Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shhh . . . Don't Say "Flood" Too Loud

It is common knowledge in our circle of family, friends, and neighbors that a certain phenomena follows the Jackson family. It is beyond coincidence and into the realm of scary. I will never forget the first time our mystery was exposed.

Shortly after we married in 1995 we moved from our home state of Montana to the beautiful Oregon. We settled into a basement apartment in the Willamette Valley and were proud to call it our very own home. We had not lived there a year when my husband had to leave me for the first time (Feb 1996). It is no doubt that I married a genius and he was called upon to show off his talents at a competition in Las Vegas. Many other circumstances revolved around this trip which bode ill fortune, but what we awoke to on the morning of his departure sealed not only the fate of his trip, but that of the world (Sometimes I wonder if being melodramatic is an integral part of my existence). My husband sat up in bed, stretched, and when he stood up was momentarily frozen to his spot. Something in the sound of my husbands feet hitting the carpet floor did not register as normal and as he briskly walked towards the light switch I could tell I was not the only one in the room with an odd sense that something was out of place: the river! When he flipped on the light each of his foot prints in the carpet was clearly defined as they gradually filled with water. The level was low, resting just below the level of our carpet, but how long would it stay this low. There was one spot in our apartment that did not yet have water so we quickly moved all of our furniture there and started piling a pyramid of valuable belongings. A call to our landlord led to the discovery that it was not just our apartment which was flooding but the entire valley, preventing him from traveling to our aid as each road in or out of the city was becoming impassable. This, however, did not prevent my husband from traveling to the airport, though he was likely the last truck through.

I was left with a tower of furniture, a wet vac, and an ever present companion: water. Three college girls lived in the ground floor apartment above us and one of them came down for a visit. I was soaking wet with either sweat or flood water, probably a good mix of both, from trying to keep up with the flow of incoming water with the wet vac and racing each full bucket up the basement stairs to dump it in our backyard. But she didn't come down to help, she came down she was visibly shaken and told me they had just spotted a peeping tom peeking through their window and I had better watch myself. Oh, great! All windows and doors had to remain open and there wasn't a minute I could spare for the water was rising just as fast as I could vacuum. I was alone and feeling desperate for more reasons than one, so I found our pistol, placed it on a chair in the middle of the barren living room floor and vacuumed with one eye on the open front door. Our best friend came to call on me in the midst of my labors and when he spotted the gun and my frenzied demeanor he rescued me out of the flooding apartment and into their dry one. From their apartment we watched the waters rise over the next several days and watched the news of rescues and deaths. I'd always wanted to live through a natural disaster. Of course, I had preferred an earthquake or a tornado, but the flood turned out to be exciting enough for me.

Click here for more images of the city I was stranded in.

Then it happened again the next year and, in the meantime, Montana was suffering a draught to beat the records. Our family back home teased us that we'd taken their rain to where it wasn't welcome.

We moved to Minnesota during the midst of Montana's first year of serious wildfires in 2000. My husband set up his computer in his new office with continuous satellite feed of the fires spreading Photo by John McColganthroughout our home state and encroaching on our childhood and family homes. It was this move which made us question our existence on planet earth. Two more floods followed our move. The banks of the Mississippi overflowed the banks in the twin cities and flash floods took out power lines and various objects all around us. To us it seemed like just another rainy season, but our new neighbors were in a state of distress. We no longer took pictures of the flooded parks, homes, streets; we'd seen it all before.

Then our friends from Oregon started reporting a draught. That was just impossible; even though Oregon is just a state above the drying state of California, it still caught as much rainfall as it's northern neighboring state, Washington, keeping it practically a rainforest. Yet, Minnesota flooded again and Oregon began battling wildfires due to draught.

