The gardening season is here. Or rather, the shovelling season is here.

Last year we dug out the infamous “slope of weeds”, removed the top layer of soil (and thereby also most of the weeds) and lots of stones and boulders. Finally we built a retaining wall.

This year I’m filling it up with fresh soil. I ordered two cubic metres of gardening soil and now spend my evenings shovelling it in place. It sounded like a lot but shovelling soft, loose soil with no stones is immeasurably easier than digging out rocky clay soil. After three evenings I’m about halfway through already. Soon it will be planting time!

In between I shovel cow manure. There are many metres of hedges and numerous bushes that need fertilizer. I’ve spread out 700 litres already and still have a way to go before I’m all done.

Ingrid and Adrian have been keeping me company and doing some shovelling of their own, but mostly they enjoy stomping around in the soft fresh earth on the slope. Adrian is intrigued by this idea of feeding bushes and flowers, and helps me with his little shovel. The fact that we use cow poop makes it extra fun for him.


Adrian now rides a bike. A few weeks ago we brought out Ingrid’s old balance bike for him to try. He loved it from the very first moment, and “got it” almost immediately. At the very beginning he just walked with the bike between his legs. A day or two later he was rolling. Now he’s hooked. He rides it to and from nursery and school; he accompanies me to the supermarket on it; he goes out riding just for fun.

Now he’s so confident on it that he’s experimenting. “Look, I can ride like this!” And “like this” may mean that he keeps pushing with only one foot and holds the other one in the air, or holds both of them up, or goes backwards.

And he’s fast. When he dawdles, looking at stuff we pass, then he gets on about as fast as I walk. When he decides to go fast, I have to run to keep up.

Speaking of riding, Adrian has definitely gotten over much of his fear of animals. When Ingrid’s riding lessons started in January, he was really scared, almost terrified of the horses. I had to hold him almost all the time, and when I didn’t, he cowered in a spot where he could see me but be as far as possible from the horses.

Now, believe it or not, he is OK with riding a pony himself. Earlier this week we spent a few days at a farm, and he rode their Shetland pony (with someone leading it of course). He also sat in a rabbit enclosure and fed them dandelion leaves from his hand.

So while it is kind of inconvenient to have to take him along for Ingrid’s riding lessons each time, it’s been very useful practice for him.

This Thursday he gave up his dummy. For a long time already he had only been using it to fall asleep at night, and I had already been thinking that it’s time to stop. So when we found out his friend Hanna was quitting at Easter, I decided Adrian would do the same.

There is a tradition in Stockholm for kids to give their dummies to the kittens at Skansen, an open air museum. They used to have huge colour co-ordinated garlands of dummies there. Those seemed to be gone now. Instead there is a neat little machine where the kids put in their dummies and press a button and then watch it go through a chute, up a slope on a little wagon, etc., and then in to an enclosure with homeless cats.

Adrian was not bothered at all. When he goes to bed in the evening, he finds it a bit difficult to calm down without the dummy. He tells me it’s “hard to sleep”, and it takes him somewhat longer than usual. But that’s it.

Likes:

  • Pretending he’s a baby. He likes to play “mummy daddy baby”. But sometimes he also just likes to talk like a baby, or crawl like a baby, or be spoon fed like a baby.
  • Building with Lego. He has very precise stories to tell about seemingly simple constructions. A lump with three longer pieces sticking out is a diving tower with three platforms, one for kids, one for me, one for Eric. Another lump with two long pieces is a flying car. (Not an airplane.)
  • Splashing in puddles.
  • Playing with water while I’m doing the dishes.
  • Reading. When he’s upset or tired, his go-to solution is to ask me to read for him.
  • Making art with glitter glue.
  • Drawing. He no longer makes tangles – now it’s mostly roughly circular shapes, often coloured in, sometimes joined by lines.
  • Sunglasses.

Random fact: He often speaks very loudly for some reason, and both Eric and I keep telling him to please not shout.


It’s Easter this weekend. Ingrid has been talking about Easter for three weeks already. She wants to know what we’ll do and where we’ll be. She talks about the egg hunt she wants us to have, and in what kind of places we should hide the eggs, and how she might help Adrian, or how we could mark which eggs are hers and then she could leave the ones that aren’t so Adrian can find them. She makes plans for her Easter witch outfit, where she will go, which basket she will have for her Easter cards and which one for the candy. And so on.

It’s not just Easter, of course. She spends a lot of time time planning and thinking about what she will be doing tomorrow, or next weekend, or two weeks from now; how things might turn out, what she might do. Some of it is anticipation, the pleasure of looking forward to something nice coming up soon. Some of it seems to be a real anxiety to know.

