We have an eclectic tree with everything from delicate
hand-made glass ornaments and Chinese cloisonné eggs,
to giant paper crafts projects from preschool.

Ingrid is busy overseeing the opening of Christmas gifts.

Adrian couldn’t care less about the gifts but loves the raisins and gingerbread cookies.

We had our company Christmas dinner yesterday, at Ballbreaker. Not a surprising choice of venue given that the other five employees are men between the ages of about 30 and 35. To be fair, they did ask if it would be OK with me and I said yes, but I have to admit I said it mostly so as to not be a party pooper.

The place turned out to be much nicer than I had expected. The pre-dinner activities (simulator racing, bowling and slot car racing) were great fun. I suck at car racing but didn’t do too badly at bowling.

Then we had our julbord (Swedish smorgasbord-style Christmas dinner) and the food also exceeded my expectations, really nice! Delicious herring and Nobel salmon.

After dinner we played shufflepuck for a couple of hours – first for fun and points only, then, as the rest of the company was getting increasingly sozzled, for stakes – developers vs. sales and management. By the time I left, the developer team had won one afternoon fika (sort of like afternoon tea) as well as one week of “coffee service” at the office (i.e. management to make and fetch coffee whenever a developer feels like having some). The third time we wagered 2 hours of manual testing per person (if devs win) against an on-site customer interview (if sales & management win) and this time we lost. At that point I went home but I understand that by the end of the night, various of my colleagues owed each other both lunches and rounds of beer and other things as well.

Shuffleboard. Image © Ballbreaker. The hands in the photo are not ours.

Today, three and a half years after leaving the UK, I finally learned why they have separate taps for hot and cold water. Well, actually, I read two separate explanations that both make sense, but I don’t know which one it really is.

(1) Fluctuating pressure. Mains water pressure can be unreliable in parts of the UK. Hot water coming (with constant pressure) from a hot water tank in your house, mixed with cold water (at variable pressure, especially if someone nearby flushes a toilet) from the water mains can lead to dangerous fluctuations in temperature.

(2) Hygiene regulations. Water in a hot water tank is not boiling and germs could start breeding. If you keep the hot and cold water strictly separate, you can be sure that the cold water (which you use for drinking after all) cannot get contaminated. So mixing mains water and cistern water was actually forbidden in the UK.

By now of course there are taps in the UK that mix the two, but retrofitting all old houses with new taps, new sinks (with one hole instead of two) and possibly new plumbing, too, would be too expensive compared to the limited benefits.

Adrian now walks. From not walking at all to pretty competent walking took less than a week. All he needed was an insight into why walking might be useful and preferable to crawling.

He could crawl fast and efficiently and with little effort. But on a few occasions I saw him struggle to crawl with a book in his hand. He sometimes tried just simply holding the book while crawling, and sometimes shuffled along on his bottom instead. One day I lifted him up to standing, put the book in his right hand and held onto his left hand – and didn’t let him sit down. Then I tugged him forward just a tiny bit.

He took a step or two but didn’t start walking straight away, but he did take a few steps on his own later that day. And after that there was no going back. First it was short stretches of just a few steps. Then quickly his confidence increased, and within a week he could walk from one end of a room to the other. At first he’d still revert to crawling when he wanted to go far, but by now (about two or three weeks after he started walking) walking is the default.

At first when he was still a bit unstable he’d walk a bit like a crab, sort of sideways, usually leading with his right foot I think.

He doesn’t usually look where he puts his feet. It could be because he doesn’t see the point – or it could be that he actually cannot look at his toes. (There is a big round tummy in the way, after all.) But he knows where the thresholds and floor edges are, and stops and carefully steps across. I think he avoids the door from the kitchen to the hallway because there is both a threshold and a gap in the floor there, wider than he can comfortably cross.

Of course he is his usual confident self and overreaches his ability. He constantly has a gash or a bump somewhere. Currently there is an almost-healed gash underneath his lower lip (where he probably bit himself when he landed face-first on the floor), a larger scabbed-over but not-yet-healed scratch under his left eye (where he hit the kitchen stool) and a similar one on his tummy (acquired at the same time, against the lower step of the stool).

