Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

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world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

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someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.

Guess Who

Who’s the lovely lady on the right?

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Kudos, you guessed correctly! Smart lady she is, Melania Trump has followed the golden rule: if you’re going to have dirty pictures of yourself floating around, you better make sure you look gorgeous.

But I’m sure Donald forgives her past indiscretions, like the true gentleman he is.

Costco Caesar Salad Review

Have you ever bought food at the Costco food court? They have salad, ice cream, sandwiches, pizza, the famous $1.50 hot dog, and a few other concoctions. I usually avoid the food court because I’m in a rush to get home, though once, when pregnant with my youngest son, bought a turkey sandwich. It was ok but I slathered the inside with mayonnaise when I got home to make it edible.

Today in line, hungry, I stared at those tempting poster sized images of the offerings. Out of them all the caesar salad looked the lowest carb- or I should say appeared to be their only low carb offering- assuming I left out the croutons. If you’ve never read my blog before, I’m type 2 diabetic and have so far managed to control it completely without meds or insulin by eating very low carb. Case in point the blood work I received just yesterday. I think I deserve a medal for this. Or flowers.

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I’m not even in the prediabetic range; the highest I’ve been, since eating low carb, is 5.6. This, of course, doesn’t mean I’m no longer diabetic, and this a confusion you often get from the general public. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled but not eliminated. If I drank a glass of orange juice, my blood sugar would spike close to 300. All this means is that over the past few months I haven’t ingested more carbs than my body can metabolize, which as far I can tell is around 30-50 grams a day. A non-diabetic can metabolize at least 250 a day, and the average American consumes well over 300 carbs a day.

Anyway, back the caesar salad. It’s $3.99 plus applicable tax, and is made with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken breast, dressing, grated parmesan, and croutons.

costco caesar salad
an actual costco caesar salad, but not my actual salad; croutons not pictured

Once I unpacked it at home I could see there isn’t nearly enough dressing. So- you guessed it- I got out the mayonnaise and in a separate bowl slathered the chicken pieces with it. There wasn’t enough parmesan either- less than in the salad pictures above- in fact so little I couldn’t taste it in the mix. I’m not sure why Costco would skimp on the dressing; apart from the lettuce and croutons it’s probably the cheapest part of the meal. Whereas the chicken, which is definitely one of the more expensive ingredients, is provided in plenty.

The dressing, aside from being too sparse, was too salty, watery and nearly flavorless. I mean it was ok, but the mayo I put on the chicken tasted better. The romaine wasn’t cut finely enough either. I even found a whole, uncut leaf at the bottom of the dish! That is just bad salad preparation. If this were a food show, I’d eliminate the chef.

The cherry tomatoes were tasty and the chicken was absolutely delicious! It looked grilled but tasted poached, so I’m not sure exactly how they prepare it. In fact it was so delicious I may just buy this salad again, but put my own dressing on it once home.

I didn’t eat the croutons so I can’t tell you how they taste. However, my daughters loved them and said they taste like garlic bread.

In summation I’d give this salad a weak 6 on a 1-10 scale. Were it not for the chicken, it would be a 3.

 

Uhtred Son of Uhtred

While in Vikings withdrawal I noticed a series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. It had a lot of stars (viewer ratings, not actors) so I gave it a try.

It was quickly evident that The Last Kingdom is a BBC spinoff on Vikings, focusing on the same historical era but from the vantage point- more or less- of the Saxons. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the true-to-history protagonist, a saxon lord by birth but adopted by vikings, raised as a firebrand, trinity denying warrior.

While The Last Kingdom is not as “sexy” as Vikings, we get lots of battle scenes, Saxon-Dane historicity, quasi rape scenes and sparknotes on King Alfred the Great, albeit all on a seemingly lower budget. I also got the sense, while watching this, that this was all based on a book (why I don’t know). And sure enough it is. The Saxon Stories, by Bernard Cornwell is the inspiration for the series.

