Today I pulled up our first carrots. They turned out to be totally ready for eating, and delicious to boot. (Even though some were mutant four-legged carrots.)

The carrots were a whim: Ingrid got a packet of seeds together with a Bamse issue. And yet, of all the vegetables we have tried to grow, I have to say that carrots have thus far given the best result. The deer chewed off the tops of both our tomato and pea plants when I planted those; the pumpkin plants barely grew and didn’t result in any actual pumpkins. But the deer left the carrot plants alone, and the carrots thrived.

dn.se has an infographic about this summer’s weather. As infographics go, this is a lousy one, but the information is interesting. Basically they count the number of days of “high summer temperature” (daily maximum of 25°C or above) for the last five summers. For Stockholm the count is 19 (for 2008), then 18, 28, 28… and for 2012, the count is 6.

Really, high temperatures are not my favourite thing, and I can’t say I’ve missed the heat much. But at the same time, it’s been a weird summer. I think we’ve been to the beach three times in total during this summer. That’s it.

And now even that summer is behind us. The evenings are chilly. Both yesterday and today we’ve had pouring rain while on our way home after nursery and school.

I am amazed at how fast he is learning to talk. I know, I know, I said the same thing last month as well as the month before, but it still continues to amaze me. His vocabulary is expanding fast; he is constructing more varied phrases with his words; his pronounciation is much clearer.

He uses two- and three-word phrases all the time. His use of language is also more intentional: he understands what he is saying, rather than just repeating a collection of sounds.

He is now also clearly aware of the two languages in our home, and in some cases knows when to use which one. He says a word, then remembers that he is talking to Eric, and translates.

He uses language to order us around. Previously he expressed his desires – macka! or ut! and so on. Now he orders, Titta nu!, Emme kom! Even a phrase like Emme sitta här, “Mummy sit here”, used to sound like a wish and now sounds like an order. To make his will really clear he shouts it at me and yanks at my skirt at the same time. Or when he wants me to look at something, he grabs my head and tries to turn it while shouting Titta!.

And when I do not do as he wants, he gets screaming mad. He screams and then he gets down on the floor and screams and cries. He doesn’t throw himself on the floor, no, he carefully lowers himself on all fours and then maybe hangs his head, or maybe gets down on his tummy and continues to scream. Obviously he’s modelling this on someone else’s behaviour.

The thing that Adrian most often screams for is not boobs, which used to be his favourite thing in the world. No, his new favourite is film! He has all of a sudden become really fond of watching movies. The first thing he says when I pick him up at nursery is no longer “boob” but “movie”. Hemma Pippi-film, “Pippi movie at home” he says. And the same thing when we first get up in the morning: Sen, Pippi-film, “Pippi movie later”.

He mostly likes to watch Pippi Longstocking movies, and the latest Lotte movie we bought in Estonia. He talks about Teletubbies as well but usually finds them boring when he actually tries to watch them. And he always wants company when watching a movie. On weekend evenings he climbs up on Eric’s desk or our TV sofa and watches some movie with Ingrid. On weekday afternoons when he is tired after nursery, he’d ideally want to just sit in my lap, nurse, and watch a movie at the same time. Getting dinner ready with him in that state is pretty tricky. I bring my laptop to the kitchen and alternate between sitting with him and chopping veggies. He is not at all interested in joining me when I cook, nowadays.

Adrian still likes to nurse but it is becoming less important for him. At the same time he is becoming more aware of what he is doing. It is more of a pleasure and less of a need, perhaps? He sometimes wants to play with my boobs (which I don’t like) and sometimes he feeds his toys at my breast. Dolls, stuffed animals, cars, wooden blocks… everybody and everything likes milk. When he’s done, he considerately pulls my clothes back in place. (Tiss peitu!)

He can be quite considerate and thoughtful with Ingrid, too. Not when they both want the same toy or book – but when he sees Ingrid cry because she’s hit her head, he notices, wants to know what’s up, and comes with his Pippi doll and offers it to her. In the same vein, he doesn’t like movies where people seem to get angry, such as Tjorven och Skrållan where Melker Melkersson gets angry whenever he meets with another accident.

On weekdays he is usually too tired after nursery to want to do anything active at home. On weekends he still likes singing a lot, and books as well. I think he’s tired of all the books at home: he shows a lot more interest in books when we are visiting someone. Our local library has been closed during the summer but I will make an effort to take him there next week.