He has not yet tried walking outside. He has, however, tried walking with shoes – with Ingrid’s black patent leather party shoes, which he saw and took a liking to yesterday. He put his feet in, Eric buckled them up, and he actually managed to walk in them, although they’re about 6 sizes too large. It worked because he doesn’t actually roll his foot through a step, from heel to toe. Instead he pretty much just lifts his foot straight up and puts it back down further ahead. And that, of course, can be done regardless of shoes, as long as they stay on your feet and don’t flop.

A book was what got him started walking, and that’s because books have been his great love this month. He can sometimes look at them himself, but what he really likes is sitting with one of us and listening to us “read” for him. He takes a book and comes to us, climbs up onto the sofa and onto our lap, and gives us the book. If I’m already reading for Ingrid, he’ll butt in and push her book aside.

Adrian’s greatest favourites are books with animals – because of the sounds. We have a couple of books with photos or simple pictures of common animals. “This is a cow. Do you know what the cow says? The cow says moo.” Except that we don’t say “moo” but try to imitate a cow as closely as we can, and all the others as well. (Except for the fish, which according to the book says “blubb blubb” but which we read as “mull mull”, meaning bubble bubble in Estonian. It’s as good a sound for a fish as any.) He seems to like the wolf and the owl sounds best, and takes a stab at them (and the dog) himself when we get to those pages, close enough that it’s clear to us what he’s trying to do.

He is also fond of books with songs. There is a lovely series of cardboard books with common Swedish children’s songs, Ellen och Olle sjunger. One song per book, with nice illustrations. En sockerbagare is the current favourite.

We read some very simple stories, too. We began with the Max books (Max bil and Max dockvagn); now those are less interesting and Knacka på is the favourite. These have paper pages and they get crumpled a lot and I’ve taped up a few tears, but it looks like they’ll survive Adrian at least.

He clearly understands a fair amount of what we say, not only when reading books. He’s understood “no” for a while although you could argue that it’s just the tone of voice he reacts to. One day when I was busy and he wanted to play, I told him to “go to daddy in the kitchen” (where Eric was cooking dinner, and Adrian is usually happy to watch). He stood and thought for a while and then went to the kitchen.

But he doesn’t say many words himself yet. “Titta” (look) is a very clear one. There is a “dadda” sound that seems to mean ‘pappa’ (daddy). There are other sounds that clearly mean things but that I haven’t learned to understand yet. He is pretty good at communicating without words, though. When he wants to be picked up, he tugs at our trouser legs. When he wants down, he shows it. When he wants his water cup refilled, he holds out the cup. When he wants to know whether something is permitted as a toy or not, he holds up his finger the way we do when we warn him to not touch something. He is usually very clear about wanting something, and then he WANTS with his whole body, screaming and tensing his whole body and arching his back.

He likes bouncing/riding games: Prästens lilla kråka with Eric, Sõit, sõit linna with me. He is too ticklish to enjoy Baka, baka liten kaka but we do play Kuts läks karja. I’ve tried games involving counting fingers and toes but he doesn’t appreciate those much yet.

He rarely plays with any toys. The one thing he likes is Ingrid’s little toy phone, which beeps and sings when you press its buttons. Just like last month he likes playing with containers and lids. Any time I open a jar or a bottle near him, he wants to try the lid, on and off a couple of times, before I’m allowed to put it away.

He had a period of separation anxiety when he absolutely had to be within a few steps of us. Or was that last month, perhaps? In any case that has now passed, and he can wander off to another room when it is clear that we are doing boring stuff and aren’t willing to play with him. But he is very upset in the mornings when I leave for work. He used to happily wave good-bye but now he holds onto my legs and tries to follow me out through the door. I try to prepare everything and spend the minimum amount of time in the hallway, throw on my coat, grab my hat and gloves and bag, and leave as quickly as I can.

Conversely he is very happy when I get back home. I usually sneak in quietly, then sneak upstairs and change out of my work clothes into a nursing top. Then I show myself, he drops whatever he is doing and comes to me, and we sit somewhere and nurse. These afternoon nursings are now clearly mostly for cuddles and comfort, he takes a lot less milk than he used to. And he no longer nurses off and on throughout the evening. He does like to nurse thoroughly just before going to sleep, and then twice more during the night (on normal nights), and maybe in the morning.

