Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting Better

ANGELS AMONG US:  We've been waiting for this day for a couple of years, no lie. It's the biggest weekend of Seafair, and that means hydroplane races on Lake Washington and the Blue Angels buzzing overhead.  Squee!!!!  

Last year, the Angels didn't come to town due to budget cuts.  And the couple of years before that they did come, it was rainy and gray, not great flying weather, and we hardly saw them. But today - Hooah!

It's great to hear the return of the roar of their engines.  They were absolutely swarming the skies of Seattle this afternoon, darting, diving, climbing and corkscrewing.  
Their contrails wove white ribbons in the sky. 
They fly so closely together, sometimes it's hard to tell how many of them are in formation. Once in awhile I'd think it was two planes, only to find out that it was actually four.
They should have a couple more practice runs tomorrow. You know our eyes will be on the skies again.  What a treat to see!

And I have to note, just this week (why so long USMC?) the Blue Angels added a woman pilot to their roster, Capt. Katie Higgins. She's not in the Seattle show, but is expected to start flying as a C-130 demonstration pilot in October.  It's long overdue, especially considering the really awful debauchery in the Blue Angels' unit as of late (don't read this if you want to think of the Blue Angels as nothing but a squeaky clean source of national pride and entertainment). 

FIRST SHOT:  The images from Apollo 11 have been getting lots of media attention lately, due to the 45th anniversary of the manned moon landing. However, it was this day in 1964 that the first picture of our moon was taken by a U.S. spacecraft, Ranger 7.
It was taken at 6:09 AM West Coast time, just 17 minutes or so before Ranger 7 smashed in to the surface of the moon. 

The large crater at center right in the fram is Alphonsus, 108 km in diameter Alphonsus. 

The images Ranger took were transmitted back to Earth in real time.  They were used, in part, to help select the landing sites for Apollo moon missions. 

Launched on July 28, 1964, Ranger transmitted over 4,300 high quality images of the moon to Earth during its mission, ending just three days later.
THE SOUND OF TROLLING:  This morning, CJ was feeling better. How did I know? Well, he was WIDE awake at 6:09, and peppering me with questions about technical things, for which I had no answers. He wanted to encode an image to a sound that can be viewed with a spectrogram.  Because that's what every 11-year old with severe GI distress wants to do at 6:09 a.m., right? 
The next couple of hours were spent toiling on the computer, troubleshooting and researching. CJ was determined to use some software that converts a graphic into a sound (specifically, a bitmap file into a WAV file). He found some such thing on a Website called
Problem was, the "ancient" software was meant for LINUX or Windows 95. 
But I'll be darned if CJ didn't battle his way through technical roadblock after roadblock. He was absolutely relentless in his quest to convert a troll face into a sound!  And I'll be darned if he didn't figure it out all by himself after about 90 minutes.  
It's not rocket science, but it was a testament to how a determined kid can make things happen. 

BECAUSE, SCIENCE: We somehow wound up watching a few videos on the channel today. We learned about a wide range of topics, including why dogs like to sniff each others butts (it's chemical communication, and not socially inappropriate to them!) and how to cut a bagel into an infinity sign (I have a feeling we'd butcher a lot of bagels attempting to do so). Interesting and educational videos, for sure.

SWEET STUFF:  This video is a lovely little reminder that it only takes a couple of minutes to make a difference.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Low Down

WISHY-WASHY: We spent a lot of time today wishing CJ was better and washing laundry. Lots and LOTS of laundry.

Last night was not a good night for CJ, unfortunately.  But today we didn't make any hospital runs for an IV, though, so I guess that's an improvement. More test results back today. He's negative for E. coli and salmonella, thank goodness. But it remains a mystery ailment, which means there's no silver bullet.  I wasn't too happy this morning when a consulting nurse's treatment plan was "hope for the best."  My response was "Hope is NOT a plan."  


