Some fresh bookmarks from

  • Once Greece goes… – An interesting essay about the Greek economic crisis and what it could lead to.
  • The Singularity is Far: A Neuroscientist's View – Ray Kurzweil expects nanobots to cruise around in our brains in 2020. David Linden explains why he thinks it is implausible.
  • The Secret Ingredient In Your Orange Juice – Have you ever wondered why every glass of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice tastes the same, no matter where in the world you buy it or what time of year you’re drinking it in? Turns out that “100% orange juice” doesn’t mean what you would think it does. The flavour in orange juice comes from “flavour packs”, chemicals added to the juice to compensate for taste lost in processing and storage.

Tuesday: Emajõe beach.

Wednesday: debilitating humid heat again. We fled to my father in the countryside and I spent most of the day sitting and sweating and gasping for air. Celebrated my birthday; everyone except me ate cake. They tell me it was good. I ate a handful biscuits.

Among my presents were two lovely necklaces that are almost complete opposites of one another: one pendant in the shape of a 3D-printed tangled geometrical ball structure, and one necklace that Ingrid had made out of wooden beads. She made it some months ago for the fun of making it, and now decided to give it to me. It is not quite my usual style but it is certainly colourful and happy.

Today: Elistvere loomapark, a small zoo with animals native to Estonia.

There was a festival in Tartu this weekend. In fact there were two festivals at the same time: Hansapäevad (Hanseatic days) and Europeade, a folk dance & music festival. Since the first one mostly consisted of a large marketplace for (mostly traditional) crafts and some fairground activities (bouncy castles for kids, some crafts and games), the singing and dancing of the latter complemented it very well. They sort of matched each other in their traditionality, and you could walk around among the market stalls while listening to folk music. And see lots of people walking around in traditional costume, which I like a lot. Nice. (We enjoyed it last year, too.)

Today we went to Ahhaa keskus, Tartu’s newly-opened science museum, together with a friend and her kids. A large section with water-related activities (pumps, spouts, water wheels etc) and a mirror labyrinth were the kids’ favourites. I liked their chicken hatchery but the chickens hatching today were very lazy and barely made any progress during the hours we were there (even though the exhibit intro text said that they can hatch in as little as 15 minutes).

Traditional entertainment

Traditional crafts, modern design

Bungee trampoline: totally modern fun

We took the overnight ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn and this morning continued our trip by driving to Tartu. In Tartu we checked into our guest apartment and then headed out for some urgent grocery shopping – the pantry was stocked with salt and pepper, cooking oil, and some flour and sugar, and not much else. Oh, right, there was some flax seed and flax seed meal, too. I didn’t even know that flax seed meal existed, but even so, it definitely didn’t get us any closer to lunch.

The kitchen this year has both a proper modern stove and a water kettle and a microwave oven – quite luxurious compared to what I got last year. On the other hand there is exactly one saucepan, about one litre in size, and no serving spoons or ladles of any sort. Tomorrow I’ll see if our host can lend us some more equipment.

We were met in Tartu by a most unpleasant heat wave. 29°C with high humidity, “feels like 35°C” according to the weather report. I had flashbacks to last summer’s trip. Luckily this time I’m not 7 months pregnant and can take the heat slightly better. Adrian on the other hand was really suffering. Tomorrow we’ll be fleeing to the countryside to escape the worst of the heat.

Bad luck: With 4 hours left until our departure for Estonia (by car and ferry), the car’s electrical system died. No power to even lock or unlock the doors. Based on the car’s behaviour just before it lost power, Eric decided that the battery was faulty. Frantic phone calls to half a dozen gas stations and garages ensued.

Good luck: After maybe half an hour we found a gas station that stocked the right make. Eric cycled to Vällingby and back, and installed the new battery. That was enough to bring the car back to life.

Bad luck: At the car queue at the ferry terminal, a car ran over my left foot.

Good luck: Barely a bruise resulted, and some slight scratch marks.

In just one month Adrian has gone from almost-crawling-but-not-quite-there-yet to very competent, pretty effortless crawling. He’s not quite racing across the floor but he has no trouble going from the hall through the old living room to the new living room. He can even crawl from the wooden deck into the living room, which requires crossing three steps and a threshold. That took some effort to learn; he was practicing hard for several days.

