Turns out we have damsons. (For the non-gardeners among you, damsons are basically small plums.) In fact it turns out we have masses and masses of excellent damsons.

Last year our best damson bush had maybe 20 plums. The older bushes and trees, some of which look near death, hardly had anything. We were seriously discussing taking them all down.

Luckily we’ve had other, more highly prioritized gardening projects, so the bushes are all still there. And this year they are laden with damsons, the boughs bending almost to the ground with rich, dense bunches of fruit.

During the past ten days, we’ve been picking several litres of damsons – well, not daily, but roughly every other day. The ground underneath the bushes is mostly soft, so we let the plums fall and pick them from the ground. (Ingrid particularly likes shaking the bush to make more of them fall.) This way I don’t have to squeeze every plum to figure out whether they’re ripe or not. A few fall on the moister, mossier side of the bush get eaten by snails and slugs, but the rest are in great shape. Birds don’t seem to like them, unlike our cherries.

They’re a pain to stone, because they’re so small, and the stones are not loose. It’s a messy, sticky job. But they taste great!

I like variety in some parts of life, and predictability in others. Food is one of those areas where I value variety. If I serve pasta two days in a row, that’s one too much.

Sometimes I feel like I’m always cooking the same stuff, again and again. Then I go search for inspiration. Cooking books sometimes help. Other times even the recipes in the books feel old and stale.

Now I’m trying something new: fueling creativity by imposing constraints on my cooking. Namely, a vegetable subscription service from Årstiderna. Every Thursday, starting last week, a box of mixed fresh produce will arrive at our doorstep. Since I have a very strong aversion to throwing away food, I will have to come up with meals to utilize everything in that box.

Last week’s box included yellow beets, spinach, carrots, fennel (both bulb and lots of leafy “topping”), bell pepper, courgette, parsley, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and a giant onion.

I did actually throw out most of the fennel stalks and leaves (I tried them in a sauce but they had too little flavour and too much stringiness for my taste) and unfortunately the courgette went bad before I got around to cooking it, but I intend to find some use for all the rest. I even have a plan for the giant bunch of parsley.

An additional constraint here is limited fridge space. This time of the year we have all sorts of berries and berry products in our fridge. At one point today we had: gooseberries waiting to be baked into a cake, then some more gooseberries, blackcurrants that I will make into a soup, a large bowl of damsons (pitted and ready to become marmalade), half a damson pie, and the tail end of the previous blackcurrant soup. There is no way I can fit a crate of vegetables in there, too.

This means that I need to not only make sure to consume all these vegetables before the next box arrives – I also have to plan the meals so the most perishable items are eaten first. Which is great: half the meal planning work is already done! It’s a lot easier to come up with a meal idea when spinach is a given, than when starting from a blank slate.

We’ve already had broccoli stir fry, pasta with spinach and cheese sauce, and a fennel and carrot and apple soup. There will be pasta with parsley pesto tomorrow, and oven baked roots with chevre on Wednesday. And I guess I’ll turn the lettuce and tomatoes into a sallad.

House of Leaves is one of those rule-bending, genre-crossing books that’s hard to describe without resorting to (unfair) comparisons to other works. I was tempted to make some but managed to quell the urge.

Johnny Truant inherits a suitcase filled with the writings of an old man called Zampano. Zampano has written a purportedly documentary story about Will Navidson. And Zampano’s book is supposedly based on documentary material (video footage, photos, diaries) by Navidson himself and his family.

You are reading a review written by
me about a book by
Danielewski consisting of papers edited and commented by
Truant, written by
Zampano, based on material recorded by
Navidson, who then finally has first-hand experience of the events described.

Underneath and inside all of this, it’s a story about a haunted house, where the inside dimensions seem larger than the outside. Then one day a door appears, on the inside of an outside wall, leading off into a dark, cold unknown.

Navidson becomes obsessed with exploring and understanding the house. Zampano appears to be obsessed with documenting and analyzing Navidson’s explorations. Truant is definitely well beyond the point of obsession, in fact he’s losing touch with reality due to all this.

Reading this book takes some patience. It’s a good 700 pages, to begin with. The stories are labyrinthine and sometimes hard to follow, frequently split between the body of the page and several layers of footnotes. Oh, and there’s appendices, too. Neither the footnotes nor the appendices can be skipped because they contain essential parts of the various stories. It’s got various typographic “enhancements” such as text upside down, on the side, in one corner of the page only, etc.

It takes some effort to read, but it’s fun. And it may be gimmicky, and it may have a bit too much of pretentious showing off the author’s smarts, but it’s original and fresh. It is rewarding if you read it as the experiment and puzzle it is, but probably less so if you approach it as a horror story.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.

I cannot have been particularly diligent when taking notes for this month’s Ingrid update, for as soon as I had posted it, new things came to mind that I wished I had written about.

Such as the fact that Ingrid now likes ice cream. She used to find it too cold – happy to lick a spoon dipped in mostly-melted ice cream, but not actually eat it. Now she’s not exactly wolfing it down, still mostly licking the soft edges, but definitely appreciates it. Ice cream has displaced candy; she hardly ever remembers to ask for sweets now.

