My family loves Christmas time. All the family comes together to celebrate. We laugh; we play and reminisce about the good old times. This year we are off to our cousin’s house, for a whole week! Each year we rotate who’s hosting.
“Nothing like a year off hosting Christmas!” Dad announces as he pulls the lever on the passenger side seat and reclines back into my little brother, James.
“Dad! My legs are here!” James yells as he drags his legs up into his chest.
“Were, James. Correction. Your legs were there”. Dad responds with a grin on his face.
“Paul! Sit up and give the boy some space”. Mum is so good at telling Dad off like that. “Besides, everyChristmas is your year off. When was the last time you did anything to demonstrate you were hosting?” continued Mum, stumping Dad.
Their petty but playful quarrel continues like this for several minutes. Their voices filter out as I begin to daydream, looking out the window. If there’s one thing I dislike about not being host for Christmas it’s definitely the six-hour drive to Uncle Ben and Aunty Wendy’s place.
My family have always got along really well. My brother James and I get along, Mum and Aunty Sue are like blood sisters, even though Dad and Uncle Ben are their link.
“Sister from another Mr!” Mum and my aunt always say to each other in fun. Even my Gran and Grandad were still as happy as ever. “58 years…” Grandad would keep reminding everyone the whole week last Christmas. “58 years. You know how long that is Billy?” He would ask, though I didn’t really feel the need to answer as he had mentioned twice in the previous ten seconds. They are great, my family.
My cousins are really different to James and I yet we’re kind of complimentary. James and I can be a handful but our three cousins; Olive, Lily and Kevin, they were next level! I actually think they would drive anyone other than Uncle Ben and Aunty Wendy crazy! But they love them so much and rarely seem to have to tell them off. Uncle Ben calls them little monsters but he is probably more of a monster- it’s almost like he is one of the kids! Oh it’s so much fun having our family Christmas!
I awake to our car horn tooting. I sit up from my slump and rub my dazed eyes. “We’re here!” I spark up with excitement.
All the crew are waiting up on their newly renovated balcony!
“Whoa! There house has changed a whole heap, hasn’t it Dad?” My little brother James asks.
“He’s a real handy man, our Ben isn’t he?” Dad poses to everyone.
“Yep! Flat out like a lizard drinking, he is” Dad continues by answering his own question.
Mum pulls up and yanks the hand break locked. “Oh look at the girls. Aren’t they just gorgeous?” Asks Mum as she opens her door. “Yeah good to see they took after their mother and not Ben!” Dad loves teasing his brother. I think it’s where I get my sense of humour.
“Hey, Hey, Hey!” Booms Uncle Ben as he rushes over to us all.
Gran and Grandad have made their way out from inside onto the balcony. James runs straight through the lunging arms of Uncle Ben and into Grandad’s. He certainly loves Grandad, that’s for sure! I embrace Uncle Ben, then Aunty Wendy and Olive and Lily but there’s no sight of Kevin.
“Great to see you Billy” Aunty Wendy says, whilst pulling on earlobe. I smile back and turn to the girls. “How’s things, girls?” I ask. I really love being around my cousins, they’re awesome! “Fine” They start in unison. Twins. They do that a lot.
“Nice new haircut, Billy”. Lily makes an insightful, yet very true statement. “Thanks, I got it yesterday from the Market Place near home”. I reply. “So where’s Kevin?” I ask inquisitively. We’ve been out here for at least two minutes now and still no Kevin. Usually, he’d be swinging off Dad’s arm like a monkey by now.
“Oh.” Olive starts with a look of concern. “Kevin has…” she seems to be fumbling, trying to find the right words.
“Changed.” Lily finishes Olive’s sentence for her. At least that hasn’t changed. I screw my face up in confusion. The girls notice. “Oh, don’t worry, he’s inside hiding”. Lily reassures my worry. “He does that when he gets into trouble nowadays”. Olive confirms and takes my backpack. “Come on, let’s go upstairs and set up our fort for the next week”.