Because of all the thresholds and steps around the house, he’s modified his crawling style. Instead of the usual hands-and-knees, he usually goes around on his hands and feet, or perhaps hands and one foot and the other knee. I think he started doing it this way when he first learned to crawl in & up from the wooden deck. We have sliding doors there, and those slide along a rail on the floor, a sharpish strip of plastic. Going over that on your knees is not comfortable at all, I’m sure.

He has not yet shown any real interest in the stairs going up to the first floor – mostly because he has no reason to. We’re all always down here. Eric installed a gate at the top of the stairs; we’ll see whether we need one at the bottom as well.

He’s also very good at standing. He can pull himself to standing holding on with just one hand, to just about anything, even something as wobbly as my trousers. Occasionally he grabs onto something really unsuitable (such as a blanket lying on the sofa) and falls on his bottom but otherwise he rarely has accidents. Once he is up and standing he can look around, shift his feet, grab stuff, and shuffle along his support (sofa, step stool, myself etc.). This afternoon he actually let go with both hands to hold on to some toy. And he can carefully bend his knees and sit down again in a controlled manner, rather than fall.

And all of a sudden he is OK with being left on his own. He no longer needs to be within a few metres of someone. I wonder if it’s because he now knows that he can follow us when he needs to? Or has he simply understood that we do not disapper when we leave the room (object permanence)? On a few mornings when he’s woken me particularly early I have gone downstairs with him, changed his nappy and then put him down among his toys on the living room carpet, and then dozed on the sofa. He’s crawled around, explored the toys, then crawled into the hall or the adjacent room and looked through the stuff there, and only after 10 minutes or so does he call for my attention.

Adrian has now also reached the stage where every item is interesting and works as a toy – as long as it is new to him. Kitchen utensils, Ingrid’s toys (ranging from princess tiaras to toy stethoscopes), bike helmets, pencils, keys, you name it. This combined with crawling means that we need to be careful about what we leave on the floor or otherwise within his reach. Books in particular are very attractive. He sees me and Ingrid play around with them all the time and he really wants to try them, too. Right now there are still safe places in the living room, and he is not so fast a crawler that we can rescue the things he’s heading for. But I foresee a period of some destruction ahead.

We’ve introduced the concept of No, for pulling at people’s hair or Eric’s glasses, or chewing power cords, or trying to crawl from the bed to the bedside table (with its water glass, clock, lamp and other off-limits items).

He eats happily and a lot. He still likes starchy stuff like bread and pasta and cereal, but also meatballs, broccoli, and butternut squash. Most fruit is good, too: recently he’s eaten a lot of apricots and grapes, and some cherries. He now happily eats banana which he used to spit out in disgust. He’s just getting the pincer grip to work and can pick up sweetcorn kernels. Rice grains are still too fiddly for him.

Adrian watches with great interest when we eat, and seems to be very aware that sometimes we eat different stuff than he. Food from my plate is better than food from his plate.

He is lazy when it comes to fruit peel and often spits out the peel with lots of edible bits still stuck to it. We actually peel his grapes for him, because if we do, he eats them, but otherwise he spits out most of each grape. But this also means that I am not afraid to give him a whole cherry: he will bite on it, spit it out, I pick out the stone, and he puts the rest back in his mouth. Quite a lot of the fruit he eats goes in and out a few times. It took him a few tries to figure out cherries. First I had to cut them in half because he didn’t understand they were worth biting into. Then he learned that they were good, and now he’ll crawl across the lawn to get one.

He has a weird relationship with the sippy cup. When we hand it to him, he never uses it for drinking. He turns it in his hands, bangs it against his tray, or turns it upside down and chews on its bottom. Which leads to water everywhere and a gooey mess on the tray, so we usually don’t give him the cup. When he drinks, we hold it for him. And he knows not to pull at it then.

