Monday, March 31, 2014

No Hens For You!

There should have been chickens.

Today was the day when Lauren’s shipment of chicks was supposed to arrive for her 4H Poultry project.  She’s been looking forward to this for weeks, counting down the days until we could have several dozen cat snacks in the basement for as long as it took the survivors to get big enough to take out to our friend Lois’ farm.  It’s even marked in bright colorful letters on the calendar: “Chicken Day!”

Alas, no.

The hard winter we’ve had this year has wreaked havoc upon all sorts of things, ranging from heating budgets to the general ability of climate change deniers to come to grips with the concept of an average.  Add chickens to that list.  Apparently when the weather gets that cold there are a few things that chickens prefer not to do, which is strange since you would think that this one in particular would be a good way to keep warm.  Maybe chickens don’t work that way.  I don’t know.  There are certain things I prefer not to think about any further in my life, and that's one of them.  But in any event, the net result for eagerly anticipating 4Hers is a chicken shortage.

We seem to have weather problems with prospective 4H animals a lot here.  It took us a while to get Lauren’s new rabbit because the severe heat a couple of summers ago led to a similar shortage of rabbits.  I understand that a bit better.  When it’s 108F outside, being anywhere close enough to correct that sort of problem in the long run is just sticky and uncomfortable.

Maybe the chickens just can’t sit still long enough to hatch an egg when it gets as cold as it did this winter.  Who knows?

All we know is that there are no chickens today.

There is a swap meet for chicken folks coming up in a few weeks, though, and perhaps there will be chickens enough there to go around.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

News and Updates

1. People who write crossword puzzles should not be allowed to have null pairs of clues.  “12-down: Variant of 35-across” and “35-across: See 12-down” conveys no useful information.

2. Best comment I saw regarding the recent unlamented passing of one of the premier nuisances of our era: “Now that Fred Phelps is dead, how many horcruxes does Ann Coulter have left?”  File that under things I wish I’d thought of first.

3. It may or may not be spring here in Our Little Town.  When the rabbits can go outside and stay outside, it will be official.

4. Having an infected tooth and a rattling cough at the same time is just a recipe for not sleeping.  At least the infection seems to be going away, thanks to the meds.  We’ll see about the cough.

5. Apparently Wisconsin having the second-highest voting rate in the US was simply too much of a burden for Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) to bear.  Fortunately, he corrected that last week by slashing the hours available for early voting.  That’ll teach those pesky citizens!  And – in a sure sign that satire is wasted on his ilk – on that very same day he also extended deadlines for lobbyists to make their bribes contributions.  Murca!

6. All of the things that I thought I’d have plenty of time to prepare in the beginning of the semester seem to be coming due and have not actually been prepared.  April may well be a very long month.  Fortunately, I have plenty of time available that I am not using for sleeping (vide supra).

7. It didn’t take long for our brackets to go down in flames.  Kim and I were both essentially reduced to one surviving team as of Friday.  This means I will probably win this year’s contest and gather in all the valuable prizes once we determine what, if any, those are.

8. Am I the only person in America who actually kind of likes the recent redesign of Facebook’s wall?  It’s not all that much different, and what is different seems cleaner than the old one.  Now if only I had more interesting things to say there.

9. Already our summer looks fully booked, and we’ve only managed to plan for half the things we want to do.  We will thus proceed to the over-booking stage of the summer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Penn Wynne, PA, 1970

There is something about dinosaurs that attracts boys.

Maybe girls too, though not if my own children are any indication.  And maybe it was just the times – do kids these days even know about dinosaurs?  They must.  But for boys of my generation, dinosaurs were just the coolest things in the universe.

They were big.  They were strong.  They didn’t have to clean their rooms or go to school and they could eat anyone who said otherwise.

Dinosaurs were cool.

I remember having all sorts of dinosaur stuff when I was a kid.  The first thing was a brown hardback book about eight inches square that I still have somewhere.  My dad picked it up from the Museum of Natural History in New York City when he was up there on a business trip when I was about four or five – he walked over from the conference center, wandered into the building, and asked the security guard where the shop was.  He got there, bought the book, and it was only on his way back out that he realized that nobody had asked him for any money for entry. 