This evening, CJ spent some time outside on the swinging couch, while Christian, Annabelle and I rocked out.  Here's Bee, working the line, pulling the hand truck back up the hill.
She also did some rock climbing.  It was a good workout and I'm happy to say our rock stacking was very stable as she was scrambling.
Out of nowhere, late this afternoon CJ surprised the heck out of me by sitting down and writing a haiku. It reads ...
This is a haiku
It's not a very good one
I should stop right now
I was happy he had the energy and initiative to produce anything, so I was quite pleased with it! 

FIRE SIGN: This afternoon in a bright blue sky with a few wispy cirrus clouds, I noticed a very bumpy, columnar cloud peeking up over Queen Anne hill, in the distance, to the east.  I pointed it out to CJ and told him it reminded me of the type of 'cloud' I'd see over Mt. St. Helens when it erupted.  

This evening, a story in the Seattle P.I. clued us in on what it was.  To quote the story:  "What you're seeing are smoke and the "pyrocumulus" clouds created by the wildfires burning in Eastern Washington. The heat from the fires is its own engine for creating rising air that cools and condenses into clouds."

Wow, I had no idea. Wish I'd taken a photo of it. 

The cloud was from the Carlton Complex, the largest wildfire in Washington state's recorded history, having surpassed the 1902 Yacolt Burn.

Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, has a good explanation of what we saw on his blog:

OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD RECORD:  A couple of days ago, NASA's Opportunity set a new record for off-planet rovers.  On Mars, Oppy has traveled a total of 25 miles (40 kilometers), surpassing the former record holder, the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2, a moon rover which did its driving in 1973. 

What makes the feat even more amazing is that Opportunity was really only intended to drive about one kilometer - it wasn't designed with distance in mind. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Down and Out

ROUGH DAY:  We had all sorts of big plans for today, hoping beyond hope CJ would be better.

However, those plans were dashed this morning, when our little patient took a turn for the worse. The much worse.  I'll spare you the gory details, but today we lost the battle when it came to staying ahead of dehydration.  In the early afternoon when CJ couldn't remember what we'd done that morning, I knew he was in Loopyville and we were in trouble.

We were up at Group Health by about 1:30 p.m.  Mercifully/amazingly, there was no one in the Urgent Care waiting room again, as was the case when we were there on Sunday morning.

Even though CJ was pretty much out of it, it didn't take long for CJ's nurse David to declare that CJ sounded "older and smarter" than him, LOL.

We had a different doctor this time, a young woman. She was very attentive, a good listener, and basically gave us the exact opposite advice as what we got on Sunday from another attentive physician regarding diet and OTC treatments. Swell.

In better news, we got what I wanted for CJ, namely and IV.  That's what he needed most today and it was the one thing I couldn't do for him at home.

They ordered some blood work for CJ pre-IV, and I don't think he has ever had his blood drawn in his 11 years.  He wasn't exactly stoic about that and having an IV lead placed in, at least initially. I managed to distract him enough while the very skilled nurse and an assistant did their thing.

Frankly CJ, who is usually very polite and compliant, for lack of a better term, was not liking any of this afternoon's experience, really. Even when the nurse went to stick a thermometer under CJ's tongue, CeeJ balked. I called him on it and he explained to me his reaction was based on a 'primal fear' and that no one likes having 'private spaces' invaded. Had to give him that.

And you should have heard CJ when, out of nowhere, during the visit developed a fever of nearly 103.  The doctor ordered up some Tylenol and CJ was AGHAST. "Tylenol?! Have you seen what that did to children in the 1960s?" he screeched. "Google images for Tylenol and babies. I dare you!" he challenged.

I had NO idea what feverish CJ was talking about and I asked him if he meant aspirin and Reye's Syndrome? He insisted that it was Tylenol, and then told me we saw photos of the horrors it caused in London at Science Museum. Suddenly, my mind made the leap and I started laughing and said, "That was thalidomide, not Tylenol!"

Feverish, indignant CJ reluctantly took the Tylenol and hoped that his limbs didn't start malforming. :/

Ah yes, good times at the Urgent Care.

