Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Sometimes Civil War

The war over what we listen to in the car is a simmering conflict that flares up from time to time and is sometimes civil, and sometimes not.

We've been working our way through a stack of Jim Weiss CDs that I picked up at a storytelling workshop with him.  Greta is particularly taken with Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake and we listened to it end to end at least four times.  Three of the four of us were tired of it, however, so I had put in Abraham Lincoln the day before to listen to while driving.  I was enjoying it, Clementine was enjoying it, Evelyn was tuning it out and reading her own book, but I thought it was mostly going over Greta's soon-to-be-six head.  When we got in the car for another morning of driving I hit the CD button.

Greta:  Oh, not Abe Lincoln!  I want Queen Elizabeth and the Queen's Pirate.
Me: (exaggerating) You've listened to that 10 times.  Let's finish Abraham Lincoln.
Greta: It is boring.
Me: I don't think it is boring.  Sometimes you have to listen to things more than once to really understand what they are about.  Give it a chance.
Greta:  I do understand it and it's boring.  Son of a farmer grows up to president and has a big war.  So what?
Me: (bursts out laughing)
Greta: (indignant) What?  If you leave out the details, that is basically it.

Well, that cleared up my misunderstanding.  Her campaign against Abe was not founded on ignorance.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't think I needed a wakeup call to remind me that I am thankful.  But I got one anyway.

It came in the form of a pain in Clementine's abdomen.  Right at McBurney's point.  You know, the point that is one-third of the distance from the anterior superior iliac spine to the umbilicus.  The point where the appendix is often found.  Pain at this point is known as McBurney's sign and it says, "this thing could blow."

I didn't know that at the time.  But I did get an inkling that she was really not well when we left the doctor's office en route to the ER and Clementine had to lie down in a curb-edged weed patch in the parking lot, and she lay there retching as I told Mike I had to go, could he come home and stay with Evelyn and Greta while I took Clem to the ER?  I went by the house to drop off a turkey I had in the trunk of the car and to pick up a Kindle with audio books for Clem to listen to.  I am not sure this showed awesome judgment, but The Dark Is Rising distracted Clem quite a bit during the 7 hours from when we arrived at the hospital until they wheeled her off into the operating room.

My mom was in town for Thanksgiving so she came and picked up the girls and took them off to my sister's house to play with their cousins while Mike joined us at the hospital.

The worst part of Clem's ordeal was the ultrasound.  When that was over Clem got her own tiny room in the ER with a huge mural full of hidden pictures.  My girl is so tough she said, "This mural really keeps my mind off the pain."  The pain was getting worse, though.  The first doc we saw at the ER came by and said, "How is Clementine doing?"

"Her pain is a lot worse in the last 15 minutes."

Now, you are probably expecting her to say, "I'll get her some medication," or perhaps, "She'll be going to surgery soon," or even "Poor girl."  What she actually said was "Awesome!"

Which, I have to say, cracked me up.  I don't know whether she was happy to have her diagnosis confirmed or whether she was happy that it still hurt which meant it hadn't ruptured. 

The nurse came by with a shot of morphine (I am grateful for heparin locks, for the people who painted the murals, for all of the nurses and doctors at Children's Hospital, for morphine, for unexpected laughter).

Clem had an open appendectomy.  Initially I hoped she'd have a laproscopic one, but I'm cured of that now.  Yay open appendectomy. 

The day after her surgery Clem had so many visitors they couldn't all come to her room.  I am so grateful for all our friends and family--so many offered to help with Ev and Greta, came by to see Clem or emailed her with good wishes.  She felt very loved.  Our queen for the day had to receive her visitors in the cafeteria.  Her gran popped over to the gift shop and came back with puzzles and origami paper and other entertainments and Clem spent a couple hours enjoying the company of friends and cousins.

Clem was on a ward with 8 beds separated by curtains.  On the other side of those curtains was all kinds of pain and sorrow.  A boy screaming from the pain of a procedure, a baby who cried and cried--the parents were so exhausted they left, the girl next to Clem whom no one ever visited, who bellowed "Nurse!" all night long, the unbearably cute and chatty toddler with a brain tumor.

