Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fall From Grace

World's Best Mom surprises boys by coming home from the grocery store with Swiss Miss triple chocolate pudding cups to pack in lunches.

World's Worst Mom shows up at the school cafeteria at lunchtime to TAKE BACK the pudding after realizing she bought it in the refrigerated section but stored it overnight in the cupboard.

There's nothing like seeing your children's faces light up at your unexpected appearance and then having to tell them you've come for their pudding.

They actually took it well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christmas Break

I thought our Christmas break would drag this year, as it often does, and that I would need to make lots of plans to keep us all busy. But Nels was getting over being sick, so we had to stay home. Thankfully, the boys have taken their hobbies to the next level, which means they can (and do) occupy themselves for hours if they're in the right mood. Or if they have a fresh stack of craft books from the library.

Nels has become very proficient in origami. He brought home a new origami book from the library and created this fighter squadron in short order, all on his own . 

For filling serious chunks of time, model-building can't be beat. Here's Nels building the battleship Missouri, a Christmas gift from Grandpa Scott and Grandma Juli. I can't believe his patience--the guns are the size of fleas. He's also built the USS Arizona and a B-17G Flying Fortress.

Willem, as usual, made stuff out of whatever he could get his hands on, like these bugs made out of Bendaroos. Bendaroos are just wax-coated strings, in case you aren't familiar with them, and I think they are pretty great. To be fair, Nels had the idea to make bugs first, but I think Willem executed it with panache.

Here's Willem punching out the pieces for a model of a cricket that we found for $3 at the antique store. His tongue was out the entire time.

Nels asked me to teach him how to braid, so I did. Here he is practicing on his brother because I wouldn't let him practice on me.

Willem had a little crisis of conscience when he found out we would be having crab bisque for Christmas Eve dinner, and he made this poster to hold up to passing traffic. He loves all creatures, but the pricklier they are, the softer his heart for them is. His stuffed animals include both a crab and a lobster (or crawdad. We're not sure.) He also finds all shellfish to be delicious, which may explain why he never took this poster to the streets. 

The company Shaun works for gave t-shirts to all of the employees' kids this year. Willem was into it.

Speaking of Shaun's work, we decided to host an office Christmas party this year. (There is no official party.) Because Shaun likes to cook dishes that are labor intensive and require special equipment, he decided to make his family's traditional krumkake for the party.

He did the family proud. They were beautiful and delicious.

I don't know why we bothered to clean the house, because everyone hung out in our hideous carpeted kitchen for the duration of the party.

This takes the prize for generous and thoughtful hostess gift. One of our guests brought us this bottle of bitters from The Meadow. And although tamarind is one of my least favorite flavors on earth, this concoction is very tasty. I'm looking forward to experimenting with it.

We were so busy that Christmas was upon us before we knew it. And that was just fine by us.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Eye Post

I'll get us up-to-date on my eye situation here so we can move on to things that are more fun. That's all this post is about, so if you find people yapping on about their doctor visits to be less than enthralling, please do skip it.

I finally put together that I was seeing double every time I exercised extensively, but not at other times. That made me think that my problem wasn't just one of having trouble focusing when I went from looking at things up close to looking at things far away. So I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to see what she thought.

I went to see her in the morning on a Wednesday, the day the boys get out of school at 1:10. This doctor took my symptoms very seriously. At 12:55 I was still at her office, because she didn't want me to leave until she'd gotten to speak to a neurologist on the phone to make sure she was ordering all the right labs for blood work. She also wanted to do an MRI and CT scan of my brain right away, in case I had a brain tumor, or, more urgently, an aneurysm. I didn't find out until my follow-up appointment with the neurologist that the doctor had thought (mistakenly, in the neurologist's opinion) that my pupils were different sizes, so she had been very concerned. I did pick up on the vibes, though. Very intense. 

I finally just had to leave so I could pick the boys up from school. I promised I'd come right back to finish up and get my blood drawn. At school I ran into Willem's teacher and had to cancel the parent-teacher conference we'd scheduled for that afternoon. When I returned to the doctor's office there was an electric buzz in the air, and I gathered they were worried about how long I'd been away. After my blood draw, they ushered me into a room with the boys and told me they were scheduling my imaging. I was thinking sometime in the next few days. They asked could I be there at 3:30. In an hour and a half. I called Shaun at work to see if he could come meet me there, and he could.

One blessing in all of this was that there were no big scary new places to visit. The imaging center happened to be right next to the Fred Meyer I shop at, and just a few minutes from my doctor's office. It was all very familiar, which was comforting. I had just enough time to fill a prescription for Valium at Fred Meyer (I can't even sit in the back seat of a van without feeling anxious) and buy the boys some chicken strips. Shaun made it back and joined us there, and we sat at a little round table while the boys ate. Other tables were occupied by cranky elderly men who had been shuttled over from the old folks' home across the street. I know they were cranky because I overheard some of their conversation, and it was not fit for repeating on a family blog. Not that I'm criticizing, seeing as I only just turned forty and here I am already giving you a play-by-play of my health woes.

Shaun did his valiant best to keep the boys occupied during my scans. I had never had an MRI before, and they warned me that it was loud. It was loud all right, and startling. One series of blats varied unexpectedly from what had come before and struck me as hilarious (maybe that was the Valium was kicking in), and I had a hard time not giggling. Other than that it was fine.

It was dark when we finished there, and time for dinner. We ended up trying a new Mexican restaurant nearby. The servers were all so warm and friendly. In fact, everyone that day had been warm and friendly, another blessing. We ate chips and salsa and felt mildly homesick for California and the Mexican culture that we forget is so much a part of life there. I ordered just the right thing instead of wishing I'd ordered what Shaun had, one more little blessing. We shared a margarita the size of a fish bowl and wondered if it would be our last night of normal.

