Back in August, or maybe it was September, we had family photos made in Drottningholm. I was going to share a few but totally forgot. Now Henrik, the photographer, has published the photos on his blog, which brought back some warm summery memories!

The kids were pretty wild and keyed up, especially Ingrid who was running around giggling much of the time. This seems to be her default way of coping with a situation where she is uncertain. So we got lots of photos of kids running and not so many with the whole family together. But they were beautiful photos nevertheless.

And the kids had fun, which is not unimportant: it means that they will be happy to do it all over again if and when we decide to do that. They both talked about the session for weeks, and Henrik’s “snigelfis” (to get smiley faces out of the kids, instead of saying “cheese”) made an especially strong impression.

Here’s a selection of the photos. There’s lots more at Henrik’s blog.

From an administrational point of view it’s winter here, which means that the skating rinks are open. Meteorologically there are no signs of winter; we have constant above-zero temperatures. This is not a bad combination: we can go skating without freezing our noses off!

Ingrid loves skating even more this year than the last. She can happily stay at the rink for an hour and a half. Probably longer, especially if there are other kids to keep her company; when we go home it’s always because I’ve had enough, not because she is tired of it.

We skate at Spånga sports field, Spånga IP. It has both an indoors ice rink and an outdoors one. We tried the indoors rink once but it was hockey-oriented – noisy and dominated by fast skaters and fast pucks – so we didn’t like it at all.

The outdoors rink on the other hand is great! It’s a bandy rink, which means it’s really big. It is refrigerated, so it’s usable in weather that doesn’t allow natural ice to form (like right now). And because it is used for major league games, it’s well maintained and resurfaced every few days at least.

The downside is that the rink is not always open for the general public, but the schedule seems to allow at least a couple of hours of general access every day.

The pretty version:

The documentary version:

The fingernails short; the cuticles slightly frayed.

My little fingers are bent inwards. I sometimes wonder if other people’s little fingers are like that.

I have a scar on the side of my right thumb, right next to the fingernail, after an abscess I had as a teenager. Basically a little chunk of my thumb is missing there. I have three more abscess scars, all of them barely visible – this one just happened to be in a place that didn’t heal that easily.

I also have a V-shaped scar on my left wrist, after a ganglion cyst. You can just about see it in this photo; it looks like a slight dimple.

Fool’s Errand, The Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate make up The Tawny Man Trilogy, a sequel to The Farseer Trilogy. I thought I would surely have posted a review of the Farseer trilogy when I read it – it made such a strong impression on me – but that was in 1999/2000, way before I began blogging, so of course I couldn’t have.

I will try to stick to talking about the Tawny Man trilogy here, but if after reading this you decide to read it, please do start with the Farseer trilogy. You will get a lot more out of them this way.

These books are all about the characters and the relationships between them. There is a well-crafted world for these characters to inhabit, and a plot for them to follow, but those are really only there to support the cast. A quest to either revive or kill a dormant dragon? Fine, whatever, let’s go and find out – but please let me know what happens to the Fool!

To give you a quick introduction, the main characters are Fitz, the bastard son of a prince, who is raised by the prince’s stablemaster and trained as an assassin; and the Fool, who is simply the king’s fool. The lives of these two twine around each other, and it is this criss-crossing of their paths that makes up the series’ backbone.

A royal bastard, raised in a castle as a tool for the royal family – Fitz is always in the thick of things. He’s an unwilling hero who’d much rather have a quiet life and raise a family, but again and again he gets pushed into intrigue and danger – by fate, by a sense of duty, by friendship and love. “Adventure” is the wrong word for it when it is undertaken so reluctantly, and often fraught with so much tragedy, pain, hard work and frustration.

The Fool is the mysterious other. He is maybe not entirely human. Nobody knows where he came from, and there is some uncertainty about his gender. He talks in riddles and makes cryptic but precise prophecies that come true. He is entirely white.

But there are many other characters around these two, all fully developed and imagined in great detail. Many of them stick around throughout all six books. There are kings and queens, assassins and magicians, minstrels and warriors, even animals. What really struck me about Hobb’s writing is how real she can make those characters seem. I feel like I really know these people, almost as if they were my friends. In fact, because we see inside Fitz’s head (the books are written in first person), I can actually know him better than my real life friends, whose heads I cannot look inside, whose thoughts and emotions I can only guess at.

The joy of reading these books lies in slowly getting to know these characters – falling in love with some, coming to despise others – and experiencing the ups and downs of their lives with them. This being epic fantasy, their ups soar beyond mountaintops and their downs plumb the depths of despair. They fly with dragons, they are immersed in the joy of magic, they fall in love. They are betrayed, tortured to death, abandoned; lovers are separated, kingdoms threatened, friends die.

But the mundane is also there, making the characters human. They are bored, uncertain, they quarrel, they make mistakes.