Clem got to go home on Wednesday, before Thanksgiving.  As we were packing up a boy staggered by screaming from the pain of the gas in his stomach from the laproscopic surgery.  I heard the girl next to Clem tell nurses she couldn't go to her grandmother's for a day or two while she recovered.  She'd have to go back to her group home.  The toddler with the brain tumor was riding a Little Tykes car around the nurse's station.

How thankful I am for family and friends and a home and even acute appendicitis.  Clem will be none the worse for the wear in a few weeks.  And we'll go on, forgetting, thankfully, how thin is the curtain separating us from the world's woes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Home of Good Crawly Toys

Evelyn was joyfully holding a darkling beetle (what mealworms grow up to be).  This was 8 years ago and she was four.  Overcome with her enthusiasm she blurted out, "Life is just so much of a good crawly toy!"

Since that day I have tried to instill a respect for living things and encourage the children to see themselves as stewards of nature. But deep down they still think living things are the best crawly toys ever.

On our second day at Lassen I was hot to get to bubbly volcanic sulfurous things. But my friend Judith, newly arrived (with salad!), suggested we walk from our campsite to and around Manzanita Lake. We were awaiting more friends who would want to see the lavaworks, so why not? Manzanita Lake turned out to be a hot spot. Not geothermally, but for good crawly toys.

And it was stunningly scenic.
Yay!  Friends!

The kids adored the ephemeral ecosystems on floating logs below.
And I loved the views.

And then began the parade of wildlife. 
Some things stayed out of our reach.
But not this handful of baby lizards that Evelyn caught.
Or this long garter snake.

We did not try to touch this Douglas squirrel.  He's put on his winter coat and the squirrel equivalent of a hat with a pom pom--his darling ear tufts.
We could probably have touched these very tame foraging deer.
Evelyn snapped these deer photos.
We wondered what they were eating. There wasn't anything green around except pine needles. So when they moved on, we investigated.
Mushrooms!  In this photo you can just make out that the mother deer has a big mushroom cap in her mouth.

I wondered if that meant those mushrooms would be edible for people, but did not try my luck.

Evelyn discovered in our mammal guide that deer aren't the only mammals to eat fungi.  Chipmunks are connoisseurs of truffles.  We wondered if you could train a pet chipmunk as a truffler.  Chipmunks also like forbs the book told us.   What, you ask, are forbs?  The question bothered us throughout our internet-less stay at Lassen.  But you can just click on the word forbs.

Look at the tiny snake head between Evelyn's fingers.  It must have been reptile hatching day at Manzanita Lake.

Ok, which one is cuter, snake or girl?
We watched this dipper playing in the rapids.
See his little head below?
Next up, bubbly volcanic sulfurous things.  And cuddly extremophilic bacteria.

If you already knew what forbs were (or have anything else to say) leave a comment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tasty Meat

Two women and six children on the road for two weeks--and we never stopped at a grocery store.  I owe part of that to my friend Martha who gave me a little booklet called Camp Cooking Without Coolers by Lacey Anderson.

I didn't put Anderson's Fruity Breakfast Rice on the menu because no matter how delicious instant rice with dried apples and butter flavored Crisco might be, my kids are unlikely to try it even without the optional chia seeds. 

But I did get some key tips from this book.  One was soup.  "Soup is an excellent appetizer because it helps to ensure group members stay hydrated," Anderson writes.  "I like to serve soup as an appetizer...."

Can I say that on a chill evening soup seems like man's highest achievement?  Quick and satisfying--delightful to cradle in your numbed hands.  When it was cold, when everyone came down with colds, a lunch of hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches hit the spot.  And butternut squash soup as an appetizer when we arrived back at camp late, after a long hike, cold and hungry, was a balm to the soul as well as the stomach.

We were lucky the foraging was good.  I didn't have to worry about fresh fruit intake as it was all around.  Blackberries, blue huckleberries, red huckleberries, salal berries.  We saw thimbleberry plants but no fruit.
Evelyn identified berries with the help of a dichotomous key.
We had so many berries we stewed them with sugar.