I give Gran and Grandad a huge hug each. “Thanks for the stamps!” I say as I head inside. Our Grandparents are really kind to all of us kids. They send parcels to all of us each month. Puzzles, games, pencils. You name it- they’re so thoughtful.
I make my way passed the lounge on the right and toward the staircase. I try pay extra attention to the corners of each room we pass and under table spaces. ‘Where could he be hiding?’ I think to myself. ‘And why is he hiding? And in trouble?’
“Kevin!” I hear Uncle Ben from down stairs. “He has lost it, I tell you.” He says to Dad. “Ever since he started on the sugar”.
“You give him sugar?” Dad gasps with disbelief.
“Well, it started off with one single sugar chew… then before we knew it, we had an addiction on our hands”. Uncle Ben sounded disappointed in himself. “We don’t even know where he’s getting it from”.
Before we continue any further, I feel like I should tell a little small flaw of my family. We’re a sugar free family. In case you are wondering, yes there’s such a thing. When my dad and uncle were boys, they were brought up on a farm. They drank milk from their cow, Bettsy, they bred a few chickens a year and raised beef cattle for meat. They had an orchard with cherries and apricots and apples and pears. They even had a paddock of row upon row of vegies. They certainly lived off the land, that’s for sure. How do I know, you ask? Every Christmas we get the same story from Grandad and Gran. “Those corporations handing out packeted foods are ruining our teeth.” They’d lecture. Now I’m not saying we don’t eat junkfood because… Well, we don’t eat junkfood. I eat dried fruit straps and nuts of all sorts. I eat yummy fruit fresh from the markets and often a variety of savoury goodies; including muffins, scones and pretzels. We just don’t eat sugar. It’s like a family tradition or something I guess. So the conversation going on downstairs is now not only more relative but quite a tense one too.
“Do Mum and Dad know about this yet?” Dad asks fearing that Gran might get narky.
“No, we told them he is just going through a ‘crazy phase’.” Uncle Ben answered.
“Hey Billy, do you want to try find Kevin with us? It’s fun” Lily asks. “Umm…” I start.
“Trust me, Kevin is no normal hide and seek player” Olive starts. “Last week, when he got into trouble off Mum, he hid in the sink cupboard for three hours. He only came out when Dad turned the hot water on and the pipes got too hot for him.” She finished.
“Ok. Sounds like an adventure”, I say. “It might give me an opportunity to see all of the renovations too!” I state. “Your dad has done a great job by the way”.
I start in Kevin’s room. “Kevin?” I query feeling like we’re hunting ghosts. I slump down on my hands and knees. I gaze across under his chest of draws first. Nothing. Next, I turn to his desk space. Not there either. I look under his bed for good measure. He is a little monster, you never know. I remember what the girls had said about his last hiding place. “In the cupboard!” I think out loud in a ‘light bulb’ moment.
“Aagh. Rats.” I say. Not literally. He’s just not in there. This kid is good. I decide to head into the bathroom for a look but as I leave Kevin’s room, a small silver piece of something flickers and glares of sunlight radiate into my eye. I stop, take a step backward and notice it on the floor behind Kevin’s bedroom door. I bend down to pick it up and investigate. It’s only small but I sit it in the palm of my hand and begin to decode the torn away writing. It is a lolly wrapper. ‘Gumm..’ it reads across one section. Then, ‘ears’ on the section below. I think about the portion of wrapper that may be missing. “Gumm ears?” I question myself.
“What are you doing?” James startles me as he enters the room.
“I’m looking for Kevin”. I reply, trying to hide that his entrance surprised me.
“What have you found? DNA?” James jokes, as he looks closer to the wrapper. “Yum, Gummy Bears!” He continues. Of course.
“One of the boys at school has them all the time. Where’d you get that?” James continues, like a real Sherlock.
“It was on the ground here. It must be Kevin’s.” I answer.
“But we’re not allowed junkfood. Gran will flip!” James warns as if I didn’t know.
