Oregon Trail

Location: Oregon, United States

Monday, October 30, 2006

The last week of October

This morning, the water in the birdbath was frozen over and there was frost all over the grass and the rooftops. Then, as the sun came out and warmed things up a bit, the leaves on our maple tree began falling like giant yellow snowflakes. Absolutely beautiful. Good thing we didn't rake this weekend - it would have been an exercise in futility.

It was a gorgeous fall weekend here - crisp air, sunlight in the afternoon, fog in the morning, and the trees are peaking in their color. Saturday, we went to the playground at Stephen's school and played "Monster tag" for about an hour and a half. Sunday, Stephen and Thomas and I went to an apple farm nearby, had a hay ride, went through a maze, chose pumpkins and apples and generally had a great time. But not nearly enough time outside to suit me. Paul and William stayed back, watched football, and took the dog for a long walk/play time.

William is having another hard week with his Crohn's. I spoke to the doctor last week and he said the blood work we'd had done indicated that none of the medicines we are using at this time are working against the inflammation. Well, now, isn't that nice? Actually, the prednisone is working, but it is just a giant band-aid with lots of horrible side effects over the long haul and we're trying to eliminate it. So we are going in today to discuss our next option, which is weekly IVs. If that doesn't work, then I honestly don't know what is next. I don't even want to speculate.

The kids are all psyched up for Halloween. They are all wearing a black cape and plan to carry some sort of weapon. I'm not sure what they're supposed to be - just scary, I think. Frankly, I hate Halloween. The night itself isn't terrible - it's kind of fun to see the little kids come by all dressed up - but all the build-up for an evening of candy-gathering (half of which they let rot because it's not what they like) is just a bit much. As a rule, the kids get these elaborate ideas for their costumes and then I'm supposed to figure out how to make it happen. Then I spend hours making costumes because I refuse to spend $20 + at the store for something they will never wear again. Fortunately, this time around two of them already had black capes from previous years so I only had to make one. And we have an arsenal of fake weaponry to choose from, so that's covered. Whoopee. I can't wait.

The group I've been volunteering for has hired me on 4.5 hours per week for 10 weeks to do outreach to the youth in the community. That, combined with my 'regular job', brings me up to 20.5 hours a week. Ooo, don't strain yourself. By the time the 10 weeks are up, the shelter in Hillsboro should be open, and I will get all my hours there. At any rate, I'm thrilled to be working because it keeps me awake and alive.

Random tangent: speaking of being awake and alive, I would like to know what the heck happened to my youthful good looks lately. Now, don't go saying, "Oh, Lydia, you look fine... because I know a lie when I hear one. I blame it on the move, or maybe the lighting in the bathrooms here. My eyes are all wrinkled and puffy looking like the woman on the "before" pictures for the Hydroderm ads, my neck looks like I'm turning into a gecko, and I feel like Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday every time I look in the mirror - "Crypt-Keeper!" Ten years ago, I thought I wouldn't care about wrinkles, that I would just age gracefully and not try to cover it up. Now, Botox looks really good. Well, not that good. I'm still determined to age without plastic surgery, Botox, and the like. Maybe I'll get used to the "new me" in the mirror. Maybe I'll change the lights in the bathroom. Maybe I'll just never turn them on in the first place...

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Just a few random things that are on my mind:

Haralsons: When the leaves start to turn and the air gets cool, it is time for Haralson apples. So I began looking for them in the store, eagerly anticipating their tart flavor and perfection when cooked and baked. They were nowhere to be found. Strange, I thought, maybe the season is different out here or something. So I asked one of the produce guys at the grocery store. "Oh, no. We don't get Haralsons. No one around here bakes so they are hard to sell. Maybe you should try some of the local orchards or farmers markets for an exotic variety like that." Exotic? Are you kidding me? Now I know how the kids feel because we can't find Kemp's Yo-J or Potato Topper.
The good news about the apples is that they can be shipped and my sister was kind and generous enough to send me a box full. Whew! Maybe I will save one and plant it...

Conferences: We just finished conferences for the kids. They are doing really well - A's and B's. (In case you are wondering, William is in all mainstreamed classes except for math. He will be ready to be in mainstreamed math by next year.) I had a very cordial discussion with Stephen's teacher during which I expressed my confusion regarding A.) his test scores from Minnesota B.) his performance here in Oregon, which has been encouraging thus far and C.) the fact that he is qualifies for Title 1 services. The teacher and I agreed that, while he is performing slightly below the standard, he is not far enough behind to fit the "discrepancy model". On the other hand, we also agreed that he could probably perform up to his ability if he had some supports in place and we will be looking into what is called a 504. This is very encouraging news, as I felt like the teacher was receptive to my input and we are moving forward. My last interaction with her felt like banging my head against a brick wall.

