Thursday, August 28, 2014

{Some River}

About every other year we pack our van to the gills and head south. As we meander through the Mount Hood forests and eventually emerge in the vast desert lands dotted with pine trees, my breaths deepen and my spirit soars. Time slows here. Family gathers -- sometimes quite a crew, sometimes just the six of us -- but no matter who happens to be there, vacationing in Sunriver feels like coming home.



It was my nephew Evan who first called it "Some River" several years ago. He just figured that the family was headed toward some river and he -- as always -- went with the flow. He was thrilled when he learned that not only was "Some River" a specific place, but it was a place where we could stay. Overnight.








This year my cousin suggested a family reunion, and the Sunriver tradition joyfully expanded to include extended family members. The Italian numbers were substantial, so we knew the food would be good. My mom and aunt treated us all to an amazing culinary experience called Bagna Caulda (or cauda -- there's some disagreement as to the correct term -- but I won't even go there). Vats of simmering oil and garlic await our skewers of bread, meat, cheese, and vegetables, and we just hover and go for it while the wine glasses are replenished. Did I mention Bagna Caulda is amazing? Delizioso!




Of course we must bike for miles and miles to work off those calories, but it's worth it. And Sunriver is definitely the place to bike. One afternoon I joined my parents for a ride, and boy can they pack in those miles.


The kids get in lots of rides, too. I always love it when we have a whole crew lined up -- sometimes as many as fourteen of us -- winding our way "over the river and through the woods."
 





Dancing is also a good way to work off vacation food. My sister and I resurrected our circa 1990 routine to Five Hundred Miles and taught the intricate choreography to Mom and Auntie Cher. ("Intricate" as in there are Three Whole Moves.) It wasn't long before the kids peeked around the corner to see what on earth was going on. It was likely my sister's frequent, emphatic reminder to "Pivot!!!" that grabbed their attention. They couldn't resist, and soon a full-on dance party was under way. (Alas, I have no pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it.)



This year's trip also landed close to Avery's birthday, so we decided to celebrate early. She chose hot dogs for dinner and Goody's ice cream in the Sunriver Village for dessert, followed by a spin on the bumper cars. It was a lovely final evening.






We woke up early on our last day in order to sneak in a ride to the stables. My friend Lisa had recommended that we try to arrange to see the horses when they're led from pasture to the corral. The morning air was crisp, laced with that bittersweet tang of fall which hints at a dying summer. I wished for another layer of clothing and a tissue or two as we pedaled toward the fields. The kids were drowsy and hushed, rosy cheeks with drippy noses. Pedal, pedal, sniff, sniff. My dad timed the ride perfectly for us. There they were.



The horses grazed quietly in the distance, ears perked for the call of the wrangler.

We lined the barbed wire fence and waited . . . and then the subtle thunder of hooves, dust rising to meet the sky.




A new day had begun.

  

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

{Come-Bye!}

A couple of weeks ago I was driving around a delightful small town near our home when Aidan shouted out from the back seat, "Mom! The sheep dog trials!" I whipped my head in the direction of his pointed finger, and there it was. The border collie skipping across the banner, announcing the upcoming Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trials.

When we lived in Camas, we tried to make it an annual event. In fact one year we even had our picture added to the website. It's still there. I want to hold and squeeze that little toddler in the hat. She's almost nine now:


Sometimes we went with extended family and sometimes it was just a few of us. It was especially fun to top off the weekend with a family movie night featuring Babe, the amiable pig who has a knack for herding sheep.

Seeing the sign once again and hearing Aidan's enthusiasm inspired me to suggest that we head out again this year. It ended up that only a few of us were available, but I figured that half of a family was better than none.

The day was perfectly blue and warm. Avery was eager because, well, "We get to sit on hay bales and pet border collies!" (We have a thing for border collies since our doggles -- we think -- is part corgi, part border collie.)


The crowd was bigger this year than any I've seen in the past. It was fun to sit with such a varied group of spectators. Some sat with binoculars, shaking their heads at the scores. Others balanced paper boats filled with hamburgers or fish-n-chips, and many had whistles around their necks and dogs at their sides. We perched atop the highest hay bale (of course) and the unmistakable aromas of golden hay mixed with the dairy cows at the host farm made me long for cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat. (Instead I flipped off my sandals and sunned my legs for a bit.)


