randy_byers: (Default)
I'm having trouble working with pictures in Dreamwidth, so I think I'll be posting my personal posts to my old film blog from now own. I've started with my first post about the Micronesian trip. Feel free to comment here, if you're on Dreamwidth.


Apr. 20th, 2017 08:02 am
randy_byers: (Default)
I'm just back from spending a week and a half with my family in Desert Hot Springs in Coachella Valley. When my bad health news hit, my mom and sister conspired to bring me down to Mom and Dad's winter home to spend some time in the sun being pampered. So LaVelle came to Seattle, and we drove south from here on I-5, picking up my brother in Corvallis along the way. The trip down was two days in which LaVelle and Lonnie did all the driving. I was theoretically capaable, but I honestly didn't feel like it, especially with a stick shift, which is something I'm no longer used to.

It was great to hang out with my parents and siblings, who once again rallied around me in a time of distress, and then my sister-in-law made a surprise visit, so the old gang (circa 1983) was back together again. The surprise was one of the many things that we had a good laugh about -- in this case that LaVelle and I were so oblivious to all the hints and near-revelations along the way. Our family is big on teasing, and this kind of thing gets spun around through teasing a dozen which ways. For example, why didn't we ask "What the hell?" when Lonnie said he was going off to meet somebody that none of us knew.

The laughter and self-mockery was good medicine, but I suppose in my current state of mind I couldn't help but be touched by two of the health crises happening while we were down there. One was my parents' friend, Russell, who suffered a terrible stroke around the time we arrived, which left him paralyzed and unable to swallow. His wife, Letha, stopped by toward the end of our stay, and she was barely holding it together. We had dinner guests that night, my parents' Canadian friends, Merv and Lorraine, and I could see that the stoic Merv, who is having health problem of his own, was barely holding back the tears.

Th other health crisis arrived with the couple from Manitoba who has just bought my aunt and uncle's house in the park, which is right next door to my parents. We had heard that the husband was having health issues, but by the time they arrived he'd had surgery that revealed a tumor on a blood vessel that the doctors thought could take him at any moment. His poor wife was completely distraught, because she was away from their medical system, away from home, and her phone didn't work in the US, so she had no phone if an emergency struck. She asked my mom if it was okay if she came and pounded on our door in the middle of the night. Of course it was. They had bought the vacation home before they knew the severity of the husband's problem, and now they were going to have to turn around and sell it immediately. The least of their worries, I'm sure.

Anyway, those two crisis certainly put my own crisis in perspective. Between that and the fun expeditions to look for the superbloom (a week past its prime, alas), ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and eat date shakes, I was feeling quite a bit better about my own predicament, at least until we started heading north. We took three days on the way back, taking Highway 395 up the East side of California for a change of view, and with our parents in tow as they migrated north to their summer home in Portland. This time I was able to help with the driving. (Another bit of teasing: because Lonnie had kept forgetting the clutch when he drove LaVelle's car and thus killed the engine quite impressively a number of times, I was always able to remember to use the clutch. Thanks, Lonnie!) The first day I drove I started to feel teary because it used to be something I did without thinking, but now I was hyperaware of what I was doing -- and thus hyperaware of the self-confidence that I had lost. I also felt completely decrepit getting into and out of car. When we got into Oregon, I started feeling teary because I wouldn't have the security blanket of my family around for much longer. Both Mom and LaVelle told me I was always welcome in Oregon if I needed a dose of family love.

LaVelle and I drove on to Seattle, and she stuck around to visit the oncologist with me yesterday. This was the first visit since the bad news that the cancer had returned, and I wanted another pair of ears with me to hear about what was next. It was a bit of an anti-climax on that front, because the main topic of conversation was about whether it was a good idea for me to go to Micronesia for three weeks in May with Lonnie and his family. We went around and around on the topic, discussing the question of how dangerous it was to leave the cancer untreated for three weeks. Dr. Taylor thought that the cancer had returned as soon as I stopped taking Temodar, and maybe that's why she came up with the idea of sending microdoses of Temodar with me on the trip (too small to debilitate me, but enough to combat the cancer). We're still working out the details of that idea, but I confess I felt relieved that she had thought of a treatment plan that would work while I was traveling. Knock wood.

When I get back from Micronesia, they'll do another MRI, and then we'll talk about the future. For now, however, the other interesting little thing that came out of the discussion was when LaVelle wondered whether my hoarse voice, which started as soon as we hit the road, was a byproduct of Avastin. Dr Taylor said yes, Avastin attacks blood vessels in the cancer, and sometime it attacks one in the vocal chords by mistake, with the result that your voice gets hoarse. Mystery solved, and it's not an answer I even considered. Once again, my family came through for me.

So, all my love to all my family. I feel completely vulnerable and uncertain about my future right now, and I can't begin to say how much their love and support helps me feel more safe and secure, whatever tomorrow may bring. I'm happy the Micronesia trip is going to happen, after it had started to look shaky. Next up on the travel front, however, is heading to Woodland Hills, CA for Corflu the weekend after next.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
1951-10-28 Mom and Dad Cut the Cake.jpg
Mom and Dad cut the cake in October 1951

So I went to Portland last Friday amidst rumors that the biggest storm since the Columbus Day storm of 1962 was about to hit the Pacific Northwest. I was worried that there might be mudslides on the train tracks, after several days of steady rain, but the train trip ended up being uneventful, and aside from some strong gusts of wind on Saturday and a fair amount of rain all weekend long, the storm ended up being kind of a bust, at least as far inland as Portland.

