Monday, March 30, 2015

Possibly the best weekend in Seattle any family has ever had.

There is nothing like seeing old friends. I need to cultivate and care for more of them. I've felt a bit lonely lately for honest-to-goodness adult conversation and yet still I do very little to fix it. There are lots of people in my life who have great friend potential. I've just sucked at reaching out to any one of them on any kind of regular basis.

With our music academy's recitals over and spring break here, we snuck off for a long weekend to celebrate Isaac's birthday. He was given the choice between camping, two days at the aquarium on the Oregon coast, or a trip to see a buddy and do some exploring in Seattle. He didn't even hesitate- Seattle won. Just like they should have done in the superbowl, yo.

Our girl in the loveliest yard. They have flowering fruit trees, climbing trees,
an enormous Rhody forest-hedge-monster, and a wild bunch of scrub at the edge to explore.

Monkeys at the Woodland Park Zoo.
Feisty, and they require a lot of feeding.

We bought a CityPass, which is a pretty good deal as long as you are going to go to every one of the 5 options it covers. With a total of 4 adults and 4 kids in our group and only 4 days for our mission it was exhausting, but I am glad we did it. I don't think we'd ever have gone to half of these things otherwise, and we really enjoyed them all. I also don't think I'd ever try doing it all in one long weekend again because we were pushing our luck.

Pacific Science Center.
We could have spent a week here.
With a butterfly room, it was even better than OMSI.

Whose unsupervised child is that climbing on that fence... oh, riiight...

I miss having friends like we had in college. Remember them? Up all night, checking in on how your exams went, attending recitals, introducing you to Rilke and Ligeti. It's really hard to maintain relationships when you have young kids (I am hoping it gets easier, but who knows?). So many more things have to match up than were required in college, all of which may evolve over time: husbands, kids, parenting styles, preferred activities, occasional babysitter availability, at least a couple of interests, personal & household hygiene (not completely kidding on that) and then you still have to find energy at the end of long days or weeks. That sounds terrible, considering these are people you profess to like. I'm finding, in my 40's, that I need to do a much better job making that effort.

This is what you feel like when you're 9 years old and you've been going to amazing places for 3 days, you have walked your feet off and then don't get to sit next to the person you request but you're trying to buck up anyway. 

And after the food, you feel so much better. Phew. 

Monorail! And Daddy hanging out for 4 days straight!

As a homeschooling mom, I also have an obligation to make opportunities for the kids to have friendships. I'm not talking about some fabled socialization gap in our schooling, but instead regular casual time with people they can stand that hopefully lasts years. Our kids don't have any cousins, and this is the kind of long term deep and wide phenomenon that is difficult to cultivate no matter what school your children attend.

There are rewards for dragging your family around for 10 hours straight.

So these friends in Seattle have been a blessing for our whole family. It was one of my favorite weekends, ever. I'm so grateful we had this little moment of everybody in sync, a minor human compatibility miracle covered in neat attractions and beautiful weather.

They were so good to their sister, too. She likes to get out and about and kept up with or outran us all,
give or take a nap or two. She slept half the drive home and immediately asked about our friends when she awoke

There will be a whole post about the aquarium because there was too much awesome to fit here.

This girl will tell you all about it if you ask, complete with gestures and a voice so excited 

she accidentally yodels from time to time. I love that.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Be Mine

This morning I heard Jim Gaffigan say that if you need Valentines day as a reminder to be loving to somebody then you're probably not doing a very good job. Too true, my fluorescent white compatriot, but I was surprised how much I liked today.

Tonight has been a hard-won rest after the days in the hospital with Primrose. She is recovering really well but most of the experience was awful. Turns out she has some unusual sensitivities to medications. Her spine, however, seems to be in good shape now. It's hard to keep her chilled out and maintain the recommended mix of painkillers and antibiotics but tomorrow is day four post-op and we move into a more free phase in terms of letting her run around.

This is before the meds made her lose her mind (literally) and her Dino is still helping the nurses take her vitals.
Here are my Valentine dates. We brought home Indian takeout after a brief romp around Target. (Don't be jealous, we know how to party.) Primrose was AMPED. During dinner we tried to have a conversation about what we would ask Shostakovich if we had an hour with him. However, our spicy little bit was saying, "Mama. MOMMY! Mom. Mama. Mama. MOMMY! Mom." with more exclamations, volume and a demanding abruptness than is impossible to ignore.

After feeling a considerable amount of guilt over going back to work this morning, I came home to this guy. He not only spends his time with his family, he does it willingly even when he'd rather not (and in truth, at some point no matter how great your life is you would rather not do it that day, right?). He lets me... no, he encourages me to take any work I want. He does that even though working can make me both intense and cranky and even though it makes him busy in the hours he would like to be free. He sacrifices, and he even sometimes enjoys it.

That is love.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

We are Tavernier

We have had a fantastic time in Florida, and I want to post some of our favorite happenings.

We did a LOT of school. Coming off of Christmas and with the surgery coming up a few days after we get home, I didn't want to take too much time off with the boys. We usually did writing, reading, and math around a table. Then we took the memory work outside, playing and working in the pool facing the ocean. Grandma often took the littlest distraction Ward for a walk and that helped us get even more accomplished. It wasn't half bad, I tell you what.