BTW, you should have seen CJ walking down the halls of the hospital wearing his leopard print Snuggie, which we brought from home to help him be comfy. It was hysterical. It was flowing out behind him, rather regally, might I say. At one point we all broke out into song (think "If I were King of the Forest!" from "The Wizard of Oz").

He's been tested for giardia - it was negative. The 'C. Difficile Toxin' test was negative, too. He had a blood panel done. He was low on lymphocytes and high on monocytes, and his potassium is low, no shocker there.   We're waiting for tests for salmonella and ova & parasites.

We're hoping tomorrow is a better day.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Air, Land & Seattle

EYES ON THE SKIES: For the past couple of days, I've seen some crazy looking aircraft flying at a distance while we've been laboring outside. Today, they flew over and Christian IDed them for me - turns out they are MV 22 Marine Osprey!

One flew right over our house this afternoon, slowly, giving me a chance to go grab my camera.

This evening, we did a little reading up on the amazing aircraft.

HOW GROWS IT:  It has been awhile since we've shared a gardening update.  Our sunflowers continue to grow - one pot way moreso than the other.
We don't know why the poor plants in the pot behind Annabelle are so spindly, while the ones right next to them - grown from the same type of seeds - are towering.

A couple of nights ago, we enjoyed potatoes from our garden. We started them months ago, just by cutting up a couple of store-bought potatoes and burying them!
Sunday afternoon, we were walking in the South Lake Union neighborhood and I noticed a tomato plant growing out of the crack in between the sidewalk and an old building!
It even had two tomatoes growing on it (they were hidden by the foliage in this photo).

AILING:  As previously reported here, poor CJ contracted some kind of intestinal ailment when camping over a week ago.  Unfortunately, it has stayed with him, and yesterday it was especially terrible. We made a beeline for the urgent care clinic yesterday morning.  Fortunately, the usually-packed place was quiet, and we got in and out of there in about 90 minutes (fast compared to visits past).  The head nurse thought CJ was the Best Patient Ever.  She told him he had a fantastic vocabulary for a kid his age, and said she wished he could stay there all day just so she could talk to him. :)

Group Health now has some material to work with, shall we say, and they are running some lab tests. We hope to have news tomorrow regarding what CJ's afflicted with and a treatment plan in place.

STILL ROCKIN':  Are you sick of hearing about our rock project yet? Of course you are! We're certainly sick of working on it!

This is how it looked when we installed the first row of rocks on our cliff/hillside a week plus ago.
And here's what it was looking like this afternoon.
So we are making progress, slowly, and sometimes painfully.  It will be wonderful to get it done. Some day.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Finally Friday

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: Thought I was through posting camping memories from the kids' recent trip, but this morning we received an email from Uncle Steve and Aunt Therese with a couple more cool pics.

The neat-o boat the MPA trio is on, a catamaran, belongs to Uncle Steve. It was the first time the kids have been out on the water under sail power.
Pretty scenery, and it looks like they had the reservoir pretty much to themselves.
Christian said he kept the catamaran level/(both hulls in the water) during their sail, not wanting to dump anyone in the water or tip the boat over.  Good idea. :)

HARD LABOR:  Guess what Christian and I did today? Moved rocks.  We have managed to wrestle a little over fifty 200- to 300-pound rocks down our cliff so far this week, just the two of us, plus ropes, pulleys, a couple of BIG hand trucks, lots of sweating, and some swearing. We're working safely and slowly, no real injuries to speak of, which is great.

The top of our lot was starting to look like we were making a serious dent in the 15 tons or so of rocks we procured a couple of weeks ago, but guess what? We're picking more up tomorrow.  We have another 5 tons or so to get, I'd guess. Super! At least it's not going to be 93 tomorrow, like it was last time we gleaned rocks.

While Christian and I rocked it, CJ and Annabelle did lots of reading (Time for Kids, chapter books and online), and Annabelle worked on some artwork.