The reason for the trip was to celebrate my mom and dad's 65th anniversary. On Saturday, my sister-in-law, Terry, made an amazing dinner featuring salmon smothered in crab meat. We dug in, then did a round of toasts to Mom and Dad. Terry got up and put one of Dad's favorite songs on the stereo: Don Williams' "You're My Best Friend," which is a man's testimonial to his love for his wife. I looked over and saw Dad toasting Mom with a grand gesture, and I completely lost it. I can't describe what I was feeling, but I had to leave the table to blow my nose. Terry followed and said she was sorry, and I said, "No, I love the love." That's as close as I can get, I think. I was just overwhelmed by love and a feeling of complete connection with everyone at the table.

The next day was Kate Yule's funeral. Since I was in town anyway, I decided to go. (I had brought appropriate clothes just in case.) I had expected to see a lot of Seattle people there, and in fact I ran into [livejournal.com profile] kate_schaefer and Glenn right away, so I sat with them in the pews. I also spotted [livejournal.com profile] hal_obrien and [livejournal.com profile] akirlu, although I didn't get a chance to talk to them. Needless to say, this was also a very emotional experience for me, since Kate died of the same cancer that I've got. The booklet they handed out before the service included John M. Ford's sonnet "Against Entropy", which I'll just repost in its entirety, since it's such a moving piece of work:

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

Lots of people got up to tell stories about Kate, attesting to her intelligence, generosity, warmth, wit, and love of lists. Most moving to me were the two nieces who were clearly devastated by the loss of a beloved aunt. However, there was lots of humor too, and one of the men from the Gay and Lesbian Square Dancing group that Kate joined before she met her eventual husband, David Levine, got up and talked about how she hid her true identity at first, "but eventually she came out of the closet as a straight person!" My brother had kindly driven me to the ceremony and waited around until it was done, so I left immediately after it was over.

The next morning Mom and Dad and I had breakfast at the Dockside Saloon and Restaurant, just as we did on my last visit to Portland last month. On that visit, the waitress told us they served crab cake benedicts on the weekend but would be willing to make them for us whenever we wanted. So we settled IN at the same table as before, and the same waitress came up and said, "I remember you guys!" We were of course pleased, and we had crab cake benedicts, which were pretty damn fine. On the train to Seattle later I discovered that my niece was also on board. I knew she was coming to Seattle, and we had made a date to have lunch today, but I didn't know she'd be on the same train. So we sat together for a while talking about her willful, headstrong five-year-old daughter who apparently has already figured out that she needs to behave differently with her teachers than with her parents. Since my diagnosis, the surest way to make myself cry has been to think about how I won't be able to watch her grow up. "Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke."

So I'm back in Seattle feeling emotionally drained. Was it Joanna Russ who said that feeling clearly is just as difficult as thinking clearly? Boy, howdy.

2016-10-17 Mom and Dad in the condo.jpg
Mom and Dad in their condo on Sunday
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
2016-08-22 Basalt layers.jpg
Basalt layers in Crooked River Canyon

From 1992 to 1996, there was a nightclub in downtown Seattle called, in full, And the Weathered Wall, the Purity Remains, but which was called The Weathered Wall by anyone who didn't want to sound like a pompous ass. The full name was painted on one of the walls of the club, and I thought it was attributed to one of the Romantic poets, but Google isn't helping me with that vague memory. In any event, I always loved the short name, and it was one of my favorite clubs in its brief existence, where I saw bands such as 7 Year Bitch, The Gits, Wayne Horvitz and Pigpen, Vexed, and Imij. They also had a DJ dance night called something like the Lemon Lounge, which was I believe my introduction to acid jazz. Lots of good memories.

None of this has anything to do with what I'm about to write about, which is my recent trip to Crooked River Ranch with my family, except for the theme of memory and the metaphor of the weathered wall. My family's house at CRR is on the rim of the Crooked River Canyon, which is cut through layers and layers basalt resulting from centuries of lava flows that happened thousands of years ago. Nothing like geology to make you feel like a blip in both spatial and temporal scheme of things. The basalt formations, including the walls of the canyon, are one of the most striking features of the area. They are weathered, just as are all the members of my family, excluding the youngest, my great niece Celine, who is still pretty fresh to the world at five willful years old.

We celebrated three milestones while I was there: my brother's impending retirement from Hewlett-Packard, where he has worked for over thirty years (his special dinner was crab louie); my impending retirement from the University of Washington, where I worked for 27 years (my special dinner was T-bone steaks --a favorite cut when I was a child); and my niece's 40th birthday (crepes for breakfast and home made chocolate chip mint ice dream after dinner). My niece was born pretty near the bicentennial birthday of the USA, so I guess we were also celebrating the country's 240th birthday. All of these milestones have a theme of aging in common, although mine has an added subtext of illness, of course. Age and illness are both part of the human weathering process. It's also interesting that both my sister and brother worked in one place for at least 30 years (for my sister it was the Salem School District in Oregon), and I would have made it if it hadn't been for those pesky cancer cells. Something in our family (or at least the three kids, because it wasn't true of our father) ran toward sticking in one job for as long as possible. Why was that?