Alexander Dreymon (a german actor who speaks english without accent) is good, but not necessarily great, as the oft beleaguered Uhtred son of Uhtred; some Christ innuendos are not unintended, but you have to watch it to see! David Dawson is simply phenomenal as the seething yet intellectual King Alfred the Great- he even looks like the ancient portraits of the true king! However the king is given less screen time than the sword wielding Uhtred, but to no ill effect.

I have to say the series plays delicately and notably with the visceral conflicts young Uhtred experiences between cultures. This is something I can identify with personally, as someone who was raised Christian but received tremendous “cultural” influence from Judaism. Just as Uhtred is caught between two worlds, I often feel caught between two religions. At times his fictitious plight brought me to tears; I neither believe in Jesus as Christians do, nor do I disbelieve in him as Jews do. Perhaps I should just settle for Hinduism.

Either way The Last Kingdom is highly recommended to any fans of Vikings!

What Ails You

Two weeks ago I woke up, stretched myself out in bed as I always do, and felt my right calf muscle seize up.

Now: I know some of you out there in blogland have had muscle cramps and spasms, but when I get a cramp in my calf muscle, it is a searing, blinding, excruciating pain. I’d say it’s beyond description but I have an absolutely precise description: it feels like giving birth without an epidural. The “contraction” in my leg feels exactly like the contractions of hard childbirth. Thankfully this typically happens once every few years, and lasts only a few seconds.

But this cramp didn’t stop, and once it did begin to fade, it seized up again. And again.

By the third “again” I was screaming in agony, my hands desperately pressing my calf in an effort to get it to calm down. I’d never experienced anything like this before! What was happening to my body?

I screamed for my husband and begged for a glass of water (thinking I might be dehydrated) which I glugged down. And a second glass. I was limping for the next three days, and couldn’t drive as it was my right leg.

But the spasms and cramps kept coming- not as severe as that one, but persistent, and not just in my calves. I began to feel them in my ankles, my thighs, even in my upper arms! What the hell! I began to wonder if I might be dying. So I turned to google.

According to google these spasms and cramps are caused by mineral and electrolyte deficiencies, namely magnesium, calcium, and potassium. They can also be caused by dehydration or starvation. I don’t eat much, but I doubt I’m in an official phase of starvation. I almost never eat less than 1200 calories a day.

I began loading up on magnesium, calcium, and potassium supplements. I bought NO SALT, a salt substitute made from potassium chloride. I stir 1.25 teaspoons in a glass of water and sip it throughout the day (yuck!). It helped, but the spasms kept coming like obnoxious sea waves.

So I finally broke down and scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, a serious Syrian with a strange grasp on anatomy. When I went to him once for severe rib pain, he surmised it might be coming from my ovaries.

He looked at my legs. Pressed on my ankles, my calves, and under my knees. He wasn’t convinced the problem was muscular, he advised, but perhaps a vascular issue. He ordered bloodwork and prescribed a muscle relaxant, which I’m afraid to take.

Thus, here I sit dreading the next leg cramp, though I’ve learned to predict them and flex my foot upright to quell any oncoming cramps. And my right arm is killing me from the kid who drew my blood today– he looked all of 12 years old. You know you’re getting old, when the doctors start to look young.

Rude Awakening

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Thursday morning I overslept after a long night of nightmares and insomnia, eventually stumbling into my husband’s office to ask him something. But instead he asked me something.

“Go upstairs,” he said, “Tell me if you smell something.”

Still half dressed I stumbled upstairs and was hit by the stench of gas- the kind that feeds gas ovens- in our main kitchen on the second floor. This is the room I basically live in, during waking hours.

I inspected the stove. Nothing on. One burner dial was slightly askew but not “on.” There was no hissing or clicking. I uttered an expletive, opened the windows, and scurried downstairs.

“Call 911!” I told him.

“Huh?” he blinked. “Do we have to?”

