Friday, March 8, 2013

adventures in Oregon

This is the first post in a Friday-series I am doing about my growing-up years.  Because I tell you, my family did some pretty crazy things during those years (a summary of a few of them is back here) and I want to have a record and pictures together for my kids and their kids.  And also because my parents are bound and determined to have everyone write down their memories of all that zany madness from their own point of view so they can compile a family book (which I’m really excited about BTW).

As I’ve been thinking about all these whacky things we did, I figured I may as well share them here.  I love looking back and marveling that my parents had the guts and foresight to deliberately put us through them. 

Of course the things we did aren’t “gospel” in family raising.  There are so many different avenues to raising a family.  But as a parent myself, I see the wisdom in how they planned these things out.  I see that these things were part of what made us fall in love with each other so much (we only had each other to turn to) and to expect more from life.  And boy oh boy did we ever learn a lot.  It makes me want to do the same kinds of things with my own family.

But maybe not quite to the extent of this first memory.  Because this first one is Oregon.  And living for a month in the wilderness of Oregon in a van, two tents and a teepee with eight children (the last one wasn’t born yet) and a dog while building a log cabin is certainly not for the faint of heart. 

The summer after I graduated from seventh grade we packed up our van and headed up to the Blue Mountains of Oregon.  I can’t remember many details since my memory is so horrible, but luckily my job was to be the family “record-keeper” so someday in the piles of family memorabilia we will find my sketches of what we did and how we lived.  For now, I have my own journal I was diligent in writing that has helped to jog my memory.

Some of the logistics:

We lived in the middle of nowhere.  My little brother Eli (child #8) was barely walking.  He slept in the van.  We had a girls’ tent and a boys tent and a teepee some super-camper-friends helped us put up before leaving us alone to brave the great-outdoors.2013-03-14 memories 71462I guess it was hot because that sun looks kind of vicious…

Here’s my little sister and I in front of our tent:2013-03-08 misc 71019(Not sure what was up with wearing that skirt or shorts or whatever that is in the middle of the wilderness…)

The closest town was an hour and a half away.  We went there most weekends to stock up on groceries and to take showers at the local swimming pool. 


Our form of refrigeration was that my Dad got a bunch of PVC pipes and hooked them all together to bring water into camp from an ice-cold spring.  We dug a little hole in the ground where the cold water continually ran.  That’s where we kept our milk and eggs and anything else that needed refrigeration.  I guess a stipulation for buying things that had to be kept cool was that they had to be in a waterproof container.

Again.  Seriously. 

The first thing my parents did when our van finally came to a stop after miles of serious bumpiness over what few would even call a road was to set up the latrine.  They dug a big hole and somehow rigged up a platform for the real toilet seat they wisely brought along.  My Mom hung shower curtains on the trees surrounding our new “toilet” to create some privacy. 

They also set up a little yellow tarp awning over what became our “kitchen.”  I remember how luscious I thought it was that we somehow hauled our own ancient wood-burning stove into camp.  I became a great fire-starter because if i could start a good one in there, my chocolate chip cookies would come out well.

You can see our “kitchen” and teepee in the picture below: 

2009-07-17 untitled 35390

We had a “solar shower” we would fill with water from our spring and hang it on a tree to warm in the sun.  I think I may have been the only one who utilized that puppy.  As I remember it, my younger siblings became one with the dirt and mud.  I’m surprised the swimming pool we went to each weekend didn’t catch on to our shenanigans after they discovered the amount of dirt we were scrubbing off in their showers.

Here’s my little brother “helping” to build the cabin.  2009-07-17 untitled 35403That’s a little sample of the “at-one-ness” with dirt.

I remember washing dishes in big pans of water and trying to keep the camp clean.

I loved that we got to wander to the "Grassy Knoll" (a beautiful look-out spot close to camp) and explore to our hearts content.  It’s amazing what some non-structured freedom in nature can do for a kid.  Makes me want to create more of that somehow for these children of mine.  I loved that us girls got to go have our own campout up there on the Grassy Knoll one night. 