2016-08-25 The log house.jpg
The log house

We've been taking vacations at Crooked River since my dad joined the sales team out there in the early '70s to supplement his teaching income during the summers. The Crooked River Ranch was developed by a businessman from Seattle, and one of the interesting things about it is that, unlike most resorts in the Central Oregon area near Bend, such as Sun River and Black Butte, it was aimed at working class customers. So it's a lower rent kind of place, with lots of trailers and double-wides on the lots, and businesses cluttering the benchland in the middle of the picturesque canyon, making the adjective questionable. (The canyon was halfway filled with lava at one point, then the river cut a smaller canyon into that fresh basalt, so there's two levels to the canyon.) My parents' log house is by no means low rent, and there are a lot of nice places around too, but the overriding impression when you drive around the ranch is not of wealth.

In any event, we have a lot of history out there, and a lot of good memories. It was great to spend an extended time with my family, being pampered by all of them. My family has always been close, but in the aftermath of my diagnosis, they've formed a protective circle around me that I find difficult to describe. LaVelle even drove up to Seattle and learned how to apply transducer arrays, and then drove me all the way (six hours) to CRR via Highway 97 (one of my favorite drives) so that we could bring the Optune along. Lonnie drove me home. My illness was the source of much conversation, of course. Little Celine kept telling me she was sorry I had bumped my head. I guess the transducer arrays looked like bandages to her.

But it's not always so easy to talk about my illness. When my brother got together with a couple of old college buddies to celebrate his retirement, we picked up Tom on the way to the pub, and when he got in the car, he started in on a non-stop barrage of very aggressive, foul-mouthed story telling about another friend of theirs. I know Tom is a motormouth and a great bullshitter, but he was so intense that my initial reaction was, "Will he never shut up?!!!" Lonnie and I talked about it later, and we agreed that he probably just didn't know what to say to me about what I've been going through. Later, after we met up with Steve, Tom seemed to calm down, and he and I even talked about my treatment a bit. I showed off the transducer arrays briefly.

2016-08-25 Foco and Janego.jpg
Tom, Lonnie, Steve, and Me at Three Creek Brewing in Sisters

I have to admit that the evening of the retirment party for me, I also got teary-eyed when I was thinking about it earlier in the day, because this is certainly not how I would have chosen to retire. It almost felt like a celebration of the cancer in some weird way, but that was just my perverse mood, I suspect. My sister also picked up a plastic skeleton to use for a Halloween decoration, and I became morbidly obsessed with the skeleton. I tend to be pretty sanguine about my fate from day to day, but clearly there's some anxiety percolating away in the inner depths. Maybe because the protectiveness of my family brings out a feeling of vulnerability, I came away from the vacation feeling more torn up than I generally do in my day-to-day life in Seattle, where I feel safe in my routines, as disrupted as they've been by treatment.

2016-08-25 Me and Mr Bones.jpg
Mr Bones and I share a morbid moment with my new tie-dyed t-shirt

At one point talk turned to my recent writing, and my niece, I think it was, suggested that I should write a memoir. This is appealing to me, because, narcissist that I am, my favorite thing to write about is myself, but at the same time it seems to me that my life has been so unremarkable and unextraordinary and aimless, there's not much there to interest anyone but those closest to me. Still, I want to focus on my writing as much as possible, and there's a lot of material in this LiveJournal, for example, that I could exploit for the purpose of a memoir, so I'll give the idea further thought. The only other idea I've had is to return to "Little Dog Talk," which is a story I conceived based on my experiences on Yap as a child and as an adult and also based on some of the stories I've heard about Yapese magic and mythology. I wrote a version of it under a different title many years ago and even workshopped it at a Taste of Clarion workshop at Potlatch (where Ursula Le Guin administered a chastening critique), and I've been rewriting it in my head ever since.

Although I felt like I slept a whole hell of a lot during the eight days I was down there, I did get in four hikes, including two down to the river, which involved steep inclines that were a bit of a challenge to my knackered stamina. Well worth it, however, to sit and listen to the river seeking its level and to enjoy the cool air and vibrant greenery. More worryingly, I've recently developed symptoms in my left shoulder that feel very similar indeed to what turned out to be rotator cuff tendinitis in my right shoulder a couple of years ago. I probably should have it checked out, although the idea of doing physical therapy while I'm still undergoing chemo is daunting. Something to talk to the oncologists about, I suppose. My next consultation is tomorrow.

