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On balance…

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

We heard (sorta) three out of the ten disks.

I’m not just sure how to rate yesterday in the great scheme of things.  It was another of those up-and-back-to-Seattle days.  We left about 7:30, just as it was getting light and had an uneventful trip to the UW Medical Center.  At least, uneventful if you don’t mind driving in intermittent fog, pouring rain, and heavy traffic.

For distraction, we had the audio version of Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen.  I had read it when it came out in 2016 but only remembered a few of the more bizarre parts.  Nyel claims he never read it and, judging by the snoring from his side of the car, he will be able to make that claim yet again.

Not for The Faint of Heart

The two best parts of the day were 1) our lunch, made and packet for take-out by Nyel-the-Chef: tunafish sandwiches, celery sticks, an apple for Nyel and a tangerine for me.  And 2) getting there early enough that the lab reports from our first stop-off were actually ready by Nyel’s 3:15 appointment with his cardiologist.  The results were the the very best he’s had since leaving St Vincent’s hospital in June.  Yay!

There was an hour and a half wait between the lab work and Nyel’s appointment during which we both read the books we’d fore-armed ourselves with.  I finished mine — Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.  Not uplifting.  In fact, in combination with current news events, disturbing in the extreme.

We headed home about 4:30.  Still rainy and foggy, but already getting dark, heavy “parking lot” style traffic, glaring headlights, impatient drivers.  With apologies to Nyel (who was now wide awake) I asked if we could bag listening to Hiaasen’s book.  The last thing I needed was a distraction of any kind.

We reached home at five to nine, too tired to eat.  It was a most difficult day — physically (the drive), mentally (Snowden’s book plus the ever-escalating news from the mideast), and emotionally (ditto above: the drive and Snowden and the news).  Did the good news about Nyel’s heart health balance all that out?  You betcha.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t even consider the two appointments we have up there  week after next!

The Wrangler, The Whisperer, and Snowhite

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

Vicki’s Portrait of Fred, 2016

If you know Fred Carter, you probably know him as a singer/songwriter or as a golfer or as Vicki’s husband or as President of the Senior Center in Ocean Park.  Mostly, you’d know him as an extraordinarily nice guy.  But… did you know he’s also an accomplished chicken wrangler?  Last night he put his wrangling talents to use to help out our little white hen, Snowhite.

If you’ve been following the life and times of Farmer Nyel’s Backyard Flock, you may know that Snowhite appears to be suffering from mites.  She, also, is faster than the speedy Warner Bros. Road Runner of “beep beep” fame and, though several of us have tried to catch her, she has led us a merry chase through hedges, over fences, into trees, and has successfully eluded all attempts to capture her for a bit of doctoring.

Farmer Nyel, Chicken Whisperer

“Wait until dark and get her off the roost,” was the advice all the chicken experts gave me.  Easy for them to say.  Hard for a short octogenarian to manage.  So last night about dusk-thirty, Fred came to the rescue.  “Okay!  Let’s go!” he said.  I grabbed a cardboard box and off we went.  “I was down there a few minutes ago to lock them in for the night,” I told Fred.  “She’s on the roost but I’m not sure how close she is to the door.”

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” And with that, he opened the back door, reached into the coop, grabbed Snowhite by the legs and quick-as-a-cluck (actually LOTS of clucking — in fact, you’ve never heard such a squabble!) she was in the box, the top was closed and we were carrying her back to the house!

She spent the night secured in that carton in our heated back-forty.  This morning an hour or so before first light, Farmer Nyel and I went into the garage armed with a can of mite-dusting-medicine and doctored her up.  She didn’t like it a bit, but seemed resigned.  Not much squawking or struggling.  Just a lot of dirty looks directed mostly at me!  Nyel with his soothing voice and gentle (yet firm) touch is definitely a Chicken Whisperer.

The dusting was done in no time and I returned her to the coop before the rest of the flock was even stirring.  Only the rooster seemed to notice and he gave a few thank-you-doodle-dos before settling back down.   I hurried back to the house through the rain humming “Dusting in the Dark” (to the tune of that other one, or course…)

A Timely Reminder

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

11/13/1983 President Reagan addresses U.S. troops at Camp Liberty Bell the Demilitarized zone South Korea

From the November issue of  “Out of the Archives,” the newsletter from the Washington State Archives:

“There are some who’ve forgotten why we have a military. It’s not to promote war. It’s to be prepared for peace. There’s a sign over the entrance to the Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state, and that sign says it all: Peace is our profession.”

