Turns out it’s Halloween today. We’d sort of missed that, and were unprepared. Luckily only one gang of kids turned up and we found something for them in the corner of a cupboard.

But it all felt uncomfortable and weird rather than fun. How did it become OK to just go out and beg?

There is a somewhat similar tradition in Estonia kadripäev and mardipäev or St Catherine’s day and St Martin’s day, one for girls and one for boys. But the girls and boys who go out as kadrisandid or mardisandid give something in return. At the very least they sing: first behind the door, asking to be let in, and then more songs once they’re in. Traditionally they would also bless the household but I’m not sure how much of that is still done.

In fact I’m not sure if the tradition is still alive… perhaps it’s been drowned by Halloween. I remember doing this when I was around 10 years or so, and I remember receiving kadrid later than that. But now I’ve been away for 15 years of course.

In any case, it was fun to get a visit from a gang of kadrid. It was a show. The family would gather in the hallway and listen. These kids came, got their candy and left. Where’s the fun in that?

Ingrid’s pretty much grown up without TV. Until now.

One evening last week, when she had skipped her nap and was cranky and tired (tired enough to say no to all kinds of activities but not tired enough to sleep), I sat down in front of a computer with her and turned on Teletubbies. She sat there as if she had been hypnotised, staring at the screen, totally happy.

Now she is addicted. Almost every afternoon when we get home from nursery, she asks for Teletubbies. Sometimes she asks for Teletubbies as soon as we get up in the morning. When the one-hour episode ends, she asks for more. (We’ve limited it to one round, i.e. she can watch all of one DVD but only once, and only in the evening.)

And by the way, that’s when she’s only seen one disc of a three-disc set. She’s perfectly happy watching the same one hour over and over again, day after day. I haven’t even mentioned the other two to her.

Today something went wrong with the computer and there was no sound. No matter! Ingrid accepted silent Teletubbies, too.

This is how TV addiction starts, I guess…

The Lady and the Unicorn is a famous series of woven tapestries, created in the 15th century, when tapestries were all the rage among the rich and powerful.

Jean Le Viste, recently ennobled, wants to show to the nobility of France that he is as good as them, so he orders a set of tapestries for his house. He wants them to show the battle of Nancy, but his wife decides that something less violent would fit the dining room better. She wants an allegorical series instead, with unicorns.

The story is told from the points of view of half a dozen people who affect the making of the tapestries, consciously or not. There’s the artist who draws the design. There’s the family of Brussels weavers who make it. And then there’s the lady and the daughter of the Le Viste family, who inspire the artist as he draws the pictures.

Chevalier jumps between the viewpoints, as they all see the creation of thea tapestries from very different angles. The stories overlap and hook into each other – a rather obvious metaphor of weaving.

Nicolas, the artist, is the warp that keeps all the stories together. He’s a horny young man, chasing all the women he meets, seducing them with the myth of the unicorn and its potent horn. At the same time, his love for women and his ability to, nevertheless, see them as individuals is what makes the tapestry a masterpiece.

It’s a lightweight but enjoyable book, and my opinion of it keeps shifting depending on the mood I’m in.

One the one hand it’s very readable: the story flows smoothly with hardly any padding, and the characters really come to life. It’s also a very evocative book: it made me wish I could see the tapestries myself. As usual, Amazon reviewers complain about vulgarity and unlikeable characters, but I found both of these flaws to be limited. There’s plenty of vulgarity and imperfection in life, and as long as it’s interestingly presented, I don’t mind.

On the other hand there’s no denying that the book is superficial and the characters simplistic – Nicolas in particular feels very one-dimensional. A slight smell of cheap romance hovers over the book, with some rather unlikely events and far too modern thoughts in the head of, for example, a 14-year old girl raised in the sheltered confines of a Catholic, noble family.

A good and memorable read but not enough to make me go Wow.

Numerous reviewers had come away disappointed because they had previously read The Girl with the Pearl Earring by the same author. Since I found this one first, it sounds like I have something even better to look forward to.

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

I’ve put up several new photo albums, with Ingrid
playing in the garden,
learning her letters,
splashing in puddles and

We celebrated Ingrid’s birthday this Sunday. Unfortunately she was slightly off-colour and the large crowd (9 guests) was a bit too much for her. But she really enjoyed opening her presents, and playing with her two cousins, whom she doesn’t meet very often. She liked her cards, too, especially since several of them had photos of herself on them.

