Reading by Our Lake

lakereadingI think I have waxed poetic before about why I like backpacking.  It isn’t that I like doing a million miles of hiking.  I don’t like getting on top of things and looking out.  I certainly do not like living on dehydrated food for days on end!

I like it for these lovely moments where the whole world seems to drop into its correct place.  The day is long and quiet, or surprising in its simplicity.  Frogs in the pond.  Tadpoles getting ready to join the adult frog world.  Deer who are not afraid of us.

For the kids, it is magical too.  They accept the dirtiness with relish; (I try to follow along without too much complaint).  The entertainment is splashing in the lake, whittling sticks, catching frogs and listening to In a Glass Grimly by Adam Gidwitz each night.

By the way, if you have a child between about 5 and 13 in your family and like reading out loud to him or her (or them!), I HIGHLY recommend Gidwitz’s books.  Tale Dark and Grimm is good.  In a Glass Grimmly is better!  Can’t wait until The Grimm Conclusion is in paperback.  Gidwitz is the ultimate cheeky narrator, making jokes and raising his hand in faux horror over his mouth at the action in the story…..which is often gross and sort of bloody in a delightful way.  Really!

We’re back from our 5 nights in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of northern California.  It was wonderful.


6 Year Old Plants Vs Zombies Party

I really hope my 6 year old nephew KNOWS how cool I am.

(And how much I love him, of course).


photo 1

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Every family does this, right?



What is Old is New (and even better)

My cousin’s wife Suzy did a post on her blog about My Little Pony redesigns.  She captured the issues quite well and included links so that you can check out the freakishness that is My Little Pony today.   I’m not going to restate her conclusions— she already did that work and she is right!

Inez asked for My Little Ponies for her birthday, which sent me into double fits.  First of all, the things are plastic, plastic, plastic, and although less offensive somehow than other plastic toys, are still made of fresh petroleum products that do not decompose.  I don’t want a birthday present for a 5 year old that will outlast the 5 year old, (unless it is a knee replacement or heart valve, and in that case, I am all for it!).  Even with these sometimes weak convictions, I found myself standing in the toy aisle at Fred Meyer, trying to figure out this My Little Pony issue.  Embarrassingly enough, the ugliness of the current ponies was what put me over the edge.  All the tender, plump Pony-ness was gone from these new designs.

Luckily, there is this great thing called Ebay where people are now getting money out of their old pony collections.  I put quite a few bids out there and was soon the proud owner of a lot of 8 ponies from the 80s.  They are used, but in good shape.  The kids don’t care much if they don’t come out of an overly-sealed package, and I can feel good that we are reusing AND that they are super cute.  I call that a win-win situation.


Kids with our friend Grace, the older sister of the little girl on the river last entry.


To the Birds

I kind of love the fall in Oregon.  My delicate constitution causes me to overheat when the temperature goes into the low 80s, so I am made for tepid September and October.

I had heard for years about the September swift migration, but hadn’t gotten the family organized until this year.  Long story short is that Vauxs Swifts are passing through Portland throughout September and go to rest for the night in several large chimneys about town.  Just as it begins to get dark, the swifts form a funnel cloud that whirls down into the chimney like a genie in a bottle.  The most striking show is at Chapman school, where they have decommissioned the furnace to allow the little birds to rest in peace (for the night).  The swift is also, charmingly, their school mascot.  Throughout the month, the hillside behind the school is PACKED with people who come out to see the swifts go to bed.  Before that big to-do, there is cardboard sliding for the kids and often a peregrine falcon attempting to pick off a bird or two.  I guess the falcon is not guaranteed, but he (or she) showed up the night we went and it was very exciting in a gladiator sort of way.

My photos suck, but I am going to share them anyway.


The kids weren’t exactly sure why I had them bring cardboard to a picnic, but they soon figured out what it was all about.
IMG_7338 It is sort of awesome how much speed you can get going down, but as Francis pointed out, “you always wipe out at the end”. IMG_7339 Early in the evening, there are a few picnic blankets out.  Eventually there are so many people that you can’t move around at all.  We have the great luck to be seated right next to the Audubon Society bird counters and volunteers who kept up steady commentary amongst themselves on the swifts and their predators.  Super interesting!IMG_7342 It’s dark, but can you see the last of the swifts?


I think the swift action is done for the year.  Swifts don’t know that September is over, but they move along pretty dependably.  Even so, I heard they might be taking a bit longer to make their migration.  Read more about them here.