The quote is from the newsletter’s monthly feature, “Who said that?”  Being too impatient to wait until next month for the answer, I looked it up online and was surprised to find that it was President Ronald Reagan.

I doubt if our current Prez would really understand the concept…


Speaking of ghosts…

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Penisula

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a greater interest in ghosts in the last few years?  Or maybe I’m more aware of the ghost subject since the publication of my Ghosts of the Long Beach Peninsula in 2014.

Granted, it’s October — always a month that brings ghosts more clearly into focus, so to speak.  Years ago, when trick-or-treating meant improvising a costume and going door-to-door on your block (and maybe clear across the street), the fall-back position on “what to be” required only an old sheet and a pair of scissors.  A no-brainer.  There were always one or two unidentified figures in white in every group of kids who were out ringing doorbells.  You could usually tell who they were by their shoes.  (And their voices unless they were good at disguising them.)

These days, though, there seems to be increased interest among adults in the whole ghost phenomena.  The internet is full of “haunted places” to visit, announcements of cemetery tours, and lists of “little known” destinations for the ghost-curious among us.

Signing “Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula”

In fact, each year since Ghost Stories came out, I’ve been asked to participate in some sort of ghost-related event.  Usually it’s related to the book, but not necessarily.  One year I did a book-signing at Cost-Co.  Another time or two I participated in a ghostly gathering at the Shelburne Inn,  This year, — next Saturday, October 12th at 11 a.m. to be exact — I will be giving a talk at the Senior Center in Klipsan Beach.  The general subject is, of course, ghosts, but the specifics are up to me.

I’m toying with the idea of talking a little about the sequel I’m working on… Perhaps even soliciting stories from the audience.  These days it seems that everyone has had an “experience” they’d like to tell about.  And I am always a willing listener.

Hope to see you there.  And, I’ll be selling and signing books if you are interested.

Our Grand Affair!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Like magic, the rain stopped.  The balloons went up, the signs were posted, the musicians arrived,  and the party began.  It all went by in a happy blur of laughter and hugs and greetings — old friends from afar and promises to get together when we can “really talk!”  Cookies to die for, cakes to choose between, bubbly galore! Docents took groups on house tours, Ute introduced the cannon salute on her German Hunting Horn, badminton and petanque and croquet were in play.  There was even a song written especially for the house!


by Cate and Starla Gable
(to the tune of “I’ve Got A Mule and Her Name is Sal”)

There once was a house, we don’t know her name
150 years on the Willapa Bay

She’s a good old house with a good old frame
150 years on the Willapa Bay

She’s grown some children in her day
Four generations, come what may

And every year there’s more to say
150 years on the Willapa Bay

High roof, highest in the town
Four doors with lots of people comin’ round

Well you always know your neighbors
Their stories and their ways
if you’ve ever lived for decades on the Willapa Bay

In 1852 the Crellins came to stay
150 years on the Willapa Bay

One brother built a house with another on the way
150 years on the Willapa Bay

Four doors, we always got around
in boats or on horses, or walking into town

And every year there’s more to say
150 years on the Willapa Bay

High roof, lots of gingerbread
Once it was a dairy now it’s even got a head

Yes you’ll always know your neighbors
Their stories and their ways
if you’ve ever lived for decades on the Willapa Bay

Great grandfather Espy bought the little house
150 years on the Willapa Bay

He filled it full of preachers, and one of them was Crouch
150 years on the Willapa Bay

Then Sydney and Nyel got married on this ground
They surprised their inlaws when the party came to town

And every year there’s more to say
150 years on the Willapa Bay

High roof, highest in the town
Four doors with lots of people comin’ round

The house has looked on lovingly
through every single day
Now we celebrate its birthday on the Willapa Bay


Yes, the house has looked on lovingly
through every single day
now we celebrate its birthday on the Willapa Bay

It was, indeed a Grand Affair!  We had a glorious time!

The Learning Curve and Me

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Why?The other day a friend asked, “What kind of a learner were you?  Slow or fast?”  We had been having one of those rambling, disconnected discussions and her question seemed to come out of the blue.  So did my answer.  “Neither,” I said.  “I think I was sort of a skeptical learner.”

