Archive for June, 2007

I’ve Never Liked Roller Coasters.

In fact, I don’t ride them at all.  I can go around and around, but I cannot go up and down.  And up and down is how my dad has been going for the past few days.  One day he feels fairly okay, and the next day he feels miserable.  His recovery from this colon surgery, which we all assumed would be pretty straightforward and uneventful, has been anything but.

It is particularly hard to know that he is going through all this pain and difficulty and not be able to DO anything practical to help.  Of course I pray, and a group of good friends are praying, too, but I wish I could do more.  He really needs an extra truckload of grace right now.

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Bigger Problems Getting Smaller

1. Dad is doing much better, although his recovery is still progressing slowly. He is still hospitalized and he has an NG tube to keep his stomach clear until the rest of his digestive system decides to get with the program.

2. Thanks to Fed Ex, Jessica’s passport application is in the hands of Passports Plus in Houston. Her new (3rd!!!) passport should be in our hands three days before she departs. PLENTY of margin, right?

Bigger Problems

I’d love to finish up the camping trip blogs, but two much more important issues are taking my time today.

1. My dad’s recovery from colon surgery is not going well – although the pathology report was negative, PRAISE GOD!!! – and he is miserable. Prayers for his bodily systems to work properly and for relief from pain and nausea are much appreciated.

2. Jessica’s passport has been lost by UPS, and she leaves for China in two weeks. You would not believe the amount of paperwork and money that is required to obtain a new passport and visa at this late date. The really frustrating part of this is that two years ago, her passport was lost by the US mail two weeks before a trip abroad and we went through this same situation. Let’s see… US mail, UPS… I think we will try Fed Ex this time.

Regarding the Hike (camping post #6)

The day after the inner tube float in the thunderstorm, it was decided, by someone who shall remain nameless (but who is 6′ 1″ and sports a goatee), that the family would go on a hike. The proposed hike was no slouch job. The “Indian Rockhouse Trail” is described in the Buffalo Point Trails brochure as a 3.5 mile strenuous hike. We planned appropriately: four water bottles, lots of trail mix, and peanut butter crackers. It was hard for me to conceive of eating all that, since I was doing the breakfast dishes during the packing, but that is what boys seem to need on a hike. In addition, I wore my sporty new red visor, and my black beltbag with camera.

We drove to the trailhead, which was at the top of the park. Surveying the map posted there, I realized that this trail was going to be essentially a long hike down to our destination and then a shorter – but necessarily steeper – hike back to the starting point. It is always my preference when hiking to do the uphill part first and return on the downhill, but on this day that was not to be.

It had rained that night and the forest was rather drippy and slippery. I walked carefully downhill, stepping daintily to avoid poison ivy at all costs. It and I have a long and turbulent history, the details of which I will not share here.

The others moved more quickly than I did, because I am REALLY getting into nature photography, and I stopped every few feet to take pictures. Katie hung back with me, pointing out snails on trees, orange mushrooms, and other photographic subjects I had overlooked.

We went into the entrance of an abandoned zinc mine (pretty cool, both figuratively and literally) saw “The Icebox” (a sinkhole) and a lovely little waterfall. The weather was SO hot and SO humid that I stuck my head under the icy waterfall to cool off. It felt wonderful!

I think we were close to the hike’s midpoint when we found ourselves walking along a dry, very rocky creekbed, across which lay a tree that begged to be crossed.  Scott urged Andrew (8) to walk across it.  He hesitated, but agreed to give it a try.

At the far side of the creek, he climbed up onto the log, got his balance, and started toward us.  I even took a few pictures of him up there.  Halfway across, the unthinkable happened.  The truck being wet and mossy, he started to slip.  Scott ran toward him, but it was too late.  Andrew slid off the log and dropped some six feet onto the rocks below.  Thanks to God and his angels, Andrew landed on his scrawny behind, which was MUCH better than landing on anything else.  He did that “shocked-look, silence, forlorn-look” delayed cry thing, and by then, Scott had scooped him up and was comforting him.  Nothing was broken, and we all praised God.  Things could have turned out quite differently.

