Oregon Trail

Location: Oregon, United States

Friday, January 26, 2007

News this week

Paul's Mom. Paul's mom was admitted to the hospital January 18th with pneumonia. She had been feeling short of breath since the Sunday prior, we had all said go see the doctor and she put us off, saying she would be going in to the oncologist on Thursday. She is generally a tough cookie, so we let it go and didn't force her to go in! Ugh! Long story short, she has given us quite a scare, but is finally on the upswing and was released Tuesday. She is quite unsteady on her feet and requires someone to be there 24 hours a day in order to help her get around without falling. 15 minutes after arriving home, she stood up without waiting for help, fell down and bumped her head on the wall. So it was back to ER for a C/T scan because she is susceptible to bleeding. 3 hours later, she was cleared to go home again.

This has been really hard on the family. The social worker that is working with us gave us a good idea of what to expect from here on out and it is not a picnic. While the tumor is under control for now, the type of cancer she has will send out tendrils that eventually start new tumors. She will undergo regular MRIs to monitor this and will be treated quickly when they arise. Meanwhile, she will remain at high risk for infection, especially pneumonia, and will require 24 hour care for some time yet (to be determined) depending on how long it takes her to get back on her feet from this bout. Pray for us.

Thomas. Well, as long as we are talking about medical issues but on a much lighter note, here's the latest with Thomas:

We had chocolate fondue the other night - a new favorite in our household along with meat fondue, because Paul got a fondue pot for his birthday. I was cleaning up in the kitchen while the kids started eating their dessert when I heard a ruckus. William and Thomas were yelling, "Oh! Oh No!! Holy crap!!" I figured they had tipped over the pot and there was chocolate everywhere, which I did not want to see, so I waited. Then Thomas came in the kitchen with a handful of blood and I started saying, "Oh! Oh No! Holy crap!!!" And then I got a cloth, applied direct pressure and stemmed the flow. He had evidently been trying to skewer a strawberry that he was holding in his hand and got a little carried away. He is fine, no infection, just a little pale and woozy for the rest of the evening.

The police. I am totally pumped! The Police department from a neighboring city has asked us (my co-worker and I) to be a part of their training. My co-worker doesn't have the time to do it, so I get to be the presenter. I will be discussing Mental Illness in the Homeless community, what our role is as PATH outreach workers, and brainstorming ways that we can collaborate with the police and vice versa. The police in the area have been getting really bad press regarding their response to both the homeless and mentally ill, so this is part of their solution. It is not their intent to become mental health professionals, but to become informed regarding the resources that are available to them when they come across someone that fits these criteria. I am hoping that this proves to be a great step toward positive change.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow Days

Just a quick update, here. We had three inches of snow overnight and woke up Tuesday to a traditional Winter Wonderland! Since this kind of snow only happens every two to 5 years, there is no such thing as a snow plow. That means: Snow Day! No school, offices close, the city virtually shuts down. Stephen and William were ecstatic. Thomas burst into tears. He has been homesick for snow the last few days and had prayed for just enough snow to make one snowball, that's all. Talk about "over and above all you can ask or think". An overwhelming answer to prayer.

Today is day two. The snow never melted yesterday and the roads are still terrible, so here we are. Oh, well, the house is cleaner than it has been in a while...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Story #17: Mr. Yuck

In response to some queries re: finding a dead man in the Boundary Waters, I will now tell "The Story of Finding the Dead Man in the Boundary Waters" or "Mr. Yuck" for short. For those who know me, this is story #17, and you've probably already heard it before, so you can skip it. I figure if I write it down and give it a number, when I get senile and start repeating myself, you can all say, "Yep, story 17, you printed it in your blog in 2007 and we don't need to hear it again." Or perhaps something that preserves my dignity a little more, like, "Oh! Isn't that the one where ...?" and I will remember on my own that I've already told you the story 10,000 times and then I will try to tell you story number 21, which I remember isn't printed in my blog and you've only heard 5,000 times so you will have to listen to it.

But for now, Story #17:

Finding the Dead Man in the Boundary Waters

When I was in about 10th grade, give or take a year, the youth group at our church took a trip up to the Boundary Waters. We canoed in to a base camp area and then took day trips out from there. We ate bacon and eggs fried on the overturned lid of a washing machine and nasty flavored instant oatmeal for breakfast. We tried to fish without much luck. We even tried catching our own leaches (successfully) to use for bait. Must have been the wrong kind of leach. It didn't help that one guy, Bruce, kept yelling, "Here, fishy fishy fishy!!!" Everyone knows you can't catch a fish if you're loud. At least he was funny.

None of the girls on this trip were really my type - they were the kind that bought butane curling irons so they could have their hair perfect for the whole trip, or they weren't my age, or they all preferred to sit around vs. fish, hike, explore, play cards, etc. - so I got permission to sleep on a tarp on a point near the girl's tent instead of having to be in the tent with them. This ended up being AWESOME, because I laid the tarp on a low-growing evergreen patch that turned out to be a great mattress and I was able to see the stars (sans smog and city lights - wow!). Then, one night there was an amazing display of the Northern Lights that arced from NNW to due East. And one night it snowed on me, too, but that just fed my tough-girl-I-can-make-it-through- anything attitude. Hear me roar!