We went back as a family not too long after that – my first trip to New York.  We took the train, which was exciting.  It was a foggy day, as I recall, so we didn’t get to see much from the top of the Empire State Building.  And I remember standing on a street corner while my parents looked at a map, trying to figure out how to get to our next destination, when a blustery lady came up – an old lady, I thought then, though probably not all that far from my own age now – and asked us where we were headed.  “I hate when people look at maps,” she said, and she sent us unerringly on our way.  Eventually we ended up at the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs, and I came home with a cast-lead statue of a stegosaurus, maybe two inches from end to end.  I treasured that thing, even when the paint flaked away and the last quarter inch of the tail snapped off.  I still have that too.  It’s probably with the book.

Somewhere between those two New York experiences was the following:

It’s about 1970 here, which makes me four and a half, and my brother just shy of two.  We’re out on the front lawn of our house, on the tiny one-block-long suburban street where we lived.  That’s our neighbor in the back left.

And that, on the right, is our dinosaur.

I have no idea where my dad found it, and at this remove neither does he.  It was styrofoam, and it came in pieces.  We had to put it together.  I think it was held together by rubber bands, or at least some of it was – the arms moved and so did the jaw.  Perhaps the rest of it was just tab-and-slot construction.  It didn’t weigh much, but it was big.  So my dad built it outside on the lawn, probably slowed down considerably by our efforts to help.

And there it sat.  We couldn’t really bring it inside, as it would take up the entire living room, so we left it there for as long as the weather held.  “We got some reactions from the neighbors,” is all my dad would say about that.  No doubt the other kids in the neighborhood – and there were a lot of them – came over and had fun with it too.  That’s what it was for, after all.

Eventually the weather turned and our dinosaur had to be taken apart and brought in.  I remember pieces of it floating around the house for a while, and then – like all good things – it went away.  It was long gone by the time we moved in 1979.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Med Man

One of the problems with getting to the point where “middle-aged” begins to slope toward whatever micro-slice of lifespan is considered next these days is that your medical intake goes up considerably.  I do not like this.

I have never liked taking pills of any kind.  Oh, I’m not one of those stoics who insist on gutting out migraine headaches, infections, or other medical crises – medicine has its place and it’s perfectly fine.  Desirable, even.  I just don’t enjoy it and I prefer to keep it to a minimum if at all possible.

This week my jaw started reminding me that it had been a while since my last dental checkup.  Jaws only have one way to do that, you know.

So I made a quick appointment and went in for my cleaning and x-rays, expecting to hear that there was some gaping hole in one of the molars somewhere toward the back and they would be breaking out the shovels and rakes and implements of destruction required to backfill it at an appointment at my earliest convenience.  So I was somewhat puzzled when they reported that my recent upgrade in dental habits had actually been effective and once again I was cavity free.

“So why does it feel like there’s an entire NHL playoff game going on in my back teeth, complete with sharpened skates, rampant body checking, and at least one ten-minute misconduct penalty being awarded for most creative use of a hockey stick as a surgical implement?” I asked.

“Well,” they said, “because you have an infected wisdom tooth and that’s making your whole mouth hurt.”

Why yes, yes it is.  This, on top of a cough which may or may not be a side effect of other medical treatments, had also made sleeping something of a losing cause recently.

“Not to worry,” said the dentist.  “I will write you this handy prescription for an antibiotic, and if you are true and valiant and take all of the pills exactly as you should, they should work.”

“And if they don’t?”

“At that point you can choose between having the wisdom tooth removed, or having a root canal and crown.”

Ah.  So many choices, so few options.

I’ve spent the last couple of days cheering on the little antibiotics.  “Go! Do your stuff!” I chant in my head.  I don’t say that out loud too much because a) I do not wish to be explaining this long story to large men in clean white coats carrying what appear to be oversized butterfly nets, and 2) moving my mouth too much causes pain, and pain avoidance is one of my guiding principles.  “No pain, no pain,” I say.  But I am loud and enthusiastic in my mind.

I am similarly circumspect in my cheering for all the ibuprofen I am consuming.  It does not need cheering, though.  I know that ibuprofen works.  And, more importantly, I know precisely – to the minute – when it stops working and it is time for more.

Between the two medications, I suspect I am beginning to rattle when I walk.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't Bet On It

This is the time of the year when I am reminded that it is a good thing that I’m not much of a gambler.