(Ingrid’s quite fascinated with photos: every time I try to take a photo of her she runs to me and wants to look at it on the camera screen. Often she does this before I’ve even had time to take the picture, which makes it quite hard to get any photos at all…) I didn’t have the time to take any photos of the birthday party myself, so I’m hoping the guests will send me theirs. Hint, hint…

We had two yellow candles for her, and spoke about how she’s now two years old. I don’t think she understands what a year is, but she understood that the number two has something to do with her now. Whenever we run across a “two” somewhere in a story or a book, she pauses, and very proudly tells me “kaks aastat!”

I went for a haircut yesterday. I’ve been thinking for at least two weeks now that I desperately need one but somehow a meeting of some sort has cropped up almost every single afternoon around 2pm, just when I’ve been thinking of leaving. Well, yesterday I managed to leave on time and get it done.

On a whim I went to Frisörakademien (“haircutting academy”) which is what it sounds like: a hairdressing school. I pass it every morning on my way to work, and then again in the afternoon, and every day I see their sign advertising haircuts for 99kr which is dirt cheap. Worth a try.

The haircut I got was a good one. I got more care and attention from the guy than I normally do from a hairdresser. He was very focused on doing the best possible job, took note of the various whorls in my hair and so on. More experienced hairdressers are more likely to give me their Stock Haircut #14. I looked good when I walked out of there, and I still looked good this morning when I’d slept away his styling efforts.

It was interesting to hear them talk about haircutting technique, too. The whole process turned out to be more standardised and organised than I had realised.

What I gained in price and attention, though, I lost in time. The haircut took almost an hour and a half. I was all stiff and my bum was sore from sitting still for so long, and I was almost falling asleep there in the end. On balance, I don’t think I’ll be going back there… I’m willing to pay money for not sitting still for 85 minutes.

One thing I really miss from my London life is good sushi. I’ve sampled several sushi places near work, and been disappointed every single time. Tasteless fish on tasteless rice. And there’s never any variety: it’s always a few pieces of salmon nigiri, one prawn, and a few rolls (with salmon of course).

Just as I was ready to give up all hopes of good sushi lunches, one of my colleagues found one. It was delicious. Salmon and prawn, of course, but also 2 kinds of tuna, plus a macquerel or something. And really full of flavour, too.

Even better: that place is about halfway between our current office and the new office we’ll move to in February, so we can keep visiting it!

Sushi Devil on Tegnérgatan.

This is part two of a two-part post. You can read the first part here.

Yesterday’s post was all about Ingrid’s emotional rollercoaster life. Today’s is about more practical things.

Last month’s big news was the nursery start. This month it’s become routine, and Ingrid now really enjoys going to nursery. Most days I leave for work first, and later Eric drops her off at nursery. On the few mornings that I’ve done it, she’s gone straight to one of the nursery teachers, smiling all the way, and then carelessly waved good-bye to me. In the afternoon she’s always happy to see me and ready to go home, but already she’s sometimes telling me that she’d like to play some more, and that she wants to go to nursery the next day again.

While I don’t know exactly how she behaves there during the day, I get the impression that she’s as social there as she is at home. When I get there she’s almost always engaged in some activity together with a teacher. She knows the names of her own three teachers, and a few others that she sees when all the different groups are playing outside in the yard. She knows the other kids’ parents and tells me who’s whose mum.

Playing on her own is not her thing. In fact playing is not really her thing. At home her toys mostly languish in the box. If I join her, she doesn’t mind building with her Duplo blocks for a while, but not for long. She’d rather we read books together. I remember when she was smaller, she used to sit with her books all on her own. But that was before she learned that there are stories in the books, and I can get the stories out of the books, while she cannot. I’m very glad we got all those books when we went to Estonia in the summer: they’re very popular, and it’s great to be able to read in Estonian rather than translate Swedish books on the fly.

She’s also very fond of singing. They must do a lot of singing at nursery, because I often catch her singing snatches of songs that I don’t recognise. (Those songs are often followed by a “bravo!” which must also be something she’s picked up at nursery.) In Estonian we sing Põdra maja with all the movements, and Süda tuksub (which I remember my grandmother singing to me) and the one that goes mis need käivad kiiga-kääga. All sorts of “hopping” songs are great fun, too – Sõit, sõit, linna etc. I thought at first that I’d somehow only stick to Estonian songs, but I’ve realised that that plan was unworkable and abandoned it. Imse vimse spindel is too important, as are Bockarna Bruse and others.

