June and July were mighty full months for me & my gang. I hardly ever travel, but this summer I’ve made three separate trips! The Brave Writer
staff retreat in Ohio (I’ll be teaching two sessions of Comic Strip Capers
this fall); a big family wedding in Virginia Beach; Lynda Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable workshop
; and then back to Ohio for the Brave Learner Conference, where I was part of a panel with Julie Bogart, her mother Karen O’Connor, and Dottie of enchanted art table fame! AND THEN, back here at home, we wrapped up July with a long-anticipated event: a (minor) spinal surgery for the 15yo. (It went swimmingly and he’s recovering well.) And in the snippet of time between the conference and the surgery, Scott drove to San Luis Obispo to move Jane to Portland. She had an Americorps position at the university that wrapped up last month, and now she’s HERE. All my chicks back in the nest for a while. Color this mama hen very happy.
As for me, I spent the days between conference and surgery on a housecleaning spree. (Channeling Mrs. Ray expecting Betsy or Julia home from a trip, you know.) I get organization frenzy every summer. And my poor garden, oof, after two months of neglect it needed some serious TLC. When it’s too hot to clean or garden, I’ve been embroidering a lot, catching up on Cozy Blue Stitch Club projects.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to look at my grid today and realize it’s been a week since I posted? I’ve shared tons in my Stories, so it didn’t feel like that much time had passed. But it has! I had hoped to take a little down time in August, but I’m seeing that wasn’t entirely realistic. The multiple trips left me feeling like I could use a vacation, but now I gotta catch up from the trips! Fortunately I love my work. 😄
How about you? Enjoying a low-key summer, or suddenly feeling like fall is peering at you through the window?
note: not a real snake
A WordPress update caused some hiccups for me yesterday and I broke my whopping two-day posting streak. The noive!
Ah well, here I am on a Thursday afternoon, finishing up my last BraveWriter Arrow of the year. I think that makes a total of 17 Arrows I’ve written in the past two years. Wow, it’s a lot when I add them all up! This one’s on By the Great Horn Spoon, a most beloved novel in the Wiley-Peterson household. I just revisited the old post in that link—written FOURTEEN years ago, can you believe it?—and am sitting here cracking up at poor little four-year-old Beanie:
It’s been a rough morning. Our wagon tipped over while fording a river, and we lost fifty pounds of salt pork and our only shotgun. Then Rose took sick—cholera, we think—and died before we could do anything about it.
My girls are undaunted by this stunning double tragedy. They push on across the prairie, estimating the number of miles to the next fort. Maybe we can trade our mule for a new gun.
“At least we still have the fishing pole,” says Rose. She seems to have accepted her own death gracefully.
“I don’t like wattlesnakes,” announces Beanie.
Jane cracks up. “Who does? Remember when I got bit, back before we crossed the Platte?”
Of course now I’m remembering our actual in-real-life wattlesnake (or racklenake, depending which of my toddlers you asked) encounters. We’ve had more than our share!
this one was all too real
Then something will happen to remind me why I don’t go hiking more often, like OH SAY A RATTLESNAKE WILL APPEAR ON THE TRAIL THREE FEET FROM MY CHILDREN.
Rose and Beanie spotted him at the same time—they were in the lead, fortunately; they’re sharp-eyed lasses and I was distracted by a hot, red-faced, cranky Huck. If this had been the part of the trail where Huck suddenly charged ahead and we larger folk had to scramble to catch up, he’d have been on that snake before any of us saw it. It was lying quite still at first, stretched out across our path. Rose had just enough time to ask “Is it real?” before it twitched, and I took in the triangular head and the rattle and hollered EVERYONE BACK UP IT’S A RATTLER GRAB THE LITTLE ONES!! (I used more exclamation points.)
We edged back a yard and stood watching it. Huck, who’d been begging me to carry him, now clamored to be put down. Not a chance, pal. The rest of us were still and silent. After a long moment, the snake began to move; it slid across the trail into the underbrush.
“This is the best thing that EVER HAPPENED TO ME,” Rose declared.
August, 2012 (you’ll note Beanie’s shift to a more wattlesnake-inclusive position):
“I adore rattlers,” said Beanie.