Now he wants to sleep with a dummy again. Since a dummy no longer means that he wakes once an hour, he gets it. Sometimes we hear him wake and cry out but then he seems to find the dummy on his own and goes back to sleep again. He sometimes also clearly wants the dummy during the day, but not often. When he’s done with it, we put it away and he doesn’t miss it.

He’s had a couple of colds and that always messes up the nights. And the days, too, usually. A runny nose is almost the rule here during the winter season. When he’s got a real cold he usually has a slight fever, is tired during the day, and coughs a lot during the night. He can actually sleep while coughing about once a minute, but that keeps me awake, and he wants to nurse more than usual. And it is not unusual for him to cough so hard at night that he actually throws up all the milk he’s just drunk. So the standard procedure when he has a cold is to cover his part of the bed with a thick bath towel folded in two, and keep another towel plus spare pyjamas close by so I can change quickly.

In the beginning of the month he got his first molars, all four of them almost at the same time.

He eats unevenly, usually one large meal a day and otherwise just nibbles. A large meal can be one banana, six meatballs and a slice of bread, or equivalent. When he’s hungry he eats fast and doesn’t get distracted much. Other times he joins us at the table but only takes a few bites now and again.

Quite often he eats standing up. We’ve now swapped chairs: he got the higher-backed one from Ingrid, so he can lean his bottom against the backrest when he stands on it, and he can no longer sit on the top of the backrest.

He is very fond of majskrokar, and usually likes bananas, too. Meatballs, bread, and kiwi are also safe bets. When he eats food he likes, he tries to stuff it all in his mouth at the same time so he can barely chew. He likes nibbling on almonds and cashews but cannot really chew them, despite the molars, so he drools like a maniac and spreads small partly-chewed pieces of nuts around him.

I’ve now sometimes let him taste small amounts of sweet treats: a sip of diluted apple juice (which is the standard mealtime drink for the rest of the family), a gingerbread cookie, a small chunk of saffron bun. The first one was a little piece of meringue that Eric had made. He did as he always does with new stuff: takes a small, cautious bite first. And then he laughed with delight, and wanted more more more.

He is usually not very interested in trying foodstuff that we hand to him, or put on his plate. But he almost always tries to bite things that he sees me use when I’m cooking, as well as fruit from the fruit bowl. Whenever the thing he tries tastes particularly sharp or pungent (such as an unpeeled tangerine) he looks at us and loudly says “eeeh!”

We’ve started to let him practice a bit with a normal lidless mug. Thus far it’s led to a lot of spills: he shakes it up and down, tips it too far when drinking, puts it down with a bang, and generally treats it like his sippy cup.

Sorry for the few and dark photos. Adrian still loves the camera and I rarely get a chance to take a decent photo of him. This is what I mostly get: nose to camera.

Making Christmas cards

The positive moments have been more frequent this month, and the general tone of Ingrid’s life is a little bit less negative than before. In part I think the Christmas calendars are to thank: there is something new to look forward to every morning, and a new video clip to watch every afternoon. So she gets the entertainment she craves, and that keeps her in a better mood.

I’ve been making an effort to spend more “quality time” with her in the evenings. I am not very fond of the concept of quality time but when she is not interested in normal time spent together doing normal activities, then somewhat-artificial quality time is better than nothing. At the same time she is spending fewer afternoons with her friends. We used to have kids in our house two or three times a week; this week we haven’t had a single one. I’m not sure if it is a coincidence, or because of frictions in their relationships – or if this is less important now that she gets more time with me.

We also let her spend more time with “entertainment devices” – movies and iPad games – than before. Previously I’ve tried to limit screen time and asked her to find other activities instead, but we’ve pretty much given up on that. All it leads to is whining and complaining. Now I only say no to movies/iPad when it’s getting close to bedtime, so that she can get a chance to get bored and realize that she is tired.