It is very unlike how I function and frankly I find it pretty annoying at times. Talking about something that might happen in the future, instead of enjoying what we are doing now; trying to plan things in way too much detail, way too far in advance. I’m trying to find a balance, letting her keep the anticipation but reducing the excessive planning – or at least ensuring that it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the now.

And yet at the same time she likes surprises and to be surprised, and is immensely disappointed if someone (read: Adrian) ruins a surprise.

She has difficulty making choices and committing herself. She makes such an effort to get it right and is worried about missing out. She changes her mind, second guesses herself.

Before a weekend she mentally makes long lists of all the things she wants to do and then usually ends up disappointed because she cannot be in two places at the same time, and cannot fit all her plans into the hours that a day has.

Ingrid wants to be, and is, competent. She wants to accomplish things on her own, without anybody helping. It really annoys her when someone decides that she needs help with her horse during a riding lesson. Usually she is pretty good at judging what she can and cannot manage.

We got her a phone a few months ago. She feels proud about having it and especially enjoys receiving text messages. She also likes reading the ones I get for me.

Her phone also doubles as an alarm clock and this is working out really really well. I don’t know if this is because it’s actually easier for her to wake up this way, or because she feels like a big girl this way.

She also likes helping Adrian (most of the time), for example helping him put on his clothes in the morning. She enjoys playing with him, but also gets really angry at him at times. They have a lot of ups and downs.

I learn better when there is some structure to support my learning. To learn photography, I need a workshop, a project, or some other external support. Left to my own devices I slide back into my habitual groove of taking pretty much the same kinds of photos of the same kinds of things.

I’m in between courses right now. It’s like being between meals: the next meal may be some while away, but you know it’s coming.

I thought I’d keep busy in the meantime. I bought an e-book with 50 chapters and joined a study group that would work through that book over a year. But the combination of a fast pace (a chapter a week) and no real external pressure meant that it was hard for me to keep up the pace, so I dropped out after just a few weeks. It’s still a good book so I hope to work my way through it at a slower pace. At some point.

Then another assignment turned up on a blog. This one had a deadline of almost a month, and (deceptively) simple theme, so I thought I’d play. The assignment was “lines”.

For several weeks I saw lines everywhere. I could not walk down a street without mentally noting: line. Line. Line line line. Lines. Lines.

I took photos of lines, wherever I some some lines I somehow found interesting. And I looked at other people’s photos of lines. But every time I did, I found myself questioning the purpose of that photo.

What is the meaning of these lines? Who cares about these lines? Why?

Well, hopefully that will be part of the discussion of this in the assignment wrap-up, I thought, and looked forward for that follow-up blog post. To my great surprise and equally great disappointment, Zack’s critique post had nothing at all to say about any of this. There was no mention of the use of lines for a purpose, or the meaning of lines. Lines were lines, and that was that. They could be well seen or not, well lit or not, well photographed or not. But they were never anything more than just lines.

And I just could not make myself care about these photos, or the critique video. I left it after 20 minutes and have zero interest in continuing with that assignment series. Totally not my cup of tea.

So what if your lines really make you go “wow, great lines!” or “man, look at those stunning lines”. Who cares about lines?!

Apparently, a lot of people do.

And I’m not saying that lines cannot be the subject of the photo. They can – but in that case they need to say something about something. They might communicate the awesome tallness of a skyscraper, or the stark beauty of an iceberg, or something. Or they may have a supporting role in a photo where the subject is something else: by pointing at some subject, framing it, barring the way to it, etc.

Lines need to have a point, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Today I was listening to a podcast by another photographer while emptying the dishwasher and doing the dishes: Question The Image, by David DuChemin. He also talks about lines (starting at 19:10 in the podcast) and it was fascinating to me to hear how differently he approached lines. In just a few moments he had questioned lines from half a dozen aspects. “Do they lead the eye, do they provide balance, do they form relationships between elements, do they connect things? Do they lead you in to the photograph or out of the photograph?”

Now this is photography with a meaning, photography that says something.

Two well-known professional photographers with blogs. And two so utterly different ways of thinking about photography.


Lines of growth. Of aspiration cut off. Of contrast, natural vs man-made.

Lines of exclusion. Lines that bar the way, separate, outsiders vs insiders.

Lines that block but also protect and support.

This is me doing what I would have been doing if I had not been taking this month’s self-portrait: reading.

Roughly three weeks ago I bought some daffodils. I bought two pots and put one outside, just next to the entrance, and the other in the south-facing kitchen window.

Look what’s become of them in these weeks. It’s hard to believe that these two looked identical to begin with.

The ones in the kitchen flowered fast, and then they were done. A few days ago I tidied away the last withered flowers, and that seems to be it. The plants threw all their energy into growing leaves instead. I now have a scraggly green bush.

The daffodils that stood outdoors got wind and shade and a good dose of snow. And yet they are all still flowering, and there are still new buds coming up. The leaves are about a third as tall compared to the other pot, but much thicker and fleshier. The whole plant just looks stronger and sturdier.