He likes to listen to CDs with children’s songs, and has sorta-kinda figured out the CD player. He knows how to open and close it, and he know that one of the buttons makes it play music. But he doesn’t have the patience to wait those few seconds it takes for the disc to spin up, and then starts pressing more buttons in the hope of making something happen faster, which doesn’t help. He also likes opening the lid and watching the CD go round and round (ringi ringi!) and taking out the CD to put in a different one. We will have lots of scratched CDs in the house soon.

He’s also become interested in Lego blocks, which he stacks side by side in neat, even rows, eventually covering the whole board. And he plays with the simplest puzzles. We have one with four wooden blocks, for example. He can turn all four to show the same animal, but he cannot yet put them in the right place to complete the animal. He does the same with the magnetic animals we have on the fridge: there are three parts to each animal (head, body, legs) and he can pick out the three parts of a giraffe (kael-illak) but not get them to face the right way. Ingrid sometimes prepares them for him, puts all three pieces in a row but a little bit apart, so he can push them together to complete the animal. At nursery they have two-piece jigsaws (front half of car + rear half of car, for example) and those he can actually put together, because there is obviously only one side that has the jigsaw tab-and-hole.

After all his interest in peeing and pooing while we were in Estonia, we’ve now let him run around without a nappy a lot of the time. Naturally he’s been very pleased about that. I brought out Ingrid’s old poofy knickers and they fit him well. (I’m OK with puddles on the floor but did not want to have to clean up poo from carpets.) He especially likes the ones with butterflies and flowers on them. Hearts or stripes, not so much.

I put rubbered sheets on the sofas, too, but those have turned out to be unnecessary – all the puddles happen when he stands or squats on the ground. He always tells us as soon as he has peed (kiss!) which makes it easy to clean it up after him. And since his pee is effectively odorless, the puddles haven’t been much of an imposition at all. More puddles to wipe up, but fewer nappies to change. When he does have a nappy (because we’re away from home, for example) he also often tells us when he pees, and sometimes he expicitly asks me to change his nappy.

But he never notices a need to pee before he actually does it. And when I take him to the potty (because I think he looks like he might want to pee) he never does. He cannot yet decide to pee. So we’re not potty training yet.

He is clearly right-handed, even though he is not always aware of it. When he tries to eat with his left hand, the result is a mess, and I offer him another spoon for his right hand.

He is still a sceptical eater and is much more likely to say no than yes to new food. However he has now learned to appreciate blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and plums.

He wakes at about 7 to 8 in the morning, sleeps once during the day (at home usually 40 minutes, at nursery an hour or more) and then goes to sleep some time between 7 and 8 in the evening. He wakes to nurse once at around 11, and once more about two hours before he wakes for the morning.

Today Eric and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with half a child-free day, just the two of us – our first since Adrian was born. We went to Råkultur for a fancy sushi lunch, and then to Fotografiska.

Having planted enough bushes for now, we have turned our attention to the part of the garden that is in direst need of attention: the part between the house and the root cellar, formally known as “the slope of weeds”.

The name summarizes two of the three salient characteristics of this place. It is a steepish slope, hard to walk without holding on to something. And it is full of weeds, and has been since we first arrived here. It is dominated by bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis, åkervinda, kassitapp) and greater celandine (Chelidonium majus, skelört, vereurmarohi) with accents of nettles, wild strawberries, and other weeds. In the middle of it all, a little spiraea bush, buried under bindweed during most of the growing season, the previous owners’ single attempt to tame this slope. (You cannot even see it in the photo below but it’s grown a bit in the last four years, despite the inhospitable surroundings.)

The slope of weeds as of 2008

The third important fact about the slope of weeds is that the earth is full of junk. At the top there is a thin layer of reasonable garden soil. Beneath this soil is a layer of junk. Garbage. Trash. In some parts the junk is buried under 15 cm of earth; in other places it reaches all the way to the surface. It is the only part of the garden that is dangerous for bare feet. The chunks of concrete and roofing tiles are not so bad; the shards of glass are pretty dangerous.

Altogether this makes the slope quite unwelcoming, and improving it is a major project. You can’t just clear away the weeds and plant something nicer, because you can’t even work the soil without hitting all sorts of foreign objects all the time.

Now we intend to fix all three things at once. We will get rid of the weeds and the junk by removing and replacing enough of the earth to get a workable, plantable ground. We won’t get rid of the slope-ness of the slope but we will have stairs built along the wall to make the slope passable.