We headed on toward the Indian Rock House.  We have been there before; at least Scott and I have.  It’s one of those formations that is common along streams in the Ozarks:  a vertical wall of rock, with a relatively small slit opening at its base.  In this case, the slit is actually huge (you could probably stand several hundred people under there), and it goes back some distance into a cave.  There’s also a small underground stream that surfaces in the slit and flows out as a creek.  It would be a fun place for the kids to explore, and it would be cool.  We were really looking forward to cool.

As we neared the Indian Rock House, our trail leveled off, and Katie and I were walking on gravel.  Occasionally, the trail would cross a huge flat rock, and I do mean huge – like the size of our front yard!  On one of these rocks, which was wet, but flat as a pancake, I slipped, my feet went up in front of me, and I came down very hard on the back of my head.

I was stunned and my head hurt unbearably.  I tried to lift my head from the rock (as a precursor to trying to sit), but that was a very bad idea.  I could not stand the pain and left my head where it was.   The sun was beating down on me, it was probably about 90 degrees, and I was splayed on my back on a rock with trickles of water running under and around me.  Katie had been walking in front of me, and she turned back and came to me, shocked and concerned.  I was crying a bit and moaning, “My head, OH, my head!”  (I later remembered the Bible story where the boy did that and then died.) I can’t imagine how scared Katie must have been.

She hollered for Scott a couple times.  I opened my eyes and was thrilled to see trees and her face clearly.  I told her, “well, the eyes work, so that means the brain must work, right?”  In just a minute or two Scott appeared.  He helped me up, and once again – thank God – nothing was broken, but the pain in my head was quite intense.  Even with Scott’s help, it was initially hard to walk without wobbling.

There we were over a mile (up steep hills) away from any kind of help, so there was nothing to do but keep walking.  In just a few moments, another group of hikers passed us on the their return from the Indian Rock House, and I asked for some Tylenol.  One lady gave me a handful of aspirin, which I gladly accepted.

Katie and I stayed only a few minutes at the Indian Rock House before starting the trek back.  The others stayed there to play and explore for a while.  We trudged slowly along, Katie in front carefully pointing out any slippery rock for me.  = )  The rest of the family caught up with is just as we arrived at the Natural Bathtub.  It was incredible – a round rock hollow with creek water rushing into it form a little “spout” above and flowing out a small “drain” on the other side.  It was big enough for several people to get into and maybe waist deep.  We girls, of course, wanted to climb in and cool off but couldn’t.  The boys in their swimsuits did, and we went on ahead, envying them every step of the way.

It was a LONG, HOT hike to the top, and I was not it very good condition for the last thirty minutes or so.  Scott was supporting me and I was staggering along – head pounding, body sweating,  heart racing, lungs screaming, and pausing every few steps to catch my breath.  Josiah went on ahead to the car and brought back to me some Tylenol from my purse, and the girls went to the ranger station and bought a bag of ice.  Jessica brought some back down the trail to me, and it was delicious.  Scott tried to put it on my head, too.

We all eventually made it back to the campsite, had lunch, and ended up back in the river.

Back at home, I went online and learned that I had given myself a concussion.  For several days, I was quite tired and couldn’t stand to shake or nod my head.   There’s still a bit of a lump back there, but the pain is gone, and I no longer feel like my brain is banging around in my skull.

Crunching Crawdads (camping post #5)

As we drifted lazily along in our tubes, we were able to watch the three otters for over ten minutes.  They slipped through the water with the grace of dolphins, tumbling playfully over each other.  We saw them walk up onto the shore, scoot under rocks and tree roots, and then emerge way downstream from where they went in.  They’d swim around for a moment, dive under the surface (sometimes we could see their air bubbles), and reappear back upstream of us.  They certainly had no lack of energy.

