Viva Las Something

This past week we went to visit our friends, Tim and Becca, in Las Vegas.  Tim is a freelance musician.  Becca is a freelance writer.  They are overwhelmingly creative and fun to visit.  Here’s a quick summary:

On the way down we went for a short hike in the Kolob region of Zion’s National Park.  It isn’t for the faint-hearted, owing to the heights.  (Don’t worry — there really isn’t a dropoff behind us, it just looks that way.)

 Zion's 2009 Kolob Area 1

Ella was  a Ranger Girl (if you couldn’t tell from her shirt).  She and Jeffrey both recieved their Junior Ranger badges while we were there.

Zion's 2009 Kolob Area 2

Brian and I are not fond of casinos.  So, when we weren’t hanging out with Tim, Becca, and their five kids (they are nocturnal people, so there was lots of time for this) we went to the Natural History Museum (where Jeffrey “dug up” this fine pot) . . .

 Las Vegas Natural History Museum

. . . and saw the Hoover Dam.  We’re standing on top of it.  The cool suspension bridge under construction in the background is unrelated to the dam, albeit very cool.  I’ll admit that the dam is not really at its most spectacular from this angle, but it’s difficult to photograph in its entirety.

 Las Vegas Hoover Dam

Then we went home.  Eleanor was very sad to leave Anda, who is the only girl in Tim & Becca’s family.  The children of both families were all of similar temperaments, so they made friends easily, and played together spectacularly well.  Aren’t the girls cute?  I hope we see them again sometime soon.

Anda and Ella

Every Good Boy Does Fine

piano_keysThere’s an old Irish folktale about a mother who wishes for her son to play music.  She goes to talk to a druid man, who gives her a choice: he’ll give her son the gift of music if she gives up her soul.  If she gives up her body, the druid will take away any desire to play music.  The mother chooses to give her soul, and her son becomes a renowned harpist, but when she dies, she spends eternity in purgatorial agony.

I’m sure any parent who has decided to give their child music lessons can readily relate.  Gifting a child with music in exchange for soul-deadening limbo?  Been there.

For the past four months, Jeffrey has taken piano lessons.  We got a recommendation for a highly regarded teacher in the neighborhood with scads of experience, and after about three months of waiting, she was able to find a slot for Jeffrey on Tuesday afternoons.

I made the effort of waking everyone else up half an hour earlier so we can practice before school.  There was no small amount of stress surrounding this effort; Jeffrey is bright — very bright — but doesn’t necessarily have the best attention span, and he usually resists doing activities that require a great deal of discipline.  He’s also a very emotionally sensitive kid, and sometimes throws himself down into my lap after he makes a mistake at the keyboard.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m bringing my own wound-up-tight ball of concerns to practice; out of my five siblings, I’m the only one who really stuck it out with piano, studying it all the way through high school (and even, very very briefly, toying with the idea of getting a music education degree in college).  I resolved early on that I wouldn’t let my kids hissy-fit themselves out of piano lessons the way that my brothers did. 

So what do I do with my big whiner of a piano man, Jeffrey? 

For a while, it seemed as if lessons were going wonderfully — he had a few attention problems at first, but then we hit a big streak of success.  For about six weeks, I’d arrive at the end of Jeff’s lesson to find both teacher and student beaming with pride.  “Jeffrey was great today!  He wins the prize for Most Improved Attention Span!”  Early morning practice sessions were . . . well, not exactly fun, but fun-ish, full of a sense of hard-earned accomplishment.  Jeffrey put stickers on a chart to show his practice progress, and we filled up two pages’ worth.

But then something changed.  I don’t know if the advent of summer vacation caused it, but two weeks ago I picked up a rather jittery Jeffrey from lessons, and his teacher took me aside.

Perhaps it was time to stop lessons, she suggested.  Maybe we should wait a few months, or years, and then begin again.  He’s perfectly capable of playing the music; it’s more that he won’t take personal responsibility for it. 

This, in no small terms, freaked me out.  We had been doing so well, but it followed almost the exact same bell curve that Jeffrey has shown at preschool, in kindergarten, in pretty much every other endeavor he’s undertaken: rough start, some improvement, then he gives up. Or rather — so it seemed to me — his teachers give up. 

