Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nine Years Ago

Erik and I shortly before his diagnosis.

    This is a repost from a few years ago, but as I've been thinking these same thoughts I thought I'd share it again. I'm so grateful for every day with my husband and family!

    As October passes by my thoughts always turn to remembrance and thanksgiving for the life of my family. Nine years ago at this time I was very, very pregnant with Peregrine. He was, in fact, due around the 20th although he wasn't born until November 1st. On Monday, the 14th of October, Erik visited our family doctor because he was concerned about the hard swelling in one of his testicles. Our doctor mentioned a few possibilities, one of them being cancer*, and referred him to a urologist. I called to schedule an appointment and was told they couldn't see him for nearly two months. I tried another doctor who could get him in sooner; I honestly didn't think it could be cancer or I would have pushed a lot harder! But God knows, and on Wednesday of that week the second doctor's office called and said there was a cancellation and he could see Erik on Thursday.

    Thursday came, and Erik went to his appointment. He came home and told me the urologist was confident it was cancerous and wanted to remove the testicle the next day! To this day I wish I'd have gone to that appointment with him; again, I really didn't think it was anything serious or I would have been there. No one should be alone when they're given that kind of news. We called our friends and family; I don't believe we'd even mentioned it to them prior to this. (This had all happened in a matter of four days!) Our close family came over that evening to pray with us for the surgery, which was scheduled for Friday afternoon.

    I don't remember exactly how I reacted to all of this; it was so shocking, such a short time to absorb such news, but I do remember God's peace and comfort. Even in peace though, there are a lot of questions, and we were certainly asking them! Did this doctor know what he was doing, removing a testicle without doing any biopsies? What if the cancer had spread to the other side, or elsewhere in Erik's body? I was very thankful we'd gotten pregnant right away after getting married; what if we weren't able to have any more children? What if I went into labor tomorrow? What if Erik died, leaving behind a young wife and child? All of these thoughts and more swirled through our minds, but truly, God gave us great peace in the midst of this sudden storm. My Dad mentioned the other day that he wished every couple could have the first two years of their marriage free from any big trials, but it just isn't that way, is it? We'd been married only nine months, and were facing something I'd never even imagined going through!

    Erik went to work the next morning and worked until noon. I guess he figured he'd be off the next few weeks and with a new baby coming should work as much as he could. We drove to the hospital and our parents met us there. Again, we all prayed together, and then Erik was admitted and prepped for surgery. His sense of humor always intact, he'd taken a Sharpie and drawn an arrow pointing to the side where they were going to operate! The hours went by and I sat surrounded by our loving and wonderful families. We visited and prayed and quilted and joked about me going into labor right then- hey, I was already in the hospital!

    Finally someone came out and told us that the surgery had gone well and Erik was in recovery. At last we were able to see him and a while later he was discharged from the hospital. We drove back to our cozy little duplex, thankful that everything had gone well and now praying our baby would stay put for a while so Erik could heal before having care for me and a newborn! We prayed for at least a few days, but God gave us two whole weeks before Peregrine was born! The time was good for both of us; Erik needed to rest and heal, and it was good for me to spend the last weeks of my pregnancy relaxing with my husband and not frantically trying to do a lot of things! Many of his coworkers donated their paid time off to him so he didn't have to take any time off without pay.

    About a week after his surgery we met with his doctor and learned the results of the biopsy; it was indeed cancerous. Blood tests, CT scans, and x-rays revealed that it hadn't spread anywhere else in his body, but it was still recommended that he have localized radiation. This began shortly after Peregrine was born; Erik went five mornings a week for five weeks, then went faithfully to work each day. He experienced nausea similar to that of morning sickness during this time. His long term follow-up entailed biannual CT scans for the first few years, and then every two years for the rest of his life.

    We're incredibly thankful that God allowed us to catch this early and got us into a doctor quickly. If we'd waited several weeks for the first appointment, the cancer could have spread. Erik is now healthy and has been cancer free for five years! We're also thankful that it didn't affect his fertility (obviously!) and that the Lord has surrounded us with such loving and supportive family and friends. Isn't God good to us, even when He allows us to go through such trials?

    *If you have a husband or a son, you should be aware of testicular cancer. It is most common in young men between the ages of 20 and 39, but there have been cases in boys as young as 12. If detected early it's highly treatable and has an excellent survival rate. If not detected, it likes to spread to the lungs and chest area. Men are supposed to do monthly self-exams to check for any swelling, hardness, lumps, or discomfort in the testicles, and should see a doctor right away if anything is out of the ordinary. Making the men in your life aware of this could save their lives!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Canal House in Strassbourg, France, 2004

    I don't remember the moment we first talked of a round-the-world journey. Sometime last spring we had this crazy idea: what if we took a year to travel around the world, experiencing different cultures, visiting friends, and seeing places that are significant to our faith as Orthodox Christians? This idea, instead of fading away like so many others, took root and began to grow. Over the last several months it's become the topic of much discussion, dreaming, and planning. We've been excited to find blogs, websites and even books written by families who've done similar things. We've gotten guide books from the library, printed out maps and colored in the countries we'd like to visit, and begun to make contacts in different places. Our kids talk about it with excitement. We've connected with and been encouraged by other traveling families and also received a lot of support from our friends and family. 