We didn't have to mention our secret curse for our children to pick up on it. Soon they were having their own nightmares about floods and they voiced their fear whenever they had a chance. Just the other day Squirrel Monkey was pronouncing her love for all things as she has gotten into the habit of doing. She'll say things like, "Mommy, I love you! I love you like a rose, as much as the sun goes around our Earth, and even when you go to heaven and come back again." Only this time she exclaimed, "I love everywhere! I love Montana and Minnesota and the Netherlands and every planet. Well, every planet except for the ones that flood." With every lightning storm or downpour the girls tremble and ask in fear, "Is it going to flood, Mommy?" I swear I have not instilled this fear in my children! As naive as this may sound I have grown not to fear floods so much and therefore rarely mention them, but I must admit living in the land below sea level has raised my eyebrow a bit.

After we moved here, even the slightest mention of the word "flood" to any of my newfound Dutch friends would spark an instant rebuke and overly confident reassurances that the Dutch would never let their land flood! "It's impossible for the Netherlands to flood." If I hadn't been much concerned before, their blind confidence in the system now sent me questioning. Visions of the Titanic sinking in the frozen waters of the Atlantic vividly came to mind. I questioned why/how those pictures of flooded streets and desperate faces of stranded victims were posted along the town hall walls. I walked the dikes and wondered at their makers and design. Finally, I found a man whose passion is the history of this region and displayed bookshelves lined with books from the earliest eras of the Netherlands to it's windmills and it's current affairs. Taking note of my sincere curiosity, he sent me home with a bag of them to peruse. Through these I learned just how the Dutch made the Netherlands and how, at times, nature changed her mind on them. All it took is for one dike to break and a whole section of their land would be filled in with water, which in turn could create a break in another dike, and spreading like a domino effect would flood the next section of land. Some of those sections were aware of the encroaching danger and were warned, enabling them to pack their cart, maybe even hitch their horse, and hightail it out of the lowland. Though, the ones in the first sections were not warned and suffered tragic losses. There was no question as to whether or not the land would be under water once the dike broke; it was that dike which was keeping the water above it's normal habitation, what had likely been a lake in it's previous life, and would rush into the now farmland to create the lake once more.

Yerseke, Kruiningen en ’s-Gravendeel.

The Dutch are lucky that there have not been more floods than the those they've experienced, but are they wise to think they are immune to them? Many of the dikes are old, and as it has been seen before, it was these old ones which could not stand the added pressure of a previously broken dikes charge. Still, I hold faith that the Dutch will continue to keep their plots of land dry, even with all this rain we seem not to have outrun even by hopping across an ocean. The river Thames has broken its banks and the same rain that hits England finds its way across the channel and dumps on the Netherlands as well. It's been wet! We haven't seen a dry day for over a month now. Well, some days may end up dry, but the clouds still roll over our heads and threaten to dump some more on us. On one of these days we decided to risk the weather and go for a walk along the dike. I was surprised to see level of the water it was holding back. Nowadays the Dutch no longer use the unreliable power of the wind to pump water from the polders (dried lower lands) into the canals; they use electric pumps. One of these pumps I would pass on my daily walks, and even in the rainy winter months the drainage pipe was always well above the canals water level, but this time the water level covered the mouth of the pipe. I could tell the pump was working because I could hear it, which I always viewed as a 1953 floodtreat to see as it was quite rare to actually see it working. When I ran over to the edge of the canal, instead of seeing a steady stream of water spilling from the end of the drainage pipe, I saw a turmoil of water bubbling up from well under the surface of the canal edge.

As the UK is battling the effects of numerous floods, with the Dutch withstand our curse? Will they regulate the waters with only the precise skill the Dutch possess? I trust that they will, but do I ever feel sorry for those neighboring countries around us!

External Links:

BBC current news: Battling Floods

How the Dutch Windmill actually worked: Archimedes' Screw

Wikipedia's list of ALL 35+ Dutch floods and how they happened.

How the Dutch guarantee a flood free land: Deltaworks

BBC Article: US learns from Dutch flood dykes

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter Arrives

I don't know how the rest of the families in the world read this book, but our family has a special method. A method which is begging me to break it!