2016-08-21 The quilting frame.jpg
Mom and LaVelle baste the quilt, while my niece and great niece play underneath (LaVelle and a lot of my female cousins could remember being the girls playing under the quilt years ago)

Of course this is all me, me, me, and I haven't gotten into any stories about Celine or about the quilt that my Mom is making for her and was working on the whole time we were out there. There's nothing about my dad's improved health or the health problems my mom's been having. Nothing about my niece's new commercial photography gig with a clothing company in Portland. Nothing about the ongoing sagas of my nephews' attempts to reach the next stage of adulthood, most of which aren't really my stories to share anyway. But should they go into a memoir? One of my challenges would be how to handle the stories that would potentially embarrass me or others. Of course, those stories are in many ways the most fascinating stories of all. Am I up to the challenge of finding a way to tell them with sensitivity and compassion?

I return to Seattle feeling more unsure of myself than when I left, which is a little irritating, because it makes me feel young and immature. I'd prefer to be more of a weathered wall myself, shaped by what I've been through but able to withstand the forces buffeting me. Maybe now's the time to embrace the sign I saw at Seattle Coffee Company today: Vulnerability Is Your Superpower.

2016-08-27 Basalt layers.jpg
The weathered wall
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I went down to Portland for Mother's Day, and this is the photo my mom took of her three kids: LaVelle, Lonnie, and me from left to right. Looks as though we were having a pretty good time.

2016-05-08 Mother's Day.jpg
randy_byers: (yap)
Well, kids, between work and FIAWOL hobbies life has been a bit of a grind lately. Nothing traumatic, mind you, but stressful. So it was with great pleasure that I flew the frenetic coop for Maui on June 13th.

20150614_Ioa Clouds.jpg
Mountain clouds on Maui

Why Maui? )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Had a wonderful weekend in Portland with the family. Lots of great conversation, and if this one sticks with me, it's probably because it was the last one. As things were winding down after Mother's Day dinner, Mom started reminiscing about life with some of the less pleasant factions of the Mennonite church. In particular she talked about the church in Sheridan, Oregon that she and my dad belonged to when they had a farm in the area. This was before I was born. I'm sure I've heard these stories before, but they struck with particular force this time.

She said that church elders came by one evening when my dad was away playing basketball and criticized him to her for leaving his wife alone with two children. Mom said she didn't have any problem with his going off to have fun without her, but I actually found it interesting that the church was so concerned about the father sticking with his family. As intrusive and annoying as it was, I can actually see the reasoning behind that kind of attempt at social engineering. Keep the father connected to the family; don't put all the child-rearing on the mother.

She also told a story about how two church elders stopped by the house one time to criticize my dad for wearing ties. The Mennonites are against ornamentation and ostentation, which they believe is an exhibition of worldly pride. The more conservative of them join the Amish and certain varieties of Quaker in wearing what are called "plain clothes," which is, as the name suggests, a style of clothing that supposedly looks plain, because it avoids bright colors and ornamental features such as collars. Mom said that Dad replied to these busy bodies, "I'll tell you what. I'll wear the brightest red tie I can find, and you wear plain clothes. We'll walk down the street, and we'll see which one of us gets stared at." Which is to say that plain clothes are extremely ostentatious in their difference from "worldly" clothing. They draw attention to themselves by looking so different. I guess I inherited from my dad the feeling that plain clothes are a form of spiritual pride themselves.

Mom told the story of a preacher in the church pointing out a man in the congregation who was wearing a watch. He accused him of pride and told him the watch offended him. "Take off that watch, because it offends me." This story really chilled me, because it is essentially a form of thought policing and public humiliation. It feels authoritarian to me.

There are family stories along these lines that are told for humor, too. My mom had a cousin who was more than a bit of a black sheep, and one Sunday a bishop of the church spotted him working in the field. He walked out to him and said, "Ron, don't you know this is the Lord's day?"

"Ain't they all?" Ron replied.

Dad's rebelliousness was a sign of concern to the church. After my parents lost the Sheridan farm because the state took the land for a highway, they moved to Grants Pass. Then Dad went to college, albeit a Mennonite college, which was another sign of dangerous thinking. When they moved to Salem after he got his degree, the Grants Pass church refused to give the Salem church a letter of recommendation, which was their way of saying they doubted Dad's faith. The Salem church accepted their profession of faith, but clearly they were on warning. Rightfully so, as it turned out, because they would leave the church entirely just a few years later, while we were living on Yap.

Mom asked me what I remembered about going to church, and I said, "Very little." I have vague memories of being on the grounds of the Salem church. On Yap we sometimes attended the generic Protestant church, and then when we got back to Salem four years later we went to a Methodist church for a year or two. I never got a serious indoctrination into any of it. The Salem church was on the liberal edge of the Mennonites, so if they had stuck with it I probably wouldn't have gotten the more egregious thought policing that my parents experienced when they were younger. To hear these stories is a bracing reminder of the nastier side of the Mennonites that I avoided thanks to my parents' alienation from the creed. It does make me wonder what I'd have been like if I'd been subjected to that social engineering, but I'm glad I never had to find out and proud of my parents for questioning what they were taught.