Every March Kim and I pretend we know something about college basketball and fill out our brackets.  It’s an entertaining ten or fifteen minutes, and then we get to track our choices as they inevitably crash and burn.  Right now I’m leading in the point total, as I have called more games correctly in the first two rounds, but Kim is set to make that up in the later rounds as more of her top teams have actually survived – I’ve only got one Final Four team left, for example, while she has three.  It is in fact entirely likely that I will be able to concede the whole thing by the time I go to bed this Friday. 

It’s a good thing we don’t put money on these things, though, since neither of us is doing all that well.

I’ve never seen much point to gambling.  I live not all that far from any number of casinos here in Wisconsin and none of them strike me as anywhere I’d like to visit.  Back in college a bunch of us took an overnight road trip to Atlantic City to visit the ones there and I spent a happy night consuming free watered down drinks (hey – I wasn’t driving) and watching my friends play cards.  On our honeymoon Kim and I wandered into a riverboat casino and stayed there for a bit, but mostly I played the nickel slots and spent my time pocketing whatever coins came back that would work for my coin collection, until eventually I ran out of the money I planned to spend there.

For $20 I got an hour’s worth of fun and a few old nickels.  It was an entertainment expense, not really a gambling debt.

That’s pretty much how I approach the lottery as well.  For a couple of bucks once in a while I get to think about all the ways in which newfound wealth would corrupt me.  It would mean switching out many of my old problems for entirely new problems.  And I can even plan how to spend my winnings wreaking petty vengeance upon all the folks who have annoyed me recently – a rotating cast of characters who will NEVER KNOW WHAT HIT THEM MWAHAHAHA.  Not bad entertainment for a $2 investment.  It’s more cost-effective than most movies that way, and certainly more cathartic.

I think you need to have more of a thrill-seeking nature than I do in order to get into that sort of thing.  There are very few thrill-seeking historians, in my experience.  It’s not an occupation that rewards that kind of behavior very well, and most of the people I’ve known like that who entered the field are long out of it now and happier for it.

But I’ll keep watching the implacable progress of the implosion of my bracket, because it is entertaining.

And that’s all I ask.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Our Little Town, 1995

This is about as fierce as I get most days, threatening baked goods with rounded implements.  But as I said to a friend on Facebook who told me it looked like I was threatening a miniature Jabba the Hutt, it was him or me and he was delicious.

I moved up to Our Little Town in the summer of 1995.  Kim had been living here for two years at that point.  I was living in Iowa.  When we got engaged we knew that one of us would have to move, and since she had the actual job I ended up returning to the proper side of the Mississippi River, if only just.

It was a hot summer that year.  The temperatures before I left Iowa topped out at around 106, and they’d go back up to that not long after I moved here, but there was a short break during the actual move.  And if you know anything about short breaks like that, you know that all that did was make the weather more volatile. 

I rented a truck and somehow convinced several of my grad school friends to help me take all of my worldly possessions out of my third-floor walkup apartment and stash them into the truck.  Then I made the journey to Our Little Town without changing the shape of anything on the interstate – a feat which to this day still amazes me.  Kim was hosting her Swedish friends, Mats and Sara, and all of us pitched in to get everything out of the truck and into the second-floor walkup apartment where Kim and I would live for the next year or so.

We just made it in before the rain started falling, and were still trying to shove things around when the tornado sirens went off.

They don’t have tornados in Sweden.  It took some convincing to get the Swedes off the balcony (“What the hjell are you doing!?!?  Get insjide!!”), where they were trying to see if they could spot the tornado. 

The next day more of Kim’s friends, from northern Wisconsin came by – Fuzzy and Rachel and their young son Vaughn, and Phil (that’s Phil in the background).  One of them – or perhaps all of them – had made a stop on the way down.

If you ever find yourself in northwestern Wisconsin and you are looking for pie, you need to get to the Norske Nook.  There’s two of them now, but at that time there was only the one in Osseo – a town close enough to the interstate that it’s worth making the side journey.  The food is pretty good, but the pies are the key.  You can buy them by the slice, or they will sell you a whole one for carryout.  And when you swing through Osseo next time and bring them back their plate, they will refund your deposit.

