In just a few weeks, with very little effort from our side, Ingrid’s effectively become nappy-free. I won’t call it potty-trained, because there hasn’t been any training.

And less than a month ago I’d resigned myself to the fact that we’ll probably be using nappies a while longer, and bought more nappies because she’d outgrown the old ones… All these pretty nappies and no one to use them! Ah well, hopefully we can use them for the next child.

Ingrid had been sitting on the potty at home a few times every day, but it was hit and miss, with more misses than hits, and our attempts at letting her run around without a nappy couldn’t be classed as anything other than failures. But we kept the habit going.

When she started going to nursery, three months ago, we told the staff that she sits on the potty sometimes, and they kept up the habit there as well. It turned out that there’s a little toilet at the nursery, child-size, which Ingrid liked even better than the potty.

The little toilet was so much fun that Ingrid’s first successes came at nursery rather than at home. The teachers would ask her if she needed to go to the toilet, and she’d say yes and actually do it. So they started skipping nappies and using panties all day except during nap time. We did the same at home, but still had accidents almost every evening. (They generally happened when she was watching TV – too absorbed by Teletubbies to pay attention to her body.)

This week, though, it seems she’s really mastered it. She’s been nappy-free and puddle-free several days at nursery and the entire weekend. (Bowel movements sometimes still happen in the wrong place.) I was most impressed yesterday when we were sitting in a car on the motorway and she said she wanted the potty. We asked her to wait, drove half a mile to the nearest stop, stopped, and got out the potty – and she waited all that time!

I had a day off today, the first for a very long time. I work 80% so my workday is supposed to be about six and a half hours, but somehow it often ends up being slightly longer (our afternoon never end when planned) and then occasionally almost twice as long (when we have our monthly company meeting until 8pm). So the hours keep accumulating. But if I get paid for part time, I intend to actually work part time, too, so today I took the whole day off.

The first thing I did (after dropping Ingrid off at the nursery) was to sleep for almost two hours. I’ve been sleeping badly recently, going to bed too late and waking too early, and having trouble falling asleep because my sinuses start hurting as soon as I lie down. (I suspect my cold has turned into sinusitis but I’m hoping it’ll clear up by itself.)

Then I went shopping. That’s what girls are supposed to do for fun, isn’t it? Although I didn’t exactly buy what girls normally buy for fun, I think… two extension cords, one multiple socket, socket timers (pack of three), one Advent star, one bottle of mouth wash, 2.5 metres of curtain fabric, 2 metres of curtain liner, and two green pot holders. An immensely productive three hours.

Spånga is colder than central Stockholm. Most days the difference is a couple of degrees Celsius. For a good while I thought I was imagining it, or that it might be because I am in Spånga during morning and evening, while I’m in the city during the day, when it’s obviously warmer. But then we had about a week of near-freezing weather and I realised that it really is colder here. Every morning I’d go from the snow and ice in the streets of Spånga to the wet streets of Stockholm city. Here the ice never melted, even during the day, while in Stockholm it never froze, even during the night.

Our house is badly insulated and generally kind of cold. I now understand why the previous owners put in three indoor thermometers, and that’s just on the ground floor. But what I don’t understand is why the thermometers seem unreliable. The one in the living room almost always says something like 17.7°C or 18.1°C. But sometimes that’s so cold that my fingers are stiff and it’s hard to type, and then the day after it feels quite OK. It’s not just me – Eric feels the same.

Ingrid, on the other hand, is almost never cold. I am wearing a t-shirt, a fleece sweater, trousers or long fleece skirt, and woollen socks. Ingrid walks around in panties and socks. When we go out and I offer her clothes, telling her that it’s cold outside, she generally refuses most of the clothes and tells me “want be cold” (“tahad külm oleks”). It’s not uncommon for her to wear nothing but her indoor clothes plus a pair of boots, when we come home from nursery. On the other hand, when I tell her that it’s wet outside, she accepts that as a valid argument, and will put on her waterproof trousers or rubber boots. For a while I was losing hope that she would ever put on her snowsuit, and she probably wouldn’t have done it for the sake of the temperature only. But now she has found out that snow on bare hands is not pleasant, so when there’s snow outside she actually accepts snowsuit and mittens.

A sledge is essential winter gear. I had thought of sledges as toys but they are also an important mode of transportation. We hadn’t realised that, and had to buy one really quickly when the snow came, because taking Ingrid to nursery in her pushchair through mushy snow was hard work.

