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Tara hams it up for the first part of the shoot at Laurelhurst Park

Tara hams it up for the first part of the shoot at Laurelhurst Park

Snowberries at the park

Snowberries at the park

Tara and I found a photographer with some great photo ideas for senior photos. We spent one Saturday at several locations, and ended up in a place so well-suited for photos that we stayed until there was almost no light at all. It was a super productive day and I am grateful for whatever photography luck gods were helping us out when we found Cambrae. I am dying to see her finished photos!

Snake mural. You can see T on the right side in the sun.

Snake mural. You can see T on the right side in the sun.

I brought my camera along and found limitless reasons to click the shutter. We started at Laurelhurst Park, a beautiful park in town that has hosted many key memories from our years in Portland, from an Easter egg hunt our first year here, to sledding the year it snowed two feet at Christmas. Then Cambrae suggested a stop at a huge mural of a black snake on a white building. Our favourite was the old burnt out building downtown that is covered in graffiti.

As the sun went down, we both tried to capture what we could of the setting, the fabulous clouds, and the many-coloured walls, and the senior.

Cambrae and Tara in the background.

Cambrae and Tara in the background.

A little senior sass! People comment about the "failed artist" and "the locals" on the wall. The words were merely what was there when we arrived, and not specifically chosen to mean anything in the photo, but it's still pretty funny. :)

A little senior sass! People comment about the “failed artist” and “the locals” on the wall. The words were merely what was there when we arrived, and not specifically chosen to mean anything in the photo, but it’s still pretty funny. 🙂

I wandered around and entertained myself by taking photos of all the tremendously interesting stuff in the building.

I wandered around and entertained myself by taking photos of all the tremendously interesting stuff in the building.

He almost blends right in. Then when you see him, he's obvious.

He almost blends right in. Then when you see him, he’s obvious.

Sunset was especially good that night with those clouds.

Sunset was especially good that night with those clouds.

Reflections made everything more exciting.

Reflections made everything more exciting.

Iron bars provide stability for the walls till someone can raze the place.

Iron bars provide stability for the walls till someone can raze the place.

An artist did a little work while we were there.

Another artist did a little work while we were there.

T brought pointe shoes to make some shot more dynamic!

T brought pointe shoes to make some shots more dynamic!

The photographer and her subject.

The photographer and her subject.

balloons hover above the Willamette River

balloons hover above the Willamette River

Today is my baby girl’s birthday. Scratch that. It’s my lovely young lady’s birthday.

I took a day from work and she skipped a day of the ballet intensive to celebrate by soaring up into the Oregon skies in a hot air balloon. Arno helped me make the decision to do this by mentioning that giving an “experience” can be more valuable than a gift. Miss T was certainly pleased all day, and I got a little charge each time she gave me a squeeze and a “Thank you!”

We flew with Vista Balloon Adventures, Inc. in Newberg, Oregon. I have not flown with other balloon companies in Oregon, so I am not able to compare. I can say that this one was professional, well-organized, and so much fun! The location is about a 45-minute drive from where we live in Montavilla in Portland, and I talked to a Salem couple who had made the trip in 45 minutes as well. So, it’s an easy trip for a lot of Oregonians. The roads were a breeze at 4:30 am. Yes, we had to get an early start. *Yawn*

The Ridge Runner lies flat, awaiting the infusion of air from the fans

The Ridge Runner lies flat, awaiting the infusion of air from the fans

One of my fellow passengers holds back the cords to keep them from burning up

One of my fellow passengers holds back the cords to keep them from burning up

As I pulled into the crowded parking lot, my spirits sank at first because I was hoping the weekday would mean fewer people and a more individualized trip. Once I got into the air I changed my mind. Being able to see four other balloons in the sky with us made my own experience so much more enjoyable. We could see what we must look like in the sky; where we had been; where we were about to go. A solitary balloon would have been wonderful, but fifty people in the sky was also an event! It became more and more celebratory as we saw incredible views and pastoral scenes floating past at speeds slower than a bicycle, but faster than a walk.

We checked in and were presented with name tags bearing the name of our mount (Miss T and I rode Ridge Runner), and directions to find her in the fields by the Newberg airport. Passengers are encouraged to get involved with inflating and deflating the balloon. There is also a crew of volunteers at each basket lending their expertise and their hands. Luckily for me, our basket was full, and thus there were plenty of people helping when I stepped away to take a photo.

There's our chase crew below, with the blue van

There’s our chase crew below, with the blue van and trailer. No, the tractors are not chase vehicles. 😉

The burner spitting fire into the balloon

The burner spitting fire into the balloon

Our pilot was Robert Craig, who dished out wisecracks all morning. “Do you think they still fall for those old jokes?” a volunteer asked him at one point. “They do!” he announced with a smile, “And I see no reason to get new jokes when the old ones still work.”

We lifted off into a perfectly clear morning. Still dark in the field, we rose rapidly and I witnessed the fastest sunrise of my life. It was so neat: first there was that little nub of molten sun leaking over a ridge, then it pushed up fast like a rising bubble: bloooooop! In two seconds, the sun was up and shining. (Yes, I know it was me that was rising so fast, and not the turning Earth, but the effect was pretty cool.)