Like many of the other Christians, we banned these books and feared them like the plague when they first became a hit. Only after we learned that sometimes researching the foundations of our own convictions is not always a bad idea did we dare to open the cover of the first book and peer inside. At the time, Mr. Jungle Man was busy working on his PhD and had months worth of "cluster cutting" to do with the data he had collected. This involved hours of uninterrupted, mindless work sitting behind the computer and, seeing as how he had rigged up our computer to be able to work on this task while at home, I devised a way to keep him at home and in my company while he whittled away the hours in front of the computer screen. I read to him. We started late in the series, and judging by the looks of our collection it must have been sometime before the 6th Harry Potter book came out on hardback. (We did this with the Left Behind series as well and actually don't mind getting in late in the rage; it means we can read endlessly through all/most of the books.) This did not mean we were less anxious than the rest of the fans who were awaiting the final book.

Upon our arrival to the Netherlands I spotted the Harry Potter collection in a local bookstore. To my shock, they were all translated into Dutch. The Dutch are very proud about their literature and have a great many authors of their own, so I am not surprised that though they may speak English very well, they prefer to read their books in their own language. This posed a serious problem for us if we wanted to get the Harry Potter book along with the rest of the awaiting world. We could risk our chances at picking up an English version at the American or English Bookstore in downtown Amsterdam or we could preorder a copy off of We chose the latter. Did you know that when you preorder several months in advance you get the book at 50% off? And you get to wait!

This may seem like I'm wandering off of the topic a bit here, but I'm really not! I moved with the minimum amount of clothing I could put in my suitcase along with the rest of our valuables and have been living off of this minimum for almost a year now. Thus, I have had no shorts, a selection of 2 short-sleeved shirts, and every one of my pants either has a hole(s) or a stain. I almost cried on Saturday morning when I woke up, put on my white pants, and heard my husband exclaim, "Honey, why do your pants have blue spots all over them?" He then forced me out the door to go find some replacements at the V&D. Without the kids! The last bit was enough to send me skipping away, but what followed was out of a dream. Have you ever had those dreams, similar to the buffet table dreams, where you walk into a store and every single items is marked off not once, but twice, three times, maybe even four times and the racks are full of cloths you can't take your eyes off of and when you try them on they all fit!?!? That was what I walked into. My arms couldn't carry the load of cloths I had stacked in them when I found my way to the dressing rooms and, to top it off, the steward at the door even let me in with all those items. I found jackets that fit over shirts from the selection across the room and pants that fit out of the junior section! I was in heaven when I headed towards the checkout line with an armload of only the best of the best that I had tried on when I spotted it. A neatly stacked tier of Harry Potter books rested next to the cashier. I couldn't resist; I reached out a few free fingers from under my pile of cloths and let them brush over the pages of one of them. Was I dreaming or were those English words I saw strewn across the pages? Now I crammed the articles of clothing under one arm and grabbed a book off the stack with both hands, tore it open, and gaped at the English staring back up at me. In and instant reality hit me that I was holding a treasured copy of the last Harry Potter book in my hands and that I couldn't reasonably buy it because the one I'd already purchased was currently crossing the English channel. My dream bubble burst in that instant. I stood in the line shaking my head unseeingly at the words I was dying to read. I thumbed the pages one last time, set it neatly on the tier with the rest, and turned my back on them. Oh the restraint it took not to grab it seconds before she totaled my bill, but I left the store with only my beautiful new outfits and focused all emotion into my lovely finds in order to stop myself from thinking about the forbidden pile of Harry Potter books.