A couple times they swam out toward us and we stayed very still, hoping they would come even closer.   I’d say they swam to within fifteen feet of us!  We saw one of them catch a fish and chomp on it while swimming, but what I thought was really neat was when one of them caught a crawdad, carried it up on the bank and ate it.  We could hear every bite:  “crunch, crunch-crunch, crunch, crunch.”  I guess it was pretty tasty.

At one point, two of them left the third, who was walking on the shore, and swam out to the middle of the river and slightly upstream.  I think the lone otter must’ve been a youngster, because once he realized he was alone, he ran back and forth on the bank, clearly looking for the other two.  They, diving around some rocks midstream, ignored Junior completely, and after a minute or so, he began to squeak!  He sounded like a forlorn puppy whimpering for its mama.  His squeaks became louder and more insistent, and we wondered why the other two weren’t  coming to his aid.  Finally he let loose with all he had – not as loud as a sea lion, but the same kind of sound – and eventually, the other two came back to him.

Together, they dipped and dove a while longer, then abruptly turned upstream.  About that time, we floated to within site of the upper reaches of our campground.  I guess the otters knew there’d be too many people around if they kept going downstream with us, so they turned back.

Seeing and hearing them in the wild, so “up close and personal” was a wonderfully memorable experience.   Yet another gold star for Buffalo Point.

What do YOU do in a thunderstorm? (camping post #4)

Monday afternoon, Scott really wanted all of us to go tubing. There was a good put-in only 1.5 river miles upstream from our campsite, so even in inner tubes it wouldn’t be a terribly long float. Dinner would be simple: warm the spaghetti casserole, heat some green beans, pull out the chainsaw bars and camping cake, and call it a meal. All of that meant that we could enjoy an hour or so float, even though it was about 3:00 PM when we began the adventure.

It was cloudy and looked tuttish (as Winnie-the-Pooh says, “tut-tut, it looks like rain”), so Katie said she didn’t really want to go. We decided that she could drive us and the tubes the five miles up to the put-in. We were quite the sight. There were six of us in the van, plus one inner tube. Two more tubes were bungeed to the bike rack on the back of the van, and the double tube was tied on top with a jump rope, the handles of which hung down into the van windows and were held by Jessica and Katie.

By the time we got to the put-in, thunder had begun to roll. In fact, it was rolling quite frequently. We got out of the van, unloaded the tubes, and studied the sky. We all tried to figure out which way the weather was moving (to the north?), and Scott and I talked about how safe it would be to be on the river in a thunderstorm.

I volunteered the fact that since we would be sitting in rubber tubes (rubber being a guaranteed insulator), maybe we would be safe if lightning struck. = ) Josiah quickly told me all the reasons my logic was faulty. He tends to do that a lot. Scott and I were both game to try it, but we couldn’t seem to persuade ourselves that it would be smart. We finally told the kids that each person could decide whether or not he wanted to go, with no pressure. As it turned out, all but Katie decided to take the risk and count it as a great adventure. Before setting off, we made sure Katie could get the van in gear, and we told her where all our important papers are kept. = ) She didn’t want us to tell her, but we did anyway.

And off we went down the river. A few drops of rain were falling, but since we were all in swimsuits it really didn’t matter. What did matter was the thunder, which was now sounding almost continuously. I was OK with the thunder, as long as there was no lightning. However, the rain kept getting heavier and heavier. It became a real downpour, with dark skies and rumbles of thunder. To tell you the truth, it was downright scary.

Trying to look at the bright side, Scott commented on how pretty it was. Being in inner tubes, we were right down at the water level, and seeing such heavy rain hitting the river from that perspective was really amazing. It would have made some wonderful pictures, but there’s absolutely no way I’m taking my camera on the river!

At the heaviest point of the rain, the lightning started. If I had been scared before, I was close to terrified then, but I dared not let that show, especially to Andrew. It cracked and blazed, and thunder echoed through the valley, while I racked my brain trying to figure out how many miles away lightning is based on the time difference between seeing it and hearing the thunder. (Note: I still don’t know what that formula is, but we decided to count each second as a mile, which gave us a distance of four to seventeen miles from the lightning strikes. Knowing we were that far from being electrocuted was a great comfort to all of us!)