    Erik and I never intended to settle down in the United States and raise our family here. In fact, if you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd own a home in the suburbs and be driving a mini-van I'm sure I would have told you that was someone else's life, not mine. But one thing after another happened to keep us here. In our first year of marriage we had a baby and Erik had cancer; just a couple little reasons why we started putting down roots instead of stretching our wings. More babies joined us, we moved a couple more times, and ten years later here we are. Still. It's been good, and I'm grateful for this time; I don't regret being here at all. 

    We've always known, since before we got married, that we wanted to live a different sort of life; the surprising part is that we've been settled so long. I cannnot point to a moment where we knew we wanted to do something different; rather this is a culmination of many years of dreaming, hoping, and knowing that one day we would be going. While we've always planned to leave "someday", we also let ourselves get pretty settled. After our trip to Mexico last winter we came home knowing that it was time to start taking some serious steps toward launching out. Still unsure of exactly where we wanted to land, we came up with the idea of traveling slowly, stopping long enough to get a feel for places, and knowing that when the time is right we'll know where we're to land. 

    As I watch things unfold in our country, I feel more and more sure that this is the right decision for our family. Both Erik and I have spent time in many different countries, and we've been able to travel a fair bit with our kids as well. For me, I feel there is something alive, a part of me that awakens, when I travel. We've always been amazed at how well our kids travel, at how adaptable and uninhibited they are. We desire to expose them to places, to people, to ways of doing things that are different than what they know. We want them to learn firsthand as much as possible. We admire the way relationships take precedence over possessions in many of the places we've visited. As much as we attempt to instill this in our children, we find we're fighting an uphill battle against a culture that plagues them with marketing and that actively seeks to tear families apart. We realize we must fight to pull our family together, and for us we feel the best way to do that is to radically simplify our lives and launch into a different sort of life.

     It is a thousand little moments that have led us to this one; this one where we're ready to leave behind what is familiar and embrace a path somewhat uncertain. In a way, it's as if we've been preparing, or being prepared for this, for a lifetime. In looking back over my life, I'm often struck by how one thing leads to another, and the way not taken shapes our story too. Each moment we are offered a choice and it is all of those moments that make up a lifetime. I'm excited to see what is in store as we seek to live every moment to the fullest, to choose the things that are important and to see where the wind blows us. 

     This post was part of a group writing project of Families on the Move. You can read about the moment other families knew they wanted to change their life here:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Day Out in Portland

    It's only a little after nine o'clock on a Saturday night and all is quiet save for the traffic I hear through the window. I'm sitting in the living room of the condo we've rented for the weekend and thinking back over our very full day. I feel we packed in enough activity to last us for a week, but there's more to come tomorrow (church and a wedding) and the next day (visiting with friends). We started out yesterday by driving north toward Portland and settled into our home away from home. I was happy to discover airbnb, where I found a two bedroom condo for our family for much less than we'd have paid to stay in a hotel. It was my first time using it, but I'm sure it won't be the last.

    It seems our first night away from home is never a restful one, and last night was no exception. Most of the kids slept well, but Erik and I both started the day pretty tired. We left here around nine this morning and met our good friends Dimitri and Sarah at Old Wives Tales, and great family restaurant on Burnside. Not only do they have a kid friendly menu, but there's a fun room where the kids can play while the adults talk about boring adult stuff. It's kind of a win-win. It was so good to see Dimitri and Sarah again.

    After our late breakfast we headed back across the river in search of a decent cup of coffee for some unnamed man for whom only the best will do. To be fair, when he asked me if I wanted anything, I said I'd like a cup of chai, but only if it was made in house; no Oregon Chai or Tazo Chai. So, yeah, we all have our own little snobberies. Coffee for the man, chai for the mama, and steamers for the kids, and we were good to go. By this time, the kids seemed to think it ought to be time to eat again, but we distracted them by stopping off at a playground in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. It was a lovely fall day, with balmy sunshine breaking up the blustery gray. The trees are in their glory, red and gold and brown, with just enough crackly leaves on the ground to kick up as you walk along. The kids had fun at the playground; they seem to have a nearly endless supply of energy!