We had a lot of great landmarks around camp that we loved.  The “Mother-in-Law tree” was surrounded by the most gorgeous view.  The “Hollow Tree” was exactly that…a HUGE hollow tree we were mesmerized by.  One day one of the boys lit some matches in there to try to burn out some of the cobwebs and accidentally started that thing on fire.  Here’s my Dad remedying the situation:2009-07-17 untitled 35393

I loved when we would make the trek to town for groceries and showers.  I was always sure to remind my mom which ingredients we were out of for my chocolate chip cookies baking.  Man, I think i based my life around those things. 

Each day we worked on making that log cabin.  But it wasn’t the finished product that was the goal.  It was the process of the whole thing. 

Here’s my sketch of the foundation:

2013-03-08 misc 71016

(Yes, my journal was named “Cuthbert.”)

I remember skinning a LOT of logs.

And pulling a lot of logs:2009-07-17 untitled 35411

And lifting a lot of those puppies:2009-07-17 untitled 35407

Here’s a little diagram of how we made the floors even:2013-03-14 memories 71463

Of course, although we all felt like we worked hard, my Dad did the lion’s share of work.2009-07-17 untitled 35401

I remember loving the beauty but being VERY homesick.

As we worked, my Dad taught us a few “Oregon Principles” to help us remember what we were learning.  Here they are as recorded by my sister in our family record book:

2013-03-14 memories 71438

If I remember right, I think that #3 was actually “Talk to everyone, even if they’re weird” because that’s how our young minds would “get it” the most.  But I think my sister sophisticated it a little bit for journal purposes. :)

Probably my most favorite memory was reading.  After dark we would sit around the campfire, my Mom’s velvety voice finding it’s way into our hearts (I think we read "Education of Little Tree" there??).  I think that was the summer I fell in love with reading by myself too.  I remember laying awake late into the night with my flashlight illuminating Wuthering Heights.

Here’s a journal entry:

The days are beginning to seem much longer.  The schedule is usually the same: get up, use the outhouse, eat breakfast, work on folding clothes (?), pounding nails, rolling logs to the right spot, etc., eat lunch, work some more, have dinner and go to bed. 

The mosquitoes are really out!  I've got about 50 mosquito bites.

I miss home SO much. 

To wash my hair, I do it in the spring.  The water is SO ice-cold, but that’s the only way I can do it.  It makes me feel as if I had 3 holes in my head and as if my brain was falling out of them.  Gotta go!

Here's another one:

We're in a hotel right now!  I'm SO glad!  It has a swimming pool.  It feels so good to brush your teeth with running water, take a decent shower where you don't have to wear a swim suit, and to get dressed standing up and most of all, to have air conditioning.  How good it will feel to hop into that warm cozy bed!

I am in awe of my mother.  How did she do that?  How did she take care of us all?  How did she manage our meals and our first aid? (I wrote about a LOT of cuts and burns.)  How did she keep us all happy?  This picture I drew in my journal kind of tells it all about her:

2013-03-08 misc 71022

And I wonder about my Dad.  Seriously, check this guy out:2009-07-17 untitled 35412

Now that is a worker.  He worked so darn hard on that thing.  How did he and my mom put up with how homesick I was? (that I read in my journal...lots of stuff in there that I had forgotten about).  How were they so incredibly wise enough to know at the time that all that incessant whining and complaining on my part would make me that much stronger and that Oregon would eventually turn into one of the most cherished memories of childhood? 

At the end of the month we packed up the van and watched our half-way-built log cabin shrink into the distance.  Little could we know at the time how much those rich  memories we made there would weave their way into our family.  Since then (after a few of us left home) the younger part of the family went back up and put on a roof and a loft…and combated the pack rats that had since made a great home there.  I’m sure they made more memories that have turned more and more golden with the passing of time.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping us see all the beauty, work hard, fall deeper in love with each other, and not be afraid of a serious adventure. 

p.s. I just read my sister Saren’s great write up about her view on Oregon here, and my sister Saydi wrote up hers here.  I loved reading them and that they included things my other siblings added into our emails back and forth.  Plus I also loved that they knew that we went back to Oregon only two years later…and I WAS there to finish off the loft and put on the roof.  Did I mention my horrible memory??