It was easier to watch this year since the kids are older. It's the kind of place where one tries not to frolic and yell, lest one disturb the dogs at work. The dogs have eleven minutes to bring the five sheep through the course, which includes a couple of gates, a shedding ring and the final pen. The handler uses a series of mysterious whistles and commands to guide the dog through the course. "Away to me!" "Come-bye!" "Get Back!" I always like it when they shout, "Lie down!" because the dogs get all hunchy-sneaky and just creep toward those sheep. It's rather difficult to herd the wayward sheep into the final pen, so it's very satisfying when a dog successfully rounds them up and the handler triumphantly swings the gate shut.



On the other hand, it's also somewhat amusing when the dogs who are fairly new to this whole herding-in-front-of-a-crowd gig decide that they'd rather sit in the nearby dog pool to cool off for a bit. Or when the sheep wander dumbly to the corner of the field because they like the corner of the field. (It becomes painfully apparent why we are often called sheep.)


We stayed for a couple of hours, Aidan and Avery eagerly downing forbidden fruit, each of us taking turns thumbing through the program, exclaiming over the clever or sweet names of the dogs: Java, Coal, Floss, Kate, and many others. The sun grew hotter and we finally decided to call it a day. Brushing the hay from each other's backsides, we tumbled down from the bales and said goodbye to the 2014 Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trials.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

{Hubs and Spokes}

This summer has been unusually busy, but not so much for me. (I suppose that's just what it's like with two teenagers in the home.) I've felt rather like the hub of a wheel, with my husband and children representing the spokes, shooting out from time to time toward this camp or that adventure or another speaking engagement and then coming back to me, only for someone to head out again a few days later. It's been good and fun, just different.


Yesterday I got to step away from the hub and become a spoke. When I looked at this week's calendar, I realized that both Drew and Bethie would be gone for a few overlapping days. I quickly did the math and accurately noted that this would leave two children at home. I figured it would be pretty easy to find another home for them for 24 hours, giving Jamie and me a chance to finally celebrate our June anniversary. My parents were eager to help out, and by Sunday afternoon the house was eerily quiet. Even the dog sat hushed in the corner, wondering what had happened to the usual hum of activity.

I tend to get that spinning-of-wheels sensation when I suddenly have free time stretching temptingly before me. Wanting to make the most of my time, I agonize over how to best spend it, which can be counter-productive. But this time I knew exactly what I wanted to do as soon as Jamie suggested dinner and a walk. After we spent some time quietly reading (reading is an obvious choice when it comes to free time; I'm currently absorbed in Swallows and Amazons, a delightful summer read), I hopped online and did a quick bit of research.

I've enjoyed following a blog called Posie Gets Cozy for a few years now, and the author -- who lives in Portland -- often has great ideas for exploring the city. A number of times she's mentioned various restaurants and trails, and I always tuck the information away for a rainy day. Well, actually for a sunny day. A sunny day during which my husband and I can venture from the hub and become spokes.

So early in the evening we ventured. We had dinner first, enjoying fabulous Tex-Mex dining at Casa del Matador. We had never been there, so we knew it was a bit of a gamble, but it ended up being delicious and fun. (Not quiet and romantic, but fun.) Large windows in the restaurant open wide so that even though we were sitting at an indoor booth, it felt like we were dining on the patio. It was lovely and leisurely and it allowed us to visit and catch up on conversations that had been half started throughout the summer.

Following dinner we headed just a few miles west toward the Lower McCleay trail, which is part of the Willamette Heights to Balch Creek Canyon Loop. The moment we stepped into the old growth forests, my spirit quieted and I felt like I was being filled with life. The towering Douglas firs dripping with moss, the creek gurgling over the rocks, and the intoxicating smells of earth and leaves and cool, damp air blanketed me with peace. God knew just what this little spoke needed.

Romantic visitors have dubbed this former restroom "The Witch's House."

We hiked for about an hour and then headed home by way of Dairy Queen. Because we figured that Blizzards would be a perfect end to a perfect day. (We were right.)

Oh, and the kids? They had a wonderful time with Papa and Noni.


I never know what kinds of stories they'll come home with, but this afternoon when they walked through the door with freshly picked blueberries and new mushroom hats . . . .

From Elsa Beskow's "The Little Elves of Elf Nook"

I knew it was time well spent. For all of the Lawson spokes. 

      
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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Display Words}

I close my eyes and picture my childhood home. Which isn't super difficult, now that I think about it. Because that's where we happen to live now. But I picture my mom's decorations and I see words. Words of truth displayed on walls, words like "Give us this day our daily bread" in the kitchen and verses like, "A merry heart doeth good like medicine" cross-stiched with love or Colossians 3 posted on the bathroom mirror as a family memory challenge.