After a very rainy night--look at our accidental rain gauge!--
a breakfast of crepes with huckleberry blackberry syrup gave everyone the energy to break a soggy camp and hit the road.

Below, in the hat, is Yakov, our crepe chef extraordinaire.  Sadly I didn't get out the camera until the crepes were gone.  On the table you can see the beer bottles from the beer that, the night before, went into me...ok, just a little...most of the oatmeal lager went into the Trader Joes beer bread batter. 
I wish I had brought more of that!  Just add a bottle of beer, stir and pour into a greased cast iron skillet and cover.  I put an extra cast iron pan under the skillet to distribute the heat better.  The kids fell upon the hot fresh bread like wolves.

I don't want to sound like a Trader Joe's advertisement, but my friend Marina brought a coolerful of premarinated meat from TJ's which became known as tasty meat.  We would whip out the camp stove and have a hot lunch of tasty meat anywhere.

On the drive from Shasta to Lassen I saw a sign that said "Wildlife Viewing" with an arrow pointing right.  On an impulse I hung a hard right because, hey, we want to view wildlife.  The wildlife at this place turned out to be golden mantled ground squirrels.

But it was a spectacular spot on a river near Lake McCloud in Shasta National Forest.  It was so spectacular that the parking lot suddenly filled up and a flock of painters with easels swarmed the rocky riverbank.

You can see them on the bottom left of the photo below.
The children walked around them loudly critiquing while we set up our stove in a light drizzle and offered up tasty meat for lunch.  A group of teen girls wandered by and one said, "These people have some good food going." 
As we were packing up the artists swarmed away leaving us in an empty parking lot. A game warden pulled up and I asked him what wildlife we could view.
"Ospreys, but they left."
After admiring the scenery...
...we got back on the road. Our plan, since it was still raining, was to get a motel. But we never saw a place to stop and then, with dark coming on, we were at Lassen. In the rain. With wet sleeping bags. Ok, there were some cute cabins fifteen miles back. I used my only quarters on the pay phone--no cell coverage. It was the first week of hunting season. No room for us.

I stood in front of the pay phone wondering what we could do. I spent $60 on 3 phone calls to my husband. Ouch. Watch out for those pay by credit card pay phones. They are pure evil. Mike found us a motel room in Burney 40 miles away. Wasn't there anything closer? What on earth does one do without the internet and cell phones? How do you find out about things? It would be nice if they had some list of local places. You know, a sort of book with listings in it. Lightbulb. I looked down and there was the slim plastic cover. And inside it. A phone book. I had forgotten all about them.

But we decided to stick it out. There was a 24 hour laundry there by the store at Lassen. I dried our sleeping bags, burning huge holes in one in the process--it had been Greta's but it became mine. The rain turned to drizzle, then cleared. We set up camp and went to bed.

The next day we would be joined by more friends. It would be great to see friends we were missing, for Marina and me to share our stories, to hear news from back home. For the kids to have different playmates.

And another great thing. They brought salad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So we took a long camping trip to see California mammals and also--back off uncharismatic microfauna antidefamation league!--bacteria. We were armed with a Game Spy Camera, a rodent trap, a guide to California mammals and, true story, A Field Guide to Bacteria.

The mammal our game camera caught most often was ourselves. Here is Clementine getting ready for a predawn mammal walk. We got up close and personal with some viruses, so a few kids who really wanted to go on this walk had to remain huddled in the tent. The few, the intrepid, those of us without fevers, did spot tracks by Smith river, but my camera battery had died. We couldn't be sure, but we hold out the possibility that they were otter tracks.
We were also all for seeing interesting plants.  Our campsite, surrounded by old growth redwoods, was the best one of the trip.  A really great thing about redwoods is that they don't hide from you.

Evelyn, looking over the brochure for Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park, remarked that the conditions were perfect for the California pitcher plant, Darlingtonia californica, California's only native carnivorous plant. She set off to ask the rangers if there were Darlingtonias in the park.

She came back beaming.

