Forest, light, twigs

Late Saturday afternoon we all walked down to our little beach. Antonia needed some coaxing, but once we got there she was in her element. Straight away she sourced herself a long stick to go ‘fishing’ with, and sat poking the water for a long time, in between finding stones to throw in, and stones for me too. This was a welcome change from every other time we’ve been there, when I have been responsible for sourcing the stones. She even let me have a turn of her fishing rod. Felix, who had raced ahead, and sat pensively on a bench looking out over the water by the time we arrived,  was disappointed that all the ice had melted. But he quickly decided that climbing up all the rocks would be worthwhile anyway, and scrambled around the place on his own for a while before convincing Michael to join the rock scaling adventure. We watched the yellow light on the water as the sun dipped behind the hills on the other side of the fjord.

Today we had a picnic in the little patch of forest right next to our house. Michael strung up two hammocks he had brought back from America, and lit a little twig stove to toast marshmallows. It was just. so. good. Like camping, or being on holiday, but only one minute from our garden. Antonia got a little stroppy around nap time (I don’t bother trying to get her down anymore, but sometimes you can see she needs it), but she redeemed herself later, finding a ‘salad’ for me of twigs and leaves. She insisted on going out again just before bed – she dresses herself in her snowsuit, boots and hat, and heads out the door. She instructed me on when to walk and when to follow, where to put the pinecones she found for me, and then sat down with a stick on her lap, pretended it was some kind of musical instrument, and sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I had to do it too.

It’s light till half past six now. It feels like a different world.

Apart from this I cleaned and did laundry, which felt overwhelming and annoying at the beginning, but now I feel so much better. Felix helped by spontaneously tidying up the family room so I could vacuum. The house was in chaos from Michael being away for eight days, back for two, then away again for two (he got back on Friday night), and we were both exhausted and near the end of our tether. But it is better now. It was so good to be outside in the forest all together. There is some kind of grace in this place. It is good to be here.

Adventures

We had pretty much the perfect evening. After dinner on our deck (mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, meatballs for the kids and yesterday’s pasta sauce – supplies are running low) Michael suggested we put the picnic rug down on the lawn and soak up the sun. So we did. And Felix ran and jumped off our big rock – watch me! Look at my new trick! And Antonia tried the same – watch me! My new trick! She couldn’t manage to jump off the rock (thankfully) but climbed up and slid down on her bum. And then we all ran races back and forth and the kids were stralende (glowing, radiant – not sure if this is the correct way to use it but for some reason this word seems perfect). Ah so so nice.

And tomorrow I’m off to Stockholm with my baby girl, for a conference, along with one of my favourite colleagues, and I’m going to meet my Mum there! Michael’s excited about a boy’s week at home (has never happened before). My conference paper has had great difficulty attracting my attention over the past couple of weeks (and still does), but it’s not till Friday, so all will be well. Happy. Happy. Happy. 11 pm and the sky is still pink. But yeah, better finish packing my bag.

Where was I…

Sick, that’s right. A fever for sixteen days in a row. I recovered just in time for our week in Germany over Easter. Insert here a photo I wish I took: the car all packed, Felix and Antonia perched cheerfully in the front seats, looking for all the world like they were going to drive us to the ferry… A few days into our trip Felix came down with another nasty cold, resulting in very high fevers for a week and a half, and pretty much needing to sleep all the time. Antonia got it just in time for our return journey. She often vomits when she has a fever. Yep. Anyway… We were very relieved to arrive home on Easter Monday. We managed a few loads of washing, a lot of unpacking, and once the kids were asleep upstairs I collapsed on the sofa thinking – why do I feel so shivery… Cue another week of fever for me, with both kids also home sick. Yep. I’m finally feeling a little more human now and very much hoping that’s the end of fevers for a while. March was a write off.

Anyway, in the midst of all that, we BOUGHT A HOUSE! It’s beautiful. There’s lots of room for visitors, a lot of room for the kids to run outside, and it has a view of a fjord! We can’t quite believe it. We’ve been talking about looking for a bigger house for a while, but Michael kept saying we weren’t ready. A couple of weeks ago I started dragging the kids around to a few open inspections, just to get a feel for things. We’re not ready, said Michael. But then he looked on the website. What about this one, he said. It’s gorgeous, I said. We looked at it on the Friday before we left for Germany, and thought about it the entire time we were away. Our offer was accepted the day after we returned. I had to get my head around it a little because it’s a bit out of town (only a ten minute drive, but the house we’re in now is walking distance to town and to schools), and it will mean Felix will go to a different school to the one he would have started at if we’d stayed here. But in the end I thought why not. Let’s try it. So. There we are.

We take it over at the end of May. We’ve decided to change the kids to a different kindergarten, because their current one is out of town in the opposite direction to the house. This made me so sad. I feel awful about moving Felix away from his friends given that he only has one year left before school starts. But the new kindergarten is brand new and looks really nice, and he’ll get the chance to make new friends that he might be going to school with, so we think it will work out fine, and will simplify our lives considerably.

We’re excited. We went for a drive and an explore around our new neighbourhood today, and had a picnic by the fjord. We’re hoping that living out in the countryside will be the inspiration we need to start making more of all the fantastic hiking and exploring opportunities around here. It will be a busy couple of months as I have two conferences coming up in May and June, and Michael has a US trip at the end of April and a big conference for work the week after my conference in May, but we will make it. My Mum’s coming over in June and she won’t have to camp in the lounge room as we will have a whole spare room for her!

I haven’t been taking a lot of photos, but there are a couple lurking on the camera that I may find soon, but right now I just wanted to make sure I wrote something. I’ve missed you guys, all three of you. The kids have been adorable as always and I’ll try to write more about them soon. Felix has his first ever swimming lesson tomorrow evening, so we’ll see how that goes. But now, bedtime.

27/52

readyornot

sandy

Felix: playing hide and seek with his big girl cousins at the Edinburgh castle playground. So small. So determined.

Antonia: getting covered in muddy sand at Portobello beach.

