Birthday

In our family I am famous for dragging us all out on ill-fated excursions in the name of family fun. But when it’s your birthday and you’re turning 38 and you really already have everything you want, I think it’s okay to make some demands. Like a day trip to Clear Lake. And some family fun.
As I have mentioned before, Brent is not overly fond of taking the kids fishing. This is not without reason, but again with the it’s-MY-birthdays and here we were:

Clear Lake is, ahem, very clear. It’s also very quiet. Or at least it was, until we arrived and crammed five people into a small boat and… wait, why the hell were the boys armed with slingshots? Anyway, there was this heron sunning himself nearby as we attempted to fish. This heron was like an avian Buddha, peacefully meditating on a log as the boys screeched with excitement and haphazardly threw lines into the water. No fish were foolish enough to be anywhere near us at this point, but no matter. It’s all about the experience, right?

After a bit of time, I became aware that this heron absolutely did not give one single shit about us, which was awesome. I loved that bird.

Jack and Sawyer were determined to hike around the lake on a quest for lava rocks. This meant that the boys formed their own search party while the girls meandered along behind. But I always knew just where they were because man those kids’ voices sure carry through a silent forest.

And then Clementine turned two. People kept asking her what she wanted for her birthday. “Cake!” she chirped again and again.

Suddenly it was Halloween and I realized that no one wanted a homemade costume. “I’m going to be a soccer zombie,” Jack informed me.

“I’ll be a.. um.. I guess I’ll be a regular zombie,” Sawyer added uncertainly.

I dug the puppy suit out of the dress up box, Brent applied zombie make up and wound tattoos, everyone found their pumpkin buckets, and that was that.
There was a part of me that missed laboring over some elaborate get up that would be worn once, smeared with chocolate, and then thrown carelessly into the dress up box void.
And then there was the heron in me who did not give a shit.
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A Taste of Summer

Last week I discovered a forgotten jar of raspberry jam in the freezer. I brought it out and let it thaw in front of the wood stove. Then I cracked it open and we ate it by the spoonful and for a second it was summer once again.
It’s been cold. My legs are pasty white and I’m tired of eating grocery store lettuce. The days are too short. And while there are millions of reasons to become a teacher, January ain’t one of them.
Here are some forgotten camping photos. For a second, let’s let it be summer once again.
Wickiup Reservoir with my friend Emily and her family. This is where Sawyer had his first taste of the Sea Biscuit as I watched white knuckled from the relative safety of the speeding boat. “Faster! Faster!” he shrieked. I swallowed bile and forced myself to look away as his small body flew perilously into the air with every bump through the boat’s wake. I steadied my breath and tried to smile at his joy, well aware that this moment forebodes much of what is to come with this wild child.

Sunsets rendered us breathless and speechless. Campers were hypnotically drawn to the water’s edge, iPhones in hand, hoping to capture this iconic summer camping moment.

And in August, our friends Steve and Lisa generously offered us the use of their tent trailer for our annual trek to Manzanita. This sort of felt like cheating for a second, and then it rained and my compromised camping morals were quickly put aside.

We were sandwiched in between RVs and it was a long, cold walk to the bathrooms. But there were hot showers and a playground and our kids disappeared into the herd and played until we came to collect them at dusk.
And, of course, there was the beach. If there is one place in this world that truly grounds me and revitalizes my spirit, it is the Oregon coast.

Alas, here we are in January. And yet, there are those glorious moments when the sun shines and the wind calms and we seek the comforting embrace of blue skies and warm rays from above. Children are released from the confines of LEGOs and books and they run like wild horses into whatever wide open spaces we can find.
 

These days are the bites of raspberry freezer jam that remind us how close to the sun we always are. January, you’re not so bad after all.