    We continued our journey east until we came to Portland Nursery where we met up with my brother Josh, his wife Annie, and the cutest baby in Portland, Jacob. It was Apple Tasting at the nursery, and we lined up to taste over 50 varieties of apples and pears. Who knew? I was surprised by the subtle differences between them, how the flesh of some is pure white while others are more of a pale gold. Or how one is almost floral in its sweetness and another is tart. Erik's favorite was a Rubinette; I liked the Swiss Gourmet and Spitzenberg. In addition to apple tasting, there was a cider press, free popcorn, cooking demonstrations, live music, and activities for the kids. Annie accompanied Peregrine on a scavenger hunt all over the nursery; he was pretty excited to find all the clues. Poppy and Raphael sat and painted little pumpkins to bring home. Let's just say this involved a little paint and a lot of glitter. While all the fun fall activities were great, one of the top attractions for the kids was playing on and around the old caboose that sits out front of the nursery.

    There had been an awful lot of snacking taking place since our long ago breakfast, but we were feeling hungry for some real food by this time. Annie had just talked with her mom, who happened to have made a huge pot of pozole and kindly invited us to come over. Hmmmm, homemade pozole or restaurant food? We didn't need to think too hard before accepting that offer. We stepped into Maria's house and were instantly welcomed. The kids sprawled out, played, and ate. Peregrine enjoyed practicing his Spanish with Maria, and of course she was delighted at his attempts to speak her mother tongue. Erik and I enjoyed steaming bowls of delicious pozole, topped off by some Italian pignolia cookies. (I couldn't resist; Josh and Annie brought them back from Philadelphia just last night. These are the same cookies my dear old Italian aunts would just about stampede each other, and us, to get to. They're that good.) Hanging out with Annie's family is a lot like hanging out with mine. Everyone is welcome. You can lay on the couch and feel totally comfortable. There is lots of food to go around. We were blessed to get to be there and share in their family tonight.

    It was close to 7 when we said our final thank yous, muchas gracias', and goodbyes, and headed back toward our home away from home. Little Raphael was just about tripping over himself he was so tired, and actually saying things like "let's go home and go to bed". We were pleased to get through such a big day with no major meltdowns. The kids have mostly settled down, and here we sit, quiet and nearly ready to head to bed ourselves. It was a full day with lots of food, family, friends, and fun. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maple Pumpkin Custard


    I love the turning of the seasons, and there's none I enjoy so well as Autumn. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're blessed with a long fall. The decidous trees slowly reveal their fiery golds and reds against the backdrop of abundant evergreens. The air is decidedly cooler, and misty mornings are common, but we're still having lots of brilliant sunshine and temperatures warm enough that the kids are running around in shorts and t-shirts. Indoors, we've been lighting candles, baking, and enjoying a fire in the evening.

    As the days grow shorter, my thoughts inevitably turn toward creating things. Whether it's coming up with some new dish in the kitchen- pumpkin custard or roasted chicken and vegetable soup- or learning a new craft, I feel compelled to create. On Monday I made play dough with the kids; now that I know just how simple it is I feel silly I've never done it before. Two things I plan to do this fall are learn to knit and to make sourdough bread. I just cast on my first row of stitches, and am quite excited about trying my hand at a new art. Next week I will begin my first sourdough starter.

    I had a little puree left from a pumpkin I roasted several days ago, and rather than freezing it, Poppy and I created this simple custard that is a perfect treat for a fall day. As it bakes the pumpkin rises to the top, leaving you with a pie-like layer on top of silky maple flavored custard to make a nourishing treat. Enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Custard
Makes 8 - 3/4 C. Servings

4 Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
1/4-1/3 C Pure Maple Syrup (depending on how sweet you like it)
2 C Milk
1/3 C Sour Cream or Whipping Cream
1/2 C Pumpkin Puree
1 t Cinnamon, plus 1/4 t each Cloves, Nutmeg, and Ginger
1 1/2 t Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 t Vanilla
1/4 t Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Put all ingredients in a blender and puree until well combined. Place ramekins or small glass dishes into a roasting pan and then fill them with the mixture. (Alternately you could bake it in a small casserole dish.) Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it's about an inch deep. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. When cool enough to handle, remove ramekins from the water. Enjoy warm or refrigerate and eat cold. 

    I hope you are enjoying a lovely fall as well! To what does this season inspire you?

This post is part of Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday, Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday, and The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Day at the Farm

For the third year in a row, our family has enjoyed a fun-filled day at Northern Lights Christmas Tree Farm. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful Autumn day at the farm!

Pumpkins being launched from the trebuchet. Farmer Bob makes this not only fun, but educational!

Some people have to pick the biggest pumpkin they can lift!

The littlest Pumpkin. Scrumptious.

Live music from the Oregon Old-Time Fiddlers Association!

The Chicken Whisperer, 2011.
(I have a picture of her on the chicken from last year too.)

Peregrine raising his arms in victory after taking part in a pie eating contest!

Raphael and Poppy on the upper deck of the Hayflower, a life size haybale Mayflower!

Pearl seemed to love playing in the hay!

Turkey in the Straw... uh, I mean, Raphael in the straw!

Peregrine chasing a hoop, a game Colonial children played.

The FamFam in front of an 1100 pound pumpkin. 

A perfect day for sitting atop an old tractor.

A wonderful time was had by all!