As the days rolled by without a ring of the doorbell I have thought about whether that pile of books is still there or have they been sold out. The rain has kept me from making the bike trip "just to see" and today the awaited bell rang. I ripped open the package and held the new book in my lap. Do you think he would figure it out if I read ahead while he was at work? I mean, I've gotten to be a really good oral reader lately, so would he be able to tell when I seamlessly pieced together the emotional inflections and conversations? Besides, we're going on vacation in just a week and we want to make sure we don't have to leave the book unfinished before we leave, so I had better get a head start so it will read all the faster during our evening readings, right? There it sits on the coffee table in front of me now and I am writing my last line . . .

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Thursday, July 19, 2007


It has always been a passion of mine to sift through my families heritage. While exploring the files of census records from the 1800's, or climbing the family tree branches to it's root, I connect with my families through envisioning each moment. I enter into their world from the moment the census recorder knocks on the door to the whistling tea pot on the stove my great-great-great grandmother was preparing for her temporary guest. I have accompanied said census recorder walking down the dusty country lane from one farm house to the next with the handwritten pages in hand and have traveled down those lanes, present day, once trod upon in hopes of recovering more information than what was recorded so many decades past. I have held my own private funeral procession over abandoned and forgotten cemeteries in whom my forefathers are buried without even a sign to acknowledge their presence except for a notation on a 19th century map. I feel the loss of life when, from one decade to the next, a child disappears from the census records and I feel the grief the mother must have felt to answer the question with a number when the census recorder asked if any of her children died since his last visit.

When I started with this obsession some 8 years ago I had envisioned many hours to spare on long, intensive research projects resulting in the discovery of many ancient ancestors, but shortly after I had just compiled the records my various distant family members had already collected I discovered we were expecting the beginning of a new family branch. As do many things during this period of a families growth, my project was put on hold with only short bursts of energy put into possible leads here and there. My Irish side of the family had started an online genealogy website that enabled me to put in my few hours of research into that side of my history easily, leaving the rest of my family gathering dust in a few thin files.

I cannot remember the question in which I was seeking an answer for now, for the discovery I made while trying to find it seems to have diminished its value to nothing. Just weeks ago I started digging through emails sent to me by a great aunt, sent to me at the time I started my projects 8 years ago, looking for this now insignificant question, when I pulled up a file on my grandfather. Even now I hesitate to mention this particular man.

I never met my paternal grandfather. His life was ended tragically while my father was not yet out of high school, and the discovery of his existence was shrouded in mystery for me. My aunt would only give me his vitals and hinted, with a voice mingled in fear and guilt, that if I ever wanted to know more about him I'd have to look through the local paper around the time of his death as the family never opened their mouth about him after his life ended. I treated the "case" just as a young researcher would without much thought into the impact of looking up information on my deceased grandfather would have on my family. I only mentioned my queries to my step-mother who assured me, as my aunt had done, that I would get nowhere by questioning even my father, let alone the rest of his family. She told me all that she knew from picking up on broken bits of conversations or hints cut short when the individual realized what they were discussing, which was just enough to put in me a resolve into finding any articles related to him.

Upon my next visit home I found the article I was looking for which told me more than I already knew, but was not such a shocking story as to justify the families reaction. I still had questions, but withheld them after my grandmother, his widow, learned of my limited research and has stopped talking to my father and I since. The turmoil it brought up was senseless enough that I determined to leave that side of the family well alone. For years I have not touched, let alone thought of, any file related to my paternal side of the family until just weeks ago.

Again, I cannot imagine what insignificant information lured me into these branches again, but what I discovered there surprised me. Resting underneath my grandfathers name with the rest of his vitals was listed his lineage, among which was Dutch. Seemingly insignificant upon my initial perusal years ago, it was now information which made my heart give a little leap. I am sitting in the very land in which my grandfather's blood had once parted from. Questions began to form in my mind; which relative came from the Netherlands, from what generation, which region, which dialect, could there be any passed on lingual traits which may help me master this language any better, what ship did they travel from their home country in and when, did they part their home country, are my cousins still living in the same village?

