Archive for March, 2010

My Thoughts on “Family” Homework

Family homework does hearken back to my own childhood, which was besprinkled with wretched diorama projects, year after year. I still remember one assignment that stumped me: creating a model of life in the Alaskan wilderness. It did get completed…but, not by me! In truth, my incredibly crafty mother constructed the entire thing, including an amazing canoe, an igloo, and a lashed together dock with some spears leaning against it.

It was awesome, and I got a great grade. Thanks, Mom!

Sadly, this all comes full circle when you become a parent yourself, most recently for us in the form of Zelda’s bridge project, which required that we build a model and a display board for one of Portland’s historic bridges. She chose the Broadway Bridge.

In real life, the Broadway Bridge is painted “Golden Gate Red”, so we figured we would use red licorice to make our model, since it was already the correct color. No painting necessary! We tested both Red Vines and Twizzlers. The latter I prefer to eat, but they were too soft for the bridge. The former won the day, and after we stiffened it with a little rebar, it was time to build. (Rebar, in this case, was straightened paper clips that we ran through the centers.)

Over the course of many weeks, Tom and Zelda worked on the bridge. When it was finished, they placed it upon piers made of marshmallows. Originally, the project was conceived with footers that were two marshmallows high to keep it all in scale, but within 24 hours, the whole thing fell apart. We had to go back to the drawing board and were, predictably, running short on time. Therefore, maintaining proper scale was thrown out the window. Or, to put it more poetically, we decided that the river was at flood-stage height, and went with the single marshmallow piers that are pictured above. We also added some lateral support to prevent the bridge from falling over.

Yes, we got to build two bridges for family homework!

The display board went a little more smoothly. Zelda hand-lettered a bunch of the labels with single letter stamps, which required a lot of iterations, but the red ink matched the bridge in color and the font looked very “period.” She also was featured in one of the photos of the bridge, which her classmates enjoyed.

At school, she and some classmates even made up a song about the Broadway Bridge, sung to the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine:

The Broadway Bridge is in Portland, 
It would not fit in a fridge.
It is for cars, bikes and walkers, 
It is nowhere near a ridge.

It's a double-leaf Rall bascule, 
It is bigger than a smidge.
It is painted Golden Gate Red.
Yes it is, the Broadway Bridge!

Needless to say, Zelda participated more enthusiastically in this family homework than my pouty, diorama-hating ass ever did.

The Bridges of Multnomah County

We had the opportunity recently to chaperone a very interesting on-foot tour of some of Portland’s fabulous historic bridges. Zelda’s school scored Portland bridge historian, Sharon Wood Wortman, to lead the tour and it was informative for the pint-sized and adult-sized alike.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated and it didn’t rain. In fact, as you can see, we were blessed with big light for photos.

We started our tour at the Oregon Department of Transportation and got to check out all of their bridge cameras on the big screen. The kids were even more impressed with the remote-controlled conference table, where you could press a button, and the center of the table would rise up to reveal a bank of 12 phones to be used during weather/transportation emergencies.

Next, we walked over the Steel Bridge as a freight train rumbled past us, and off in the distance, we could see the Broadway Bridge just beginning to open. It was lovely.

These lucky third graders had the privilege of ascending into the the control tower of the Burnside Bridge, and they also got to lay down on the road while the bridge was opened next to them solely for their benefit. (I’m sure the commuters were wondering what the hell was going on — no boats coming through, bridge open, kids laying on the road screaming as if they were “road kill.”)

We learned:

  • There are something like 781 Douglas Fir trees under the footings for the Burnside Bridge. (Those are waterproof and rated for 100 years, right?)
  • The St. John’s Bridge was originally supposed to be painted with black and yellow stripes. (Thank God they went with the green.)
  • The Broadway Bridge was the longest double leaf bascule bridge in the world when it was built.
  • The Fremont Bridge is the second largest tied-arch bridge in the world.

Bouncing Yoga Balls off Horses

Our new home has a surprising view considering our urban/industrial location. We overlook the Willamette River, the Fremont Bridge, and the mounted police training facility and stables.

When we moved into our new apartment, we figured we would enjoy the horses, but we’ve become absolutely riveted. The training that the horses and their riders go through is fascinating, to say the least.

Pictured above was “Fire Day”, where the trainers ignited flames in burn barrels and conducted mock protests with the horses in formation. They then lit a line of fuel on fire between the barrels and had the horses walk through the smoke and the small blaze. If you click on a photo, you can just make out the line of fire under the horses.

We first learned of the “protest training,” when I found that my recreational reading was being interrupted by rhythmic chanting coming outside. I thought maybe some gung-ho exercise class was on their way to the esplanade for a run. To investigate, I got off my ass and poked my head toward the window, only to discover instead that Portland’s finest were holding signs and screaming chants at horses with riders. They did the mock demonstration up right with banner signs, picket signs, people running toward the horses, megaphones, etc.

They throw every obstacle they can think of at these horses. We’ve observed them practice swinging their night stick within the peripheral vision of the horse, so their equine partner is not startled by the motion. They run the stick along the horse, they wave it slowly, increasing the speed over time. The horses do not flinch.

One day, they had various protest obstacles set up, and the mounted unit had to walk through the tight course in formation with picketers screaming. Another time, we even saw a horse and rider holding still while a trainer threw a yoga ball quite hard at the horse, repetitively, from every position around the steed. Interestingly enough, this was one of the few exercises where the horse wavered, but he never broke out of his stance.

We have enjoyed getting to know the 7 horses who live next door. We know which ones like to roll around in the dirt, we are forever commenting on the the black gelding and white gelding’s battle for herd supremacy, we smile when they argue over which one gets to bite and play with the orange caution cone in the riding ring, and there is nothing more engaging than seeing them at a full gallop, sans mounts, playing, nipping, and bucking.

We have the best view in Portland.