It was hard to explain.  I was a compliant student — always followed directions, completed assignments, did the extra credit stuff.  But I was a questioner.  The “why” of things always troubled me and so it was often what I asked.

Before I began school, and I was asking those unremitting “why” questions of my mother, she would finally answer, “Why’s a hen?”  Early on I understood that this meant that she was exasperated with me, wanted me to go outside and play, and that there was probably no answer to my question, or at least not one that she was ready to impart.  I have no idea of the literal meaning of that expression nor do I know where it originated.

Wound-vac Attached to Patient

Teachers usually don’t avail themselves of those sorts of parental responses and so I probably pushed a lot of buttons during my school years.  I think I still do.  These days it’s the medical profession that is getting the full benefit of my questioning ways.  Take Nyel’s wound-vac, for instance.

The wound-vac is a fancy schmancy pumping device designed to suck out the excess fluids and blood from a “wound” or, in Nyel’s case, from his surgical incision.  The day before Nyel left St. Vincent’s for the Seaside rehab facility, a dressing change and wound examination was scheduled at a time when both his surgeon and I could be present.  At that time, the surgeon removed a few sutures, spread apart a two- or three-inch part of the incision and had me look at the gaping “hole.”

“This goes clear to the bone,” he told me.  “Our hope is that it will heal from the inside out.  The wound vac helps in that process.”  When I asked how long Nyel would be hooked up to the wound-ac, the doctor was vague.  “For some time,” was the answer.  “You will go home with it after rehab and the home health nurses will deal with it.  They do that all the time,” I was told by way of reassurance.

The Professionals

So, day before yesterday — not even a week since Nyel had been in rehab — when the Seaside wound care nurse and doctor-on-duty made the decision to not replace the wound-vac after a dressing change, you can bet I had more than one “why” question.  The ‘answer’ I was given: “The wound-care nurse and the doctor are the professionals.”  End of discussion.

Fortunately, next Tuesday is the first follow-up appointment scheduled at St. Vincents with the surgeon.  I imagine that it could go in one of several directions:  Maybe the doctor will find that the rehab people made the right call and we will proceed without the wound vac;  or maybe he will see to it that it is replaced and give them specific orders regarding how long it is to stay there; or… worst case scenario, he doesn’t like what is happening and Nyel is readmitted to St. Vincent’s…  I hope that whatever transpires isn’t a part of some corporate protocol.  The Seaside Hospital is, after all, a part of the Providence Medical Group.

Meanwhile, we wait and I bite my tongue.  That’s how is when you are a skeptic and you’ve been summarily notified that you are dealing with professionals…

Underwhelmed at St. Vincent’s

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Nyel at St. Vincent’s 3-6-19

So far here at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, it’s been a matter of hurry up and wait.  Nyel was ambulanced here from the Ocean Beach Hospital ER late Thursday night.  He had a badly broken hip.  His surgery took place Friday morning.  The surgeon called me during the procedure to ask if, prior to his fall, he had been complaining about his knee.  It was an inauspicious beginning.

The surgeon was unaware that Nyel has had two (ultimately unsuccessful) surgeries to repair his quadriceps which failed following a knee replacement in 2010.  “I just wondered if this break to his hip somehow caused an injury to his quadriceps,” he said.  Obviously, he didn’t get the patient’s medical history…

Since the surgery, Nyel’s blood pressure has plummeted to the point that they cannot safely have him stand so he can begin walking – an urgent priority, it seems, after hip surgery.  Over the last three days they have given him five units of blood, two boluses (intravenously delivered saline solutions) and encouraged him to drink fluids to the point that he felt sick and could not eat for two days.  All this to get his blood pressure up.

Broken Hip Repair

They have stopped getting him up to stand on the scales (because of lightheadedness from low blood pressure) but as of day before yesterday, he had gained 17 pounds of weight (from fluids) in twenty-four hours.  This morning: 25-pound weight gain over his ‘protocol’ weight at which point, in the normal course of events, his regular cardiologist wants him to double his ‘usual’ dosage of diuretics.  Here at St. Vincents, they have given him no diuretics, usual or otherwise – because of the blood pressure issue, they say.  “It’s a balancing act,” they tell us.

