Yesterday we had a fabulous day at Kolmården Wildlife Park. I’d been putting it off until Adrian is older, but after glowing recommendations from friend R, we decided to give it a go this year after all. I’m very glad we did!

The main part of Kolmården is the animals of course. What makes it nice is that it is a wildlife park, not a zoo: the animals move around in large areas, and in many of them several kinds of animals share the enclosure. For example, the savanna enclosure covers 18,000 sq m and contains rhinos, zebras, and 6 kinds of antilopes. And most of the areas are not surrounded by fences, but ditches, or the entire area is sunken a few metres into the ground and the visitors’ path around it is above the animals’ level. It is not quite like being on a real safari in Africa but it is a great improvement over city zoos.

What I didn’t expect was all the other, non-zoo-related activities. There was a large playground with a jungle gym, a Bamse-themed playground with an activity trail, a roller coaster… great ways to let the kids rest their legs in between all the walking.

The two highlights for us adults were the cableway safari and the dolphin show. (The safari replaces their previous car-based safari, which I vaguely recall from my previous visit about 20 years ago). Now you glide in an airy gondola over a large area of rugged terrain, both above the treetops and down close, while watching everything from lions and bears to giraffes and ostriches.

The dolphin show was astounding. I had sort of expected them to do a few jumps, but they did synchronized backflips, precision jumps, threw and caught balls, swam on their backs, balanced their trainers on their noses, stood on their tails in the water (truly)… A video can’t do it justice of course but you can get a taste of the show on YouTube. A wonderful show, and very impressive animals. (Top tip: do pre-book your seats; the queue can be massive.)

Ingrid’s favourite part was the roller coaster. It really hit the sweet spot: not too scary for Ingrid, and still not dull for the adults. And best of all, by the time we were at the roller coaster, it was late afternoon and somewhat rainy, so there were hardly any queues. Get off, run around to the entrance, and get right back on again!

I am not sure what Adrian’s favourite part was – maybe the elephants – but he was clearly happy with the whole experience.

The park was very visitor-friendly. Good signage, seats and picnic areas where needed; everything clean and tidy and friendly. I cannot think of a single thing they could have done better.

Even though we got there almost as soon as the park opened and stayed until closing time, we didn’t have time to see and do everything. I can now totally understand why they sell two-day tickets and have a hotel next to the park. We will absolutely be going back to Kolmården in the years to come.

Today we actually managed to visit a museum. Yay!

The exhibition I wanted to see was 100 Years of Swedish Handicraft. I had a very vague idea about the actual contents of the exhibition – modern takes on traditional crafts was what I thought it was about. Which was technically correct but really didn’t describe the reality very well.

The exhibition turned out to have two distinct parts. Part one was a number of thematic rooms with crafts that mostly combined modern design and ideas with traditional techniques. Woodworking, basket weaving, knitting, embroidery etc. This part was sort of nice but not amazing.

The amazing part was the other one. The other half of the exhibition was called Leaves, and consisted of 2000 wooden leaf-shaped frames that had been decorated by members in various crafts clubs and societies all over Sweden. Each leaf was different, and the variety was incredible. The leaves were arranged in vaguely tree-shaped stands in random order, with no effort to group like with like, which emphasized their variety even more. There were leaves worked in embroidery, knitting, wire, glass, metal, painting… leaves made by young children and by professional designers and craftsmen, leaves made quickly and leaves that must have taken months and months of work, leaves that fit within the organizers’ frames and leaves that broke the rules.

Many craftsters got their ideas from the leaves themselves. Some leaves were simply left to be leaves, beautifully wrought or decorated. Others depicted/were covered with/contained designs of trees, flowers, leaves, etc.

One interesting theme arose from the shape of the frame: its curved shape had led a number of craftsters to interpret it as a womb, and to fill it with a fetus/baby. Another recurring theme was probably born from the fact that the leaf frames were frames: there was a bunch of spiderweb and other web/net designs.

I only wish I could have spent more time and attention on each leaf. With two impatient kids in tow, this was difficult. But there is still more than a month left of the exhibition (until September 2nd) so I am thinking of going back there on my own. And if I do I will make sure to bring my SLR instead of the compact camera I had today.