The sun rose and fell at the horizon, as we did

The sun rose and fell at the horizon, as we did

Some of the other travelers with us, floating above the Willamette River

Some of the other travelers with us, floating above the Willamette River

Think about it: when you’re in a balloon, your craft floats with the wind. So in the basket, it’s calm. Few modes of travel could be this serene (except of course when the burners blast loudly enough to prevent conversation). Using fans, our pilot had shown us how he filled the large balloon with air as it lay stretched out across the field. Then he kicked on the burners, blasting fire into the center of the balloon, heating the air. Vista’s website had cautioned us to wear hats if the heat would be bothersome. Instead, in the chilly morning air, the heat was welcome. As we flew, Robert ignited the blaze often, to lift us, and then he pulled a cord that opened flaps to let air out, which dropped us. All five pilots impressed me with their handling skills because the balloons alternately dropped down to hover above ponds, or eye-level with stands of trees, then rose again.

Best of all was the river. The morning was so lovely that the river’s surface was clear enough to provide stunning reflections of the balloons. Our pilot took us over, and we watched as other pilots touched the baskets to water. It had a powerful effect by adding to our excitement; adding to the character of our photos. At the river, Tara and I took turns tearing the camera away from each other to get the shot that we didn’t want the other to miss. (oh, by the way, half these shots are credited to the birthday girl) we stayed at the river for some time, hovered two feet above, then wet the bottom of the basket and sat there as if floating. A paddle boarder came toward us, possibly wondering delightedly what was happening on the river. And then we pulled up again.

Great promo shot, eh?

Great promo shot, eh?

Tara took this one. Isn't it a wonderful perspective? There is a balloon below us, and our own reflection as well.

Tara took this one. Isn’t it a wonderful perspective? There is a balloon below us, and our own reflection as well.

Girlie and me on the Willamette River

Girlie and me on the Willamette River

DSC_0296We lifted in altitude up to 2000 feet to get a view of Mt. Hood, then settled back down closer to earth, and we watched the pastoral fields roll by beneath us. We excited a couple of hounds that barked their warnings/greetings at us. We frighted the sanity out of a flock of newly shorn sheep, who went tearing away from us.

Oregon fields from above

Oregon fields from above

terrified sheep

terrified sheep

As we drew toward the Mission Creek Reservoir, our pilot, Robert, began searching for a place to put down. He spotted a couple of fields and we moved in while the radios chirped back and forth about a low level cross wind.

We were low when the landing spot was chosen, so Robert was not able to give the chase crew enough time to get to us before we landed. He deftly landed us without a crew! The basket hit, tipped a little, went thump! thump! thump! as we dragged perpendicular to the freshly cut strips of hay stalks, and then settled down. It was much easier a landing than he had prepared us for.

getting ready to land in a hay field

getting ready to land in a hay field

It looked like the balloon was about to set down onto a hay bale

It looked like the balloon was about to set down onto a hay bale

Both crew and passengers hold the basket down while people climb out.

Both crew and passengers hold the basket down while people climb out. (That’s pilot Robert looking at the camera.)

In no time the chase crew arrived and took us back to the launch site for a champagne brunch. We all got glasses, and were led in a lovely traditional toast. Then we dished up food and ate from an unexpectedly lavish, delicious, and bountiful spread. There were the anticipated crackers with brie and smoked cheddar, marinated mushrooms, bowls of olives, and fresh veggies and fruit to include sliced mango. And on top of that, a real breakfast of potato casserole, a to-die-for polenta dish, scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese, breakfast wraps, biscuits and gravy, and a whole dessert section including chocolate cake, cream puffs, and Tara’s favourite: the rhubarb cake. I filled my plate twice. When everyone was finished, there was food left over.

That buffet, with refillable juices, lemonaide, or champagne to your heart’s content, would have been at least $30 in a restaurant, so I mentally subtracted that from the cost of a single passenger ($199) and came up with $169 for the flight. It’s surprisingly low, considering the number of staff, the fuel, the equipment, vehicles, and insurance. It was a reasonably priced birthday gift after all. Think of the experience we just shared!

the buffet table

the buffet table

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

wildflowers on a ridge above the Klickitat River

Last year before I left for Japan, I took Tara camping with me on our last weekend together. I knew that camping would provide quiet, no electronics, and lots of uninterrupted, healthy mom-daughter time. By coincidence, that weekend was also Mother’s Day. It was such a good idea that I did it again this year.

Only, this Mother’s Day weekend we were swamped because it was also Big Ballet Performance weekend. So Tara and I made plans to go camping last weekend.

I almost canceled. It had been raining and was forecast to continue raining. Our favourite camp site had the same forecast. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun mandatory overtime, and I had worked all day long Saturday, and was feeling fatigued. (every other federal agency is at home because of sequester but VA adds extra hours. go figure)

Dusting off my meteorologist skills, I pulled up a NOAA forecast map with a precipitation loop. It was easy to see that the rain was pretty much squeezed out of the airmass over the Cascade Range, and if we could just find a spot east of the mountains, we’d be in much better shape.

With my non-dusty web browser skills, I pulled up a map, then searched “camping” and chose a spot that was in the drier areas and as close to home as possible. I chose a spot labeled Soda Springs Campground. When we arrived, we saw that it had no identifiable springs and no identifiable campground, but turned out to be wonderful.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is something blogger LB would like to take her bike on.

Highway 142, leading north from the Klickitat River, is a place blogger LB would like to ride her bike.

Most of the camp gear had been gathered Friday night after work, so Saturday after work I only had to load it into the Saturn Dragon Wagon and get my child motivated to gather her own gear (she’s a teenager; it’s not always easy to motivate her). By the time we climbed into the car, the rain was really coming down and I was glad I had packed the giant tarp that we could spread over the top of the tent.