I may never find those answers, but it has surprisingly formed in me my own personal bond with the grandfather I never knew, never heard mentioned of fondly in stories recalled around the campfire, and only know of through an impersonal email and microfiche replica of an old newspaper. Suddenly we understand each other now, I have a piece of my heritage living in me through an experience shared in a country I never dreamed I'd be able to relate to on this level. And this country has now smiled upon me as one of it's own and I feel a connection I had not expected. What a surprise to find myself suddenly existing as a living ancestor of this familiar culture and heritage. Now, as I ride my bike through the streets I feel as if I really do somehow belong or share a particular right to travel within it's borders without having to consciously lift my chin.

Thank you, Grandpa. Your existence may have been short and probably painful, but it has made a difference of good.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Best Vacation Day Yet

On the scale of 1 to 10 today was a 10! So far the vacation has been dull and frustrating. The weather has not cooperated and our temperaments have needed some adjusting. It seemed that any task I put my hand to failed and the girls spent more time bickering than playing or watching TV than romping around the garden. Our fortunes turned today. There is a rainbow at the end of the storm.

We continued working on our stack of homework assigned to the girls over vacation and it was my pleasure to watch the girls excitedly learn how to read. Squirrel Monkey has recently figured out how to spell and read simple words in both English and Dutch, so we picked out words from simple reading books in both our Dutch and English books and she transitioned into each language flawlessly. As did Spider Monkey; she is now onto a new level of reading and it is amazing to see her read from page to page of a long book with a normal speed and perfect inflections. She also can transition from one language to another flawlessly and even picks up a German book she was not able to read during her kindergarten year to read those words as well . . . in beautiful German. It felt good to see the girls excited to do their summer homework and even better to see their amazing skills who many here doubted they would ever accomplish.

The girls helped me mix up the exact color of beer out of frosting and several different icing colors. In so doing they helped make a cake for Daddy to take into work to celebrate. His lab has a nice tradition; with each newly published paper the author brings in a cake to share and celebrate and I am proud to be his own personal baker.

After the girls had licked the bowls of the beer and foam, we burned off some of the energy by doing gymnastics in the living room. I surprised myself that I can still do cartwheels and in the living room, to boot. So we listened to Duran Duran (songs that inspired me to spring during the age that I was doing cartwheels on the lawn during my own summer vacations) and some of the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers (songs which maybe they'll play while showing their own children that they can still do cartwheels after 30).

Soon the sun started shining and I sent the two oldest out to ride their bikes while I danced with my baby to "My Girl". She giggled with glee when we spun and rested her head on my shoulders while we waltzed, her little hand clasped in mine and an arm lovingly clinging around me.

She then helped me make a dinner by sitting on the counter and passing me various items I really didn't need to help make the meal. When all was cooling on the stove she and I walked barefoot to the playground to gather the older girls who were deserted on an island surrounded by hot lava with only a few sticks and leaves to live off of (in the school sandbox).

We ended the night with the girls tucked into bed and celebrating a successful surgery on Mr. Monkey's first rat for his own personal post-doc project by sipping wine and eating a fresh baked baguette with brie. I think summer has finally dawned.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Screech Monkey or Tasmanian Devil?

My child seems to have a thing for the lazy susan. If she ever finds this open she sneaks over and starts pulling boxes, cans, and bags out one by one and lining them up on the floor at her feet. She will then inspect each one and find a new home for them where there may be an empty spot on the shelf. She does not eat anything . . . unless she finds the bag of raisins. Then catch her quick! Too many of those and you know what comes next.

Which brings me to her latest achievements. No, she is not potty trained, but she thinks she is! It has happened twice now. I've finally become confidant that she will not rip the toilet paper squares off one by one and throw them all over the bathroom floor, so I stopped worrying too much if I heard her enter the bathroom. Until it gets a little to quiet. Upon inspection of this ominous silence I find a baby stuck with at least one foot, a leg or two, and a butt immersed in the toilet! Thankfully it's awful hard to get to the water in these toilets, but nonetheless, it does not make for a clean experience.

