traditions die hard

Nineteen years ago I wrote a piece as an assignment for one of my reading groups, inspired by our book—Kathleen Norris’s Dakota—specifically the chapter titled “Where I Am.” And now where I am has extended 19 years. Here’s a portion:

     Six years ago, as a newlywed I moved across the country to live in this burg with my husband, Mauri. I didn’t know him as well then as I had 30 years earlier. We had become good friends in high school in Wheaton, Illinois. But Mauri moved to Newberg to attend George Fox College (now University) and graduated four years later with a wife and a 20-year marriage ahead of him. I stayed in Wheaton and married a man seven months after he swept me off my feet. The only contact our families had through moves and more than two decades of marriage and three children each was the annual Christmas greeting. Twice letters carried news of cancer. Mauri was widowed first, then I.
     So here I am in Newberg, thousands of miles from my firstborn in Michigan, hundreds of miles from my married daughter in the Seattle area, and less than an hour’s drive from my youngest in Aloha. I’ve become step-mom to Mauri’s three children and daughter to his four parents, who all live in Newberg. (My original set of four parents have all died.)
     Where I am speaks of my physical placement and the stuff around which, the people around whom I exist. Locations link my past to my present. They trigger my memory. They add to my identity. They connect me to people. But my 24 geographic addresses in 55 years don’t define who I am. In reestablishing my root system as an Oregonian, I bring with me all of who I was the years preceding. Who I am builds on who I was. Every experience, every attitude, every response adds a new layer to who I was yesterday.
     Yesterday was the day. On our tandem rides I’d been observing the gradual ripening of blackberries along the roadside. This particular Sunday afternoon proved deliciously uncommitted, so I donned my grubby clothes and drove to the spot beside the railroad tracks where earlier I had eyed fruit-hung branches. With a plastic bucket swinging from my forearm, I studiously stepped a path through the briers, on alert for lurking predators who might have human on their evening menu. With gentle pressure I gripped one berry at a time, detaching each from its prickly branch, until my bucket was filled. The thorns did their best to dissuade my mission, but I accepted their lashes as payment for their offering. No blood, no berries.
     We have enough money for me to go to the corner fruit stand to purchase blackberries for a pie. Yet I perform this annual ritual because it reminds me who I am. In the process I momentarily remove what lies between my childhood and this current layer of my adulthood. I’m in the brambled back acres of the house my dad built in Wheaton. My mother, a homemaker in every respect, couldn’t see those berries wasted, so she commissioned my sister and me daily to fill several bowls each. For sure, it was against our will. We would rather be doing anything else. The chiggers would bore into our flesh; the sun made us sweat; the berries stained our fingers; the “prickers” gouged our skin. Not one thing about that task was pleasant—except maybe the fresh blackberries and cream or the blackberry cobbler or blackberry pie or blackberry jam we enjoyed all year long.
     This, and all the many, many learning experiences that comprise my life so far, make me who I am. Where they happen seems of least importance. Embracing the difficult, unpleasant stuff of life proves again and again the path to life’s best rewards. No blood, no berries.
     Half a blackberry pie waits in the refrigerator. Mmmm. A small slice turned a few moments in the microwave, with a small dollop of vanilla bean ice cream on top, sounds pretty good to me right now. But maybe I can wait until after dinner.

What comes to mind when I read this? “The more things change the more they stay the same.” We have digital photography now and rarely go to Fred Meyer to wait an hour for our film to be developed, but most of what was still is!

In 2014 I posted this, It contains nearly identical pictures to the ones I’m about to share tonight!

I had the identical response from 19 years ago when Mauri and I took a walk near Captain’s Cabin, taking note of all the ripe blackberries along the way. The following day I was back with an appropriate container, cheerfully and laboriously picking all the reachable berries of correct ripeness.

My harvest made it safely home in our cooler, and after we unloaded the car and reset the house I went to work on my annual pie-baking tradition. I would be too embarrassed to share pictures of the process, as I made a huge mess resulting in the world’s ugliest pie.

The baking process covers a multitude of sins, so I’m just barely able to swallow my pride to include this picture.

Thankfully, the proof’s in the pudding, or I should I say in the pie, for it was delicious. Pictured was last night’s dessert, and here it is a day later, almost time for another go ’round.

Traditions die hard, and I, for one, am grateful.

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we do what we do

Someone beat us to reserving Captain’s Cabin for the week of our anniversary, so we took the closest to it—this week! Turns out we’re sharing Harbor Villa with a high school youth group from Northwest Baptist Church in Bellingham, WA. “Happy anniversary!” and friendly waves were passed our way, and we continue to love the holy hubbub of their outdoor gatherings. And right up the street at the camp, it’s Surfside week, an important factor more than 25 years ago in deciding when to schedule our wedding because Mauri’s then-high-school-age kids didn’t want to miss it.

