When I was looking for party game ideas for Ingrid’s fourth birthday, one of the pages I stumbled upon said, roughly, that a kids’ birthday party is a success if the child feels special, and none of the guests break down crying. I.e. don’t make it too hard for yourself. That struck me as very sensible advice, and I’ve adopted it for Christmas, too. It helps me keep away from the mummy trap, the one that makes mums struggle to make a perfect holiday for their families (especially the children) while they themselves have no time or energy to enjoy themselves.

So I kept my Christmas preparations relaxed and included nothing elaborate, nothing that felt like too much work. No gingerbread house, for example, and not much in the way of Christmas decorations (apart from the tree). A very simple Advent calendar for Ingrid. Gifts that (hopefully) were appreciated but not stunning, perfect, best-ever, because that’s what I could manage.

The best part of this Christmas holiday for me was having my mum here. She and Ingrid like playing with each other. So with 3 adults for 2 kids (my brother was here too but he’s not the kind who plays with children) we could keep all the kids happily occupied and still have one pair of hands free for preparing meals etc. I’ve been enjoying myself cooking semi-fancy meals, (a) because I could concentrate and know that I won’t be interrupted in the middle of an important step, and (b) because someone would have time to enjoy eating them. Even two desserts!

Some fresh bookmarks from delicious.com:

Super-Helen is my secret mummy identity. She is just like me, except that she has a lot more patience. She doesn’t get annoyed and frustrated as easily as I do, and can keep calm and behave in a kind and friendly manner even when the kids around her are definitely not.

When things get too much, when Adrian is screaming right next to my head while Ingrid is dragging her feet on the way home, when both are crying for food RIGHT NOW, when I feel like either hitting them or locking them both in the house while I go for a walk… I think to myself, What would Super-Helen do? And usually Super-Helen’s solution works for me, too. The hard part is keeping myself together enough to remember to ask Super-Helen.

As of this morning, Adrian weighed 6.95kg and was 61.4cm long. Nice and chubby. (Impressive precision on the length measurement, don’t you think, given that it involves holding a wiggly baby flat on its back and then trying to straighten its legs while keeping the head still?) He is roughly a size 68 in bodies and 62 in trousers.

New skills: smiling (yay!) and cooing. A typical “word” sounds like ngaanh. He has found his fists and will try to stuff them in his mouth when he loses his dummy.

He has a strong neck and back and has no trouble holding his head upright and looking around in all directions. He likes sitting or even standing up (both with me supporting him under his arms) when awake and not tired. He will push with his head against whatever he is leaning against to signal that he’d rather be upright. Our favourite activity is cooing at each other, with him sitting or standing or kneeling on my thighs while I lounge in the sofa.

He is already quite sociable and curious. Generally he’d rather sit in his bouncy seat and watch the world, than lie on his play mat – I don’t think he’s ever accepted more than 5 or 10 minutes on the play mat. When left on his own, he usually gets bored & lonely pretty soon and starts making unhappy noises, so I often have him with me in the bouncy seat while I’m hanging laundry, eating lunch etc.

He is not too fond of lying on his tummy except when asleep. On his back he will flail, push with his head and definitely not go to sleep. If I nurse him to sleep and then put him on his back, he will inevitably wake within 15 minutes.

His eating and sleeping are becoming roughly predictable. He can stay awake for about a hour or maybe one and a half, and will then sleep for one to two hours. After around 3 or 4pm he will take one or two short naps only, maybe 15–30 minutes. So on a normal day he gets 3 proper naps and one or two brief ones. He wakes with us at 7am, and we put him to bed for night some time between 7 and 8pm. At night he usually wakes 2 or maybe 3 times, nurses, and then goes back to sleep without any fuss – except if he happens to wake and feed after 5.30, after which it is hard to get him to settle properly again.

He still likes his dummy but only for sleeping. Until very recently that was true for the sling as well: he falls asleep very quickly in the sling but does not like sitting there when he’s awake. He usually cries when I put him in, and often wakes crying as well. (If anyone sees me put him in the sling, they’re probably not going to become babywearing converts.) But a few times now he’s woken in the sling and been pretty content to just watch the world from there.

He has also been out in the pushchair a few times, and been happy enough as long as (1) it was moving, and (2) he was sleepy. But given the current road conditions (lots of mushy snow) and the difficulty of arranging our life around his not-entirely-predictable naps, I don’t use the pram except in rare circumstances. The sling gives me so much more flexibility.

He has a semi-permanent little frown. His mouth is more similar to mine than to Eric’s, but his eyes are not mine. He drools quite a lot.

He still has some sort of tummy troubles although not as bad as before. Still investigating as to the cause.

Phew. Back to normal. Ingrid is her usual self again: occasionally volatile, sometimes whingy, but generally a happy girl. Life is much much more pleasant.