Since Sunday, I have requested that they bring a staff cardiologist in for a consult.  So far (this is Wednesday) that has not happened.  Because he has had congestive heart failure for five years and is on a strict protocol regarding weight gain from fluids, I’ve asked why they have stopped his regular regimen of diuretics.  “We are waiting to see…” is the answer.  “Could he please talk to a cardiologist?” I ask.   “Yes, we’ve noted your concern…” is the answer.  “Maybe today…”

First Steps

Always ‘The Plan’ seems to be “let’s wait to see if this transfusion (or this orange juice or this Gatorade) will help.”  They’ve taken hm off all pain meds and muscle relaxants though his pain level is elevated from muscle spasming.  “Analgesics tend to lower blood pressure.  Let’s see if eliminating them will help,” they say.  Each time I ask for a cardiologist’s input they say, “You have the absolute right to advocate for your loved one.”  (Duh!)  Somehow, my advocacy is going nowhere at all.

Nyel told me a few minutes ago that he’d like to be moved to the Seattle Medical Center where his cardiologist is.  If they can’t honor his request to bring a cardiologist in from another floor in this very hospital, I wonder what response he will get to the transfer request…

I keep thinking about the Hippocratic mantra, “Do no harm.”  I wonder where that fits into the St. Vincent’s picture.

Late Breaking News!

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

I understand that the Ocean Beach School Board came to a decision last night concerning the next configuration of the schools:

Pre-k will be in Long Beach, most likely at the Early Childhood Center
k-2 Long Beach3-5 Ocean Park (The Interim Superintendent is looking into buying a portable for OP school)
6-8 Hilltop
9-12 Ilwaco High School

Ocean Park School, 1936

Except for the “portable” (do they ever really move?), it looks like a good solution to the perennial problem of fitting kids into currently available spaces.  But, if I were a betting woman, I’d take odds on it not lasting very long.  These days of high mobility and with the population increasing mainly at the north end of the Peninsula, stability in school population numbers is not the name of the game.

Those who will feel it most, of course, are the parents of youngsters just beginning kindergarten or first grade.  As one of my own former students said to me at a recent school configuration meeting, “With all the threats ‘out there,’ I’d just feel better if my little ones were closer to home in the event of an emergency.”

Long Beach Schoolhouse, 1915

It’s a totally normal and healthy reaction, at least to me.  I remember back to my own beginning teaching days – the early 1960s – when we were still having Stop/Drop/Cover drills in case of air raids.  It was during the Cold War and the “answer” to the threat of atomic and hydrogen bombs was much the same as it had been to the “more benign” bomb threats during my World War II childhood.

In the faculty meetings of those days, when we talked about preparedness, we were told that if there was an emergency during school hours, we were to stay at school with our classes for the duration – even if that meant for several days.  We were not to go home to our own families or to try to get our own children.  Our responsibility was to the children at school.  My silent thought was always, “In a pig’s eye.”  Fortunately, we were never put to the test.

Hilltop School, c, 2017

I use that example only to say that no matter how well trained the school staff is and no matter what statistical evidence might be available to say that kids would be safer staying at school, parental instincts are strong and the desire to have your kids nearby, whether or not there is an emergency, is a legitimate consideration.

But, in rural and semi-rural areas, home-to-school proximity is not always feasible.  The best we can do is prepare for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best.  Be informed.  Be involved.  Be supportive.  And, if you are all those things, consider running for the School Board.  I understand that there will be vacancies the next time around.

Tante Lina’s Bakery

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Tucker with Breadboard

Like Father Christmas himself, Tucker came over for our Friday Night Gathering with a big cloth sack that looked enticingly lumpy and full of hidden surprises.  It contained his “show and tell” for the evening – a weekly event that he began several years ago.  Each Friday he shares something from his seemingly endless trove of treasures.  Tucker is a Collector Extraordinaire and I think our Friday Nighters are the only people outside his family and closest friends who have any idea of the width and breadth of his interests and accumulation.

First out of the bag came a photo album from Carol and Tucker’s first trip to visit the relatives in Germany.  It was 1970 and they looked oh so young!  “I think we were 22,” he said.  He showed us the big stone building that had been his great-grandfather’s bakery and then belonged to his great aunt, Tante Lina.  She was there, in many of the pictures – a short woman standing tall.  I didn’t ask Tucker, but she looked like a force to reckon with.