So here we are, halfway through our week. We each brought a project to work on. Mauri’s revolves around music, mine around pictures. After 25 years of life together, our interests have not changed and likely won’t. All of our time is spare time these retired days, so we are happy to simply do what we do.

Breakfast at the table in sleep clothes and bedhead. We are who we are.

And we do what we do. Take yesterday for example. We put on walking shoes and crossed the street to visit Deb’s garden. When we were here after Easter she showed us her work in progress, so we were eager to see the “fruit” of her labor.

Bless her, she pulled some invisible veggies out of the earth, assuring us they “need to be thinned,” and we remembered aloud the remnants of a shared Caesar salad in our fridge from a Tillamook Cheese Factory lunch. So she added a few snap peas to our “basket” and I quickly carried them back to our little kitchen for lunch later.

Now a walk on the beach.

Who says there’s no such think as a free lunch? We’re quite sure we’d’a tossed those sad leftover greens were it not for those fortuitous toppers. Thanks, Deb! You’re an excellent veggie grower!

Some afternoon project work for him. He brought a file of original scores that date back to the ’70s. It’s fun and interesting to hear his response to them this many years later—what he still likes, what he would change.

A step in my afternoon work: editing and placing the perfect cover shot for Declan’s book. The boy turns 4 in a few weeks, so I want it ready to add those last pictures before sending a pre-print (Shutterfly) proof to his parents. What could be more fun than that? And should I mention my perfect view of the rocks and ocean out that window?

With a half-hour window before we leave for dinner (breakfast & lunch in; dinner out), I head out for a solo walk. The tide is in, making most of the sand too soft for speed. I gave it my best.

A lovely and familiar drive up to Nehalem, two towns north of Rockaway. We followed the fishprints to a food cart Mauri had researched and found reviewed as 5 stars.

Yep—that’s just as described! I’m not normally a fish eater but embraced the whole experience as part of what we do.

We saved room for dessert at the ice cream shop our friends Ridgely and Wally discovered and highly recommended earlier this summer. Too bad it was closed on Tuesday. Oh well, not everything has to be perfect to be awesome (so says the hanging above our fireplace). So we bought Tillamook ice cream bars at a local market and sat by the quiet river, watching for that elusive eagle or kingfisher.

Back in the car Mauri asks: “Wanna go look for elk?” This question didn’t come out of the blue. Years ago in Nehalem we happened upon a huge herd of elk in a residential area, so we knew there was a remote possibility there’d be some lurking about.

Lo and behold . . .

We sat a long time, watching them slowly emerge from the grasses on the right side of the road, meander down the road toward the water, then into the grasses on the left. Could we have orchestrated the moment any better?

We took a longcut back to our cabin through this familiar countryside, drinking in the beauty of our coastline. Doing what we do.

Posted in nostalgia, travels | 3 Comments


All day long it’s been Mauri’s and my 25th wedding anniversary. In most ways it was like most other days of our lives, but poring over my photo files to prep for this post made it memorable. Narrowing my picks to 25 was a challenge, given the amount of life we packed into the past 25 years. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to scroll down the page and share in my thanksgiving for these years God gave us as a married couple. We think he still has something up his sleeve for us in the coming years, and we’re eager to see what that might be!

If you hang in there through 25 pictures, you’ll catch a glimpse of our special celebration in photo #26, representative of the start of what lies ahead.

The day we got our engagement heart tattoos.
Our rehearsal picnic the night before the wedding.
Wedding smiles.
Part of the reception entertainment. We had a handbell choir and much more.
Cookin’ up a shrimp boil in our cookin’ room.
The big canyon.
Happy New Year, 2000!
Pete and Linsey’s wedding at Newberg Friends.
Dusty and Quinn’s wedding in Colorado.
Twin Rocks smooch.
Captain’s Cabin, where I proposed.
We do love this beach!
London Bridge is falling down (or so they say).
Thanksgiving with the Andersons in Aspen, CO.
The beautiful Oregon Coast. photo credit: HKZ
The Benson Hotel at Christmas with the Macy family.
The Portland Bridge Pedal.
A memorable trip to Anchorage, AK, with Pete and Linsey.
More Oregon beach. We just can’t stay away!
Opening Christmas stockings at John and Erin’s house.
Taylor and Beth’s wedding in Washington, DC.
Doing a little bit of the house building work in Juarez, MX.
Deer Valley Mountain Resort in Park City, UT.
Happy Silver Anniversary to us! Dining at The Jory in The Allison Inn and Spa.