Our friend Anton the Builder will arrive on Monday to start working on the stairs. To prepare, we’ve been doing a lot of digging: removing the topmost layer of soil with all the weeds and their roots, evening out the slope nearest the house to make place for the stairs, and digging a hole for the concrete slab that the stair will rest on. We’ve already filled two 1m3 sacks with earth, stones, and other stuff, and have begun on a third one.

The amount of junk coming out of the earth there is astounding, as is the variety.
Chunks of concrete, roofing tiles, bathroom tiles and bricks.
An entire sack of cement.
Shards of pottery, china and glass.
Electrical wires. Rope. A one-metre iron T-bar. A bin bag.
Nails, both large old rusty ones and modern stainless steel.
The heel of a shoe. A spoon. A pitchfork.
A candy wrapper.
A small glass bottle with a bit of dried nail polish.
A metal tube for mayonnaise or something like it.
A door from a wood stove.
Bones of some large animal. Cow, perhaps.

It’s like a midden combined with a dump for construction waste.

One interesting fact is the wide time span that this material covers. The large nails and the stove door are old, and the bricks as well: they’re not the modern sort that are half hollow, but solid, heavy, old-style bricks. Other things are much more modern, such as the candy wrapper and the wires.

I have tried to imagine how this came to be, but I have a hard time making sense of this. Who would throw old plates and bones in their garden, or pitchforks and china? And why? In what scenario could it possibly seem like a good idea to have shards of glass in your garden? Or did some of this come from somewhere else as part of some cheap load of fill dirt?

In any case, while it makes the digging slow and laborious, it also makes the whole project feel like an archaeological dig. I never know what I will find next.

At Liseberg

This past month covers most of Ingrid’s summer vacation, including our trip to Estonia, as well as her first day at school.

Well, not school school: school starts for real next Wednesday, but the after-school care started today, and since there is no school yet, after-school care lasts all day. Ingrid was noticeably nervous about it all. We met her teachers and some of her new classmates at an information meeting in June, and saw the school building as well. But the after-hours care is in a different building, run by different other teachers (at least until school begins) and with different kids (it is for kids from grades 0 to 3).

Luckily one of her friends from preschool also started today, and was already there when Ingrid and Eric arrived this morning. When I picked her up in the afternoon she told me she had had a great day, showed me around, handed me piles of drawings she had made, etc. A great relief for all of us.

Last week was a dad-and-daughter week. Adrian was back at nursery and I was at work, so Eric and Ingrid spent some time together, just the two of them. Since her baby days Ingrid has always shown a clear preference for me, much more than Adrian ever has, but now she is old enough to “detach” somewhat from me and more happy in Eric’s company. Especially if that involves visiting Liseberg!

At Liseberg, she tried all the rides she could, skipping only the ones where she didn’t make the height cutoff. No rollercoaster is too intense for her, and no merry-go-round too dizzy. More is better!

Ingrid has been in a really good mood for most of this month. Happy, pleasant to be around, polite even. She says please and thank you; she looks out for Adrian, helps me when I ask her to, and even offers her help sometimes. There are no sulks, no arguments about bedtime, no complaints about tired legs when we are out walking.

She even speaks Estonian to me at times, and I know for certain that she does it for my sake only. She knows that I really like hearing her speak Estonian, and makes an effort to do so. Of course it helps that she’s had two weeks of practice and Estonian now comes more easily to her. Those two weeks make a huge difference every year.

She is developing a greater capability to relate to others, and is now finding pleasure in making others happy. (This hasn’t been her forte in the past.) For example when her friend M was with us for half a day, and was in a somewhat obstinate mood, Ingrid was quite willing to compromise and suggest solutions when they found themselves disagreeing. She could pause and reflect enough to remember that their day together is more likely to turn out pleasant if they can play rather than fight, and then she made an effort to make it so.

When she and her friends tire, they often take a break, and Ingrid reads aloud for both of them. (Bamse, of course.) She is now reading fluently enough to read with a suitable inflection, getting not just each individual word right but also the tone of the entire sentence.

Favourite food: flat nectarines (like paraguayo peaches) and plums.
Favourite iPad app: Where’s my water.

Looking at a frog

During much of last week, I was on my own with Adrian, while Ingrid and Eric were off having fun on their own. (Three days with Eric’s family in the archipelago of Stockholm, and then two and a half days in Gothenburg at Liseberg.)

