Monday, June 30, 2014

July is Holiday Month (or, Wherein, I Unravel Ungracefully)

I think the winters here must be really, really bad. It's been described to me as dreary, overcast, depressing. Two of my American friends who have spent a previous winter in Denmark implied they felt as though they were in a gray tunnel from which they would never escape. When we arrived in May, Danes would invariably say, "Oh, that is good. You arrived just in time for the good weather."

So I guess it makes sense that the Danes have built in official holidays starting with Easter that occur nearly every week (Prayer Day, Ascension Day, Constitution Day, some kind of bonfire-effigy-burning Day that we missed, but no kidding it's real), all celebrated with increasing fervor as the weather improves and coming to a crescendo in July, when schools break for summer and children fill the streets at last, and Danes sunbathe on busstop benches and green lawns and anywhere they find themselves, really, by leaning back with a slight smile on their faces, eyes closed, faces tilted up to the sky. And in July, everyone, everyone goes on holiday.

In keeping with our goal of trying all things Danish, we too are holidaying in July.  Actually, we kind of jumped the gun (sorry -- we can't help but be typical overachieving Americans sometimes, can we?) and went to Norway these last ten days,  and now that it really is July, we are going to Crete.

And so I'm also taking a blogging holiday. Maybe when I come back I will regale you with our adventures, post a million photos of us all doing typical holiday things in all the typical holiday places. Or maybe I will not.

Maybe instead, I will come back ranting and raving about how blogging is the highest form of navel-gazing and should be banned from the internet, how it's completely impossible to live an interesting life and blog about it at the same time, and we should just choose, people, which it will be and stick to it. Maybe I will come back shouting that all kinds of travel-journal type blogging must be fiction, imaginative and wild and untrue,  and that I'm quitting it, ending it here and now, so that I don't add to the increasing e-clutter of boring, time-wasting, nauseating dribble on the internet and even more boring online photos of happy-smiley children doing happy-smiley things. Because good writing takes time! It takes reflection! It takes just the right photos taken at just the right moment, in just the right kind of lighting, to depict a meaningful point! And blogging, by its very nature, is not conducive to that, no, not conducive at all. It's destructive to the very process of the good and artful; it destroys the natural creator in all of us, and crushes our spirits down to a pulp! That is what I might say. Yes, and then, then, my friends, I'm pretty sure my computer will go up in flames. Because I have a special way with electronic devices that only my husband the computer scientist can keep at bay.  After all, it's common knowledge that I merely need to sit in front of a computer to make it crash. So if I start to think rebellious, irresponsible, wrathful thoughts at it?  That would be the end, for sure.

I think I need a holiday.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Celebration of Lego

Let me come right out and admit this: we are huge fans of Lego.  Yes, they are expensive, they can take over, they can be a mess, and they hurt when they are strewn about and you walk on them. But they are simple, clever, elegant. As everyone knows, they are an amazing medium for creative engineering as well as art. When we moved to Berkeley, we had room for one large item to bring for the kids' entertainment, and what did we cart all the way from Utah with us? The boys' Lego collection. Because we knew, without any other toys, books, or entertainment around, Legos could keep them busy, entertained, and happy. Not just for moments, but for hours.

So now we are in Denmark, the land where Lego was invented by toymaker Ole Kirk Kristiansen in the 1930s.  They're aptly named 'Lego' from the Danish words, "leg godt," for "play well." What better way to celebrate this part of our lives than to pay a visit to Legoland Billund?

We headed first for the "Driving School" attraction, where the boys got to motor around in their very own, quiet, exhaust-free Lego cars and "earn" their Legoland driver's licenses.  It was great to watch them be instructed on the Danish road signs, and it was even more fun to watch their serious expressions, faces grim with concentration, as they maneuvered their vehicles around the course and tried to follow road signs and stop lights while making hand signals, executing turns, and avoiding accidents with other equally clueless drivers. As we looked on, we witnessed numerous driving infractions from red-light-running to illegal u-turns, wrong-way entries, and, yes, minor collisions.

The boys took driving school very seriously, and were so proud to receive their licenses at the end!

In addition to several other amusement park rides, Legoland also offers a fun water park and although the day was hardly sweltering, it was warm enough for the boys to enjoy splashing around.

We also took the time to meet some of the locals ...

... and partake in their colorful foods.

And of course, everywhere, everywhere there were marvelous Lego creations, that kept the boys asking, "How do you think they made that?!"