We (Eric and I) do try to think of activities that impose an active role on both participants, so she cannot just coast along. We insist on taking turns when playing I spy or when drawing together. I refuse to make decisions for her when we’re doing crafts, or to finish the task for her when she gets bored – our recent projects have been really small but they’ve taken several evenings each. She has little persistence and is unwilling to expend any real effort on anything. I often have to remind her to slow down, to do things properly instead of rushing. For her it is more important to make many things fast, while I’d rather see her make a few but with care – regardless of whether she’s making gingerbread cookies or writing Christmas cards.

In creative activities and games she will reuse the same ideas over and over agains, and I’ve started rejecting those. No, we will not draw another princess in the Scribblenauts sandbox – you’ll have to come up with something new.

One small positive development is that she is more likely to choose iPad games instead of re-watching a movie. A virtual tea party on the iPad is a much more passive and lazy activity than a real tea party with her toy china would be – but she is at least doing something rather than just sitting and watching.

She still thinks that almost every activity is boring, and to most ideas and suggestions, her first reflexive reaction is negative. If things are not to her liking, she is immediately deeply disappointed and sour. Sometimes it feels like “nöööh” and “but whyyyyy” are the most frequently spoken words in our household.

When things are fun, she often overreacts in the other direction. She can’t let an activity be just simply fun – she has to squeal and force out a loud laugh and turn it into a performance.

She spends a lot of time reacting, and rarely listens or reflects. I get the impression that it is very rarely that she thinks about what she wants, what she likes, what our suggestions entail – she is governed by emotions. Or hormones, perhaps.

A more interesting development is that she is exploring the power of sneaking and of telling untruths. When dinner doesn’t meet her expectations, she tells us “I don’t like that”. You still have to try it, is our standard response. “But I already have. We had this for lunch at preschool and I didn’t like it.” Well, I can be very sure that they did not have beetroot soup at preschool, nor oven-baked aubergine with mushrooms.

One day I caught her nibbling on a small piece of candy she had taken in a convenience store. We had a very serious talk (but a brief one due to circumstances) about stealing, and I think she understood the importance of it. But the whole situation was also a bit funny and I had to make an effort not to laugh: she clearly knew that what she was doing was wrong, so she had gone into a corner of the store and stood with her face towards the wall. She was so conspicuously up to no good that I could spot it from the other side of the store.

Actually, her poor lying and sneaking skills are a good reminder to me about how immature she really is in her understanding of the world around her, and of other people in particular.

The candy incident made me think that perhaps our current sweets regime is not working for her. Until now we’ve stayed away from the lördagsgodis concept, going for “everything in moderation” instead, but now we’re giving lördagsgodis a try. My hypothesis is that with our current regime she never feels like she’s been able to eat her fill. She’s always left unsatisfied, wanting more. Well, if she gets to eat lots in one go, perhaps she will feel satisfied afterwards. We’ve only tried it for a week and a half so too early to tell if it’s working better. For now the main effect is that the daily nagging of “Are you done eating? When will you be done? Will you be done after you finish what is on your plate now? Can I bring out the sweets while you’re eating?” has been replaced by daily reminders of “I can’t have any sweets today if I want lördagsgodis.”

She is pretty obsessed with sweet stuff. She described this past Sunday as “a happy, happy day!” (“en lyckodag”) – a slightly sweeter-than-normal cereal for breakfast, then saffron buns after her last kids’ judo session for this term, then gingerbread cookies and ice cream at a birthday party.

One thing that’s struck me is how little curiosity she shows. She rarely asks about how things work, how the world works, or about words she doesn’t understand in a book I read for her. Sometimes I pause and ask her, “do you know what andedräkt means?” and she says no. But she never thinks to ask me.

She is reading and writing better than ever, even though she hardly gets any practice. She is even reading a little bit more fluently in Estonian. She is also more confident with numbers – when adding 7 + 6, for example, she no longer counts first 7 fingers and then 6 more fingers & toes and then counts them all together. She says “7” and then counts “8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13” while holding up one finger at a time, which means that she can “count” six fingers without actually counting to six. What she still lacks is a feel for numbers greater than 10. She can in all seriousness suggest that 7 + 7 is 9. But when I pointed out that 5 + 5 makes 10, and 7 is greater than 5 so 7 + 7 should be more than 10, she agreed, and quickly said “10… and 1, 2 makes 12, and 1, 2 more makes 14”.