Adrian has become much more varied and clear in communicating with us. It’s not just happy sounds and faces vs. unhappy sounds and faces. He can reach for the sippy cup to tell us he wants a drink. He can “tell” us that he is not happy with the food he is getting and wants something else – and that signal is different from when he is done eating. He understands very well when we sign and say “all done” and readies himself for being lifted out of the highchair. He can look questioning, interested, irritated, bored, joyful, mischievous… A sort of “mma” sound for “emme” might be emerging. And the other day I think he may have signed “nurse” to me.

He totally hates nappy changes and putting on clothes, and screams as if we were torturing him. I’ve tried to change him standing up, and tried finishing putting on his clothes while he’s sitting, thinking that he just doesn’t want to be flat on his back, but it makes no difference. And he fights me so much that I often end up putting him flat on his back anyway.

He likes his swing, but usually for short periods only.
He likes to fiddle with my bra strap while he’s nursing.
He likes playing with cardboard books, opening and closing and turning them in his hands. No interest in looking at pictures yet.

This month things have been going unusually smoothly. Case in point: yesterday she walked all the way to the train station without a single complaint, and then from the train to the bus, and from the bus to Junibacken. And after a full day of playing she repeated all that on the way home, still with no whining about “my legs are tired”. She even hurried when I asked her to, so we could catch a train and avoid a 15-minute wait.

Ingrid loves our swimming pool. It is deep and wide enough for her to do some serious splashing. She even wants her swim floaties when she’s in there. But in order for her to use it, the starting cost needs to be near zero. If the pool is covered or the door is closed, she won’t ask to bathe. So in warm weather we leave the cover off (and to hell with the stuff that falls in) and she often bathes several times a day. She insists on using her swimsuit, “it feels better around my tummy this way” she says. It’s good practice – I no longer hear any complaints about getting water in her eyes, and she often jumps up and down so her whole head ends up under water.

By the way, now that I see her running around more or less naked so often, I see that she has become noticeably slimmer. She’s always been sort of on the chubby side. She isn’t stick-thin like the average 5-year-old usually is but she has now finally lost most of her baby fat, and is actually slimmer than a couple of her friends. Since her three-year checkup we’ve done our best to encourage physical activity and had firm rules about the amount of sweet stuff she can eat. It is good to see that our approach has worked. (Or perhaps it would have happened anyway, who knows?)

We have started using Youtube for entertainment. One evening she wanted to “do something together with you, mummy” and I was all out of energy so I went to Youtube and we watched Popular by Eric Saade, which she’d been humming since they sang it at preschool. I’m struggling to find good child-friendly entertainment there but recently realized that I can just start with her Hits for Kids set, pick a song and look for a video for that song. I have now experienced the horror that is Jag är en gummibjörn.

She likes tracing swirls in books. When she encounters swirls or curlicues in a book illustration, she asks me to wait while she traces them with her finger. Several of the books by Carin & Stina Wirsén, especially the books about liten skär, have lots of those. Ingrid’s current favourite is En liten skär och alla ruskigt rysliga brokiga. ( has a preview of the book.)

Her taste in books and movies is unchanged. She loves watching all the old Donald Duck short films, and Disney princesses (The little mermaid in particular). Sometimes I think her choice of movie is mostly guided by convenience. She prefers my laptop and the iPad to Eric’s computer which needs to be turned on. She will watch whatever is already there rather than get a DVD or ask Eric to rip a new movie for her.

She is learning a lot of English from those movies but probably doesn’t quite understand what she is learning. “Steak! Steak! Steak! Come on steak! I won!” she repeated today, with near-perfect pronunciation, after watching Donald’s Dinner Date. But I doubt that she knows what a steak is. Sometimes she learns more consciously and asks us about words. She brings out the picture ABC we bought for her when she was tiny and we lived in London, and we go through some words there together. Or she points at something and asks me what it is called in English. Today, for example, she pointed at various colours and asked for their names.

(She also loves to speak fake English by saying Swedish words and phrases with an English pronounciation. I don’t quite know how to reproduce these utterings here without resorting to the phonetic alphabet… “Den här”, meaning “this one”, becomes “den here” and “så här”, meaning “like this”, becomes “so here”, and so on.)