“Yes!”

He shrugged. “Maybe we could just call National Grid?” He disappeared back into his laptop.

I threw on clothes and scrambled back up to see if my kids were still alive. My 10 year old was passed out asleep on the couch, breathing. 4 year old was awake and jabbering, 19 and 8 year olds passed out asleep and breathing. I concluded if my 4 year old was still alive, the bigger ones would probably survive. I ran back downstairs.

“Did you call?”

My husband rolled his eyes. “I’m kind of busy here…”

I handed him the phone and he skeptically dialed the emergency line. And when he hung up, he unbolted the front double doors.

Before I knew it my house was swarming with firefighters like an army of giant locusts. My daughters and I hid in my husband’s office so we caught only glimpses of them coming and going, until one burst into the office and nearly collided with me. He was huge- so tall I had to careen my head up to look at him.

“Dude,” I wanted to tell him– “You should audition for Vikings!”

They tested the upstairs oven. Tested the downstairs oven. Tested the dryer. All clear, but they too could smell gas. It was probably just a burner left a little ajar, they assured us, and we were good to go. They filed out, we rebolted the double doors, and my husband asked if I was certain they had all left.

“I assume so,” I told him, “Unless one decided he wants to live with us.”

So the moral of the story is: if you smell gas and cannot immediately identify and eliminate the source, unplug all electrical appliances, open the windows and straightaway call 911!

Do You Want Something to Eat

Everyone has their own opinion on the homeless. You either walk past them, or throw a little money at them.

One of the nicer aspects of Staten Island is you are typically spared this choice… until the recent inception of the heroin epidemic. These days you see all kinds of beggars, mostly young white kids in areas they would not typically spawn. This morning I ran to the grocery store for a few things and there was a kid, about my oldest son’s age, holding a sign stating his dilemma.

I AM HOMELESS TRYING TO GET OFF THE STREETS.

I dug through my purse as I harnessed my shopping cart, handing him money as I walked past. Then I knelt down, looked him in the eye, and asked (because this has been the purpose of my life for the past 19 years): do you want something to eat?

He looked stunned.

I’m not used to junkies, but there was a nervous, exhausted, desperate look on his face.

“Yeah…” he replied.

“What would you like?” (This is the “mommy monster” inside of me. Because seriously, I’ve been doing nothing but feeding and placating whiny children for 20 years.)

He looked even more stunned here. “Uhh…” he said, confused…. “Anything?”

Now it as my turn to be stunned. My kids are all picky eaters. I mean really, really picky, as in two or three foods, for years, picky. Was this guy really willing to eat anything? This was a novel concept for me… to put it mildly.

“And maybe something to drink,” he added weakly.

“What do you want to drink?” (there’s a liquor store right by the Stop and Shop)

He stared at me incredulous… “Water?” he asked, again, so weakly.

“Just water?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay honey.”

And I walked into the grocery store. What exactly do you buy a homeless drug addict? I felt, in a surreal way, like a mom packing lunch for her kids at camp: it had to be nonperishable, palatable, and high calorie. I settled on a big bottle of Fiji water, a box of granola bars, and doritos. Along with the other items I came there to purchase.

I handed the bag to him as I embarked to my car, knowing I had accomplished no good, but no bad either. “Take care of yourself honey…” but I knew he wouldn’t.

Let’s Play a Real Game

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Once again we embarked on our strange family outing- dropping my husband off at the psych unit (he was such a pill during the ride I seriously considered just leaving him there) then soldiering onward to Midland Beach with the girls, this time a different set of girls as my mother swapped the 8 & 10 year olds for the 12 & 14 year olds. The beach was unusually crowded- there was some kind of event going on- but the beach itself wasn’t too sardinesque. We laid out our beach blankets, I harshly warned the girls not to kick or throw sand (I do this EVERY time, why I don’t know) and they padded down to the water’s edge.