On one of our day trips, we went to check out a smaller lake nearby. As we approached one of the portages, we noticed that someone else was already there. There was a canoe and several packs neatly placed along the entrance to the portage. We pulled up, grabbed our canoes, and started hiking. I was toward the end of the line, with the youth pastor and a few of the guys in front. As we got near the end of the portage, one of the guys came back and very loudly said, "There's a guy sleeping up there!!!" We were all telling him to shut up then, when he said he was being loud on purpose so the guy would wake up and we wouldn't startle him. So we all stomped and talked until we reached the end of the portage. There was more gear, neatly laid out, and an elderly man sleeping on hi side with his head on a rock. We had made so much noise that we figured he must be deaf, certainly not dead, so our pastor went up to him and tapped him on his side to wake him up. That's when we knew there was something absolutely not right here because when he tapped the guy, it sounded like a watermelon: Thump, thump. Regular people don't go thump, thump. Plus he didn't move. Another sure sign. We looked at one another in silence - "You mean, he's dead? Are you serious???" our eyes said.

It would be interesting to talk to the people on that trip now, as adults, and ask what they were thinking. No one screamed - it wasn't scary, just ... unreal, out of the ordinary, unexpected, unsettling. And sad. And solemn. We decided we'd check his wallet for identification, which we did. I still remember his name and address to this day. Then we went back to base camp - suddenly seeing another lake just didn't appeal to us any more. Plus, the youth pastor said we could place some distress signals out in the lake so the ranger-types in the float planes would land and then we could report what we had found.

Two days later, no float planes had landed yet. We decided to flag someone down on the road instead. The only down side to this choice was that the closest route to the road was to go past the dead fellow again. So a few of us went - maybe two canoes. Of course I was in one of them - after all, I'd slept under the stars and in the snow! Tough as nails! So off we went. Little did we know that two days plus a little rain would bloat the fellow a bit and turn him green. Now it was starting to get creepy. In retrospect, at least he hadn't been mauled by animals or anything - that surely would have traumatized us. Instead, we just got royally grossed out and, being teenagers, decided to call him "Mr. Yuck". You know, the little green face stickers that you were supposed to put on all the poisonous things in the house so your little kids wouldn't drink it? Well, that was his new name. Back at camp, we sang songs about him, told outrageous stories about him, and basically did what ever we could to laugh about it instead of puke or freak out.

On the way back to camp - Behold! There was a float plane! And it had seen our distress signal and was coming in for a landing. We told the two people in the plane about the man we'd found. When we told them his name, they were shocked - they knew him, an old trapper in the area - and he wasn't expected back for a few days yet so he hadn't been reported as missing. They assured us they would take care of everything and thanked us for alerting them.

I wish I could say there was a moral to the story, or a "take-away". If anything, it would be that finding a dead person isn't necessarily scary. Unsettling, yes. But, in this case not scary. We were fortunate that the worst thing that happened to him was that he turned a little green. Thank you, Mr. Yuck, for going easy on us.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Work Adventures. William

Item 1. Love. Every week at HomePlate, a different group comes in to prepare and serve the meal. The groups vary between church groups, people from different places of work, or random volunteers found over the internet via a service like Craigslist. One week a while back, there was a group from an Alaskan Airlines susidiary that came. I ended up sitting down with a few of them at one point and discussing the various reasons youth become homeless. It was an awesome discussion and I came away from it feeling like they had really grasped the plight that many of these youth face. One woman in particular was very touched and promised to approach another group she was involved in to see if they would like to come and prepare a meal as well.

Last week was the week her group came. They are a Buddist non-profit organization that provides relief worldwide and most of the members from this chapter are immigrants from Taiwan. When I arrived, they had set the tables using beautiful blue tablecloths with a small vase of flowers on each one. The food they had made smelled wonderful and tasted even better - vegetarian Chinese dishes - and the youth were very appreciative. In addition, they had brought some basic supplies like socks and underwear and to top it all off: hand knit scarves (representing over a year's worth of work).

This was an utterly overwhelming experience for me. I had to leave the room a couple of times just to weep. I'm still trying to place what is was that moved me so. Was it that everyone there was of Chinese descent? (In case you don't know me, I love China and had planned to move there at one point.) Was it the way they expressed their sincere love for these kids? It was palpable. Could it be that where there is love, there is God's presence and that was what was so moving? In any case, the youth knew they were loved, they felt it and it was beautiful.