Mark with Rolling Pin

Once we had been introduced to the ‘setting,’ out came a large round bread board with a handle – wooden and all of a piece.  It looked and felt as though it had supported many hundreds of loaves.  I think everyone in the room coveted that bread board!  Then came the rolling pins – longer than the one you might still use in your kitchen – all solid pieces of wood, some with handles, some without.

Finally, there came the metal “stamps” – I’m sure they have a name, but I don’t know it.  They reminded me a lot of my grandfather’s cattle branding iron, but these were used to label the weights of each loaf – 1K (one kilo), 2K (two kilos) and, my favorite 1-1/2 K! Like old-fashioned moveable type, they read right-to-left until they were imprinted on the bread.  Fabulous!

1-1/2 Kilo Stamp (upside down and backwards)

I’m not clear if the bakery was still in use when Carol and Tucker made that first trip or when, exactly, he acquired these mementos.   Whenever it was, I’m so glad he shared them.  And last night seemed perfect.  As we were oohing and aahing, Nyel’s bread dough was rising in the kitchen!  About a kilo (2.20 pounds), maybe and the perfect accompaniment to our meals for the next few days.  And with every bite, we’ll be thinking of Tante Lina’s Bakery, even though we never had the pleasure of seeing it first-hand!

Stand Up Straight and Other Bad Advice

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

Security Guard Richard Schroeder, 2017

Richard Schroeder makes the best ever Security Guard for the 6×6 Art Auction at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.  He is a natural.  He stands motionless for hours at a time.  He remains expressionless.  His mirrored dark glasses look… well, ominous.  And, this year, the handcuffs dangling at his waist cause most of the riff-raff to keep their distance.

In fact, when Richard toppled over the other night while on duty, not a single riff or raff took advantage of the situation.  No one stormed the art-filled cases.  No one snuck along on tippy-toe silently taking artwork off the silent auction tables.  In fact, a respectful hush fell over the crowd.  Richard the Indomitable had collapsed.  Whatever had happened?

I messaged his wife Dian the next morning to see how he was doing.  Her response: “Sydney and Nyel – thank you for your concern.  He’s ok, heck of a goose egg & probably two black eyes, about a 2 inch cut on his head.  No stitches, they just closed the laceration with surgical glue.  He basically fainted… vasovagal syncope … drop in blood pressure, dehydration, no food & standing too long without movement.  All tests were negative re: any other damage but we’ll be checking in with our primary physician tomorrow.”

The Presbyterian Choir with The Singing Saints, 2007

Whew!  And click, click, click.  It all fell into place, just like that.  Vasovagal syncope is something we warn school kids about – or at least we used to back when I was teaching.  With little kids we usually didn’t use the “vasovagal syncope” words.  We just said something like “Don’t let your knees lock. Keep them a little bit bent.”  Those words weren’t heard often – mostly just before a class was to go on stage and stand on the bleachers through a few songs at the Christmas program or the Spring Sing.

I can’t remember if we’d warn them that they might faint if they forgot and stiffened their legs.  It was all an oversimplification, anyway, but in the 39 years of school programs I attended, we never had a kid go down.  I wish someone has given Richard a little pre-performance pep talk.  It was usually the music teacher who did it at Ocean Park and Long Beach Schools.

Richard and Betsy – Before the Fall

According to one online site:
Vasovagal syncope (vay-zoh-VAY-gul SING-kuh-pee) occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. It may also be called neurocardiogenic syncope. The vasovagal syncope trigger causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to your brain, causing you to briefly lose consciousness. Vasovagal syncope is usually harmless and requires no treatment. But it’s possible you may injure yourself during a vasovagal syncope episode. Your doctor may recommend tests to rule out more serious causes of fainting, such as heart disorders.

The Well-Guarded Culprits

Before you faint due to vasovagal syncope, you may experience some of the following:
     Pale skin
     Tunnel vision — your field of vision narrows so that you see only what’s in front of you
     Feeling warm
     A cold, clammy sweat
     Blurred vision
During a vasovagal syncope episode, bystanders may notice:
     Jerky, abnormal movements
     A slow, weak pulse
     Dilated pupils
Recovery after a vasovagal episode generally begins in less than a minute. However, if you stand up too soon after fainting — within about 15 to 30 minutes — you’re at risk of fainting again.

UPDATE FROM DIAN:  ” … turns out he did have a concussion. Now dealing with post concussion symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, nausea etc.”

We are so sorry.  Next year:  a Security Guard for the Security Guard?