Another book I didn’t finish. I bought it based on this review which describes it as “enjoyable, smart and witty”, a “wonderful ride”, even though it leaves the reviewer “without a clear understanding of what it all amounts to”.

I just found it weird. There is no plot to speak of. Stuff happens, people do things, events occur. Characters appear, some part of their story gets told, then they exit again. Or, they appear again and again, connected to almost everybody else in the book, but none of what they do matters. Sometimes I am unsure whether the different events happen before or after each other, or whether they’re talking about the same thing.

At the same time the book does not appear surrealist. All the events are realistically rendered, all the people and places reasonably normal. It looks as if it should make sense.

I kept reading bits of it but never felt like any of it mattered. I picked it up less and less often, until I finally just let it lie. Unlike really bad books, which I give up on after 50 pages or so, I think I read over 80% of this one, until I couldn’t be bothered to open it again.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Adlibris.

On Monday and Tuesday we went on a bicycle ride.

I’d been making vague plans for a longer bike outing since the beginning of summer – Ingrid not being much of a walker, and somewhat too young for climbing mountains, biking seemed like a good way to get us all outdoors. Initially I had thought of maybe being away three or four days, but since the weather forecasts have been promising rain and yet changing all the time, and Ingrid hasn’t been in the best of moods lately, we cut it to just two days, with one night of camping. (We wanted to be as sure as possible that rain wouldn’t ruin Ingrid’s first camping experience, so that we can convince her to do it again next year.)

To keep it simple, we went for a local ride: a combination of Sverigeleden and Mälardalsleden, two marked and mapped bicycle routes. From our home in Spånga we headed east, via Kista towards Edsviken, where we hit the Sverigeleden. Then we followed that route north, past Sollentuna and Upplands Väsby, up to Märsta. After dining in Märsta we made camp at the beach at Steningebadet (with a view of Steninge castle across the water). On day two we cycled to Sigtuna, had a bit of a walk around the town centre, and continued to Bålsta. From there we took the train back home in the afternoon. In total I think we covered about 45 km on day one and perhaps 35 on day two. Ingrid sat on a child seat behind me, and Eric got the trailer with all the food, clothes and camping gear.

The weather was just about perfect for cycling. On Monday it was about 20°C and overcast but dry all day. On Tuesday there was a bit of sun, which made for a sweatier ride, but still not too hot. There was some wind to cool us off but not so much that it would be a hindrance.

I think Ingrid found the camping experience exciting: outdoor meals, sleeping in a tent, cooking porridge on the portable stove, washing up in the lake…

Well, the actual sleeping in a tent part was better in theory than in practice. At about 11 o’clock, prime sleeping time, we were interrupted by some yobs joyriding and skidding a van back and forth across the beach. It made an awful lot of noise and the headlights came close enough to make me worry they’d hit the tent. Fortunately they stopped when Eric went out and gave them the evil eye. Then a few hours later the early morning light started bothering Ingrid, and all her tossing and turning kept waking me. (And, predictably, sleeping on the ground is not at all comfortable when you’re 7 months pregnant.) We were all pretty tired in the morning.

The bike ride itself was, I think, rather boring for Ingrid. Sitting still, doing nothing… There was a fair amount of complaining about “I wish it was evening already” and “Are we almost there yet”. On Monday, in the more inhabited areas, we could at least stop at a few playgrounds on the way. On Tuesday it was mostly countryside.

Of course, the countryside had wild raspberries, and fields of wheat and oats (“flour for bread and cakes, and oats for your morning cereal”), and grazing horses, sheep and cows. Horses aren’t uncommon around the outskirts of Stockholm but there aren’t many who keep cows and sheep here. “Normally it is horses who are in pasture” Ingrid told me, somewhat surprised.

Next year I think we will try something a bit more ambitious – Åland perhaps, or Gotland. Baby 2 should be the perfect age: young enough to not be bored by the bike ride, old enough to not be too fragile.

Snacking outside Skånela church

After weeks and weeks of scorching heat and almost no rain, this is what 90% of the ground in our garden looks like… There are some partially green patches in the shade of the house on the north side, and the raised beds in the kitchen garden are also green due to daily watering. But most of the grass is totally dead.

Today we visited Tartu Hansapäevad (Tartu Hanseatic Days), a summer festival in central Tartu. Lovely. I associate festivals with loud music, crowds, crappy expensive food, and sellers of cheap tat. We didn’t sample any of the food, other than ice cream, but on all other fronts, this was the opposite in all ways.

The city centre was way more crowded than usual, of course, but not so bad that it would get annoying (and my threshold for crowd tolerance is low, believe me). The stalls were all spacious and spread out, which made the festival area easy to get around. It wasn’t even hard to get around with a buggy.

The music (where present) was provided mostly by wind orchestras and brass bands, since this year’s Hansapäevad coincided with a wind music festival.