Of course there were plenty of opportunities for free play, as well as a chance to meet a Lego designer:

There was even a very impressive collective effort to complete a Star Wars Lego mosaic:

But, both boys agreed that the BEST part of Legoland was the Falck Firetruck attraction in which we (as a family team) had to drive a Lego truck to the scene of a fire, pump on hoses to squirt water through a window to save a Lego figure's life, and drive the truck back to the station. We finished the task in record time, and the boys were amazed to see how planning and teamwork paid off. Go Team Venkat!

Hungry Goats on a Segway

(This post was co-written by both of us since we spent the day doing different things with each child, and the first part is Suresh's.)

Well maybe not on a Segway...

Segways aren't just a popular way to organize lines of dorky tourists to take tours of European cities. You can also take rugged SUV-ized segways on obstacle courses, and they're a lot of fun.

Today I took Aditya to Segworld it's a warehouse around 10km from our house where you can ride Segways around a course, solve little challenges in a fixed time, and generally fool around on a strange beast that is both harder and easier to drive than one might think. It was just the two of us because Rohan is too short and young for the Segways, and even Aditya was only allowed to do a .

As Aditya put it later, this was actually an adventure in many parts, of which the Segway was only one:

1. Biking down to Segworld

This was a solid 10km ride down through the city center to Segworld. Most of our biking thus far has been an a careful convoy of three or four riders with constant checks to make sure everyone is in the correct lane and hasn't tumbled off into the road or been smashed by a car.

But this ride was a lot easier with just the two of us. For one thing, it was much faster. It's been clear that the boys have made rapid progress in biking over the past month, to the point where we will need to get them new bikes when we return. And now it's clear that Aditya needs a much faster bike, because of the ease with which he kept up with me. More on that later...

The ride itself was very pleasant: there's a fairly sharp transition between the city and the much more bucolic surroundings just outside, and once we got out of the city the grass got greener and more plentiful, the cars disappeared, and a calm descended upon us.

2. Segworld !! 

It takes some time to get used to riding a Segway. First of all, there's the highly nonintuitive "lean backwards and then jerk forwards" to stop, while your mind is screaming "DON'T FALL ! DON'T FALL". Secondly, you realize that the Segways don't actually move that fast forward. And finally, these things have a crazy turn radius that's much sharper than you might except, given how bulky there are. Aditya was confident enough by the end of his 30 minutes to provide the rest of us with a little tutorial.

3. Picnic time.

Once we were done Segwaying (and yes, I did it too!), it was time for lunch. We found a local grocery store and grabbed some bread, cheese and sliced meats to eat while sitting on the grass outside watching the cars go by. It was a surprisingly peaceful picnic, made even better by chocolate orange sticks and a discussion of advertising tricks that companies use to lure people into buying things.

4. The ride back

The 10k back seemed like a much longer haul, with many more water breaks than on the way out. Aditya started flagging on the last few slopes and I was tempted to walk the last km or so. But he persevered. 20km is about the furthest bike ride he's ever done.

Kids recover quickly. Once we got home he suddenly recovered enough to run up the 4 flights of stairs back to the house, and while I was forced into an impromptu nap, he was hell-raising as if he hadn't just biked almost a half-marathon.


While Suresh and Aditya were busy zipping around on Segways, Rohan and I made a visit to Børnenes Jord (Children's Land), a small free park with rabbits, chickens, and goats.  Rohan delights in animals (a love which prompted him to turn into a vegetarian over a year ago), and he was particularly pleased when the staff offered him, along with another small child on the playground, the opportunity to feed a wheelbarrow full of leaves to the goats. After watching the children for about two minutes, the staff person left entirely (we could not even find her later to ask where she'd like us to store the wheelbarrow) and we were left on our own with the goats.  

I was surprised that such well-fed looking goats could put away so many leaves in such a short time frame.

Interestingly, Rohan noticed that one goat in particular was quite aggressive, shooing away the other smaller goats with his horns.  Rohan decided he was only going to feed the smaller goats. After eating, the smaller goats took turns jumping up on a log in their enclosure and loudly bleating. Whether they were trumpeting their pleasure at having just been fed or registering their complaints on the food selection (or lack thereof), we'll never know.  But they were certainly entertaining.

And it is always special to spend the day tailored to the interests of just one child.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

And This is Why My Hair Turns Gray

There was a special and very inspiring gathering of gymnasts in Aarhus this Monday. Young athletes from all over Jutland came to exhibit their talents, so we, together with our American friends Seth, Liz, and Sonia, went to go see the show.