That’s one of their meringue pies, though which one I don’t remember.  Probably lemon.  It was good.  They’re all good.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Day at the Capitol

The last time I was in the capitol building up in Madison I had about a hundred thousand colleagues with me, expressing our general displeasure with the right-wing extremism being forced into law by our Fearless Liter (just a little more than a quart!).  This time was much less stressful.

If you’ve followed along in this space for any length of time you know that we here have been sucked into the vortex that is 4H.  It’s a great program, don’t get me wrong – it teaches the kids all sorts of things, gives them great opportunities to make friends and learn valuable life skills, and generally keeps them off the streets, in large part because as far as 4H is concerned the spaces between projects are there to provide you with more opportunities for further projects.

We’ve got three different 4H events just this week, in fact.  Tuesday was a Cat Project meeting.  Today is a Drama Project meeting.  And Wednesday?

Well, on Wednesday nearly a thousand 4H kids descended on Madison to mark the 100th anniversary of 4H.

It was quite an event.

I missed most of it, though.  It may be spring break down at Home Campus, but the students in my compressed video class are not actually on Home Campus or any of its sister institutions and it’s not their spring break for another month.  So there I was this morning, going through the wonders of the Second New Deal, even as events were unfolding not too far away.

I took the girls and one of their friends over to the bus across town far too early in the day, and by 9:30 they were comfortably ensconced at the hotel lobby on Capitol Square, where Kim met them.  She had been in Madison overnight after a conference.

According to reports the morning was filled with talks, lunch, and a rally in the Capitol Rotunda wherein the 4H kids sang 4H songs.  Governor Teabagger (a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has a bad track record of arresting folks who sing in the Capitol but this time he let it slide, which was very nice of him I suppose.

I made it up there in the early afternoon and found everyone milling around the Rotunda area, visiting the various 4H club booths that had been set up and generally watching everyone else doing the same.

Not long after I got there we were sent off to one of the legislator visits.  Throughout the afternoon small subsets of the 4H mob were divvied up among the various legislators, who met with us in side rooms of astonishing vulgarity.  But they were very pleasant about it and seemed to enjoy hearing from the kids.  Given that today is the last day of the legislative session and – according to the Representative we met – something like 70 bills are going to be shoved through all at once, it was nice of them to give us the time.

Afterward Kim and I kept our girls and a couple of their friends and we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering up and down State Street, which is the long commercial strip with the Capitol at one end and the UW Madison campus at the other.  It used to be much funkier and far more coffee-shop- and used-book-store-intensive than it is now.  Like most such places in America it is in the process of being taken over by chains, but we had fun anyway.  At one point we actually found a used book store and Tabitha and one friend spent some time trying to translate a Finnish book with the aid of a Finnish/English dictionary from one shelf over.  One of the nice things about State Street is that you can still do things like that if you look carefully.

We had a very nice dinner up there, and then headed off back to Our Little Town.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Who Am I This Time?

So apparently I’m becoming British.

This thought occurred to me as I was watching the football match between Tottenham and Arsenal this morning with my mug of tea in my hand.  Note that I can say “football” completely without irony when I am watching a soccer game now.  I find that I can also tell the difference between the good teams and the bad teams just by watching them, which didn’t used to be true.  This may or may not be progress, depending on how you feel about soccer.  Or football.

Don’t ask me to explain the league structure over there, though.  My friend Paul tried that once, and it was just the most convoluted thing I have ever read outside of a graduate seminar, though admittedly much more amusing and better written.

And I do agree with him that American football would be much better off with relegation as an option.

My television viewing habits have pretty much narrowed down to Top Gear, Graham Norton, Doctor Who, and the Premier League.  I no longer ask myself what the weather is like before firing up the teakettle, as I have come to the conclusion that there is never a bad time for tea (though I still haven’t made the transition to referring to it as a “cuppa,” which just sounds silly to me).  I actually like HP Sauce on my food.  Also, a disturbing number of the authors I choose to read are British, and I find random u’s creeping into my spelling like mould on a bagel on a humid summer afternoon.

It’s the bagel metaphor that assures me I’m still American.  Do they even have bagels in the UK?  For crying out loud they didn’t even have them in the midwest until recently.