One display puzzled me for a number of years. It was uber-70s in its design. Carved wood with a mirror behind it, showcasing three crosses and the word Heisrisen. The crosses should have served as a rather strong clue, but my little kid brain somehow decided that Heisrisen must have been a beer brand. I remember pronouncing it in my mind with two long "i" sounds and a hard "s": Hizerizen. Very beer like. Probably German. One day it dawned on me. It was not one word but three: He is risen. My relief was acute.

Jamie, too, remembers a specific sign in his childhood home. It was needlepoint bearing the phrase, "Home is where your heart is." In place of the word "heart" was a heart shape and instead of a period at the end, the artist chose to have a little ladybug punctuate the statement. This caused Jamie's younger brother to assume that the sign was trying to convey a rather different message: "Home is where your love is bugged." Which is pretty accurate, don't you think? We should all have such a sign.

I was recently at a friend's house, and it was inspiring to see the number of words and phrases she had tucked around her home. A verse written on the bathroom mirror for the kids to see while brushing their teeth. Words over the kitchen table, encouraging a young reader to remember consonant blends. Framed verses and words of truth displayed for all to see.

My beginning-of-summer family challenge. Fridge reminders can also prompt discussion around the dinner table.

Her displays prompted me to go back to my own drawing board and take stock. It was time to add some new words to our home. I do have a few verses and quotes and reminders here and there (some permanently framed and others on chalkboards -- or simply taped to the fridge -- to change from time to time), but I've had several ideas simmering in my brain that needed to actually happen.

I have a Pinterest board titled "Words" for just that purpose. If I come across a verse, quote or poem that especially resonates with me, I add it to my board and start to think about how I might display it. One idea, which I hope to implement fairly soon, is to use my own kids' quotes as decoration. (I've kept a notebook ever since Drew started talking to record some of their more memorable -- and often hilarious -- comments.) A little phrase or question by a four-year-old can be captured on a blank canvas. How cute is that?

An inexpensive plate from Ross propped up on a dollar store display rack. Easy-peasy! (Looks like I need to update my poem.) Also a fun way to write birthday and holiday messages for the kids.

But the idea that I was most recently determined to finish is for our room. Last year I marked a verse in my Bible from Song of Solomon that I really love: "This is my beloved and this is my friend." I knew I wanted to hand letter it and display it somehow, but my creativity stopped right there. It was sparked once again when I found a blank, fabric covered board on clearance at Kohl's last month. I asked some artist friends for their recommendations as far as what kind of ink I should use and how to best letter the words (that overhead projector continues to come in handy), and I'm pleased with how it turned out.


Little Miss was enthralled with the whole process, so I found a few burlap-covered boards at Michael's that the girls are eager to use in their own room. I look forward to seeing what they come up with. And I look forward to starting on my next project which just begs to be displayed near the kitchen china cabinet. The words? Bethie's first prayer: "Father, for the tea. Amen."     

 
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Sunday, June 22, 2014

{Chillicothe}

A couple of posts ago I left us hovering between Kansas City and Chillicothe. I know you're eager to finally get there, and so am I. So if you'll just hop into the car with us, we'll continue on our journey!

The freeway took us through a number of interesting sites, such as the birthplace of Jesse James, the town of Lawson (which I appreciated for obvious reasons), and the home of J.C. Penny (as in, the actual guy). Before long we arrived in Chillicothe and were warmly greeted by Jamie's family. I instantly knew that this was a place where one could just be. Time didn't race by. There wasn't a schedule to keep. We could sip our sweet tea on the porch and linger and visit and reminisce.

I smiled over the stories that were shared, picturing Jamie as a little boy running through acres of grass, shooting bullfrogs and catching fireflies. We visited some of those places, too -- old homesteads, farmland, and the cemeteries that were an important reminder of the family heritage and ties to the past.

We discovered one of these ties while visiting the Chillicothe Museum. To begin with though, the whole of downtown Chillicothe is quite charming. An amazing artist has painted a number of murals, depicting the town's rich and unique history. One distinction is Chillicothe's claim to fame as the home of sliced bread. The slicing machine was even on loan from the Smithsonian, so we knew that a trip to the museum was definitely in order.