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I didn’t feel like going in today, despite the inviting gray waves rolling over each other like puppies.

But then I got my ankles in, then my calves, then my knees, and before I knew it I was diving underwater like last time. The water was warmer than then but choppier, thick waves rolling up and over. I guess like people, the ocean is changeable. Indeed each wave rushed upon me with a personality of its own and seemed to invite: let’s play a real game. So I began swimming out as far as I dared- past the fat russians, far enough to make the lifeguards whistle- then let my body go limp as the current pushed me back to the girls. Sometimes the waves were gentle, other times they welled up like a bullying brother. It dawned on me this was life to a degree; you forge into an unknown only to be met by a tide of fate, and it either carries you gently, or flirts with drowning you.

hogging the hedge
Best.t-shirt.ever.

hedgehog

This makes me think of Rodney King’s plea to just get along. But no, the hedgehog simply cannot. I bet he’s voting for Trump.

life in the psych ward
After many visits to my daughter I now know a lot of what goes on in adolescent psych units. First, the kids are majorly doped up. Her meds have been ramped up at least threefold from the short term unit. She’s on so many pills she’s lost her sense of time. She stopped calling home because, apparently, she’s not aware she hasn’t been here. The kids sleep… a lot. Her current roommate was curled up in a comatose little lump during my last few visits. And my own daughter spends an awful lot of time sleeping or semi-asleep.

They pirate music- even handing out mp3 players to the patients (there is unfiltered internet access, but the aides watch the screens). My rule-oriented daughter was alarmed by the piration and approached one of the aides, who covered up one eye, gave the thumbs up, and said, “arrghhh, matey!”

“School” consists of three rooms. In one room, you can use the internet. For anything. My daughter writes online screeds about animal rights and draws crazy ponies. [Note to reader: have I mentioned crazy ponies before? If not I will elucidate.] Room 2 is the current events room. You write essays about current events, but the teacher prefers the essays not be more than one sentence. Again, my daughter writes rambling screeds about animal rights. Room 3 consists of an eternal art project of a paper roller coaster. Marbles roll down it.

crazy ponies
When my daughter began having issues she embarked on the same drawing, over and over again, rarely finished. It was of a My Little Pony, the Friendship is Magic variety. She used to draw adorable and highly accurate ponies from the show as fan art– you know, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, etc.. My kids are all bronies and pegasisters (hoof salute!). But as she deteriorated, the ponies grew ever weirder, creepier, and she never finished them. I have thousands upon thousands of these half finished sketches all over the house which she eventually termed, affectionately, her crazy ponies. Case in point:

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Occasionally we get a crazy alligator:

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… or a crazy bird(?):

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crazybirds

… and lots and lots of eyeballs.

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Barbie Heaven

Yesterday we had the incongruous family outing of heading to the beach– the psychiatric facility is right by the one I take the girls to. So I dropped off my husband at the psych unit, then continued to the water with three girls in tow: the 14, 12, and 4 year olds.

“If there’s no garbage in the water,” I announced [you know you live in NYC when you have to preface statements with if there’s no garbage…] “I’m going swimming.”

The older ones took bets on how far I would go (to those unfamiliar with the beaches around here, the water can be chilly). “I bet she’ll go up to her knees,” said Dea, the 12 year old.

“Waist at the most,” quipped the overachiever.

Well there was no garbage in the water so I took off my sunhat and waded in. It was chilly but not unbearable, I dove underwater to the accolades of my girls still on the sand. I swam back and forth, dove under again, did a backstroke. It dawned on me I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming.

“Hey mom!” shouted the overachiever. “I didn’t know you could swim!”

I wanted to tell her– I had forgotten I could too, but I dove back under, surfaced like a seal and floated in the gray waters of the Atlantic. There was the Verrazano; there was a passenger jet heading to JFK; there was the gaggle of fat russian men, lounging in lapping water (I don’t know if it’s a Staten Island thing, but it’s mainly men who go in the water at the beaches). They chatted to and fro in Russian while I dove under again. Salty water streamed down my face when I resurfaced; I wiped droplets from my eyes and pushed back my soggy hair. This was paradise!