THANK YOU for being part of our lives through this blog.

Posted in in the neighborhood, nostalgia | 11 Comments

pick and eat

A week ago this morning I was in the ER in Newberg with Mauri while at the very same time Quinn was in the ER in Denver with Dusty. Mauri’s shingles were quickly diagnosed, and he was sent home with the prescriptions needed for pain and treatment. Dusty’s diagnosis didn’t come so easily or quickly as doctor after doctor pondered the miserable and mysterious symptoms that wreaked havoc with his diabetic numbers. Finally, on Wednesday the docs agreed to remove his gallbladder, which turned out to be absolutely needed (I’ll spare you Quinn’s description of it). But he didn’t bounce back as expected, requiring more tests that showed severe infection in his esophagus (caused by another description I’ll spare you).

Both Mauri’s and Dusty’s medical situations captured much of my attention, concern, and prayer this week. So I’m thankful to report they are both finally improving. Dusty turned a corner this morning, much to the relief of many who need and love him. PTL!

We’ve entertained the entire town in our neighborhood this weekend for Old Fashioned Festival, another reason I was thankful for this change of scenery and breathing room.

What a great idea—to hold her annual client appreciation party in this beautiful place!

I haven’t picked blueberries in a long time, so I tied on a bucket and went to work.

There was no shortage, and my bucket filled fast.

Our host weighed and transferred my berries into the buckets Linsey provided.

Somehow grandson Will found himself stuck, literally, in a muddy bog.

In due time I took my leave. This double row of parked cars winding around the curve illustrates the remarkable success Linsey has enjoyed in selling real estate. We are invited to this party because we have referred clients, and we will confidently refer you to Linsey to help buy or sell a house or real property. We think she’s amazing!

On the drive home I had one thought: blueberry pancakes for dinner.

I married a man who cooks! And he feels well enough to give me the desire of my heart for dinner!

Posted in family matters, grandkids, in the neighborhood | 1 Comment

road trip back from utah

Let’s see, I think we left off at the white-hanky farewell. Such good sports!

At this point we were ready to put some miles on the car and get ourselves to Boise, where a cute little airbnb would give us a quiet place to put our feet up.

It was my turn to drive. The speed limit allowed for 80 mph, so I was going 80 when I started to pass a semi, oblivious to its impending blowout.

We were side by side when I heard a loud ca-clump, then held on tight as we navigated the bombardment of tire fragments. The truck finally pulled over, but we kept going to the rest stop a few miles up the road near Bliss, Idaho.

We walked around the front to look for nicks or bruises only to discover this “thing” in our grill. Our “well, isn’t that interesting?” quickly became gratitude it didn’t take out our windshield––and one of us in the process!

What is that “thing”? Thanks to friends on Facebook we learned it is a tie-down bracket from the truck. Logic says the force of the blown tire shot this toward us as we passed.

Our AC was immediately out, but we made it to Boise without the engine overheating.

This little add-on doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside the space was well appointed and nicely decorated for our comfort.

This little kitchenette was efficiently designed and gave us all we needed to make our coffee and shakes. I thought it the perfect design for our upstairs space, using this photo to help me remember it!

We didn’t want to let that highway incident interfere with our plan to eat lunch with our Boise cousins. You know how I feel about cousins! These are on Mauri’s mother’s side.

And some of the bambinos.

You needed to see Eric’s shirt!

Four-week-old Millie came too. It was just great to see everyone!

We had a few hours to build up an appetite for more food, this time for dinner at Texas Roadhouse with longtime friend Don and his wife of 13 years, Christina. Mauri claims to have “only two stories,” but he has many more than two that involve iconoclastic Don. It was fun to renew this friendship and to get acquainted with Christina, who couldn’t “complete” Don any better.

Don wanted to take a look at our car issues, which might have prevented us from serious trouble on the drive home.

See that heart-shaped hole right there? Gorilla tape would not seal it sufficiently, and radiator fluid spouted as the engine ran! So first thing the next morning we showed up at a repair shop to get the help we needed to make our way home. Mechanics also repaired the AC, so the drive home felt like smooth sailing.

I entertain no thought this mechanical stuff holds any interest for you. It’s part of our story and a clear indication of God’s care for us. But to make it up to you, here’s a short video from Saturday. That’s Mauri and me singing (a portion of) our family birthday song to two-year-old Avery and Emery via Facetime. 

Posted in family matters, old friends, travels | Leave a comment

a road trip to utah

I had a delightful birthday celebration (#74) on the 8th . . .