I am already thinking that next year she’ll be going to school. Schoolwork won’t be a challenge for her. What I’m concerned with is the risk of boredom – and when schoolwork catches up with her, I worry about her ability to apply herself, to actually work. But perhaps it is too early to worry about that now.

Favourite iPad games: everything from Toca Boca, especially Toca Tea Party, Toca Store, and Toca Birthday Party.

Favourite book: Printsessijuttude varalaegas, a pink book chock-full with princesses. We’ve read it almost daily since she got it for her birthday. I am getting really tired of princesses.

Other small stuff: earlier this week she let a friend cut her hair. (You can see some traces of it in the first photo above. Eric evened it out where possible, but there are still some gashes in her bangs.) It’s the kind of thing I’ve read about – kids cutting their own hair – but never thought that Ingrid would try it. We had been saying for a while that we really should cut her hair. I guess she got tired of waiting and took things in her own hands.


(Scroll down for an English translation.)

Varje dag dör 21 000 barn under fem år. 40 procent dör redan under sin första månad i livet. Den här tragedin brukar benämnas “den tysta katastrofen” eftersom den sällan uppmärksammas annat än som statistik i rapporter.

De flesta barnen dör av näringsbrist, diarré eller andra sjukdomar. De dör av orsaker som med enkla medel skulle kunna förebyggas. Det som saknas är vaccin, medicin, rent vatten och näringsriktig mat. Saker som UNICEF kan leverera.

Den här bloggposten är en del av mitt bidrag. För i och med att jag publicerar den här bloggposten blir inte bara fler uppmärksammade på den tysta katastrofen utan dessutom innebär det att re:member skänker sex påsar av den nötkräm som UNICEF använder vid behandling av undernärda barn. Tre påsar nötkräm om dagen är allt som krävs för att ett barn som lider av undernäring ska kunna överleva.

Har du också en blogg och vill göra något viktigt i jul? Hämta bloggmaterial här! Annars kanske du kan hitta en julklapp i UNICEF’s gåvoshop.

Every day, 21,000 children under the age of five die. 40 per cent die already during their first month of life. This is a “silent emergency” and rarely gets much attention, other than as a statistic in some report.

Most of the children die of malnutrition, diarrhea or other diseases. They die from easily preventable causes. What’s missing is vaccines, medicine, clean water and nutritious food. Things that UNICEF can deliver.

This blog post is a part of my contribution. Through publishing this post I will make more people aware of the silent emergency. In addition this blog post means that re:member will donate six bags of the peanut butter that UNICEF uses for treating malnourished children. Three bags of peanut butter a day is all that’s needed for a malnourished child to survive.

This blog campaign is aimed at a Swedish audience. But do look up the home page of your local UNICEF office and see what you can do to help.

Some fresh links to good stuff:

  • A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design – The currently popular Pictures Under Glass technology is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It denies our hands what they do best: touching things, sensing their tactile response. Claiming that Pictures Under Glass is the future of interaction is like claiming that black-and-white is the future of photography. It’s obviously a transitional technology. And the sooner we transition, the better.
  • Gilad Shalit and the Rising Price of an Israeli Life – One soldier swapped for over 1,000 prisoners, most of them convicted terrorists. How and why did Israel end up in a place where they would agree to this deal?
  • In ‘Game of Thrones,’ a Language to Make the World Feel Real | NY Times – Hollywood is driving demand for constructed languages, complete with grammatical rules, a written alphabet (hieroglyphics are acceptable) and enough vocabulary for basic conversations. (Estonian grammar gets mentioned in passing.)

This is the kind of book that makes me want to ask, How on Earth do you come up with an idea like that?

Embassytown is a human town in the middle of an alien city on an alien planet, whose raison d’etre is its embassy. Only Ambassadors, specially trained people, can communicate with the aliens – the Hosts, as the humans mostly call them.

Communication with the hosts is challenging to say the least. For them language is an opening into the speaker’s consciousness. Language that is generated by a machine or a computer is meaningless noise to them. Words have to be uttered by a sentient mind in order for the Hosts to perceive it as language.