The firemen raised their eyebrows. “Well, maybe don’t adore them,” one said.
“From a distance,” said another.
“Me don’t like racklenakes,” announced Huck.
“ME EITHER,” declared his big brother in the firmest of tones.
ME EITHER, reiterates their poor mother, all these years later. Neither the wattlers nor the racklers. Nor, for that matter, the rubber kind, which have given me no less than seventy minor heart attacks over the years.
The sunrise was bonkers this morning. Huck and I watched its first faint tintings together, and then he went off to do his Huckleberry things and went back to writing—or trying to write—mostly I was watching the streaks of scarlet and coral paint spread across the sky. Just breathtaking. And…a minute earlier than yesterday.
Water vapor billowing off our garage roof as the morning sun melted the frost on its mossy shingles. The kids’ delight at our very own cloud machine.
Northern flicker at the feeder—hadn’t seen her in a few days.
Huck’s beaming satisfaction at his first cursive letters. His three careful lowercase t’s especially—the first looking rather like a capital A, the second nicely formed but floating in mid-air, and the third one darn near perfect. He’s been very critical of his (print) handwriting, so it was lovely to see him feeling proud of the accomplishment.
Belly laughs from my youngest two at the White Queen’s backwards antics in our Through the Looking-Glass readaloud. Six impossible things before breakfast!
Lunch with Scott and Jane before she (sob) heads back to California tomorrow. I was captivated by the large black-and-white photo of the restaurant (circa 1941) on the wall above our table. Careful pincurls; a fur stole and plush hat (at a diner counter!); the skinniest watch-strap I’ve ever seen.
A walk to the library with Scott. Crisp air, pretty clouds, and the best conversation.
A 94-point word in a game of Words With Friends (acolyte/as, triple letter on the C, triple word score)
These lines from “Day One” by Franz Wright:
…We should really examine
your life, the one you bought,
and what happened when you got home
and attempted to assemble it:
that disfiguring explosion
no one witnessed, no one heard,
and which you yourself cannot recall,
and by whose unimaginable light you seek
to write the name of beauty.
—from Wheeling Motel
March 1. Sunshine today! Went for a walk down Klickitat with Scott and then another longer one in the other direction with Huck and Rilla. Violets, grass daisies, daffodils, crocus in abundance. Pussywillows budding over a mossy stone wall. Still plenty of puddles for wading in, which was important because Huck wore his rainboots. Rilla exclaimed over each new patch of moss.
Found our first Portland geocache and stopped in the rock store to admire the thundereggs, geodes, shells, and fossils. Debated the merits of the hypotenuse (a slanting street, thick with cars, the shorter way home) versus the quieter, mossier, puddle-strewn right-angle lanes. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know which we chose.
On Saturday we went to a pop-up sale for one of our favorite artists, Lisa Congdon. You’ve heard me rave about her Creativebug classes and her art, which makes me happy. She was selling items from her Etsy shop at Collage, that store with the giant wall of washi tape. I ventured out in the rain with four of the kids to do some Christmas shopping at Lisa’s sale.
Rilla, who has taken several of Lisa’s Creativebug classes* with me, was so excited to meet her. Wish I’d gotten a better picture! She also made a furry friend. Equal levels of excitement, I would say.
Afterward we did some window shopping on Alberta Ave. and then inhaled some truffle fries at Big Little Burger while we wait for Scott and Huck to pick us up. Rose and Beanie hung around for root beer floats and more window shopping. A birthday present or two may have been acquired. ’Tis that season, too, for us.
Those of you who followed our previous interstate move in 2006 know that it’s highly unusual for me to have said so little, thus far, about this new adventure, our move from San Diego to Portland. If I’ve been quiet here, it’s because there has been so. much. to say. Too much!
The move had been under discussion for months—years, really, some pieces of it—and in early June we decided that this summer, mid-August perhaps, was the right time. For one thing, there was a job calling me, one that will fit more amiably into a writing-teaching-homeschooling life than grantwriting did; and further, it’s an advocacy job made more imperative by this year’s perpetual threats to disability services budgets. Another consideration was the timing of our older girls’ college plans. And then we had long since outgrown our little San Diego rental, but had no prospect of moving into a bigger house at SoCal prices.