I felt heavy, but I didn't feel worry or fear. I've always wondered if I'd freak out in a situation like that, and it was such a relief not to. Not that I can take any credit for that. I had friends praying for me, and my state of mind says more about who God is -- faithful--than it does about me.

I don't know how I'd do if the news we eventually got had been bad. After a few hours we figured there was no aneurysm, or they would have called us. By the end of the next day I'd gotten the all-clear for all of the big scary possibilities. All of my blood tests had come back negative too, so I don't have any thyroid disorders or lupus, or any of the other things they were looking at. After subsequent visits to a neurologist and more blood work for more obscure disorders, we still don't know what I do have, but we've ruled out all of the seriously life-shortening conditions.

My MRI did show a few white spots on my brain, which might be totally normal for a brain my age. However, they can't say with 100% certainty that it's not multiple sclerosis without doing a lumbar puncture. Before I do that, though, I am going to see a neuro-opthalmologist (Feb 22) for more specialized tests on my eyes. There are still a few things we haven't ruled out, but I am trying to keep in mind that it's possible I may not ever get the answers I'm looking for. That would be a test, all right. And the reminder that I so often need; that our times are never in our own hands, but in God's.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Walla Walla

I have not abandoned this blog, despite all appearances to the contrary. We have been busy busy, but it's the presence of a medical mystery winding its way through all that busy that has kept me from sitting down and writing. The part of me that stays up until three in the morning reading a book to find out how it ends won out for several weeks, and I didn't want to update here until I had it all figured out.

But life doesn't work that way, and definitive answers may not be forthcoming anytime soon. So here I am, back at it, with some serious catching up to do. 

We'll pick up with the latter part of my birthday weekend. Shaun and I were watching the movie Argo (see it if you haven't), and towards the end I started seeing double. At one point the screen went "Magic Eye" on me, with some of the images standing out in front of others like a second-rate 3-D movie. But mostly it was double, and it lasted until the end of the movie (maybe five minutes) and continued as we left the theater, and it took a while to completely wear off. It freaked me out.

My vision hadn't seemed quite normal to me since October, so I'd been planning to see a doctor anyways. The opthomologist said my eyes were probably just changing with age, having trouble adjusting to different distances. She said that if I had any other neurological symptoms I should let her know, and she'd order an MRI. And sent me on my way. After that I had a brief episode of double vision while exercising at home. It happened while I was looking from the TV to the trees outside, so her explanation seemed at least plausible.

That was just before Thanksgiving. This year we didn't have an extended family gathering to go to, so we decided to have our own meal at home and then go have an adventure. We took a road trip to Walla Walla and spent a night at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. The boys LOVE to stay in hotels, and we knew they'd be wowed by the fancy lobby.

Wowed, they were. Dignified, they were not.

They climbed right into bed as soon as we walked through the door of our room. Willem's face really says it all.

After much debating about where we should eat dinner, we decided against the restaurant in a railroad car with food of debatable quality and took a chance on dining with our road-weary children at the popular Brasserie Four. Willem wasn't thrilled with the menu, but we let him consume most of the bread in the basket, which is his ideal meal anyways. The wine was French and delicious and the frites were at least double-fried and delicious and I could have spent the rest of my life at that table. But our natives got restless and eventually we moved along, back to the wonder that is TV and snacks in a bed that you don't have to make yourself.

The next day was a strange one. In an email from our friend and family pastor, we found out that our friend Walter from church (sixty years old with a younger wife and two very young children) had passed away in his sleep the previous night, the night after Thanksgiving. We might have waited to tell the boys, but my very loud gasp upon reading the news precluded that option. It was hard to wrap our minds around him being gone just like that, and what it would mean for those he left behind. And I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like for me or Shaun to die unexpectedly. I saw us all with different eyes that day as we walked around downtown, browsing in the toy store and choosing treats at the chocolate shop and drinking hot coffee. It was a very "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" kind of day.

At one point we wandered into a book store. Willem found and pounced on the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes. The boys have checked out all of the volumes from the library, so he knew it at once. He lugged it around hopefully for a while. Of course he's exaggerating for effect because he's Willem, but it really is quite heavy.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. It was a stop on the Oregon trail. You can see where the wagon ruts ran, although the ones we see now are replacements. The originals were smoothed over at one point.

The mission is known for the massacre that took place there, and the friendly staff person manning the information desk seemed to take pleasure in apprising us of all the sad details. The mission was in the territory of the Cayuse tribe. Marcus Whitman farmed the land and provided medical care, and Narcissa ran a school for the children. The Whitmans had only one child, a daughter who drowned in the river on the site when she was two. Narcissa took in orphans thereafter, including the seven Sager siblings whose parents had died on the Oregon trail. After an outbreak of measles killed a disproportionate number of Cayuse (who did not have any resistance to the disease), the Indians deemed the Whitmans responsible and killed them, along with twelve other settlers. The surviving Sager children were orphaned for the second time.

The mission was razed in the attack, but the outlines of the buildings remain.

The landscape there tugs at you. It was still and quiet and sad and beautiful. Up on a hill overlooking it all stands a memorial to the Whitmans. We saved walking up the hill for last part of our visit. I was less than halfway up before I started seeing double, and I worried at the top as I rested.

We were altogether weary when we climbed back into the car and headed home. We're not used to thinking about death, and there was so much thinking to be done about it that day. God sometimes puts us face to face with what's real. It's not easy to be reminded of these things, but it's good.