In Swedish she can now write impressively long words. With enough context (or with words that she herself has written on a previous day) she can also read quite long words, such as solglasögon or leksaker. With unknown words she hits her limit at about 6 or 7 letters. She is learning about weird Swedish spelling rules, and figured out on her own that körsbär begins with a K.

She asks more questions in general. She’s never had a “why” period but now she’s more likely to ask what words mean, why we do things the way we do them, and so on. The other day she asked us “how did the first human come to Earth?” and we gave her a 1-minute summary of evolution. She doesn’t have the patience for long explanations.

Teaching Adrian to crawl

She loves playing with Adrian. He loves her attention. But empathy isn’t her strong suit, and she doesn’t really understand how small and weak he is compared to her. She also has zero understanding for the concept of private space and personal integrity. She teases him by holding out a toy and then snatching it away time and time again, or blocks his way again and again when he’s crawling. She pokes him in the face with her foot, or tickles him too hard. She doesn’t intend to hurt him as far as I can see, and does all this with lots of laughter, but she also seems completely oblivious to his expression of discomfort and doesn’t notice that he isn’t sharing her fun. I don’t want him to get used to being a toy, I want him to keep his sense of integrity, so I often have to point these things out for her and ask her to stop. She complies but I don’t think she understands, because an hour later she does the same thing again.

More and more often she is spending the whole night in her room. When she doesn’t, she often comes into ours without anyone else waking and noticing. She had long asked for an alarm clock for her room, but we told her that there’s no point if she isn’t there when it goes off. We agreed that we’d get one after she spends 7 whole nights in her bed. She did that, and we bought one. Of course she chose a Disney princess one. (Perhaps I should have just bought a more tasteful one for her – there are other princess clocks out there – but on the other hand, why should I impose my taste on her? It’s her room after all.) She wanted us to set the alarm, too, but it turned out that the alarm won’t wake her but will wake me in the room next door, so now it’s off again.

Small stuff: She likes twirling and spinning around, on her own two feet (holding on to my finger), or on a merry-go-round, or in our swivel armchair. It was a happy moment when we brought it up from the basement after the building works were finished here.

She likes abbreviating words. Compound words to their first part, simple words to their first syllables, entire sentences to a key word. Körs for körsbär, tramp för trampcykel (as opposed to sparkcykel), lägg for jag vill lägga mig.

She likes to play that she’s a baby. Sometimes she is a newborn and can’t do anything but wave her arms and legs and mewl. Other times she’s a one-year-old and talks baby talk and crawls on all fours.

We have a bunch of linen kitchen towels of varying age and origin. The most interesting one among them is this one. I don’t remember its provenance. It is a simple square of relatively coarse unbleached linen, no woven pattern or anything. It is monogrammed AB, and the embroidery is as simple as the towel itself. And the towel has been darned, carefully, in the middle.

Nowadays most of us don’t mend holes in clothes. We just throw them out and buy a replacement. When did you last see a darned sock? When did you last darn a sock yourself?

I mend minor holes and tears in the kids’ clothes and in some of mine. (Expensive tights in particular, if the hole is in a place where it won’t be seen.) I restitch unravelling hems and seams. But I can’t imagine darning a towel.

I wonder what made the previous owner care so much for a simple towel that they would mend a hole in it. Was it a question of economy? Or did the towel have emotional value for them? A gift?

It makes me really like this towel.

Eldbärare (“Fire-bearers”) is part 2 of a 4-part fantasy series. I reviewed part 1 some while ago.

At the end of book 1 the twins got trapped in a magic stone circle. After a year all of a sudden they get out. They’ve spent this year viewing the memories of the man who holds them in the circle. Since he’s hundreds of years old, they learn a lot. This is a useful plot device but to me it’s too much like cheating. At various points throughout the rest of the book, they can just think back, “oh didn’t we see/hear something like this back in the circle” and bam, problem solved.

But the twins still don’t really know what their father wanted them to do, or where they’re going. The world is still a mystery. It is hard to know who’s friend and who’s enemy. They continue their quest (and acquire a second one on the way) and continue to learn about the wide world that they know so little about. I rather like this setup – it makes much more sense than the usual fantasy setup where you have a quest mapped out and just need to get through all the hardships and slay all the dragons in your way.