Zooming along the fabulous Columbia Gorge highway, Tara fell asleep and I gaped at the buckets of rain coming down. Pouring, pouring rain. By Multnomah Falls, it had dropped to a light rain. By Hood River, an almost imperceptible drizzle under grey skies. I stopped to give fat kisses to my Arno in exchange for hot dog roasting sticks. I hugged hello to Diego, and hopped into the car again with still-sleeping Tara.

Gravel road to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

Gravel road along the ridge to the camping area led past several folks getting the winter cobwebs out of their rifles.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington, then took highway 142 north from the town of Lyle, and followed the stunningly beautiful Klickitat River. We found the headwaters, and then climbed up, up, up onto the awe-inspiring bluffs of southern Washington. Along the Klickitat we reached pure blue skies and sunshine! We turned off 142 and in no time were at our campsite. If anyone wants to camp here, it’s free, but don’t forget your Discover Pass!

The gravel road to the camping areas were populated with target shooters, and we heard rifle shots pretty steadily until it got dark. That was the only down side. Not that I mind people doing target practice, but that I was in a totally unfamiliar area, and unsure of whether we might be in the path of a poorly-aimed bullet. I shrugged it off. They were pretty far away, and the men had seen us two girls drive past and knew we were out there, and knew it was a camping area, so I had to trust that they were shooting responsibly.

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!

While gazing at the lupine, look out for caterpillars in your hair!



We pitched the tent in a stunning grassy forest, populated with blooming lupine. I neglected to bring my camera on the trip, so you’ll be forced to view the scene via the less-than-stellar phone camera images. Interestingly, there was a caterpillar exodus in progress, and they were literally dropping out of trees onto us. Thankfully, they were absolutely gorgeous fuzzy blue caterpillars, and so hundreds of tiny soft cute things dropping on us was a phenomena we could easily endure.

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

The forest canopy shaded thick stands of lupine

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

I forgot to pack my french press, and used the emergency percolator!

The sun shone till it was completely beyond the curve of the earth, and still we savored the clear skies. We enjoyed our evening, but were ready to turn in early. It had been a long week for both us girls. After Tara read aloud one story from the Brothers Grimm, we were out cold.

In the azure blue, cloudless morning, while Miss T slept, I brewed a pot of Peets and walked out to the edge of the bluff to look down into the canyon, and out across the gorge, and watch the day begin. I sat with my cup and drank in the environment as well as the coffee. It was incredibly beautiful. Warm. I could see a thick grey cloud bank packed tightly over the Portland skies.

As I sat there, I heard first a bawl, like a cow. Then, the unmistakable bugle call of an elk. I humbly admit, in all my wild excursions in my whole life of scrambling the mountains of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and northern California, it was the first time I had heard an elk bugle in real life. Highly recommend you experience that one yourself.

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

This is where I sat when I heard the elk bugle. If you zoom in, you can see the peak of Mt. Hood in the clouds. And Portland, in the rain, is beneath them. (ha ha!)

Finally I went back for the girlie, who was awake, and watching caterpillars. I took her back out to the place where I had heard the elk. We didn’t hear it again, but she did get to see the amazing view.

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

Miss T high above the Klickitat, which you can see in the valley

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

This gives a better sense of how steep the hills are

When we packed up the tent, she counted 36 caterpillars that we had to flick off before it got rolled up. There were more, but she said that some of the original 36 had probably come back, so she didn’t want to double-count them. We were both much better rested, much happier, and much stinkier by Sunday afternoon. I’m so glad my girlie and I get so much pleasure out of camping together.

Tara in downtown Iwakuni. The arched sidewalk roofs mimic the arches of the famous Kintai Bridge.

On Sunday my T was still dealing with jet lag and reluctant to get out into the heat again. We made easy plans to go shopping in downtown Iwakuni and then to watch movies (Best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and have some mother-daughter bonding time.

Again, we enjoyed finding grocery stores to wander through, in order to cool off. The first one we found was very small and the attendants all female and very sweet. Tara spotted some grapefruit-sized watermelons she wanted to come back for on our return trip. The next grocery store was huge (they are often multi-story in Japan), refreshingly cool and very LOUD! At strategic locations all over the store, mini-stereos played recordings of people shouting advertisements and pleas to buy the product. There were little videos playing as well. Though we seemed to be nearly the only shoppers in the store, there was a cacophony of voices rising around us. What a crazy environment! We had been searching for baking powder for two days, and did not find any here, but we did pick up some powdered sugar. It’s fun to pick up regular ingredients at a Japanese market. Also risky – since I can’t read a dang thing on any of the labels.

Our destination was the 100-yen store, like a dollar store. Miss T had a blast, and we left with heaps of gifts for her friends back home. Next we went to the bakery, where I recoiled at most of it. Bakeries here tend to stuff nearly every piece of bread with some kind of goo filling. Sweet goo or hot dogs baked into most of the breads. Bleh. I  found a roll with no filling, and was happy. Then we stopped in a clothing store where Tara chose a darling miniskirt from the racks. She cracks me up: when no friends are around, she wears skirts. When she’s with her pals? Jeans only.

Fans, fans, and more fans at the 100 yen store.

I bought one of each, but don’t know what they say!

The rest of the week she hung out in the library most of the time. Iwakuni has an awesome library for such a tiny base. I had to work every day, and base security didn’t want her leaving and returning to base without me to accompany her, so she opted for a combination of facebook in the air conditioned room and lounging with books in the air conditioned library.