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A Quick Trip to the Coast

A well-intentioned, older family friend recently shook her head across the noise of my family and clucked at me, “I just don’t know how you do it!” 
I have a hard time responding to this without getting defensive. Yeah, I get it. We are loud. We leave a trail of crumbs behind us. We fill a room with bubbles of energy until it overflows and suds cascade down the walls, drowning people who aren’t used to our level of being. It’s messy. We’re often late. We have about a million questions a day. Someone is always hungry. And heaven forbid you should try to have an actual adult conversation with me right smack in the middle of all this.
Sometimes I feel like I need to justify us or make excuses for my kids and their kid ways. And then I catch myself.
“Are you sure you want to spend your vacation trapped in a beach house with my crazy family?” I asked Amberlee, my rock star seismologist friend who is Very Important and travels the world imparting her knowledge of all things related to earthquakes and fracking and other seismic events. 
“Yes, I’m sure. I love your crazy family,” was her quick reply.

And damn it if we didn’t have the best time, braving the Oregon coast at its foggiest to take the kids up Cape Perpetua. Cooking for a crowd and shaking sand from small boots and ushering everyone off to bed well past the appointed hour.

And my kids can be jerks to each other. There were some tears. A bit of seven-year-old (extra super early) pre-teen angst. It was loud and chaotic and I never once felt anything but happy.

(Brent has been on the quest to make the perfect margarita. He is close!)

There were no clucks of disapproval or raised eyebrows. My kids were kids, and everyone was just fine with that.

So the next time someone tells me that they “just don’t know how I do it,” I will resist the urge to look them in the eye and fire back, “Well, I don’t know how you don’t!” Instead I will smile. And I will take a moment to breathe in the crumbs and snot and noise and chaos. I will remember that there are many people who “love my crazy family.”

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Christmas Happened

At four am the sound of little feet padding down the hallway roused me from my Christmas Eve sleep. “Who is it?” Brent groaned, but we both knew who the culprit was. 
I corralled Sawyer into our bed and Brent took refuge in the bunkbeds and there was lots of shushing and hissed whispers about going back to sleep and it being THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. 
I tossed around a bit, hoping the cardboard I’d leaned up outside to cover the boys’ window would not provoke suspicion at daylight. It had been a long morning in the kitchen as the boys and I made peppermint bark and jam thumbprint cookies and completed the first few steps of the cinnamon rolls
We hastily arranged a “playdate” at Doug and Mary’s house while Brent and Nick raced against the sunset to assemble The Biggest Christmas Present of All Time. I sewed buttons on pajamas and Clementine slept fitfully, seemingly aware of the energy in the house and eager to be a part of it.
While Brent and Nick continued to toil in the backyard, the kids and I attended a Christmas Eve children’s service. My own religious beliefs are hazy at best, but an hour of music, light, peace and joy felt like the right place for us to be.
The rendezvous point was dinner:
Once the children were nestled all snug in their beds, we adults fought the urge to stay up late into the night, sipping beers by the fire, wrapping the last few gifts, and savoring the excitement of knowing that in only a few hours Christmas morning would happen.
The four am wakeup call was thwarted and we managed to stay in our beds until seven. Suddenly the house came alive as the coffee maker gurgled and someone plugged in the Christmas tree. Brent’s mom and grandma, who had been waiting outside for signs of life, bustled in the door. The fire was rekindled and the oven preheated. Jack and Sawyer emptied their stockings and Clementine stood in awe of it all. Once she discovered her Hello Kitty slippers and an entire bag of goldfish in her stocking, everything else was forgotten.

I learned a few things about Christmas this year: it really does pay to plan ahead. I spent the week before Christmas sewing those Christmas jammies instead of spending time with my family. I made an emergency trek to Joann’s (fucking Joann’s!) on December 22nd when it became painfully obvious that Simplicity 3669’s version of a size six would fit like a half shirt on my five-year-old. Thankfully Butterick 5586 was there to save the day with its reasonable collar and sleeve instructions and appropriate sizing. Whew. For Clementine’s top, I used this tutorial.

I also learned that our advent calendar works better when it’s filled with things to do rather than things to have.

My kids don’t miss candy if I forget to put it in their stockings.

They would have been just as happy with half of the presents they received.

I am a fan of rum-spiked eggnog.