On the one hand, life was noticeably duller than usual. I’m pretty sure that not only myself but also Adrian missed the others’ company.

On the other hand, meal times were so much calmer, and there were far fewer toys to pick up in the evenings.

The blog has been quiet because I have been busy doing other stuff. Namely, (1) reading the Song of Ice and Fire series, and (2) working in the garden. #1 is hard to put down, and #2 feels sort of urgent while the evenings are still light enough for me to work outside after the kids have been put to bed.

I did a first round of planting about a month ago. This weekend we paid Zetas another visit and came home with more bushes.

The garden looks like this:

The red lines mark man-made structures; the light green is for bushes and dark green is for trees.

I think of the garden as consisting of four major parts.

Beginning from the north, the part 1 lies between the house and the crossroads (bounded by the two streets, the stairs up from the street, the house and the driveway). I think of this part as the front garden, the welcome mat. This is the part that I have focused on this summer.

It was quite bare to begin with, even more so than the rest of our garden. There is a young cherry tree, which is probably an accidental child of the larger cherry tree in section 2. At first there was also a birch tree, but since it grew up through the sleepers that make up the border around the garden, we had it taken down. The cherry tree can stay for a while, but we do not need three of them in our garden, so in the long run its days are numbered, too.

Now I’ve planted a number of bushes and shrubs that will hopefully give it some more life in the coming years. Towards the north, near the road and furthest from the house and its shadow, there are the sun-loving bushes: a staghorn sumac (for its hairy looks and autumn colour), a dark-leaved black elder (for some dramatic colour during the summer) and a japanese quince (for its colourful flowers). I’ve loved staghorn sumacs since I was a child – we had a few near the house where I first grew up, as well as at my grandmother’s summer cottage. I like the way they’re hairy and spindly at the same time, and their clusters of fruit as well. The elder and the quince I chose because they manage to both look pretty and be useful – one with its flowers (for elderflower cordial) and the other with its fruit.

Closer to the house I’ve put shrubs that are happy in the shade. There are two dogwoods, one with yellow bark, the other with red, for some winter colour. I’ve also put in a mahonia as a contrast to the dogwoods, and to have something flowering near the front entrance.

These all I chose because they are hardy and easy to care for, and should be able to cope with the heavy clay soil we have. Next to the stairs up from the street I’ve been more daring and planted a Viburnum x bodnantense “Dawn”. It sounds so lovely that I couldn’t resist buying it. I am afraid that it might not be very happy there, both because of the clay soil and because it will be shaded by the large cherry tree, but it’s worth a try.

Part 2 is the woodlands. Here we have a cherry, a whitebeam, and a birch, and shade (and roots) from the neighbour’s horse chestnut and birches. Plus as a bonus there is some ground-dwelling hole-digging animal there, probably some sort of vole. So the ground is poor, dry, shady, and dotted with holes, and nothing much will grow here. This section has its prime time in spring, first because of the bulbs we’ve been planting (mostly crocuses and daffodils of various kinds) and then later again when the cherry flowers.

Part 3 is the kitchen garden. This is the only flat part of the garden. The bedrock is very close to the surface here; the soil depth ranges from zero (where the rock peeks out) to maybe half a meter at most. It gets decent amounts of sun during the morning at least, but in the afternoon it is shaded by the neighbours’ trees. Here we’ve created raised beds out of pallet collars and planted strawberries, a gooseberry bush, rhubarb, and other stuff.

A cherry tree separates the kitchen garden from the last section of the garden. Part 4 will have a more decorative role, similar to part 1, but with a pure summer focus. This is the part we see when we sit in the living room or out on the deck. It is unfortunately quite shady, with the cherry tree, and the neighbours’ trees, and more trees along the fence, and the shadow of the house itself. Currently we have a large philadelphus here, as well as a cypress, and a very small flowerbed around a large rock. I haven’t quite figured out a plan for this part yet.

The lack of plan didn’t stop me from buying some bushes for this part, though. I planted a weigela for some colour, and – because I couldn’t resist it when I saw it – a butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii). I don’t have high hopes for the latter; it probably won’t get enough sun here, but maybe, maybe…

Between part 4 and the road we also have an old root cellar, and between the root cellar and the house lies what we refer to as “the slope of weeds”, a steep slope covered with nettles, greater celandine, bindweed and other nasty stuff. I intend to clear this slope in the next few weeks, and make something pretty out of it later this year, or maybe next.