The river flows roughly west to east, and the storm seemed to be moving south to north. We were thankful to be hearing the thunder north of us for quite a while (a good sign), but then it swung back around to the south of us (a bad sign). Eventually, we quit trying to figure it out and just prayed. Gradually the rain lightened up, and fizzled to a drizzle. The electrical parts of the storm seemed to be moving farther away. We were all still together and alive, so we were thankful. I figured Katie was praying, too.

The storm finally left us alone, we kept drifting slowly downstream, and suddenly we saw a most wonderful thing: three otters playing in the water along the bank!

More on them in the next camping post.

Somebody please clap for me.

As of 6:57 PM on June 24, 2007, I have officially FINISHED recording ALL of Katie’s homeschool hours.  Although she still has another year at home with us and will continue to do her senior year of studies, as far as our state is concerned, we are DONE with record keeping for our firstborn!!!

Yee-hah!!!

Visible Mammals and Visible Meat (camping post #3)

Once the camp was all set up – and when we set up camp it is akin to constructing a small city – we were all so hot and sweaty we could no longer stand it, so we trotted down to the river and waded in.

Ahhhhhhh!  The cool, cold, refreshingness of it all!  The river at that point is quite shallow –  maybe knee deep to hip deep – so Jessica and I waded upstream a bit seeking enough depth to submerge our shoulders.  Something on the far shore caught her eye.  It was dark and scampering along the bank, moving sort of like a cat.  I didn’t have my glasses on, so I didn’t have a very clear shot of it.

Whatever it was sat on a rock and looked at us, so we inched our way closer and closer.  When we were about fifteen feet away, it dove into a hole under a rock, just above the water line.  It might have been a baby otter, but we weren’t sure.  Edging closer, we were able to actually see into the den, and there were THREE little noses, sets of eyes, and whiskers peering at us!

It turns out that their house had a back door, and they scampered in and out and through the den without once wiping their feet.  At one point, we could see one eating something and it sounded crunchy.  Maybe a crawdad?  I watched until I began to get a headache, which is what always happens when I try to focus intently sans glasses, and then we waded back to the near bank.

A park ranger had appeared there, and he was meandering among groups of people, inviting them to a night hike he’d be leading later in the evening.  I asked him about the critters we’d seen, and he said that there were families of both otters and minks living along that stretch of the river.  What we described to him (especially the white patch under each chin) sounded like mink.

I always take field guides when we go camping, but I usually take the wrong ones.  For example, I might have birds, trees, and insects, when what we really want to identify is a lizard.  Or, I could bring along trees, insects, and wildflowers, only to be helpless in identifying an odd bird.  This time I decided to suck it up, deal with the weight, and bring all the field guides.  Therefore, I was well-equipped with birds, trees, insects, spiders and their kin, reptiles and amphibians, AND Peterson’s First Guide to Common Mammals of North America.  Turning to the page on minks, I was thrilled to read that their behavior, habitat, and markings (including a distinctive white chin patch) exactly matched what we had seen.  So now I can honestly say I’ve seen and been seen by a mink family.  How fun.

Back at C-41, I chopped potatoes and onions and put them in foil packs for Scott to cook with the steak.  We never buy steak.  Well, we buy it when we go camping, which is usually two or three times a year.   Jessica and I were in the grocery a few days ago to buy camping groceries, including steak.  I guess I’ve been living in a bubble, because I thought the cheap, tough stuff would be about $2.99 a pound and the good stuff would be maybe $4.99 a pound.  Boy, was I wrong!!!  $4.99 was the low end, and they went up to $14.99!  Yikes!

We hemmed and hawed and tried to figure out what to buy.  I finally settled on two packages (total:  seven nice-sized cuts) that said, “griller’s choice.”  I think they were around $6 a pound.  I know that it was well over $20 worth of steak, which seemed like an awful lot, but then it was nothing compared to steak for six at a restaurant.  I hoped they would be good.

