Sunday, December 23, 2007

X-mas at the Zoo

Last Friday night, we took advantage of the break in the rain and went to the Portland Zoo for their annual X-mas lights festival. It was a little chilly, but that didn't bother me much (I've concluded that I have skin as thick as a polar bear), but Wah-Wah and the kids got a little cold. This is a pretty big event in Portland. All the animals in the zoo are put away, and X-mas lights are put up through out the park.
The main attraction here is the Zoo train that is decked out in lights. The train will take you for a ride around the zoo and to some other light displays you can't see unless you are on the train. It was a forty five minute wait for us to ride. Nibbles had one of her infamous "meltdowns" while we were waiting. She kept shouting "Choo-Choo" every time the train went by. She couldn't understand that we had to wait in line like everyone else. Generally, I don't like to give out candy to my kids, but in this case I made an exception. It worked for a little while.
Shortly after the train ride, Wah-Wah and the kids couldn't take the cold any longer so they went home while I stayed around and took a few pictures.
Personally, I kind of like the Grotto's displays better. They were much more about X-mas story and why we celebrate the holiday. It really put me in more of the X-mas spirit than the zoo lights. Still, they were pretty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hard week at work

This week, I've been feeling a little down, mostly due to work. Christmas has always been hard on the kids that I work with. I remember when I worked in a residential group home, the kids would always act up around this time of year. Most of the kids had no families or any that would come visit them for the holidays. Many kids would just become bitter. Foster kids (the population I work with) have a particularly hard time this time of year since they get moved around so much and have never been part of a family in some cases. I have been pretty invested this week to try to make the holidays a little better for some kids, but it is starting to burn me out. Two cases I've been spending a lot of time with have been pretty draining.
One child I've been working with, Travis, has never had a "normal family Christmas." Basically, he has lived in residential his whole life. This year, it looked like he would spend X-mas with a foster family that has been struggling with him all year. However this week, I feel he has sabotaged it by going on a pretty intense rampage , causing him to get kicked out of his foster home and school. Some how, I think this kid wanted to leave so he wouldn't have to spend X-mas with anything close to a family. Some kids will do that as a way of protecting themselves against a bigger hurt. I know that when he is on these intensive rampages he verbally attacks me. I've concluded that he wants me (or anyone else) to hurt as bad as he does. A few nights ago, I was frantically looking for a home for him and he just broke down and cried for about an hour. This kid has had a tough life causing him to be socially awkward, and bullied a lot at school. He is the kind of kid you can see blowing away people in a mall someday.
Another kid that has been getting to me this Xmas, is a 4 year old named Ben. I've been working with for about a year. He reminds me of Woogy so much. He gets in my car and always plays with the toys that Woogy leaves behind. Over the year Ben has made a lot of progress mostly due to a skilled foster parent. I remember when I first met Ben, he would cuss like a sailor and play with his poop. Over the year, we got him involved in Head Start and just did a lot of behavior management. The state has been pushing visits with Ben and his bio family which are a bunch of neanderthals. I was clearing observing some PTSD in Ben over these visits, but with no evidence, the state pushed forward. Ben has been returning from his visits looking very tired and unusually hungry. He also has a large number of bruises on his legs which can be attributed to his emotionally disturbed brother. The other day I took Ben to a X-mas party hosted by the state and got to meet Ben's parents. With the state closing their case, Ben will be returned home this week. Mom didn't seem to really care. This was probably because she has 3 other kids making a scene. I anticipate we will see Ben again when he is placed again in the system. Foster mom and I are both pretty upset that the progress Ben has made will most likely be lost, but we hope we had some effect on him.
I know all this is the nature of the business that I'm in, but I guess around this time of year it's hard to remain optimistic about the holidays for some kids.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas at the Grotto