I suppose some of it is the increasing sense of being cut adrift by American culture, as it careens ever further toward right-wing insanity and fundamentalist excess.  I've devoted my life to the study of American history - as it says over there on the sidebar, I actually do know what this country was founded upon, which puts me one up on most of your Facebook friends - and it is a sad thing to realize just how far that culture has drifted from my grasp here in the 21st century.  It makes less and less sense to me, and the things my countrymen now take for granted strike me as both bizarre and unwarranted.

I’m not sure if Britain is any less bizarre, really.  I didn’t grow up there, and most of what I know about it comes from exported popular culture, three visits, and the reports of a number of friends who have lived or who continue to live there.  But it does seem more comfortable these days.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Bryn Mawr College, 1986

I spent a lot of my junior year at a women’s college.

No, I wasn’t enrolled as some kind of bizarre reverse affirmative action case, letting the straight white man take classes at the feminist bastion of Bryn Mawr College.  I had plenty of classes down at Penn to keep me occupied, and even if I didn’t I’m not sure how well that would have gone over there.  They weren’t too keen on the Haverford guys who roamed around the place, as I recall, and those guys had a written agreement that allowed them to be there. 

Besides, even at that point of my life I understood somewhat of the privileges that my demographics bestowed upon me.  I was just happy to be there at all, and I tried to fit in as best I could.

Bea and I met at one of the medieval feasts that Julia used to hold every summer in West Hartford, and that fall we started dating.

I got to know the R5 Paoli Local schedule very well that year.  The last train left 30th Street at 12:19am, for when Bea wanted to get back to her dorm, and the last one arrived at 12:34am for those occasions where it was me who had something early to do the next day.  Either way I was on my own, walking through West Philadelphia in the wee hours.  You could do that then.  Nobody ever bothered me. 

Bryn Mawr has any number of rituals, events, special occasions and festivals scattered throughout the academic year, and Bea and I managed to go to most of them - those where men were welcomed, anyway.  There were a few reserved just for the students.

The last event of the year was May Day, which was the first weekend in May – all holidays in the US having become moveable that way over the last half century or so.  I’m not really sure what the purpose of the day was, what precisely was being celebrated, but it was a festive occasion nonetheless, and nonstudents were welcome.

Bryn Mawr students were expected to wear white for the day.  I don’t know why.  Red would have been more politically appropriate for an event named May Day, green more springlike, but white was the order of the day.

But I wasn’t a student there.

So I thought about that for a while, and the end result was this:

Bea was kind enough not to break up with me then and there, and the day went well.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Converging on Divergent

My mission this week is to try to read Divergent.  All of it.

Because movies, that’s why.

Divergent, in case you don’t live anywhere near teenagers, is the latest book craze to sweep through the YA crowd since The Hunger Games.  It’s a post-apocalyptic story set in what used to be Chicago, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten today.  Everyone here just looks pityingly at me for being so slow to start, but it’s been hard to get a foot in the door with this series in our house.

Lauren read it first.  Her teacher lent her a copy for free reading time in class – she was a bit worried about how we would react, since apparently there are a few things in it that might be a little mature for a fifth-grader and she asked us about it at our parent-teacher conference last fall, but our policy is that our children can read anything they want and discuss it with us later.  We will let them know if we think it’s something they would probably not enjoy or get much out of, but if they really want to read we will not stand in their way. 

Lauren loved it.

By that point it had become rather popular in the wider culture too, and Tabitha had discovered it.  She loved it as well. 

The third book came out over Christmas, and we ended up with two copies – one that Lauren bought with her own money to give to Tabitha as a present, and one that Kim bought as part of a set of all three that we could share.  Both copies were immediately devoured, since there was no waiting.  Books galore!

We already knew that there was a movie version coming out this month – they had the previews out in November, when we went to see The Hunger Games 2 (see how this all circles back on itself?) and that was most of what the girls wanted to talk about afterward.  We’d say, “Didn’t you like the movie?” and they’d say, “But Divergent is coming!” and that’s just how that goes.

You have to read the books before you see the movies.  That’s just the rule.

So after the girls finished with the series Kim took her turn.  I was in the middle of something else, but I figured there would be plenty of time for me to read it.

Then Lauren lent out the first book to a friend, because that’s what you do with books you love.  You spread them around.

We borrowed it back last night – borrowed back our own copy! – and now I have mere days to get it finished before the movie opens.

It’s a challenge.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Get Back!