And that’s it. Five days in Edinburgh staying with my cousin and his family, and we’re back in Norway. My kids had the time of their lives hanging out with their second cousins, but that deserves a post of its own. The trip – two and a half weeks in the UK sole parenting the two of them – was excellent in every way. Now for a precious month of summer at home as a family of four before beginning work in August. Bring it on.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

York, London, Children, History, Dreams

travel12 Twelve years ago, nearly to the day, I arrived in London with a huge backpack and a brick of a laptop, brimming with excitement, anticipation, freedom, and a few nerves too. I stayed in a grotty hostel in Earl’s court. I went to British library and marvelled at the medieval manuscripts and hand written poems. I visited Southwark cathedral, because a writer I know told me she loves it. I went to Greenwich with a girl from the Maldives who I met in the hostel. I went to the British Museum and looked at the loot from Sutton Hoo. I wandered around peering at maps and looking anxiously for tube stations. Soon, I would travel around a bit before starting a masters in York. What adventures.

travel9 Last week I arrived in London with Felix and Antonia as my companions. Michael was working in the US for two weeks and I didn’t fancy staying at home alone for that time. I had been wanting to come back to the UK for years, and thought I’d better do it now before my maternity leave is over. We stayed in a clean and shiny hostel near Hyde Park, opposite the natural history museum. Once again I was excited and a little apprehensive. It felt so different. London was exciting the first time but also lonely and somewhat aimless – with all that time on your hands, how do you best spend it? Now I had two small beings to look after and there was no time for loneliness or aimlessness. I felt myself ferrying them around in a little bubble of care. We went to playgrounds and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, and I loved it. We took a boat ride with my brother to Greenwich. It was nice to go to parks with a purpose – the promised playground at the end of the walk a mecca for all. I felt I belonged.

london11 travel2 travel3 And early this week I arrived in York. Walking around the town centre on my first day, my heart kept clenching in recognition. These were the streets I walked and rode my bike, the streets in which I dreamed and longed and loved. I kept saying to Felix ‘this is amazing, I feel so strange’. ‘Why Mummy’, he asked, and I only said I lived here once, long ago, with Daddy. Arriving in York twelve years ago was a dream come true – after years of poorly paid care-work, I finally had time to read and think and study again, and forge wonderful friendships, and breathe the fairytale air of the north. That sounds romanticised, and it was, but well, that’s me. In York I did my masters and began my PhD, in York I fell in love. Felix and Antonia would not exist had Michael and I not met here.

minster2 So it felt strange and lovely to be back, in this city which is at once pretty and mysterious, cosy and ancient, cradling and awe inspiring. And it felt odd, to begin with, to have the little ones at my side, to not be able to slip into uninterrupted reveries or read for hours in coffee shops. And I missed Michael. But I soon got used to showing the little ones around, and how lovely it was to see Felix entranced by the stained glass window interactive displays in the minster. ‘They cook glass like dinner’, he told me, ‘did they cook the glass in our house too?’ There is a model train shop near our apartment which I must have walked past hundreds of times but never noticed until now – we have to stop every time to watch the train go through the tunnel.

minster4 minster7 I have visited old friends and old places, I have walked old paths. It feels good to be here. I’m staying in an excellent little apartment just outside the city walls, that just happens to be at a midpoint between the two houses I used to live in. It’s just behind a huge painted sign that is visible from the city walls that says ‘bile beans are good for you’ – impossible not to notice.

minster12 It feels right to be tucked away just here, in a place I rode past and walked past and spotted from the walls – here, now, with two small beings. Here, in a place awash with history, I feel I can almost touch my former lives, my former selves. I can wave, but feel no need to go back. I can wave, also, at the self who may visit here in ten years, in twenty, but I am here now, this moment, and it is good.

minster13

Nine Months

luxemburg-3

You have learnt to wave and say bye bye. This sounds like a simple thing. It is not, it is not. On Sunday night, I ducked inside from Richard and Polina’s dinner table to fetch a glass of water. When I came back, Polina and her mother told me – ‘she said goodbye when you left’. ‘What?’ I said, astounded. Shortly after that, I picked you up to take you upstairs to bed. I held you on my hip and you looked at everyone, grinning broadly. ‘Bye bye’, they all said. And you waved. You lifted one of your arms, and you waved at them. ‘Ba – bye’, you said hesitantly. And grinned some more.

luxemburg-4

You waved at your Oma and Opa today, too, when we left. I gave you plenty of time. You smiled and smiled. And then lifted one arm and waved, and my heart flipped over.

You are so very pleased and proud to be learning this social convention. It feels like entering a whole new world. You have to think about it, hard, and you seem a little amazed yourself.

10861118_10153046629679160_3409724642811273421_o

You love to giggle and bounce – I wake every morning to the round and cheerful face of a gambolling baby who dive-bombs my face to plant huge kisses, and then tries to climb on top of me. If you wake in the night and there is not a nipple in your mouth within seconds you give a cry of such desolation – you would think we had abandoned you in a mouldering cave. But you are easily soothed. You are squidgy and soft and never stop exploring. As your Oma says, you have new curls every day. I sing to you: ‘I love you ba-aby, and if it’s quite alright I need you ba-aby’. Felix consoles you in the car if you every get upset: ‘Anti-Banti it’s not so bad.’ Your father calls you Anti-Banti and Bubble Delicious. Dear, dear baby. We love you so.

11148525_10153046629759160_841520788112736770_o

The secret path (20/52)

walk Okay it’s not really a secret path, it was only a secret from me, not being a particularly avid map reader. I am in fact a terrible map reader, to the great and recurring frustration of a certain nearest and dearest. But Michael got a book of family friendly walks for his birthday, and I am determined to use it. The first one starts a mere five minute walk from our door, and follows a hidden valley down into town, so we can end up in our favourite cafe. I had never noticed noticed the beginning of the footpath sneaking past a garden, although I have walked past it so many times. walk2 After initially being nervous that it would ‘take too long’, Felix thought ‘oh, come one’ (his words) and decided to join the adventure. We first walked it yesterday and got drenched by a sudden downpour half way down (part of the adventure, I assured Felix). We spotted the waterfall but couldn’t walk past it, as the path there was steep, narrow and muddy, and I had the stroller with me. Luckily there was a way out back to the main road at that point. Today we walked it again, taking Antonia in the ergo carrier instead. walk5 Felix was impressed the stream criss-crossed the path via a series of pipes. walk6 I couldn’t believe this was all just here, so close to the road we drive up and down daily. It felt a little bit like I’d stumbled through a fairy door to a magical forest. Which is romanticising things considerably, but, well, that’s me. walk3walk9 We nearly didn’t take the steep muddy path after all (I had visions of one or other of us tumbling down the slope, and how was I to rescue Felix with Antonia strapped to my chest), but after Felix’s howl of disappointment I thought why not give it a go. It wasn’t as bad as it looked and the scary bit didn’t last for long. We were very proud of ourselves to come out the other side. I can’t wait to explore some more! walk4

19/52

19.52.felix

19.52antonia2

Felix: off for an adventure, umbrella in hand, prancing along the wall of a ruined Norwegian farm house on our way to find some bronze age stone carvings. We were cooped up at home on Monday and Tuesday as Felix was sick, so by Wednesday we were ready to explore.