A short drive and a very short path brought us to this:

We soon wished that the Darlingtonias were not such passive carnivores as a whole swarm of insects began practicing carnivory on us.  Mosquitoes.

We high-tailed it, pausing only to give this coyote hole left by the miner 49'ers a glance.
We hopped back in our vans headed for Oregon Caves, home to stromatolites, formations created by cyanobacteria.  These bacteria, also known as blue-green algae, once covered large parts of the earth in mats. 

At the visitor center I asked the woman at the desk if we'd hear about stromatolites on the tour.  "Oh yes," she said, "They'll tell you all about them.  The uppy thingies and the downy thingies.  I can never remember what they are called.  We've got 'em all."

The kids got no end of amusement out of this, but I think she was trying to spare my feelings as I'd clearly got the name wrong.

As it turned out, there were, indeed, plenty of stalactites and stalagmites, but no stromatolites on the tour.  They are in parts of the cave not accessible to the public.

But, we did get to see the endearing moon milk formation below which is believed to be caused by the bacteria Macromonus bipunctata

And guess what swooped right over our heads.
A Townsend's Big-eared Bat.
The kids enjoyed themselves thoroughly on the tour and I thought they were really well behaved, but when the ranger swore them in for their Junior Ranger badges he appended "I will always obey my mother" to the oath.
After two hours winding through a half mile tunnel we came out to this:

The next day we were cruising down the I-5 headed for Lassen Volcanic Park when I spotted a coyote loping along a hill.  I called to the kids to look, but they missed it.  Then, on the next rise, there was another coyote, in the same place on the hill running the same direction.  Everyone saw it. 

I've been blogging about this trip for much, much longer than the trip actually took.  One day I hope to catch up with real time, but there is still more to tell.

If I don't get it down I'll forget it ever happened.

In a related note...I hadn't posted in two weeks but my stats showed a big jump in visits.  I investigated and it turns out some kind soul nominated my blog for an award!  Whoever it was, thank you.  It is always nice to have your little corner of the blogosphere get noticed.

It turns out I was nominated for Best Super Homeschooler.  I'm a little sheepish about that because I don't feel all that super.  Before I started blogging I thought we did nothing at all.  We have done some big trips lately, but we've also had amazing experiences just walking around our block and in our backyard, paying attention to the little things.

If the spirit moves you, you can vote here, before Friday.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Going on a Gem Hunt

It was a good thing that my friend and traveling companion, Marina, did a bit of internet research at the motel on our day's destination.  We were looking for an old copper mine on bureau of land management land near Mt. Shasta.  We hoped to take home some pretty blue green copper ore called chrysocolla.

Her research clued us in to be on the lookout for the shot up old RV.  We went too far past it the first time and, after scraping our vans through scrub, found an enticingly wide and well-traveled dirt road.  With signposts!  This road led to a working mine with imposing KEEP OUT signs.

We circled back, enjoying the views of Mt. Shasta.

In our search, full of exploratory sorties from our vans, we struck pay dirt--not the kind we expected, though.

Clementine shouted, "Mom!  Look!  Bear tracks!"

Sure enough.

A bear had walked all over this spot.  We found front pawprints (above) and hindprints (below).  Clem suggested we put a dollar bill in for size.  Pretty big!

I can't remember who discovered the little balls of pumice.  Greta is cleaning one with a wire brush with Mt. Shasta in the background.

The kids investigated many dumped items.  Good old fashioned fun with a tire.

At last we found the slag heap we were looking for.

And plenty of chrysocolla.

And even more treasures.

Broken bones.

Rabbit scat! 
We all recalled the story Susan Labiste told us about friends who thought they had found pine nuts on the ground but who instead had fried up and were eating rabbit scat in butter and cinnamon.

This was supposed to be a gem hunt, a departure from our mammal search, but it turned into a bear hunt.  And a rabbit hunt, and a bone hunt, and a pumice hunt.  What I like about this mammal hunt is that it keeps our eyes open.  It is amazing what you find if you think to look.

But please, don't mistake the rabbit scat for pine nuts.