Do you think Tommy Lee knows he is selling Japanese canned coffee?

Tommy Lee Jones is the face of BOSS brand vending machine coffee

Friday we finally got to shake things up a little. There was an MCCS picnic we attended, and Friday night we went to Sanzoku. It was Tony’s idea, and he brought Andre and Phil, who was visiting from Sasebo. Tara and I rode with Bonnie, her daughter and a friend. For some reason, everyone calls this place the Chicken Shack. Before we left, Tony explained mysteriously that “It’s not a shack at all, and it’s not just about the chicken.” He was absolutely right, but it didn’t give me a sense of what I was in for.

Festive atmosphere of Sanzoku

Glimpses of other people dining, in amongst the trees.

It is a complex of restaurants, apparently all owned by the same company, perhaps serving the same food, with seating scattered up into a small and narrow creek canyon. In addition to places to eat, there are booths with a thousand things for sale, lining paths that link the eating places. It’s all beneath trees, surrounding a lovely creek and a few ponds and waterfalls, so the setting is just wonderful.

Seated shoeless on tatami mats, waiting for our food.

My meal, and Tara’s thumbs-up

Tara’s breaded, deep-fried chicken

Statue in pond, near our table

But at night! We got there just as it was growing dark and the place became magical, with paper lanterns everywhere, even formed into a gigantic pyramid into the sky. Lights strung through trees, music on the air, cicadas whirring, frogs chirping, and people’s voices murmuring and humming and tittering out of sight in the forest.

We chose large

We kicked off our shoes and sat on pillows at traditional low tables, and used Tony’s and Andre’s skills to order. Soon our table was piled with food, and we ate very well. I had the teriyaki chicken on a stick (excellent!), gyoza (dumplings), and the giant musubi (rice ball wrapped in seaweed). The rice ball was in the common triangle shape one finds here, and each corner is stuffed with a different filling: salmon, salted seaweed, and pickled plum. Andre and I ordered beers and the waitress asked “Small or large?” Silly question.

Tara tries drumming while Phil looks on

The atmosphere is just as wonderful for the indoor seating.

Tara, Tony, and Andre browse the wares

After we ate, the girls browsed the shops and bought ice cream. Phil and I went exploring on the trails all the way to the end. We found several little shrines and spirit houses, waterfalls, and unexpected surprises, like a performance stage way at the back, with cardboard cut-out characters on it. I found a row of the most vending machines in one spot I’ve seen to date. (Vending machines are a staple ingredient to life here, to the point where I’ve come to expect to find one within 40 feet of me no matter where I am. I never pack drinks when I travel anymore. Never.)

More seating areas tucked away in the trees.

Waterfall cools this hidden path behind the busier sections.

Me on a stone bridge over the creek that runs through Sanzoku

We finally climbed back into the cars and wound back through the narrow green canyons and tunnels of Yamaguchi Prefecture, and home to Iwakuni.

My daughter. Samurai Warrior.

I watched her plane land and pull up to the gate. Then I squealed with joy when I saw the wind whipping the long blonde hair of my pretty girl.

Now that my computer is finally back from having the motherboard replaced (who is the fatherboard?), I can make blog posts once more. So many things have happened since the middle of June when I last had my computer. I made the Fuji postwhen my daughter, Tara, aka girlie, was here and loaned me her computer. However, there is much yet to tell.

We got your dried fish in a bag, right here!

Tara arrived July 21st, and stayed 10 days. She left the drizzly cool fog of Humboldt County, California, and was dropped smack into the middle of this wretched heat and humidity. We hit some of the hottest temperatures all summer that week, poor kid. She was a trooper, and enjoyed Japan with me while slowly adjusting to the 16-hour time change and the weather.

I had been so stressed out in the weeks leading up to her visit because it would be her first solo international trip. She had to collect her bags in Tokyo, go through customs, go through duty free, and then find the domestic travel counter and get herself onto a local flight to Hiroshima. That’s a challenge for anyone, much less a 15-year old! (She turned 15 the day before her flight – happy birthday, kiddo!)

The Hiroshima airport has an observation deck on the roof, and from there I spotted her leaving the plane, and ran back inside, and down three flights of stairs. I hadn’t seen her since May, and I was missing her tremendously. I looked through the glass to baggage claim, and saw her the moment she came into the building. I was so relieved I started to cry, but I quickly got control of myself and smiled and waved through the windows. While waiting for her bag, she walked up to her side and put her hand on the glass, and I put my hand over hers on my side of the glass. That 10 minute wait seemed like forever!

Smaller shrines lined up beside the big one. These two had torii (gates) in front, one made of granite, and one of wood painted red.


Instead of being tired from 36 hours of travel, she chatted like a wind-up doll for the next 2 hours as we made our way home. On the shuttle bus, on the train, in the taxi, she chattered happily away, and I felt almost obliged to occasionally point: look! We’re in Japan!



The next day we hiked through town, and she did the best she could with the heat. I gave her the camera, and she took shots of all the things I used to notice myself: the tiled roofs of the homes, a turtle in the river, vending machines. “You were right, Mom, these vending machines are everywhere!” She began a game of trying a new drink every time we were thirsty.

Looking down the row of granite carvings

Tara posed in front of the white granite snake. White snakes, as you may have read in an earlier post, are a famous local resident of Iwakuni, Japan.

I showed her the lovely shrine I had discovered, with all the little shrines on the side, and the huge granite sculptures in the back. She loved the sculptures, and took a photo of every single one. We watched others praying, clapping and bowing and doing whatever it is they do in Japan at these multitudinous shrines and temples.

