Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snow & Sand

A few weeks ago, we drove a couple of hours up into the mountains and this is the sight that greeted us.

We stayed and played in the snow, having to forge new trails in order to get away from the too crowded hills near the parking lot.  There was so much snow, we sank up to our hips.  Except for the kids who got off lucky and only sank to their ankles.  Shaggy was trying his best to forge a nice, smooth sledding route.

J spent most of his time crawling, rolling and throwing the snow.  Here, he had been repeatedly falling face-first into the snow so he could eat it.

I noticed an interesting thing about J and his anxieties on this trip.  We met some friends up there and NONE of his normal social anxiety behaviors made themselves known.  He acted NORMALLY.  He let his guard down.  He begged another mom to bury him in the snow after watching her do it to her own daughter.  He DIDN'T ask me, even though I was standing right there.  He grinned the entire time the snow was being piled on top of him.  He uttered not a single protest when another dad picked him up and set him on his sled to go down the hill.  He even grinned through that.  Usually, the simple act of a non-family member touching him, sends him into lockdown mode, or worse.  But he was fine with all of this.  He even initiated conversation with other people, which is almost unheard of for him.

And it occurred to me that there is something deep within his soul that BELONGS to the elements.  He is at home among them.  He is drawn to anything and everything belonging to the natural world.  He is fascinated by even the simplest things found outside--leaves, sticks, rocks, pinecones (especially pinecones!), snails, flowers.  These things bring him tremendous joy.

I think that joy must somehow overshadow his anxieties, causing them to melt into the background.  It explains why he was so comfortable taking swimming lessons last summer.  I was dumbfounded by how well he did and how much he loved it.  But the element of water made him feel at home and he was free to disregard his anxieties.

It seems the same thing holds true for snow, which really is only another form of water.  But I would venture to guess he would be equally at home in the dirt, or the forest, or the beach.

Now, if I could only ensure that ALL of his future social interactions could occur out among the elements, then MY anxiety about his future could also melt away.

It took R a while to warm up to the snow, so to speak.  She wanted to be carried . . . A LOT.  Until we dug a snow pen for her to safely walk around in.  Then she turned adventurous and began climbing out to walk around on the more treacherous, non-packed snow.

And just a few weeks after the snow trip, we found ourselves here, at a butterfly sanctuary.  Sadly, we were too late in the season to see many butterflies.  So we walked 5 minutes to the beach.

Where the kids reveled in the warm sun and cold waves.

R was pretty much terrified of the waves, but she loved the sand.

S built a pretend campfire in order to roast pretend marshmallows.  Which she and everyone else proceeded to pretend to eat.  And enjoy.

The fact that McQueen was peeking out of J's britches as he was trying to climb up the sand dune, had Shaggy and I in stitches.  His pants were so wet and heavy, they wouldn't stay up.  But I guess, if I want to be truthful, I should say that I was really the one doing most of the laughing.  Shaggy was laughing a little, from the distance, but mostly he was telling me to stop taking pictures and pull up J's pants.  Which I did . . . eventually.

My crew, watching the sun set.


I know we sometimes complain about living where we do.  The air quality is horrible.  The schools aren't the greatest.  The summers are suffocating.  The politics aren't quite our cup of tea.

But I realize that the fact that we can make day trips to visit both the snow AND the sand within a 3 week period is something that should be appreciated.  And I do appriciate it.  And I'm sure that I will look back on these events with longing one day as I'm watching Shaggy shovel snow off our walks . . . from the window . . . with a cup of hot chocolate in my hand. 

Terrible Tooth Fairy

I wish I knew how to petition the tooth fairy coalition in order to request a new tooth fairy.  The one who currently does our route is really pretty terrible.

She pretty much never visits on the actual day the tooth was lost.  More often, she only comes after the kids have waited a few days and sometimes won’t even come until they have written her a note.

Like this one S wrote after waiting THREE days for the tooth fairy to come.  Yeah, three days, can you believe it?

Dear Tooth Fairy,

I hope my tooth makes good fairy dust.  GOOD fairy dust!  Do you ever get tired of being the Tooth Fairy?  I would. Well, I hope things are going good at wherever you live.  Hey, where DO you live?  Love, S.

Maybe she has self-esteem issues and wants to make sure that she is REALLY wanted.  Or maybe she has trouble keeping track of all the houses on her route.  Or MAYBE she’s just a little forgetful because she has so many responsibilities.

Of course, it COULD be like S suggested, and she’s just tired of being the tooth fairy.  But I have a suspicion that she doesn’t really mind, she just has a very full plate.

It wasn’t always this bad.  In our early years of tooth loss with the kids, the money was consistently left under the pillow in a very prompt and professional manner.