To quote the back cover:

At a suburban barbecue one afternoon, a man slaps an unruly boy.
The boy is not his son.
This single act of violence reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen…

In each chapter, we get a snapshot of the life of one of those persons. The man who gives the slap; the boy’s mother; their friends and relatives. Every chapter broadens our picture of their relationships, backgrounds, characters.

They’re all connected by more than that one event, of course. They wouldn’t have been at the barbecue if they didn’t know each other. Some are cousins, husbands and wives. Some are childhood friends, some are colleagues. So some parts of their lives overlap. But we also see the aspects of each life that are private, that they don’t show to their friends. And of course we see how differently two people can view the same things.

It’s an interesting idea, but I found the actual contents disappointing. It’s all one giant soap opera. Everybody does drugs; everybody is an adulterer; every relationship dysfunctional. (Oh, look, it’s even been turned into a TV series.)

It’s also a cruel, merciless, loveless book. Almost everybody in the book is miserable, full of contempt and anger against the others. And I absolutely believe that it is possible to write a great book about ugly people – but basically I just don’t like this author’s world view, and don’t enjoy reading a book like this.

What is the point of this book? What did he try to achieve? It sure doesn’t feel like he wants to tell a great story. The story-telling and the writing are pretty bland and mediocre. The characters are predictable and, in fact, all very similar to each other. I don’t care about any of them. There are no surprises.

Makes me wonder how much of the book is attention seeking, banal “like whoring”. Start with slapping a child, and then put in as much drug use, alcoholism, adultery, swearing, racism, everyday violence, teenage sex etc etc as possible, so as to shock (which seems to be almost required of modern literature). Slap your readers in the face.

Or maybe that’s what life in Australian suburbia is really like. Good thing I’m not living there.

I read the first few chapters and then just skimmed through the rest. I have no idea how it ended up on the short-list for the Man Booker Prize, or why anybody would describe it as a modern masterpiece.

More here, if you’re interested (and do read the comments as well).

Last spring we put up a nesting box for birds in the cherry tree outside the kitchen. A pair of blue tits promptly moved in and nested there.

This year both blue tits and great tits have been interested in the box, flying around, inspecting, trying to crowd out the others. It seems the great tits won – the blue tits haven’t been around for a week or so.

Today Ingrid found a broken egg on the ground, about the size of the tip of my finger. Unfortunately it very much looks broken rather than hatched. I wonder what happened to it, and I hope the parents have better luck with the other eggs (which I hope are still there in the box).

The kids are gradually growing up and even Adrian is leaving the messy toddler phase. Washability is no longer the primary criterion when I buy new casual clothes for myself. I no longer rush to change out of my work outfit into child-proof clothes the moment I get home – I now allow myself to wear nice-looking things at home, too, including the occasional white item, and even wool cardigans that cannot be machine washed.

We went to our usual Estonian playgroup on Sunday. The kids had fun. Myself, I almost snapped, from too much exposure to Estonian-style parenting. Parents who tell their 4-year-olds how crappy their painting is; who constantly demean and humiliate their kids; whose parenting skills go no further than “stop that right this minute” and “why are you such a whiner”.

Not all Estonian parents are like that, of course. But this kind of attitude towards children (and husbands and wives, and other people in general) is sufficiently common that you cannot really avoid it. The general undertone is that other people do not deserve your respect, that really they’re irritating idiots, and you see no point in hiding that opinion.

During our annual trips to Estonia we live in a cocoon, only spending time with friends and family. I have no wish to go outside that cocoon.

I remember so sharply an episode from one of our previous summer trips. We were at a roadside eatery. We sat outside, and when Ingrid was done eating she went to the little playground they had. There were two other girls there, maybe a year or two older. She cautiously tried to make contact, and got instantly, sharply, snippily put down. I don’t think they even spoke directly to her but one of the girls said something mildly but clearly scornful about Ingrid to the other. Ingrid was totally confused and had no idea how to respond. Like, why would they do that?

How do you explain that in Estonia people are like that? Tell her to not go around trying to make friends? I don’t want to need to explain things like that.

Another thing that I always notice in Estonian playgroup is that almost all of the other kids are super reluctant to ever answer any questions from the teachers. Even when the question is something that you cannot fail at, like “can you come and pick one of these stuffed animals for the next song” or “what’s your favourite food”, they don’t. They cover their faces, they squirm, they hide behind mum’s back, they just won’t.

It’s not an age thing, not a phase. The ones older than Adrian and the ones younger than him all do the same.

A deep-seated reluctance to get noticed? Because odds are, you will only get criticised for it? Or maybe I am totally over-analysing this.

To close on a happier note, here’s a totally unrelated photo of two tired kids happily playing together.