I was a bit concerned that speaking Swedish all day at nursery would make her prefer Swedish, or that she’d be slower learning Estonian. No problems yet: most of the time she’s quite comfortable switching between languages. It gets a bit confusing for her when I’m also speaking Swedish (to the nursery staff, for example). But generally, when she says something that she only knows in Swedish, I reply in Estonian. She usually picks that up after a few repetitions and uses the Estonian word from then on. But there are some phrases that she has heard a lot in Swedish, and hardly ever in Estonian. She tends to stick to Swedish with these. (“Mummy will come in the afternoon” is one example that she probably heard many times during her early weeks at nursery.)

As a preventative measure we’re going to an Estonian playgroup every other Sunday. There’s a lot of singing there, which she likes, followed by some sort of creative activity. She’s tried painting with a brush there, and liked it a lot better than the crayons we’ve at home for a while. I think she was getting bored with them because there were too few colours, and she had to press quite hard to make a mark with them. The brushes made big marks quickly. Now I’ve bought a set of colourful felt-tip pens, and those are a lot more popular. She can draw things with these that she couldn’t make with crayons: small dots and big sweeping curves.

But I can’t spend all my evening drawing or reading, and it’s only fun for a short while if she’s on her own. She’d rather “help” me wash the dishes or load the washing machine. And in fact sometimes she does help rather than “help”. She can take the cutlery basket from the dishwasher and put away all the cutlery in the right compartments in the drawer (as long as I take care of all the irregular items there). She can put on her shoes and sometimes manages trousers or socks, too. Jackets and tops are harder: she can get them off but not on.

She wants to do like I do, and be like I am. When we eat dinner, and I lay out a fork and knife for myself, but only a fork for her, she wants a knife, too. When I hurt my finger, she wants a plaster, too. She points out all the things we have in common: that I put on a shirt, and that she is also putting on a shirt; that I go to work, and she goes to nursery.

Ingrid also points out all sorts of other things. We talk a lot when we’re out and about: both of us, not just me. She’s become quite verbal quite fast. We speak about how leaves fall off the trees, and how some trees are all bare now, and the leaves are on the ground. How the ground is wet after rain, and how it gets dark in the evening. We speak about things we pass: trees and cats and lawnmowers and garbage trucks. Quite often, she also mentions things that have happened before. This is where we saw the cat go into the bushes. This is where the garbage truck was standing yesterday. Here is where Ingrid fell from the swing and hit her head. And that was back in August I think: she’s got a long memory.

This post grew far longer than planned, so rather than subject you to a whole novella here, I’m publishing this in installments. Part 2 coming up tomorrow.

Twenty-four months. Two years. It feels like some sort of longer-term retrospective is in order but I can’t think of any good angle for it so it’s not happening today at least. Just the ordinary monthly thing.

In one sense, this has been a month of consolidation. She hasn’t mastered any major new skills, and there haven’t been any big changes in her life. But at the same time I feel that she’s changed a lot emotionally.

Ingrid’s become a lot more independent-minded. She has opinions on just about everything, and it’s become more and more important for her to have a choice, to make up her own mind, to feel in control, and to do things herself. She wants to choose what clothes she wears (which leads to some rather garish choices, such as an pink top paired with red and orange striped trousers). She wants to decide which towel I dry her with, and which route we take when we go home from nursery. She wants to turn on the bathroom light herself, and to take off the cap on the toothpaste herself, and to pour her own breakfast cereal. There’s a constant stream of “ise!” (“myself!”) all the time.

And these things are IMPORTANT to her. Her reaction to when things go “wrong” (meaning, not the way she would have done them) is instant and very emotional. There are floods of tears, and “Ingrid sad!”. (She generally reacts with sadness rather than anger.) She’s never been quite this emotionally fragile before. This independence and emotional fragility remind me of my own teenage years, as far as I can recall them. I’m guessing that this is as tough for her as teenage is for teenagers.

Quite often I forget these small things – I haven’t quite internalised the importance of who gets to turn on the bathroom light – so we end up redoing things. I turn off the light again and then she gets to turn it on. Since it’s obviously much more important to her than me, I don’t mind.

Of course, there are times when we will do things my way. We will take off a soaking wet nappy, no matter what she thinks about it. (For some reason she’s become really averse to nappy changes recently.) And we will go grocery shopping in the afternoon, even though she’d rather sit at home and read a book, because otherwise we won’t have anything to cook for dinner.