Guilty pleasure: Okay, this is so stupid but I have to say it. Thomas, Stephen and I have been watching Mr. Meaty on Nickelodeon. It is a show (using puppets) about two teenagers, Josh and Parker, that work in a fast food restaurant at the mall. The mall girls are also there - among them, Ashley and Ashley II - and when they are disgusted they make a sound like a cat coughing up a hairball. They go to the bathroom in groups, where they have worldwide multi-media meetings about Unicorns and guys that are dissing them. Josh and Parker are clueless as they try unsuccessfully to understand the mall girls or do stupid things like eating raw meat and dealing with the consequences (a giant tapeworm that leaps out of Parker's mouth, eating everything before he can.) Eeeew! Hack, hack. The whole show is disgustingly gross, but oh, so funny! Paul and William can't stand it, so it doesn't appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it for extremely stupid fun.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The First Day on the Job

Tuesday was my first real day at work. I was instructed to wear my outdoor clothes and asked if I had a walking stick. When I said, "Yes, I have a walking stick!" my coworker, Lisa, said, "Good, bring it. I have one I always bring and I have Mace as well." Oh. I guess the walking stick isn't exactly for the rough terrain.

I met my coworker at a local park where we hung out, talked shop (Fun!) and scoped the area for possible homeless people. No one there today, which happens, so on to our next stop. Lisa had arranged for us to visit one of her clients that had recently gotten into housing. He is originally from Venus and wears a full beard and a skirt. Nicest guy. We checked in on him, made sure he has what he needs, touched base with his temporary roommate and moved on.

Next stop, a drop in center for homeless where they can get a hot meal, do their laundry, take a shower, etc. The staff was in a meeting, so we introduced ourselves to the clients that were there. As soon as they knew who we were, a few of them expressed interest in talking further. Evidently this drop in center is so overwhelmed they have very little time to sit and listen to the needs of their clientele. Not impressed. So Lisa talked to a couple of people and I spoke to a gentleman that is most likely suffering from delusions. We call this therapeutic hanging out. When the staff meeting was over, we met with the director of the agency, who is the creepiest person I've ever met. She was judgemental, rude, self-righteous, and unprofessional at best. Lovely. On the other hand, she is the only person providing any services at all and she has done a lot of good for the community. Still, I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Last stop was a hike in the woods behind a cemetery. This area used to be a big campsite for several homeless, but it was flooded out last winter. The debris is still all over the place - sleeping bags, clothing, garbage. We scoped out the area for new residents, found a new campsite where no one was home and another with a couple of migrant workers. Must work on my Spanish. It was very interesting to watch Lisa on this walk. Much more cautious, very wary, instructing me on the proper etiquette for approaching someone in their campsite. Most informative. I have the feeling she's got some stories to tell.

Overall, it was a very good day. The clients we met were really interesting people, my coworker is a gifted professional, and she tells me the agency is kid and dog friendly and encouraged me to bring the dog on our next day of hiking outreach. Dude! How cool is that? She also said that they are totally low key about how you fulfill your hours, as long as you fulfill them. Can it really be? Only time will tell...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Funky thoughts. News Flash

My friend Cindy Pearson was here last week. She has family nearby and spent the night with us "on the way to the airport". I cried with her again. Not the whole time she was here, but once or twice. She seemed slightly amazed when I said I really don't cry much. Last time I saw her was nearly a year ago, in China, working alongside her, and I cried every day. Something about it just got to me - I love it there. I love the smell, the outdoor markets, the street food, the sardine-packed buses. Paul and I had hoped to work in China at one point not so long ago, but things beyond our control closed that door for now. So I cried.

This time when I saw Cindy, she had just had a very refreshing and much needed time of what I call "cocooning". We talked about real things, like how are you doing? Suddenly, I realised that no one real - no one face to face, no one I was safe to really tell - has asked me that question in a while and taken the time to listen. And I realised that I've had to be strong and put a good face on things a bit lately. So it was good to have her here, even if it was only overnight. Refreshing in a cleansing and introspective kind of way.

Now, for those of you out there who are experiencing a guilt complex because you haven't called or emailed me to see how I'm doing lately, just chill out. You are all doing just fine. It was the combination of in person, long term friendship and listening ear that got me. So relax.