When they tell you about the things you are going to miss when you get older, they don’t often mention your back.

No, mostly it’s other things.  Young love.  Carefree days.  The unlimited ability to eat junk food.  Things like that.

But love stays with you no matter what, and if you’re lucky it turns into friendship, which is just a different form of love. Your days are as carefree as you choose to make them.  And honestly, the luster of eating sour cream and onion potato chips by the bag wears thin even more quickly than your stomach lining does.  Nobody really misses that, even if they think they ought to.

But the ability to stand up straight?  Yeah, that’s a loss.

My back decides to go out on me about every eighteen months these days, and it has reached the point where I don’t even have to be doing anything notable for it to happen.  In order to achieve this level of pain back in the day I would have had to have done something that I would still be talking about, probably in hushed tones, but these days?  All it takes is rounding a corner.  Or attempting to turn off a light.

Such things do not compelling stories make.

I was 29 when it started, and the first one is always something to remember.  I’d just finished moving into our apartment here in Our Little Town, a process that involved recruiting several friends to haul all of my belongings (and remember – I was in graduate school at the time, so that category included some two-dozen boxes of books) out of my little fourth-floor walkup apartment in Iowa, stuffing them all into a rented truck for the drive to Wisconsin, and then hauling them back up to the second-floor walkup apartment where Kim and I would be living.  A week later I helped my soon-to-be father-in-law get a refrigerator in place.

Nothing happened.

It was a few days after that when I was shifting a box and all of the sudden every muscle in my back decided to move one step over to the right, leaving the one on the far right to scurry all the way to the left to fill the space left over.

I remember lying there on the bed and thinking, “well, I can just have my meals sent in here, I suppose.”

But eventually it faded and I got on with my life.  The thing is, though, once you start down that road every subsequent step gets easier and requires less prompting.

Last night I walked into Lauren’s room for our goodnights and suddenly the world was a place of sharp angles and sucker punches.  The air had bones.  Fortunately there is ibuprofen, the king of medicines, and by this morning I’m feeling about as fine as I ever do.  There will be a few days of moving a bit more gingerly than usual, and then it will be over.

I have a process for these things now.  That, more than anything, lets me know how old I am.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Julita, 2004

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this picture.

On the one hand, it’s an adorable photo of Lauren.  She’s about a year and a half old here, and those big sad eyes were her trademark.  And she’s there to look at the camera, which wasn’t necessarily guaranteed earlier that afternoon.

That’s the other hand.  It’s a long story.

In 2004 we took the girls to Europe.  Lauren, as noted, was a year and a half old.  Tabitha was four.  We had a lot of people question our sanity for stuffing two small children into an airplane for nine hours – not to mention the two hour drive to the airport, the three hour delay in boarding our flight, and the drives from the various airports on the other side – but we were going to visit friends in Sweden and England, friends who had kids roughly the same ages, so we figured we’d be all right.  And we were, really.  The trip went wonderfully.  We saw all sorts of fascinating things.  We hung out with our lovely friends.  We had a grand and glorious time.

We even went back in 2012.  The 2004 trip was between blogs so I never wrote about it, but the 2012 trip was thoroughly accounted for here in this space.  Go to the archives for July and August of that year and you’ll see what I mean.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you about how thorough I was.  Sometimes you just have to write things down.

This photo was taken at Julita, which is not far from Stockholm.

Julita advertises itself as Sweden’s largest outdoor museum, and I have no reason to doubt their story.  There is a manor house that started out as a monastery.  There is the Museum of Agriculture, which has all sorts of plants and exhibits.  There are interesting buildings to see and activities to do.  And there is Pettson’s farm.

Sven Nordqvist’s Pettson and Findus series remains among my all time favorite children’s books even now.  Pettson is a grumpy old Swedish bachelor farmer who adopts a mischievous cat, whom he names Findus after a brand of peas.  They have adventures.  The artwork is exuberant.  The stories are clever.  What is perhaps most compelling to me about the series, though, is that the stories have a deep melancholy streak that you would never find in any American children’s book.  There are quiet bittersweet moments, reflective moments, moments where there is no call to smile.  That, perhaps more than anything, was why I loved them so.

At Julita they have a full-sized replica of the farm where you can go inside the buildings and see them, just as they are in the books.  How could we not go?