. . . that included several highlights: (1) passing the vision test for my renewed driver license, making it no longer necessary to wear glasses on the end of my nose when I drive, and (2) a surprise hot chocolate delivered by none other than son-in-law Dusty!

Early the next morning we packed the van to the gills with the usual travel suspects along with coffee gear and cooking gear and photography gear and protein-shake-making gear and what you see pictured: the results of a few Goodwill toy-section shopping sprees, strategically packed into the allotted space. What you can’t see is the 10-inch red Lightning McQueen car certain to delight almost-4-year-old Declan.

We were Park City, Utah, bound with a sleep stop in Boise. Absolutely nothing beats a summer road trip through God’s country! If you’ve never driven through the Columbia River gorge and over to eastern Oregon and down to Salt Lake City, get something on your calendar pronto!

Members of the Nill clan traveled from Florida, Virginia, Arizona, California, and Oregon for the reunion. The Carlsons started their day at 4 a.m. to make the two-flight journey.

These two were two weeks away from turning two, still eligible as lap children, but their parents thought it worth spending the travel miles to guarantee their own seats.

Meanwhile, all two of us making our way to the reunion on the ground found a rare opportunity to buy gas out in the middle of nowhere, where we met this guy. We were getting by on fumes and quite relieved to put $65 worth of petrol in our tank.

This would be our headquarters for the next four days.

This is only one of four sets of stairs to climb, not to mention the thin air at 6,500 feet! It would take the whole village to prevent trips to the ER for that climbing duo.

Avery is particularly prone. A week earlier a plastic surgeon repaired the damages to her face after a fall down the stairs.

You wanted to see, right? Oh, baby girl, please take care!

The house had a baby-safe room with ping pong and air hockey and room for all those toys we hauled for their entertainment.

A six-person couch for watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine . . .

But best of all amenities, the house came equipped with two, count them, TWO high chairs just like the ones the girls use as home!

You might imagine there was ongoing cleanup involved, and Daddy appreciated Avery’s help, you can be sure!

Of course there was plenty to do in the area. The four golfers got an early start the first morning,

while the horse riders went a different direction.

The rest of us headed to the park!

Mauri’s and my vast plans for the afternoon turned half-vast when our car wouldn’t start. AAA to the rescue! The original battery on the only car Mauri ever purchased new chose this moment to bite the dust! Interesting timing, we thought, but then would we rather it had died at that two-pump station out in the middle of nowhere? Certainly not!

And so went four days of togetherness with my family of origin and its branches. You know me well—I love my family and I love pictures. So bear with me while I share a few* of both (*undefined).

Two of my brother’s three granddaughters.

The other, older one. Recently graduated from Taylor University.

Stirring peanut is hilarious business!

Brothers in law

You know what I always say: “Every family needs a Dusty!”

Krista, ready to pass out the marshmallow roasting sticks.

Um, this might take a while! Too windy, not enough flame.

The s’mores prep had to move inside.

Sister Carol

An evening stroll with the girls, a reunion highlight for me.

They are irresistibly cute and impossible to not photograph!

Their grandma Gus is not the slightest bit biased!

Nephew Kevin and his family ski here in the winters, so they guided us along the way.

Mauri and I bought unlimited lift tickets and got really good at the loading, unloading process.

Just another crummy day at Deer Valley, Utah!

Carol lost her hat in the wind. Oh well, no jumping off to capture it!

These three brave climbers got off half way up to hike the rest of the way to the top, equivalent to 91 flights of stairs! (For the record, they didn’t jump off; it takes two lift rides for us to reach the summit.)

So they missed out on being in this picture at the top with the rest of us. You’re right, the Carlsons are missing too. For some reason Taylor and Beth decided their wiggly children weren’t quite ready to dangle from an open chair high above the ground. Good call!

Now that is some view, wouldn’t you say?

The hikers head down on foot. . .

. . . while those less inclined take the easy way.

Here they come, looking no worse for the wear.

Our tour guide, niece Cheryl, gives us the lay of the land.

Four of us sit in comfort, sipping iced lemonade, watching for the true hikers (those who went up and down) to return. See them in the center of the picture?

So how ‘ya doin’? Hanging in there? Take a little break from scrolling and watch Dusty entertain Declan with Rock Paper Scissors.

Or High Fives.

Or listen to him giggle with Cassidy. Cousins are the best!

Shhhh. Beth texted this picture to show me how much Declan liked the Lightning McQueen car from Goodwill.

OK, here we go again! Today we’re at Park City Mountain Area, a more suitable place for the littles. Except for one thing: it isn’t stroller friendly, no working elevators!