The weather was doing it’s best to wipe her out. We began looking for grocery stores, and popped into them every time we found one on the 4 mile walk. Grocery stores have the best air conditioning, and are also very entertaining to explore. I can usually identify only 1/3 to 1/2 of the vegetables. In one store, we found dozens of quail eggs on a shelf, next to the chicken eggs. We bought a peach, watermelon, water, and mandarin orange slices in some kind of clear jello. All the packaged fruit came in gelatin of some kind – nothing just in juice. We sat at a bus stop in the shade of a tree and ate our fruit, and then began walking again.

Respite from the heat in the shade beneath the Kintai Bridge. Miss T is glowing, but she was one hot and tired out kiddo at this point.

Then we made it to the Kintai Bridge. And since you’ve seen photos of it already, I’ll just include photos of stuff nearby.

Arches of the Kintai Bridge, leading to the old village at the base of the castle.

Lovely Nishiki River flowing through Iwakuni, with the castle on the hill.

Tara on the bridge, castle behind

We walked across the historic bridge, then explored the historic village on the other side. People live there now, but much of the area is public and touristy. There are gardens, statues, the snake house, Samurai house, water fountains big enough for kids to play in, a stage for performances, several restaurants, and many more things of interest. It’s all very nice and rather large. Miss T and I began to make our way through it, but it soon became evident that she needed food. We found a restaurant and made a bunch of hand gestures and got some food. Ha ha. For all the words I’ve learned to speak, I’ve only learned a couple of the kanji characters, and none of them help me read a menu. We ate, then got some ice cream, and explored some more.

Wielding her ballet bag like a weapon

It was early afternoon, in the 90s, and unbearably hot. When I say hot, you must understand. It’s not like 90s in Oregon, or 90s in Nevada. It’s 90s in a green house, where the air instantly sticks to your skin and feels thick to breathe. It’s step-out-of the-shower-and-instantly-sweat hot. We tried to rest in the shade, but girlie had had enough. Her face had been flushed bright red for the last couple of hours, and though I kept fluid pumping through her with the use of those vending machines, I could see it was time to get her cooled off.

Back across the bridge there was a taxi, and I splurged to get us an air-conditioned ride home. What had taken us 3 hours in the morning, took the driver 6 minutes in a car. We got back to the room, took showers, and lounged in the air conditioning the rest of the day!

She can’t tell you what it is, only that it’s good! In mere minutes, and with the unfamiliar chopsticks, Miss T empties the bowl of rice, vegs, and chicken.

Newly painted wall in Tara's room

I finished painting my daughter’s room. Dark grey. I protested, not a little. She stood firm (ooh, I raised an independent girl. A fact which bites me in the butt sometimes). It wasn’t until I got all the way around with the first coat, and could see it more or less in a complete state, that I realized it looks nice. Tara said, “I like how you called it ‘my cave’ Mom, because it is! It’s my cave!”

Grey. What a color.

I want to know her desperately. And, she shares a lot, but she is also very private. I think it is the time when I will begin to be left out of a significant portion of her life inside her head. I don’t want to let her get that far away from me. I think she is such an incredible person who is so different from me and so interesting and amazing, I just want the inside scoop forever. But now she has a cave, and it’s her space. Not mine.

My beautiful and mysteriously talented daughter

What is it with my kid and her cell phone?

Miss T causes some kind of magnetic rift in the Force that governs cell phones. Or else, she’s a total dingbat. Personally, I like the idea that she messes with the ebb and flow of invisible forces in the way solar flares do. That theory matches my frustration level better. It’s more validating.

She also managed to ruin her iPod, just to make sure she had the concept figured out and was properly able to apply her disruptive technique. After a long, joyful swim in the ship’s pool in January of 2010, when we were floating down the Nile, she went back to the room to change into dry clothes. As she stripped off her wet shorts, her eyes got big and her mouth formed a nice round “o.”

“My iPod!” she gasped.

“Yes?” I asked, pretty much figuring out what she had just discovered.

“It got wet! Do you think it’s ruined?” she asked as she frantically poked buttons and tapped on it and shook it… to no avail.

Yes. The iPod was ruined. We did get lots of great suggestions for how to cure it though. My fave was: place it in a paper bag of dry rice for three days. The rice will wick out all the moisture and Viola! Good as new! But no, swimming in a pool for an hour with an electronic device will kill your device. Don’t try it; just take my word for it.

At the time of her swim in the pool, she was on her second cell phone, an electronic device slowly gasping its way to inevitable death (the Force, already at work?). The first had been one of four her dad purchased for the family, as well as a family plan. A flip phone with no keyboard and no camera. It was stolen from her locker at school in no time. Soon after, her step-mom gave T the identical phone that she had been using, and took that opportunity to upgrade.

At the time we were in Egypt, phone number two had been periodically turning itself off when it was in the mood to do so. This began occurring about once a month, then weekly, and progressed to 4 or 5 times a day. It just turned itself off, whether the batteries were charged or not, and usually right when I was trying to contact her. It is the most maddening thing to be a parent at work, trying to contact the kid to check on her, or tell her I’d be late, or just reassure myself that the house wasn’t burning down, only to be dumped into voicemail the instant my phone connected with hers.

Equally frustrating for her, as she explained, “I had to remember to keep checking it so I could turn it back on in case 911 called and said my mom died.”