Instead of cheap tat, there was a huge market for traditional Estonian handicrafts: wood working and wood carving, pottery, knitted wool, felted wool, embroidery and sewing, smithery, traditional food and so on. A lot of lovely stuff to look at! In some senses I may not be strongly Estonian any more, but I do feel a strong affinity to Estonian crafts. The feel of the Estonian woollen yarns (hand spun, slightly rough, unbleached), the smell of juniper wood, the look of the traditional striped fabrics – it all says “home” to me. I love Estonian traditional textiles in particular, and wish I could fit them into my wardrobe without clashing with everything else I wear.

They had even thought of families with children. Not just the usual bouncy castles (although there was an area with such junk as well) but also meet-a-policeman, pony rides, and a lot of craftsy activities for kids of all ages: stamp your own shopping bag, draw and paint, make a paper doll with real fabric clothes. Even better, the activities were not all in one corner of the festival area. We could alternate between window shopping (stall shopping?) for me and activities for Ingrid, so no one got bored.

Add ice cream, and a fountain to splash in, and great weather (below 30°C!) and it was a roaring success for us.

Quote: “Pink, pink, other colour, pink, pink, other colour, pink…”

This month saw the arrival of the era of Pink and Princesses.

Ingrid has never cared much for pink – whenever she mentioned a favourite colour, it was always green, and when she chose clothes she mostly went for green or red or brown. Now she says that pink is the prettiest colour and purple is pretty, too. Peer pressure begins its work.

And princesses. She’s loved fairy tales for a while, with all their magical ingredients: kings and queens, princes and princesses, dragons and magicians. Now it’s all princesses. She wants princess colouring books and princess stories, and so on.

I would be gagging already but luckily there is a Swedish series of children’s books about unconventional princesses. The first book is titled Så gör prinsessor or Princesses do that, and talks about a princess who, admittedly, begins her day by choosing a dress and a crown and brushing her hair 1000 times, but then goes on to scare away robbers, tame a dragon and rescue a prince. (Have a look at Prinsessor.nu for more.)

Here in Estonia she also found a princess book that she wanted to buy and I most happily agreed: it was full of Disney princesses teaching about manners. Snow White teaches table manners to the seven dwarves, Ariel learns about apologizing, Cinderella’s mouse friends talk about being friendly and nice. Quite a good idea. (Amazon US, Amazon UK, Apollo.ee)

I think the summer break might let the pink princess wave abate somewhat. There hasn’t been much talk about pink at all during the past 10 days or so. We’ll see what happens when she’s back at nursery.

Other things Ingrid has learned from the kids at nursery: (if you don’t do x) “then you can’t come to my party”. Social blackmail already.

Also possibly from nursery, or possibly an independent invention: roars of opposition. When she wants to be very clear about not agreeing to whatever it is, she turns to face me directly and lets out a deep chesty roar/growl. No tantrum, no yelling, just a roar.

At nursery she’d almost always greet me in the afternoon with “Emme can Majken come home to us?” or “Emme can I go home with Julia?” (often followed by “Emme you will not come with me”). Even 8 hours at nursery surrounded by people is not enough for her. Totally my opposite.

Now during the summer break she misses her friends from nursery. Luckily she has a good friend here in Estonia too, just a few months older than her. It took them a little while to “find” their relationship again, after a year’s absence, and of course we will be going home soon… but they’re having fun in the meantime.

When I look for a thread/pattern in her interactions with her friends, I see a focus on identity and comparisons. Several times they have swapped names – “Emme, now I am Julia and she is Ingrid”. Once she’d swapped clothes with a friend, which was quite funny – my brain had real trouble with resolving the situation. Majken in Ingrid’s clothes looked weirdly wrong, and I couldn’t find Ingrid among the crowd of 10 other fair-haired kids, because my eyes would always glide back to the familiar clothes.

Often it’s about being/doing/having just the same as the other girl. The other kid wants a banana? Ingrid must have a banana, too. The other kid decides to draw with a green pen? Ingrid also wants a green pen. The other kid finds a snail on the path? Ingrid wants to find a snail.

Sometimes it’s all about being first. “No I want to be the first to the door! No I want my milk first!” I find myself halving plums, and turning away from them while pouring milk in two glasses so they can’t see who got their milk first.

An interesting behaviour I’ve noticed is covering her ears and telling us “you mustn’t say that”. Sometimes it’s when I repeat an unpleasant truth, or remind her of something she must or must not do, but it can also happen when I comment on something she’s done well (washed her hands after going to the loo, etc). Is it because she doesn’t want to think about the unpleasantness more than absolutely necessary? Or does she want it to feel like she did it all on her own, not because we nagged her about it?

Myself with baby

Ingrid still draws a lot. When she draws on her own, it’s mostly people. They are now much more detailed: there is hair, fingers and toes, sometimes fingernails, boobs and navels, ears, necks etc. When she draws me, she will often also draw a baby in my belly. Not all of the body parts are always present, but I don’t think I’ve seen her draw a single tadpole this month. From blobs to mum-with-fingernails-and-baby in under two months.