“Yeah durrh! That’s why Kevin is in trouble” I state.
“Well let’s go get him. Let’s try the spare room”. James suggests with excitement.
“That’s Gran and Grandad’s room for the next week. We’ll stay well clear of that. Let’s go to the bathroom and check”. I overrule. Being the older sibling, albeit just by one year, I still hold the power.
As we make our way to the bathroom we double-check the linen closet just in case.
“OMG!” James and I hear an abrupt call. “OMG, OMG, OMG!” It goes again. We meet the girls in the hall. “Look what we found in the attic!” Lily broadcasts. I am in shock. There are ten, no fifteen lolly wrappers! It’s like we’ve been teleported to Willy Wonker’s Candy factory!
“Whatcha’ doing kidlings?” A voice behind us asks. It’s Aunty Wendy making her way up the stairs.
“Mum”. Olive exposes her hands. “Look what Kevin has been up to”.
At one sight of the handful of wrappers, Aunty Wendy’s mouth drops. “Kevin!” She shouts out to whoever can hear it. At the sound of panic in Aunty Wendy’s voice, Uncle Ben and Dad make their way upstairs, followed by Gran and Mum.
“What’s happened?” questions Uncle Ben with a worried tone in his voice. He takes one look down at the hands of Olive and Lily and shakes his head. There is silence amongst all of us. No-one says anything but we all feel we have the same thought in our head.
“He he he”. A distant chuckle projects from the opposite end of the passageway. “Kevin?” Aunty Wendy inquires in hope. Kevin has been missing for a good half hour now. “That sounds like Herb’s laugh.” Gran examined. “I’ve been hearing that for 59 years now and that can only mean one thing. He’s up to no good”. She reveals.
We all follow the giggles like a team of investigators on a squad mission. It leads us to the spare room that Gran and Grandad are using for the festive season.
“Well what do we have here?” Dad interrupts the circus that has been taking place. We all enter and cannot believe what our eyes are seeing.
“Herb!” Gran says in disbelief. Grandad turns to see nine sets of shocked eyes peering down at him like spotlights. “Ah…” He stammers. I focus on Kevin. He is sitting, crossed legged with a devious grin on his face.
“Umm…” Grandad continues. I guess he’s lost for words. Kevin just takes it all in, his pupils are huge! He seems to be in a continuous state of euphoria. He is having the time of his life, despite the trouble that’s about to bestow upon him.
There is a small mountain of treats piled on the floor. Kevin himself, is half buried under silver wrapping and his face is a sight to be seen. Chocolate smudged across his face like a pig in mud.
“Hmmm…” Grandad finally composes himself. “So, anyone for a treat?”
You can’t help but laugh at this occurrence. Grandad was feeding the sugary treats to Kevin the whole time. Whilst we had been receiving games and knick-knacks in the post from Gran and Grandad, Kevin was being gifted treats!
We all sat down by Kevin and Grandad on the rug. As the old saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. So we nibbled at first then practically inhaled the rest of the treats.
So here we are, the last treat has been consumed and I can honestly say, sugar isn’t as bad as Gran had told us all. I mean, what harm can it do really? Just now, I look around at everyone. Our eyes are glowing. Our pupils are huge. I feel a rush come over me.
“What’s happening?” Lily asks. It’s hard to tell if she’s excited or scared but she bounces to her feet.
Grandad let’s out a huge “Yippee!” and begins jumping on the bed!
Something has come over everyone in the room. Everyone looks around. There’s no sign of Kevin. Just then we hear running in the hall.
“Come and find me!”
One of the things you are warned about when hiring a car abroad is managing your concentration so that you remember to keep 'right', but nobody gave us any warning about the trek we were about to embark on across the roads of Iceland. Some people like roller coasters and simulators to find that adrenaline junkie's rush but they are merely fabricated thrills; nature in all its treacherous beauty showed us today it is a formidable force to be reckoned with.