By the time I finished with the potatoes and onions, the steaks were thawed, and I noticed that it was beginning to cloud up.  Scott wasn’t around right then, but the fire was going.  We were waiting for it to burn down to the right condition for grilling.  I sat down to read a book.  The book was riveting, and it wasn’t till the thunder started that I realized it was about to rain.  We all did our “quick, grab the bag chairs and anything else that shouldn’t get wet and cram it all under the porch awning” routine, and just as we completed the task, down came the rain.

It was a hard rain; hard to see through and heavy enough that it almost flooded our campsite.  That lasted some 15 minutes before lightening to a steady normal rain.  The fire was nearly out (just smoldering) and all our extra wood was soaked.   Scott could see that there would be no grilling of steak that night, so he started to get the propane stove going to heat up the leftover spaghetti casserole I had brought for the third night.

I was not happy about that and urged him to go ahead with the steak.  I knew that if we didn’t cook those potatoes and onions tonight, we’d end up with what we had last camping trip – rubber steak and black potatoes!  While Scott went to the bathroom, I persuaded Josiah to nurse the fire back to health.  He did a great job.  In a little while, he had a great blaze going.  An hour later than we had planned – but who cared?  we were camping – we ate the most delicious meal of steak, potatoes, and onions I’ve ever had.  It was SO good, and between the six of us, we ate every bite of all seven steaks.

On Being Stuck in Park (camping post #2)

So we were all dressed up and couldn’t get out of park.  It was quite frustrating to all of us.  Scott in the driver’s seat was a bit steamed at the whole turn of events, and the rest of us were that plus just hot and sweaty.

Scott then put me in the driver’s seat, and had Josiah climb out to help him push.  Note that this was no small feat – Josiah’s getting out, I mean.  The green van, being old school, has only one sliding door.  It opens just fine, but requires Scott to hold his mouth right and use a screwdriver to close it from the outside.  Hence, we avoid using the sliding door whenever possible.  Josiah climbed out the driver’s door – from the far back seat of the van.

Scott’s thought was that since the van was parked on a VERY slight downhill, if he and Josiah could rock it back a bit, maybe I could slip it into drive.  It was a nice idea and we gave it several good heave-hos, but to no avail.  The van was stuck in park.  As there was no point in all of us continuing to sweat, Scott sent us back into the house and he sat in the driver’s seat and thought; and prayed; and probably pulled on the prandle handle occasionally.

We went inside and prayed like crazy.  What else could we do?  Our vacation was sitting in the driveway, going nowhere, firmly stuck in park.  That, added to the previously mentioned turn signal problem, the probably not yet mentioned radiator leak and faulty exhaust weld, and the already well documented trailer hitch challenge would have discouraged a weaker man, but not My Hero.

He stayed with it while we prayed, and one of the times I peeked out he was actually perusing the owner’s manual.  One of the kids went out to see how it was going and came back in with the command, “he says to keep praying.”  So we did.

About ten minutes later, somebody came in with the report, “Dad says to get in the van; we’re leaving NOW!”  We jumped up, locked the door, and ran out to the van.  Given all the van problems, I was glad to let Scott drive.  The van was in DRIVE, idling, and Scott said,  “It’s fixed.  Let’s go.”

As we zoomed down the road, an hour and a half behind schedule, he told me that he had learned from the owner’s manual of an alternate way to put the van in gear.  I guess the manual said something like, “If the van won’t go out of park, you may also not have any brake lights.  If that is the case, turn the van off, shift into neutral, turn the van back on, and THEN move the prandle handle into drive. ”  Worked like a charm!

All we can figure is that somehow, from the back of the driveway (where the transmission worked fine) to the front of the driveway, some brake sensor must have died.  Normally, you step on the brake while turning the key.  The van then knows that you are pressing on the brake and it gives you permission to shift into drive.  With that sensor dead or asleep, the van doesn’t know you are stepping on the brake and therefore refuses to let you shift into drive.  The little trick above let us bypass that system and drive the van, albeit without any brake lights.  Yes, that is slightly illegal.  Yes, I encouraged Scott to roll down his window and use hand signals when slowing down.  No, I won’t tell you whether or not he did that, and no, *I* did not drive the van in its illegal state.  I have my convictions, ya’ know.