I really should make those cinnamon rolls more than just once a year.

After breakfast we all sat around, coffee cups in hand and Christmas wrapping underfoot. “Did you have a merry Christmas? Did you get what you were hoping for?” There were grunts of assent as LEGOS structures were built and remote controlled dinosaurs terrorized our ankles.

“It looks like you missed one,” I said casually, pulling a Christmas Story Red Rider BB gun holiday moment. “What’s this?” A small box was retrieved from behind the tree which set off a new round of shrieks and giggles. Inside this small box was a clue. That clue led to another clue and so on. I do love a good scavenger hunt. And finally…

Oh wow. “This is THE BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!!”

The aftermath included naps for all of the adults. Nick slid in and out of consciousness, cramming himself comically onto our shorter couch.

Some outtakes from our Christmas card photo shoot:

I’m always a little sad when it’s over. “Mom, why can’t Christmas be every day?” Sawyer has asked about a million times.

All that trampolining is exhausting. At least now we can all catch up on our sleep.

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Encore Montana

Brent and Jack are fishing for coho, Sawyer is scaling a tree with his friend who lives across the street, Clementine is sleeping, and I just added more wood to the fire. Leaves fall from the linden tree outside the window and the smell of roasted pumpkin seeds hangs in the air. 
In the last few weeks we’ve begun to settle into our familiar fall routine. The firewood’s been stacked, the sandbox is covered, cookie recipes have been relocated, and I’m finding a moment to blog. 
For a second we thought about going somewhere new and exciting this summer. There is a lingering part of a younger version of me who would like to check off something else from my wishful travel list. And yet there is something that just feels so right about a family vacation tradition. 
Thus we embarked on our fourth family vacation to Flathead Lake in Montana. For the record I will state that Brent’s mental health did suffer for the two days that it took us to get there. I’m pretty sure that being stuck in the car with the four of us is Brent’s personal version of medieval torture, but I regaled him with internet trivia about John Day and Lewis and Clark. Let’s just assume he appreciated that.
It’s always worth it once you get there. 

I read two books. We ate ten pounds of cherries and a $9 loaf of bread. Brent gave us all diving lessons. Clementine wore her sunglasses for the entire trip.

The boys remembered their adventures from the last time we came. Jack asked repeatedly why we can’t move to the cabin. “But Mom, everything is so perfect here!”

Brent and I drank so much huckleberry beer that we ended the week with a carload of empty bottles. We asked at the grocery store if there was a place we could recycle them. “I don’t know,” said the clerk. “Let me get my manager.”

Long story short: We ended up driving our beer bottles all the way back to the fine state of Oregon, where glass recycling procedure is common knowledge.

Montana is not quite perfect, Jack.

 
Mental health restored. New memories made. Almost a Christmas card worthy family picture. The wishful travel list will wait.

Montana 2016? Stay tuned. I could definitely use more diving lessons.

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Outdoor’s Cool

Oh hey. Happy summer!
I guess it’s been awhile.
Full disclosure here: I haven’t been too busy to blog, I’ve just been choosing to do other things. And now that all of those other things have seriously filled all of the space on my camera, it’s time to start blogging again.
And I also kind of wanted to step back and see if I would miss blogging. When I saw my 90 year old grandpa a few weeks ago, the first thing he asked about was the blog. I had missed it, too.
Since we are having full disclosure here, I should also mention that I do not have a red screen door anymore. Brent took it down two years ago. There, now I feel better.
I went to outdoor school the summer after sixth grade. It was rainy and soggy and I hated it. I remember that the food was gross and that we made raincoats out of garbage bags. I didn’t want to poop in such close proximity to my classmates. We counted the rings on trees and made lanterns out of tin cans. I remember being so excited to come home.
My students go to outdoor school during the summer before sixth grade. I have read many personal narratives about the experience and no one has ever complained about the food. In fact, everything I’d ever heard about outdoor school made it sound like a lot of fun. Every once in awhile my classroom will erupt in laughter at some inside joke and I’ll just stand there wondering until somebody says, “Outdoor school. You had to be there.”
So this year, way back in May, I decided to go.