Admittedly, I was eager for her to have a new phone. The gasping one was finally put out of its misery and replace with a new blue phone. That one was accidentally dropped at the mall. It had been open when dropped, so the inside screen cracked in a “Y” pattern. As T explains, “The right side of the Y was gone, inside the Y was fuzzy, and the left side clear. I couldn’t read any texts, see pictures, or identify who was on the caller ID.” This phone had a tiny screen on the outside, that she could use to click Enter, and answer incoming calls. She couldn’t send a long text or she would get a message to “Please open phone.” She also couldn’t read a long text, for the same reason. Nothing would appear except “Please open phone.”

Over the summer, Dad got her a really nice sliding phone with a great camera. There were no problems, she said. It had nice texting capabilities, and a nice sized keyboard. It also had a small screen on the front she could use, as well as the inside slider screen. She left it at the beach during surf camp.

She had left the phone inside her lunch bag on top of a rock. She contacted me on facebook, freaking out about what her dad was going to say when he found out. When he got home from work later in the evening, they raced back to the beach and the rock, and there it was!  Hallelujah! Scoldings were apparently not very effective, because two days later, she left it on the beach during surf camp again. She had again left the phone in the lunch bag, but this time laid it right on the sand. When they returned to the beach after her dad got off work, the sand was wet where the phone had been. She went up and down the shore, hoping to find it lodged against a rock somewhere, but did not find it. “I only found seaweed. I guess the phone went out to sea,” she said wistfully.

Her current phone is ok. Not as cool as the last one. It’s got a poor camera and poor sound quality she complains. “We pretty much got the cheapest one we could find.”

I like this one because it has resurrected twice.  While camping at Fort Stevens on the Oregon coastline, T was at Coffenbury Lake and couldn’t resist herself. She took a run off the dock and plunged in – clothes and everything. Halfway back to camp on her bike, she remembered her phone was in her pocket. I received a call from her. I answered, heard her voice talking others nearby, but she couldn’t hear me. When the kids returned, she was in tears and freaking out again. “Dad is going to kill me!”

Well, I nearly took care of that for him. After we both calmed down, we took a look at the phone. She had pulled all its components apart and spread them out on the picnic table. At first she said, the screen was white, but things still happened when she pressed buttons. That’s when she called me. She couldn’t get it to turn off unless she pulled the battery out. She agonized for the whole camping trip about having to tell her dad when she got back home. We were going to postpone telling him as long as possible, in hopes that it would dry out and come back to life. Instead, the moment she got home and turned on her computer, dad called in on Skype. Poor little kid, she confessed in tears immediately, and then suffered his response.

But this one, without the help of rice, DID come back to life three days later. Almost as good as new, except that the space bar no longer works when she’s texting. Her first attempt to deal with the problem had been to capitalize the first letter of each word, but that had been too tedious. Now when she sends a text, which is frequently, each word is separated with a period. She joyously called her dad to share the news.

Only one week later, it was stolen from her locker at school. Now, she has learned about locking lockers by this time, but it was stolen from the gym locker, where her teacher assured the class that no one can get in except people in the class, so they do not let the kids lock the gym lockers. When she returned to the shower room after gym class, her phone and student ID were gone, but the backpack had been left alone.

I can’t tell you the agony of this poor child when she came home from school that day and told me what happened. She was crumpled. She said she would turn over all her savings to buy the next phone. It was awful to witness. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her dad yet. She had looked all over to see if someone would have turned it in somewhere, the library, the gym (even looked in the locker again, just in case she was crazy), asked the gym teacher. Nothing. The next day, she tried at the office again, and they had the phone and the ID. Miraculously, someone had turned them in. The people in the office told her, “Don’t ever lose these again because you are very lucky this time. People never turn things in.”

As I wrote this blog, I had been asking her to help me remember the history of all her phones. In jest, I asked her at the end, “Did you lose any other electronic devices?” And she dropped her head onto a pillow in front of her. “The iPod Touch!” she wailed, reminding me of her dad’s birthday gift to her. Her muffled voice came from inside the pillow, “$300 and 36 gigabytes! I can’t find it. I’ve looked and looked. Dad is going to be so mad! He’s gonna kill me. Don’t tell him.”

Check out this video from Hawai’i last month. In the last few seconds of playing in the surf, you can actually witness her remembering phones in her pockets. This time, no damage.

New dress and fancy shoes

My little girl is now out of Middle School and on her way toward being a high-schooler. Very cool, a little scary, and a recipe for adventure. Life is so full of doors of potential. All around us, doors stand in their frames, just waiting for our inquisitive minds to try the handle and see what it’s like to walk through. Nothing brings that thought to mind lately, more than my thoughts about Miss Tara graduating from the 8thgrade. How often I wonder where her life will take her, and how eager I am to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch her leap into it!

me, my girl, my mother

Last month we attended the Portland Title VII Indian Education graduation ceremony. Tuesday’s ceremony was at her own school with her classmates. It was really fun to be there with all that Eighth-grader energy and with their proud family and friends. I tease Tara, tongue in cheek, that I’ve got Gypsy blood, and always on the edge of being blown into the next town with a change in the winds. Contrary to my natural instincts, I’ve allowed societal and psychiatric pressure to coerce me into holding still for awhile for her sake. It paid off when I watched her classmates graduate and knew half their names and could tell you something special about almost as many of them. Holding still helps me connect to my community, and that’s a beautiful thing.

goofing around in the cafeteria

She’s a cultural minority at Harrison Park School, like all of her classmates there. It’s probably the first time I’ve experienced a clearly demarcated group that has no obvious physical qualities that make up the majority. The group is so unlike her very white upper middle class elementary school in Beaverton (on the other side of town). Sorry Beaverton, but over here we SO have it going on! The students beaming as they crossed the stage were descendants of families hailing from places as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Nigeria, Mexico, and, uh, Oregon. There were American Indians, Muslims in their headscarves, tall and dark, short with red hair, loud, quiet, smart, popular, shy, and all obviously loved by not only one or two who might be related to them, by also by supporters throughout the auditorium. There were cheers, yelps, clapping, and whistles scattered amongst us all when a new student made their way into the spotlight to collect their certificate of promotion.