Antonia: Nine months old yesterday, gleefully showing off her newest skill, covered in strawberry stains from breakfast. Everyone tells me she’ll be walking soon. I tell her there’s no rush!

Linking with Jodi of a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

stones

stones3

stones5

stones6

stones7

Six weeks with my Mum

Fabian-5

Mum left yesterday. It is always sad to say goodbye. Felix says, paraphrasing one of his favourite books: ‘we are sad when the dawn comes and we have to part. But we can meet again.’ The book, which is about the friendship of a duck and a mushroom creature who lives deep within the earth, goes on to point out that even when we are far apart, sometimes just thinking of each other makes us happy. Thinking about my Mum makes me happy.

We had the most gorgeous six and a bit weeks together. Two weeks before Antonia was born of long evening walks, playing with Felix, visiting Stromstad and Fredriskstad, and frequenting of coffee shops. And then an whole month following Antonia’s birth, involving baby cuddles, more playing with Felix, picnics in the forest and by lakes, adventures at the fortress, clothes shopping for us and the children (how much fun it is to buy baby girl clothes!), returning to Stromstad and Fredrikstad with our babe, and many, many more coffee shops. Mum also helped with cooking. washing, waking up early with Felix nearly every day, and completely sorted out some very messy patches of our garden, taking away a dead bush, planting trees, shrubs, and spreading pine bark.

Fabian-6

A second baby does not enable the same quiet cocooning that I experienced with my first. Everyone told me a second baby is easier, and this is true and not true – yes I already knew how to look after a newborn, but looking after a newborn AND and an exhuberant, curious three year old at the same time is a new adventure. Adding to the excitement, Felix had not one but four medical emergencies during Antonia’s first month home! Two asthma incidents requiring ventolin inhalations at the emergency department in the middle of the night, one tick bite behind his ear which got infected and neede two weeks of strong antibiotics, and to top it all off, a pea getting stuck up his nose. The whole family (apart from Antonia and me, thankfully) also had terrible colds for the first two weeks of Antonia’s life, so energy levels suffered. The lowest point was two days after we returned from my hospital, just as my milk was coming in. I was exhausted, in pain (those who told me breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt a second time were wrong indeed), Mum and Michael were sick and Felix was coughing up a storm and getting more and more distressed. I sat on the toilet sobbing, while Michael took care of Felix. Mum asked if I was ok. ‘No!’ I said. ‘Everyone’s sick. I’m going to get sick, and Antonia’s going to get sick, and I’m going to get mastitis.’ ‘It will be ok,’ said Mum, ‘just remember it’s your hormones talking.’ I had a shower, and felt better. Antonia and I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get mastitis, and the cold going around was just a cold (despite Felix’s asthma), not some lethal virus which could hurt my baby.

Two nights before Mum’s departure Felix’s asthma saga reoccured (he gets it every time he has a cold). Michael was away for the week. We had two trips to the emergency department over night (first Mum, then me), then at 9 in the morning Felix was still in terrible form so I took him to his normal doctor who sent us on to the hospital. Luckily he stabilized on the way over, but we still spent the day there, having tests done and getting another inhalation for him. I was so, so pleased Mum was with me. As Felix sat in his bath after we got home that evening, he said – ‘but we didn’t have an adventure!’ ‘Oh’, said Mum and I, ‘I think we did.’

But the rest of the time was truly lovely. It was wonderful having Mum with us during the first weeks of Antonia’s life. Four weeks is long enough for a little personality to emerge. Rare smiles and long serious stares and little ‘hnnnnn hnnnn’s. Long enough for a baby to grow round and soft. Antonia squeaks with delight as she lies on her change mat and looks across at the picture of the baby on the pack of diapers. Over the past week, she has been genuinely pleased every time she sees my Mum – she smiles, and looks intently, purses her little lips, and coos.

In less than three months we’ll be in Australia for an extended holiday, so Felix is right when he says ‘we can meet again’. But I’ll always remember this special, special time of Mum being with us as we became a family of four. A time, after all, of quietness, love and adventures. As Mum’s stay drew to a close, we found ourselves consciously repeating things we’d done before, to close out the circle. On Tuesday, on Antonia’s one month birthday, we went back to the very same cafe in Gamlebyen where we had eaten lunch the day of my overdue control, just hours before Antonia’s birth. And yesterday, we took Felix back to the cafe in the harbour where we had taken Mum the day she had arrived, and then we all walked her across to the train station together. I cried. I feel so very looked after.

Fabian-4

2011: Love

To celebrate the five year anniversary of my blog, for five days I am reposting one of my favourite posts from each year.

In 2011, after weeks of waiting, Felix was born and changed everything. I will never forget the day of his birth. My grandparents visited, all the way from Australia. We stuck around in Norway just long enough to taste the first hint of spring, before disappearing to America for six months. We did some awesome trips, and I had a blast visiting a blog-friend in Seattle. Michael took some pretty great photos. We capped the year of with sunshine and family in Australia. But this is my favourite post of all.
                                                                                                    

September 2011: Love

Last week you turned seven months old. And I just love you so much. (Though sometimes I am ragged with tiredness and just want someone else to take you for an hour.) I feed you to sleep for most of your sleeps. And when you fall asleep, I just gaze at you, your lashes and your soft cheeks. You are so beautiful. Michael took these photos at a lake in Montana. Usually you are too distracted to feed when we are out anywhere, but this time you were hungry, and relaxed, and you fed for a long time, making sure I kept looking at you.

You can sit like a pro now. You are nowhere near crawling, but you have grown adept at sort of launching yourself from sitting towards the direction you would like to go. You are also very good at letting me know what you think about things. Tonight after your bath we read a book together, and you were having a fabulous time chewing and scratching and whacking it. Then I could see you were tired so I said ok, lets go to sleep now, and you smiled at me so sweetly. Then I started putting you in your sleeping bag and you cried with such bitter disappointment and rage, before snuggling in for your evening feed and drifting off to sleep.