Speaking of essential winter gear, Smartwool makes the best woollen socks. They have sporty models and dressy ones, simple gray ones and colourful striped ones, high ones and low ones. (I like these best.) Nice-looking, comfortable, neither itchy nor scratchy, really durable, and can be machine washed on a normal program with the rest of our clothes.

It started snowing yesterday evening and continued, off and on, until late morning. By the end of it we had about 10 centimetres of snow.

Snow in winter is no big deal, of course – in Stockholm, that is. But after 7 snowless years in London, Eric and I were both all gosh and wow over this. Fresh new snow is very pretty, after all, especially in a garden.

Ingrid had never seen snow before, other than in books. First we looked at it through the window. Then she wanted to go out, but refused clothes. Poked the snow outside our front door with a finger, then stepped on it with her bare feet. Changed her mind 10 seconds later and came in crying. After that she accepted one layer of clothes, plus boots, and enjoyed the snow a lot.

I found a blog post about pair programming. The post itself wasn’t anything special (talking about how the names Pair Programming and especially Extreme Programming might scare away conservative managers). But I found the comments interesting, and I could really sympathise with several of the commenters who do not like pair programming.

I have tried pair programming a few times. It works (from my point of view) when both of us are roughly on the same level, and only when there is a problem that clearly needs more than one pair of eyes, because it’s risky or complicated. It’s worked well for some tricky SQL queries, as well as for a complex web page (a mixture of UpdatePanels, Repeaters, and javascript with embedded C# code blocks).

If the other developer is clearly more junior than me, pair programming kind of works as a method for knowledge sharing. I could get the job done noticeably faster on my own, but then we’d need additional time for handing over or explaining what was done, so the two might as well get done together. In those cases pair programming should be considered as a teaching/learning method rather than as a programming method.

But I do not like to do it for general run-of-the-mill coding – there has to be a specific reason for it.

Saying you should pair program “just because” is an inflexible approach, sort of like saying “hammer works for nearly any purpose”.

I do not need another person to help me focus (which is one of the advantages often mentioned). On the contrary, if someone is looking over my shoulder while I code, it really distracts me. Whereas if I am looking over someone else’s shoulder, I get incredibly frustrated by how inefficiently they work – because almost always they will be inefficient compared to my standards. They don’t know their tools, they don’t use keyboard shortcuts, they type slowly and carelessly. And I sit there and wait and sigh quietly.

I imagine I would enjoy pairing with an experienced and efficient programmer, but there aren’t any where I work – there’s no one more experienced than me. This is actually the greatest drawback of this job. I have no one to learn from; I can only learn by doing and by reading, and that’s only going to take me that far. I am a big fish in a small pond, whereas I would much rather be a tadpole in a big pond.

A semi-autobiographical novel about a childhood with no mother and a “crazy” father. (Autobiographically inspired novels about difficult childhoods seem to occupy about a quarter of the shelf space in Swedish bookshops nowadays – half is filled with detective stories and a quarter is left over for other odds and ends.)

Connie grows up with her aunt and uncle, who take care of her out of duty and with not much love. The rest of the people in her life are not much different. She finds them boring and intolerant, and no one understands her. She has trouble at school (difficulty sitting still and concentrating, and often she falls asleep) and only one friend.

All this bleak dullness around her makes it all the more understandable that she loves her father Ted – because he is fun. Ted enjoys defying all social conventions and expectations, telling tall stories and making mischief. He steals garden gnomes from his neighbour’s garden, takes Connie to a porn movie, and sneaks them into a circus tent by crawling under its edge. Connie looks up to him, and takes after him: she hides a forbidden hamster in her room, rides without a ticket on her weekend trips to her dad, and leaves turds in front of neighbours’ doors.

Connie spends every other weekend with her father. Or rather, she is supposed to, but sometimes her father forgets. The more you read, the more you realise that Ted confuses unconventionality with selfishness: what he likes to think of as his rebellion isn’t anything high-minded like an effort to change the world or to show people what is possible, but simple disregard for others’ lives. Connie herself sees this only after many years of disappointment.

The story initially seems fun, but is sad inside: the almost infinite love and loyalty of a child is ignored by her father, and no one else in her life cares much for her, either. She is seen as trouble, and perhaps pitied. Today (or perhaps even in the 1970s, if she had caring parents?) she would probably be diagnosed with some kind of letter combination and get help at school. Or maybe not. And even with that help she would still not fit in anywhere in a conservative small town.

