Monthly Archives: October 2015

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Fire Safety

Life has been busy, but it was interrupted last week by a rather scary experience. The house behind ours burned down. We didn’t notice it was on fire until we heard the sirens, our power went out and there were 15 foot flames coming out of their roof. Everyone made it out safely, but we were very concerned for awhile that our shed or house could catch fire too. 

After the excitement had died down we realized we needed to look carefully at our fire safety and I thought I would share some of our ideas and plans here. 

Fire extinguishers: there is now one in each part of the house including the garage and shed. Fires can start in garages with cars and junk piled around it can feed the blaze. Having an extinguisher nearby may help. They are also incredibly important in the kitchen where a lot of other house fires start. NEVER put water on a grease fire, use an extinguisher if you have time. 

Escape route: we don’t have a big house so I don’t know how detailed we need to get. If we can, we’ll leave through a door. But every window has a screen that can be easily pushed out. If your screens are screwed on, get them replaced so they fit properly and aren’t attached if possible. If they are metal consider having them replaced with the plastic screening so it can easily rip in an emergency. Second stories need escape ladders in the rooms. 

Defensible space and tidiness: Keeping the sides of houses clear of debris and junk will help prevent a fire from spreading either from your house or to it. I know it’s hard to keep houses totally clean, especially yard debris, but it can make a difference. Also keeping rooms tidy and garages clean will help slow a fire’s spread. It won’t stop it, but it can keep it from having lots of fuel. Again a tough one, but looking at how jam-packed our neighbor’s house was I’m sure they were not very good housekeepers and that didn’t help. (I’m talking piles and stacks of things, not not picking up toys).

Smoke detectors: Probably the most terrifying part in retrospect was how quickly the entire house was engulfed in flames. It took about 15 minutes. If they hadn’t had smoke detectors and had been asleep, I’m not sure they would have gotten out. Seriously. Make sure you have smoke detectors and make sure the batteries are working. Don’t combine them with carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke rises so detectors should be on ceilings or up high. Carbon monoxide is heavy and sinks. These need to be near the floor or on it. If CO is high enough to reach your smoke detector or smoke is low enough to reach your CO detector, it’s too late. 

Spark arrester: If you use your fireplace be sure there is a spark arrester on the chimney. This will prevent sparks and ash from landing on your roof and igniting a fire or blowing over to your neighbor’s house and starting one. Having the chimney regularly cleaned can also reduce the chance of fire. 

If at all possible make sure your electrical wiring is up to code (I know that’s an expensive one) and be sure you aren’t doing anything like overloading circuits or plugging things in to tons of adaptors and extension cords or power strips. The fire at the neighbor’s was an electrical fire that started behind the TV. If you have time run outside and hit the breaker, but being careful to begin with can help. 

I think this is all timely information too because we’re coming up on the holidays when people put out candles, have fires in their fire places, and will be cooking a lot more. Never leave candles unattended or cooking (for more than a moment or two). Under the right conditions fires can spread rapidly. And if a fire does start, get out and call the fire department. Your stuff is not worth risking your life or your family’s lives for. 

Friday Five: Scottish Tales

Our family is part Scottish and while I’m trying to show Cam the wider world I also want to give her an anchor in our German and Scottish roots. Part of this has involved sharing cultural traditions and foods with her, but I have also tried to find stories that are part of those cultures. German fairy tales abound, but the Scottish tales have been more elusive. Below is a list of five books I have found that either retell traditional Scottish tales or use elements from them. 

Tam LinnThe Tale of Tam Lin written by Lari Don, illustrated by Philip Longson

From Goodreads: Janet is forbidden from visiting the woods near her father’s castle because legend says that long ago a local boy called Tam Linn was stolen there by the fairy queen and never returned. But Janet isn’t afraid of fairy stories. Deep in the woods, by a well, she meets a fairy knight – the famous Tam Linn, forbidden to leave by the evil queen’s spell. Janet decides to save her new friend, but when the queen and her army appear, fairy magic turns Tam into a whole host of Scottish creatures. Can Janet hold on long enough to rescue him?