Goodbye Late Summer

Wow, it is really “goodbye summer” today as the rain pours down without ceasing.  Outside my window looks like Noah’s flood.  The plastic turtle pool in the backyard is full and overflowing, the trees are bent in half in the wind, and the windows are streaked with rain drops to where we can hardly see out.  The kids are running wild around the house, stir-crazy after being inside for a few hours.  Goodbye Summer.  You sure know how to leave a girl.

Since you are gone, Summer, I thought I might do a quick blog of some of our last few lovely days.

The week before school started up, I was itching to get out to Sauvie Island to see what farm wonders I had been missing.  Peaches have been prolific this year, so out we went to get them.  Cousins Carmel, Amalia, and new Oren joined us as well as Aunt Tuyen.  Zephyr was doing something.  Why can’t I remember what?IMG_7309 It’s pretty fun being out in the peaches.  The trees were so loaded that they were breaking branches from the weight of the fruit.IMG_7310 You know what is great about picking peaches with other people?  They pick for you!  So if you are a food horder like I am, you can take all the stuff that they pick!  Back at home, Clementine, Brad and I had this canned up in less than 2 hours.  It felt like a MASSIVE accomplishment.IMG_7311

On the weekend, we thought we would hit the 4-T trail with the kids.  Brad and I did the trail on our own a couple years ago (for our anniversary), but the kids had not experienced it yet.  It is sort of a unique concept—the 4 T’s stand for

  • train (you take the train up to the zoo)
  • trail (you walk on a trail….duh)
  • tram (you get on the tram at the top of OHSU and ride down to the waterfront)
  • trolley (okay, so no one actually calls it a trolley.  You get on the streetcar, which in another town might be called a trolley, and take it from the waterfront back to downtown)

Clementine thought it might be fun because she wanted to experience the tram.  The tram costs $4 to ride UP, but is free going down, so taking it was a good opportunity to get a free ride.  Little did she know, she would have to haul her pregnant body 4 miles first!  Maybe we forgot to mention that?IMG_7314

The trail traverses some pretty lovely hillsides around Portland.  At times, you really feel like you are out in the woods, even though you are close to town.  The kids loved running ahead of us and jumping off logs and such.

Brad hauled Madina when she got tired—4 miles is a bit much for a 2 year old.  She was pretty light, but it was a hot day, so Brad and I reminisced about babies sticking to our backs.  No more of those in our future!

Everyone is still smiling at Crown Point.  Clementine forgave us by the tram at OHSU.IMG_7312Back at home, I found this guy in the compost pile.  SOOOOOOOO cute.  Why are they so cute as babies but would freak us out running across our boots in the chicken coop at night?  And I don’t like seeing them in the grain barrel.  Okay, so I don’t like seeing them much at all once they are grown up, but this little guy was darling.  (In case you don’t recognize him, he is a RAT.)  I am also a rat in the Chinese zodiac, so maybe that is why he appeals to me.
IMG_7304Goodbye summer.  It’s been nice knowing you.

Back to School 2013

Things change; things stay the same.

I’ve always liked September.  I look forward to the newness of sprinkles of rain, cold mornings, and lovely purple skies.  Same things around here are that Clementine, Mohamed, and Madina are still with us.  They are a pleasant and sunny addition to our days here.  The small stresses of living with MORE people sort of fall away in the moments where Madina says our names or we sit around chatting with Clementine.  The kids are accustomed to ugali now too, so we are all ready for a trip to central Africa….. at least as far as food goes.

Things change: Sekou is no longer in our house.  His birth mother has changed her mind and would like to raise him herself.  I miss Sekou a bunch.  It’s hard for Brad and I to admit how much we miss him.  We know that having him around was all enjoyment and none of the work (of dealing with the birth mother), but we are both sad about him not being here.

Inez is still doing the playgroup/nanny share two days a week for her last year before kindergarten.  She is pretty thrilled to be with her friends.  I’m pretty thrilled to have Thursdays and Fridays free!  (She had just wrecked on her bike before this picture was taken.)
IMG_7329 Zephyr has grown up too over the summer.  He is still rambunctious and somewhat unaware of where his body is, but he has shown signs of maturing.  Now when he picks up a stick, he doesn’t automatically hit someone with it…. it takes a few minutes.  No, I’m kidding.  Life with Zephyr is going to continue to be a struggle and a delight…. and it will tip back and forth between the two for many years I am sure!  I guess they are all that way, but we are constantly reminded of this fact with our son.  He is so high energy that many people just don’t know how to deal with him, so in addition to us working on qualities that will help him be more successful, we sometime feel like we are doing PR with neighbors, teachers, strangers on the street.  Sometimes I feel like I need to walk around with a button on that says, “Please be patient with my son….he’s actually really great once you get to know him!”.  One great thing is that Zephyr’s desire to read independently really took off this summer.  He is plowing through Harry Potter like a champ.  It’s very exciting!