We will all be glad when the rock project is over.

CAMPUS TOUR: The University of Washington has a lovely  690-plus acre campus here in Seattle. This time lapse video gives a unique and beautiful tour of it.

University in Motion (Hyperlapse) from Edward Aites on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Look Back

MEMORIES:  We're still getting caught up with the good times the kids had while camping last week.  

Above is a sunset over the dam that creates the reservoir at Dorena. Pretty!

I love Annabelle's colorful swim cap!  Esther Williams would approve, no doubt!
BTW, there should be style points for things like this while riding the 'biscuit.'
And check out these super cool lights Nonnie bought for the kids' bikes!
I asked the kids to write their recollections of their trip. Here's what they came up with. ...

Annabelle:   Starting on July 15, my father, brother CJ and I went camping at Dorena Lake, OR. We had beautiful surroundings, and lots of fun! We stayed at Dorena for 5 nights, and visited our relatives. One of my favorite activities was biscuiting (being towed behind a boat in an intertube) around the lake. I almost had my first wipe-out!

We already had a tent set up when we arrived, so all we had to do was set up some beds! Our beds were very comfy, layered as a cot, an air mattress, egg-carton foam, a sleeping bag, and a light blanket. So soft! Every night, we'd have a delicious dinner, some of which included- but weren't limited to!- Riblets, hot dogs, burgers, and even pork chops! 

Spending time with our Nonnie, Bops, countless aunts, uncles, and cousins was fun! I even performed some water ballet with my aunt Theresa and cousin Symone! Swimming in the river that comes off the lake was also very fun! (there was a bit of algae, but not blue-green like last year.) I also discovered my swimsuit dries very quickly.

We even got some lights for our bicycles from cousin Scott! I had mine in a spiral, while CJ wanted a pentagram (which they couldn't pull off). We even had a parade around the campground! We had lots of fun showing off our lights.

Camping was really fun, even though it seemed like we only stayed for two days! I love going camping at Dorena every year, and visiting family (who I don't usually see other than that or Christmas). Overall it was amazing just like the years before.

CJ:  Last week, I went on a camping trip to Dorena, a place in Oregon where there are many camp sites. Here are my five paragraphs describing my camping experience:

First off, I'd like to talk about biking around the campsite. I had brought my bike over to the campsite, and I constantly rode it around the path circling our campsite, sometimes to go to the bathroom. One time while riding the bike around the campground, my front wheel suddenly stopped and I fell over. A couple of nice boys from another site happened to come across my wreck, and they helped get my bike back to the campground. I thanked them for helping me, and we visited a town that had a bike shop so we could repair my bike. Many people at camp got lights on their bike wheels which made their bikes look nice, and I got the color yellow on my wheels (I asked for the lights to be arranged in a pentagram on my wheel, but we ended up having to go with an average circle design).

Next off, I taught some of my family in the campground how to play a card game called Kings In Corners, which you can easily look up to learn the rules yourself. Some of my family learned it quicker than others did, and some of them even kicked my butt, which is a sign that they are learning well. Some of us even jokingly called the game a "Blood hunt"!

In my tent, our bed was very comfortable. According to my dad, there were many layers of different padding below the part of the bed where Annabelle and I actually slept, for example, a blow-up mattress, held in place by a cot. Sleeping in the bed that we had in camp reminded me of sleeping in the bed that we set up on our deck, which was assembled in a very similar way to the one at camp.

I'd rather not inform you about this, but I guess I will word it like this: At camp, I caught a disease that made me have to go to a certain place several times during the day. Times when I needed to go to that place often appeared out of nowhere, and I often times had to get on my bike as quickly as possible to get there (at one point, I even had to borrow my cousin Ben's bike).

Last, but definitely not least, I will mention *biscuiting*. On my uncle John's boat, we went for rides where we rode on inter-tubes and had lots of fun. Two people could go at a time, and I especially liked kneeling in the tube and riding behind the boat. One time, when I wasn't biscuiting, but on the boat, I talked with my uncle John about how cell phones have evolved since the 1970s.

