It turns out that the rodent eating bird food in our garden is a rat. Suddenly I am much less fond of it.

But… rats don’t burrow in the ground. So: do we have both? Or are the voles gone and the rat has moved in? Or is the rat here just for the winter?

After about a week of sustained cold weather (below –15°C) we’re reaching the limits of our old house’s capability to hold the warmth inside and keep the cold out. The temperature in most parts of the house is now down to around 17°C. On the floor, in the chilliest corners, it’s more like 10°C.

For next year we really need to buy a tile stove. For this year, it’ll probably be another electric heater. Or maybe not, because the weather report promises warmer weather from Saturday night onwards, and the house has been quite OK during most of the winter.

Washing dishes, with hot water, becomes an unusually pleasant activity in this kind of environment.

In other news, Ingrid has done the thing that most kids do once and never again: licked a cold metal bar. Blood and tears. (What is it that makes freezing cold metal look so lickable?)

A happy month. The shouts of inte! are a thing of the past, and Adrian has generally been full of joy and positive energy. I’ve heard fewer min mamma! and he hasn’t been as clingy.

But he “compensated” for that by suddenly wanting to breastfeed all the time (it felt like). Especially when he is feeling insecure, he finds security in breastfeeding. But for several weeks he also used breastfeeding as a solution for pretty much every problem. Feel like cuddling? Have some boob. Hurt his knee? Ask for some boob. Upset because of some disagreement with Ingrid? Fix it with a boob. Disappointed? Bored? Tired? Boob!

He could literally ask to breastfeed at 15-minute intervals at times. And he had great difficulty accepting “no” or “later” as an answer, which hasn’t been a problem for us in the past. If I happened to be in the shower, or in the middle of some demanding step of dinner preparation, and asked him to wait, he screamed and tore at my clothes and tried to pull me down to the floor.

Just as this was getting to a point where it really couldn’t take it anymore, we turned a corner of some sort, and he calmed down again. Now we’re back to a normal state of affairs. I can tell him that I will just finish peeling those potatoes, or change out of my work clothes into something more comfortable, and he waits. Sen tissi, he tells me, in his Swedish-Estonian pidgin language.

One day he even made up a little song about breastfeeding. Tissi, tissi, tisse-tisse tissi, … Melody: “Midnatt råder” / “Haldjate jõuluöö”.

During the Christmas break Adrian took a big step forward in language development. The nursery staff all commented on how much he’d learned during just two weeks. Suddenly he went from mostly reusing phrases he’d learned from others, to freely constructing his own sentences as needed. He also simply speaks a lot more now. It makes a big difference to how I perceive him: it’s as if he’d aged several months in just a few weeks.

He talks the most when we’re on our way home from nursery, and every day the main topic is pretty much the same. He talks about who has been where, and who is going where. Nu köpa banan. Sen gå hem. Adrian gå hem. Ingrid gå hem. Alla gå hem. Lapsed gå hem. Adrian dagis. Ingrid på skolan. Pappa på jobbet. Emme på jobbet.

He often points out large vehicles (trucks, buses, tractors) but now he’s also started commenting on loud ones and saying that he doesn’t like them. Even just a snow plough can be too loud for comfort.

Once we’re home (and in fact as soon as we’ve picked up Ingrid from school) there are more important things to do than talk. Before dinner, he mostly plays with Ingrid. That doesn’t involve much talking beyond “me too!” and “let me” – it’s mostly squealing and giggling. I am amazed at how high my tolerance for loud, high squealing and screeching has become, as long as it’s happy squealing.

Sometimes their play is at a level that I as an adult cannot understand. They can, for example, have fun “falling” off the sledge on the way home, again and again. Or they just sort of tumble around and giggle and make silly noises. Other times Ingrid comes up with something and Adrian enthusiastically joins in: climbing into an empty laundry hamper; using a bath towel as a sleigh (Adrian sitting on it and Ingrid pulling it around); pulling blankets over their heads and pretending that they’re ghosts (and trying to scare me).