She was a lot shorter when we moved into that house
Long story short: it was time to move. I booked a ticket to fly up in late June to look for a rental with the help of Ron, one of my closest friends.
I was feeling pretty swamped in June. Lots and lots of work on my plate, and the idea of getting the household packed and ready to move by August seemed darn near impossible. When the appointment reminder came for my mammogram, I came very close to canceling it. After all, I’d had one only six months earlier. But the reason they wanted to see me again so soon was because that December one had been my first, so there was no baseline, and there had been a few little calcification specks that the radiologist wanted to keep an eye on. So I heaved a sigh and dragged myself, oh beleaguered me, to the appointment, grumbling all the way.
The cluster of specks was a bit bigger. Nothing at all to worry about, they assured me; these are quite common in women who breastfed; but we can’t send you on your way without doing a quick biopsy just to be extra, extra sure.
That was June 5th. The biopsy was scheduled for June 16th. On the 6th or 7th, Ron spotted a likely-looking rental prospect on Craigslist. He arranged for a showing on the 8th, bringing me along via Facetime. The house hit all the marks on our wish list—location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, good work spaces for Scott and me, a nice little backyard—except one: it was available on the first of July, not August, meaning that if we wanted it, we’d have to pay for it to sit empty for a good six weeks.
But we’re a big family, you know, and the Portland rental market is fierce—and likely to get fiercer as the summer rolled on. We decided to apply for the house. I still had my ticket for the end of June, so I figured I’d fly up and see it in person. I made a call to the special education department of the Portland school district and set up a meeting to see the school Stevie would be likely to attend. Scott and I began to consider moving a wee bit earlier, perhaps in late July, right after Comic-Con, to try to cut down on the overlapping rent. I would begin telling people, I decided, after that late-June trip.
I said I wasn’t going to bring the Wedgits. I brought the Wedgits.
The biopsy was on Friday, June 16th. I wasn’t worried about the results. Too busy with deadlines and panicked thoughts of the impossibility of getting us packed and moved in late July—and highly frustrated by being laid up for a few days to recover from the procedure, which had left me in more pain than I expected. I also had a new section of my four-week Comic Strip Capers class starting at Brave Writer on the 19th, so I was occupied in prepping for that.
To my utmost annoyance, I had to had to go see my primary doctor in person to get the results of the biopsy. When she broke the news (rather clumsily, truth be told), I had trouble believing it at first. Scott too. It took us a good 24 hours to wrap our heads around the reality of the words invasive lobular carcinoma.
Things I learned in the next few days: it’s a slow-growing cancer (whew), but it’s sneaky. We caught it very early—perhaps as early as it was possible to catch.
That was June 21st, the diagnosis. A Wednesday, and I was due to fly to Portland on the Saturday. We’d been flung into a whirlwind. What to do? Scrap the move, stay in San Diego? What about work? What about everything?
My doctor set up consults with surgery and oncology, but she couldn’t get anything earlier than July. I reached out to a doctor friend in Portland, who, bless her, connected me with a breast surgeon there. Here. And this surgeon was amazing. She understood my predicament, this preposterous timing, and arranged to see me on the Tuesday of my Portland trip, if I wanted to go ahead and get on the plane on Saturday.
So that’s what I did. On the Friday, Scott and I made the 45-minute drive to Torrey Pines to pick up copies of all my films and records. That long, traffic-congested drive certainly factored into our decision-making later. So did the July consult dates.
On Saturday the 24th, I flew to Portland. Ron took me straight to the house and it was even sweeter in person than on Facetime.
On Sunday, we went to the Rose Garden and I had a chance to breathe a little.
Photo by Larry Deal
On Monday, I met with the special ed administrator and principal of Steven’s new school. It was a good meeting and I was pleased with the program.
On Tuesday, I met with the surgeon. She was awesome. And she urged me to have the surgery as soon as possible, ideally within a month of diagnosis, whether in San Diego or in Portland. It looked like we had caught the cancer before it hit the lymph nodes, so the sooner we removed it, the better. That complicated the timeline more than a little, because Comic-Con began on July 20. And the vacation schedules of the San Diego doctors were pushing things into a much later space if we chose to stay there.