As semi-autobiographies go, this one wasn’t too bad, but not too good either. Connie was well written, but Ted’s character doesn’t quite work. He’s described as a womanizer, always introducing Connie to new girlfriends, but he comes across as ridiculous rather than charismatic, and it’s hard to understand how he’d attract all those women. A greater weakness is the book’s repetitive nature. Not much changes or develops over time, and it all becomes an endless list of Ted’s escapades. No matter how wild they all are, it becomes boring after a while.

You can buy it on Bokus.

Every month when I sit down to write this monthly update, I think about how fast Ingrid is growing up. The big obvious milestones like walking and talking are well behind her now. But when you look closely enough, she’s still changing and learning all the time. In a way the changes now are more interesting, because they’re more subtle and more complex.

Speaking of walking and talking, she has just learned to jump with two feet and is very proud of it. Her jumps are tiny, with both feet just barely leaving the floor, but she enjoys it a lot and will happily demonstrate this skill for us many times.

On the language front she is now grappling with grammar. She understands singular/plural (koer vs. koerad) and genitive (pappas tallrik) as well as some basic verb forms (springa vs. springer). More recently I’ve noticed that she is starting to use the definite forms of Swedish words (hämta boken) and to figure out some Estonian verb forms (oota / ootama / ootan). That last one is going to be a hard one; Estonian grammar is not for the faint-hearted.

Her love of letters (which I mentioned two months ago has cooled somewhat, but now and again she still likes me to point out letters for her. Somehow she’s also learned to count to 10. It’s not something we’ve practiced specifically, but I do count to 20 while brushing her teeth to get her to sit still long enough. (I count very fast when she’s really tired and cranky, and really slowly when she’s preoccupied and happy to let me brush. Time is relative.)

Last month’s emotional turbulence has settled and life is calmer here again. Or perhaps we’ve just become more adept at managing it? It seems to me, anyway, that it’s not as important any more for Ingrid to control every small aspect of her life, and she doesn’t react as strongly when things don’t go her way. We have found a workable balance again between our wants and needs.

My life also became a fair bit smoother when she discovered the wonders of Teletubbies. Now she spends about an hour watching Teletubbies every evening. When she’s tired she wants me to sit there with her (so I read a book or a magazine) but quite often she’s happy to watch it on her own for a while, which leaves me time to prepare dinner (for example). Very convenient.

I was somewhat less happy when she discovered the joys of candy. Of course all candy is near the checkouts in the supermarket, at eye level for a toddler. I made the mistake of letting her buy candy a few times, and then she came to expect it every time. When I realised where this was heading and started setting limits (no, it is not OK to eat a pack of sweets every day before dinner) she was quite upset. Luckily she’s more interested in buying the candy than eating it, so my current solution is to let her buy some occasionally, but then only let her eat a small part of what she bought, so that next time we’re at the supermarket I can tell her that she cannot buy any more because we still have candy at home. Or even better, I do the grocery shopping on my own – this way she doesn’t even think about candy, and rarely asks for it at home.

Ingrid watching TV, with cow and sticky plaster

Luckily Ingrid has found several other new interests, too. Singing is one of them, and she likes it almost as much as reading books. She brings me a songbook and asks me to sing for her, one song after the other. She also knows a lot of them by heart and sings them herself. (Well, not quite sings, but she speaks the lyrics with a special tone of voice, and sometimes there’s a bit of melody and a rhythm.) Any mention of a star or sight of a star (quite frequent this time of the year, with Christmas decorations popping up everywhere) is likely to set her off singing “Twinkle twinkle little star”. And many times she just picks a random song and starts singing it. Of course with many of the songs she has no chance of understanding the lyrics (“fjärran lockar du min syn / likt en diamant i skyn”… no chance!) but she still generally manages to pronounce something that we recognise.

Drawing and painting is another favourite – but painting with a brush, rather than with her fingers, which toddlers generally begin with. She had tried finger painting a few times at nursery, but not liked it much, so I wasn’t in a hurry to try it at home. But when she got to try painting with a brush (at the Estonian playgroup we go to) she really enjoyed it. So now we occasionally do that at home, too. She generally doesn’t like to get “stuff” on her hands, whether it’s sand or mud or paint, and tries to wipe it off straight away. When she finger paints, she does it carefully with the tip of one finger. When she draws with a pen or a brush she seems to feel a lot freer, and the result is far more vigourous.