On another sober note: We've changed William's medication in order to get better control over his Crohn's. We've been backing him down off of prednisone gradually, but he couldn't get past a certain dosage without experiencing symptoms. This just means the prednisone has been masking the fact that he's really still very sick. And that is unsettling at best. The new medication is a very effective drug IF he isn't in the 1% of the population that has trouble with certain side effects. Like liver and bone marrow functioning. We had to make a special appointment to talk to the doctor about this drug because it is such a heavy hitter. Then, when I went to pick it up at the Pharmacy, they had to give me a spiel as well. So start praying NOW that William will be in the 99% that do not experience nasty side effects, because if this drug doesn't work he has to go in for weekly IVs. Yuck.

On a lighter note: We have a joke about the trees here. Paul keeps saying, "The trees! They grow so straight and tall!" The people who have been here for a while (yes, Jeff, that's you) think we're kind of funny about it. But the trees ARE amazing. While Paul is amazed at how straight and tall they are, I am wowed by the variety, especially among the pine/conifer/fir/spruce types. There is a very large one that is silvery greenish grey. It's needles grow in star shaped clusters and it's branches reach out like long, narrow fingers. And another that looks like a rustic Christmas tree, maybe 8 ft. tall and it's leaves (leaves? is that right?) grow in fan-shaped groups along branches that stick straight out from the trunk. And one that looks like a pear on a stick with chartreuse (that would be yellow) highlights where there is new growth. And tall narrow ones whose branches drape down in a gentle "J" shape with strings of needles hanging off them like - I don't know, homemade pasta hanging to dry? Fringe?. And fuzzy looking ones! And, yes, tall and straight ones - we have a mini Sequoia woods nearby. Every time I go out to walk the dog, I notice a new tree, or a new thing about one. It keeps me busy.

Today, in addition to the trees, I noticed a boat next to someone's house. They seemed to have it moored to the deck, with a bright yellow rope tying it there. I thought, "Why would they do that? Especially here, especially now - we haven't had enough rain to even keep the grass alive. And they have it tied to the house as if it were going to flood tomorrow." And then, BAM! It hits me. Man, if you think THAT boat looks stupid tied to the house just because it hasn't rained all summer, think about how the one in Noah's front 40 must have looked to his neighbors. At least this one was on a trailer, so if they wanted to go somewhere besides the driveway they could. Old Noah wasn't going anywhere in that thing until the floods came. And who knows? It could very well flood here in February, I don't know! Maybe the guy's not so crazy after all...

News flash: The job search is OVER! I interviewed Monday and it went well (obviously, duh). As I mentioned in the last post, it is a Homeless Outreach Assistant position. I will be working with a seasoned outreach worker (who is also an MSW), going out to where the homeless here in Washington County camp out, assessing their needs, building trust and relationship with the hope of engaging them in services such as shelter, addressing mental health issues, etc. They were very up front about the fact that this particular job is not funded at the MSW level but they plan to split the seasoned worker's job into two twenty hour positions and add two MSW level case managers in the near future and they would love to have me transition into one of those roles. They even raised the salary a dollar an hour as a token of their good will. Funny. I am truly fine with this. It is a great way to get to know the agency, begin building relationships within the homeless community and familiarizing myself with the services available to them.

One of the questions they asked me before they offered me the job was, "How will it be for you to work with adults vs. youth?" I had fortunately given this some thought - is it homelessness that is my passion or youth? Working with severe and persistent mental illness or just plain having a job in the social service field? I could only say I don't really know but I'm willing to find out. Again, they were very cool about this and said that usually people either love it or hate it. If I love it, I can transition into the Outreach Worker or Case Manager role in a few months. If I hate it, there will be a youth shelter opening up next door to the adult shelter with mental health positions as well. And I would be free to go. If not, I am encouraged because I got two more calls for interviews within the last couple of days. Feast or famine, I guess. I finally figured out that the way they do it out here is to collect resumes for about a month and then sift through them. So there's at least a four week lag time before you hear from anyone. Nerve wracking.

But I have that overwhelming sense of peace about this job so I'm thinking I will love it. The minute I was called to come in for an interview I knew that this was IT. It is exactly what I asked for: near where I live, working with homeless people, part-time, utilizing my degree. I wasn't even nervous for the interview, which says a lot since I was on the verge of throwing up for my first one.

