Monday, February 17, 2014

Battling the Frost Giants

I would be lying if I said I liked winter. I don't -- not even a little bit. In fact, I'm not keen on fall either, and spring is welcome only because it heralds the end of winter. Of course, there are nice things about all of these seasons -- sledding in winter, apples in fall, crocuses in spring. However, I'd give them all up in a heartbeat for perpetual summer. Summer with its flip flops, popsicles, and beaches is the season for me. What can I say? Some like it hot.

So forgive me if this post is crabby. I'm crabby. In the past two weeks, ice demons have dumped over two and a half feet of snow on my roof. Despite constant snow raking (something this hothouse flower from Florida has never even heard of before), I have ice dams all over the place. Even worse, we have nonstop dripping, like Chinese water torture, through the kitchen ceiling.

My poor DH was out on the roof clearing snow and ice from the area above the leak. That's where the roof over a sunroom-turned-breakfast nook butts up against the siding for the main portion of our house. It's also, we discovered, where some numbskull didn't install any flashing. Aargh!  

During this miserable polar vortex, I try to console myself by recalling Tolkien's story in The Silmarillion regarding the creation of Arda. In this tale, Iluvatar gathers the Ainur and declares his plans to them. Then he asks the Ainur, whom he has kindled with the Flame Imperishable, to make a Great Music, thereby bringing his vision into being. Iluvatar listens with pleasure to the flawless music as the Ainur express their gifts until the haughty and overly ambitious Melkor begins to sing his own discordant tune. The noise spreads ever wider until the Ainur's melodies founder in "a sea of turbulent sound." Eventually, when Melkor's noise assaults Iluvatar's very throne, Iluvatar  has to step in, restore order to the song, and console the Ainur. This is the passage that I always remember in winter:
And Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: 'Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwe, thy friend, whom thou lovest.'
Then Ulmo answered: 'Truly Water is become now fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived the snowflake, nor in all my music was contained the falling of the rain."
When it's 2 degrees outside and I'm dressed like a cabbage in five layers of clothing and still cold, this passage is my go-to memory, reminding me that even in the bitterest situation, something wonderful and lovely can be born. But even the wise and optimistic Tolkien is not working for me at the moment. Right now, I'm really feeling Scandinavian mythology in which Odin deluges Niflheim, that world of mist and chill and ice, with blood and destroys the frost giants. (Man! Those Norsemen knew how to wreak some proper havoc!)

Al fresco summer meals are a distant memory.

Roofers seem to be in short supply right now, but we have one coming to fix things today. Until then, though, I think I'll try drowning my misery in a flood of tea (and maybe something stronger). How many cups do you think it will take?

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Museum Activity with Kids

On Saturday, I made a huge tactical error.

As far as art museums go, the Wadsworth Atheneum is not large or well-known, but it has some very nice artwork. It also runs a delightful family program called Second Saturday. The second Saturday of every month, they open their doors to the public for free and provide family activities such as a craft, music, book readings, etc. All of this is meant to foster art appreciation in young children. We attended for the first time last summer when they had a beach theme, complete with a surfer rock band. It was so much fun that I scheduled a Cub Scout field trip to the museum for this past weekend.

So back to my story. Here is where I went wrong. In addition to my own three children, my oldest son brought a friend. Normally, this would've been ok, but my husband couldn't go with us, so I was outnumbered 4-1. However, my youngest one is very fast, and the last time we went to the museum, she tried to sit in a Stickley chair before my husband grabbed her. She should really count as 2. Make that 5-1.

Thankfully, I didn't have to keep track of the other Cub Scouts since they were accompanied by their parents, but my own were more than enough, thank you very much. I won't go into the details of the day, but "herding cats" is the most appropriate description I can think of. Fortunately, the kids all kept their hands (and bottoms) to themselves, but I'm a one-track kind of person, so keeping tabs on everyone in a building filled with expensive, one-of-a-kind artwork was a harrowing task, and I collapsed into a heap on the couch as soon as I got home.

However, I did have one bright idea (it happens once in awhile) that I thought I'd share in case you have a child you'd like to take to the museum.

My experience with young children is that they tend to get bored quickly in museums. So for my Cub Scout Den, I put together a scavenger hunt at the last minute (literally 2 minutes before I left the house -- just enough time to write and copy it). Basically, it was a list of items to look for in the museum -- generic things like an apple, lion, battle, arrow, etc. Next to each item, the kids had to write the name of the piece with the item and the artist. Kids and parents all split up for about 30-45 minutes to explore the museum; then we reconvened to see how many of the list items they had found. Everyone who completed it (and they all did), got a prize (a chocolate bar).

I'm not delusional. This was not so much an exercise in art appreciation as it was a desperate attempt to keep the kids from whining, "Can we go home now?" However, it did force them to look. I even got to discuss some artwork with my kids. For example, there was one painting that looked, at first glance, like a battle between cowboys and Native Americans. On closer examination, we discovered that the figures were actually cooperating on a buffalo hunt.

My Cub Scout den is 7-8 years old, so I kept the list short. I wanted them to have enough time to find the objects and write the info down in the allotted time. If I had older kids, I might modify the list so that it included a number of specific pieces to look for and a series of questions about each one. I can even imagine an interesting math lesson on statistics -- maybe kids figure out some statistics for art subjects by period and type.