But the museum also featured a section devoted to the Chillicothe Business College, which Jamie's grandmother attended. We found a yearbook and thought, "Wouldn't it be neat if we could find her?" Jamie wasn't sure of the year, but we started looking and, sure enough, there she was -- in the first yearbook we opened, 1939. Something about that discovery made our Chillicothe roots reach just a bit deeper and cling just a bit more firmly to that place.




The real joy, of course, was visiting with family. As I mentioned, this often meant leisurely visits on the porch. Long past sundown, we lingered and chatted. Insects hummed in the deliciously warm night air and thunder rolled occasionally in the distance.

At one point in our conversation on the first night, I was distinctly aware of a loud buzzing around my head. Not wanting to offend the Chillicothe wildlife or draw unnecessary attention to myself, I attempted to discreetly brush it away. It wouldn't brush. I finally flicked it away and tuned in to the conversation once again. The buzzing resumed, and when Peggy jumped from her seat and started beating the thing away, I knew that it was okay to offend the Chillicothe wildlife. We batted at that thing until it landed on the ground, where Jamie dispatched the creature with a swift stomp of the foot. I cringed and asked, "What on earth was that?" I was casually informed that it was probably a June bug.

Friends, there are moments in life when one must face unexpected -- and sometimes unpleasant -- realities. This was one of those moments. You may know that one of my nicknames is Juni. This name lends itself to being turned into other nicknames. Such as June Bug. That night I learned that this endearing appellation does not refer to a dainty butterfly or a cute ladybug-type creature as I had always assumed. No, it refers to a hideous scarab beetle which makes a sickening crunch as its exoskeleton succumbs to the weight of a human shoe. I try to remind myself that my mother was probably unaware of this when she smiled upon her little June Bug skipping blissfully through childhood.

While reeling from the blow of this harsh reality, there was a balm on the horizon. A balm in the shape of another insect. A flash of light shone in the distance and I thought, "Could it be?" And before I could ask anyone to confirm my suspicions, it was gone. But I still like to tell myself that I saw my very first firefly that night in Chillicothe.

Another highlight was our visit to Jamie's cousin's home. (I think he's a second cousin. Or second cousin once removed. Or twice removed. We'll just stick with cousin.) The acres of beautiful land and the warm spring sunshine beckoned and we enjoyed four-wheeling while exploring the property. Jamie was also promptly put to work.




He later jumped at the chance to test the firearms. I was content to sit among the trees, sipping my tea while visiting with family.



Content, that is, until I passed Jamie firing a .22 as I was heading into the house. He called, "Wanna give it a try?" I hesitated. The thing was, I sure did wanna give it a try. I demurred. The family encouraged me and before I knew it I was grabbing earplugs and watching my husband load the gun for me. Turns out I can hit a target. And I like it.


Our last night was quite a treat as we enjoyed a special meal with the whole family: Lowcountry boil. The tantalizing ingredients boiled over the outdoor flames and, when cooked to perfection, were dumped onto the newspaper-covered table. We dove in and ate. And ate. And I discovered that not only do I enjoy target practice, but I also enjoy eating with my hands. Sometimes one must step beyond one's comfort zone to really appreciate the good things in life.


We visited late that night, about thunderstorms and haunted houses, bats on the loose and how the tomatoes were coming. Then Judy surprised us all with a childhood treat: Dilly Bars. We grinned and nibbled as quickly as we could, trying to catch the sweet ice cream before it traveled down our hands. Thunder rolled in the distance and a bunny scampered across the lawn, no doubt headed straight for Peggy's garden. The wind was picking up as we headed in for the night, and as we drifted off to sleep the skies overhead were filled with an eerie yet lulling torrent of wind and rain.

The morning came all too quickly and it was time to finalize our goodbyes, some of which we'd made the night before. Goodbye to Everett and Judy and their warm hospitality, entertaining stories and ever-ready supply of tea (Judy knows me well); goodbye to Peggy's engaging smile and the tenderloin sandwiches which Jamie remembers so fondly from childhood; goodbye to Mark and Shawn and their peaceful, welcoming acreage brimming with adventures and merry dogs; goodbye to Hilary and Blake and Greg and everyone else who made our stay so memorable.

Of course goodbye to one family meant hello to another. Our kids were eager for our return, eager to hear our stories. And we were eager to share. As Jamie wove his tales and I described this new-to-me part of the country, it didn't take long before they, too, had come to a unanimous conclusion: "We wanna go to Chillicothe!" And we know that, when that time comes, we'll be welcomed with open arms.  

            

    
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