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Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Adventures #2--Trebuchets, Fruitcakes and Santa Claus Gnomes

A few years ago, when I was looking for a family adventure for New Year's Day, I saw a notice that said someone was hosting a small event. They had hand-built their own trebuchet, and were planning to test it by flinging uneaten fruitcakes at a Santa Clause figure.

This is a trebuchet. It is a a catapult who has its leverage compounded by use of a counter weight--that big chunk mod wood hanging at the back, between those two wheels that look like they should be powering a paddle boat down the Mississippi. On this one, you would ratchet back the lever by use of those wheels, and load up the sling (in our case, with a fruitcake). When you release the lever, the counterweight comes down and makes the sling go even further. (I knew none of this before we went on our adventure, by the way.)  
The wind chill was about 25 below, and the snow was pretty deep. Our little family made up four of the seven people who came, and one of our family was in my womb. (Which was the warmest place to be.) Another two were a romantic couple, one was another quirky person, and the fourth was the head of the engineering department at a local university.

We all stood in the cold while the trebuchet builders (local artists) did indeed fling a fruitcake at a santa gnome,  carefully working out their aim, until they bashed the poor guy over--he was already pretty battered, I should say. And of course, the fruitcakes held up for repeated artillery experiments, as they let us shoot the thing off, too. Our child was the only one there--other parents who were more experienced with winter knew better than to brave frostbite for a trebuchet and a santa gnome--but we won the day, because the engineering professor had just assigned his grad students a trebuchet-making contest, and asked my kid to be a judge for it.

Through this, we met the founder of a hands-on kid-based engineering museum near us, a lovely woman whose cheap wig was so frequently askew that I knew she was going through chemo.

Here she is, Rebecca Shatz, and here is the bad wig. She was an engineer who wanted to share her love of engineering with the world. She was also the mother of two kids like mine, the kind who are a challenge to corral. Whenever we ran into her, she gave me hope--her two boys were growing into fine young men. She also founded a coder dojo to teach children how to computer code.

Rebecca died last July, of her cancer. I'm so glad we knew her. I'm so glad there are thousands of children who have gotten and will get to learn about engineering and computer coding because of the generous choices she made.

All of which means I'm so grateful that we were crazy enough to hang around in the cold watching a fruitcake whiiiiiiiiiiiizzzzzz through the air and deck that ratty little Santa gnome.

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