Throughout it all, a few themes recur. Sacrifice is one. What is more important: the fate of the kingdom (and possibly humanity) or the life of a friend? What would you be willing to die for? And what would you be willing to give your life for?

Love is another. Where does the line go between love and friendship? What can it mean to love another?

And finally, the importance of everything. Life is the sum of all our experiences and choices, good and bad. You would not be you if you had not lived through the difficult, painful parts. We are making choices all the time, and all our choices matter.

“Not all men are destined for greatness,” I reminded him. “Are you sure, Fitz? Are you sure? What good is a life lived as if it made no difference at all to the great life of the world? A sadder thing I cannot imagine. Why should not a mother say to herself, if I raise this child aright, if I love and care for her, she shall live a life that brings joy to those about her, and thus I have changed the world? Why should not the farmer that plants a seed say to his neighbor, this seed I plant today will feed someone, and that is how I changed the world today?”

Without being overtly emotional in tone, these books are nevertheless more moving, more full of feeling than any others I can recall right now. (Some of Mercedes Lackey’s books are in the same league but don’t come close.)

The books were beyond absorbing, compulsive in the true sense of the word. I stayed up reading well past midnight not once but many times. I could not put down the book because even if I did, all I could think of was the book. I could not sleep because all I could think of was the book.

Hobb is too skilled to use simple cliffhangers. But still somehow each chapter ends at a point of such high tension that surely, I thought, the next chapter will have to resolve things, and then I can put it down.

And then comes the the crescendoing finale. After all this emotion, one hopes for an ending that is, well, perhaps not happy, but that somehow gives everyone what they deserve. This one doesn’t. It is tragic and heartbreaking. It is the antithesis of cathartic. I felt deceived, betrayed. I literally felt sick and my brain didn’t function properly for two days.

I sought the help of the Internet (you will find innumerable discussions of the ending there!) and it helped me make sense of the ending, to understand why this was in character for both Fitz and the Fool. That helped me accept it but it was still a crushing experience.

Just like with my photography courses, I am glad I did it, but I am also glad it’s over, because it took a lot out of me. And yet I will absolutely do it all over again.

You may also want to read this review, which is both well-written and entertaining, and covers aspects of the trilogy that I haven’t gone into. But then again, you might as well just skip it and read the books.

While I was shopping for Christmas gifts for the family, I bought one for myself too: a macro lens. Today I took a few moments to try it out. Holy cow this lens is SHARP.

Speaking of shopping: there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. Five hours of shopping and I was all done. Not the most enjoyable shopping experience (though those are rare in any case) but a very efficient one.

Yesterday we decorated our tree.

I know there are fashions and trends in this as in everything, colour themes and such. We don’t do it the fashionable way. I buy pretty things of any kind, so what we have is an eclectic unfashionable mixture of everything, high and low.

There are hand-blown hand-painted glass baubles, and an enamelled egg from China, and a golden star with beads and sequins.

But there are also paper hearts that Ingrid and I have crafted, and felted ornaments (both store-bought and home-made), and things that simply tinkle nicely.

From my own childhood I have strong memories of an ornament in the shape of a little snowy house. There was another figure as well, maybe a Santa Claus? So I got a snow man and a Santa Claus for our tree as well.

Anything goes, as long as it makes us happy as we look at it.

Yesterday I handed in my last assignment for the photography workshop I’ve been taking. Done!

The previous workshop was about all the aspects of exposure. This one was about composition.

Week 1 was about cropping (choosing between vertical, horizontal and square crops) and positioning the subject within the frame: centered vs the “rule of thirds” etc.

Week 2 focused on framing the subject vs. filling the frame with the subject. I already posted a few examples – the the advent stars. (In fact, most of the photos I’ve posted in the last four weeks have been taken with the workshop assignments in mind.)

Week 3 was about shapes, lines and patterns. I found this incredibly hard. I can to some extent see them in finished photos, but it was very difficult to see them in camera while taking the photo, and to see them in advance in my head. This is something that I will definitely need to practice a lot more.

The photo of Adrian’s coffee pot was one of my practise photos for this week (ticking the boxes for diagonals, repetition and reflection). Here are two more, focusing on diagonals and triangles.

Finally week 4 was about perspective: camera angle, distance to the subject etc. Here is the same candle photographed at “eye level”, from below and from above.

These have been four very intense weeks. I practised a lot, got a lot of feedback, and learned a lot as a result. But I also found it quite stressful – it was hard for me to find the time to take a set of decent photos with a given theme, preferably daily. So while I’m pleased that I took this workshop, I’m also grateful that it is over. Now I can start working through the course materials again at my own pace.

