Saturday, November 22, 2014

Through Hail and Back: A Dam Trip

I had to tell you about today. No work, no chores, no school. 
We did a lot in school this week in addition to a surprise sleepover at Grandma's for the boys.
By today we were a bit stir crazy!
 We slept in, got breakfast out and went for a day trip. Out of our three options: Hug Point on the coast, Mt. Hood, or the Bonneville Dam in the gorge east of Portland, we chose the last. The kids’ winter clothes are not yet completely in order and both Mt. Hood and the coast were predicted to be windy and cold, so we decided to go with the ol' dam trip.   

Hello dam! From this angle you look like a dam prison.
This dam has two powerhouses; one on the Washington and one on the Oregon side of the mighty Columbia River. We went with the Washington side of the set-up because we’ve already done the Oregon side and it’s closed for renovation anyway. Also, Washington does NOT have a gift shop. This is a championship-level plus for us because the boys could spend seven weeks on average in even the tiniest gift shop.
Near the dam entrance, facing the direction of the storm.
We chose the old highway leading along the North side of the gorge from Vancouver on past Camas. It is an even more beautiful drive than my beloved Highway 84, which we drive many times a year. Today the weather made it spectacular. The skies were displaying lightning (a rare treat in our neck of the woods), spitting down hail, raining fat drops so hard we couldn’t have a conversation and blowing leaves in panicked circles in our path. The road at points was covered in a frozen slush, but there were almost always ruts with good traction mid-lane. Winter is so rare in Portland that it was fun to see a glimpse of it today. At one point Toby asked, "Is this a storm?" and I realized it's kind of sad he really doesn't have much experience with truly stormy weather. It generally just rains in a most matter of fact manner without much drama in Portland.

Here’s the truth: the kids were not at all excited about the dam at first. Usually they would be, but I think they had set their hearts on the coast. Instead they were whiney and complainy and asking how long it would take to get there-y. They can be really annoying in the small space of the car. Do NOT, for example, under any circumstances hum Bizet's Carmen. They will rock it Beeker-style until your ears bleed. 

Once we started to explore the place it got a bit better. There are some things for kids to touch and move in the visitor’s center, and a movie about Lampreys which both boys liked. They really loved the fish observation room and spent time on the interactive displays there. We were about to wrap up the visit when I noticed a sign about tours and realized if we booked it we would be right on time for one. We hurried the kids (“C’mon, we don’t want to miss the dam tour!!”) and made it to the ranger’s desk just in time. We were her only takers and she was an excellent ombudsman.

The tour is where it’s at, people. If you go to the dam in the winter, which I highly recommend because I like having places all to myself, do not skip the tour.
After some initial grumping, Isaac turned on his chatty self and asked his customary 11,000 questions. 
After that even the kids admitted they loved the trip. We went to Charburger, a longstanding local dive with a gorgeous view of the Bridge of the Gods, and then drove back home with a happy tired trio.
The tour takes you next to and below a real working generator! 

We were amazed that the deep thrumming was not the turbines
but rather the water rushing around and through the dam structure.
The tour guide told the kids it was enough water to fill a three bedroom house every second. 

In the future, I think we could make much more of our dam trips. We could pre-load some study (homeschoolers call them unit studies) about infrastructures, the mission and history of the Army Corps of Engineers, hydroelectric power, magnets (and exactly how the turning turbines create energy for a grid), fisheries, and "how terrorism threat levels make the guard have to open your trunk where you really hope all those falling books and coats and strollers and diapers will not injure him too badly". (That's a popular one with the unschoolers. I kid, unschoolers!)

As it was we came home and watched an episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe crawls all around inside a turbine, replacing bolts and lubricants and recovering fish tracking tags from waste pits and using the word "poo" a lot. I’d say we could count it as a school day if we needed to count such things.

Stuff that happened on the way home:
The boy finished Gregor the Overlander book 1.
He loves it and often busts out giggling in random, inappropriate places.
We have to remind him to close his book to walk.
Quintessential Isaac.