I absolutely love this story. I especially like this retelling because it removes the romance. Janet simply saves the boy because it’s the right thing to do. Add to this that she isn’t some simpering princess. She is strong and brave and determined. An excellent role model for our girls. I’m all for love and romance, but I think sometimes it undermines the message of being a strong woman. 

 

The Selkie GirlThe Selkie Girl written by Janis McKay, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

From Goodreads: Fergus lives with his father by the sea, but is lonely. He wants a friend more than anything. One day Fergus finds treasure on the beach: a beautiful fur blanket hidden in the rocks. But Fergus doesn’t know that his treasure belongs to someone else – a selkie girl has lost her seal skin and can’t go home to the sea without it. Will Fergus give his new friend what she needs, and risk being lonely again?

Selkies are one of the mythical Scot-Irish creatures that come up in a lot of stories. This particular book doesn’t appear to be a traditional tale per se, just a tale that features a selkie. Both this book and The Tale of Tam Linn (and the following book on the list) are from a series of Scottish Tales. These retellings feature younger protagonists or, in the case of The Selkie Girl, kids. I think there is a lot of power in the stories as they originally were, but I think it’s also okay to retell them with children so kids see themselves in the stories more. 

StoorwormThe Dragon Stoorworm written by Theresa Breslin, illustrated by Matthew Land

From Goodreads: The Dragon Stoorworm was the very first, very worst dragon that ever lived. It was ginormous: almost as big as the whole of Scotland! The King of Scotland called for warriors to defeat the terrible dragon and save his daughter, the Princess Gemdelovely, from being eaten. But none who faced the dragon ever returned. 

This is both a creation myth and a bit of a love story. Gemdelovely’s father offers her hand in marriage, his sword and his kingdom for getting rid of the dragon, but she tells him that only she can give her hand. Gemdelovely’s not impressed with the knights that come and are full of bravado and keen on winning the kingdom. But when Assipattle comes along he is not full of braggadocio. He is interested in getting to know Gemdelovely and takes on the challenge of Stoorworm with the help of Gemdelovely instead of as a way of winning her like a prize. The ending is the best where he kisses her once and she takes the initiative and kisses him six or seven times back. I particularly like the final illustration that shows them sitting around the fire with a few beautiful objects like a plate of shortbread telling stories and singing together. 

Wee GillisWee Gillis written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

From Goodreads: Wee Gillis lives in Scotland. He is an orphan, and he spends half of each year with his mother’s people in the lowlands, while the other half finds him in the highlands with his father’s kin. Both sides of Gillis’s family are eager for him to settle down and adopt their ways. In the lowlands, he is taught to herd cattle, learning how to call them to him in even the heaviest of evening fogs. In the rocky highlands, he stalks stags from outcrop to outcrop, holding his breath so as not to make a sound. Wee Gillis is a quick study, and he soon picks up what his elders can teach him. And yet he is unprepared when the day comes for him to decide, once and for all, whether it will be the lowlands or the highlands that he will call his home.

I think you have to be Scottish to like bagpipes, but this is a zany story about them which you can enjoy without actually listening to the music. It’s also about the uncomfortable positions families put us in and about finding good compromises. It draws on highland-lowland rivalry too which shows some Scottish tradition (although I’m not sure how real it still is).

Wee BookA Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots written by Matthew Fit & James Robertston, illustrated by Deborah Campbell 

From Amazon: Here are six of the world’s best-loved folk and fairy tales, retold in lively modern Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. Familiar stories like Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a fresh look and sound in these new versions, which are ideal for bedtime, nursery and classroom reading.
Includes: Cinderella; Wee Reid Ridin Hood; The Three Wee Pigs; Snaw White; The Billy Goats Gruff; Rumpelstiltskin

This one is more for fun. It’s five traditional fairy tales, but they are told in the Scots dialect or language. Since the stories are familiar it’s not too difficult to understand what they’re saying, but be forewarned Scots is not American English or even British English. It can sound very foreign, but also incredibly beautiful, particularly when spoken.

If you’re interested in Scots here’s an interesting radio piece (you can read it or listen to it at the link) from PRI about the first Scots Scriever (or writer) Hamish MacDonald. Just listen to him speak. Wonderful.