It is impossible for the Hosts to lie, to speak about things that are not, or even to use a metaphors. Everything they say is a literal truth. In order to speak about ideas and concepts that do not exist yet, they create similes. Avice Benner Cho, the first-person narrator, was asked to participate in a staged simile when she was young, so that the Hosts could later compare various things to “the girl who was hurt and ate what was given to her”.

But they understand the concept of lying – they have learned it from humans. They find it fascinating and try to learn it themselves. They have Festivals of Lies where they listen rapturously to humans saying “this box is red” about a blue box, and compete in almost-lying – the winner is the one who comes closest to uttering an untruth.

Some humans see this development as disastrous and try to stop it. But just when it seems that we’ve arrived at the crux of the book, we’re proven wrong. Instead things turn in a completely different direction when a new Ambassador arrives from off-planet (unheard of!). Communication between humans and Hosts go badly wrong, society melts down, and soon the entire Embassytown is threatened with extinction.

I don’t want to say too much more about how the language actually works and how humans manage to communicate with the Hosts, or about what happens in the book. Miéville uncovers the big picture one little piece at a time, and does it so skilfully and with such care that running ahead of him and ripping the whole curtain down would destroy much of the magic.

It is an intellectual book, built on a single idea taken as far as it can possibly go. Language and communication and translation are the main “characters”. The actual physical human character narrating the book is secondary. The story happens in and to the world around her. She observes and occasionally participates but she is, for the most part, not central to the story.

Several reviewers complain about the lack of character development. And indeed if you follow tradition and view Avice as the protagonist, you would probably be dissatisfied with how Miéville develops her. By the end of the book I still feel like I hardly know anything about Avice. But as I said she is not the focus of the book.

Likewise there is very little in the way of descriptions or world-building. We get only a vague idea of what the Hosts look like (large, insect-like) and almost nothing about what the planet looks like, and even less about their society.

So, to me those weaknesses are not weaknesses. More problematic are some weaknesses in the idea itself, aspects of it insufficiently explained. How could an entirely literal language arise? How is it possible for them to hear and understand a lie but not repeat one? How can the Hosts stage similes if they cannot fully think of them before they have been performed? But Miéville’s execution of this idea was so exquisite, so pleasing to follow, that I didn’t want to be ungrateful. Instead I decided to go with the flow and not ask too many questions about it.

It is a weird and beautiful book – and towards the end, when things break down, a pretty violent one, too. It is confident, forceful, rich, sprung apparently fully formed from Miéville’s imagination. Reading it requires some effort but the rewards are great.

Read this review by Ursula K. Le Guin if you’re still not convinced that you should run and buy this book.

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Adlibris.

Among the dozens of blogs I read, there are several crafts blogs. One recurring theme across those blogs is using doilies for crafts. There have been posts about doily garlands and doily collages and doily reverse applique t-shirts and doily-decorated flower pots and so on.

Doilies are, of course, an essential ingredient for these projects. This whole category of crafts hinges on easy access to cheap doilies. Most instructions begin with something like “pick up doilies at thrift shops for a few dollars”. You wouldn’t make doily garlands (which involve cutting those doilies in half) if you first had to crochet the doilies yourself, spending several evenings on each one.

Once upon a time doilies were something that people lovingly made by hand and decorated their homes with. There were instruction books and patterns and kits. At some point they lost their appeal. And now they’re worth so little in their original role that they get a second life. It is sort of sad to see them (technically) destroyed, but it is also nice that they find new uses. And it is cool that there are so many abandoned doilies out there that they give rise to an entire genre of crafts, and that despite being lacy and sheer, they are durable enough to outlive their fashionability by decades.

Full disclosure: we had doilies in our home when I was a kid. Both my mum and my grandmother used to make them, and I crocheted a few of my own. All these doily projects make me want to crochet new ones.

I spent a good chunk of this afternoon crafting a job ad. We’re now officially in the market for a fourth developer for our team. We’re looking for an experienced developer who knows web development and particularly likes databases.

The company I work for has no outside financing, and all growth is self-funded. This has its pluses and minuses. We like the stability and the lack of pressure to expand, but it does put limits on our pace. Now finally it’s been judged that we have the financial headroom to grow our team. I’m really looking forward to another pair of hands – there is so much we want to do and so few hours to do it!