I could keep going with the blow-by-blow, but you already know how it played out. The house that had been going to sit empty for six weeks was ready and waiting for us. We decided to give up Comic-Con and move to Portland as soon as possible. Which, thanks to hours and hours of help from our TRULY AMAZING San Diego friends, was July 11th.
My parents took the younger kids to Colorado for a couple of weeks during the move and the surgery. The rest of us arrived in Portland on July 13 and waited for the moving truck. My Brave Writer class wrapped up on the 14th. The truck arrived on the 17th. On the 20th—the first day of Comic-Con, when we would have been enjoying our annual curry date with our dear friend Jock, and then the Scholastic party and the CBLDF party—I had my surgery. We spent the two days before the surgery unpacking like mad. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it afterward and I wanted home to seem homey when my parents brought the younger kids to join us on the 24th.
Photo by Murray Brannon
The surgery went well. I was a little blue that weekend—I hated the way the pain meds fogged my brain, and I was sad to miss our 8th annual SDCC Kidlit Drinks Night—but the flowers and dinners and notes from friends and helped perk me up. And on the Monday, there was the fun of showing the new digs to the younger kids and my parents.
This brought a big smile to my face, too. Love you guys!!
So here we are in early August, still weeks ahead of our original move schedule, unpacked, post-op, and settling in. The younger kids and I got library cards (and eclipse glasses!) this morning. Rose has already found a temp job.
Ever since that first awful news on June 21st, the news has been good. Caught early. Removed before it spread to the nodes. Very small. Last week the pathology report came back, and I learned that I won’t need chemo. That’s huge. I’m so relieved.
They grow ’em big here
Since I chose the lumpectomy option, I’ll need radiation—daily for four weeks, beginning the end of this month. Before then, I’ll go in for my radiation planning appointment, which means, yes, I moved to Portland and am getting a tattoo straightaway. How cliché is that? 😉 Just a little bitty dot, though, I’m told.
Right now, I’m still recovering from the surgery (am mostly better) and look forward to being able to do some adventuring with my kids. I’ve been setting up my little studio, which I already love like an old friend. I’ve read nothing but comfort books since the diagnosis—The Railway Children, The Uncommon Reader, lots of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey.
I can’t believe I have a studio
And with such light!
To sum up:
1. It all still feels a bit surreal. Cancer! Portland!
2. I am astoundingly fortunate in my friends, here, there, and everywhere.
3. I am overwhelmingly glad I didn’t cancel that mammogram.
Crater Lake feels like an apt metaphor for our past six weeks
So, um, how has your summer been so far?
That blanket I started while pregnant
Those cloth dolls I started while pregnant
That quilt I started while pregnant
That needlepoint project I started while pregnant
That round robin quilt block group I started while pregnant
That needle felting
So many lives
I started while pregnant
This is just to say
I have discovered
the thank-you note
I wrote you
I never mailed
but I did stamp
we loved those books
and so dear
Does this spark chagrin
Does this spark regret
Does this spark your life flashing before your eyes
Does this spark a memory of that time we
Actually, I guess the first couple of photos here are from March. (1) We hadn’t been to Old Town San Diego in a while and made a quick pilgrimage there one day during Wonderboy’s spring break. (2) Rilla’s bunny chain—entirely her own design—is the best Easter decoration I’ve seen in a long time. Those ears!
April for real:
(3) How Huck likes to rock his Math-U-See.
(4) Library day. I want that Eric Carle rug!
(5) Another library-day shot. What I love most about this photo is that the bed they’re on belongs to neither of them. It’s Beanie’s—the bottom bunk, which has long been the favorite place for my girls to sprawl. Beanie, meanwhile, does most of her own sprawling on Rilla’s bed. Go figure.
(6) Monarch caterpillar on our milkweed: always a sight that brings me joy.
(7) Wonderboy raised these sunflowers from a handful of old seeds spilled in the bottom of a bag of mostly-empty seed packets. The color surprised us!
(8) Also a surprise this year: the giant blooms on a neglected rosebush by our patio. Loads of them! It’s like Valancy went at the bush with her clippers.