Even some toys are interesting now: all kinds of puzzles. We’ve got a whole bunch, ranging from stuff that we thought she had outgrown (a knob puzzle with five large wooden geometrical shapes of different colours) through just-hard-enough (a set of four wooden jigsaw puzzles of 3 pieces each, with pictures from Disney’s The Jungle Book) to some that she definitely needs help with (a nine-piece cube puzzle).

Ingrid’s approach to knob puzzles is clearly based on memory: she’s got one with four blob-shaped pieces with animal pictures, and she puts each one in the right slot without having to think about it. With the geometrical one, she knows where the pieces fit, but she tries other approaches, too, discovering that while the rectangle will fit into the square slot, the square then won’t fit; and that the circular piece can be rotated in place but the others cannot.

She solves the jigsaws in two phases. First she finds the three pieces of the elephant (for example) because she knows what the picture is supposed to look like. Then she fits them together, based on shape (knob vs hole) and picture. The pictures make it easy, because they’re generally cut in three (head, body, feet) and she knows that the head should be above the body and the feet below.

But with cube puzzles, where there are no knobs to guide her, she always needs help. She can find the cow pieces on all cubes, and lay out the cubes with the cow side up, but she hasn’t figured out how to match adjacent cubes. Sometimes she lays them in a row, sometimes in a square (if she has the box to guide her) but she puts them in random places and with random orientation. I try to tell her that she needs to turn them to make them fit together, or switch them around, but she doesn’t understand how it all works.

When the leaves fell, they made the streets colourful and rustled nicely under the feet. But then they were trampled and driven over, softened by the rain, and trampled again, until they’ve all turned into a brown sludge. Not so pretty any more.

And it’s a very slippery sludge, by the way. In fact it’s so slippery that ice is an improvement, because the sludge is thick enough to be slightly lumpy and uneven when it freezes. So when it’s above freezing in the morning I aim for the bare black parts of the road, and when it’s below freezing I aim for the frozen sludge.

I thought leaves used to be cleaned away well before they turned into mush, by men with leaf blowers or big street cleaning machines. Is this a new way to save money? Or are our streets too small for the city to care about?

As the back cover says, “you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno.” Bruno lives in Nazi Germany during the war. His family moves to a house in the country, due to his father’s job, next to an odd place with lots of people wearing striped pyjamas. Bruno is puzzled by the whole thing.

Thanks to his powerful father the family is sheltered from most of the troubles that come with the war, but even so Bruno is not a credible 9-year-old. A boy of that age could not possibly miss that there is a war going on around him, or not know who the Führer is, or not have heard of Jews. (Come on, the word Führer is a normal German word meaning leader – how could a German boy NOT understand the word?) He would have to be incredibly stupid, or to live with his eyes shut and his ears covered, singing “la la la I cannot hear you”. This makes it rather hard to get engaged in Bruno’s view of life.

There’s not much else in the book to be engaged in, either. Everything except Bruno’s thoughts are very sketchily described, including his relationship and conversations with the one friend he finds. Perhaps Boyne does this to keep the book simple enough for children, but the end result is patronising and superficial.

The book is marketed as a child’s view of the Holocaust, but I wouldn’t give it to a child to teach them about the Holocaust. Firstly the book is sufficiently coy and indirect about what is actually happening, that a child reading it wouldn’t learn much unless they already knew a lot – and if they knew it already, they wouldn’t get anything new from this one. And secondly Boyne takes great liberties with various facts in order to make his plot work, so the reader would get a seriously misleading and sentimentalised picture of what it was like.

Very disappointing.

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

Sometimes I see people who aren’t there, instead of the people who are.

I pass some random person in the street, and for a brief moment I know it’s someone familiar – and it’s always someone who couldn’t possibly be there, because I know they’re in another country. Then my brain catches up and I see that there’s barely even a likeness. But for that fleeting moment there is such a strong connection that I cannot think about anything else, and when it’s gone, there’s always a sense of loss.

A few times this summer I “saw” colleagues from London. I remember several similar occurrences from when I first moved to Sweden 16 years ago. It says something about the strength of the sensation: even now I can remember where I was walking (outside my high school) when I “saw” one of them.

Interestingly I have never “seen” the people I used to see most often, or the people I missed most, but acquaintances whom I hadn’t even thought much about before moving.