Apr. 13th, 2015 11:00 am
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
My brother and his wife visited this weekend. They drove up on Saturday, and we visited our Yapese friend, Theo, who is in the area because his granddaughter just had a liver transplant at Children's Hospital. We got the low-down on the transplant, which sounded very scary but apparently went very well. We also got a lot of stories about what's going on out on Yap right now, including Theo's take on the Chinese proposal to build resorts on the island. Theo is against it, but his brother, Tony, who is currently the governor, is for it. As my brother said later, the previous governor was for it, too, and no doubt they look at it from the perspective of, "How do we create a cash economy on this isolated island?" I'm dubious that it would actually be beneficial to the Yapese, but I have no idea what else they can do. As we also discussed, it seems like the answer the Yapese themselves are finding is to move to the US, often serving in the military so they can become citizens. Theo said that at this point in his life (he's three years older than me), his only goal is to help his children and grandchildren have a better life. He has no ambitions for himself any more. He was also more voluble about his Christian faith than he has been in the past, although he wasn't evangelical about it. The stories and wry laughs still flowed, and it was so heart-warming to see him again. He again told us we had to come back to Yap so that he could discuss some things with us family-to-family. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but in the past he has offered Lonnie a chance to build a house out there. I doubt that will happen, but the offer represents a sense of strong connection. Nonetheless, he more or less shooed us away after a couple of hours of chat. He had been receiving texts the whole time from family and friends asking about his granddaughter, so he needed to get back to that.

The three of us spent the rest of the day chewing the fat. I took them up to the 5 Spot for dinner, and then to the Hilltop Ale House for a beer. The next morning, after breakfast at the Blue Star (we'd had breakfast at Roxy's on Saturday), they headed home. There's talk of a family trip to Maui in June. Their oldest son is working at a dive shop out there. I hope I can join them, but I still need to work out the details with my boss, who has been out with pneumonia for over two weeks now.

I also went to the fannish pubmeet on Sunday, where there was much talk of Puppies, Prologue, and the Sasquan fanzine lounge. What's Prologue, you ask? It's a relaxicon that Ulrika O'Brien is chairing and which will be held in the Seattle area the weekend before Sasquan. You should come, whether or not you're going to Sasquan. It should be a damn fine time.

Post Xmas

Dec. 29th, 2014 03:53 pm
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Because I worked on Christmas Eve, I didn't head to the family gathering in Portland until Christmas morning. I caught the first train from Seattle at 7:30am, and because it was only ten bucks more expensive I rode business class. It was very pleasant, and I drank a couple of Irish coffees because it was a holiday. The guy working in the bistro car said he was jealous.

My family had allowed the great niece to open presents Christmas Eve (which is the traditional time for our family to open presents), because she was spending Christmas with her dad, but everybody else waited for me. We don't do a lot of gift-giving any more, at least amongst the adults, but I still got good stuff like three bags of walnuts and a jar of pickled jalapenos. Thanks, Santa! I gave one nephew a collector's edition of C.L. Moore's Judgment Night collection, and I gave the other DVDs of The Warrior's Way ("Cowboys vs. ninjas vs. clowns," I told him) and The Good, the Bad, the Weird.

Other than that, it was good food, lots of beer and wine, and the usual ancient family jokes. We delayed traditional Christmas Eve dinner (cioppino) until the day after Christmas, and ate prime rib on Christmas as usual. On Friday a bunch of us took a nearly six mile hike up into Forest Park and back. Mom and Dad flew back to California on Saturday morning, and the rest of us did a pub crawl in the afternoon, hitting Base Camp, Hair of the Dog, Ecliptic, and Upright. Afterward, elder nephew showed me the Obama episode of the Colbert Report, and also the final episode. I laughed my ass off at the Obama episode, and didn't recognize half the people in the "We'll Meet Again" finale of the finale.

It was all very warm and relaxing. Elder nephew is off to a new job working in a dive shop in Maui in the new year. Everybody else is plugging along pretty much just as before. I'm blessed with a wonderful family.

Pubcrawling 27 Dec 2014
Pubcrawling: Niece, sister-in-law, elder nephew, brother, younger nephew, yours truly
randy_byers: (roadtrip)
Three weeks ago I was planning one of my trips to the Olympic Peninsula, where I love to immerse myself in the natural beauty of ocean, beach, rain forest, and mountain. Then on Thursday the 6th, just three days before I was going to head for Astoria on the first leg of that trip, I found myself at work trying to decipher an old database while being bombarded by text messages from my family. Gradually it penetrated my distracted brain that my mom and dad needed somebody to help them drive to their winter home in Southern California and that neither my sister or brother were in a position to do that.

"I've got next week off," I texted. "I can drive to California, if that's what's needed."

The next day at 5:30pm I was on a train to Portland, having cancelled all my reservations in Astoria and La Push. Twelve hours later we were in my parents' Prius heading down Interstate 5. I was suffering a bit of whiplash, but it was all in a good cause.

On the road again )

Pig party

Jul. 14th, 2014 11:03 am
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
On Saturday my family had a pig roast at my brother's place to celebrate three milestone birthdays: my mom's 80th (which was last year), my brother's 60th, and my younger nephew's 21st. Parties are such a microcosm of life, aren't they? Especially big ones. So many memories are conjured, so many old relationships come into play, and new ones formed.