(9) Playing with a Hobonichi Techo-style layout in my bullet journal. Mary Ann Scheuer and I had a fun Skype session last week to chat about my bujo system. What’s working these days: Separate books for my messy notes and my bullet lists. It’s sort of a left brain/right brain thing: I need a space for scribbly notes of all kinds, an unkempt, all-purpose thinking-on-paper space; but I also need nice, neat(ish) to-do lists with boxes I can fill in as I accomplish tasks. It took me a LOT of years—and the revelation of the multiple-insert traveler’s notebook—to figure this out: that I need the two separate spaces.
Yay, now I can fill in that ‘blog’ box!
My last post was February SECOND? For real? I don’t think I’ve gone three weeks without blogging since the summer of 2005 when Wonderboy had an unexpected surgery. Even when we moved cross-country and I spent weeks on the road alone with four little kids and an infant, I found time to toss up some short updates. It’s not that I’m busier, really—although I am seriously busy. But I was busy then too. It’s about daily rhythm and habit. I used to start the writing part of my day with a 20-minute blog entry. For years and years, that was my transition from homeschooling mom to working writer. It worked beeyootifully for nearly eleven years: spend the day with the kids, then write about the kids for a bit, and I’d be in writing mode and ready to work.
We rearranged our schedule last…summer? spring? Instead of one big six-hour block of work (writing) time, I now have a four-hour block in the afternoon, then an hour or two off for dinner and whatnot, then back at work from 7:30-9:30. When we made this shift, which has worked out well in many respects, I started reserving the evening block for blogging and various busywork tasks—paying bills, updating the website, answering emails, and so forth. I tried to save the last 30 minutes for sketching, and for the most part I’ve been successful with that. But the reality is that I need more than four hours a day for writing-work. So after dinner instead of blogging, I’ve been doing the other kinds of writing and editing that make up my workday. I’ll blog at the end, I think, and then…don’t. I’ve filled up three and a half sketchbooks, though, which feels good. I understand that I needed to take this time, need to keep taking it, to develop a sketchbook practice. I spent way too many years wishing I could draw instead of learning to draw, and I’m glad I’ve put in the effort these past 18 months. A year from now, ten years from now, I know I’ll be grateful I cultivated the habit.
Ah, but I miss Bonny Glen. The chronicle, the discussions, the community. I miss blogging and reading blogs (because that too has slipped to an occasional activity). I miss you guys!
Okay, now I’m laughing because I’m making it sound like I haven’t blogged in YEARS instead of a few weeks. When you’ve done something on a near-daily basis for over a decade, it’s reasonable to take a little vacation. 🙂 It just wasn’t planned, is all. This morning I was thinking about how quickly one habit (blogging daily) can be replaced by another (not blogging). I didn’t even think about writing a post yesterday, and today that fact startled me. My habits have shifted when I wasn’t paying attention. Sneaky little things, habits.
I’ve tried a few strategies for rebuilding the blog habit, this past year, like the weekly roundups of our reading. But those cross over into work territory, and I can’t have that. This blog must be the antithesis of work: no pressure, no obligation, just chronicle and fun. I’m greedy for that chronicle, though! I don’t want three weeks to become three months, three years. In three years, Huck will be ten, Rilla twelve, Wonderboy FIFTEEN, for Pete’s sake. (I just gave myself a heart attack. And holy cats does that boy need a new blog name.)
Well, the timing is good for me to revisit my approach, since I need to dig into my archives here anyway…I’m mining our past for good stuff I did with my older set when they were little. Today was a vintage Bonny Glen morning: first Rilla gave Huck an impromptu piano lesson and played chords to his melody (“I’m learning how to sight-see, Mom”); then a quick Michael’s run for 2-for-1 sketchbooks plus another 20% off—jackpot! Then home where we messed around on Google Maps for a while (they “drove” via street view all the way from our house to piano class); then a geocaching excursion and another two finds logged. Home again, where they made scrambled eggs for lunch. Now she’s reading Warriors and he’s reading Calvin & Hobbes. A lovely low-tide day for my littles. Beanie is off on an all-day field to the Gem Institute in Carlsbad. I have a full deck this afternoon (boy, do I ever) and I ought to get started. But this was good. Let’s do this again.