Their play is generally very simple, immediate and physical. Usually little or no equipment is involved, and it’s always simple things such as blankets or boxes, rather than toys. Toy food is the only exception, and when they play with that they always involve me: the kids both prepare food that they serve to me.

Ingrid has been trying to teach him hide-and-seek. He loves the seeking, and especially the finding – där var Ingrid!!!. – but needs a bit encouragement and prompting. Without that, he looks in the two closest places and then gives up. But he can keep going for a good while if I help him by suggesting places to look.

Ingrid hides in simple places such as under a table or behind a door, but even so, Adrian often needs help spotting her. He can stand right next to her but because Ingrid has never before hid in that place, he doesn’t understand that she can be there. Once he literally almost stumbled over her: not her feet but her entire body, curled up in a ball between two boxes on the floor. But he was instead looking in the distance (behind the drawer unit under my desk, where Ingrid had hid before) and did not notice her. Ingen Ingrid! he said, and turned to leave – and I had to point out to him that she was right in front of him.

The counting is also kind of fun but not for long, so I need to help him stay in one place long enough for Ingrid to hide. But he totally sucks at hiding. He does not understand the point, and as soon as Ingrid shouts “I’m coming!” he also comes out and starts looking for Ingrid, so the game is over very quickly.

Adrian adores Ingrid. Sometimes there is disagreement or competition, but he so loves being with her, doing what she does.

Left to his own devices, Adrian likes exploring the various board games we have (which mostly means spreading everything out on the floor). He also has a knob puzzle with a Pippi picture that he likes.

After dinner they’re both usually too tired to play more, so then it’s TV or iPad for both of them.

On the iPad he seems to have outgrown toddler apps like picture books. He now likes simple shape puzzles, knob-puzzle style. Lekplats is a favourite one, and Shape Builder. He also likes Beck and Bo, and Villa Villekulla of course.

Favourite songs: the Pippi theme song was first replaced by “Sjörövar-Fabbe”, and now I think “Mors lilla lathund” has taken over, with “Sommaren är min” as a close second. These three all originate from Pippi movies, too.

One day we were singing “Fader Abraham”, and he suddenly understood about left and right, which he found very exciting. Since then, putting on his clothes or boots instantly becomes much more fun if we guide him: “left foot… right foot…”.

On YouTube his favourites have been “Daddy finger” and the Örjan song from Fem myror och fyra elefanter. Both Ingrid and Adrian love that whole show and have been watching it a lot. Adrian calls it nonu tädi, meaning “man and woman”, or sometimes Magnus och Brasse.

Adrian is learning:

  • Grammar. He has been trying out different plural forms (bamsor, elefantor, bokor) and has just in the last few days understood vi/meie (“we”).
  • Letters. Last month he learned A; now he has added I for Ingrid, P for pappa and M for mamma/emme. The number four (4) is also an A for him. He likes typing them on my computer and pointing them out in all sorts of settings: magazines, signs, iPad apps etc.

We are cautiously experimenting with milk. It seems that I can add a bit of sour cream to my food occasionally, without any obvious ill effects. But it’s difficult to know. He has been quite gassy recently, which could be due to the sour cream, or maybe not. Who knows.

Kids are, of course, always learning things, but it feels like this month Ingrid has picked up more new skills than usual.

She has learned to do up buttons, which she has sort of managed before but only with much struggle. And shoelaces, too. During the Christmas break we went shopping for shoes that she can wear for gym class at school, and her absolute favourites were a pair of pink Converses. She has never had lace-up shoes before, but was determined to learn that art if that’s what it took to get those Converses. I showed her once and she got it immediately. After a few days of practice (during which she wore the Converses all the time at home) she had it down pat.

Another manual skill is eating with chopsticks. She had a kid’s version before, in plastic, with a flexible join between the two chopsticks. But during one dinner when she couldn’t stop playing with them she bent them too far, and they broke. I haven’t had time to buy new ones so she made do with the adult version. And she actually manages to eat some food with them. We don’t use them often at home, but at restaurants she encounters chopsticks fairly regularly. Sushi is her favourite restaurant food (and now also dumplings, especially the kind with a thick layer of white gluey dough).