In the end, I found my camping trip very fun and I can't wait to go next year!

SOFT STUFF:  A recent email from the folks at SpaceX brought us up to speed regarding their ongoing efforts to make rocket stages recyclable. That's a big step forward in the space race, as it would save millions of dollars if they could be recycled. 

Check out this video of a "soft" landing of a Falcon 9 on the ocean. 
From the SpaceX press release:  "After landing, the vehicle tipped sideways as planned to its final water safing state in a nearly horizontal position. The water impact caused loss of hull integrity, but we received all the necessary data to achieve a successful landing on a future flight. Going forward, we are taking steps to minimize the build up of ice and spots on the camera housing in order to gather improved video on future launches.
"At this point, we are highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and refly the rocket with no required refurbishment. However, our next couple launches are for very high velocity geostationary satellite missions, which don’t allow enough residual propellant for landing. In the longer term, missions like that will fly on Falcon Heavy, but until then Falcon 9 will need to fly in expendable mode.
"We will attempt our next water landing on flight 13 of Falcon 9, but with a low probability of success. Flights 14 and 15 will attempt to land on a solid surface with an improved probability of success."

MIND BOGGLING:  We played a couple of rounds of Boggle today for our language arts learnin'. 

Here's CJ's scorecard.
WAR FROM SPACE:  A somber tweet came yesterday from German astronaut Alexander Gerst on board the International Space Station.  He wrote: ""My saddest photo yet. From ‪#‎ISS‬ we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over ‪#‎Gaza‬ & ‪#‎Israel‬."

Here's the photo Gerst posted.  I added the green arrow to point out the flash from a rocket (the killing kind, not the space going kind) in this photo.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


GOLDEN LOCKS:  This morning we decided not to let a couple rain showers stop us, we wanted to get a good walk in.  We drove to Ballard and parked on the north side of the locks, as I wanted to show the kids one of the trails the dogs and I took while the kids were camping. 

About the first 'highlight' of the tour was visiting the spot where the dogs knocked my backpack off the deck and down a cliff while I was taking a photo. 

Here are the kids and the trouble making dogs on said deck.
And here they are by the statue I was looking at when I heard the sound of nylon sliding.
Happily, we left the deck without incident today.

Just beyond it, I spied a gravel trail I hadn't noticed when the dogs and I were there last week.  We saw signs saying it was open to the public, maintained by Seattle Public Utilities.  We were surprised to find a horseshoe pit along the way.
CJ was pretty dangerous with the horseshoes, let me tell you.  I was taking my life in my hands by standing here.

A little bit down the trail Annabelle noticed a sign that said shore access.  We tromped down some stairs next to SPU Pump Station 38 and, sure 'nuff, we could have gone right on down to the water. (The photo of the access point is at the top of today's blog.)

There were a number of Canada geese enjoying shore access.
 We passed hundreds of boats at Shilshole Bay Marina.  One in this group caught our eye. ... 
Here's a aerial view of the place, thanks to Google Earth. As you can see, the marina goes on and on and on for many a city block.
Our path today (locks to Golden Gardens and back), is traced in bright green.

HOME IMPROVEMENT: We spent the afternoon in West Seattle, helping Rick with a few things around his place.  We put CJ and Annabelle to work replacing the old, ugly, over-sized white plastic knobs on cabinets with some bright, shiny new silver ones.  MUCH better. 

ROCK STEADY:  The Great Rock Wall of Magnolia project continues.  I think Christian and I moved 6 or 7 rocks this evening, which is better than we did yesterday.  We''ve got our system down, and are doing it as fast as the two of us can while being  safe.  However, while our current approach is working find for the first couple of rows in our wall, it's not going to work for higher rows, as we can't lift or tip these big rocks up that high to stack them.  We're going to need to devise some kind of skid set up. Stay tuned. ...