Maybe she was a rookie then, and was very eager to please.  And the novelty of a new job probably inspired her to do her very best.  But, sadly, that novelty has worn off a bit.

Maybe she now has a family of her own which keeps her very busy.  And when she finally finishes the bedtime wrestle, maybe her mind consistently shuts down, causing her to occasionally forget about the little girl who is sleeping with one hand under her pillow, waiting for some magic.

And I suppose, when I think of it that way, maybe she isn’t so terrible after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Smelly Old Vacuum

Today, my house smells like burned rubber.  A fact I hope Shaggy will overlook when he comes home.  But since he has a nose as sensitive as those French perfume sniffers, he’ll probably zero in on it immediately.  Might have been wise to burn a few candles.

Oh, well.  I’d have to come clean eventually.

I was vacuuming today.  It was a minor miracle that the floor was clear enough of toys to make that a possibility.

I had barely started when I noticed the lovely smell of burnt hair permeating the room.  Nice.  So I turned the vacuum over, grabbed the scissors and began cutting all the long hair that was wound tightly around the rotating brushes.  I can officially blame this problem on my girls, since I don’t have long hair at the moment.  Actually haven’t for several years.

Once I was finished and started vacuuming again, it seemed that the brushes were turning more easily and I no longer smelled quite so much burnt hair.  Good!  The problem was that the vacuum started making strange grinding noises.  Definitely not the kind of noise you want to hear from your vacuum.  And then, the lovely smell of burnt rubber started to fill the air.

I kept vacuuming for a minute just to make sure that I wasn’t imagining things.  No such luck.

So I turned the vacuum over again to see what the problem was.  There was a bunch of black goo which had formed on one side, near the end of one of the rotating blades.  It smelled terrible and was REALLY hot.

In all my years of vacuuming, I’ve never had a vacuum produce hot, smelly goo.  Don’t think that’s supposed to happen.

I decided to go ahead and remove the goo, and discovered, to my dismay, that there was a big chunk missing from the rotating blade.  Huh?!  Somehow, the blade itself was actually being melted by the vacuum.  Oh, wonderful.

So I did what any responsible person would do.  I stood the vacuum up and finished vacuuming.  As quickly as possible.  Doing my best to ignore the grinding sound.  And the smell.  Might be my last chance to use a vacuum for a while.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Defending the Vikings

Until recently, my mental image of a Viking was pretty similar to the one that exists in popular culture.  Barbarians who wore horned helmets and sailed the seas in long boats.

But thanks to my daughter’s 6th grade assignment, I have been enlightened.

For History Day, we encouraged K to do something about Ireland or the Isle of Man since she has roots there.  She finally settled on researching the Viking impact on the Isle of Man.  Everybody had to research how something impacted something else.  Impact & change--that was the theme.

We checked out as many books as we could on the topic, although the libraries around here were woefully short on books about the Isle of Man.  Can’t imagine why.  So we bought a few that would round out her research.  She had a little trouble sifting through all the information in the books geared towards adults, so I started thumbing through them to help narrow down the relevant parts for her.

And I got sucked in.  Totally and completely.

So I’m going to share some of what I learned.  Whether you want me to, or not.

I learned some very surprising things.  The first of which is the unconfirmed fact that I might possibly have Viking blood coursing through my veins.  My mother, who is much more into genealogy than I am, came across an ancestral line which leads back to William the Conqueror.  This line has yet to be confirmed.  But it turns out that this William, Duke of Normandy, also happens to be the sixth great-grandson of Rollo (formerly Hrolf), an honest-to-goodness pureblooded Viking.  Rollo spent a good deal of time raiding the coasts of England and France.  Nice guy!  But then he and his men overran some wonderful countryside near Frankia, after which Rollo somehow convinced the Frankish king Charles to cede to him the land later called Normandy.  Rollo became the Count of Rouen, but the title was later changed to Duke of Normandy as the holdings were expanded.

This surprised me.  Maybe I’m slow, but I never made the connection between Normandy and the Norsemen.  OK, I am slow.  But here was this state which was to become VERY formidable and a huge influence in the development of Europe.  And it was founded by a Viking.  A smart one at that.

Maybe it’s my possible Viking ancestry, or the certain Viking ancestry of my husband that prompted me to write this post.  Vindicating our ancestors and all that.  Who knows.

I also learned that there are a huge number of English words which come directly from Scandinavian ones.  Window, husband, sky, ugly, wrong, happy. Just to name a few.  The Vikings didn’t just raid churches and coastal cities.  They immigrated and settled, bringing their wives with them.  Women who raised their children with Scandinavian words and participated in the local culture enough for those words to become entrenched into the mainstream English language.  This language infiltration didn’t necessarily happen in Normandy, where they were fairly quickly assimilated into French culture, but it certainly did in another area of England known as the Danelaw.