IMG_7326Francis has the same teacher as last year and is pretty pleased about this.  Over the summer she has just seemed more calm and confident, and better able to regulate her emotions.  She’s also become pretty darn helpful.  She can make breakfast for the family, pick up her brother from school, and ride her bike alone to soccer.  She is also doing a lot this fall— guitar, soccer and Dungeons and Dragons.  Awesome.

IMG_7327We’re happy around here, but always appreciate your love and good wishes.

Our Triumphant Return to Portland–Thumbs Up Wrap Up


brad az

Favorite Site:  Newberry Lava Tube

Being in the the dark alone with a lantern is super fun. Not having been in one before, I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be, but it was so pleasantly odd without being too claustrophobic. The kids had very differing reactions. Francis was freaked out (this is common), Zephyr was staying close but doing all kinds of ninja moves at the darkness, Inez was hauling ass down the tube with no light at all. We got some okay pictures down that there don’t adequately demonstrate this difference, but it’s close: Inez is grinning like a maniac and Francis is hugging her parents. I hope to go again soon.

Trip Thumbs Up

Animals! We saw a bunch: deer, eagles, salmon, elk, antelope, cattle, a cat with seven toes on her front feet, a coyote, and I even saw an emu (on a game farm near the road at 30mph, but whatever). At the High Desert Museum we saw otters, a porcupine, a lynx, a bobcat, an owl, tarantulas, turtles. And of course we felt particularly close to the cougar even though we didn’t see it.  Animals.

It was also great just to be together without being under pressure to get anywhere in particular. If we wanted to stop somewhere, we could and did. Took lots of detours, like to the Crane hot springs where we got hailed on. We weren’t even intending to go to Bend when we started the trip, but we spent four days there. Everything worked out great.




Favorite Site:  It was a tie for me between the Redwoods and the Wallowas.  The hike that we did to Slick Rock convinced me that I want to make it back to the Wallowas for an extended hiking trip.  When you start out hiking and are suddenly met with a mountain in your face—bam!  That’s amazing.  Those mountains are just giant and impressive and they seem to come out of nowhere.  And trees always have a special place in my heart.

General Thumbs Up:  There is tons to learn about our gorgeous state.  Whether it is history or geology or the natural world, this state has something to give at every turn.  I was so impressed with our National Parks System.  Thank you Teddy Roosevelt!  What forethought to know that we would want to preserve and protect our natural spaces.  And thank you people who figure out interpretive signs and maintain them.  If it were up to me, I would have just made stuff up, but these people made interpretive signs that are intelligent and educational!  And people who build hiking trails.  And Ezra Meeker.  I am still blown away by characters like Ezra Meeker.  This is a state full of Meekers, people who believe very strongly in their own weird little thing and are willing to walk miles and miles to prove it.

I don’t know if this is a negative reflection on my life, but I actually didn’t really want to come back.  I like doing things and feeling helpful for people in my community, but sometimes the appointments on the calendar feel so oppressive.  I have a million things that I am suppose to get to, which are just a million opportunities to be late or forget what I am suppose to do.  Everyone wants me; everyone needs me.  I felt so free away from a phone and unable to do anything for anyone besides our immediate family.  There is something here to consider and learn from, so I am tucking this sensation in my cap to turn over this fall.  How do I “get away” while I am actually living?

My final impressions of our trip— guess what?  Oregon is still wild!




Favorite Site:  The Oregon Caves

I was so excited to be somewhere where everything was so warped and enchanted.  There were possibilities around every corner.

 Trip Thumbs up

The libraries in the small towns were so nice.  I liked them a lot.  They are a way to stop and relax for a bit.  You didn’t have to have a library card.  You could just relax in a corner and read a book.

 Just being somewhere where we didn’t have a normal routine, and we were able to do something fun each day, and nothing was ever boring or normal.



Favorite Site:  Crystal Crane Hot Springs, Eastern Oregon

This one was a pond strangely.  It was very hot and muddy on the bottom.  It was really big and I could touch in half the way through.

Trip Thumbs Up

 The trip was fun because there was lots of hot springs.  I liked camping because the sleeping bags were so comfy.  And I liked marshmallows.





Favorite Site:  Mt Howard in the Wallowas

We feeded the chipmunks and they were so cute!  I made friends at every campground.