I drove down to my brother's house on Friday and ate pizza and drank beer and hung out while my brother prepared the pig for roasting and my nephews built a beer pong table. I finally got a chance to talk to my elder nephew's girlfriend, which was good. She seems like a good kid. Elder nephew wanted to show me the movie Walk Hard, so the three of us started watching that, although I was the only one who made it all the way through. Silly movie, but pretty funny in parts.

At 3am my brother woke me and the nephews up to help him put the pig on the fire, then everybody but my brother went back to bed. I got up again at 7am and went out to sit with him and drink my coffee. A couple of hours later the nephews and I helped my sister-in-law pick up tables and chairs. By then my parents and sister had arrived from Portland, so I sat around talking with them, getting caught up on my sister's high school reunion in Hawai'i and my parents' latest health adventures. We tapped the first keg (a small one) around noon, and the first party guests started arriving around 2pm. It built up rapidly after that, and we pulled the pig off the fire at 4pm.

A couple of my brother's old college buddies showed up, including one I hadn't seen in twenty years. This brought up memories of old pig roasts when that crew of fraternity brothers would get up at oh-dark-thirty and immediately tap the keg. We were all in our 20s back then. Two of my aunts were there, and two cousins. Only one uncle, however, because the other one was combining a field on his farm. Various of my brother's friends introduced themselves to me, and I got a picture of their local worlds of softball teams and community activities. That old college buddy I hadn't seen in twenty years told me about how his family has been going down to Nicaragua in recent years with their church group to build houses. My cousin's husband, who runs a lumber company, told me about how the Oso mudslide had put a crimp in business.

It got late, and then it was only the younger folks -- friends of my nephews. Why was I still up? There was still beer to drink, that's why! I met elder nephew's old boss at the cidery, and we talked about the explosion in cider production (their company is growing like gangbusters), where they get their apples, and the true nature of Angry Orchards. Eventually it was down to me, my niece, and elder nephew's girlfriend before I finally called it quits. There had been some emotional turbulence a bit before that. I was reminded again that I was elder nephew's age when I moved to Seattle without a clue to my name. Lots of figuring out still to do, and to quote Michael Franti, "The more I see, the less I know." Meanwhile younger nephew is taking marine biology classes out on the coast and volunteering as a diver at the Newport Aquarium (as is elder nephew). Both nephews are moving to new places.

Then there's my niece's new boyfriend, who seems to be getting bound more tightly to the family. He's really bonding with my niece's young daughter, and vice versa. That's great to see. I feel that I'm getting to know him better too, and I think we all probably saw new sides of each other as the party went through its phases. Learning to live together, to quote Joe Cocker.

I was a tad hung over on Sunday. I headed out to the coast to get some variety in my roadtrip, and that made for a long journey home. I stopped in Astoria to pick up some smoked salmon at Josephson's and to have lunch at Fort George Brewery. It was all a blur. Big parties are a microcosm of life, and they always leave me feeling very emotional and overwhelmed. Everybody's stories, everybody's health problems, everybody's plans, worries, hopes, frustrations, lessons. Life's great churning. Somewhere late in the party the young folks were telling me I seemed a lot younger than 53. I don't feel younger, I'll tell you that, even if I do still stay up too late drinking too much beer (and a couple of shots of ouzo from a bottle provided by yours truly) when the opportunity presents itself. I guess there are some lessons I still haven't learned.

Well, all in all it was a great party. We now return to our regularly scheduled macrocosm, somewhat worse for wear and tear.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I took the train to Portland for Mother's Day weekend. My parents got back from winter in California just a couple of weeks ago. It was a pretty low key weekend for the most part. My nephews didn't come up until Sunday, and my great niece was also only with us on Sunday. She's such a cutie pie. Yesterday we were singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad," and she knows all the words. She knows all the songs from Frozen too, although mostly she wanted to tell me about the snow monster that doesn't sing but goes "Rowrrrrrr!"

Everybody seems to be doing fine, although my brother has some bad lower back pain, and nobody can tell him what's causing it yet. Between that and my sore right shoulder it seems as though our generation is starting to feel its age. Sometimes lately I've been feeling very strange on that front. Feeling more and more detached from my youth. On the train back from Portland I sat with a young guy coming up from Hollywood who was all full of the mad energy and slang of youth, and I found myself trying to slip into that same mindframe and, despite my tie dyed t-shirt, not being able to get there. All sense of cool and mad-crazy has flown the coop. I just feel tired and frazzled and out of it.

Well, some of that is work, which has been stressful lately. Plus it feels as though I've got about a zillion things on my agenda outside of work. My mind is spinning more than I'd like, trying to work out the priorities. Getting together with the family is always a blast, but part of that is a blast of emotion that just increases the spin. Fasten your seat belts, the rollercoaster is headed into a loop ...
randy_byers: (santa)
2013-12-25 Celine Hams It Up
My great niece hamming it up on Christmas Day
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Also sprach Zarathustra

I'm back from a week in Central Oregon with my family. Pretty much all the immediate family was there, at least for part of the time. My niece had to go back to Portland to work two days on Monday and Tuesday, but she returned. My eldest nephew was there from Thursday through Saturday, and the youngest was there from Friday through Sunday. Even my niece's ex-husband showed up for one day (while my niece was in Portland) to spend time with his daughter, my great niece.