Or our continued enjoyment of drawing and writing together. As before, we begin by me writing a short word for some common object. She then spells it out and asks me “Mis see kokku tuleb?” (“What does that make?”). I draw the object, slowly, and as soon as she sees what it is, she shouts out: “Auto!”.

This month she’s actually learned to recognize two of the simplest words, puu (tree) and kuu (moon) – she shouts out the word before I’ve begun to draw it. So I make sure to draw at least one of those every time. I’ve tried suu (mouth) as well but it’s hard to draw a recognizable mouth without a face around it. And I’ve tried uss (snake) but she doesn’t recognize that one yet, and definitely none of the four-letter ones. I’ll have to find more three-letter words somehow.

Oh, and today I saw tooth #18 appear as well. Number 17 was a molar on the lower right, and this one is its left-hand companion.

Current favourite movies: Wallace and Gromit, and Kalles klätterträd. There’s no clear favourite among books, but we read a lot of Villi, Kuula! Kuula!, and Rongisõit, and in Swedish Stora vinterboken and Visst kan Lotta cykla.

An unconference similar to the previous ones I have described has been scheduled for September 12th. Read more here and join us if you can.

I think I am detecting faint stirrings of independence in Ingrid. She has been very attached to me for a long time, almost always choosing me ahead of any alternative. When the choice is between doing something boring with me, and doing something fun with Eric, she chooses me. When the choice is between playing on her own, and waiting for me to finish something I’m doing, she’ll hang by my side and wait. Whether at home or out on a playground, all activities start with “emme tule!” (“mummy come!”).

When I’m not available (when she’s with Eric, or at nursery) she’s perfectly capable of amusing herself. But when I’m there, all independence disappears.

She’s usually more independent just after eating (something to do with blood sugar levels?), and late in the evening. When the choice is between brushing teeth and going to bed with me, or playing on her own, she actually prefers playing!

But in the past few weeks, I’ve seen her play on her own for short stretches of time. Nothing long, maybe 5 minutes at a time, but more frequently than she used to. And out at the playground she’s gone off on her own without dragging me with her. I’m really curious to see whether this is just something I’ve imagined, or if it’s the beginnings of real change.

Ingrid’s also more aware of age and growing up. We’ve been talking a lot about babies and big girls this summer. We talk about how babies come from their mummies’ bellies, how they cannot chew or walk or talk, only sleep and drink milk from their mum’s breasts. We talk about how she used to be a baby, but isn’t any longer.

Sometimes she wants to be carried like a baby (which is hard with a 15 kg kid!). Other times Ingrid says she’s a big girl. She doesn’t know much about what big girls do – I’ve never used “big girls [don’t] do X” to encourage or discourage any behaviour. The only thing she knows about big girls is that they go to school. So she regularly tells me that she’s a big girl and will soon go to school. I try to explain that she’s got several years of nursery ahead of her still, but it’s not registering.

The “I don’t want anything!” episodes from last month are far fewer now. I think it’s Ingrid’s new, more verbal way of expressing general dissatisfaction with life, instead of just crying. By far the strongest trigger for these is hunger / low blood sugar. First thing in the morning before breakfast, her mood is very labile. She desperately needs to eat, but since she’s so anti-everything, it’s hard to get her to eat – she loudly claims she does not want to eat. The same happens if we have too long a gap between meals for some reason, or when she’s overtired.

A stranger would see her act out and think that she’s just trying to get our attention, and then perhaps just ignore her, wait for the mood to pass. But those moods can easily spiral, and if we ignore them, they can go on for a long time. When the cause is hunger, the resolution is usually to soothe her with whatever form of closeness she will accept (cuddle, or let her crowd onto my side of the table, etc) and then coax her to take a bite. Then I can detach myself from the cuddle, and the rest of the meal passes smoothly. When she’s overtired, it’s harder, but we’re quite good at spotting her tired signals so we usually nip it in the bud. There was one evening when she was too tired to want anything, not even sit or lie down, which culminated with her spending a good 15 minutes standing in the bedroom, unable to stop screaming. For all our sakes, we make an effort to avoid a repeat performance.

Speaking of eating, she seems to have learned the concept of portions. It used to be that we’d serve her some amount of food, and she’d eat some of it and leave some. Or she’d eat all and want more, and then leave some of the 2nd serving. Now she’s more likely to stop exactly when her plate is empty, even when she hasn’t decided how much was on the plate to begin with (although she often does). When I offer her more food, she declines. Interesting.

Favourite toys this month: her doctor’s bag, and her play food. We play doctor almost every day. “Emme sina oled haige!” she tells me (mummy you’re ill) and proceeds to listen to my foot with her stethoscope, poke at it, shine her tiny torch on it, take my temperature and give me injections and medicine.

With the toy food we have picnics where she serves me cake and fruit and juice, or cooks soup for me. It’s amazing how many variations on this theme she can perform before she gets bored.