Ingrid’s latest “thing” is singing. We used to sing a lot, but then lost that habit somehow. Now it’s back again. A lot of Christmas songs, naturally: they’ve been practising for the Lucia celebrations at preschool for several weeks. A lot of Santa Lucia of course, but I also get to hear En sockerbagare, Tre gubbar and Tipp tapp frequently. Other non-Christmas favourites include Jungfru, jungfru skär, Tingelingelinge tåget far and the eternal Blinka lilla stjärna.

She particularly likes to sing while sitting in the sledge on our way to or from preschool. Today, when one of her friends accompanied us home for the afternoon, the two of them kept looping Jungfru, jungfru skär almost all the way home. Very uplifting!

She also likes to experiment with singing. Take a snatch of lyrics of an existing song and then sing and speak them over and over again, while varying everything that can possibly be varied: melody, pitch, speed, rhythm, stress, tone of voice etc. Or she mangles the lyrics, and twists each word into something vaguely similar-sounding but not quite: “Bjällerklang, bjällerklang” becomes “Pelikan, pelikan” and so on. Or she picks a random phrase and then sings that. Yesterday’s phrase was “tvätta mina tår” – “wash my toes”; this Monday she was singing “så såg jag smutsig ut i hopbyggnaden” – “so I looked dirty in the construction”. Go figure. This can often go on for a good while in the background while she is half-busy doing something.

She still plays with words, too, with rhymes and alliteration. “Jag vill ha mjölk” becomes “Na nill na nölk” etc. Me she now calls “mammis” – the Swedish mamma has replaced the Estonian emme, and then acquired the -is suffix (which is a very common and productive one in Swedish). She’s started picking words apart: she’s noted that both Barkarby and Vällingby (place names near where we live) have “by” in them, and Vällingby is made up of välling (“gruel”) and by.

In Swedish and Estonian, she’s started asking me what words mean. Usually she’s just picked them up and used them. But now with more abstract concepts, it’s not so obvious what people mean when they say a word or a phrase. For example, nära ögat (“near escape”, literally “near the eye”) and umbes (“approximately, roughly”) and typ (“sort of”). “Nära ögat” in particular seems to resonate with her: once I’d explained it for her, she started using it several times every day.

She’s learned to count in English. Up to 12 she gets them right every time; after that she usually needs a bit of prompting. She also picks up snatches of English from movies occasionally: everything from “You’ll never catch me” (from Disney’s The tortoise and the hare) to the Happy Birthday song (again from Disney, Pluto’s Party).

A few days ago, she got a simple calculator together with the fifteenth and last of her 1-2-3 books. It only has the digits 0 to 9, plus, minus and equals. She likes it a lot and has played with it daily. It’s not rare for her to mistype some number or press the wrong key somewhere and then tell me that 3 plus 4 equals 38, or something like that. I try to teach her the habit of first thinking for herself what the answer should be and then check with the calculator, rather than just blindly trust it. We’ll see if that catches on.

At preschool they have a maths project. They’ve split the large group into three smaller ones, each with a different theme. Ingrid’s group focuses on “short and long”. (The others have “light and heavy” and “time” as their themes.) They measure stuff in various ways, draw long things and short things etc. It’s made some sort of impression on Ingrid: several times she’s spontaneously reflected on the different sizes of things, said which one is shorter than the other etc.

She’s also interested in what things are made of, in materials, mostly in the context of which things will break and which won’t. “This cup is made of china. It is rather fragile.” “The fork is made of metal. It is hard. Look, I can do like this [tries to bend fork] but it won’t break. But if it fell from the roof all the way to the street, then it would break?” Glass, china, metal, wood, paper, fabric, clay – those are the materials that have come up at some point.

For a while we did a lot of crafts – cutting, glueing, painting – but then I think she tired and we haven’t done much in the past week or so.

For a while she was very interested in names, and still is to some extent. She picks or makes up pretty names for me / herself / her dolls: her favourites include Evelisa, Evelina, Rosetta and Josefin. Always girls’ names. Sometimes when she thinks of a particularly pretty name, she tells me that when I have another baby, if it is a girl baby, we should give her that name.

We also still play the role reversal game, where she is the mummy and I get to be big sister. Mostly it means that I should talk a lot and ask her questions about stuff, the way she does – “Mummy why does that man not have a hat”, “Mummy are we there yet”, and so on. And that is hard! I cannot blather like a 4-year-old. I get tired of that game pretty quickly.

She has begun to play a lot with her food and utensils, to the point where I often have to remind her to eat. “Just det, jag glömde det!” she says. The spoon is a playground slide, or a bridge, or the hands of a clock. The plate is a sea, or a sandbox. The piece of cookie is a shoe, or a sheep.