In the last 3 weeks, they did 5 weeks of CC memory (history, science, math, english, latin) and threw in 10 verses of Shakespeare between laps and jumping. I say this not to brag in any way. "Memory work" means we break sentences into little bits and repeat them. That's it. The fanciest I get is to do funny voices. Sometimes, when I'm really on my game, they get high fives. Within 7 out loud repetitions and a couple of days, I've been shocked what the boys really get. They are proud when they make progress, and especially on this vacation we have seen them take ownership and want to spontaneously recite things throughout the day, just because they can. You can almost see it become solid in their brains.

Traveling took a LONG time and I felt like THIS for the first two days straight.
Over the past three weeks we've seen several kinds of jellyfish, stingrays, barracuda, needlefish, egrets, pelicans, a parrot fish and a thousand more we didn't recognize off this dock in front of the house. Shockingly, not one child or adult fell off the thing. (Well, there is still one day left so knowing us I should probably add "so far" to that.) 
UnREAL how much sun exists outside of Oregon right now.
It felt comically bright on that first day. Haha, good one Maker of the Stars!
And BAM! it was Toby's birthday. NINE!

He was given a bunch of fun gifts. We got the little bugger a Kindle,
allowed him to read the next Harry Potter, and have barely seen him since.
After a good 4 years of working through the basics of reading with barely a spark of interest
I am so very grateful to see him engulfed in the power of his brain in a book. 
Last time we came to these lovely islands, I had done a free lapbook about sea turtles in preparation for visiting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. This time, we prepared not a thing and completely wung it. (As you can see, I was NOT homeschooled. Yuk yuk.)

We discovered a bird sanctuary where pelicans uncharacteristically allowed us to pet their heads. We had to go to this one more than once. Isaac says he wants to be a nature photographer now.

This was on her birthday. BAM and she's already two.
I thought about her birth family and China in general that whole day.
We went to a new aquarium and both saw and petted 3 kinds of stingrays. There were so few people there we were able to have a lot of the tanks to ourselves. We must have spent a half an hour petting the rays alone. It's so fun that the boys are old enough to remember all this. I don't wish her childhood away but I can't wait to build some proper awesome memories with FangFang.

Some of Isaac's pictures are looking pretty good, too!
Scavenger hunts are the bomb.
We were missing J's sister on this trip. Hopefully next year everybody can be here!
This tank had sea stars, urchins, horseshoe crabs, conchs and some smaller snails we were encouraged to touch.
We ate a lot.
Like, a lot a lot.
And then today, our penultimate day, we went to see the animal shows at Theater of the Sea. It was phenomenal. Not crowded, and the boys got to do ALL the hands-on things, as if they were the stars of a TLC reality show. Their grandma came with us and we all enjoyed it, even though it was our first truly rainy day of the whole vacation.

Front row for silly fun Wilson the Sea Lion.
Beautiful parrot on an ecstatic little boy's arm!
This one had done math for us in the parrot show, including addition and subtraction.
I couldn't see any signal given by the trainer, and it seemed legit. Isaac was way impressed.
Front row again for a dolphin show we decided to see twice!

I love this little video of Toby. Sadly, in the first show he didn't get into the group of "volunteers" to pet the dolphins, and the cutoff for number of kids was right after Isaac. The trainers felt so bad about that and were impressed he was stoic about it even though it was clear he was kind of shocked, so they gave us a tag for Toby when we returned a second time before the show even began to be sure he was one of the chosen. I was impressed they noticed and cared. This small-ish animal park is a gem. We had been here before but missed a couple of the main shows. This will be a must-do park if we get to come back to the Keys.

There was also some general relaxing and laying-around to be done on this trip. Having not read a fiction book in several years, I forced myself to get one done a few weeks before we traveled. Then I downloaded and brought 6 more and finished them ALL while here. (How did I miss The Giver quartet when I was growing up??) J and I also got in two dive days on this trip, but I'm not sure his camera worked the one time we took it down and I kept leaving my cell phone in the car. No goofy wetsuit/goggle selfies for you. We have our names in for a deeper wreck dive with Conch Republic tomorrow, but it's already windy tonight and we'll probably be blown out this time. I should probably try to sneak in a few more hours of practice anyway. My viola loves the humidity here. It isn't ready to go home, either.

Now for the onerous task of extracting ourselves from the house. As always with packing, it will take lots of time and more space and energy than we had budgeted. Even when you're in paradise with wonderful people, three weeks away does make you allllllllmost ready to go home to be near your familiar things and obligations... or it makes you want to move in permanently. Good thing we don't have to debate a choice this time!

Predictably, Primrose's impending surgery makes it that much harder to want to go home. We're trying to keep a few fun things on the horizon to soften the blow. If all of you, our friends and loved ones, could just go ahead and move on out here, that would be greaaaaat, okay? We'll be here napping by the pool with key lime coladas all around.