We play word games. We rhyme: Ingrid pingrid! Maja paja! Auto pauto!. And we make up words: Jag tar mina höstskor. Höstskor… grässkor! molnskor! bajsskor! (“I’ll take my autumn shoes. Autumn shoes… grass shoes! cloud shoes! poop shoes!”)

She’s also started making things up.

I: Look mum, I have no hands.
H: Oh, no hands! Where did the hands go?
I: They’re in the cloud.
H: What will the cloud do with your hands?
I: I got my hands back now.

While it was still summer, we spent many afternoons at the beach. Ingrid got to splash and jump and carry buckets of water around, and swim with her arm floats. After a few times our beach outings settled into a fixed pattern, and the process itself was as important to Ingrid as the actual swimming. The picnic food, and the stuff we’d pass when cycling to and from the beach, and of course the ice cream.

The ice cream kiosk at the beach sells nice scoop ice cream, not just the cheap-tasting pre-wrapped kind. We ate some every time we were there. Outside of the beach season we’ve had a rule that we only eat ice cream on weekends. This Saturday Ingrid selected an ice cream for herself at the supermarket, but left most of it – I don’t think she liked the taste much, after having tried the good stuff.

PS: This evening while brushing her teeth I spotted tooth #17 making its way out.

Glasshouse begins with Robin (the narrator) in rehabilitation after memory surgery. The surgery turns out to have been unusually extensive – Robin is uncertain about all of his past, including his reasons for removing so much of his memories. He soon suspects that someone is trying to kill him, due to something in his past life.

When he is invited to participate in a psychological experiment recreating 20th century society, closed off from the outside world, it seems like a good idea – the bad guys will never be able to find him there!

Inside the experiment, Robin and his co-subjects have to get used to the obsolete concepts of marriage, jobs, church etc, plus (relative) material deprivation and physical danger. The subjects lose all the perks of the 28th century – fabrication machines, an ever-present network connection, body rebuilding, and consciousness backups (which effectively assure their immortality). Even worse, the rules (which he has consented to) include no communication with the outside world, no way to get out, and almost nothing in the way of civil rights.

The subjects get points for acting in character, and negative points for breaking the rules. This is enforced by extensive surveillance, plus enthusiastic tattling by your team members, since points are shared.

The experiment is a sort-of humourous look at our times, both because of how odd some of our modern habits seem to them, and because of the inevitable misinterpretations. Enough to make me wonder how future historians might really see us – and how much we have gotten backwards of the history and archaeology we think we know.

Anyway, Robin soon becomes suspicious of the experimenters’ aims and senses something sinister behind this project. Slowly he finds out just how sinister it is, and by the end he’s fighting not just for his life, but for mankind’s freedom.

Glasshouse is a hardcore SF thriller with good pace, lots of suspense, great storytelling and interesting ideas. Stross keeps surprising all the way to the end. Lots of fun.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.

Here’s a somewhat critical review whose author read the book far more attentively than I did and saw all kinds of things that I never even noticed.

The Compass Rose is a collection of short stories. I found it uneven and directionless, even for a collection. The stories are grouped by the points of the compass but I cannot discern much of a logic there.

A few of the stories are brilliantly alien, beautiful, way out there, looking at something familiar from an all new perspective – the kind of work I’ve come to expect from Le Guin. But the majority, while good, were not as good as her best. I was just a little bit disappointed. Of course, an average story from Le Guin is still better than what most writers manage to produce, so it was still well worth reading.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.

I went to the dentist today, after a longish gap (last time was back in London). Happy news – for the first time in years I had no cavities!

I have lousy teeth, for some reason. Even though I brush morning and evening, floss frequently, rinse with a fluoride mouth wash, avoid snacking between meals, etc etc, my teeth still decay. Either it’s hereditary (my mother’s teeth are no better) or perhaps it’s due to some nutritional influence during childhood. Whatever the cause, I’ve pretty much gotten used to the need for frequent repairs.

I’m barely past 30 and I’ve got 13 or 14 fillings on my 20 premolars and molars, so occasionally I worry about what will be left of my teeth by the time I’m 50… I also dream (infrequent) nightmares about losing my teeth. I understand that it’s quite a common dream topic and has all sorts of symbolic meanings but for me the literal interpretation is pretty valid, too.

We’ve started work on a new help system at work. The old one uses a CMS from 2001 and we all loathe it. “Updating the help files” is the least popular task of each release. We’ve had enough; we’re starting afresh with Drupal.

So I’ve spent today setting up a Linux VPS, configuring the web server, installing Drupal and all sorts of plugin modules for it. And it’s a painful experience. Every step I take is based on something Google tells me. I have no feeling for what I’m doing, no intuition as to whether it’s dangerous or not. So with every other step, I’m wondering – if I get this wrong, how much of the system will blow up?. How wrong am I allowed to get my changes in httpd.conf before the web server will stop responding at all?

It gives me an all new perspective on what it must feel like to be an inexperienced computer user. Afraid to click on anything, afraid to change a setting, just in case they make the computer blow up.

Another perspective on this is if it hurts do it more often. It was not meant quite in this sense originally but it still makes sense. Unfortunately it’s very rare that I have a meaningful need to tinker with Linux sysadmin tasks or web server settings.