Yadda yadda photo photo ... )
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
When I arrived at the Redmond-Bend airport on Friday, my mom said, "You're the youngest one in the house this weekend." The family was gathering at the Crooked River house for a belated Father's Day celebration, but none of the younger generations was there. I'm not sure when last it was just my parents, siblings, and sister-in-law. Probably decades. As I said to said sister-in-law yesterday while I was putting dishes in the dishwasher after the Father's Day meal, "Well, the nice thing about the kids not being around is that there are fewer dishes to clean."

"True," she said, "but the kids aren't here to do the cleaning!"

My parents moved out of the Crooked River house last year, and they want to sell it. Fortunately my brother wants to buy it, so it will stay in the family. My parents built that house, and we all worked on it, so the family connection is particularly strong. In any event, my brother has his own ideas about various things regarding the house, including what kind of finish to put on it, so he spent all weekend stripping the old finish off the south side of the house, which takes a hard beating from the desert sun. This left me feeling a bit antsy, because I felt that I should help, yet I really just wanted to veg.

Mostly I vegged, although I did help a little. I felt weirdly exhausted this weekend, particularly on Sunday. I'm not sure what the cause was, although I've been feeling a bit stressed out by work lately. A co-worker retired at the end of May, and I took on some of her work, so I guess it's been just that much more demanding on my time and mental energy. Anyway, I surely could have used a few more days to vacate and bake myself in the desert sun. Then again it started to rain yesterday, so the baking part wouldn't have been in the cards.

The plan is to get together for a week at the end of August, and we discussed various plans for hiking and day trips. Sounds like a grand time. I can't wait.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Spent the four-day weekend in Portland. My cousin hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her house in Beaverton for the second year in a row. My dad made it this year despite feeling poorly after the triple shock of Romney's defeat, the University of Oregon's defeat (in football), and the trip from sunny Southern California to stormy Oregon. My brother capped the day with a funny story about how our aunt and uncle took him to get baptized when we were briefly home from Yap in 1968. Much laughter all around.

On Friday I went on a pub crawl with my brother, niece, and two nephews. The younger nephew isn't 21 yet, so he was the designated driver. It's nice that in this new world of microbrew pubs, which typically have food too, underage folks can hang out with the drinkers. We went to the Green Dragon, Hair of the Dog, and Hopworks Bike Bar, and that's just barely scratching the surface of what's on tap in Portland.

On Saturday we watched the Civil War football game (Oregon vs Oregon State), then I went out on the town with Dan and Lynn Steffan. I think we spent six hours together, and Dan told one great story after another. That boy should write more of this stuff down! Lots of Corflu XXX discussion as well. I caught the light rail back into the city center around midnight, and it felt so damned European.

In fact I used rail a lot this weekend, traveling by Amtrak to and from Portland and using the lightrail in Seattle as part of my trip to and from the train station. I love the train to Portland, and it was sold out in both directions. The only fly in the ointment was that King Street Station is a total mess right now as they go through a major renovation.

I guess the other thing of note is that I used my mom's glucose meter to do a fasting glucose reading one morning and got a 102. That's at the lower end of the range of the four tests in August, so I'm hopeful that I really have brought my level down. I'll have a lab test either later this week or sometime next week and find out what the doctor's verdict is. Fingers crossed.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Okay, here are a few things about my vacation in Central Oregon.

1. Eight days of never sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen.

2. My mom had her glucose meter with her, and I took fasting glucose readings three times. The readings ranged from 102 to 118. The reading I got in late May was 134. The healthy range is considered 80 to 100. So I've improved my situation, but I'm still not in the healthy range. My mom thinks that if I can stay in this lower range, they won't put me on Metformin. 135 seems to be the point at which you are considered diabetic, IIRC.

3. I did a lot of hiking, partly driven by the desire for cardio. I saw a lot of beautiful sights on my hikes. One of the things I love about going to Central Oregon is that it's such a different world for me. Finally got to Newberry Caldera, which is an ancient and enormous volcano. The obsidian field is amazing, and I will try to post a photo later.

4. I was suffering from something like anxiety attacks in the week or two before my vacation. I'm still not sure what that was all about, but Getting Away From It All was just what the doctor ordered. It took three days to relax, but it felt wonderful to let go of all that stress.

5. My great niece is one and a half, and she's entered the "handful" stage. Partly it was because her mom and dad headed back east for a friend's wedding, leaving her with my sister. There was definitely some separation anxiety going on. And as irritating as her bad temper could be, it was mostly just kind of heartbreaking and humbling to see her vulnerability. My sister is infinitely patient with her grandchild.

6. Didn't see my nephews at all, since they were working and/or (in the case of the eldest) spending time with a girlfriend who had been away for the summer. The times they are a-changin'. For much of the time, we were almost back to the old family configuration of just my parents and my siblings.

7. Moderate drinking, for the win. The times they are a-changin'.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I spent last weekend with the family at my parents' house in Central Oregon. I suppose the big thing was the discussion my dad called with all of my siblings, my sister-in-law, and of course my mom, about what to do with the house now that they are moving to a condo in Portland. The upshot of the discussion is that they'll hang onto it for another year, after which my brother will probably buy it. That works for me, because it means we'll still be able to do family gatherings there, and I do love that place. Strange how these things work out, because if they'd been ready to sell before the housing market crashed, there's no way in hell my brother would've been able to afford it.