My neighbor, Herbert, also the parent of a graduate

It was obvious when a student was popular: sometimes the place would erupt in a roar of appreciation. And I often could guess why: they cheered for the sweet-natured but fierce team player on the volleyball team, the beautiful chess champ, the tall traveling athlete who cherishes friends, the pianist, the scholarship winner, and the one who makes everyone laugh. What a great group they are. I am proud of my girl and proud of her classmates. I’m so glad to have witnessed their last three years together.

My mother sewed a dress for Miss T, who had chosen the design and the fabrics. (She also sewed her own dress that you see in the photo above.) Tara felt like a beauty in her lovely dress. I was delighted to see my tomboy in GIRL clothes! She thought at first she wanted to wear my old combat boots with her dress. It was a way for her to match the dress code and retain her individuality. She wasn’t ready to make a clean break from her typical fashion preference (ripped jeans, Vans, and a hoodie) to satin and tulle. But… after twenty minutes in front of a mirror in the dress, she was rummaging through my closet and pulled out my Kenneth Cole sandals. It was a sweet moment. It’s not always easy to accept growing up gracefully, and I understood the small steps she was taking to try on a new role.

happy graduates

All the graduates ended up in the cafeteria where we gathered for photos and hellos to old friends and goodbyes to dear teachers. The graduates were bursting with high spirits and joyous celebration. They decided to gather at Jonah’s house for ice cream afterward, so Mom, and Aunt Eireanne, and I went home and left T with her friends to celebrate their special evening together.

wearing my own letterman's jacket

As an aside… The following night my girl was getting ready to head out to Cirque de Soleil with ex-boyfriend Mark. Looking through the hall closet for something warm to wear, she pulled out my old high school jacket. Talk about bringing it full circle. I wore that jacket not too long ago. Let’s see, it was about 6 weeks ago. No, more like a year or two ago. Well, actually – now that I think about it – that was 23 years ago. She wore the jacket and I reminisced. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a Freshman.

I am fortunate to be raising a good kid. She’s yet 13, and has her “moments,” but for the most part she is honest with me, does not talk back, and is generally a person I can count on. It has to be this way, because I am a single, working mom and there are times when she has to be home by herself. This weekend she is going through one of those “moments.” It smacks of hormone surge because of the sudden shift in personality.

Trying on her new pointe shoes

All week long Miss T has come straight home from school, made herself a healthy snack, and then finished her homework before I got home from work. Tues and Thurs she has ballet, so she collected change for the bus, got herself off to class, and got herself home with no fuss at all and not even a call begging for a ride home as she sometimes does. I received one of those automated phone calls one night, saying that my student was marked absent in the afternoon, and that I needed to call the office and explain why. Miss T said she was not absent. I called the school the next day and was reassured that it was a mistake. They know her by name at the office and assured me that she was at school and they would correct the records right away. See? Good kid.

Friday she had been granted a gift in return for her conformity to the well-behaved child I expect her to be. I gave her permission to go to the movies with her girlfriends. It was to start at 5:00pm, so I gave the movie two hours, then started carrying the phone on my person to make sure I didn’t miss the text or phone call. No text or phone call came. At 10 minutes to 8:00, I texted her: “Where are you? I’m worried.” I didn’t hear a thing till 8:20 when she called me. No, it was not even a check in. She had run around with her friends for the past hour, then checked her phone right before she got to the house. As we were speaking, I heard her walk in the door. Needless to say, my anger outweighed the relief of having her home safe. But I didn’t flip out. I calmly told her that the way things had panned out that evening were not acceptable, and I repeated what she already knows about what I expect from her in the future.

Talking is not enough.

Saturday she was a bratty teen from the moment she opened her eyes. She committed small failures mostly: taking liberties without asking, lying about getting her chores done, deciding it was ok to leave the house while I was gone and could not be asked. I called her, told her to get her butt home, and set her to work on more chores and then supervised to make sure they got done right. She had permission to go back to the park if she could get everything done before it was time for ballet practice for the June performance. She got everything done and had about 45 minutes to spare. She was hopping-eager to get out of the house and away from me, but I made her talk about getting home in time for ballet practice. I told her to think about how much time she had to play, when she wanted to get home so we could get to practice on time. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll be here,” was her snooty answer. I let her go.

She missed ballet entirely. I had wavered in my head for awhile about whether to call her and remind her, and then drive over and get her because I knew it was a long walk… and I realized that the whole problem is that she’s expecting me to cover for her. Ballet is a privilege (and an expensive one). She loves participating and is proud to tell others about it. Missing practice is a blow to her, not to me. So… I watched the minutes tick by and waited while she missed practice. Her frantic phone call came too late.