And to top it all off, all the leaves will be auctioned off on Tradera (the Swedish Ebay equivalent), with proceeds going to charity. I am sorely tempted to buy one, even though (a) I have no idea which one, and (b) I have no idea where I would put it. But there were so many so beautiful things there that I may make the effort to make up my mind.

We’ve been in Estonia for the past 10 days – our annual trip to Tartu to meet friends and family, and for language immersion for the kids. That last part has worked wonders, by the way: Ingrid’s Estonian is a lot more fluent than before.

One thing I’ve noticed is the popularity of ethnic patterns in design of all sorts. (Ethnic Estonian, that is, not the fashion trend that involves wearing fake Indian clothing.) I try to think back 10 years, and I believe that at that time I almost never saw any of the traditional Estonian patterns, except for maybe mittens in some weird craft shop, and tourist souvenirs. The folk costumes came out for the song festivals, and that was that.

Now I run into ethnic Estonian patterns everywhere. The stripes are the most popular ones: there are fabrics in various materials, there are throw pillows and oven mitts and bags, there are mugs and boxes and so on. The traditional floral embroidery designs turn up in children’s socks and women’s tights – and those are everyday tights you can find in high street sock shops, not souvenir or craft items. And in paper napkins and kitchen towels, etc. The more geometric patterns that I associate with knitwear appear everywhere from embroidery and felted wool to pottery and leather.

It is so lovely to see that traditions that were getting marginalized are now getting new lives, in new places, new materials, new variations. I hope that this is not a temporary whim of fashion or burst of nationalism, but that it stays.

Impressive language development continues. Day to day, I take it for given, but when I stop to think, it is an amazing miracle.

A most pleasant addition to Adrian’s vocabulary is jaa! to complement the inte! (“no”) that appeared some months ago.

To nouns and verbs he is now adding other kinds of words, and not just “yes” and “no” and “mine”. He talks about amounts stora (“large”) and mycket (“much”), and directions – pool, “way, direction”, as in inte pool!, “not way!” for “I do not want to go this way!”, mixing Swedish and Estonian. The most abstract concept I’ve heard him use is också, “also”.

It is interesting to hear him try to figure out what a word means. On some occasions I’ve said something about him getting the sun in his eyes, and specifically said it in the car while putting up a shade on his window. “Let me put up the shade so you don’t get the sun in your eyes”. Päike silma, “sun [in the] eye” are the two key words that he hears. He knows “eye” and now tries to figure out “sun”, and the phrase as a whole. At first he just repeated the phrase when I said it. Some time later he guessed that maybe “sun” was the shade I put up – pointed at it and said päike. Then he thought that perhaps “sun” was the window, and tested his hypothesis some time later by pointing at some other window and saying päike. No, this is aken, I said. Aken! he happily repeated. This all happened over several days, maybe even more than a week.

One word pair that gets a lot of use is sjunga/laul (“sing/song” in Swedish and Estonian respectively). He loves to hear us sing, and sometimes it feels like all we do is sing. Mera, mera! he keeps saying. Or sometimes mera! inte! which means “more singing but not this song”.

We have two song books that we use a lot, and he knows which pictures go with which song. He leafs through the book and stops at some specific picture and then asks for that song – Pippi! or kanin! and so on.

Because of songs, monkeys are called umpa – “Tänk om jag hade en liten liten apa, umpa umpa fallerallera…”.

Ingrid also loved and loves songs, but Adrian seems to be more musically inclined. He listens more attentively, and his attempts at singing have more melody in them. I also get the impression that he likes Eric’s singing better than mine – which makes a lot of sense since Eric sings much better than I do. Ingrid doesn’t hear a difference, I suspect.

Today we heard him use verb tense for the first time, “Adrian has pooped”. And he had. He talks a lot about peeing and pooing, and nappies and willies. He seems to think a lot about these things, and seems to be much more aware now that he is peeing and pooing. His urinary system seems to have matured, too: he now pees large amounts infrequently rather than small squirts all the time. One moment the nappy is dry, and five minutes later it is soaked.