She is, still, most unwilling to play on her own. She’d rather complain that she has nothing to do than walk up the stairs to her room to get a toy. But when it’s time to do something – get dressed, brush her teeth, go to bed – she’s all play and silliness.

One thing I forgot to mention last month: we stopped using night nappies around her birthday, and this time it’s worked. But it requires one of us (Eric, or sometimes me) to take her to the loo a few hours after she falls asleep.

Some fresh bookmarks from delicious.com:

I feel curiously unperturbed by this weekend’s bomb attack in Stockholm. And then I feel perturbed for being unperturbed – it happened right here in this city in a central location where I have regularly been. But then the same already happened in London 5 years ago while I was living there. Getting numb, I guess.

And disappointed in humanity, and sad that it should come to this.

So our house is ugly on the outside, and has lots of wasted space inside. What are we going to do about it? Quite a lot.

Regarding the wasted space, we’re doing some major reshuffling on the inside.

  • The large bathroom and the small entry hall will switch places, so we will have a larger and more useful hall, but a small bathroom.
  • The “weird room” will become smaller and will be reachable from the hall, so it will become a walk-in closet/wardrobe.
  • The laundry function will move from the bathroom and the “weird room” to the pantry/mud room.
  • And finally, the long useless hallway will expand to both sides and become a proper room, a second living room. It will gobble up part of the bathroom, the space now filled by the long row of wardrobes, and about half of the veranda.

On the outside, the main idea is to try to make the extension feel less like a shoe box, and to make the house blend in better with the rest of the neighbourhood’s 100-year-old houses.

  • The extension will get a hipped roof.
  • The various windows on the western side will be unified – the two tiny windows replaced with one normal-sized one, and the hall window (soon to be the bathroom window) moved up to be level with the kitchen window.
  • The shaky-looking veranda at the rear will be torn down. It will be replaced by a simple wooden deck.

At the same time there will be more technical improvements with no visible effect.

  • All the old electrical wiring will be replaced with new, grounded wires.
  • The pantry/mud room/laundry room gets proper insulation. The walls currently leak heat so badly that during our first winter here the temperature there actually went below freezing. (We quickly installed a thermostat-controlled mini heater there.)

One thing we’re not touching is the kitchen. The project is large and expensive enough as it is, so the kitchen will have to wait. It may be a bit ugly and the craftsmanship is substandard and the layout could be better too, but it works, so it stays for now (even though the new floor plan below shows some changes there). The wall between the kitchen and the living room, which you can see in the original floor plan, is already gone.

Here’s the old floor plan and the new one (unfortunately with the text rotated 180 degrees but you’ll figure it out):

Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann, meaning The hundred-year-old who climbed out through the window and disappeared, henceforth simply “the book”, is a fantastically funny and entertaining book.

Allan is a 100 years old and about to be the focus of attention at his birthday party at the nursing home, attended by both the local paper and a local politician. He doesn’t like the idea much, nor the nursing home, so he climbs out through his window and walks away towards the bus station. He decides to get on the first bus, no matter where it goes, and buys a ticket for “anywhere I can get for 50 kronor”. A man asks him to watch his suitcase while the man visits the restroom. But Allan’s bus arrives, so he gets on, and on a whim takes the suitcase with him. Turns out the suitcase contains 50 million ill-gotten kronor. Soon he has both the police (investigating his disappearance) and the owners of the suitcase after him.

The rest of the book intersperses Allan’s continued travels with the suitcase, and the story of his life up until now. Both are hilarious, filled with mishaps that turn into opportunities. By the end he’s helped develop the atomic bomb, drunk tequila with Truman and dined with Stalin, and in various ways affected the direction of world history. It’s all absurd, and yet somehow Jonasson hits just the right tone, because it remains fun rather than silly. So does Allan: he’s an oddball and naive in some ways, but not so that you’d think him stupid. He’s a man in my taste: pragmatic and sensible and apolitical.

Some reviewers have compared it to works by Arto Paasilinna (whom I haven’t read) and to Forrest Gump (which I can sort of agree with).

It’s a book that made me feel good. Read it and have fun!

I’m having some trouble getting used to the idea of Adrian being allergic to milk. To anything, for that matter. We don’t “do” allergies in our family. Allergies are for other people, for people with bad genes, generally weak constitutions and too-clean homes. But Adrian obviously doesn’t have any bad genes (since he got them from us), and it’s obviously not due to excessive hygiene either (since he had his allergy pretty much from birth).

One of Eric’s siblings has some minor allergies, and nobody on my side has any. When I grew up we knew exactly one allergic kid. I’ve read in various places that (food) allergies are far more common than they used to be. Now I have personal experience of it.

PS: Technically what he has is milk protein intolerance, not allergy – the immune reaction mechanism is different but the end result is the same, he feels bad if I eat dairy products.