In Which I Visit A Wind Farm and Alex Rolls His Eyes Repeatedly

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What shall I say about wind turbines?

Wind Farm Solo

The way Alex geeks out about Percy Jackson and Star Wars is the way I geek out about wind farms. I think they are really cool.

(Alex says I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, geek out about wind farms. He says I don’t know anything about them.)

But that is not entirely for lack of trying. I did, after all, spend four weeks before we went to Omaha, poring over maps, trying to find the name and contact info for a wind farm in the hopes that we could wrangle a tour.

Okay. So Alex says he knows almost every single freaking Greek myth, and I know nothing about wind farms. Therefore, this is a poor comparison.

But he’s laughing. And so am I. So we’re going to just go with it. And no, Alex, we are not going to look up Greek myths to prove your point. I got it. I’m ignoring it.

The point is, we stopped for gas in a tiny little town in the far northwest corner of Missouri, and almost as soon as we topped the rise, there they were: a whole landscape of wind turbines. And, unlike the one we saw in Perry, Iowa over Memorial Day—these were RUNNING.

I have wanted for several years to know what these things sound like. One of the big arguments against wind farms is the noise, after all. So I was very curious to know exactly what kind of noise level we’re talking about here. But I live in, hmmm, a state that is, by and large, unconvinced of the desirability of alternative energy. And although locally we are starting to have a middlingly-decent amount of solar, there’s only one wind turbine in my town, and it’s not one of those big suckers with the blades as long as two semi tractor beds.

Wind Farm Blade

So after we filled up the van, I asked the young woman at the counter where there was a road that would take us out among them, very close to them, without trespassing.

She looked at me like I was crazy, and she said: “Um, I don’t know? I live here, but I don’t really know anything about it.”

Well, then. There you go.

So we wandered east out of town for about two or three miles until we hit the jackpot: a gravel road bisecting two enormous soybean fields, with a dozen or so wind turbines scattered around them.

Wind Farm Landscape

We pulled into the driveway, stopping shy of the (open) gate that said “authorized personnel only,” and got out.

(How about that shadow?)

(How about that shadow?)

Wind Farm base

So what does a wind farm sound like? Alex says: “They didn’t sound like ANYTHING! They sounded like WIND BLOWING!”

I’d hoped to share a video, because I can’t be the only one who’s curious about this, right? (Right????) But it was incredibly windy that day, so the video I took with the DSLR came out with nothing but, well, wind noise. But the answer to my long-burning question about a) how much noise does a wind farm make, and b) what kind of noise, exactly, is: there’s a low hum that I can’t describe very well because it was buried under the noise of the wind blowing across the ridges. And then there’s the slow, lazy pulse of the blades: sssshhhhSHOOPsssshhhhSHOOPsssshhhhSHOOP.

It’s not silent by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not as loud as I-70 from my backyard, which is a mile from the highway. So anyone who fusses about noise pollution needs to just calm down, because people are always building monstrosities of homes twelve feet from eight-lane freeways, so the whole noise pollution argument doesn’t hold water.

And I got to stand at the base of a running wind turbine. Check that one off the bucket list.

Mercy In The Age of Facebook

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Because the spiritual works of mercy have always been a little tough to pin down, I offer this today:

The Spiritual Works of Mercy – in the Age of Facebook

Mark Piper

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Image by mkhmarketing, via Flickr

🔶 To Give Counsel to the Doubtful, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation

🔶 To Instruct the uneducated, including oneself, and to recognize ones lack of knowledge and to refrain from instruction when necessary.

🔶 To Advise Wrongdoers, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation, and to use prudential judgement to know when not to offer advice.

🔶 To Comfort the Afflicted, in person, in prayer, in silence

🔶 To Forgive Offenders, your offenders, when the time is appropriate and to do so with intimacy not anonymity

🔶 To bear patiently the troublesome, employing silence often, and avoiding trite exchanges online.

🔶 To Pray for the living and the dead recognizing that clicking like on a prayer does nothing for your soul or the well being of the deceased. Take time to unplug and simply be.

Most importantly, avoid hate. One cannot always avoid anger, but anger can be constructive, hate however, blocks fraternity, charity, and love.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters named anger & courage; anger at the way things are, courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” – St. Augustine

Author: Mark Piper, Director of Lay Association, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, West Midwest Community

For more “Mercy on a Monday” posts, click here.