Animals we saw or heard on our trip

  • eagles (bald and golden)
  • chipmunks
  • squirrels
  • wolves
  • coyote
  • cougar
  • hermit crabs
  • crabs
  • rock fish
  • sturgeon
  • trout
  • elk
  • giant pacific salamander
  • deer
  • prong horn antelope
  • gophers
  • sea lions
  • seal
  • wild mustangs
  • starfish

Now we’re home and not feeling like going much of anywhere.  This trip has been a great joy.  

That’s a wrap!

Neahkahnie Mountain

William L. Sullivan has been a special friend on this entire trip.  In case you don’t recognize this guy, he is a well-known and loved author from Oregon who specializes in hiking books.  He has countless editions covering all the well-known and not so well-known hikes around our beautiful state.  Mr Sullivan was responsible for all the good finds across Eastern Oregon.  We had his book and just did pretty much everything he said from the Wallowas through Bend.  I thought at one point on this trip that I needed one of those bracelets— What Would William L Sullivan Do?

WLS has a nice internet presence too.  He recommends this hike up Neahkahnie Mountain for the amazing vistas of the sea below.  Hmmmmm…..


photo by Jason Franklin

Our day started and ended with a thick fog blanketing everything.  The beach was warm enough, but the visibility was really poor.  We took off on this hike anyway.

My camera gave up right after this group shot, but that’s okay.  It just means that all the pretty pictures on this post are by a real photographer!

foggyhikeThese are our friends Jason and Angela.  We know them because their eldest, Soren, was in a religious education class with Francis.  Zephyr and Anders are the same age too, which makes for all sorts of craziness.

Inez, Zephyr and Anders ate sorrel all the way up the mountain.  They’ve done this before and always came back alive.  Luckily sorrel is pretty easily recognizable.


photo by Jason Franklin


photo by Jason Franklin

neahkahnie hike 1

photo by Jason Franklin


photo by Jason Franklin

On top we can hear the sea, but not see the sea.  The fog took on a damp feeling up here.  Blowing, damp fog.  Everyone started talking about the cheery fire we were going to make back at the house.


photo by Jason Franklin

I think that Brad is tying a shoe here.  He has a vaguely disgusted look on his face!

The rest of the day was full of tea, digging in the sand, board game playing and trying to finish the rest of our beer.  We ate a huge dinner of left-over salmon and bratwurst (better than it sounds!).  Tomorrow we go home.

Plastics and Powering Up the Coast

There are things that you tell your kids over and over again that are hard messages to “come home”.  Brad and my stance on plastics is one such rough message.  We’re horrified by plastics— how plastic breaks so easily, how our society acts as though it is made to be thrown away and yet it is never really gone, how much of it ends up in the ocean, and how as trash it is both unnecessary and pervasive.  I hate the kids buying plastic toys.  They seem to break instantly in ways that afford me no opportunity to repair them.

The kids see our anti-plastic issues as a big old bummer.  Other kids are allowed beach toys—we are told to bring a garden trowel from home.  Other kids have Power Ranger dolls—we have to pretend our stuffed animals are ninjas.  Other kids have splash pools in the summer—we have to fill up the ice cooler and play in that.  Other kids can eat Otter Pops all summer—we have these weird home-made popsicles in our freezer with off-kilter broken chop sticks to hold on to.  (I want to make a side note here that this particular entry is really, really preachy, and that we are by no means perfect in our issues with consumption, plastic or otherwise.  We also buy plastic toys on occasion.  Those Playmobil sets are just so charming!  And our kids have legos—-we try to get them second hand, but they can be found in our house.  You CAN also find many Barbies in Inez’s room—not just corn husk dolls, and although most have come from thrift stores, at least one was a brand spanking new petroleum product.  We aren’t perfect…..even though we live in North Portland.)

But some issues don’t really come home when you just talk about them.  You can talk and talk and talk, but when you ask someone to go without, especially when that someone is a child, it is a hard row to hoe.  Brad sums these things up well—“We don’t want you to have plastic stuff because we don’t want to wreck the Earth!”.  That’s very esoteric for kids.  When we went through Bandon by the Sea, we came upon a public art installation by a non-profit group called Washed Ashore that made our messages about plastics take on a whole new light.  The people at Washed Ashore are making art out of the plastics that are showing up regularly on Bandon area beaches, flip flops, broken sand toys, water bottles and styrofoam.  The huge installations are going on tour both nationally and globally to educate people about the problems caused by marine debris.  