But in any case, we did make it safely to Buffalo Point, unloaded most of our natural possessions, set up camp, and headed for a wonderfully refreshing dip in the river.

To be continued…

Concerning the green van (camping post #1)

We have to keep the green van, because it has the trailer hitch.  The newer, nicer, roomier red van can’t take a trailer hitch, so we keep the green around as a yard ornament and use it only a few times a year.

After we got the turn signal replaced – the silly green van had been convinced it was always turning left – and added it back onto the insurance policy, we began the task of readying it for a camping excursion some two hours away.

Somehow, black oil sunflower seed, which we feed to the birds, had been left in there, and I guess the critters got in to eat the seed, because the inside of that van stunk of mouse poop.  Or some kind of poop, anyway.  Josiah was delegated to clean it out with the shop-vac, and he did a very good job.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were spent loading the van.  That went pretty well.  Since I had a couple months ago purchased a three-cradle bike rack that does not have to plug into the trailer hitch, I suggested that maybe we could avoid our typical Beverly Hillbillies imitation this camping trip.  Usually, we load some luggage or a canoe on top of the van, attach the  pop-up camper to the hitch, and mount the bottom half of a dilapidated and slightly deformed car-top carrier to the top of the pop-up.  Into that shabby piece of plastic, we pile (lying down) three of the bikes, which are then bungeed into place.  The other three bikes are bungeed (standing up) to a nifty frame that our friend, Mr. B, welded to the front of the pop-up’s trailer for that very purpose many years ago.

We also have a very deluxe four-cradle bike rack that mounts into the trailer hitch.  It is quite sturdy and great for day trips or other trips where we are only taking bikes – that is, NOT taking the camper or the canoe trailer, each of which must mount into the trailer hitch.  However, since we were going camping, we could not simultaneously use the nicer bike rack and the pop-up.  The pop-up always wins the hitch for camping trips.

I suggested that perhaps we could use the new strap-mount bike rack for three of the bikes and put the other three on the front of the pop-up, thus completely eliminating the distasteful car-top carrier’s bottom.  Scott agreed (!) that this was a good idea and proceeded thusly in affixing the bikes.

That is to say, half the bikes were on the back window of the green van and half were on the front of the camper; the two vehicles not yet being hitched together.  And therein lay the rub – literally.  When Scott backed the van up to hitch it to the trailer, the two sets of bikes nearly touched, and he could NOT get the hitch to latch onto the ball for love or money.

He worked at this task for quite some time, while the rest of us did things like turning off lights and computers, checking doors, making final potty stops, etc.  Eventually, I ventured back out to the scene of the crime, and Scott was not happy.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help, and he said, “pray.”  So, the girls and I went back in the house (it was much cooler in there) and prayed that he’d be able to get the hitch hooked.

Some few minutes later, Scott came back in and said, “I should’ve asked you to pray a long time ago.  Let’s go!”  Out we went, praising God.  I was to drive, so I slipped into the driver’s seat, adjusted mirrors, etc., and started the van.  VROOOM.  Foot on brake, I pulled the prandle handle from park to drive, but something was wrong.  It seemed to be stuck.  I pulled it toward me and down, as I have done many thousands of times in the past 30 years of my driving experience, but it wouldn’t go.  I felt stupid.  Turning to Scott, I said, “I’m sure it’s something simple, but I cannot seem to get the van out of park.  You drive.”  We switched seats, and he had the same problem I had.  The van was stuck in park.

Now, most of our household possessions (minus the kitchen sink) were loaded up, all six of us were in the van, all last-minute tasks were done, we had paid real money to reserve three nights at our very favorite campsite in our very favorite campground on the Buffalo River, and the van was stuck in park.  It was not a pretty picture.

To be continued…


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