When she got home, she didn’t have a word to say for herself. I made her call the instructor and apologize for missing her class. As soon as she hung up, she announced that she was hungry and wanted a snack even though it was obvious I was in the middle of preparing dinner. “No, you can wait. And while you’re waiting, you can put your clean clothes away,” I said, handing her a stack of laundry. Miss T turned on her laptop as she passed it, hoping to return when the clothes were put away. I turned off the computer and when she came back I explained something to her.

“Some of what I do for you is my job, and some of what I do is favors. I do a lot of favors for you. It’s common human decency that when someone does something nice for you, you pay them back. For example, I do favors like let you bend the rules sometimes and give you treats. I don’t have to do that.”

“I know!” she says, humbly. “I know you do a lot for me.”

“My job is to keep you safe, and to keep you healthy. You never, ever, ever owe me for that. But when I do something special for you, you need to pay me back. You must do more than your regular job as a kid. You need to show me respect for what I have done, by being extra polite, checking in with more texts, asking permission at all times, look for ways to help around the house, clean your room without being asked, that kind of thing. Because you didn’t respect me, you can’t touch your computer for the rest of the weekend.”

That’s worse than any other kind of punishment. She would rather starve than be deprived of the Internet. It’s what I should have done in the beginning, on Friday. Then I would have had my good girl back already.



…High Schools, that is. Yes, it’s that time in our household to make preparations for high school, which is so close on the horizon we can almost touch it. You care because the school my kid ends up attending is the one you will have to endure hearing about on this blog for the next four years!

Putting serious effort into choosing a high school has made me think back to my own teen years more than once, because this is like no high school experience I’ve seen before. It is surprisingly similar to choosing a college, and I am drawing greatly on my college experience to guide my kid through her approach. This may very well be one of the reasons why children of college graduates have an advantage over other kids; or why at the University they thought it was such a big darn deal that I was the first in my family to get a college degree. I cynically assumed their praise was merely because a new person was in the Ivory Tower Club. That may not be true.

Since my time at Brandeis University (only 4 years ago), I have wondered if the statistical difference between children of college-educated and non-college-educated parents was related to insights the elders could provide, that might smooth the path for the youth. I began thinking this after some dreadful mistakes in financial, coursework, and lifestyle planning in my first year; things that significantly set me back that could have easily been avoided or mitigated if I had asked for help or had been a little more savvy. I won’t wait for my daughter to ask; I’ll just put it out there!

Portland Public Schools encompasses 7 traditional high schools, plus a polytechnic high school (focusing on teaching trades), and a young women’s science and math high school. Every student is expected to attend the neighborhood high school, with the option of attending any school in the city through a lottery system. Each high school apparently has a specialty, such as music, or preparation for law studies. Because students and their parents can shop around, each school held an open-house to show off their school attributes.

Compare all this to my high school experience. In our tiny ranching/logging community of 603 people, the one school building held every grade from Kindergarten through high school seniors. There was no question where to go, and there was no need for open house nights and all these advertising brochures I keep getting in the mail. The higher education teachers taught 7th through 12th. My science teacher, for example, was my teacher in every scientific field of study for 5 years in a row (I elected not to take physics my senior year, or it would have been 6). Good thing I liked him!

My daughter can go online for the high school course catalogs to plan out her next four years to her best advantage. At this stage, we can compare course offerings to see which schools can teach her what she’s interested in. Compared to my choices for English classes in high school (English I, II, III, and IV), at one of the schools, Tara can choose from 24 English and Literature courses, including traditional work but also an accelerated reading program, literature in film, classics, creative writing, and an honors course. Art classes are taught by different teachers who focus on fine arts, sculpting, woodcraft, or graphic design. At one high school, there are 22 dance classes to choose from, at another, three of the 14 available math classes are college accredited. We were told a student can graduate from high school with a Freshman year of college already finished!

Franklin from the outside: Wow!

My suggestion was to visit the schools during open house, to gather more information. Though we can consider all of the schools, we’ve narrowed it to two. Tara is motivated like most people her age, by wanting to go to the school where her friends will go – that’s Madison, our neighborhood high school. But Franklin is closer to the house (school district boundary lines are suspiciously drawn in a manner similar to voting districts), and in a part of town we visit frequently. The demographics of Franklin include more higher-income families (so I assume that will mean more parental involvement), and the school building itself is inspiring!

Madison from the outside: Eh.

Our open house visits helped clear my vision. Franklin was full of parents and students, enthusiastically pointing us to the places we wanted to see. The library was impressive. The dance classes and AP math classes are tempting. Tara was drooling over the Animanga Club (“Anime and Manga combined? It’s perfect!”). Madison had an entirely different feel because it was filled with teachers. Teachers everywhere, dressed up like it was an Event, standing beside elaborate, professional-quality displays on different subjects. One told me, a bit sheepishly, “Yeah, this night is a pretty big deal for us each year.” They vied for our attention, pulling us from one academic topic to the next, then pushing us to the full-time, in school art gallery, then coaxing us outside to get a tour of the school’s community garden (run by students who actually take a class for it). The teachers had nothing but praise for each other, and they raved about how much they loved being at that school compared to other schools.

Madison from a more attractive angle

Honestly, any one of the Portland High Schools would have a greater range of learning opportunity than what I had in my small country school. So I could confidently say that any school she attended would be fine. I am a dedicated subscriber to the belief that education is dependent upon the student and the parents, after all. However, after visiting the schools, I must admit that Madison won me over. If that many teachers are that excited about teaching, some of the enthusiasm is bound to rub off on the students. All I want is for her to care whether she’s there or not, so she’ll be motivated to put some effort into it. I am pretty sure that Madison High School is where that will happen.

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