We invited our next-next-door neighbours for coffee and cake this afternoon. Their younger daughter is in Ingrid’s group at nursery, and we’re hoping that they will become friends, once they are old enough to actually make friends, and spend lots of time playing together.

Since Ingrid was familiar with both the girl and her parents (and probably the older sister as well), she was not at all shy with them, as she normally is with guests. Instead she started showing off: someone mentioned singing, and she burst into song (“Nyss så träffade jag en krokodil”) followed by another song and then another, and she very much enjoyed the attention.

There wasn’t much playing together this time. In fact there wasn’t much playing at all: instead they spent a lot of time listening to the mother reading, and some time eating (and aping each others’ monkeying around at the table) and drawing. Ingrid was a bit possessive about her stuff, reminding us that the pens were hers, and the jigsaw puzzle that the other girl looked at, but she didn’t object to others using her stuff.

The guests left at 5, after about 2 hours. Ingrid fell asleep a quarter past 6, which is, I think, the earliest she’s ever gone to sleep without being ill. All this socializing must have really exhausted her. Now I hope she won’t wake at 6 tomorrow morning.

I like the idea of having all my data online, accessible anywhere from any computer with an internet connection. But I don’t trust online services enough to actually store anything even remotely important there, without a local backup.

Online service providers have bad policies that make them lose your data, or go bankrupt and sell all their hard drives.

Flickr is fine for publishing photos, but not for a photo archive, and the same with delicious.com for bookmarks. This is also why I don’t use GMail or Google Reader. In fact I haven’t even tried GMail because I know that I will not use it. I don’t trust toomik.net 100% either: every so often I make a local backup of my blog.

Better safe than sorry.

The World Without Us suggests we “picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.”

The book is full of interesting facts and scenarios – how our houses will be worn down by rain and freezing weather and small animals, and how subway tunnels will flood, and the various possible (disastrous) ways that a petrochemical complex could fall apart.

There are also the things that will survive: rubber and plastic are effectively indestructible (until some microbe evolves that can eat them), old bronze coins are very durable, and Mount Rushmore is likely to be discernible millions of years from now.

However the author often wanders quite far from this main theme. While he does talk about what the world would be without us, he also spends quite a lot of time talking about how we have already changed the world (hunting mammoths to extinction etc) and how we currently affect the environment (plastic floating around in oceans etc) and about various relatively untouched parts of the world. While these can be interesting topics, they make the book unfocused. I didn’t count the pages but I felt that more space was devoted to these excursions than to the promised topic. He isn’t quite delivering what the title and the cover have promised, but something else, which is a bit underhanded.

And at the same time, I thought there was too little detail in the scenarios he describes. He paints the broad outlines but skips the fine detail. There was too little actual material, making me think this was a collection of essays stretched by a journalist to fill a whole book.

This probably also explains why the content felt disorganized at times: like a collection of anecdotes without any discernible direction. While I was reading the book, it was mostly very interesting, but without a clear structure, I find it hard to actually remember much of it afterwards.

Weisman’s journalist background shines through in his writing, too: it is quite wordy and mannered. Humans don’t just use a lot of energy, we’re “energy-drunk”, cold winds don’t meet warm air but “slam into” it, and so on on every page.
There are also his formulaic introductions of the various experts he meets. Really, it is of no interest to me whether the expert he quotes is “bespectacled under his wide-brimmed felt hat” or “a lanky man with wavy dark hair”.

On the whole, this was a great idea, but somewhat suboptimally executed. The end result isn’t bad, in fact I’d recommend it, but just a bit disappointing.

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

Speaking of sleep, I’ve had to reintroduce a kind-of-fixed bedtime for Ingrid. For quite a long while we had nothing of the sort. When she got tired in the evening, she said so, and went to bed. Now she doesn’t. There are so many things she’d rather do (especially read books) that she can easily stay awake until 9.30, and then be really tired and grumpy when she’s woken around 7 the next morning. Sometimes she didn’t even wake when our alarm went off, and slept until 7.30, and was still tired. So now I start steering her towards the bed sometime around 8.30, to have her in bed by 8.50, and asleep by 9.15–9.30 or so. I don’t like this in principle (I would rather she learned to manage her own sleep) but I like it in practice. The mornings are far more pleasant this way.

I think it may be because she’s again hovering between needing and not needing her daytime nap. If she doesn’t nap, she has no trouble recognizing her sleepiness in the evening. If she does, I need to tell her to go to bed. But at the same time she can’t really manage a whole day at nursery without a nap. Some weekends, yes, but she’s often more active at nursery than at home.