With only our Volkswagen UP to protect us from the minus 13 chill beyond our anxiously numbing minds, the abominable snowman would've been a welcomed saviour as we trekked through what, at times, seemed unattainable inclement conditions.
A huge focus this preseason down at Shark Park for myself and the East Fremantle players has and will remain: our mental toughness. This comes in many shapes and forms yet continues to perplex even the most courageous of humans. That confidence to stare down an enemy in battle and defeat your inner demons, that little push needed to lean in for that uncomfortable first kiss and even making a childhood dream of kicking a goal under immense pressure to raise your side to an unlikely but historic victory. These are all figments of our wildest imaginations but is a grain in comparison to what I faced today. Now, back in my hotel room, in the warmth of safety, I can relax at ease but let me tell you, just hours ago, I was on the brink of yielding to the tensest and perhaps toughest hour of my life.
Another overnight fluffing of peaceful snow made this morning's dark but highly anticipated journey all the more exciting. 'What photo opportunities were there to come?' I thought, thinking of JustZeusBooks's European tour catalogue on social media and its popularity. The small but reliable VW we have given our love, and come to know as 'Venetta' this past few days has been reciprocal for our needs and was ever-ready for another action packed day. The exit path from Reykjavik and over the hills and far away, was smooth; we even made a phone call to one of our friends to enlighten him of our glorious travels thus far. As the snow slowly whittled down, we entered the higher, more unchartered landscape. It wasn't until about forty-five minutes into the trek, whilst taking the lead from an off turning convoy of five vehicles, including a large and more sturdy tour bus which would've made great use as a clearance plough, when things started to get precarious.
The natural light at this time of year is precious but doesn't acquaint you until around midday, so being 'the early bird' may not have been the wisest move, hitting the road at around nine. The silky white snow cover blanketed our passage, and with no certain predecessors or their tracks, we were entering the morning's virgin route (pardon the pun). For those whom haven't driven over (or through) snow, you might be mistaken to thinking it is similar to that of driving on sand. If that is also unknown, then don't go hiring a tiny match box car to entrust your safety as we did. This was something, although I have previously done on icy and even sleet laden roads, was nothing even remotely routine; in fact it was bordering on foreign. After ten minutes of heaving through six or eight inches of fluffy and innocent snow, Venetta was handling well. The snow joins forces often and drags you one way or the other ever so slightly, keeping you on your toes but this was not cause for concern; my concentration was 'on point' and up to the task. For the local, these conditions would've been done hundreds of times and probably in cruise control.
Like a fearsome Viking battle horn, alerting an oncoming slaughter, the wind howled a worrisome whirl. The ensuing half hour or more would bear no need for a back rest, I was bound for a gut wrenching edge of the seat battle.
The wind picked up and my nerve started to waver; even that incessant tailgater, whom was more than likely sticking close to ensure they could follow our temporarily entrenched tyre tracks, started to pick at my conscience. I had had a chat with an elderly British couple just two days prior that had motioned that I should drive, remarking, "good lad", as I reinforced I was to be the one behind the wheel in Iceland. At this stage, I was glad to know, if we were going to have an unwanted mishap here, I was responsible, not my partner, Natalie. If I could compare this next few minutes to anything it would have to be that of a young boy, trying desperately not to blink whilst on the last level of the hardest gaming console battle ever. I adjusted my jaw, which probably resembled a twitch and my gut was literally churning. But, the worst was yet to come. The snow starting to brew, Venetta had to resort to third gear, sticking to 40, then 50 kilometres under the speed limit. The snow was over the tires and rising dramatically, the wind pushed white flecks and then clumps over the windscreen. The wipers were in overdrive, whipping violently and barely clearing the visibility. All I wanted to do was pull over but if we stopped, bog or a rear end smash was likely; besides, the slower we tended to go, the more the snow thrashed us like a crocodile with its teeth sunk into its prey.
Driving Iceland 1.0.1, 'never stop in the middle of the road; especially if snowing', the Europecar attendant had informed.