Because tomorrow is Sunday...

FangFang continues to adore and emulate her brothers. She wants to do everything they are doing. If one of them asks me a question in the car, they are interrupted by "MOM!" and a line of toddler babble ending with a big fat question mark. Sometimes there are adorable hand gestures and head tilts. She did this to the dam tour guide, patting her on the dark-khaki leg. 

Another habit this child has developed in her third month as an American is to bid adieu to everyone as she leaves a restaurant, grocery store, library. She shouts BYE! and waves at each one with the easy practiced enthusiasm of a miniature beauty queen. Sometimes that's hard to do because she is also carrying a large Calvin & Hobbes book like she has noticed Toby is wont to do. She is my daughter, but I am also her groupie. I get to associate with this little celebrity, and it's a very sweet gig. 

She even reads me bedtime stories before folding herself in half just for fun.

Sunday, November 09, 2014


I realized yesterday that almost all the richest parts of our family life center around evenings. It used to just be true of J and I individually, but it has bled over into the whole circus.

We are homeschoolers so preferring nights could very well mean I'm doing something wrong in directing our school days, but I'm strangely okay with that. Some of the homeschoolers I read about seem to have some remarkable, deeply spiritual experiences with their incredibly attuned children daily. School for us lately has been a lot more productive but also much more practical. We complete tasks, we get through our curriculum, and the boys' brains are worn out by the end of the day. Sometimes they say or do neat stuff, but they do that despite me and any particular intellectual fantasias playing out in our day. In this season of our lives checking off the boxes and enjoying part of a portion of some of it is a win.
Primrose's daily checklist includes destroying the living room.
I don't want to intimidate all the average kids, but as you can see she's kind of a prodigy in that area.
About 2/3rds of the way through his schooling checklist, Toby takes a break with his pit crew. 
This week I've been playing the opera Der Fledermaus, which is apparently hilarious and entertaining. It's not visible to me from under the stage, but the audience is laughing and Isaac keeps quoting things from it today. I let him come last night with my mom, and he ate it up. He always likes to come to my concerts, and has impressive perseverance for a six year old. My goal is that when he's an adult he can be elitist and picky about art in the exact way the brothers were on Frasier. Kidding.

During each of the two intermissions, he thoroughly explored the Keller.
His favorite was the top floor because it was so quiet up there,
and it was fun to look down on the spinning event floodlights.
Partway through the third act, I became certain that Isaac was restless and bored. I was thinking of all the things I should have done: played him recordings, read him the synopsis, watched parts on YouTube. If only I had done better to prepare him maybe he would like it. He's only six, I chided myself. It's way past his bedtime. As soon as I made my way up to him in the glacial flow of exiting patrons after the final curtain, I knew at a glance I was worrying needlessly (sense a theme in this blog?). He had connected with the whole performance. In fact he was so excited about the whole thing I don't think he took a breath all the way home. He kept the program because, as he pointed out incredulously, "It has a whole bunch of other things I can go to!"
So happy with his lovely date!
I took another gig next week. It's stretching our gig-per-month tolerances but I've never been asked to play with this little orchestra before and they're playing a piece I've only ever played one other time. It's a standard audition piece (Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream) and the other time I played it was very rewarding. We practice little snippets of audition pieces for years (years within years!), and after deconstructing them to a molecular level it's nice to finally deploy them in their native environment every once in a while. I'm hoping that leaving a crockpot out and being sure to give J some time to himself on the few nights available will make up for me being out more than usual. Plus, Thanksgiving is nearly here. Phew!

Giving up these extra evenings is both selfish and sacrificial. Playing with people has a social component I miss as a homeschooling mom (nobody makes poop jokes! Unless maybe it's a brass rehearsal...). There's often an artistic benefit, which is of deep personal value to me on so many levels. I want my kids to see their parents living rich lives and maintaining excellence in both personal and professional ways. The money is helpful, and while I'm being practical I have to admit I also hate to say no to gigs because they stop calling. Nobody likes that.