Unusually tired both yesterday and the day before, I went to bed together with Ingrid both days: a quarter to nine on Friday and eight o’clock on Saturday. And within half an hour we were both asleep. And slept until around 8 in the morning. Weird.

A few months ago we bought a bottle of laundry detergent of a brand we don’t normally use. (Änglamark, instead of our usual Skona or Grumme.) After just a couple of uses we discovered that it made our clothes itch. I’m generally sensitive to scratchy seams and labels and itchy fabrics, so at first I thought it was just me, but Eric also complained that his T-shirts were making his waist itch. (I think we notice it most around the waist because that’s where clothes move most against the body.)

We’ve thrown out the offending detergent long ago, but we’re still coming across itchy things that were last washed with that detergent – a set of sheets here, a top there. Very annoying.

Out of curiosity, I borrowed a step counter, and used it for a day.

It was a very typical day: walk to the train station, walk from the train to the tube, walk from the tube to the office. Down 6 flights of stairs for lunch (up by lift) and again in the afternoon to go home. Then walk from office to tube to train to nursery to home, plus a bit of pottering around at home during the evening.

The grand total came to 10,032 steps. More than I had expected, actually, given that 10,000 is often quoted as a goal for active people, and I definitely wouldn’t describe my current lifestyle as physically active. Makes me wonder how inactive the average urban adult really is.

Language remains in focus here. Ingrid’s definitely picking up a lot of grammar now. She’s got the hang of both tense and person for verbs: mina söön, sina sööd, meie sõime, tahan süüa. She can do singular and plural forms of nouns in both Swedish and Estonian (as long as they’re not irregular) and knows that adjectives should change in accordance with the noun. In Estonian she’s learning noun cases: siin on emme, otsid emmet, annad emmele, emmega koos.

One thing she has not figured out yet is pronouns. Or rather, she can say “you” and “I” in both Swedish and Estonian – but she doesn’t understand how they work. She always says “you” about herself, and “I” about whoever she’s talking to. She seems to treat pronouns as names: “mina” is another word for “emme” and “jag” is another word for “pappa”, and “sina” and “du” is her name in Estonian and Swedish. I found it quite confusing initially, until I got used to switching viewpoints all the time.

H: Do you want to put on your boots yourself, or shall I help you?
I: You will do it.

Meaning: I can do it myself.

She comments a lot on what she’s doing, what she’s about to do, what she sees us do, how things ought to be done (“nii tehakse”, “så gör man” – “this is how it’s done”), and what she wants to do. She even comments on things she’s saying: “Du sa ’emme’” – “You said ’Mummy’”.

She expresses her wishes quite articulately now, if not particularly politely: instead of “nej inte” (“no will not”) she now says “ei taha” (“don’t want to”), and instead of “mera läsa!” (“read more”) she now tells me “üks lugu veel, ja siis aitab” (“one more story, and then it’s enough”). It’s like hearing an echo, because that’s what I tell her every evening when bedtime is approaching. Some other expressions definitely don’t come from us: “Nej, sa jag!” (“I said, no!”) must be something she’s picked up from nursery.

When there’s something she doesn’t want to do, or doesn’t want us to do, she tells us it can’t be done. I ask her to put her boots on, and she says “Du kan inte!” (“You can’t do it!”). Or, when she wants me to help her put on her leggings in the morning, and I suggest that she ask Eric instead, she tells me “Men pappa kan inte!” (“But daddy cannot do it!”). I guess she’s echoing what she’s being told all the time. When there’s something we adults don’t want her to do, we tell her she can’t do it. I try (when I remember) to say it as it is – “I don’t want you to play with this” – but I guess we still say “you cannot play with this” often enough for her to mimic it.

We count quite a lot, which is both fun and practical. I can now tell her that she gets three pieces of candy, and then we count them out together, and there’s no argument about getting more. I find that predictable, easy-to-explain rules like that work quite well with her. “I cannot carry you home because you’re too heavy. You can sit on my lap when we get home.” or “You cannot put that juice bottle in your bag. We need to go to the till first and pay for it, then you can put it in the bag.” She accepts rules.

As planned, I’ve started demanding more Estonian from her. When she talks to me in Swedish, I either say nothing, or just “hmm”, or ask her “what’s that in Estonian?”, or repeat whatever she said but in Estonian. (The choice depends on the situation, her mood, my mood, etc.) It’s worked quite well: she understands what I’m after and doesn’t mind repeating herself in Estonian. I have the impression that she is speaking more Estonian to me now spontaneously, and today at playgroup one of the mums commented on how much Estonian Ingrid is speaking.