Mom and Aunt Quinn take in all the possibilities.

But first—something very important. Set up the camera,

pose the people, set the timer, and run to your spot (Krista).

Now one with the signs (that go back to the first reunion in 1998).

And a flashback to 2007 (of course…)!

Here we are, the original Nill siblings. Our shirts say (to the chorus of “We Three Kings”): “Nills we are and Nills we’ll be, Nills for all the world to see; Names may change or rearrange but Nills we’ll be for eternity.” Our family song has verses too. Doesn’t everybody’s?

OK, enough posing for pictures. It’s time to play!

Declan suits up for the ropes course.

And the zip line!

And back flips on the trampoline.

While Declan has his parents’ full attention, his sisters hang out with Gus and Gum, who are laughing because Avery did a world-class backwash into Gum’s water bottle.

It’s the girls’ turn! With three adults to two littles, Taylor agreed they could go.

Holding on tight!

Heading down!

Is it any wonder?

Don’t worry, the big kids had fun too!

Mauri and I left the park early and took a most beautiful scenic drive that ended in an epic aspen forest. Did you know aspens are interconnected underground, a community of trees that look after each other? You might enjoy reading about them—click HERE.

And not far down the road, this—a high nest with a mama osprey, the papa, and their baby chick.

Reunion finales always include gathering to call out highlights from our time together. Then we reminisce through reading previous highlight lists and skim pictures from past reunions. Lots of laughter ensues.

This year we read that newly married Bailey pledged himself to bachelorhood after sharing a bunkroom with 5 giggling sisters and cousins. Ooops! Sarah changed all that!

It’s my very favorite part of all!

Shout out to the reunion planning team!

At 5:30 a.m. the first of several white-hanky farewells—the Carlson family departs for the airport.

And three hours later . . .

It would be a temptation to share every farewell, this being the Nills’ departure.

Haha! All the rest of us left at the same time, an hour later.

Carol waves a white paper plate. It works. We’re just a little bit silly.

Clearly, temptation to share all of them got the better of me.

Farewell, dear family! See you in three years! Lord willing.

[up next: return road trip story]

Posted in family matters, travels | 2 Comments

for the love of lyle!

We bought these tickets long before weather could be predicted in Troutdale—or anywhere, for that matter. The scene through our window yesterday morning didn’t hold much promise, but Mauri’s weather app promised the rain would stop in time for the concert.

Memory flashes from the line we stood in nine years ago at the same venue gave us pause, but not enough to change our minds about going. We did let our memory of the parking fiasco at the venue dictate our departure time, so we were on the road early enough to avoid traffic, find a place to park, and eat a leisurely lunch.

So far so good! And who would complain about finding two seats together to the bar with no wait? Not us!

Mauri helped me finish the last bites of this most delicious…

“bolognese—bucatini pasta, ground natural ribeye, tomato, garlic, parmesan” — I copy/pasted this from the menu so you can be sure to order it next time you’re at the Black Rabbit Restaurant and Bar! Sorry I didn’t save any for you.

We then had lots of time left to kill because, well, we had paid extra for reserved seats and wouldn’t need to stand in line at all! As we sat inside, watching people, I saw this. 2014 was the last year July 27 landed on a Sunday and 2025 is the next time. This is very useful information for someone; maybe not you. But it illustrates the low level of conversation I could offer Mauri as we waited. And yet—we spoke out our standard “We gonna see anyone we know?” a number of times as we watched other concertgoers walk the halls. “Not yet, but I’m lookin’!”

Rain or shine. We were still waiting for shine when we decided to head in and find our seats. No “TSA pre-check” on our tickets, and security was tough! Mauri’s pocket knife didn’t make the cut, so we were glad our car was a short walk away!

As we headed toward our seats we heard voices calling “Mauri!” Not only did we “see someone we know,” but our seats were right beside Jim and Pam, long-time friends from church. In fact, Pam was secretary at the NFC office when Mauri first started working there in 1980! What are the odds? They are big Lyle Lovett fans, maybe even bigger than we are.

A small portion of the other fans crazy enough to brave the unpredictable weather.

Lyle and his large band did not disappoint! He sang many of the old familiar tunes and a few new ones that made us smile, sometimes laugh.

If you’ve never experienced Lyle Lovett, HERE‘s a video that comes close to what we heard. I wanted to pick one that included his longtime lead back-up singer, Francine Reed.

Does everyone look a little wet? The audience, I mean!

We were a lot more than a little wet, that’s for sure! By the end of the concert we die-hard fans were soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone.

Take a guess which one of us was the first to turn on our seat warmer for the drive home.

Posted in small world stories, this and that | 3 Comments