plasticfish The works are lovely and yet sad.  The group says that they have used EVERYTHING that comes in.  Nothing is thrown away (a second time).seal Inside the gallery, they have an interactive display of styrofoam “coral”.  You can drum on some of the larger pieces and get these beautiful tones.styrofoam This water bottle jellyfish can be turned like a carousel.  The kids are inside the piece.

jellyfish Each work of art was displayed for kids to touch and interact with.  A volunteer led our group through the exhibit, encouraging us to play with the pieces.  When we were done exploring, the kids were invited into a craft area where they could contribute to a brain coral piece by making what the volunteer called “trash kabobs”.  Their pieces were yellow and clear plastic chunks strung on metal rods.  Each station had an artist’s rendering of the end product.  It was cool to have a job to do.  Our brain coral would be at Sea World San Diego within a week.

helpingWe were really impressed with little downtown Bandon.  There were interesting things to see and do in the little 6 block area.  Down at the candy shop, the woman behind the counter was so impressed with the kids liking licorice that she gave them each a sample from the huge jars on the wall.

Someone hoped I was enjoying Bandon, and guess what?  I was!  But we had to drive on to reach Beachside State Park.bandonsign


Beachside was our last night of camping for the trip, so it was bitter-sweet (mostly sweet to be honest!).  It was one of the most luxurious campgrounds (free showers!  Clean bathrooms!) compared to many of the places we’ve stayed, but not a fantastic setting.  It is a narrow little strip of treed park wedged between the beach and HWY 101.  Obviously I had no problem with the beach…. but our campsite backed up along the highway.  Trucks went by in the early morning and sounded like they would run right over us.  If we had been on the beach side, we wouldn’t have even heard the trucks, but alas, we were camping on the side of the highway.  I mused that ironically, if I had just pulled the family off the highway and tried to set up my tent, that would have been illegal, but here we were.

In the morning, we had time to hop into Old Town Newport.  I got the kids back up on the power boxes to take another picture.  Inez was still reticent and worried.  She hadn’t forgotten her birthday weekend when she first decided that jumping on the electric box would kill her.grabhold Newport is such a great little town.  I never tire of visiting the caterwauling sea lions on the Harbor Front.
And it is cool to see fishermen and cannery workers going in to their work in their big boots.  Zephyr wanted a picture of himself with his favorite food.zephyrsalmon On this trip, we have met so many very kind people fishing or crabbing.  I don’t know if it is a fisherman personality type or what, but by and large, everyone was happy to let the kids hold their rods, look at their fish, watch them gut and clean, and answer questions.

This man let Inez throw back the too-small crab.inezthrowsitback And let Francis pick up the little guys.

newportcrabNice times in Newport.  We got back in the car and headed for Lincoln City where we were to meet Brad’s parents and grandpa for lunch.  That night we would join our friends Jason and Angela in Manzanita.  Oh, it is getting close to the end!

Southern Oregon Beaches

Nesika Beach, where we were staying for a couple days, is a lovely place.  There isn’t a ton of culture in the Southern Oregon Beach towns, but the coastline is by far the loveliest in the state.  The beach house my friend loaned was quite convenient to a quiet, pristine beach, so we walked there in the evening.

The beach is so golden that you can’t help but have sort of lofty thoughts.  I’ve been a religious person all my life, so I suppose that I have professed to believe many questionable things.  On the beach though, the immensity of the ocean grants me a greater sense of faith and wonder…. not pondering minutia, or dogma, but just observing that the water is awesome and mighty and we don’t seem to know much about it.  I see all this light and frothiness, but underneath it is dark and full of bizarre life.  The ocean goes where I will never go.  It sustains us, and can do us in in a second.  We are powerless before it.  I am impressed by the ocean.  Wow, YOU ocean, YOU are wonderful.beach Day one we were so tired that we were pretty happy to just get our camping gear back in working order.  Tents and sleeping bags were soaking wet from our last foggy morning in the Redwoods, so everything had to be hung to dry and then folded up again.  I have done very little folding and rolling of tents on this trip (it’s been mostly Brad’s job), but I do think if I never had to roll another tent, I would be just fine with that.

Day two we decided we would be big old losers unless we walked to the tide pools at the south end of the beach.  There we found a whole world of wonders…. like tiny hermit crabs, little bitty rockfish and baby crab.crabWe explored for about an hour, and then noticed that it was getting late and dark.  Inez was dead tired…. and said so.  When the little one says she just wants to be in her bed, you make all haste to get her there.

The kids are troopers.  When I think of the many miles that we have asked them to put on their little legs, it fills me with pride.  They’ve risen to meet many challenges, and most of those have been done with pretty good spirits.

Sometimes you gotta give the kid a ride.bradinez