Someday soon she will be trained as there is certainly an interest in her bodily fluids, which is marked by the overturned diaper bin and litter of opened diapers scattered along the trail of brown finger paints along the doorways and hall floor.

And if that wasn't bad enough for her to get into, she's become increasingly obsessed with her fathers bike chain. It started as simply as just toying with the individual chain links and then wiping her blackened and greasy fingers on her white trousers. (Who here has ever tried to get this stain out? Note the word "tried"!) Then I'd find her sneaking through the cracked open door of the bike shed and spending minute after minute in quiet fascination while running her hands along the freshly oiled and smooth chain; again to wipe them on her pretty pink floral Hannah Anderson one-piece. But I was unprepared to spot her caressing the chain with mouth yesterday as the bike awaited our tour of the park! What was Mr. Monkey's response? "She must be deficient in something." Anyone got a reply to that one?

Now for my moment of utter terror. I had been downloading a txt. file of all the addresses we wanted to send postcards too from the laptop to my cellphone and had left the USB cord still dangling from the side of the computer after I had finished. This did not bother me much as I had not yet left my comfy seat on the couch while I downloaded some new music off of the internet (THANKS, Daphne; now I'm addicted to Limewire!). The Screech Monkey had found the other end of my phones USB cord and was checking it out with extreme curiosity. I was in deep concentration with the downloads and a couple other online activities, like any other natural human multi-tasker, and registered her interest in the cord with only mild concern, eventually accessing the risk of her behavior as harmless. I had forgotten about the fact that there were some very interesting little sockets in the back of the laptop (extra USB ports) that would grab a toddlers attention. The memory of these was not hard to recall in the split second it took for her to loop the phones USB cable from one port to the other and the computer spontaneously stopped. "Screech! You killed the computer!!!" The $1000 box sat on my lap lifeless. No attempt to resuscitate it succeeded and it sat awaiting it's maker. Until the next best thing came home, pulled the battery painlessly from its back, shoved it back in, and hit the power button. I had to take down the awaiting lynch, for my baby came back to life. And the other baby would live to strike again . . .

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Monkey Quiz

My biggest fan, the Mr. Monkey, stated that it seems I'm too busy to keep up with postings on Our Blooming Jungle as of late.  It is true, partially.  Our computer decided it needed some work done on it, so I've had to live without it for a while and will have to again in the near future it seems.  But it is also summer, is it not?  One can only expect we are running over to the beach every day and staying up late in the summer sun sipping wine with the neighbors.  If only that were the case.  It seems the Netherlands decided to skip summer and head straight into a rainy fall.  We've had rain nonstop for the last month!  And when we went to pick up our kids from their last day of school we were all wearing our winter jackets with the rain and wind beating at our chilled frames.  For some reason, as my Australian friend stated, it just didn't seem like the festive vacation atmosphere it should have been.  Regardless, the kids are home now and we await warm weather.   We've had our good days and our bad days, a few of which I will expound upon in the next couple of weeks before we head off on our European vacation.  Not to mention more photographs!  I have been too busy for those also, it seems.  I promise some good ones to come.  It seems that every time I see a guy carrying a ladder while riding his bike or hauling a huge TV on the back of his bike is the time I don't have my camera with me.  I assure you, I'm going to be carrying that thing around with me everywhere I go now.

Now, for a little teaser.  It is common for us to hear from one or another of the girls, "Mama, I miss _____ . . ." Fill in the blank with any person, place, event, food, or object from the states and you'll establish the basis of moaning's we regularly hear.  Just yesterday, out of the blue as normal, Spider Monkey exclaimed, "Mama I really miss that drink that we used to be able to mix up and drink in the United States.  You know, the one with a monkey name."

It took me three guesses to get it right, so I'll give you each three.  Can you guess what that name of the drink is she really misses from the states?