At the moment you love to click you tongue, blow raspberries, and shake your head rapidly from side to side. I tried it, and it actually makes the world look quite funny – I wonder if you do it for the thrill of it, as well as to show us how clever you are. You love when I sing ‘open, shut them’ and ‘insy winsy spider’.

This morning we walked along the river, and stopped in the coffee shop before storytime at the library. This is pretty much routine, and a good one. Since you’ve gotten into eating solids you don’t need to feed as much when we’re out, but you seemed to want it. I realised you hadn’t had any since 5.30, and it was nearly 10, so we cuddled together in the corner of the sofa and you fed for a long time. I guess it felt special because normally when we’re out you have about two sips and then wriggle around to see if you’re missing anything. But walking over to the library, both of us satisfied with our morning drink, I just felt so happy.

Happy New Year!

I have been looking back at the snow-filled posts of last December, and this year is so different for us! (Apparently the winter in Norway is much milder this year anyway, so we haven’t actually missed out on much snow after all.)

2011 has been busy and brilliant as predicted. We have traveled to some amazing places, met some excellent people and weathered some sleepless nights,

but the most wondrous thing has been seeing our little guy grow up before our very eyes.

We are enjoying our two months in the sun before we go back to Norway to resume everyday life. I imagine that will be an adventure in itself with an almost one year old on board. To all my regular readers – thanks so much for stopping by and sharing the journey – I really appreciate having you around. We wish you all the very best for 2012!

Go West

In the weeks before we left Norway to come to America, Michael listened to ‘Go West‘ as he walked to work every day. Going west was an adventure, with wonderful parts and difficult parts. It is strange, in the days before we leave here, to be in a place which so soon will only exist for us as memories. I think Michael’s favourite part of being here was all the photo opportunities. The images take on lives of their own, often more resonant with suggestiveness than the moments themselves had been. The dogs panting at the Interstate Oasis, the fierce red rock of Moab, the cross-hatched textures of earth in the Kennecot Copper Mine, and the mountain-tops, lakes and deep forests of the Glacier National Park. Below the fold are images that didn’t make it into earlier posts – a montage of doorways, cars, characters, creatures, and, always, the open road.

Continue reading

Seattle

I just got back from the most beautiful week in Seattle. It was just Felix and me – Michael had to go to Norway for the week so I thought we’d have an adventure rather than sit around in Idaho Falls on our own. And what an adventure it was.

We stayed with my blogfriend Rain from Rainblissed. She and her family made us so welcome that didn’t feel strange at all to turn up at the doorstep of people we’d never met in the flesh before! I felt very proud of Felix and myself for navigating the airports on our own.

We caught the ferry over to Bainbridge Island with Rain and her son Arthur, and stumbled upon a very picturesque pumpkin patch. We frequented some seriously good coffee shops and bookshops, and some fun neighbourhoods and parks. We saw dinosaurs in the Burke Museum next to the University – I liked the tricerotops head but Felix was more interested in the wooden benches in the foyer.

Felix and I caught the bus downtown a couple of days and had a great time at the Pikeplace markets, the crumpet shop and the spiffy new library (Felix appreciated the kids play area, I appreciated the hot chocolate).

I also tried a total of five delicious chocolate cakes. On our last night Rain took us to the delightful Cafe Flora, where I had possibly the most delicious vegetarian meal I had ever eaten – the spectacular Portabello Wellington.

I loved Seattle. All the water gives it space to breathe and it was just so wonderful being in a big city again.

More than anything, though, it was just so special to spend that time with Rain and her family. After being a little overwhelmed to start with Felix had a ball of a time – he loved Arthur’s antics and Gaius’s friendly smiles, and after a couple of days was even happy for Rain to hold him (he’s much pickier about that than he used to be!). He was beside himself with excitement every time he glimpsed their sweet black cat and even managed to pat her once. All the new-to-him toys went down pretty well too. I really hope they visit us in Norway one day. We returned home refreshed and nourished – and not just from all the chocolate cake.

So far in Seattle

Felix’s first ride on a ferry, his first ride on a bus, his first ride in a horse-drawn carriage, his first pumpkin patch (and mine, for that matter), and his first time ever falling asleep in his sling. He was zonked. We’re having an awesome time. I’ve got some great photos but might have to wait before I get back before I post them.

North

We drove a long way north, almost to the Canadian border, to the Glacier National Park.

The mountains, flowers and lakes were stunning

and there were little critters at every turn

(and bigger critters too).

There were seriously big creatures, bears, but we didn’t see any. I didn’t mind. But it made everything just a little bit spooky, knowing there were bears around. There were signs everywhere advising caution, and saying people had been killed in this park. I felt alright in the big open areas, but we did a couple of short walks along some remote lakes off the main tourist trail. The forest was so dense that a bear could have been three feet away and you might not have known it. Apparently a grizzly bear can kill a moose with a single swipe. And I had very precious cargo.

The whole place felt very wild. Like a whole world with its own laws and inhabitants getting on with things. We were only visitors. The deer eyed us calmly.

The squirrel scampered away with its nut.

At Logan pass, the rangers had a telescope out for visitors to look through. I observed the exact same conversation several times (and participated in it once). ‘Is there a bear?’ ‘No, there are Bighorn sheep on the mountain over there.’ ‘Oh’. With the naked eye you could barely pick out the white dots of the sheep’s tails. Disappointed, but unable to resist a telescope, we looked anyway. ‘Oh! Oh wow!’ Because the Bighorn sheep were stunning, sitting completely still, munching sagely – five of them, like statues, like ancient gods.

Boise

This morning we drove for four hours past nothing much to get to Boise, the capital of Idaho. At one point we stopped to give Felix a cuddle and a little yellow plane flew past to say hello.

Boise (pronounced Boy-zee) is gorgeous. One of the most livable cities I have ever seen. It reminds us a little of Christchurch. We feel like civilized people again (Idaho Falls is a bit of a scrap-heap in comparison). 

There are coffee shops and interesting shops and buildings and restaurants at every turn, and one of the loveliest things is that the streets are fairly narrow and the blocks really quite small, so walking around is easy and pleasurable.

Felix had a fabulous afternoon lolling around in his stroller and chilling with his parents in various coffee shops. When we stopped for pizza for dinner, he had a great time chewing on a crust. Michael has a conference here for three days and I am so so excited about exploring the place.