A totally random thing that I love about this job already is the drive in to the office. They are located in a nearby town called Tigard. When I Mapquested for directions, it said I should take the T.V. Highway, which I HATE. It is full of stop lights, cars, pedestrian crossings, signage, signage, signage, junky buildings and Harvey the 25 foot rabbit. Estimated time 25 minutes. This is bogus. It will take AT LEAST 45 minutes in rush hour, stop and go traffic. So I tried again with the "no highway" option and it showed me a back route on country roads. Estimated time 25 minutes. I decided to try it, plan on a 45 minute drive in case everyone else takes that road too, and see what happened. It was GORGEOUS! I passed two llama farms, a large apple orchard, vineyards, a Victorian home on 16 acres that I want to buy, rolling hills, misty vales, harvests in progress. And it took 25 minutes with virtually no traffic. Just WAIT till I get that Mini Cooper! Zip! Zip!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Omigosh! It's October! Update

October! The burning bushes are bright red, and the leaves are beginning to change on the trees. The weather has turned significantly cooler, with one last week in the low 80's. Rain threatens to be a few days away. I frantically finished painting the patches of bare wood outside left by the previous owners dogs. I feel like yelling, "Batten down the hatches! Stock up on the Gore-Tex! Book a room for February where there is guaranteed sunlight!" It is soup weather, wool sock weather, campfire weather. Except it hasn't rained significantly yet, so no campfire. Around here, that could mean wildfire, especially with my beloved barkdust covering the entire region.

But we have had soup, and chili. And, thanks to a new oven, cookies, shortbread, and whatever else I can dream up. Did I write about the oven? Short version is, it broke, but not completely enough to be covered by the insurance plan that came with the house. But we got a nice discount on a new one and an additional discount covering the amount it would have cost to fix it. So we got a new oven and we LOVE it! For the first time in our married life, we have an oven that is properly insulated. You can actually touch the glass door and not blister. What a novel idea.

A path! I ordered more gravel (to be delivered this time). So yesterday, I laid the path in the garden and placed the gravel. It barely made a dent in the pile. I have more area that I wanted to make into paths, but not quite yet... Oh, well - I've got something to do, anyway, and I'd certainly rather have too much than too little.

Let's see, I'll update you by individual:

Stephen: Stephen seems to be having a pretty good year. He isn't coming home upset every day from school like he was toward the end of last year, and is making friends. He is much less angry this year and able to cope. But, he's spending a LOT of time on his homework, even with me there to make sure he stays on task, so I asked for a meeting with his teachers. It seemed like a good time to check in re: how we could accomodate his dyslexia and attention issues. The meeting was the strangest thing I've ever been to. I literally thought they had mixed him up with another child. They have him in the "middle" reading group and the "higher" math group and according to them, he's keeping up. The math teacher showed me a test he had just taken that was 60% correct and said that was fine (fine? Almost half wrong is fine?) The majority of the problems he'd missed were word problems. The teacher that has him for all his other units characterised him as "bright, but distracted, off-task, and daydreaming" but seemed to feel that these were character problems vs. related to any disability. No mention whatsoever about how we could accomodate him.

At first, I was so confused by the meeting I didn't know what to think. Should I be proud that he is doing so well or really ticked because I'm getting the run around? The next day, he brought a test home that he had left 3/4 blank. I asked him what happened and he said he'd run out of time. So I wrote the teacher and asked for her version. She said he'd been given extra time (during recess) and that she felt he "could have done better". I asked Stephen for more information a few days later and he said, "I had the answers on the tip of my brain, but then they would fly away. I don't know what happened." From my reading, this is a typical problem with dyslexia. So now my dander is up and I'm figuring out how to best go about getting him services. Roar!

Thomas: Thomas is doing well. He is enjoying his classes and making do with the creepy building. He's found a few friends that have mutual interests and hangs out with them at lunch. He is acclimating.

William: William is doing well in school. (!) That is a really cool thing to be able to say! He enjoys most of his classes and tolerates gym. A girl walked by him last week and said, "Hey, cutie". He doesn't know who she is and wouldn't be able to pick her out of a line-up, but still... (By the way, no teasing about this, or I will have to delete it from the record.)

The downside with William is that his Crohn's is acting up a bit so he's been cramping and miserable for the last few days. I spoke to the doctor the other day and we will be changing his medication in hopes of getting it under control.

Sasha: Sasha is shaping up nicely. A couple of weeks ago, I was this close to bringing her back. Things have to be pretty bad for me to think like that. At that point, I had decided that she was Obsessive-Compulsive about tennis balls because she would NOT give me a moment's peace unless we were playing ball. I mean every minute, every day. We started obedience classes and the instructor had no idea what to tell me to do about it. (Super!) Then she (Sasha, not the instructor) started growling at the ball if she couldn't reach it, usually when it was under my chair, and I started dreaming that she was going to bite me. I looked up growling on the internet and decided that I needed to establish my Alpha position in the pack and tell her to cut the crap. Which I did, and she tried to stare me down so I stared back until my eyes dried up. She finally backed down, came up and 'apologized' and has been the best dog ever since! Amazing!