At school she has learned to sew blanket stitch and used it to make a bunny rabbit. In the evenings she has learned how to search on YouTube. During the Christmas break she learned to play Battleship.

At weekends we’ve been practising ice skating. Twice we’ve had the good luck to run into her friends at the ice rink, which made skating more fun for her but also provided a welcome challenge, since both those girls were more expert skaters than her. Last time we skated for over two hours: the kids chased each other, did a slalom track, tried swizzles, “the meatball” (crouching down into a ball) and so on.

Quite spontaneously and naturally she is learning multiplication and division. A few days ago when we were heating up meatballs in the microwave oven, she noticed that I heated them for 20 seconds on one side and 20 on the other, and commented that with four meatballs, that makes 10 second per meatball. Today we were talking about Bamse magazines (because I ordered a subscription and we’ve been waiting for the first issue to turn up in the mail) and how much I paid for the subscription (99 kr for 5 issues), and she calculated that the same 5 issues would cost 150 kr if we bought them in the store.

She is unlearning things, too – or rather, I am trying to make her unlearn things that she has learned the wrong way. She writes her Gs quite weirdly (without the top part, sort of like backwards a J with a curlier finish at the bottom) and always writes her Js the wrong way round. When she was just learning to write I didn’t bother to correct such details, judging it more important to learn the letters than to get their shapes exactly right. With all the other letters she has gradually ended up drawing the right shapes, but with those two she’s gotten firmly stuck in the wrong place, and getting unstuck is harder than I thought. I’m also trying to get her to draw her letters and numbers in the right direction: starting them at the top etc.

I am also making her learn falling asleep on her own, since I got tired of spending so much time every evening putting kids to bed. I can’t say that she’s happy about this change but she’s OK with it. At first did it completely on her own, but then her bedtime and Adrian’s drifted closer to each other, so now both go to bed at the same time, in the big bed. I tell them a story and stay there until Adrian is asleep, and then maybe talk quietly to Ingrid for a while before going downstairs. Ingrid stays there and falls asleep with Adrian as quiet but comforting company. Having him next to her makes a big difference for her.

This month we also had Christmas of course. Ingrid has a minor obsession with presents and opening them. The contents are not that important; she doesn’t even remember to say thank you; it is the opening and the surprise that matters.

The best present in my opinion was a LasseMaja book. At first she was a bit underwhelmed (too few pictures) but when she started reading she could hardly put it down. Since then we’ve borrowed two more from the library and she devoured those equally fast. Another successful gift was a picture-based English dictionary.

She still has her minor obsession with physical hurts. One day after school she told me to guess how many times she’d hurt herself that day. In my head I guessed four, but told her eleven to make it more fun. The correct answer was 17. The next day she must have counted every single bump and poke, because when I got there she was ready and presented me with a paper on which she had written, with very large digits, the number 129. Adrian bumped into her while she was getting dressed and she corrected it to 130.

Another time she asked me why I only cuddle and console Adrian when he hurts himself, but not her. I explained to her that I didn’t think she needed that any more, that she was big enough to console herself. She didn’t agree, and we agreed that I’d hug and console her as well. I guess I’ve been expecting too much maturity and independence from her.

Likewise she once wondered why I praised Adrian for [whatever it was] and not her. I explained that I praise him when he does something that is hard for him, but since those things are easy for her, I don’t mention them. She’s been giving this some thought, and the overall idea of treating different people differently not based on what they “deserve” but based on some more advanced criteria of “appropriateness”. Until now she has, I think, been thinking in terms of deserving, of being nice to nice people and not to bad people.

When we talk in bed late at night, she often brings up some situation when someone has been “not nice” towards her. She can take that quite hard, reacting sometimes with hurt and sometimes with righteous anger. We talk about what can make people act that way, and how she can think about those situations.

Small stuff:

  • She is trying to teach Adrian to play hide-and-seek.
  • She has moved from the adjustable Stokke chair to a normal adult kitchen chair, on her own initiative.
  • She has decided that she wants long her and no bangs, so we’re letting the bangs grow out. But she does not like hair clips so her hair hangs in front of her eyes almost all the time.
  • She has discovered that she likes peanut butter on toast.
  • Favourite iPad game: Lost Circus, a hidden objects game.