Salt Lake City

We’ve had such a nice weekend. The weather wasn’t really up for paragliding, so we thought hard about Felix-friendly activities, and kicked off the weekend with a visit to Cabela’s – an outdoor and hunting store that has its own aquarium and displays of stuffed animals, and everything is big (go on, click on that link, you know you want to). We put Felix in the sling so he could have a look around. He liked watching the fish, and was pretty impressed with the mooses and the bears.

We then thought we’d go for a walk in the mountains but it was a bit cold.

So we decided to eat cake instead. (The Coffee Garden was fabulous – thanks for the tip, Rainblissed!)

We then wandered around the 9th and 9th district, and fell madly in love with all the sweet, strange, decrepit houses, the tangled cottage gardens and the tall tall trees.


Continue reading

Here

Well, we made it. Halden-Oslo (2 hours drive), Oslo-Newark (8 hours), transit 4 hours, Newark-Denver (5 and a half hours), transit about two hours including a mad dash from one end of the terminal to the other lugging Felix in his carseat, Denver-Idaho falls (1 hour). The above photo shows us in Newark airport, happy that the bulk of the flying was over. It was a bit of an effort, complicated by the fact that Michael was coming down with a cold, but overall it went pretty smoothly. Felix was an absolute star, either sleeping or being generally agreeable. The planes didn’t have basinets but he had his own seat, so we strapped in his carseat, which worked quite well. He didn’t seem to mind take-off and landing. At one point there was a lot of turbulence and he looked over at me with concern, but I gave him a big smile and he started to laugh. He also discovered cartoons. He could not believe his eyes.

Felix airlines.

Yesterday we unpacked, and introduced Felix to two great American institutions: IHOP (International House of Pancakes) and Walmart. Walmart is enormous, but as everyone is also pushing around enormous trolleys, you are constantly trying to get out of people’s way. We need to buy a kettle. Walmart seems to stock everything except for kettles, so for the moment we are making do with a saucepan. I found some coffee, but couldn’t find teabags anywhere. Eventually Michael asked someone. The teabags are located next to the soft drinks. It’s funny how different cultures classify food and drink so differently. I remember being astonished that the Co-op in Norway shelved the cans of tuna next to the jam.

There are a lot of parking spaces. Actually, if you were to be unkind, you could describe the place as a giant parking lot, studded with over-sized concrete buildings housing fast food chains or superstores. But there are snow-streaked mountains in the distance. And from what I remember (we were here for a couple of days last year), the town centre is pedestrian-friendly and quite nice. I guess it’s not very far away. We just have to wait till our American ‘stroller’ arrives in the post (there was no way our Swedish pram would have fit on the plane, and Felix is happy in a sling for a while but not indefinitely). There is a Barnes and Noble bookshop in walking distance which I intend to frequent. I think it’s time to patch-up my knowledge of American literature.

Our apartment is spacious and comfortable. I am glad we have our Norwegian life to go back to, but we are definitely up for this adventure!

Ready to go


I was going to write – it’s hard to leave Norway in May. It’s true, the country is now at its most beautiful – the brand new glittery birch leaves are a sight to behold, and it’s light forever. But the past couple of days it’s been raining. So it’s not that hard. I will miss our long evening walks into the forest: the slanty light, the cool, fragrant air, Felix cooing at the treetops. Last week I even saw a young deer standing staring at me on the path ahead. I didn’t get a picture of the deer, so here is dear Whitby instead:

Things are finally coming together. Our passports with our visas arrived on Monday, much to our relief. We’ve renewed our residency permits and got one for Felix. Our cats have a home for the time we’re away (we left them cowering under the sofa on Saturday, but apparently already by Sunday they were much happier). We’ve arranged for some friends to stay in our house while we’re away. We even managed to sell our car! Talk about leaving everything to the last minute.

The place feels a bit bereft without the cats, to tell the truth. I hope they are having a good time exploring their new kingdom.

Felix has recovered from his vaccination grumpiness but it has mucked up his sleep patterns. I guess they’re about to get mucked up anyway. He is still being very adorable. He loves to say ‘agoo’. Michael was zooming him around like an aeroplane one evening, and every time he zoomed in to give me a kiss, he said ‘agoo!’ And last night I was giving him a bath, and he looked at me quietly, saying ‘oooooooo’. ‘Can you say agoo, Felix?’, I asked. ‘Aaaagoooo’, he said. He just melts my heart.

We just have to pack up the last bits, and tidy up a tad more. Someone’s coming to pick us up at 7am tomorrow morning. I’m so, so excited.

Four weeks

I cannot really believe four weeks have gone past so quickly. I will not say it feels like he has been with us forever, because it doesn’t. He still feels new. But we love him dearly and shaping our lives around him is no problem at all. I think Michael and I have both been impressed by the ways in which we have stepped up to the challenges.

And because this is a reflective post it gives me an opportunity to put up two lovely photographs that I missed at the time. This, of the little man folding his hands aged one day old:

And this, a few hours after we first arrived home, when Felix was three days old:

Little Felix has grown so much since then. We had him weighed last Thursday, and he was already 4.7 kilos, and 57cm! No wonder he didn’t fit into his little 56cm suits anymore. He now makes little cooing noises: hnnnnn, and ooooo and ahhh. He loves to wriggle around on his mat. He loves a cuddle, he loves his koala, he loves his milk, and he love his bath. He is still a very tiny man.

Most challenging has been:

  • About three occasions when I really found I had not had enough sleep (including this afternoon!). The only solution for this is sleep. An hour and a half nap seems to solve it.
  • Mastitis. Urgh. I caved and started taking antibiotics a week ago which I’m pretty sure was necessary. I hope I keep it under control from here on in.
  • One day last week when Felix decided that the newly fast flow of my milk was terrifying and he didn’t want to feed anymore, but was hungry. He went all sleepy and floppy. I worked out that he was happy to feed lying down so got through that ok too. He’s got the hang of it again now.
  • The air is really dry here because of all the heating, and it’s meant his poor little nose has gets blocked up easily. The first time we noticed it we gave him a bath in desperation at 4am (the steam helps). Mum went to the pharmacy for us the next day and got these little vials of salt water to drip into his nose which solve the problem. He doesn’t mind it too much.
  • Not being able to have a cup tea whenever I like. No way am I prepared to have a hot drink while holding him…

He’s not quite as sleepy as he was for the first two weeks, and every day is different, but he still sleeps pretty well at night. He wakes at least once every night but has got good at going back to sleep quickly. We are constantly learning new tricks to calm him down when needed – he loves being on the change table for some reason, and getting the hang of handling him more competently. He loves flopping over our shoulders. It has been just amazing having Mum with us for all this time (she goes back this Wednesday), but I will write more about that later.