So we gave it another week’s worth of practice, and my ball of worry wound itself even tighter.  I pushed him — perhaps too hard.  We talked about following instructions and playing the piano all the time.  I knew I was talking about it too much, but somehow it kept blurting out of my mouth.  Jeffrey wailed at the keyboard, fussing and whining and sticking his toungue out at me, pushing every single one of my buttons in order to get out of practice.  I didn’t give in; one of our practice sessions lasted an hour.  Purgatory, indeed.

Needless to say, our most recent lesson is one of the worst he’s ever had.  His teacher highly recommended quitting.  “If we keep going now, piano will never be fun, never be enjoyable,” she said.  “Progress will be slow, like putting on thumbscrews.  If we wait six months, or a year, his progress will be twice as fast, and you’ll be getting your money’s worth out of the lessons.”

Quitting?

I don’t know if I can do it. 

Would it be better to give him lessons on my own, or should we wait?  Do I honestly think he’ll go “twice as fast” when he’s seven or eight?  Or will it just be more difficult?

On Wednesday evening, our ward had an ice cream social, and the Primary hosted an informal talent show.  Kids spontaneously leapt up to dance, tell jokes, or sing.  Jeffrey eagerly hopped on stage, dragging me up to play “Hot Cross Buns” –one of his favorites he’s learned so far — on a little electric keyboard.  He was nervous, hands shaking, but seemed more concerned with ordering me around than making mistakes.  We played, the audience was enthusiastic.

Jeffrey took a bow.

The Princess Festival, Egads

Princess Festival 2009 Pumpkin Coach

It’s tough being the only girl in the family, right?

It’s also tough being the middle child, right?

So it’s a good idea when Mom decides to lavish some one-on-one time with said only girl/middle child, riiiiiight?

That’s basically the logic behind my decision to take Eleanor to the Princess Festival that was held down in Lindon yesterday.  It’s hosted by this very wealthy family as a fundraiser for impoverished Kenyans.  They even flew some Kenyan children in to participate.  Here’s Eleanor jumping on the trampoline with them (they were very sweet to involve her in their play):

 Princess Festival 2009 tramp

The site of the Princess Festival is “Hatfieldadelphia” (sworn enemy of McCoyadelphia) — a privately owned reception center/pleasure garden/castle owned by the aforementioned very wealthy family.  It features a witch’s cottage with a twisty slide running out its back, a massive fountain, a pavilion topped with a giant Russian-style dome, a big giant playground, a covered picnic area, a tiny Statue of Liberty holding aloft a street lamp, etc.  It gave the impression of being a very small amusement park with no rides.  The reception center was surrounded with giant iron statues of African animals.  Here’s Eleanor on an elephant:

 Princess Festival 2009 Elephant

ANYWAY — the Festival.  Girls came bedecked in their sparkliest duds, and a woman dressed as the Blue Fairy guided them through a role-playing adventure.  The kids helped Snow White decline the witch’s apple (Ella was a tad afraid of the witch, and had to find Mom for a moment).  They helped Rapunzel’s Prince reach the just-out-of-reach braid of hair hanging from the castle tower.  They gave the Beast a hug and he turned into a prince.  They helped Cinderella go to the ball.  They taught the Blue Fairy how to dance and twirl (said Rapunzel’s Prince: “You guys dance awesome.”)  The photo below is of Eleanor with Beauty and her Beast-turned-Prince.  Love them braces:

Princess Festival 2009 beauty & beast

At the end of the adventure, the girls went into the fairytale-decorated ballroom and watched the various princes and princesses they had just helped while they did a spiffy ballroom dance routine (the teenagers involved in this program deserve MEDALS, let me tell you).

At the end, Eleanor shyly introduced herself to the various fairytale characters, with emphasis on the shyly.  She was a wee bit overwhelmed by the sheer bigness of it all, but it was nothing another ’round of bouncing on the trampoline couldn’t fix.  Ella says her favorite part was meeting Cinderella.  You gotta admit, she does look just like the Disney cartoon.

Princess Festival 2009 Cinderella

Grandma Shirts and Great-Grandma Hanson accompanied us on the trip through fairyland, for which they deserve medals, as well.  Much cuteness was enjoyed by all.  Ella is a lucky girl.