Other than that it was the usual family entertainment, with little Celine (my niece's daughter) who is now mobile, providing the main show. Yesterday I went for a 7.5 mile hike with my sister, niece, and nephew-in-law. We walked through beautiful high desert terrain out to a point where you can see the beginning of Lake Billy Chinook, where the Crooked, Metolius, and Deschutes Rivers enter and only the Deschutes leaves. Didn't see much wild life, although Jake heard a warning buzz from an off-trail rattlesnake, which of course did its job of scaring the bejeebus out of him. Saw a zillion wild flowers. Managed to not get badly burned, although I did get a couple of blisters from my newish hiking boots. I may post a photo or two later once I've had a chance to download the handful I took and have a look at how they turned out.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
I feel I should write something about my Aunt Merlyn, who died a week and a half ago at age 86. She was my mom's eldest sibling. I was never very close to her, and I can't even remember staying at her house, as I did with all my other aunts and uncles on my mom's side. Her three boys, my cousins, were all much older than I was, so they were closer to my sister and brother than to me. She was a devout Mennonite to the very end. She outlasted her husband, Paul, who died a few years ago.

I don't think I even talked with her very much over the years, although certainly we chit-chatted now and then. Perhaps it says something that one of my clearest memories of her is of one time in my college days walking into a Denny's or VIP in Eugene with a friend, high as a kite on LSD or some such, and running into Merlyn and Paul. We talked briefly about my folks and their kids and the weather. I have no idea whether they could see the pinwheels spinning in my eyes -- as Mennonites they didn't even drink, so what did they know of unsober people? -- but they certainly didn't let on. They were as pleasant as ever, and we only chatted briefly.

Kind of a dumb memory, but there it is. Life as she is lived. I remember family gatherings at their old farm house, which was eventually taken over by my cousin Dennis, who also took over the farm. I remember a couple of family gatherings at their new place after that, which had a small private park associated with it. Merlyn was always pretty quiet and reserved, at least compared to her lippy younger sisters, and she got quieter as she got older. The eulogy her grandchildren gave (which my sister forwarded to me) talks about a grandmother who made a quilt for each of them when they got married, just like her mother had done for her own grandchildren. (I got two quilts from grandma even though I never got married. Go figure. Grandma used to tell me I should get married so that I had someone other than the government to blame all my problems on.)

Merlyn had a hip replacement in later years that was executed badly and caused her a lot of pain. She started having serious heart problems last September, which also caused a lot of pain. She went on morphine, and the easing of the pain seemed to improve her overall health. She lasted months longer than anyone thought she would.

I didn't know her well. She was a quiet presence at many family gatherings, perhaps hard to notice amidst the more raucous members of the crew. The last time I saw her was at the family reunion in Corvallis last summer. She had a walker, and she looked worn down. Remote. Did I even say hello to her? She sat next to me and my aunt Myrna listening to us talk -- or listening to her own thoughts, I don't know. Staring off into the distance. She didn't say a word until she was ready to go and asked my cousin Marvin to help her. I'm pretty sure I said goodbye, but in case I didn't I'll say it now.

Goodbye, Aunt Merlyn. My memories are poor things at best, but you are in them.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
This was another year of transition. It was nine years ago or so that my parents sold their house in Portland, and we started having Thanksgiving at their house in Central Oregon. This year they finally agreed to move back to Portland, so they bought a condo in the Pearl District. Because the condo isn't big enough for a Thanksgiving feast with both my mom's family and my aunt's family, we had it at my cousin's house in Beaverton. Then my dad wasn't feeling up to snuff because of the disruption of his schedule (or maybe as a protest against the changes), so he didn't come to the Thanksgiving dinner.

Well, there are a lot of dimensions to all this, with perhaps the main one being the aging of my parents. So many of my friends have lost parents in the past few years that it just heightens the feeling of transitoriness. Plus my sister-in-law just lost a brother-in-law to a sudden heart attack at age 61, and her other brother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That would leave me as the last of her brother-in-laws, which is a weird feeling.

Still, it wasn't actually all gloom and a sense of impending mortality. For one thing there was little Celine, only eight months old and still fresh to this life thing. She's my niece's daughter. Also, I'm looking forward to spending time in Portland again after almost a decade away. This time I took advantage of the opportunity to finally visit Dan and Lynn Steffan, for the first time since they moved out here from Virginia over six years ago. I also hope to reconnect with old college friends in future visits. A bunch of us hiked over to Forest Park one day, and walked around Oak Bottom another day. My sister is trying to build up her hiking muscles in anticipation of hiking across England next April.

As usual there were plenty of jokes and laughter, teasing and stories. My nephews didn't spend much time with us, as they had other fish frying in Corvallis and Eugene, where they are respectively going to college. My niece and great niece were around every day, but in some ways it felt like we were returning to the old family unit before marriage and kids. A year of transition, which left me feeling a weird, restless longing underneath the happy sense of connection and belonging.


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