The Scandinavians also brought with them their laws and their law enforcement.  Turns out they weren’t as barbaric as pop culture would have us believe.  They were a civilized, law-abiding culture.  Well, for the most part.  Like us, they had their share of bad guys.  But they looked to courts to settle their legal disputes.  Courts consisted of 12 men who swore on holy relics that they would basically be impartial in listening to the dispute.  Sound familiar?  This is the first example in English law for majority rule and for trial by jury.  That was certainly surprising.  I never imagined that we owed our legal system to the Vikings.  Certainly both trial by jury and majority rule existed in other countries throughout history, but from the Vikings to the English to us seems the most direct course.  I can’t see how ancient Greece or Rome would have had a more direct impact on English law than the Vikings.  Until I come across evidence to the contrary, this is what I’ll believe.

It’s indisputable that Vikings carried on fierce raids along the world’s coasts.  And they killed pretty much anyone who got in their way.  But in their defense, this type of violence wasn’t uncommon.  The Vikings weren’t the only ones with a tendency toward slaughter.

And one reason Europe, in particular, was so terrified of them, was that they had no respect for the holy places of European culture.  But honestly, why should they?  They weren’t Christian.  They held no love or respect for Christ or His servants.  They saw churches and monasteries as rich and easy targets.  They housed the greatest treasures and riches of Europe . . . and they weren’t guarded.

The Vikings were pagans.  They worshiped an entire family of Gods.  Among them, beings who rewarded fierce warriors and legendary deeds.  The Vikings believed open plunder was actually honorable.  They did, however, believe it was a rather serious crime to steal something from behind a locked door.  Maybe Europe’s monasteries just needed some big padlocks and this whole bloody affair could have been avoided.

Yeah . . . probably not.  Because Viking raids, contrary to popular opinion, weren’t necessarily caused by the simplistic explanation of overpopulation.  They had been emigrating for centuries.  They were well known traders, even in Europe, before they began raiding.

A more plausible explanation for the violent Viking expansion was the increasing centralization of power in Scandinavia.  Warriors emerged as an elite class.  Local kingdoms were swallowed up by regional kingdoms.  Eligibility for kingship only required one parent with royal blood.  Illegitimacy didn’t matter.  So Scandinavian society was faced with huge numbers of men who COULD aspire to rule, but the diminishing CHANCES to rule created extremely fierce competition for those positions.  Raiding provided these men with the opportunity to gather riches and reputation enough to return home and fight for power.

Once Scandinavia began adopting the Christian European model of governing, with more secure royal authority, and local sources of income such as tolls and taxes, raiding declined.  Fortunately for the warrior elite, they weren’t left to drift aimlessly through life, they were able to join the oh-so-respectable crusades.

How’s that for ironic?  After bemoaning the ferocious and barbaric ways of the Vikings, Europe turns around and sanctions the crusades.  Somehow seems even more indefensible than the Viking age.  At least in my opinion.

Oh, and guess what?  The Vikings weren’t all that crazy about horned helmets.  Maybe on rare occasions for special ceremonies, but certainly not in battle.  Can you imagine what a horned helmet would do for you in battle?  Hasten your death, if anything.  And if there was ANYTHING these Viking warriors were good at, it was battle.

But wait, wasn’t this post supposed to talk about K’s project?  How the Vikings impacted the Isle of Man?  Oh, yeah.  So they raided Man, most likely, before they conquered it.  Then they ruled and brought their version of parliament which is still in effect today, making Tynwald the oldest continuous parliament in the world.  And they intermarried with the local population, bringing their customs, language and ideals into mainstream Manx culture.  Then they converted to Christianity.  And after a while, they lost Man to other countries.

K built a viking ship out of popsicle sticks, a model of Tynwald hill out of cardboard and warhammer terrain.  Tynwald is the place the Manx still gather each year to hear the laws read.  And she made a viking memorial stone out of clay.

She opted for the museum display category.  Everyone else in her class did a poster.  And none of them followed the instructions enough to go on to compete in the county history day.  Except for K.  You don't think we have an overachiever on our hands, do you?  Or maybe it's just her Viking blood urging her to seize power . . .

She painted the Manx flag on construction paper.  I happen to think the Manx have one of the most inspiring mottos ever--withersoever you throw me, I shall stand.  Maybe the Viking spirit permeated so far into their consciousness, that it just never faded away.

But if there is one thing I will remember about the Vikings after reading so much about them, it is that they affected so much of the larger world around them--affected it profoundly and in ways that are only rarely recognized.  Amidst all the death and mayhem they caused, they also did a lot of good, or so it seems to me. 

Maybe it’s not a bad thing to have Viking blood in my veins.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

Or worth at least two, anyway.  Got the idea from  Thanks to S for drawing the picture.