Often she draws together with me or Eric. (Anything you can do on your own, Ingrid will want to do together with someone.) Sometimes it’s complementary drawing, but more often it’s parallel drawing. Complementary: Eric draws a train, Ingrid draws a passenger. Parallel: I draw a bus, Ingrid draws a bus; I draw a car, Ingrid draws a car. Quite often she will proceed to cut out the thing she has drawn.

Colouring books are not of much interest, but the princess series (see above) has a painting book that she likes. Each page has half a picture or a scene, that the kids then complete – a dinner table with no guests, or the princess’s half-empty wardrobe, or half the head of a dragon. This is not only fun for Ingrid but a great help for me, when my head is too tired to come up with ideas.

Ingrid got her own room this month, with a bed of her own, and an alphabet rug that she has longed for. She bravely said she would sleep in her own bed, but until now she’s ended up with us every night, some time in the early morning hours. Since she mostly manages to do it quietly and without disturbing us much, and there is more than enough space, I’m not bothered.

Otherwise the trend towards slowly increasing independence continues. (She gets more practice now that my pregnancy makes me tired.) She’s a lot more willing to do things with other adults, without me being present: with Eric of course, but also other kids’ mums, and her grandmother and step-grandmother, etc. Last year when we were in Estonia I hardly had a free moment; now I could nap for an hour after an exhausting morning, while she was out picking berries and playing with her step-grandmother. She’s also more accepting of my need to get things done, and negotiates around them: “first you cook a little dinner, then you read a little, then you cook some more, then you read again”.

In other news this month, I discovered brown spots on her teeth and we went to see the dentist. I was fearing the worst but there were no cavities, luckily, just weak tooth enamel. I guess she’s inherited my poor teeth. So now we’re even more diligent with brushing her teeth, and more restrictive about snacks between mealtimes. I used to let her snack on fruit pretty much as she wanted, except just before a meal. Not any more.

Favourite movies: old Disney shorts, which she could watch forever, and Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter (like a Swedish Sesame Street). She likes to watch the same few episodes over and over again: A and 7, P and X and 6.

New and improved skills: buckling her bicycle helmet. Knowing the names of all weekdays, in the right order, in Swedish but not yet in Estonian. Cutting veggies without any help (but with close oversight) – hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, string beans and rhubarb stalks have been great practice material. Catching a large ball, and throwing it back to me. Almost manages to make a swing go: she can make it happen for a short while but then loses the rhythm.

Favourite foodstuffs: raspberries, ice cream, blueberries (but the garden kind, not the wild ones). Anything with ketchup.

The weather forecast for the next 7 days in Tartu: more of the awful heat. I thought today was disgustingly hot, and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Gaah!

And Tartu doesn’t even have a lake, a public pool or any other kind of outdoor swimming. (That’s puzzled me for years now. A simple wading pool would make a huge difference.)

Some fresh bookmarks from delicious.com

Ingrid and I are on vacation in Estonia (leaving Eric at home to work, mow the lawn, water the kitchen garden and eat all the nice strawberries that were just ripening when we left).

We flew to Tallinn yesterday and spent the first day and night with an old friend of mine in Tallinn. This afternoon we took the bus onwards to Tartu, where we’ll be staying the majority of our time here, almost two weeks. We were met by proper high summer weather: 30°C heat alternating with thunderstorms. (It’s pouring down outside now, and finally cooling a bit, after several very unpleasant hours of sticky, sweaty heat.)

In Tartu we’re renting a guest apartment. Somewhat to my surprise, there were a number of such apartments on offer in Tartu. I picked the cheapest one, not so much because it was cheap (although that also mattered) but mostly for its convenient location.

Given the price and the apartment’s non-commercial landlord (the Estonian Society of Naturalists) I wasn’t expecting a high standard. And that’s fine – I don’t need fashionable furnishings or cable TV. I wanted a kitchen, a bathroom, and an internet connection. This apartment promised all three, and technically delivers all three. I have no complaints about the internet connection, and the bathroom looks reasonable. (Although I’ve yet to investigate the quality of the hot water supply). But the kitchen really surprised me on the downside. I mean, if someone rents an apartment rather than staying at a hotel, it’s probably because they want a kitchen, right?

I can understand that someone of the older generation might consider a microwave oven to be a non-essential item. I can live with that. But this kitchen has a stove from the 1970s, with those black iron hotplates, dreadfully slow – and no kettle to compensate. Dinner tonight took forever; I’d lost the habit of turning on the stove as soon as I’ve decided that dinner will be needed.

Tomorrow we will go shopping for essential kitchen equipment:

  • A kettle, so that we can cook pasta in under half an hour
  • A pair of scissors
  • A potholder or two
  • Salt (of which there was some, but there was so much rice in the salt shaker that I barely managed to get any of it out)

Still, I’m not unhappy, given the price of this place. The next cheapest place cost double, and several other guest apartments cost triple the price of this one. Even the kitchen investments will cost me no more than two nights’ price difference to the next apartment on my list.