The roads were rather narrow up here and the fact that Venetta was small and white was a definite flaw of our hiring judgement. The drop off, which was awaiting beyond the yellow, half engulfed markers, although hardly visible, was steep and perilous. We had seen several unlucky tourists find themselves laden in a ditch, on the clear day we had had yesterday, and on less fickle roads.
Just then a huge swirl of whitewash snow scurried its way over our view and time almost stood still. I knew slamming brakes would send us into a frenzied slippery slide to the unknown so I just opened windows simultaneously with a push on the clutch. Venetta slowed and the wheels levelled out. Safe. The speed we were going was laughable on a more familiar, humbled road but this was intense. The mind goes through much trauma in these situations. Panic was a place just around the corner. It that moment, that inner voice captivated my courage. I had no choice, make or break, I urged myself. Talking to myself is one of my coping strategies in stressful and important moments, I'm happy to admit this; it's when you start unwillingly talking out loud, revealing your fears, that's when you are in true discomfort.
Although thirty kms an hour was all we were travelling at, we could hardly see ahead; my heart pounded to a drum unheard before. More wind and snow circled the VW as we continued this entrancing battle, Natalie had stopped trying to advise, she was speechless, shivering in fear. The car slid this way and jerked that way with each explosion of snow that paved our path. That was when we entered the swamp of snow. By swamp I mean thick, heavy and unforgiving snow; it towered one side of the road, at least three feet of it (and poor old Venetta was only five feet in stature).
In one foul swoop, we hit a thick ridge of snow, coupled with the blizzard like winds, the car was covered like a wave of breaking water. My inner voice broke silence. I spoke in an uncontrolled panic, "I don't like this". And in this unfathomable moment of irrational indecisiveness, I locked the breaks. The windscreen covered in snow, I was conscious of the left hollow beyond the road's ledge and yanked against the snow's pull. Swinging left, but throwing the steering wheel right, I came to an abrupt stop. I took what seemed to be the first breath in minutes. The exhale was greeted with familiar headlights in the rear view mirror. The tailgaters from before pulled along side us, passenger window down. In their American accents, they queried, "all ok? You stuck?" We were bogged and as the front windscreen cleared, we had finished on a forty five degree angle just right of road's centre. Pete, as he introduced himself pushed Venetta out of her bogged state and took the reins, acting as our plough and shepherd. Within minutes, we arrived at a gas station; wintery conditions still blew across the over worked Venneta. Pete and his wife, Gina offered to drive us around the precious natural wonderland to leave Venneta to catch her own breath. As the next few minutes passed, we realised the Minnesotan natives had not only never driven in such formidable conditions, despite being seasoned winter drivers in the US northern snowy lakes region, they also had a more than capable four wheel drive to assist when such weather became tricky. This was the first large dump of snow for the Iceland winter and it nearly claimed its first true victims.
They say you are not made by your upbringing or your education but moreover, your experiences. Both Natalie and I will always remember this experience and enjoy retelling as we bathe in the comfort of self-assurance, for we may not come across another abominable snowman like this one ever again!
If you cannot take anything else from this tale, take these two tips and hold them close for future Icelandic winter holiday plans.
1. Choose hire cars based upon necessity, not cute appearance. And certainly don't name it to match its quaint personality!
2. Be nice to fellow travellers, help out where needed as you'll never know what's over the next ridge.
For more blogs from children's book author, scroll through the archives at www.justzeusbooks.com/blog
I feel really selfish saying this but I am infected with the Fuzzy Buzzy disease. For those who haven’t heard, this disease is finding its way into the hearts and souls of a very small few.
To put into perspective, you can only contract this if you have the capacity to feel warm and fuzzy inside when you give; so if you’re not inclined to the act of giving when expecting nothing in return, then, don’t fear, you’re in the clear here. Now, for those who simply find solace in giving; you're in trouble.