Anyway, I will make a confession. Although I love art (I was just one class shy of minoring in Art History), my boys couldn't be less interested. However, much to their dismay, I persist in dragging them to art shows and museums every now and then. Even if they never come to enjoy art as I do, I hope they will learn to appreciate beautiful things, and I think that it's paying off.

I remember taking my oldest son to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when he was a toddler. On his first visit, he attempted to wade into a fountain in the Impressionists wing. Then we had to hustle him out of a piano concert because he fell, split his lip during, and wailed like a banshee. We took him upstairs where he tried to shake hands with a coat of armor. Then he attempted to slip through the guardrails on the 2nd floor balcony. By that time, our hearts were pounding, so we took him to the French Cloister because it's quiet, dark, relaxed, and there were no balconies to fall from. We watched as he toddled around the courtyard, perfectly happy. Then he waddled up to us bearing a sign that read "Do Not Touch."

By contrast, he was beautifully behaved last weekend, and he even studied a carved desk for about 60 seconds. It may be small progress, but I'll take it. 

Full Disclosure (Almost Full, Anyway)

A few weeks ago, a line from an article in The Atlantic caught my attention:
The Internet offers both a vast potential audience, and the possibility for anonymity, and if not anonymity, then a carefully curated veneer of self that you can attach your name to.
As someone who maintains two blogs, I've been considering this idea for awhile. Through the power of the Internet -- Facebook, my blog, online forums, etc. -- I've cultivated relationships with people who know me only through these venues. While I appreciate these connections, I sometimes feel that they are based on false pretenses.

Naturally, when I create a post, I'm not going to write about my miseries. I usually pick positive topics, subjects that make me smile or feel good. However, as a result, I think an idealized version of my life emerges. In that way, I'm kind of like a bag of potato chips -- highly processed (and maybe even half-baked). Likewise, the eternally sunny, heavily edited version of me that people encounter online has transformed her annoyances, dismay, shock, horror, irritation, anger into something laughable or profitable -- or even into something that can be ignored altogether. Blog Julie is as unlike the person typing this post as a chip is unlike a humble spud. They might both come from the same place, but one has a hard time believing it.

Blog Julie is sweet, unflappable, maybe even funny or smart at times, and usually has it all together. Real Julie wakes up with messy hair and bad breath.

Blog Julie gets to dance, sing, and play all day. Blog Julie's children are immaculate and perfect in every way. Blog Julie has moments of quiet reflection and peaceful activity. Real Julie scrubs toilets and folds laundry. Lots of toilets. Lots of laundry. Actually, Real Julie dances and plays, too, but all the spinning makes her motion-sick. Real Julie's untidy, unkempt "crumb bums" love each other, but they also can't seem to go one afternoon without bickering over something. As for quiet reflection and peaceful activity, HA! Real Julie wakes at an obscenely early hour just to get a few moments alone each day. Of course, her DH (who may be reading this post), is perfect.

Blog Julie is a saintly devoted mother. Real Julie would never even be a consideration for Mom of the Minute. To illustrate that point, here is a true story. Real Julie has one gregarious boy whose amp goes up to 11. Her days are full of reminders to him to "use an inside voice" or just tuning out. However, remember that Real Julie rises between 4:30-5:30 am, and as the day wears on, her patience sometimes wears out. Toward the end of one busy day full of nonstop shuttling, Real Julie was stressing over being late to skating lessons (oh yeah, she's obsessive/compulsive regarding time). Meanwhile, Boy 2 was barraging her with questions at the top of his voice. Why is ice cold? Who invented ice? What if the world didn't have any ice? What if I fall? What if I'm the worst skater? What if I'm the best skater? Why is it winter? Why do these laces have to be so tight? etc. etc. Ever blithe Blog Julie is too patient, too indulgent to be phased by this kind of thing, which in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. Real Julie cracked under her self-created mental strain. To her eternal shame, she exasperatedly burst out, "Please, just stop talking until your skates are on. I've had a noisy day, and I need a couple minutes of quiet right now." The other people in the room were probably thinking, "Whoa! Should we call Child Services?" Yeah, Real Julie is not a shining example of motherhood, but this post is about full disclosure.

What else can we say about Real Julie?

  • She possesses a phenomenal talent for saying precisely the wrong the thing at the wrong time. 
  • She's rubbish at keeping house. 
  • There is one day every month when she doesn't want to see, hear or speak to anyone. If you happen to spot her on this day, run away.
  • She frequently doesn't shower until noon. 
  • She measures time in half-hour blocks. 1:01 is almost 1:30. 1:31 is 2:00. (I told you she was neurotic about time.)
  • She has an annoying habit of saying "I told you..."
  • She procrastinates.
  • She doesn't like sweating, but she'd rather be slightly sweaty than cold. Unfortunately, 75% of the time, she's freezing.
  • She refuses to run. At all. Ever. For any reason.

I could go on. The point is, dressed-down, unedited Julie is an entirely different creature than her online counterpart. And I suppose this is where I circle back to my original musings. Is the everyday woman whose day is spent on mundane activities and details the real person? Or is the woman who writes about her inner life the real one? Which version is the real one? 
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