Of course we all are expected to stand at the appearance of the Dannebrog, or Danish flag, but what surprised me was that we all also clap in unison.  This is also true during the show: there was music playing during the show's entirety, and so to display our appreciation for each team's performance, the audience would clap to the beat of the music. This applause would then fade away, although the music would continue. There was surprisingly few hoots or hollers of appreciation as would be common in an American show of comparable scale and caliber. It was all very civilized, which of course I quite enjoyed, but also a bit strange: I'd never experienced audience behavior quite like this, before.

The boys evidently enjoyed the expert throwing around of one's body, in the form of acro-gymnastics, tumbling, trampoline, a hip hop dance routine, and pommel horse events.  (A cool video of the tumbling cavalcade can be seen on Seth and Liz's blog: Eventyr med Sonia.) I say this, because after the show, ALL they wanted to do was throw their own bodies around.

Afterwards, the gym opened its fantastic facilities up to anyone who wanted to play, and with the boys both inspired and wound up with the energy from sitting still for two hours watching the show, I knew we were headed for trouble.

I mean, does any of this look safe to you?  No, it does not. (Yes, that is Aditya coming down to meet the trampoline head-first, for example.).

All those structures up there in the next photo near the ceiling are fenced in, luckily, and are open for play: slides, climbing walls, ropes, ladders, a fireman's pole, swings, hammocks, rings in addition to what's down on the floor: trampolines, tumbling mats ... and  a clear glass/plexiglass ceiling that Rohan happily walked on as both Liz and I watched - and gasped at - in (initial) fear.

You can't see it from this photo (below), but the ladders are the one structure that don't actually have a protected fall. Mats and mattresses line the floor except under these.  If you fall, you fall on hard floor.

And there he goes:

Once again:

Now big brother (and Seth ... thank you, Seth) get in on the act.

And then of course, big brother was also doing backflips. Did I need to be made to video this by my very excited son? No, I did not. That is all I have to say.

And that is the difficulty of parenthood isn't it?  We'd throw ourselves in front of an oncoming train to save our kids if we had to; we've sworn to protect them with our lives. To take a bullet would now be second nature to us, but in addition, we also need to stand back and let them experiment for themselves, we have to watch them throw themselves from dizzying heights and do backflips and hold our breath and not say all the time, "Don't do this, you'll get hurt." We have to let them live. And the inherent irony of living that truth can make any sane person's hair turn gray.

Rainbow World

On Sunday, we were enveloped in a world of color at the ARoS, Aarhus's beloved art museum, and what a multisensory trip it was.  The highlight of the ten-floor museum, and its most outwardly visible art installation, is a Rainbow Panorama which forms the tenth floor:  a completely circular, glass enclosure with rainbow tinted windows affording amazing and rainbow-hued views of Aarhus itself.


Another amazing exhibit was the fog room, a room filled with so much thock, rainbow-colored fog that it was hard to see inches in front of your face.  Suresh and I each grabbed hold of a child and didn't let go. :)  And, the photos really don't do this experience justice.  This is just one of those things that must be experienced for oneself: the feeling of slipping easily and frighteningly anonymously into an endless fog.

Alone in a room full of people that you cannot see

The boys' favorite activity was learning about a new artist, a motorcycle-riding, tatooed young guy from Los Angeles named Wes Lang, whose work is on special exhibition in ARoS until September. In the workshop space for children, the boys participated in designing their own tatooes on nylons that they could then wear.

At one point during our visit, I was once again reminded of how easily and quickly Suresh could slip into lecture mode:

The boys also enjoyed the optical illusion created by the designs on a carpeted floor:

Of course, we had to pay a visit to Ron Mueck's Boy, ARoS's signature exhibit. Lest the photo doesn't do it justice, I should state here that Boy is 14 feet high and when standing tall, we come about to just above his ankle.

And then Aditya expressed his appreciation for the life-like qualities of this piece of art by posing just like him:

Ahhh, Glass!

The Danes have great appreciation for glass art, and to look at this collection of glass from Ebeltoft's Glasmuseum is to understand why. As glass is my newfound love, I was ready to move in!

So happy to see a "friendly face": a piece by
American glass artist Dale Chihuly! 

A mirrored floor and ceiling; an installation of lighted glass panels for walls: otherworldly!

Suresh explores the Cosmic Space by Tróndur Patursson

Glass in the garden