Those occasions are quite enlightening, actually, because I can see that her crying is not due to any sort of defiance or hoping to get her way, or a performance somehow aimed at me. She is truly upset. This afternoon, on our way out to go grocery shopping, she bawled all the way as she walked (on her own, ahead of me) out of the house and down the steps in the garden. She’d understood that I wasn’t going to change my mind, and that she had to do this, but she was still oh so unhappy about it. When both of us had reached the bottom of the stairs and I’d strapped her into her stroller, and we’d started walking, she wanted to point out a tree to me (because it had no leaves) and she could barely get the words out through her sobs.

Running with a handbag in one hand and a dry leaf in the other

Luckily the emotional storms pass quickly. We hug each other, or something distracts her, or we get the unpleasant task done and move on. Distractions help: a nappy change is more OK if I sing to her while we do it (despite my total lack of musical talent) or if she gets some puzzle blocks to play with. Early warnings also make things smoother (“we will read one more story, and then we’ll go brush your teeth”) and so do promises of better things to come (“we will go grocery shopping now, and when we’re home again we will draw pictures”).

I’ve also noticed that she feels more comfortable when things follow a routine, and are done the same way every day. People always say routine is good for babies, but I notice it a lot more now that she’s a bit older. We have our going-home-from-nursery routine, and our morning bathroom routine, and our bedtime routine. She also likes small things to be done “the right way”: she quickly reminds me when I forget to light the candle on our dinner table, or when I give her a piece of bread but no plate.

Sort of in the same vein, fixed rules often work better than one-off decisions, assuming the rule can be explained in terms that she understands. “You cannot splash in puddles without rubber boots. No nursing during the night. You cannot sit in my lap while I’m eating. No drawing on hands, clothes, or table: only on the paper. We can eat when the timer rings.” She understands these kinds of rules very well and can repeat them to me herself. It’s harder to get her to accept decisions like “we must change your nappy now” or “we cannot go for a bus ride now because we need to go home and cook dinner instead”.

Our weekends are routineless almost by definition, firstly because she’s not at nursery, and secondly because that’s when we do all the odd tasks we don’t have time for during the week. But I believe I will try to find a fixed routine our weekday afternoons, going grocery shopping every day even though every other day is really enough, just to make life run more smoothly.

This book got such positive reviews and so much publicity that I had to see for myself. Having read it, I have to say it was OK but not particularly impressive.

The book is written in first person, from the point of view of Amir, a young Afghan. Amir grows up in a prosperous family in 1970s Kabul, together with Hassan, the illiterate son of the family’s servant. Both boys are motherless, and they spend their entire childhood together. Hassan remains unshakeably loving and loyal, even though Amir sometimes cannot help treating him as an underling. Amir struggles to earn his father’s love and never quite succeeds. Then war forces them into exile in the US, where Amir’s father loses some of his power and influence, even though they both still remain close to the Afghan community. An old friend, now dying, asks Amir to return to Afghanistan, and various complications ensue.

The main weakness of this whole story is that it isn’t a cohesive story. It’s the union of three disparate parts: first the childhood memories, then the years in exile, and then the trip back. And there’s not enough glue to hold them together: they all have different tone, and the links between them are weak.

The first section of the book, the childhood in Afghanistan, was interesting and beautiful, even though some events were rather predictable. But when Amir moves to the US the story changes abruptly into something rather ordinary, with a love story, a death, some unexpected news etc. This part is far less interesting: events slow down, and Amir doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say.

The third part, the return to Afghanistan, is different again. Now there are action scenes and danger. Finally, pointless complications are introduced at the very end, that would have made sense if this was an autobiography, but don’t work in a fictional context.

These three sections are sort of linked by some events and facts, but some of these links seem rather contrived, the way people in soap operas find out that their husband’s twin did not die in childhood after all but is now back with a vengeance, and so on. And just like soap operas, the book manages to combine improbability with predictability.

Some reviewers have wondered whether the book was written with Hollywood in mind. Others have questioned whether perhaps Hosseini tried writing just about his childhood, and was then told by a publisher that he needed a plot, that the book needed to make a “point”. Either of these would explain the odd mixture in this book.

The writing itself was average at best, with lots of clichés and the almost-obligatory sprinklings of farsi words in all dialogue.

It was interesting to read about pre-war Afghanistan, but I can’t say the book gave me any real insight into the culture or history of Afghanistan. Despite being set in Afghanistan, the book felt American. My guess is that the book will mainly appeal to readers who want “riveting dramas of betrayal and salvation”, with the exoticism of Afghanistan adding some extra spice. Mass-market entertainment.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.