It was a bright sunny day.  There were the four of us, our friends Mats and Sara and their two (at the time) children, and Mat’s brother Tomas and his wife and children, as well as his mother Moa.  We walked around the grounds, and had a good time poking around in Pettson’s farm.

At lunchtime we stopped at the cafe and bought food.  The cafe sat at one end of a large grassy field perhaps seventy-five yards across.  After we ate the adults all sat at the tables, talking in the way that adults do, while the kids ran around in the grass.

We were still sitting there when Tomas’ oldest daughter Alexis, not that much older than Tabitha, came running up to us.  “Lauren needs help!” she shouted.

Mats, Tomas, and I took off across the field toward the opposite corner, where Tabitha was standing and pointing down toward something we couldn’t see.  Mats was in the lead.  For some reason I paused momentarily to shove my camera into my pocket, where I usually kept it on that trip, before launching myself across the grass, so I ended up trailing Mats by a few steps.  I have no idea why that seemed important at the time.  Tomas, I later learned, slowed down after he realized that Mats and I were outdistancing him, and he arrived a few moments after we did.

I used to run track in high school.  I was a sprinter.  Let me tell you, muscle memory is a powerful thing.  I hadn’t run that fast since tenth grade and I haven’t run that fast since.

I remember coming over a small rise, and when I was at the top of it I could finally look down and see what Tabitha had been pointing at.  It was duck pond.  Duck ponds, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, are filthy things – foul, brackish, opaque water covered with floating green things that Lauren must have taken for more grass.  She had stepped out and splashed down, and the first thing I saw was her disappear below the surface.

A sight like that tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

I remember taking two large steps and then flying through the air.

I hit that pond ass first, settled onto the mucky bottom, grabbed Lauren by the front of her dress and held her over my head as if I were the Statue of Liberty and she were my torch.

Like most acts of this nature, it was probably unnecessary and quite possibly only made things worse.  Mats had reached the pond a few steps before I had and had eased himself into the water.  He was about six feet from Lauren and about to reach out for her when, in his words, “the pond … just … exploded...”  What can I say?  I never saw him.  I never even saw Tabitha, whom I apparently came very close to running over.  I was focused.

We sat there for a few moments, Lauren and I, and then Mats took her and brought her over to the shore.  He called out, “She’s all right!” and I remember thinking, “Of course she’s all right.  We got her,” as if there could be no other outcome.

You try not to think about other outcomes, really.

We all walked back across the field to the tables, where most of the adults where still sitting, triumphant in our rescue.  Mats then went up to the gift shop to collect Kim, who had missed the whole thing, much to her relief when she found out about it all.  Some things are best experienced in the past tense.

Fortunately for us Julita also has a youth hostel, and when we trudged up to the entrance they were nice enough to let us in to use the shower.  Lauren and I sat there under the hot water, scrubbing away all the duck muck, for what seemed like an eternity. 

Then we had to get dressed.  Nothing we had been wearing when we went into that duck pond was even remotely wearable.  Fortunately, we were at the stage of raising children where you never traveled without a spare outfit for them, so Lauren was fairly easy.  Mats had some old clothes in the back of his car that he lent me, though he eventually had to buy a t-shirt from the gift shop for himself.  He wore it when we visited in 2012, so it has served well.  And then we went back to the tables.

Sara took this photo, with us clean and safe in the fields of Julita.

On the way home we decided to stop at McDonalds, which we had been trying to avoid on this trip.  But it was familiar, it was something the girls wanted, and some comfort food seemed in order.  It was pretty much what you would expect.  McDonalds is McDonalds the world over, and their fortune is made on the fact that predictable mediocrity is a warm and welcoming thing.  I do remember, toward the end of the meal, thinking, “I want a huge American-sized order of fries, an order of fries that I would need to carry home in a bucket, after all that.”  I went up to the cashier – who spoke better English than I did – and we worked out how close I could come to that and much it would cost.

It was only later, when I figured the exchange rates, that I realized I’d paid nearly $4 for a large order of fries.  It was worth every kroner.

We spent the rest of the day laying low, counting children and blessings, and generally trying not to move too much.  I did take our clothes out to the driveway and hose them down enough to where we could put them in the washing machine and hope to get the duck muck out of them.  Our shoes we threw away at Julita.  My camera never recovered from being dunked in the pond in my pocket, but that was a fairly small cost, all things considered.