This whole trip has been a gift, literally and figuratively.
We are so very grateful.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Making stuff is fun

We're trying to break in all our nifty Christmas presents before we head out for a three week trip to Florida next week. It's not a small job as we have such a generous extended family. This sewing machine was given to Mr. Isaac by Grandma W and it's a very good fit. He's been making these stuffed animals for others by hand and we wanted to see how easy it would be to make one with modern assistance. I had a shirt I didn't need anymore, so voila!

The stuffed animal Isaac made me for Christmas was easily my favorite gift (and there were so many great gifts!) and it will always be a treasure. It's sitting there just in front of the lamp/cowboy hat combo. Also, my night stand is never this clean.
I had to take a picture because I like it this way so much.

Isaac's focus can be impressive for a 6 year old. He's the kind of personality that is either acting like he's a very enthusiastic 45 year-old or throwing a toddler-style fit in indignation over nothing. There isn't much in between, but the fit-throwing mode is starting to show up less and less. (He gets it from me, so I question whether it will ever disappear entirely...) We spent over an hour reading the sewing machine's warnings, learning how to plug everything in, filling the bobbin, threading the machine, and "drawing" some shapes on construction paper. The very first warning said not to treat the machine as a toy and he requested I read that part in both English and French. Little boys are funny.

FangFang isn't really making things yet, although she likes to scribble tiny circles on her pieces of paper and then shout, "DONE!" when the boys are doing school.

She's pretty good at making faces, though.

This is how we made it through our local scuba dive club meeting. The speaker wrote a book about wreck dives in the Northwest we'd love to use for a bit of exploring once the kids are in college or we find a babysitter. Whichever comes first!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Diagnosis and surgery scheduled.

What a day.

Short story: Primrose is scheduled for a relatively minor spinal surgery on February 11th. It's overnight in the hospital and the surgery itself is less than an hour.

We ended up with two appointments today. One was a surprise reschedule with the neurosurgeon who had already rescheduled several times and the other was with our new pediatrician for a regular old inflamed set of lymph nodes.
She is pretending to tickle you.
To tell you the truth, I find medical appointments ridiculously tiring and by the end of the day I feel about 90 years old. It's not just the conversations and the procedures, it's dragging the kids through looming medical facilities and labyrinths made almost entirely of elevators, blind corridors and germs. You know how a computer will get slowed down and heated up by processes running needlessly in the background? That's me, and I probably can't even handle the newest version of anything right now. (Juicing, watching broadcast TV, listening to Katy Perry... none of it will fit on my current system.)
Because everyone needs an owl backpack, doggie purse, magnatiles and thirteen billion Pokemon cards
when they're getting ready to head to the grocery store, KWIM?

Randall Children's Hospital really isn't all that bad. There are neat painted installations (all with a bird theme) and warm lovely pieces of art everywhere. The kids noticed that almost all the art had animals hidden in it, and they approved. There was a truly inviting play garden we were sorry to pass by twice because J had to get to the office when we finished the surgeon's appointment.

Primrose starts to whimper as soon as we get into the bowels of an office. She has been to a lot of these rodeos in her short life. If anyone gloves up, she is in full-on ugly-cry mode. The neurosurgeon (who just ran for senate but fortunately for us, lost) was very brisk and matter-of-fact. I may have fallen in love, as she had strong clear advice and showed us the MRI images to back it up. There was no ambiguity. Our girl has her spinal cord tethered near the end of her spine, instead of floating freely as it should. As she grows, it would cause problems with her legs, continence, and other frightening neurological junk.
We have to keep her in top condition. Otherwise, who will keep up on the stuffed-spider feeding schedule around here?

Oh look, click here for a link with better medical info than I can give.

So we left with a surgery date and the reassurance that in our daughter's case this isn't a judgment call. It's clearly surgical, and leaving it would likely result in scary damage when she starts growing taller. The best part of the appointment was when I asked about re-tethering (I read there is a 40% chance of that) and the Doc just about laughed. She says with this kind of tether, the likelihood is more like 1 or 2% and she has actually almost never seen it happen. Reassurance: Check!
I believe they are sharing M&M's here. And by sharing, I mean he's giving her his M&Ms.

The second appointment was actually way less fun even though it was mundane, as far as the kids are concerned. FangFang had to get three more vaccines, and we discovered that the GP from our initial homecoming appointments did not properly test for several versions of Hepatitis and failed to include measles or chicken pox in her orders. Lucky for our girl, we have wised up on the horror of pediatric blood draws and requested that they be combined with the sedation for the spinal surgery. Look at us learn to work the system.
This diagnosis is almost as good as Christmas...

Well, almost... 

Christmas was pretty rad.
Primrose passed out in the car on the way home, and in just a little while we have to wake her from her nap to head out for Isaac's cello class. Somehow we snuck in spelling, reading, and math. I managed to call the studio of one of our teachers who is out with the flu while the kids were magically quiet in the car downtown. (It was kind of weird, really, I expected to have to stand on the sidewalk with my phone while they were locked in their soundproof cage the car.) We were supposed to do Chinese and writing, but it just ain't going to happen today. If they're lucky, we'll play a Neil Gaiman audiobook in the car.

Altogether, I'd say it's a win. Where's my wine?

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.