Adrian has started talking about peeing/pooing before he actually does it. If we were at home I would let him run around with a bare bottom and see if he can go on the potty at least some of the time. But here in Estonia we have no potty, and he feels very insecure on the toilet seat even with me supporting him. For now, all we can do is be attentive and check his nappy as soon as he mentions these things.

He is very interested in penises. He plays with his dangly bits as soon as the nappy comes off. While we were travelling from Stockholm to Tartu, we used disposable nappies, to avoid having to manage dirty nappies en route. It turned out that with disposables he could actually squeeze his hand into his nappy and check that his willy was still there. Which would be sort of OK if the only effect was to embarrass passers-by… but since he also did it at the dinner table, it was a bit gross, and it meant that the nappies then leaked because they sat askew. I had to keep reminding him again and again to take his hand out of his nappy.

He pays attention to other people’s toilet visits, too. He watches Eric and points out the relevant parts. Then he sees me go to the toilet and asks, emme snoppen? – where is mommy’s willy? I tell him I don’t have one, and he says snoppen borta, “willy gone…”

One of the new developments this month is that Adrian has a favourite cuddly toy. We went to a toy shop, and he spent a long time in front of the various Pippi figures, ignoring the rest of the store. So we bought him a large Pippi doll. Stora Pippi, “large Pippi”, he calls it, because there were three sizes in the store and we bought the largest one. He likes to hug it when falling asleep, or sometimes in the car. In the evening he takes Pippi’s clothes off, and I keep wondering whether it’s because that’s what one does when going to bed, or because Pippi’s body is soft fleece and the clothes are cheap not-so-soft cotton. He also likes Pippi books and movies – not really reading or watching them, but just holding and handling them.

He still likes to play with water in all sorts of baths and pools. He has also learned to pour water from a jug into his glass. We have a small jug that is easy for him to hold and lift, and I put just enough water in there, so he can pour all of it. He loves it. Sometimes he reaches for the jug, then realizes that his glass still has water in it, and quickly drinks it all, so that he can pour again.

He likes to climb, and he likes slides. He can now climb up onto the large jungle gym at our local playground, above my head, and can slide down from there as well. When he feels sure about a slide he comes down seated; otherwise he slides flat on his tummy, feet first. He also likes to try and climb back up the slide.

He has understood how the iPad works and asks for it at times. At first it was called “ee-i”, as in “Old MacDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-oh”, because that was the app he used most. Now he has branched out to other apps, mostly SoundTouch and PictureBook (both with lots of pictures of animals and other common objects) but also some others that he just looks and pokes at, without understanding what is going on. He understands how to unlock the iPad but usually doesn’t succeed. On the other hand he manages to swipe from page to page pretty well. What he doesn’t understand yet is that he cannot have the rest of his fingers, or his other hand, on the screen while trying to do something.

We’ve also looked at photos with him, both in my camera and on the computer. All he is interested in is photos of himself. “Adrian!” he says, and asks for more.

He likes drawing, more and more, and he likes me to draw things for him. He prefers felt tip pens to pencils and crayons, and for drawing material he prefers his own hands and arms to paper.

We have cut down on nursing some more; I say no more often than I used to, when I think he just asks to nurse because he is bored. Also I no longer let him nurse during meal times, because that led to too much climbing back and forth between my lap and his chair.

His dairy intolerance is still present. Yesterday he and I ate some pasties from the supermarket, and afterwards he was all hyperactive again, the way he’s been in the past when he gets small amounts of milk.

How oil drilling in the US helps dirt-poor Indian bean farmers.

Tidbits from Ingrid’s sixty-ninth month:

Ingrid sometimes talks to us as if she was irritated and impatient with us – not the way we talk at home, but the way she hears other parents talking to their kids, or perhaps some parents in a story book or movie. (Emil’s, perhaps.) “I’ve told you a thousand times! Aah! Don’t you understand anything?!”

I’ve also heard her and her friends treat their toys like that at times, and dole out punishments, also something we never do at home. “And now you must sit here for three years! And you can’t come out until you show some remorse for your pranks!”