It is hard to make a list about what is most lovely about him because he is pure loveliness.

  • His little gooos and aaahs and hnnns.
  • His utter earnestness.
  • His delight.
  • Actually, the immediacy and intensity of all his emotions. If feeding isn’t going the way he wants he will yell in frustration and a split-second later rearrange his features into eager anticipation. Or if he is very tired he will cry loudly in your arms and then very suddenly be asleep.
  • His warm soft head.
  • His beautiful eyes on my face.
  • The way he kicks his legs in the bath.
  • His warm body sleeping in my lap.

The end of February

Yesterday we took the little man for his first outdoor stroll in his pram. After feeds and naps (for him and me) it was 4.30 by the time we got out, but these days it is light till almost 6, hurrah! The light wasn’t great for taking photos but you get the idea. (You can’t see him but he’s wearing his cute little bobble hat again.) Also after two weeks of hovering around -8 it had heated up to around 0, so we felt less mean about taking him outside. I asked the nurse though, and she said as long as it’s above -10 it’s ok. So we’ll see. There will be a whole new problem once it all starts melting again, as I don’t like the idea of pushing a pram down a hill when the footpath resembles an ice-rink. One hurdle at a time I suppose. He didn’t mind the walk, and went to sleep. It muddled up his sleep and wake times though, as happened when we took him to the shops. I guess one gets the hang of this eventually!

Things we are learning:

  • He hates wet diapers.
  • He hates being too hot.
  • Simple cotton all-in-one suits are best, as his skin is very sensitive, and doesn’t like anything too tight or too synthetic, or with too many layers.
  • He looks most beautiful in cream.

He is getting a little more insistent with his demands and testing his lungs a bit further, but is still a pretty happy calm little chap on the whole. He also doesn’t like it when he gets over-tired, which seems to happen sometimes despite our best intentions. We love him dearly but gosh this is hard work! Oh and after a dream-run with breastfeeding I’ve developed a bit of mastitis, which I’m hoping I’ve nipped in the bud. Feels a bit better already but I still need to be careful.

Michael went back to work today which we both felt a bit sad about but I guess it’s the way it goes. I am very happy and blessed that my Mum is staying for another two weeks, which will make the transition into my new life as smooth as possible!

On the weekend I finally finished writing up the story of his birth, which felt like an important thing to do. (It takes so long to do anything at the moment!) It feels good to have that finished now, at the cusp of a new month, when the little man has had two whole weeks in the world.

We are still waiting on the documents we need to apply for his Norwegian birth certificate, which we need before we can even think about registering him as one of our various nationalities, which we also need to do before we can apply for his passport, which we need before we can apply for his US visa for later this year. So we might be leaving a couple of weeks later than planned, but I guess we’ll get there eventually.

It has been a most beautiful two weeks. Michael’s Mum was with us for five days, and left last Friday. She was very sad to go and we were sad to see her leave, but at least Germany isn’t as far away as Australia, and they’ll be able to come back to visit very soon. This is one of the hardest things, how far away our families are. But we will make it work. When she was leaving, Monica said she was especially sad to leave because it had been so very ‘harmonisch’. Which it had. But, little Felix, I am most excited to discover what March has in store for us, too.

Bye bye 2010!

We entered 2010 happy, hopeful and rested, and it is happy, hopeful and rested that we leave it. In between, a lot of other things happened.

The saddest and most careful decision I ever made.

Moving into our very own house.

Teaching at the University in Oslo.

Getting pregnant again.

Getting the cats.

Getting married.

As well as: learning how to cope with severe Norwegian winters, multiple car repairs, working in the kindergarten, buying sofas, dishwashers, lawnmowers, getting the bugs treated in our basement, a couple of lovely trips to Berlin and one to England, paragliding in Australia, America, Austria, visits from the parents, and planning new adventures for next year. All in all it’s a bit of a whirlwind and it’s easy to think it slid by without a lot happening, but it clearly did! A year I am glad to have had but not sorry to leave behind.

Next year looks like it might be even more exciting…

Bright

Because I am heading back to the snow on Tuesday (and because Michael has already arrived there), I thought I needed to record a bit more of the sunshine. We stayed in this beautiful cottage for eight days, paragliding in the mornings, watching tennis and reading novels during the hottest part of the afternoons, heading out for beer or ice-cream in the evenings. (Michael got the beer, I was more than satisfied with the twenty different sorts of homemade ice-cream.)

Here’s our bedroom.

The fly net came in handy one night when a bat decided to pay us a visit… (We worked out if we left the light on it would leave us alone…)

It really was very very gorgeous – possibly the best holiday ever. There were millions of colourful birds, and we even saw an echidna. One day we drove up to the mountains.

Some of the trees were bleached from fires seven years ago.

But there was still water and life.

And what happened next in no way changes how happy we were, or how happy we will be one day, not too far away.

Eeeeeeeee

We bought a house! It is very cute. And that yellow ‘sold’ sign? It doesn’t mean someone else snapped it up before we got our act together. That’s us. We did it.

It was nerve-wracking. We made the offer yesterday morning, then had to wait twenty-four hours to see if anyone would up the offer, and if the owners would accept it. (That’s the way they do things here – each house sale is potentially a twenty-four hour auction.) The wait ended at 9am, but I start work at 8. Today we had a planning day. I tried very hard to concentrate on a Norwegian discussion of which I understood, oh, about ten percent, while watching the imperceptible inching of the hands of the clock. I kept looking at the second hand to convince myself time was actually moving, but it wasn’t ticking as fast as my heart.

I was steeling myself to wait until 9.15, but Michael rang at 9 on the dot. Having apologized in advance for answering my phone in a meeting, I raced off to one of the empty kindergarten rooms.

‘So what do you think’, said Michael, ‘did we do it?’

‘JUST TELL ME!’

‘Yes.’

It’s walking distance to town; it has a garden and a deck and lots of lovely windows; the rooms are square and friendly and full of life. It’s an old house, but it was completely renovated four years ago. We can move in at the end of January.

We are very happy. Mostly about the house, but also about the fact that we can stop house-hunting now! Hurrah!

