do.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Camping at Cape Disappointment

Our first camping trip of the summer was a visit to Cape Disappointment State Park. We loved the site we had last year, but this year we arrived to find our neighbors right up against (and even in) our space. It was awkward.

That's all their stuff.

Our spot did have its consolations, though. There was a clearing in the trees just big enough for our tent, which was handy when the weather turned sprinkly. And there was a huge rock right behind us, upon which the boys would have happily spent an entire week. I climbed up once, and my fear of heights kicked in so badly that it was really hard for me to let them keep climbing up to play there. I was always ill at ease until they were back down on the ground.

If you click on this picture, you can see what they looked like from our campsite. Tiny.

A huge group of teenagers occupied much of our loop and the loop adjacent to us. They were camping across the U.S., transported on charter buses which I never would have guessed could fit into a campsite parking space. The rock was a popular hangout for the teenagers, and boy did our kids study them. (See below.) Nels and Willem concluded that they are not looking forward to being that silly.

The teenagers sang a lot (the popular songs of the day), boys and girls alike, which surprised me. Maybe that's just what you do when you're on top of a big rock. They were all very quiet at night. In fact, the whole place was more quiet than I've ever experienced at a full campground. It was incredibly peaceful, which is something I don't take for granted after a few bad experiences in summers past.

Shaun bought magnesium flints for the boys. They spent many hours generating sparks and then trying to start a fire. It's a good thing their survival didn't depend on it.

I guess we weren't in much of a wet and sandy mood this year, because we hardly spent any time at the beach.We did drive to nearby Long Beach to watch a movie. Going to the movies may sound like a lame thing to do on a camping trip, but camping trips are pretty much our only vacations, so we pack them full of special-occasiony things. Like giant doughnuts. 

(Unlike last year, nobody even noticed.)

We finally made it to Fort Clatsop, a recreation of the fort Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery stayed in from December 1805 to March 1806. They've done a nice job with it. Walking through the rooms made it easy to imagine what life there must have been like.

We went to a talk and demonstration about the firearms the Corps had along. Weirdly, I found myself wanting to own a powder horn. They are beautiful objects.

This fellow assisted in the demonstration. I had to include him for his outfit.

Fire! Shaun tells me this is a black powder flintlock rifle. The ammo was a spit wad manufactured before our very (somewhat grossed out) eyes. 

While I really enjoyed all of the furnishings in the fort, my favorite thing might have been learning (in a visit to the interpretive center) that Lewis and Clark referred to moccasins as "mockersons." I don't know why it struck me so, but now I have a hankering to read a novel about hill people who live in villages alongside crafty talking alligators and teach their children to make their own mockersons out of squirrels when they turn five.

My other favorite thing was this waste receptacle. Seriously. It was like a piece of fine furniture just sitting out in the woods.

Back at the campground, we hiked to a lighthouse we hadn't visited on our last trip. Before we left for home, we drove around and noted the numbers of the more secluded campsites. That way we can avoid being in our neighbor's laps next time around.

Overall, we would have enjoyed more sunshine and more privacy. But when you get right down to it, all any trip needs is a campfire and a good book to be counted a total success.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

First Day

First day of fourth grade and second grade. Nels was nervous, Willem was not. 

I got better pictures, but they had weird(er) expressions in all of those.

We had to be at school early today, which wasn't a problem. The boys always bounce out of bed on the first day. The second day is an uglier story. We went early because almost a third of the students at our school are new this year (due to boundary changes), and I volunteered to help welcome new families and answer any questions they might have. In a stroke of luck, I was assigned to work the Kindergarten hall.

If there's any better way to start a school year than by watching a bunch of parents walk their Kindergartners to class, I don't know what it is. The first to arrive were a father and son. The dad was dressed for the office in slacks and a button-down shirt. They walked hand in hand down the hall and entered a classroom. I could see the dad, son, and teacher chat for a few minutes, and then the dad turned to leave. The teacher put her arm around the boy's shoulders. The dad left and passed by me in the hallway. He looked at me, and his eyes were glistening.

He said, "That's hard." 

As I caught up with friends and waved at students and joked with teachers, I was surprised to realize how many people I know, and how connected I am for someone who has a bad habit of thinking of herself as an outsider. I should stop doing that.

I was planning to go home once school started, but one of the superstar PTA moms (she's also my neighbor) had collected a trunk full of donated school supplies from her church and needed some help getting them to the right kiddos. I loved that: see a need, meet it. So I stayed for a bit.

Once I finally left school I went downtown to return a library book. I planned to go to the local coffee house for a free "back-to-school" mimosa, but, being alone, I chickened out.