This weekend we took what is turning into our holiday tradition of going to the Grotto. I posted on the Grotto last year but nothing better gets you in the holiday mood like a trip to the Grotto. In case you don't remember, the Grotto is a Catholic shrine here in Portland that puts on a traditional Christmas festival every year. They have lights, carolers, choirs, and have no commerical signs on Christmas (No Santa or Frosty).
At the entrance, visitors walk through a forest of lights with the story of Christmas in the Bible being read over speakers. After you leave the little walk through the forest, you come to a village with puppet shows, petting zoos, hot chocolate, and carolers. This year was a little more enjoyable since Nibbles wasn't as fussy. I remember last year, Nibbles was so cranky that she had a "meltdown" that I don't think we will ever forget.
Since I was raised Catholic, the Grotto always seems familiar with all the images of Mary, stain glass windows of saints, and pictures of the Pope. My grandmother, who was a devout Catholic, would have loved it. Anyway, here are some pictures:

The shrine is actually carved out of cliff. Here's a picture of the shrine at night that over looks the little Christmas village that is set up.
Here is the life size nativity scene.
Here's Woogy with all the candles. Lighting of candles is a big deal in the Catholic church. I had to ask Woogy not to blow them out.
Here's Woogy, Nibbles, and me in their little path through the forest. I was happy that for the most part, no one was too cranky to ruin my holiday cheer.
More Christmas lights hanging in the forest.

The Grotto's Christmas village.
Here's the church at the Grotto. A traditional Catholic structure. Inside, you will find choirs singing Christmas songs. Some traditional, some not but no "Frosty the Snowman."
Woogy and Wah-Wah
Here's the Carolers with their books open, coats, scarfs, and hats on, singing Christmas songs with candles in the background. If that doesn't get you in the Christmas spirit, nothing will.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

November's music

Here's my picks for Nov:

Sigur Ros Hvarf/Heim Sigur Ros is one of my favorite bands of all time. Their shows are nothing short of a religious experience. They are one of the most artistic and creative bands around today. Even their videos (which I have on my ipod) are a celebration of youth, age, and love. This month, to my surprise, they released a double ep to coincide with a movie they did of their homeland of Iceland. Unfortunately, the material isn't new, but still a must for a Sigur Ros fan. Hvarf is a disc of songs that the band have had around, but never recorded until now. Hvarf is as good as any Sigur Ros album, just doesn't break new ground. The second disc Heim is mostly a semi acoustic live recording the band did of some of their material. Even in a stripped down setting, Sigur Ros shines as bright as they do in the studio.

Over the Rhine Besides I guess I'm a "Rhinelander" because the back of the disc is labelled "For Rhinelanders Only" and I rather enjoyed it. Besides is mostly unreleased material made for the fans of Over the Rhine. Some of the material is definitely good enough for any album. Over the Rhine seems to enjoy rewarding their fans with these "fan only" albums since there are a few more floating out there. Songs like "Miles" and "Lucy" show their "throw out" songs are just as good as the ones they keep. This is one of two Over the Rhine albums I got this month. I helped convinced me to get the rest of the Over the Rhine collection.
Over the Rhine Patience My other Over the Rhine album is their second album. I have to say that it took a little while for me to get into this one. After the first couple of listens, I thought it sounded kind of dated. It was made back in the early 90's, but doesn't hold up as well as some of their older material. After a few more listens, I began to appreciate it more and began to see it as a solid album.
Maps We Can Create This is another album that took me a while to get into. I read a lot on this one, and several tags it has gotten is "shoegazer"(which I would naturally love). However, it doesn't sound "Shoegazerish" in the way that I think of "shoegazer." Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are unfounded. We Can Create is dreamy, but I didn't hear the walls of guitar distortion that I love. It sounds more electronic than anything. Of course, this is just my opinion. Once I dropped trying to compare to something, I began to enjoy much more and can see that it is a pretty good album.
Gorillaz D-Sides Another collection of unreleased tunes this month that could be passed on unless you are a big Gorillaz fan. The first disc is made up of B-sides from their last album Demon Days (which is a fantastic trippy album). Damon Albarn (creator of the band and front man to Blur) was never very good at B-sides, but can write pretty good singles. The second disc is remixes of all the singles from Demon Days. It's pretty unnecessary considering the songs are already trippy and funky without having to be remixed.

Great Northern Trading Twilight for Daylight Pretty good debut album from this southern California band (I was disappointed to hear they weren't actually from the north). Trading Twilight for Daylight has some pretty inviting textures, and a lot of good catchy indie hooks. I put this album off for too long before buying it.