We have most of our fun as a family at night, so I do hate to miss any. We go for walks with flashlights, we retreat each to our own corners, we have long tickle fights, we watch weird Chinese TV shows in Mandarin for practice and fun, we used to read long books but I've slacked off with that because SOME one went and brought a toddler to the party. Both J and I have strong tendencies toward introversion and evenings in our bubble full of small proprietary Wards are easily our favorite times. Excited as I always am to play, I think it's a sign of a good life that deciding whether to take on more work involves complicated checks and balances. G'night!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Guess what I do NOT want to practice?!

Answer: Waiting for answers. Or pretty much waiting for anything. I'm not good at waiting for anything and I'd like to stay exactly this way, thank you very much.

I'm sorry for the radio silence, but I was going through a mood in which I wasn't sure what to post.

Good things have happened: Halloween, new homeschool procedures that reduced my yelling by fully 84%, nice gigs with people I like, a brunch with a friend we made in China working for Holt.

Holt brunch!
There were 6 or 7 families with children from China there.
The kids all had a great time!
I like to start with a list of the good because then I don't feel like such a whining wussy writing about some of the rest.

The MRI results appear to be a bit murky. The doc at first said they were totally normal, but it took her a few days to get to us and by then I had googled several of the findings. It seemed to me to indicate possible surgery-requiring things (tethered cord, maybe a rare syndrome) and I asked her a bunch of questions about it. After letting me know she was all offended about that and nobody in her career had such questions, she apparently did ask somebody else about it and changed her recommendation to have us see a neurosurgeon. It turns out one possibility is that Primrose might need a spine surgery. Another is that she could need monitoring for masses that can become cancerous. A third is that none of those things are true and we didn't see aaaanything.

Best friends came to visit and fun was had by all.
My boys would like this kid right here to live next door, please.
Me too, except we can't wrench them away from stupid snobby coffee-smelling Seattle.
That doc was fantastic in person, and it's entirely possible we simply misunderstood each other. Still, the way it went down was oddly discouraging and a little frightening. If I hadn't pushed, then we would not know she needs a specialist's opinion. If we miss a tethered cord now, it can cause permanent neurological damage later.

I think I would be as intense an advocate for my boys if there were any question about medical things. I think I would... but this feels different. When we agreed to adopt our girl, I think we agreed to be fiercely involved with figuring out whatever she needs. One of the reasons we were allowed to adopt her is that our country has state of the art health care and trained doctors at the ready. It is a lot of pressure, and I'm disappointed that this first experience in mapping out her health involved me being a squeaky wheel already. I guess that's the way things are with a lot of modern medicine. I was hoping to have her all scanned, measured and tested, and then know what's going on in that cute little body once and for all. To passively receive the information from a team of super-with-it doctors... sigh.
This makes Toby look like that Gulliver visiting a lilliputian.
In reality, he visited a spinning toy on the playground and then went to lay down for a while.
As he tends to do...

Some of the things she might have are linked with genetic components and risk for them is inherited. I found a forum for one of the potential issues and it was full of moms who discovered they had this syndrome for the first time when it was diagnosed in their children. Others had their children tested in utero and were primed to check out their babies when they were born. We don't have the advantage of that kind of preparation, of knowing a single thing about what we're dealing with beyond what we've read on the internet. Both Jonathan and I grew up with medical parents (his dad is a fabulous Oncologist and my mom had a career as an OR specialty nurse), and neither of us are all that content with trusting the internet for these answers.
She has a monkey hat and she's not afraid to use it.
Notice she's set herself up here with a Pillow Pet, a book and her fashion accessories.
All a girl could want.
She's a happy kid. Happy is one of her current favorite English words (along with "quiet", "goggles", "apple" "food" and "bye") and she likes to wake up saying "HAPpy HAP!py HAP!!!pyyyyy", actually. She's a ridiculously awesome kid and is suffering not one iota. We just want to be sure to keep it that way and it's weighing heavy on me until we get some clear answers.