I know less and less about what she and her friends actually play and say when they’re together. Most of the time they’re off on their own. They rarely need supervision nowadays, they don’t get into conflicts that they cannot resolve. There are rarely tears or fights.

She plays well not just with friends but with strangers, too. When we go to the playground and none of her friends are there, she often walks up to some other likely-looking kid and makes contact. Sometimes she offers a toy, sometimes she just pulls them into her play, sometimes she introduces herself or asks for their name, etc. Usually she chooses someone a bit younger than her.

That quote above, with the three-year timeout, is also an interesting example of her sense of time. When it comes to days and weeks, easily observable units, she has a good grip of how long they are. She’s known her days of week for a long time, a year or two already I think, and now knows the names of the months as well. But a year, or three years for that matter, is effectively synonymous with “forever and ever”.

Towards the shorter end, she sort of understands hours and knows that an hour is a pretty long time to wait. She can look at a clock and roughly tell the time – “between two and three” for example. She knows that eight o’clock happens twice a day, morning and evening. She kind of understands half hours as well, and knows that half past three (which in Swedish and Estonian is actually called half four) is halfway between three and four.

But quarter hours and minutes confuse her: she cannot remember whether “kvart i” is less than and “kvart över” is more, or the other way around. Whenever she asks what time it is (which happens quite often) and we say it is ten minutes to twelve, for example, she always asks if this means it’s more or less than twelve.

Speaking of time, she’s been staying up later and later in the evenings during the summer. Partly this is probably due to the light summer nights. But she also just does not want to go to bed. Life is too exciting. Often I do interesting stuff during the evening, after putting Adrian to bed, and Ingrid joins me – whether it’s because she is actually interested in the job, or whether she just wants me to let her stay up, I don’t know. She’s helped me dig and water in the garden, and cut branches with loppers. The lopper handles are as long as her arms but she did a great job. I think she actually worked so hard that her muscles were sore – she complained of an achy back the day after.

But unfortunately she keeps this fun going until she is way too tired, and then we get a tantrum when it’s time to get ready for bed. The new deal is that she can stay up as late as she wants, but teeth must get brushed no later than 8:30, and if she wants a bedtime story, she needs to be in bed by 9. This has worked very well: as usual, she accepts a simple, clear rule much better than daily negotiation.

Oh, and speaking of stories: she cannot tell one. She can make up a story, but she cannot tell a coherent story about something that happened to her or to us. When I hear her tell about some event, it is a jumble of details, with no order or reasoning. It is usually almost impossible to figure out from her tale what really happened.

Favourite summer activity: picking wild strawberries. Or maybe bathing and splashing in a pool. We bought some noodle water guns and they have gotten a lot of use.

Still alive, but in vacation mode rather than blogging mode.

Vacation becomes an endurance sport when kids are involved. It’s pretty tiring. Luckily from today Eric is also on vacation and I am no longer alone with two kids.

Instead I suspect that I will now feel that this is my chance to get things done around the house and wear myself out that way.

Yesterday we drove to Zetas garden centre and did some shopping. We bought some climbers that I planted next to the play house – common hop (Humulus, humle, humal) and honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum, vildkaprifol, väänduv kuslapuu). Ingrid picked another dahlia for the deck. And we got several bushes for the front garden – Japanese quince (Chaenomeles Japonica, rosenkvitten, ebaküdoonia), a dark-leaved variety of black elder (Sambucus nigra, fläder, must leeder) called “Black beauty”, staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina, rönnsumak, äädikapuu) and red-barked dogwood (Cornus alba, rysk kornell, kontpuu).

Today I spent much of the day digging. The part of the garden that I think of as the front garden, the quadrant between the house and the crossroads, has very heavy clay soil. When dry, it is hard as rock. After rain it’s just very dense and gluey. Luckily it’s been raining quite a lot recently – otherwise we’d probably have postponed the shopping for another weekend.

The front garden has been waiting for awhile. The previous owners weren’t particularly interested in gardening and left the entire garden very bare, pretty much just a lawn and a few large trees (which were all there before them).

After we moved here, it took about two years for us to get a feel for the garden and to settle on a plan for it. Last year we spent our time and money on the house. This year finally the garden gets some love.