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Growing Up Musical

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When kids grow up with musical parents…especially ones who lead a choir (“conduct” might be a wee bit too glamorous a word for either of us)…you get this…

…and you get this…

…which leads, most adorably to all, to a 4-year-old who says seriously, “Mom, look at my invisible trombone!” Which, when he is interrupted in playing to clean up random toys, he carefully places in its invisible case, closes its invisible clasps, and stands on its invisible end before doing as he’s told.

 

Rabbit Holes

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The things you find when going down rabbit holes researching a new novel. Novelists are always joking that we hope the FBI doesn’t investigate our browser search history, because we look up some seriously twisted things.

But not entirely twisted. I recently found out there’s an area 13,000 square miles in West Virgina, Virginia and a sliver of Maryland where you can’t use cell phones, because there’s no signal. On purpose. Because there’s a big honking radio telescope there. You’re not supposed to use a microwave oven, either, because it screws up the readings. Is that, or is that not, the Coolest Thing Ever?

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Image via jamiev_03, via Flickr

That led me, eventually, via six or seven major detours, to this:

http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html

Zoom in and find where you live. See how much light pollution there is. I thought it got pretty dark if you got away from the two highways that meet in my home town. I was wrong. I also thought where I grew up in the country was pretty darned dark. I zoomed all the way in until I could see the actual road where our farm is, and the creek crossing where we used to walk through the culvert. And it was still in the orange section of the map. This makes me really, really want to get someplace good and dark. I think I have to add that to the bucket list: camp in a Dark Skies location.

(Come to think of it, I’ll bet they don’t have cell service there, either.)

Time is flying—and crawling. I’m very disoriented. We just finished picking strawberries, didn’t we? How can the peaches be in season? Wait—are those the locusts singing outside?

Which reminds me…are they locusts, or are they cicadas, like a friend told me? Let me go look that up. I keep forgetting, because I first ran across it while I was at the public library, and I certainly couldn’t play a dozen recordings while I was there….

Ah…here it is…my own personal song of summer is the Scissor-grinder Cicada.

Incidentally, all but one of the cicada songs on that page are part of my daily summer chorus, here in central Missouri…but this one? This one I did not grow up with on the farm, but moving 30 miles south put me into its zone.

But what was I saying? I fell down another rabbit hole, didn’t I? Oh yes, time is playing tricks on me. How is that I’m still feeling like it’s barely spring, and yet we’ve just stayed up late two nights in a row for fireworks? I keep waiting for it to get dark, and it won’t get dark. Oh yes, it’s summer. But aren’t we still several weeks away from the REALLY long days?

I’ll blame it on the Christmas bulletins. Yes, that’s the problem. I just turned in a set of Christmas bulletin inserts to my editor four days ago. No wonder I’m in a seasonal muddle.

On the other hand, I swear Nicholas grew four inches between the time he got on the bus for the last day of summer school and me picking him up seven hours later. I can’t blame THAT on the Christmas bulletins. (Or can I?)

But what other fun things have I unearthed in my research for this next novel, which is a road trip story? Well, there’s the UFO viewing platform in Colorado.

Incidentally, that web site is a huge rabbit hole. But a fabulous one. I mean, seriously. A corn palace? That’s almost worth a dedicated drive to South Dakota right there.

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Yes. It is decorated with corn. Real corn. Image by Maggie T, via Flickr.

Add that to the bucket list, too: road trip across America, courtesy of Roadside America.

And here’s one: sound effects you can purchase and download, presumably for making videos. I was trying to come up with a visceral image for grief, and so I looked up “mournful sound animal.”

Oh dear. I set out to write a quick blog post in the midst of straightening the kitchen because now I have OT students coming to interview me about what exactly I’m not sure, at eight a.m. tomorrow, and look at the clock. It’s half an hour past my bedtime.