Reading, reading, reading…

I read a book! I don’t get much time to read nowadays but recently I finished The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Narrated in first person, the book tells the story of Balram Halwai. Balram is the son of an impoverished rickshaw driver in backward rural India, which he calls “the Darkness”. He starts out as a manual labourer, then learns to drive a car and gets employed as a driver for one of the landlords. When a son in the rich family moves to Delhi, the driver goes with him.

Balram’s village is owned and controlled by landlords whose power is like that of feudal lords of old, including power over life and death. In Delhi the gulf between the master and the servant remains yawningly deep: the car that he can drive but isn’t allowed to touch otherwise; the malls he as a servant is not even allowed to enter; the furniture he is not allowed to sit on. The masters talk about him as if he wasn’t there, read his letters, and openly comment on his quaint habits.

As long as his boss treats him well and honorably, Balrams accepts this as the natural order of things. Servility is a habit so deeply ingrained that he serves instinctively. But when the boss almost frames Balram for a crime that the boss committed (and only drops the plan when the crime gets hushed up by other means), he suddenly seems to awaken to this reality, to realize that he is not his own man and never will be, even though he earns good money. He is chattel.

As he loses his respect for the master, he decides to break free and to become a master. In an opportune moment he kills his master, steals a lot of money, and sets up a new life for himself.

The book is angry and bleak, hopeless through and through. There is neither love nor empathy in this world – homo homini lupus est. There is no idealism and no desire to change the world or to break the master/slave pattern, just the desire to be on top rather than at the bottom.

It is a witty, fast-paced, sharp book. But it is also shallow in both idea and execution. There is nothing particularly original or thought-provoking here. The characters are superficial, even cartoonish at times. Balram himself seems disconnected from everything around him, and rarely seems to have any normal emotional reactions except when threatened with years in prison. His comments are inconsistent, sometimes so jaded and cynically critical, sometimes so naïve.

Good enough but forgettable, nothing special or prize-worthy.

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Adlibris.

Most of the snow we got during December melted away over the year end. It turned out that the voles who live in our garden had created a tunnel under the snow from the lilac hedge towards the bird feeder. It must have been the feeder they were aiming for, because there is nothing at all of interest otherwise in that part of the garden.

I took a look at the stats for this blog for 2012, and in particular at the search keywords that bring people here. It made for some interesting reading, and fair amount of googling on my part to double-check the results. Can people really have found their way here by googling for “brown slimy mushrooms”? Yes, indeed, my photo is the #6 result.

Some searches are seasonal. In November I got a number of visits from people interested in chestnut animals (my photo of Ingrid and Eric making chestnut critters is on page 1 in Google image search) and both November and December brought people looking for pictures of felt advent calendars.

My photos rank highly for several product searches, where I would have expected more commercial sites to dominate. But their images probably get names consisting of long random strings of numbers and letters, rather than descriptive, search engine friendly ones like mine. I am, apparently, an authoritative source for images of “ikea shopping trolley”, “bugaboo the chameleon” and “stokke xplory” and “aerial straps varekai”.

The people who come here after searching for “space between cherry tree saplings” will be sorely disappointed when they find out that I do not plant cherry tree seedlings, but pull them out by the hundreds.

Several of my photos rank highly in image searches for unexciting search terms such as “standing on toes building a tower”, “jumping on stones” and “sharpening pencil for children”. Most interestingly, I have made Adrian the poster child for “unsafe kitchen with a child in”, “unsafe kitchen pictures”, “unsafe pictures children”, “unsafe kitchen” and a number of other variations on that theme.

I imagine some teacher somewhere searching for a decent summer-y photo of kids doing a wholesome summer-y activity such as jumping on stones. Or maybe a social worker preparing teaching material (for new parents, perhaps) about how to baby-proof your kitchen, and then using my photo of Adrian as a scary example of how not to do it. I wonder how many newsletters or crappy PowerPoint presentations there are out there, featuring Ingrid jumping on stones or Adrian playing with wooden kitchen utensils.