 I took the boys along with me and Kate brought her daughter. Job perks are few and far between in our profession, so getting to bring our kids to outdoor school definitely felt like a treat. And it was Kate’s birthday, too.

I wondered how my kids would fit in with the fifth graders. I wondered what they would think of the food. Would they get the inside jokes? Would everyone be able to poop?

“Your kids are camp kids,” the director told me. Yes, yes they are.

Jack hung back at first, but was quick to join in once everyone started playing capture the flag and dissecting squid. Sawyer became friends with just about every kid he met and ditched us at mealtimes to hang with his new crowd of fifth grade buddies. I got to spend time getting to know my former students (the counselors) again, now that they are practically adults. That was the best part of outdoor school for me.

The food wasn’t bad either.
We had our own bathroom. 
I hated leaving.
I guess now I am a camp kid, too.

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Hoopla

Mother’s Day 2014: Brent made pancakes and the kids greeted me with their special gifts. Jack had written a poem in French for me. Sawyer’s teachers had helped him write in a card:

My mom’s name is Cassadie. She is 78 years old. Her favorite color is pink. She loves to go grocery shopping. I love my mom because she takes me to birthday parties.

He also gave me a plant.

(I should point out that not only am I light years away from 78, grocery shopping is my MOST DREADED task, followed quickly by chauffeuring my children around to birthday parties.)

(But it is the thought that counts.)

(I think I might have forgotten to water that plant. It’s probably dead by now.)

 Ahem. So, after breakfast we loaded up the party chauffeuring bus and took the dog out for a walk at Golden Gardens. I really had my heart set on some pictures of me with the kids, even though Sawyer was sporting some day-old face paint.

Sawyer must have been surprised that instead of going grocery shopping, I wanted to go out to Sarver Winery with Brent’s mom that afternoon. Half of Eugene must have had the same idea, but the view was stunning and the wine was delicious and it beat the hell out of standing in line at Fred Meyer or cutting cake in the party room at Skateworld, so success!

And then there was this ridiculous cake that my mother-in-law made. Happy Mother’s Day to us!

In other alcohol related news (yes, drinking in the presence of our children seems to be a recurring theme on this blog, thanks for noticing), my brother breezed through town on his way back to Portland.

I had been boycotting Agrarian for a reason which now seems sort of petty, but I got over it when we realized that there’s really nowhere else to take the kids on a Saturday night where they can run and scream and get all riled up by Uncle Nick without driving everyone crazy.

So, Agrarian, I am not impressed by your customer service or your menu (or even your beer, for that matter), but your landscape is pretty sweet and kid friendly. And the hula hoops are a nice touch.

Though I am admittedly athletically challenged, I can hula a hoop. So much so that I received an impromptu round of applause from the party next to us. I was pretty proud of my accomplishment until Nick and Brent mocked my octopus arms and wet noodle body and pointed out that my fan club was all drunk.

Whatever. Haters. I’ll show them. Next year for Mother’s Day, I’m asking for a hula hoop.

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Sweet Spot

A few months ago Brent and I started looking for a new house. 1000 square feet and 1.5 baths has felt crowded for awhile now and spring seemed like a good time to get this ball rolling. We looked at bigger houses, houses with four bedrooms, houses with open floor plans, houses with three bathrooms, even. Big houses with funky kitchens and big houses with funky yards. Big houses with old carpet. Big houses with wood paneling. Big houses in unknown neighborhoods.
As we took virtual tours and actual tours, a feeling started nagging at me. Sure, we (Brent) could do a lot of the updating ourselves (himself). We have replaced flooring and remodeled bathrooms. Brent knows how to turn a yard with three strips of English ivy (no joke) into an awesome outdoor living space with garden beds, playhouse, sandbox, and chicken coop. He can build a deck and install sun tubes. I can paint and hang molding. We know how to replace doorknobs and light fixtures. 
We know all of this because we’ve done this to our house. The one we live in now. The one with the sweet yard and updated light fixtures.
Then I realized that 2000 square feet would be a lot of house to clean.
And that I really like paying a mortgage we really can afford.