My 14 year old got the 4 year old on her back, piggy back, and waded in to her waist. I shouted Mommy shark! went under, and grabbed at their ankles to the 4 year old’s sheer delight. Dea darted in and out of the ocean, looking like a starved, wet rat.

I don’t wear bathing suits. My reasoning is, I wouldn’t walk around in public in my underwear, so why would I walk around in public in a bathing suit that probably shows more than my underwear? No thanks! So I wore leggings, a skirt to my knees, a tank top and a long sleeved shirt for good measure. I figure if nothing else it will protect me from UV rays. I may have gotten a few curious stares but didn’t care.

The girls either followed suit or were too lazy to find their own bathing suits. So there the four of us were, fully clothed, horsing around in the water.

Later we went to the playground where the 4 year old misplaced her Barbie. Back in the car, noting Barbie’s absence, Dea gibed She went to Barbie heaven. This satisfied the 4 year old who spared us a torrent of tears, and she fell sound, sound asleep on the way home, her cheeks flushed bright red from sun.

 

Vikings

[spoiler free]

Years ago when I read of History Channel’s concept for a dramatized series about vikings I thought: lame. And didn’t give it another thought until a few months ago, when my 14 year old, in between marathon study sessions, binge watched it on amazon prime. She raved over the addictive plot, and the amazing bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan. Intrigued, and because there was a huge hole in my life since finishing The Sopranos, I hid downstairs to watch episode 1.

Still lame! The pacing was choppy, dialogue stilted, and former underwear model Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) obviously didn’t go to Julliard. At times he seemed to struggle to remember his lines. I tossed the remote aside and went back to life.

The next day my daughter cornered me in the kitchen. So what did I think? Isn’t Athelstan cute? Had I caught Viking fever?

“Uh… it was ok.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Did you at least watch episode 2 where they invade the monastery at Northumbria?”

Wait what? Monastery invasion? My ears perked up, as years ago I read a beautiful book featuring precisely that- Beorn the Proud, about a young viking boy who befriends an Irish girl taken captive. (In fact, I believe the book’s Beorn is based on Ragnar’s son (spelled Bjorn in the television series.)) It’s a beautifully written book that I still reflect upon often.

At soonest opportunity I was hiding downstairs again, this time for episode 2, and sure enough I caught viking fever. The scene where Ragnar’s group of warriors invades the monastery is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed on screen. And somehow Fimmel’s not-so-great acting begins to work for the gruff yet thoughtful Ragnar- kind of like Keanu Reeves’ golden retriever stare worked in The Matrix. The cinematography is outstanding, the writing by and large excellent, the music hauntingly beautiful. While it’s obvious most of the vikings are played by actors better at stunts than soliloquizing, it manages to dovetail into a mesmerizing blend of history and theater. And even for the squeamish, such as myself, it gets addictive watching the vikings kick everyone’s ass.

Of course, the real question for any woman watching this show is: ROLLO OR RAGNAR? Choices, choices. Rollo is a brute force kind of guy, while Ragnar tends to scheme quietly before launching into shock and awe.

rollo
Rollo: I like fast women and violating slave girls

ragnar
Ragnar: I like conquering the world and impregnating women

Of course, for those who prefer white collar guys, there’s always Athelstan. He looks cute in viking clothes.

athelstan
speak latin to me

Here I’ll have to plead the fifth.

As an important blogger, I did exhaustive research into the historicity of the show, and it turns out it’s surprisingly true to history, though some historical figures are swapped, and timelines tweaked, for the sake of the plot. You’ll also learn a great deal of Norse theology in watching this show; any pregnant women out there might want to start praying to Freya.

So it’s a must watch! The first three seasons are available on Amazon Prime.