Item 2. Close call. My co-worker (Lisa) and I went to check on one of our clients who lives under a bridge next to a river. When we got there, the first thing I noticed was that his bike was there. Then, as I got further down the hill, I noticed that the water had risen quite a bit and that his chair was now in about 6 - 8 inches of water. In addition, there were several tarps stacked up near the water's edge that were about to be swamped as well. This fellow usually leaves his site in good order, putting everything away before he leaves, so this was unsettling. I called his name several times but there was no answer so we presumed he was gone. Then we debated about whether to move his chair and tarps for him. I went further under the bridge and looked up to where his sleeping bag was and nearly jumped out of my skin - he was still in there, not moving (dead?)! No, wait - was he? I couldn't see very well as it was very dim. But as I backed out, I realized that what I had thought was his head was really a canvas bag. I know in a very theoretical sense that in this line of work, some of my clients will die. But I just don't want to be the one that finds them. Slightly reminiscent of the time we found the dead guy up in the Boundary Waters... but that's another story...

Item 3. Closer call. After HomePlate the other night, we were putting the trash out in the bin at the back of the church when a man came walking along in the alley/parking lot. He confronted us, thinking that we were "ruffians", and asked us to move away from the door of the church, saying that he is the self-appointed guardian of the church. Then he began to quote the scripture "Choose you this day whether you will live or die" and put his hand in his pocket. At that moment, I thought for sure he had a weapon. Then I wondered what the right answer was to his question - if we chose "life", did that mean eternal life? As in death? And if we chose "death" did that mean actual, physical death, or spiritual death, which could mean life? So I began to unlock my cellphone in my pocket, just in case I needed to dial 911. Fortunately, this guy was only crazy, not violent, and after he was done with his sermonette and conspiracy theory linkages of the Hebrew language to numerology, we were free to go. Yikes.

William had his last dose of prednisone (steroids) today. This is worthy of a celebration. We have tried to wean him off twice already, but he would begin to feel awful again within just a couple days. This time, the medicine that he is receiving intravenously is working. He is chubby again, which looks great on him, especially since I know he will need some extra pounds to burn if/when he has another bout of illness. So celebrate with us!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

My folks were able to come out here and join us for the week before Christmas. This time, they actually got to see some of the sights in the area, although Mt. Hood was still rather elusive. (Their first visit, they worked with me on the house nearly the entire time. We had to drag them to the Japanese Garden and a few other places.) We ate at a fantastic restaurant my dad had found called the Wildwood, in addition to several darned good meals at home. We also went to the Art Museum downtown, rode the MAX, took a drive through the countryside to see the llamas, visited a swanky shopping area called Bridgeport, and hung out together. All around, a very nice time and a great way to transition into Christmas away from family and friends.

Another highlight is the arrival of the WEBCAM. "The cousins", i.e. Jill and Tim's kids, have been missing us terribly, so for Christmas they sent us a webcam. This way, we can see and hear one another on a regular basis, like a telephone with a monitor. (Okay, do you remember how futuristic video phones seemed only a short time ago? I distinctly remember thinking there was no way this was possible, and if it was possible, it would only be for the very rich. Amazing.) We have been in regular contact with the cousins since the arrival of the webcam, although our microphone feature is not working, so they cannot hear us. (I've spent a good 6 hours trying to figure out the problem and plan to call customer service now that the kids are back in school. Is that like getting coal in your stocking? Hmm, maybe I'd better check to make sure those guys aren't mad at me about something...) But, even with the glitch, it has been super cool.

The kids would also want you to know that they pooled all their Christmas gift money together and got a Wii (the latest gaming system by Nintendo). One of Paul's co-worker's, Howard, gave us a tip that a local department store where he works might be getting some in. So Paul casually dropped by on his way to work on the designated morning and snagged one. Now we are forever indebted to Howard and possibly forever hooked up to Wii. It is pretty darn fun, even for us parental unit types. Except the fishing sequence on Zelda - way too realistic. Lots of waiting and waiting and waiting. I came downstairs at one point to check on the kids and William was flopped backward on the couch with the controller in his hand. I said, "What are you doing?" "I'm fishing." "Why are you laying down?" "Because the fish aren't biting." "How long have you been trying?" "I don't know!" But he was obviously bored stiff and had been there for some time. Hmm, this scene is vaguely familiar... Oh! That's it! There's Paul sitting in the back of the boat poking the end of his pole into the gas bubbles for hours on end, bored stiff, as my dad and I sat in silence plying the waters - waiting and waiting and waiting...

We had a quiet New Year's Eve here - or what passes for quiet in this household, anyway. Then New Year's Day, we went to the Science Museum to see an exhibit about the science behind Star Wars. Decent exhibit, but I can't wait to see the rest of the museum! I planned to make "Hoppin' John", or black-eyed peas and rice, for dinner - a Southern tradition for good luck on the New Year. So when we got home from the science museum, I went to the store to get the black-eyed peas. But they were ALL GONE!!! The canned ones, the dried ones - ALL of them! Now, this would never happen in Minneapolis. There must be a whole lot more Southern transplants out here than I ever dreamed! But never fear, our luck is in tact, because I went to another store and found some there (on the top shelf, out of reach, so I had to get help to get some down.)