  1. Oh. My. Goodness. That is some serious hard work! What fun! What memories!! I need to do this.

  2. fun trip! your parents seem like super heroes! its fun seeing you and your siblings so young.

  3. How cool! Do you guys ever go back to that cabin? What great memories.

  4. Oh. My. Goodness. That is seriously inspiring. I have six little kids ages eight and under and being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't think I could ever live in the wilderness with my kids. I can barely manage life in comfort and luxury. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It makes me want to try harder:-) your mom is a true heroine!

  5. WOW! Romania must have been a cinch after all that :) My dad made us help him build things (garage, additions to the house) but at least we got to sleep in our beds at night :)

  6. Wow! Another example of how amazing your parents are. What an amazing experience; one that would've been totally unappreciated by my 8th grade self.

    I grew up with a beautiful, unobstructed view of the Oregon Blue Mountains as well as a very rustic, generations old cabin (complete with the occasional pack rat) on them. Their beauty was lost on me in my youth, but I'm so glad my folks still live there and I can enjoy it all now. Such a beautiful place!

  7. What an amazing childhood you had!! As a mom of 3 (almost 4) very young kids, I often limit our experiences based on how easy it will be. Sure, I have gone camping with a newborn, but I vowed to never do that again. This post makes me think about all the things my kids will be missing out on if I always take the easy way out.

    I'm shocked that your family never really finished the cabin until much later. It was all for the experience!

  8. I read your parents books back in the day, but I had no idea about this part of your life. wow.

  9. I love this story and I love that you are doing this on Fridays now!! This was awesome! Thank you for sharing-cant wait until next week!!!

  10. Amazing!!! Wow! I've been putting off going camping with my 4 boys because it will probably be a lot of hard work, but I'm not going to any longer! Can't wait to hear more of your stories! You, your parents and family are so inspiring!

  11. I love how this amazing memory was documented by photos AND journal entries. Love it! Thanks for taking us on a ride down memory lane. (the cartoon of everyone wanting "mama" was awesome!)

  12. This is INSANE and awesome all at the same time! I can't even imagine the logistics and how much you would just have to let go as a mother to make this happen. What a cool memory and SO funny that you don't remember going back to finish it off. This is going to be a cool series to follow. Thanks for sharing, Shawni!

  13. I just couldn't stop the LOL as I read through this! So much I had been forgotten. Thank heaven we assigned you to be the "Family Record Keeper"! Thanks to the other girls' journals and some hilarious memories from the boys, we have a pretty accurate accounts of what we would all have forgotten!

    I clearly remember loving the quote: "If life is just a bowl of cherries, hire a wolf to knock at your door." In addition to being a pretty good "wolf" I think we had a grundle of fun on this truly crazy adventure!

    Where did you find that picture of Eli with the hammer? Wild! Saren's point well taken! :)

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  15. That reminds me of the old movie "The Wilderness Family." how neat. Do you till have the cabin in the family?

  16. What an awesome experience. Talk about building some character!!! What a blessing to have such an amazing example and to have the benefit of coming from a large family. I flounder often. We have 4 (and one due in May) and my oldest is 6 and me nor my husband are from a large family. It's a learn as you go thing. : )

    This is totally off topic but would you mind telling me/us how your hair and bangs are cut and how you style it. I LOVE your hair and my husband LOVES for me to have bangs but I can never seem to have bangs and a cut that blend well together. And quite often I end up looking like I have the hairstyle of a 10 year old. : )

  17. Do you guys still have the cabin in Oregon? That is insane, Shawni! I have never heard of another family doing anything like this and that is why your family is the coolest! Did your dad lose part of his shorts in the tree fire? :-0 You have amazing handwriting for a 13 year old! Your mom is did she do this???

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