I still can’t quite believe that we really get to live there.

Some other excellent and totally unexpected news capped off the day, but I won’t tell you about it yet because it’s not set in stone and I don’t want to jinx it. But the waiting and the hoping aren’t over quite yet.

Berlin

This pretty much sums up our weekend. Oh, and this.

There was a bit of this

and some more of this

and then we moved onto the green stuff.

Michael’s parents joined in for pizza, icecream, and a float down the river in the sun.

We found a park bench that makes tall people small.

And then, sadly, we said goodbye to Berlin and to my brother, whose birthday it is today, whom this city fits like a glove.

Days and Years

It will never be today again. Never. He would not, in all his life, make another discovery more shattering.

Randolph Stow, The Merry-go-round in the Sea

In the last few hours of being 29, the loss of my twenties felt like some kind of a death. When you are in your twenties you believe you will be in your twenties forever. That is, until you reach 28. Or, more worryingly, 29. But although I spent most of last year thinking ‘well, I’m nearly 30 now’, the actual cut-off point approached with alarming finality.

Most people tell me that being 30 is just like being 29. And it is. And it isn’t. I guess the contrast is pretty stark for me because I just passed my PhD two weeks ago. It feels pretty good to have passed, I must say. It felt pretty good to hand in, too. But in retrospect, the two months between submission and my viva were strangely liminal. Not a student, not a doctor. The thesis was finished, but not examined. I wasn’t overly worried, and made the most of the spare time, traveling and hanging out with my family and eating cake. But I feel so much better now. So much better. One identity is lost forever. But another one is offered to me, one that I can put in my pocket like a magical golden coin that no one can ever take away.

I loved my twenties. I worked as a care assistant for people who needed it. I picked some pears. I wrote some poems. And a long complicated story about a dragon. I finished quite a lot of degrees. I won quite a lot of scholarships. I learnt to fly. I climbed some mountains. I was sad for a short time but I got over it. I lived in seven different houses, in four different towns, in three different countries. I changed my mind. I crashed my car. I met my beloved. I flew very high indeed, high above the mountains and the wrinkled sea, right up to the belly of the clouds.  I moved to England. I fell in love with the dales and the grey stone walls. I gave conference papers. I moved to Norway. I wandered around Pompei, Assisi, St Petersburg, Berlin, Bergen, Petra, Budapest, Jerusalem, York, New York, Las Vegas. I slept on many people’s couches, and futons, and floors. I rode my bike in the rain.

I know I have been extraordinarily lucky. And there’s nothing to say I can’t keep doing any of those things. Although I hope I will never again need to do so many degrees! Numbers and years remind one quietly of mortality. The thirties might be very different. But that’s just fine.

Many wonderful things

I am in Austria. Very close to Switzerland. If you climb a mountain – or, with much less effort, take a chairlift – you can see into a lake that touches Austria, Germany, Switzerland. I am surrounded by improbable lushness: meadows peppered with dandelions, mountains swathed in patterned cloaks of dark and bright green, the pine trees interspersed with deciduous trees in the first flush of spring. White blossom still flowers in the valleys, but everything is in leaf. Here, May is the most beautiful of all months. Winter is gone and summer is yet to settle, but the air is warm and the green burgeons with promises.

It is strange to think that on Tuesday I was in Adelaide, on Thursday and Friday I was in London, and now I am here. A week of contrasts if ever there was one. It was very sad to leave. It was just so nice to hang out with my family and catch up with my old friends. My brother and my grandparents drove me to the airport, and after a coffee and a very chocolaty raspberry muffin and at least three hugs from each of them, I felt bereft as they walked away. On the plane, I thought – why am I leaving? What am I going back to?

Autumn in the Adelaide Hills.

But as soon as I arrived I knew. Apart from being with M again, which is just brilliant, there is so much to see here! So much to explore and think and dream. I really enjoyed the two days in London. I usually just transit through London, but this time M had organized a two day workshop and they were all staying in the rather lovely Goodenough College, so I got to piggyback. I just loved wandering around all the green squares between the London University buildings, pretending to be Virginia Woolf. I’ve been to that section of London before but never spent much time there. Spring is in full swing and the huge trees are raining down little umbrella-shaped pollen things.

I spent an afternoon in the British Museum. It is all wonderful but I was especially amazed at collections of medieval and Roman rings – how strange to think of the hands that have worn them! And then on Friday evening we wandered around the Tate, which is possibly my favourite art gallery in the world. It’s all been re-hung since I was last there, and there are themed collections: ‘poetry and dream’, ‘energy and process’. I loved the way the words wove between the pictures, and the layout of the rooms made the paintings and sculptures talk to one another.

I started writing this in Austria but actually now I am in Switzerland. M is working here today and we are going back to Norway tonight. I haven’t been there in nearly two months! His parents joined us in Austria and we had a very relaxing couple of days. They made friends with the neighbours. Monica did a brilliant job of combating her fear of heights – she came with us as we drove over a high pass in the mountains (see above), and even went on two chairlifts!

Michael and I each had one beautiful paraglider flight – I was up for more than an hour and could have stayed up much longer if I wished. How strange to be able to work the air currents and drift above the mountain ridges and the trees.

We had a minor disaster yesterday when M tried to launch in a tail wind and didn’t take off in time and flew straight into a clump of trees. Luckily he wasn’t hurt but we spent nearly three hours extracting the glider from the trees! They were about four metres high, so not strong enough to climb but too tall to reach the top of. They were perched on a steep slope in a patch of snow, so there was a lot of sliding around. We even had to chop a couple of them down with a borrowed axe! Anyway, no harm done, and we are rethinking our safety policies…

But all in all, everything is beautiful. My viva is two weeks from today – I wonder if my examiners are reading my thesis yet.

Larger than life

I’m loving the internet right now. I’m in Singapore airport, exploiting the free wireless. After twelve hours on a plane, preceded by two days of dazed wandering around London, preceded by seven hours on a plane, it’s quite remarkable to be so connected. In the past couple of hours, I’ve had an email conversation with Michael, a facebook chat with my uncle, a skype chat with Mum, as well as exchanging facebook comments with cousins and long lost friends, watching the live status updates of my Leeds friends, discovering friendly comments on my last blog post, and reacquainting myself with the blogs of my blogfriends. So I find myself surprisingly connected to all my worlds, whilst – relatively speaking – in the middle of nowhere! Everyone even seems to be awake…

I have been delaying writing about America because I don’t know how to squeeze it all down to a blog post! But I will use this hour before I need to head over to my gate, and see how far we get.