I think I fell down another rabbit hole…

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Image by Miguel Tejada-Flores, via Flickr

 

Stained Glass, A Strong-Willed Breakthrough, and Learning to ride a bike in a week (theoretically)

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It’s been a pretty intense week, with Julianna in iCanBike camp in a nearby town. I’ve had to pull her and Nicholas from school early every day so we could make the half-hour drive to the camp. They begin with this gizmo, which is sort of barrel-shaped, so it’s narrower and less stable than training wheels, but follows the same principle.Arm and Bike 010

Bike Gizmo

As you can see, she does fine with this–her side walker doesn’t even have to hold the pole. But she’s slow. Very, very slow. She’s spent most of the week on this bike.

Step two is a special tandem bike:

Tandem

She’s a stinker. Forced to pedal faster, she mostly put her feet down on the ground, until her instructor finally realized you have to be very firm with her, lest she run right over you. I gave them twenty minutes the first day to try to learn this on their own, and then I intervened, because this is too intense a week for us to waste the time coddling her.

Step three is a real bike, with the pole on the back for support:

Full Deal

 

They had us buy a bike for her, which will be fitted out with one of these poles today. Many of the kids graduated yesterday to riding outside on the parking lot; these kids (and young adults, in some cases) will probably actually achieve the goal of bike independence in one week. Julianna? Not so much. But they don’t want us putting training wheels on her new bike; we are just going to have to run with her whenever she rides, until she either learns or another similar camp is offered. I know: as if we need any more to do…

Speaking of more to do… Nicholas and I butt heads every so often about the horrific state of his drawers and his closet. I lose my cool really quickly trying to teach him over and over again how to hang clothes on hangars and fold the ones that go in the drawers. I takes so darned long, I end up doing half of it myself because I can’t stand the waste of time. Last night, I had a breakthrough. I brought my flute upstairs and I practiced for over an hour while he rehung every piece of clothing in his closet, and dealt with this, the contents of his drawers:

Clothes

(not one of which came out of the drawer folded when he dumped them on the floor for sorting, I might add)

We got rid of about half of it. Fewer clothes= easier cleanup. And while he sorted and folded, I spent forty minutes getting comfortable with my newly-repadded flute while playing Moyse Daily Exercises…

Moyse

….and then some Piazzola Tango Etudes.

Piazzola

“Mom, why are you so loud when you warm up?” Nicholas asked.

“I’m loud when I go up high. That’s just the way it is,” I said, “and tonight, you’re going to have to put up with it.”

Over an hour, I practiced last night. And he did the entire job himself, because I had something to keep me busy in the room where I could supervise. And I didn’t come anywhere near losing my temper, because I had something useful to do with my time while he was learning this important lesson in self-care.

This is a huge breakthrough, people. I’m telling you, this is entering my permanent repertoire of parenting solutions.

Finally, a beautiful picture I took from my position as choir director at church on Wednesday night. I love these windows.

Stained Glass

Default: Happy

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Image by Moyan_Brenn, via Flickr

There are two basic states of being: default happy and default unhappy.

This is the insight that leaped out at me me almost as soon as I started reading Chade-Meng Tan last week. Some people are happy all the time, except when something bad happens to them. Other people are unhappy always, unless something good has just happened.

Christian and I have a running joke about “brooding artists.” I know a few of them, and sometimes I am one. It occurs to me that my whole life, I have been a “default-unhappy” person. Always a little melancholy, always searching for what went wrong, rather than what went right, when thinking back over a day or an event.

This is not who I want to be.

I realized most of the people in the world who drive me crazy do so because they’re never happy. That unhappiness may manifest in different ways–neediness and abrasiveness are the two that come to mind first—but at the heart, it’s basically default-unhappiness.

I don’t want to be that person.

I want to be a person who wakes up in the morning, walks through my days, and goes to bed more or less happy with my life and circumstances. Because that is what we were meant for. We weren’t made for regret and self-flagellation, for scowls and feeling like the victim at every moment. We weren’t meant to carry around a vague anxiety like a backpack we can’t take off (or, since we are a superhero family: like Doc Oc, fused forever to his metal arms).

So I’m embracing this concept of meditation, and finding that it is virtually identical to what I first learned when I was trying to deal with anxiety issues. Then, I called it “letting go.” Now, it is part of every morning I spend sitting in nature, attempting to quiet my mind and be still in the presence of God. It reminds me a lot of what Thomas Merton talked about in Seeds of Contemplation. The difference is that this is more practical in its instructions, and so I feel like I have some guidance, instead of stumbling around trying to find my way on my own.