Speaking of language, Teletubbies and Miffy have now been joined by Naksitrallid. She liked the look of the DVD box, and the sound of the word “naksitrallid”, I believe. In any case one day she wanted to see the movie. I didn’t expect her to like it at all. It’s kind of avantgarde for a children’s movie, and there’s almost no music, and some scenes should be kind of scary. But she really liked it. There’s no accounting for taste!

More physical activities include painting and play-do, and messing around with glue. I bought a pair of kids’ scissors and she’s learned to use those, better than I had expected. (And now she shouts out “You will fetch your own scissors!” whenever she sees I’m about to cut open some packaging.) She’s started practising using a butter knife and a table knife, too, but those are hard, because the butter is hard, and the food is often slippery. The dishbrush and the toilet brush are also very popular tools.

As for eating, her appetite still comes and goes in huge waves. Last week she was hardly eating anything (her breakfast might consist of three grapes and a square inch of bread). Then last Saturday she wolfed down two large pancakes for lunch and asked for more, and her appetite hasn’t waned since then.

Potty accidents keep happening at an average rate of one per day, especially in the evening. Often she can manage an entire day in nursery (or even at playgroup, including a train trip there and back) but then create a puddle or two in the evening. Frustrating, but I’m getting resigned to it and it bothers me less than it used to, even though it’s now been going on for months.

The end of breastfeeding led to an increased need for cuddling and touching. She became very fond of putting a hand on my chest, as close to my boobs as possible (meaning, as close as I would let her). Mostly it doesn’t bother me (I just remove her hand when it starts to wander too far). There was a period when she wanted to keep her hand on my chest all the time while falling asleep (and occasionally at night too), which got to be too much for me, so now my neckline is off the limits at night.

The Estonian playgroup at the Estonian House here in Stockholm operates a small library of children’s books. I borrowed a few books last time we were there (two weeks ago). All three are illustrated verse stories – about a verse per page. (Stories in verse are going down very well with Ingrid just now.) One was Robot Leol on tähtis päev (by Pusa), the other two were Jaak ja lumi and Jaak läheb poodi (by Epp Annus).

I don’t normally review children’s books, but some make such a strong impression on me that I simply cannot keep quiet about them.

The first one (Robot Leo…) is about a robot called Leo who’s expecting a guest, and he wants to offer her some cake. So he’s pottering around preparing for this: fetching a table and a tablecloth, choosing plates and cutlery, finding a cake etc. The story is kind of weird, though. Leo doesn’t bake a cake, or buy a cake – no, he chooses between the cakes he happens to have in his fridge. And there are strange attempts to introduce educational elements into the story: the reader/listener is urged to help Leo find the blue cups etc.

The other two have more normal stories. In one, a small boy called Jaak goes out to play in the snow; in the other, Jaak goes to the supermarket with his father.

The one thing that these books have in common is the writing. The writing is awful. It hurts my brain to read this stuff, and makes me cringe. The rhymes are embarrassing. The meter is off so the lines get stuck in my mouth when I try to read them. Actually I’m now editing them on the fly, changing the text to make the reading experience less painful.

Try reading this out loud:

Aita leida laualina,
selline mis oleks kena!
Äkki ruudud sobiks hästi
kui need oleks risti-rästi?
Ruut on kui kandiline klots,
millel puudub sabaots.

The fifth line so obviously deviates from the rhythm of the rest of this verse that I stumble over it every time. And it would have been so easy to fix.

Or for weak rhymes:

Jaagu käsi on nüüd märg
ja läheb kinda sisse sooja.
Näe, nurga taga maas on pang,
Jaak asub lund kokku tooma.

The rhymes in Robot Leo are not as bad, but they come at a cost: many lines seem to be simple fillers, chosen only to make a rhyme fit, not because the content of the line makes sense or fits the story. (“Klots… millel puudub sabaots” – a square block that doesn’t have a tail – what?) The overall impression is that Robot Leo was written by a 10-year-old and then published without any editing at all. And somehow this book got the support of the Culture Ministry of Estonia.

The books about Jaak are more conventional in style and content so they’re more likely to simply be the works of a mediocre writer.

I really dislike Robot Leo and I have been tempted to hide it so Ingrid cannot ask me to read it any more. I am looking forward to returning it to the library tomorrow.

Actually, the books do have one more thing in common. They were all published by the same outfit: Päike ja Pilv. After this experience I will avoid their books like the plague.

Apollo.ee: Robot Leol on tähtis päev, Jaak läheb poodi, Jaak ja lumi.

Happy fact of the day: for the last two weeks or so, I’ve had full daylight both on my way to work and the way back. In fact it’s kind of light already when I get up (around 7), and still kind of light when I get home with Ingrid (around 5). Very very pleasant.