So it’s a picture fraught with all sorts of stress.

But, in the end, a record of a moment when things worked out okay.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

News and Updates

It’s been quite the week.  They all have, really, but this week has been more quite than most.

1. The girls had friends sleep over Friday night.  Both of them.  That meant there were four girls in our house, all between the ages of 10 and 14.  It went surprisingly well, all things considered.  They even went to bed at a relatively decent hour.  Why?  Because curling, that’s why.

2. I shoveled all four girls into the car at 6:25 Saturday morning so I could get them to their weekend-long bonspiel in time for their first match at 8am.  We made it with entire minutes to spare, and they went merrily off to do their thing.  Meanwhile I spent some time with the kitchen staff making sure they had things Tabitha could eat – the people who run this particular bonspiel are really good to work with that way – and then I managed to catch most of their first match before I had to run off.

3. Because I had to go back to Home Campus in order to set up for a play rehearsal.  As part of my Performing Arts Guy gig there, I am responsible for shepherding this particular play through every other year, and Saturday morning was the dress rehearsal.  And a good thing I was there, as it turned out that the guy I had lined up to run the lighting was in the emergency room because of a skiing accident.  He will be fine, but it did give me pause regarding my daughters’ burgeoning love of skiing.  Not that I needed further pause.  But I figured the lighting was fairly simple for this play, and I could handle it and still do all the other things I needed to do, chief among them fetching hot cider and coffee halfway through the performance from the coffee shop that had generously agreed to donate them.  So we were still good for Sunday’s show.

4. Kim and I had a date night that night, since it was just the two of us.  I can recommend Monuments Men as a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours if you are looking for a stellar cast playing fast and loose with history.  I have learned not to expect too much from movies set in historical time periods.  It’s supposed to be fun, folks.

5. Promptly at 7:30am on Sunday we got a phone call, which is never good.  Good news sleeps ‘til noon.  Fortunately it had nothing to do with my curlers, who were continuing to have a grand time at their bonspiel.  Unfortunately the guy I had lined up to do the sound was now in the emergency room for something that had nothing to do with skiing but which would still keep him out of the theater that afternoon.  He too is mending nicely, but it did mean a frantic morning of scrambling to find a new sound guy.  Fortunately the theater professor down at Home Campus volunteered to come in to help and even managed to secure a student to run the sound board, so all was well.  There’s no “unfortunately” after that.  Fortunately.

6. And the play went off just fine.  The audience never knows the whole story – it’s one of the iron laws of theater.  I will admit that the hot cider jug was missing a latch and now the passenger side floor of my car is a frozen slick of cider, but when it warms up I suppose I can hose it off.  Not much point in turning the hose on it now, unless I plan on beating the floor mat into submission with an icicle, and even then it will still smell of cider.  Mmmmmm, cider.

7.  We spent most of Sunday night melted into puddles in front of the Oscars – one tired theater guy, two exhausted curlers, and one other parent tired for other reasons, among them having driven up to the bonspiel to see the curlers and then carting all four of them back home.  All I cared about was getting to see Idina Menzel sing “Let It Go,” and so at the appointed moment I was a happy man.  My “Best Picture” count this year was one, which is more movies out of that category than I usually see so I figured I was doing good.

8. The past three days have been rather a blur of trying to catch up on all the work I didn’t get done over the weekend plus the new work that inevitably slides around the protective enchantments warding my private life and then sits there like a hungry beagle begging for attention until I either take care of it or it eats my socks.  I need to work on my sorcery.

9.  Of course it has snowed multiple times here in Our Little Town, because what else would it do this winter, which means getting out the snow blower, which I have not had time to get adjusted.  Schlepping that around the driveway is something of a workout, but I need the exercise.  We’ve also had temperatures ranging from well below zero F to nearly up to the freezing point, just for variety.

10. Still beats August.

11. We had our final parent/teacher conference at Not Bad President Elementary tonight.  Lauren’s teacher was quite happy with her, and so were we.  It will be strange not heading down to NBPE anymore, after so many years there.  Well, we’ve still got a few months of school left.

12. I feel a bookstore run coming on.  Retail therapy, yes indeed.