This second book is a smooth continuation from book 1, which I really liked, but somehow book 2 falls short of my expectations. All the reviews I could find online were very happy with it, so I almost started to doubt my reaction, but I can’t deny that I was disappointed with it and I don’t feel any strong desire to read part 3.

Somehow the sense of urgency, of impending doom, of great responsibility, has weakened. Even though the twins have two important quests, one of which is pretty much on the “save the world” scale, it doesn’t seem urgent. The tone of the book, the behaviour of the kids themselves, the pacing, all would fit a quieter world with smaller worries and smaller quests.

Pacing is the book’s greatest weakness. A third of the way in, Sunia and Wulf find themselves in a community of people of the Blood. These people are sticklers for tradition, etiquette, courtly manners etc. They assure the kids of their intention to help but explain that these things take time. And for some reason the twins accept this. Despite the urgent need for action, when the forces of evil are approaching and the kids have not one but two important quests to fulfil, for a long while – nearly a hundred pages – they pretty much just sit around and wait. Once they leave the castle where they’re kept semi-imprisoned, the pace picks up, and the plot becomes much more interesting again.

A few elements of the plot are a bit too predictable. When Wulf’s eyes first meet the eyes of a girl, his throat immediately feels dry, and of course we know some sort of romantic feelings will arise. The romantic feelings are rather clumsily adolescent, with repeated variations on the theme of “I was feeling things for her that I couldn’t express in words”. This makes the whole book feel like a YA novel, which is not what I signed up for.

Other parts of the book feel fresher and more interesting. The people of the Blood have pretty strict gender roles and neither Wulf nor Sunia fit into those. Wolf is the one who’s good with words, and with a sewing needle; Sunia has great skill with the sword. This theme is presented relatively subtly and un-preachily.

It’s not a bad book. Like Ondvinter, its great strength is the “feel” of its world, its inhabitants, its history. The series is not innovative in the way that makes you go wow; there are no wild flights of fancy. It’s just a world that clearly has its own character (Nordic and slightly archaic) and is free from the whole dwarves and elves thing. But while this made book 1 worth reading, for me this is not enough to carry a whole series.


The day before yesterday I ate a small chunk of goat’s cheese with my dinner. No complaints from Adrian. Yesterday I boldly ate a slice of cheese after breakfast, another small chunk of goat’s at lunch, and finally two slices of cheese in the afternoon. That was apparently too much; Adrian woke and cried a lot during the night. No cheese sandwiches for now.

Butter on the other hand is now tried and tested and works well. I love butter. Just plain good bread with butter on is delicious.

Today the builders finished their work, packed up their stuff and went home. Just in time for the weekend, and just in time for my vacation! (Today was my last day at work, I’m on vacation for the next four weeks.)

The very last thing they did was sand the floor in the old hall. When they started work in there, back in January, they tore up the laminate flooring, and the glued cork tiles beneath them, and uncovered the original pine planks at the bottom. The cork layer had been glued right on top of the pine and left ugly patches everywhere. For half a year the floor looked atrocious. But now after sanding it is pristine again, and looks lovely.

We now have pine plank floors in all three rooms on the ground floor, as well as that hall. In the old living room the floor is varnished; in the other rooms the new floors are untreated as yet. We have ambitious plans to leave them that way and simply care for them by scrubbing them with linseed oil soap, which both cleans and protects the floor, a bit like oiling it.

You can see this kind of floor in some old Swedish houses, and after a hundred years it both looks and feels wonderful – silvery gray and satiny smooth. This is especially nice if you walk around barefoot at home, like us. I’ve been told that it doesn’t take a hundred years to get there. Should the floors not turn out nice, we can always change our minds later and treat them with oil.

Today I gave the newly-sanded floor its first scrubbing. Now the hall smells of linseed oil soap. To me it smells like a very old but well-cared house, like an old rural schoolhouse that’s been turned into a museum, or an old Estonian farmhouse. A very cosy smell.

If you can read Swedish, you can learn about using soap for floor care from Skansen.