Christmas is the time of giving for most and this is when those, like myself, have an addiction, the Fuzzy Buzzy disease will boil over inside, and boy, does it feel magical!
The demand to feel good in general, mirrored in the reflection of all the negativity in our world, has turned the average person’s intentions and drive for this to unchartered and often perplexing territory. If you didn’t already know, give more and you shall receive the greatest intrinsic gift one could ask for; the feeling of the Fuzzy Buzzy disease.
The Fuzzy Buzzy disease may sound daunting because, after all, it is a disease. But this one is truly incredible and a lot more palatable. The smallest things matter most in life and being selfish is almost certainly looked down upon but, here, being selfish in wanting to have this Fuzzy Buzzy contagion can only bring about positive outcomes!
I can hear those distant calls, ‘I give and give and give’, So do I, it feels bloody good! This Christmas, do yourself a favour, catch the Fuzzy Buzzy disease, you’ll never look back!
Educators today hear a lot about gaps in education – achievement gaps, funding gaps, school-readiness gaps. Still, there's another gap that often goes unexamined: the cultural gap between students and teachers. And maybe, to a more realistic sentiment; the gap between teacher/ teacher philosophy and their claim to giving what truly matters to their profession. Despite being an average teacher, I feel my point of difference is my readiness to instil a culture built on two-way respect, student driven standards and relationships based upon value, not acceptance. There are two types of culture that is of ongoing concern to our schools these days; the ideas, customs and behaviours, and the conditions or environment suitable for growth.
Firstly, the culture card.
Most of us in the education profession are white, middle-class, monolingual-English speakers. Increasingly, the same profile does not hold true for our students. Often, when we stand before our classrooms, the faces looking back at us do not look like our own. Many of us try to bridge this difference with an embrace of colour-blindness or the Golden Rule, treating others the way we would want to be treated. But culture isn’t just difference, it’s differentiation. Differentiation between what is learning, living and belonging but unfortunately, to most educators I have come across, this is not a priority.
The truth is: culture matters.
Culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual. As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, and, in this era, it's simply not enough to operate on the axis of colour-blindness. It’s not enough to lecture about how it should be done or why the student can or cannot learn. The modern day teacher is less important at face value and the best teachers may never seek to attain praise for their underlying work and effort because, within their classroom lays students whom drive the happening, the environment and, most importantly, they drive the culture.
So, to our second type of culture in schools. This is sometimes never truly embraced nor is it encapsulated in any way, which can be detrimental for all facets of the student schooling experience.
To truly engage students, we must reach out to them in ways that are culturally and linguistically responsive and appropriate, and we must examine the cultural assumptions and stereotypes we bring into the classroom that may hinder interconnectedness. Is it okay for a student to dominate in their own little bubble, to just cruise and get the grades they need to be labelled as 'successful'? Well, that doesn’t sound too bad at all now does it? To me, this sounds insipid. That same child will never truly enjoy the schooling experience and may never fully succeed later in life. Sure, they might go on and own a business but that business will never have a team scaped environment or a culture at the envy of others. For most paths in life, there is an end point. But why should there be? Life starts with learning and learning starts with culture.
An ideal world tells us our educators care. They will accommodate for our deficiencies and bridge gaps in social, academic and mental fields for each and every individual. But this ‘ideology’ comes from a very selfish mindset. The mindset that says, someone other than me will do it for me. So, to it tie all back to this amazing thing that apparently does not occur too often in classrooms, why is a teacher letting down the student? It’s the culture.
One of the greatest tools for professional and social development as a teacher is to ask questions. Ask, “why may this have happened?”, in inquiry. Ask, “what is the purpose in each learning experience?” Ask, “how can I help you learn?” for the teacher needs to realise they are there to accommodate for the learning style of children, not the students having to accommodate for the teaching style. Empowerment is the best way to examine how the children learn and develop. The students need routine, structure, boundaries and support. This fosters an environment ready to mess up, to make errors because, without this, no one is going to truly learn anything. This is known as culture.