A common piece of advice for novice photographers is to practice technical skills with inanimate subjects, even if what they really want to be better at is portraits, photos of their kids, etc. It makes sense in the abstract, but it didn’t work out too well for me. Yes, of course it’s easier to take a photo of a bowl of fruit or a stack of books or a candle. They follow instructions and don’t move around. But if the subject isn’t meaningful to me, it’s hard for me approach it with any real interest and energy. The art and craft of photography itself isn’t sufficiently important to me.

Lots of stuff going on in Adrian’s head, as usual.

He’s in a phase of potty talk right now. Lots of talking and joking about pee and poo and farting. Du är en bajskorv! “You’re a poop turd!” Bajspappa! Bajsgröt! Kiss-soppa! Bara de som är bajskorvar får komma på mitt kalas! – “Only those who are poop turds can come to my party!” All that with lots of giggling and squealing with laughter.

He’s already thinking of his next birthday party and whom he will invite. This year’s party must have made a deep impression. Since the birthday party he’s also been talking about going home to a friend to play with them, or inviting them here. We’ve had two play dates already and he’s often asking for more. Hopefully we’ll have time for some play dates during the holidays.

Speaking of poop humour, he is also quite interested in who has a willy and who doesn’t. At first he was surprised that I didn’t have one, but now he understands that boys and daddies have willies while girls and mums don’t. But mums have boobs, and girls grow up to be mums and then they get boobs.

It’s interesting to hear him talk about categories of people: boys/girls, moms/dads, children/adults. Babies, for example, are separate from children. At preschool he and his friends play “mommy daddy child and baby”. “Adults”, vuxnar, doesn’t include me: “adults” means “grown-ups except mommy and daddy and grandma”, i.e. “other people”. Also he doesn’t (didn’t?) see himself as a child, because “he is Adrian”. And Ingrid is not a child, Ingrid is a sister.

He’s been asking a lot of “why” recently. Sometimes it’s just a generic expression of frustration, sometimes simply a habit, but other times he seems to really want to know. “What do you think” is often a good response in the first two cases. But some questions are harder. “Why is it Christmas? Why is there a tree here? Why is it raining? Why am I called Adrian?”

He makes up stories about random stuff and then tells them to us as if they were the truth. He can tell a story about the day when we were in the forest picking strawberries and blueberries and raspberries, and there was also a horse, and also grandma was there, and then we went swimming. None of which has happened. But he tells it with such fervour, such engagement, that it becomes the truth for him.

Several times he’s told me that he will get a dog soon. “A little dog, a cute dog.” I think he imagines something roughly the size of a big rat, that would fit in his lap.

He knows most letters now and only occasionally asks about some rarer ones. For most of them he can come up with words as well. He especially likes to link letters to people: A is for Adrian of course, E is for Eric and Ebbe and Elin, I is for Ingrid, etc.

He has also learned some numbers. It’s confusing when numbers look so similar to letters! We only started talking about numbers when he pointed at a 4 and said it was an A, and a 1 was an I. I explained that those were numbers, and he seems to have grasped that. With all the Advent calendars the topic comes up quite regularly. Counting is hit and miss. Up to three or maybe four is no problem; then he gets impatient. “One, two, three, four, sixseveneightnine!”

He is often surprisingly reasonable and can be persuaded to do things that he initially doesn’t want to. Such as picking up after himself (together with me or Ingrid), or eating cooked food. With food and especially vegetables, his first reaction is always to refuse categorically, to push the bowl away, to shout NO. Coaxing and cajoling does not work, but simple quiet insistence often does. And when I make dessert contingent on at least taking one bite of the food I cooked, he does it, and actually seems to sort of like it (or at least not mind).

He is learning to butter his own sandwiches. When he eats a piece of bread he often wants to leave the crust and only eat the soft bits.

Things Adrian likes:

  • Trains. Both real ones and toy ones. Playing that we are a train, me walking behind him, holding on to his shoulders, and we both go “choo choo choo” and then he goes “tooot!”
  • Flashlights.
  • Small things. His favourite things from the Advent calendar have been small doodads, about the size of half his fist: a little dinosaur, a smurf, a Littlest Pet Shop figure (“a petshops”). He likes to just hold them, carries them around with him, takes them to bed with him, pretends they’re other things. The other day the dinosaur was a camera.
  • Joining in when we play board games. He doesn’t understand the game, and spends more half the time climbing around and doing other stuff. But he very much wants to be part of the game, to take his turn, to throw the dice and move his game piece. “Is it my turn now?”
  • Tree branches and sticks. (Flashback…) These are especially fun while we’re out and about, in the buggy or on the bike. He waves them around and pokes at things with them and hits traffic sign posts so they go ding! and drags them in the dust. He refuses to throw them away and leaves them on the porch but then forgets about them and doesn’t notice or miss them when they disappear.
  • Favourite movies: Despicable Me 2, the Disney Silly Symphony titled Funny little bunnies. Various renditions of The wheels on the bus on YouTube, and YouTube clips where some random Aussie guy opens Kinder Surprise eggs.