Great Basin National Park

We took a trip to said park over Memorial Day weekend.  The park is one of the least visited in the country, so most people don’t know where it is: it’s just on the Nevada side of the Utah/Nevada border, a.k.a. No Man’s Land.  The only town nearby is so small that is doesn’t even have a stop sign, much less a stoplight.  Most of the surrounding area is dry dry desert, but the Snake Range of mountains — which comprises the park — is unusually high, catching banks of rainclouds and allowing for snowpack reservoirs of water.  So it’s unusually lush, what the rangers call a “mountain island.”

 Great Basin 2009 Pole Creek

It’s still pretty deserty.  You can see in the above photo the contrast between desert (on the left) and mountain forest (on the right).  There’s a tiny creek that flows through the right hand side, allowing for the little scrap of forest.

Great Basin National Park is famous for Lehman Caves, a group of limestone rooms similar to Timpanogos Caves.  Apparently the caves served as a jazz club/speakeasy in the ’20s. Eleanor looks rather surprised to hear of it.  We took our cave tour with a biker gang from Salt Lake.  They were rather funny and polite, and had wicked cool leather jackets.

Great Basin 2009 Lehman Caves

Wheeler Peak is the highest peak in the park.  I supposed I would have been more impressed with it if I didn’t see peaks like this every day in Salt Lake.

Great Basin 2009 Mt. Wheeler

BUT — Wheeler Peak also hosts several groves of ancient bristlecone pines.  Really ancient.  Recent research calculated the age of one tree to be around 4,950 years old.  It’s the oldest known living tree in the world.

That’s right, 4,950 years old.  Think about that for a second.  That means that tree was a sapling when, like, Moses brought the Ten Commandments down to the Israelites.  Or when the Brother of Jared was contemplating how to light up his boat.  Old with a capital O.

Unfortunately, the trail leading to the grove was still covered in snow.  We gave up when the drifts got up to our knees.

Great Basin 2009 Snow

Wildflowers were in abundance in the park — Brian gave me a local wildflower guide for Mother’s Day, and we had fun looking up all the little blossoms we found.  We were able to identify nearly 20 different flowers.  The hillsides were carpeted with this variety of sunflower — the picture here just doesn’t do it justice; imagine the yellow flowers going on for miles, up and over slopes, and you’ll get the idea.  Gorgeous.

Great Basin 2009 Wildflowers

Jeffrey and Eleanor were good little troopers on the trip (William stayed with Grandma back at home.  Bless that grandma!).  Even though the campgrounds were at full capacity, the trails still seemed almost deserted.  We didn’t see any other children in the park at all.  When the kids finished the requirements for the Junior Ranger program, the park rangers were really excited; I don’t think they get to see very many kids.

Great Basin 2009 South Route trail

The kids made for slow hiking, (we estimated that our hiking speed was 3/4 of a mile per hour) but they were very good natured about it, even when slogging uphill.  Our only complaint is that we didn’t expect the cold temperatures.  Our campground was at 7,000 feet, so the nights were rather brrrrrr.  On the plus side, there were no gnats or mosquitoes.  So there you go.

The sad part of the trip is that we hoped to do some stargazing — the park is a protected Dark Sky Area, and has ranger-led astronomy programs — but the skies were overcast every night we were there (and there was a new moon, what a waste!).  I suppose this means we’ll just have to go back in late summer another year!

What I’ve Been Up To, Pt. 1

The main problem is that my standard time for blogging is Saturday afternoons.  So what is to become of Ye Blog when every one of my Saturdays involve something time consuming yet wonderful?

Case in point: the Midwest Pilgrimage.  Here are all of my best friends from Pittsburgh.  We met together at a women’s retreat in Rockford, Illinois.  Aren’t we a corking good bunch?

 Midwest Pilgrims 2009

(Images almost identical to this one have already appeared on many of my friends’ blogs.)  It was three glorious days of spill-your-guts style conversation, eating M&Ms, and sleep deprivation — like a great big old slumber party, only without Footloose blaring, unwatched, in the background (such were the slumber parties of my youth).  What a lovely bunch of smart, curious ladies . . . I’m already counting down the days until next year.

Until then, I’m going to be heading off to the Utah Pilgrimage with my mother in law this weekend (have I mentioned how wonderful she is?).