It’s been a week, and although I’ve still gotten angry with my children, I feel like my anger has been well in my control, and possible for me to let go of quickly afterward, instead of ruling the next several hours. I am pausing frequently during my day to take stock, when I feel that default-unhappy trying to kick in, and release it. And Christian and I are recognizing that there is value in this for our increasingly bickering children, too. So as of last night, we’re making it a part of family bedtime prayer routine.

Will it help the eleven- and seven- year olds get along better, and teach the four-year-old to find his inner empath? Only time will tell. But it seems like a better option than trying to discipline it into them.

Paper Rollercoasters, Bloodcurdling Screams, and Other Quick Takes

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Stair Crawler

Don’t you look innocent at me, boy. I’ve got your number.

You know that moment when you pull into the garage and turn off the van and open your door, and the first thing you hear is That Scream—the harbinger of attack by a mad dog, or being run over?

Wednesday night, following choir practice. Michael. Slammed his finger in the car door. Shredded skin. Black fingernail. All manner of drama that lasted until close to eleven p.m.

Thursday morning? “Nope, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” he said to our inquiries.

(Seriously, kid.)

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So Thursday, we come home from school and I tell him to take his various and sundry art projects inside while I go put the hose on a tree. This requires moving the hose from one side of the house to the other, and as I clear the house, I hear…That Scream.

I drop everything and run full-tilt up to the front of the house and find him standing unharmed beside the car with his arms full of paper projects. “What on earth is wrong?” I say.

“MY MAP!” he wails. “THE WIND BLEW MY MAP AWAY!”

I say again: seriously, kid.

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This is what Alex has been doing in summer school:

Paper Roller Coaster

Incidentally, Alex was giving me the standard tween dramatic sigh about going to EEE (gifted) summer school–especially because it is middle school now and not elementary. At the orientation night, though, they started listing what they were going to do: 1) STEAM bus, with programmable robots and virtual reality goggles; 2) contest to see who can build the best paper “temple” (ancient civilizations class); 3) build your own roller coaster; 4) make a book trailer for your favorite book…

Let’s just say he’s not complaining about having to catch the bus at 6:45 a.m.

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Speaking of summer school, let’s do a little “math”: 3 schools + 2 buses + 1 child’s school twenty minutes from home = Mommy Works At The Park All Morning And Doesn’t Go Home Until Lunchtime Every Day. As hot as it’s been here, though, it wasn’t too bad to sit outside. Shade makes a world of difference. And I revert to the body lessons I learned during the two summers I worked on the farm, when I wore jeans every single day, even when I was on an open tractor raking hay all day. You can get used to being outside in 90 degree heat. It’s really not the end of the world. And having no internet connection? That can be really good for productivity.

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blog wedding daddy danceOne of the things you’re supposed to worry about with kids with Down syndrome is weight. People with DS are susceptible to, well, plumpness. Julianna has never had this problem. Hugging her, you’ve always gotten the sense that if you squeezed too hard, her delicate bones might break. So we’ve always let her chow down on whatever she wanted.

Until now. She’s hardly overweight, but she’s bulked up in the last six months. She feels solid now, and heavy. So we are having to teach her lessons in moderation.

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blog NNicholas has been riding the bus to summer school with Julianna this summer, and reading Star Wars early reader books, and a smidge of C. S. Lewis. But mostly he’s been listening over and over to an audio book of the A to Z mysteries. He really, really likes audio books. The only thing that concerns me about this is whether he’s actually, yanno, reading enough. Like, getting enough practice at nuts and bolts of decoding words and translating them into meaningful thoughts.

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It did not rain here from Memorial Day until June 20th. Not a drop. Monday night we got two inches, and lost a third of the maple tree in front of the house. We doff our hats in mourning.

Wounded Tree

Hello to all the lovelies from Seven Quick Takes today!

Pirates!

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Coach Christian decided to go all-out and embrace the pirate theme for Alex’s baseball team this summer: to the tune of costumes and even a mascot.

Pirates

The eye roll makes the photo. 🙂

On the mound

It was a season complete with a joke-telling mascot who, as far as the parents were concerned, made the whole experience.

Mascot 2

What’s that you say? What kind of jokes?