Paul: Well, let's just say Paul is holding up under the circumstances. Last week, I got totally fed up with him because it didn't seem like he was pulling his weight around here. After a completely pointless 'conversation' about it, I reflected on possible causes for his behavior and decided it must be stress. Then I used an online stress measurement tool to determine how bad it really is. He scored three times higher than the "danger" zone with my conservative estimate. Okay, then, I'm backing off, and we are looking at ways to ameliorate the stressors.

Lydia: Okay, so my stress index is two times the danger zone. But I thrive on a certain level of change so I'm perfectly fine! Until someone crosses me, that is. And if I learned one thing doing my master's degree, it was the importance of self-care. So bring on the herbal tea and massages!

I have another interview scheduled for next Monday. True to form, (as in, isn't that just like God?) this one could be PERFECT. It involves outreach to the homeless population in Washington County, where we live (handy!), and is part-time (handy!). The same agency is opening a shelter in our area in January and there is the possibility of more hours/responsibility as time goes on (handy!). I submitted my resume at night via the internet and got a call from them at 8:30 the next morning. So I'm guessing we are mutually psyched. In addition, Home Plate, where I've been volunteering, is looking into hiring me to do some outreach as well. So hour by hour, piece by piece, I may have work.

Sidenote about homelessness/mental illness: Within the last month, there have been several stories in the newspaper regarding incidents between the local police and people who are either homeless, or mentally ill, or both. It is really unsettling, especially when you look at them all together. I feel like cutting out the stories from the paper and collecting them, formulating a conspiracy theory. But that would make me look a little crazy and then I might end up dead - shot or beaten by a platoon of officers because I was sighted in the house holding a pair of scissors over the newspaper. Here is a sample:
  • A 'transient' (Does it matter that he was transient? Would it have made a difference if he'd had an address?), thought to be camping out in back of a WalMart was shot and killed by an officer. The man had refused to show his hands when asked but when he finally did, he was holding a gun. A toy gun. Okay, this would be on the list of things not to do to a police officer. But around here if you do something like that, it seems like you end up DEAD. What ever happened to just shooting them in the arm to make them drop the weapon?
  • A 57 year old man walked into someone's home and said, "I live here, this is my house. Don't you know who I am?" The homeowner was somehow able to convince the man to leave. He then went to another house, walked in, and sat on the couch. The family freaked out, ran next door to a neighbor, and called 911. After "trying unsuccessfully to communicate with the man", the police called the SWAT team. They evacuated the neighborhood, burst into the home and found him in a corner of a room talking to himself. He has a history of mental illness.
  • An 18 year old came home drunk one night and started talking suicide. His mom called the police, frantically asking for help, saying he was suicidal and possibly homicidal. He left the house with a knife in his hand and was in the driveway by the garage when the police arrived. The police told him to put down the weapon, he didn't, they shot him with rubber bullets, he reeled and headed for the door to the house again. The police thought he was going to hurt someone in the house so they shot and killed him. Some of the bullets passed through the house, barely missing the grandma sleeping in her bed.
  • Police came across a 42 year old man acting erratically and possibly urinating in public. He ran from them, they chased him, witnesses say they pushed him to the ground, kicked him and beat him in the chest and head repeatedly. Then they tasered him and he went unconscious. The medics were called, vitals were normal, so the police shackled and hog-tied him and brought him to the station for resisting arrest. The nurses there said he needed medical attention. He was put back in a police car and brought to the hospital but he was dead on arrival. Autopsies indicated his left chest appeared to be 'flattened', he suffered from 26 broken, splintered or crushed rib bones, multiple contusions and abrasions to his head, chest and abdomen. No trace of any alcohol or drugs. Long history of mental illness. A brilliant, gifted man struggling with schizophrenia.
These stories sicken me. There is something very wrong with the way the police force handles people with mental illness. I don't know if their training is outdated or if they even have training in this area. Honestly: The SWAT team? Three officers yelling at a drunk teenager, shooting him with rubber bullets and expecting him to - what? I would have headed for the house to get out of the firing line! And finally, kicking and beating a man most likely in the middle of a psychotic episode. To death. There has got to be another way. I hope they are trying to find it.