I did go back to the school in the afternoon to help (the same hard-working mom) organize some new books they got over the summer. School is way more fun when you don't have to go. I'd say we all had a great first day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Summertime

Swim lessons are our only regularly scheduled activity this summer, and some days it feels like they're all that's keeping us from descending into Lord of the Flies territory. Somehow the days slip away without me planning anything. And what I'm left with is one boy who wants to spend 100% of his time with his brother and one boy who wants to spend 80% of his time apart from the company of his brother. Which leads to elbow-throwing and accidental kicking and lots of wide-eyed "I didn't know that would hurt!"s.

Thankfully, the first of our three summer camping trips is coming right up. That will be good fun for all of us and provide a more scenic backdrop for the inevitable squabbles. Until then, here is a hodgepodge of pictures of our summer so far.

It turns out that I can buy eggs at church from a family whose teenage daughter sells them for pocket money. At $3/dozen they're much cheaper than any other fresh eggs around. And they are so pretty.

It's always a struggle to fix proper dinners in the summer. I don't want to cook when it's hot. I never thought the kids would get tired of hot dogs, but I think we're just about there. One Saturday evening we splurged and Shaun picked up Panda Express for dinner, and Willem got the worst fortune ever.

Shaun became an official member of the Fern Prairie Modelers. He now has the key code to the gate and can fly any 'ol time.

Willem is usually busy reading or playing or working on a project long before the rest of us are up. One morning I came downstairs to turn on my computer and he walked into the office with his hands behind his back.

"I made you something," he said, and showed it to me. It was a tire swing. I love that Willem surveyed his pile of stuff and came up with that. Giving him carte blanche to use the hot glue gun was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Since I plan so few activities, I try to at least get to the Camas Farmer's Market every week with the boys. It's only one block long, but we usually run into people we know, and Willem in particular looks forward to seeing what craft they have available. It's usually geared towards much younger children, but that doesn't ever stop him from participating. You can practically see his little fingers start to twitch as he gets near the canopy and spots the art supplies.

Two weeks ago we went to the market on a day they'd planned a kids' pie-eating contest. I asked Nels if he wanted to do it (I suspected he wouldn't.) He said, no, he didn't think so. Willem was surrounded by toddlers at the craft table, so it took me several tries to get his attention and ask him if he wanted to enter. Yes he did want to enter, and he said that he was going to win. He didn't say it in a braggy way at all, he just said it as though he had some secret knowledge that none of the rest of us were privy to. After seeing his brother's enthusiasm, Nels decided he'd go ahead and enter too.

Here is Willem grinning at his pie. It was blackberry crumble with whipped cream on top, provided by the fine folks at Truly Scrumptious. First kid to finish was the winner, with the younger ones going first.

A strange thing happened when those kids tore into their pies. Willem was one of the oldest in his age group, and he went at it with a ferocity that totally took me by surprise. I started giggling. He kept going. Other people started to notice him and began to point and talk about him. I was hot and tired, and for some reason the reaction I had to this unexpected attention was that I moved on from giggling to cackling like a crazy person. Willem shook his pie tin in his teeth like a puppy with a bone. You can see the boy next to him giving him the side eye. At some point the other kids kind of gave up and just watched Willem. And I laughed like a maniac and wiped the tears from my eyes the whole time. Oy.

Triumphant and only very slightly queasy. 

The prize was a $5 token to spend at the market. He wanted to buy carrots, but at $4 for a tiny bunch I told him I'd buy him some at the grocery store and he could save his money for something more special. 

Nels probably ate his pie as quickly as Willem did, but he didn't stand a chance against the giant 15 year-old standing next to him.

That didn't stop him from enjoying every bite of his pie.

We almost always go out to Shaun's folks' place for the 4th of July. Since it fell on a Thursday this year, the boys had swim lessons first. A local church provided a free barbecue for the entire city right in the park where they have lessons, so we were able to grab lunch before we hit the road to spend a few nights at grandma and grandpa's.

Shaun's dad often has projects lined up for the boys. They love the opportunity to earn a dollar or two, and it keeps them busy. This time they were supposed to be helping dig up a pipe, but mostly they watched.

And watched.

Willem got in there a little bit. Nels watched.

Shaun's mom Linda grew mesclun in her garden for the first time, and it was very happy to grow there. We ate it all weekend, and she sent me home with this lovely batch of greens.

Back at home, Shaun finally (mostly) finished the Piper Cub model he's been devoted to for the past several weeks. My mom was visiting for a few days, so she joined us for the inaugural flight.

I wish I could adequately convey just how much work it was to build that plane, and how fine a job Shaun did. But if a picture's worth a thousand words, this one will have to do.