Things Adrian does not like:

  • Rain. It hits his face and he hates the feeling. Wind and snow are almost as bad.
  • Waking up in the morning. He has difficulty falling asleep in the evening and then he’s tired in the morning. I think we will try to do away with the daily naps soon.

A month of growing up and maturing.

Ingrid has been more responsible, self-managing and independent than I’ve seen her before. In the mornings, she used to need prompting and reminding for every step, and otherwise just absentmindedly dawdled or, more likely, started to read something. Now she remembers what she’s supposed to do and actually remembers to do it as well. Get dressed, have breakfast, brush her hair, brush her teeth, pack her bag. Now she is more likely than me to remember her gym bag – I don’t even pay any attention except on the days when she is exceptionally tired in the morning.

She used to want me to brush her hair and teeth, but now does it herself. She can’t get all the tangles out, so I do her hair over again every few days.

She’s tried walking to school on her own, as well as coming home on her own in the afternoon. It worked out well but was frustrating for Ingrid. The big deal for her was to be in charge. But the teachers at school intruded and sent her home when they thought the time was appropriate, instead of letting her decide. Tomorrow, when Ingrid will walk home on her own again, she will have a letter from me where I make it as clear as possible to whoever needs to know that she can go when she wants.

But she does the same thing herself: she intrudes on discussions and decisions that are simply none of her business. When I ask Adrian something, she answers for him. She tries to decide for Adrian what book I should read for him, or what sweet he should choose after dinner.

Some days she’s helpful and co-operative, helps me prepare dinner, etc. Other days she’s touchy, grumpy, whiny. On those days, when I ask her to do something, she can flare up in tears or anger, måste du tjata på mig hela tiden, du bara skyller på mig hela tiden (although based on her intonation I suspect she means skäller and not skyller). She goes off into her room to sulk, or walks well behind me if we’re out.

When she’s upset, she doesn’t want others to get involved. If something happens when we’re about to go home to bring her to or near tears, often one of her friends will notice, stop by and ask why Ingrid is crying. She always refuses to talk to them and absolutely doesn’t want me to explain either, so I say something generic that satisfies the friend and yet doesn’t reveal anything.

She herself is still struggling a bit with the whole empathy thing. She notices when others are physically hurt, and if she accidentally hurts someone in the middle of playing, she always apologizes, and it comes from her heart. But that understanding doesn’t reach beyond the physical. She is often intentionally slightly cruel towards Adrian: taunts him, grabs the toy that she sees him reaching for.

She is restless and impatient. She is physically unable to sit still unless she has something to concentrate on, such as a movie or a book. After dinner when she’s waiting for us to finish (so we can all have dessert) she fidgets, climbs, see-saws on the chair, fiddles with her cutlery, makes noise with her plate… anything to not be still. In fact even while she’s reading, she’s constantly shifting around, moving her legs, poking at stuff with her feet.

Reading, with restless legs

Possibly related is her habit of speaking as soon as she has something to say. That thought just has to get out, right now! She interrupts in the middle of a word while Eric and I are talking, or while I’m reading for her, or singing for Adrian. She doesn’t even seem to notice it, even though it annoys the heck out of us and we always tell her so.

With only a week left until Christmas eve, her thoughts are full of Christmas. She isn’t as obsessed as she was with her birthday, but she talks about it almost every day. She and Adrian share the felt Advent calendar I made a few years ago. There’s also an advent calendar to follow on TV and another one on the radio, but those don’t seem to be very important to her – often she skips them and then catches up a few days later.

Ingrid has learned to play “Nu tändas tusen juleljus” on the piano. I took her through it a few times and that was all it took. After that she practiced on her own, and when she forgot some note, she figured it out by trial and error. She’s not the most musical of kids, and her whistling and singing are tuneless even to my tone-deaf ears. (My own is probably equally bad but I don’t hear it myself.) But she hears enough to notice when she hits a wrong note.

She has also learned both finger knitting and knitting. She was very enthusiastic about both at first but hasn’t done recently.

She got a mild concussion one day at school and stayed at home the day after. With iPad games and movies off-limits, she was quite bored, until she came up with the idea of making Christmas cards for her friends. Her favourite crafts projects are often of this kind: decorating rather than making from scratch, and usually paper-based. She also enjoys origami and scrapbooking.

We had pancakes for dinner. To feed the 4 of us, I make the batter from 4 large eggs, 4 decilitres of flour, and just short of a litre of oat milk. Often I also throw in a few grated carrots as well.

I have three frying pans working in parallel and it still takes forever to fry them all. I wonder how families with teenagers manage to even fit their dinners onto the stove.

Adrian seems to think that I should learn to drink coffee: while I was making dinner he “made coffee” for me.