It’s in our nature to want more. Right now I want to want less.

Birthday merry making. Brent got a scavenger hunt with all of his favorite things.

Easter. Science fair. Soccer. Sunshine. It’s been a busy spring.

The doors are open and the air is sweet. The yard is exploding with raspberries and rhubarb and Brent is replacing our back fence. I borrow a steam cleaner from our neighbors, who borrow the trailer from us. The playhouse is filled with neighborhood kids. The evening sunlight pours in through the sliding glass door as we sit down to dinner.

I think we’ll stay.

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Gone Yurting

Spring break is usually a week of pancake breakfasts, lounging in pajamas until lunchtime, board game battles, playdates with our busiest friends, popcorn and movie nights, and Brent complaining about the rain while the children slowly succumb to cabin fever.
But not this year. Oh, no. This year would be different! This would be there year that we set out on a quest to satisfy our thirst for spring break adventure. This was the year of the yurt!
Sometimes I think this blog is simply a collection of beach photos. Today’s entry will be no exception.

Yes, it’s true that we spend a lot of time at the Oregon coast. And for good reason. Many times when the valley is shrouded in grey drizzle, one needs only to drive west to find that the beach has been hogging the sunshine all along.

And yet, as we loaded the kids and the dog and the snacks and the games and the sleeping bags and the camp stove and the rainboots- just in case- the sky pelted us with angry raindrops and I knew we were not going to be driving out of this spring break deluge anytime soon.

Kids bickered in the car as we parted curtain after curtain of downpour with our windshield. Brent complained about the rain while I tried to distract everyone with snacks.

“Well, let’s just make the best of it,” I chirped about five thousand times as we arrived at the campground and found that yurts are actually pretty small. The sky brightened and we briefly explored the campground and ventured down to the beach before the rain started up again, sending us scurrying back to our tiny shelter.

Jack was bored, he informed us. About five thousand times. “This is the worst spring break ever!” he wailed theatrically. Sawyer coped by annoying everyone with his loud voice and disregard for personal space. Brent complained about the rain. I opened two beers.

Clementine was the happiest camper in our troop. She kept busy by unpacking our camping supplies and stomping in mud puddles, oblivious to the fact that this was “the worst spring break ever.”

As night fell the rain intensified. The sleeping arrangement was less than ideal and it took awhile to get everyone settled in. There was a lot of complaining happening at this point and somehow the yurt seemed to be getting even smaller. “This is impossible,” Brent informed me as we attempted to get Clementine to sleep.

No one was interested in my make-the-best-of-it gospel, so I just kept quiet and finally, AT LAST, after many trials and tribulations, we managed to get everyone to bed. And then we tossed and turned all night long as the rain and wind assaulted our yurt. Sometime in the night Brent turned to me and we whispered a plan to leave the next morning if the weather didn’t improve.

But, miraculously, it did.
 

We drove south through Reedsport and Coos Bay. Sunset Bay sounded appealing and the clouds broke, giving us nearly an hour of sunny beach exploration.

We had beers and root beers at Seven Devils Brewery in Coos Bay. We picked up bubble gum and propane before returning to the yurt.

Brent strung up a tarp and the kids roasted marshmallows. Sawyer joined Clementine’s puddle stomping party. Brent poured me a beer. The sun set and we cozied up in our yurt and watched Wallace and Gromit on the laptop. No one complained and there was no talk of going home early. There was a lesson here about making the best of things and toughing it out, about seeking the silver lining even when it’s raining too hard to see the clouds. It’s a lesson that we seem to have to learn over and over again in our family. But instead of seizing this teachable moment, we slept as the light rain drummed soothingly onto the roof above us.

The next morning we woke to a torrential downpour. Fuck this. We loaded up the car in record time and got the hell out of there.

Spring break was drawing to a close, but would not be complete without a rock star themed birthday party for one of Sawyer’s friends.

Guess who won the costume contest?