We started off in San Diego, where you can stand on the jetty and photograph the surfers. Just a little north of the city is a brilliant coastal paragliding spot, Torrey Pines. We didn’t have our gliders with us this time, but watched a couple of people making the most of less than perfect conditions.

San Diego was brilliant. We’ll be back.

Then we drove inland, to the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful and strange and overwhelming. It’s exhausting being close to something that you can’t fit into your senses.

I loved the colours. The way the rocks rainbow out beneath you.

But by the end of the afternoon, it was definitely too much to take in. I sat on a stone wall while M wandered round the corner to take more photos. I stifled the irrational fear that he was about to slip and tumble down it. I’m not usually scared of heights. But this was something else. I thought of the David Hockney painting. I watched the tourists from every corner of the globe. Nothing could dent its immensity.

To be continued… (Many many more larger than life encounters to be disclosed…)

Progress report

Photos by Michael.

Well, I can declare the two quiet weeks at my desk a success. While none of the chapters I was working on is quite done, Murray is 95% done, Webb is 50% done, and theory chapter is 75% done. And I have clear plans for the remaining sections. By the end of today, I want to have shaved a large chunk off the Webb chapter, and hopefully smoothed off the edges of the Murray chapter – basically redone the conclusion and thought of a nice sentence to put at the end of the introduction – so I could hand it in tomorrow if necessary, even though it would be nice to have another day to sift over it. And really there’s only one good day’s work left in the theory chapter.

The very lovely thing is that formatting issues I thought were going to be a problem won’t be. I had a test run today of putting it all into one document and justifying the right margin as well as the left – and it worked perfectly! Didn’t muck my poem quotes up at all! I’ve been having a problem with varying sizes of footnote numbers in the different chapters, and that solved itself too. I was also worried that it wouldn’t fit into 300 pages (that’s the page limit), as it’s slightly over the 100,000 word limit, but it’s coming in rather nicely at 282. So I have space to play! And don’t have to spend hours cutting down bits that in all likelihood could do with cutting down but will be ok as they are. And, best of all, Michael showed me how to  turn it quickly and painlessly into a pdf so I can print it off on the uni printers without problem. (I’m using Open Office instead of Word, and the computers at Uni don’t have Open Office, so I was foreseeing all sorts of problems.) All this translates to HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!!!

This weekend I’ve been planning some post-thesis adventures – meeting Michael in the States in early April, and going to Aussie-land for three weeks after that. Really looking forward to hanging out with my family again.

So, the end of March really is D-day. And, yeah, you probably won’t hear a whole lot from me before then. I’m off to the UK tomorrow. Outside is constant sleety snow. But when I’m back here in May, there will be sunshine late into the night, and lupins lining the roadsides, and green everywhere.

An eventful journey

Today we explored a windy Monaco. (I mean windy as in lots of wind – but I guess the streets are windy as in curvy too.) There are extremely posh Christmas decorations. The buildings are a strange mix of extravagant and tumble-down. A miniature apartment will cost you two million euros.

There are steps and elevators everywhere. Driving (and helping whoever is driving avoid crashing into cars or pavements or the walls of the underground car park) is terrifying. Locals park their cars on footpaths, half a centimetre away from stone walls and the cars behind them. But the sun shone brilliantly and from the window of our warm apartment it looked positively summery.

Getting here was another matter altogether. We drove up from Barcelona, setting off at about half past four on boxing day, planning to get half way. (What were we doing in Barcelona, I hear you say – cheap flights.) It rained and rained. The motorway was closed because of snow, and we were re-routed around the coast. We drove slowly, taking comfort in the caravan of other re-routed traffic. As we descended into a seaside town, I looked down at the fierce white waves through the blackness. The ocean’s going crazy, I said. We drove lower and lower, towards the sea foam. The road was on a cliff above the sea, but the waves were reaching it. Traffic slowed to a snail’s pace. I was afraid. It was a different fear from a customary – oh this is a bit hairy but we’ll be ok. It felt like there was a small but undeniable possibility that things could go badly wrong. A wave buffeted my window. I decided that being swept out to sea in a little car would not be my preferred way to go. And then another wave, huge, hovered above us before smashing down and completely engulfing the car. The car didn’t budge, but we couldn’t see a thing. When it cleared, we inched forward. Shortly after this we reached the town centre, and it was clear that the worst weather had already passed. The beach and the roads were covered in rubble. Two telescope machines – you know the ones you put money in and then you can look out to sea – were completely smashed. The police directed us onwards, upwards, towards snowy roads that snaked around the cliffs.

We kept passing abandoned cars stuck in the snow. Again the worst had passed, and we travelled on without a problem. The motorway was still closed. The third time we tried to rejoin it, we had to negotiate our way through a traffic jam of cars that wanted to go the other way (the road toward Spain was shut). Finally, we made it on to a near-deserted motorway. On the other side, a long, silent line of at least one hundred lorries had decided to call it a night.

Looking at the bright blue sea, you’d never know.

Walled Cities

I finished reading the most beautiful novel the other day. Gatty’s Tale, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I first realised what a lovely writer he was when I read his translations of Norse Myths, and I vowed to get hold of his King Arthur trilogy. I did, and have read the first one so far, and loved it. Gatty’s Tale is a spin-off from that – a thirteenth-century girl joins a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

There it was!

Jerusalem!

At once Gatty reined in.

There it was, waiting for her.

No need to ask. She recognised it like a home from which, long ago, she had strayed. Its contours were her own heart’s and mind’s contours. She felt like a little girl again. No need to say anything.

The Holy City, golden, grew out of the gentle slopes on which it sat. Or was it the other way round? Did the Holy City, Gatty wondered, come down from God, out of heaven? And did the hillslopes and the valleys and everything else on the earth grow out of it?

All that stood between the pilgrims and the golden domes, the clustered towers and columns and walls was one last shallow valley, dark with olive groves.

I read this on the train, on a very tedious journey from Stansted Airport up to Bingley. Finish the damn thesis, I told myself glumly as I stood in the cold in Peterborough station, waiting for a train that didn’t come, you’ve got to stop doing this. I ended up catching a train up to York, and then another train to Leeds, and then another train to Bingley.

As I waited in York station, I thought about how usually I would feel very sad just to be there. I lived in York for three years. I loved it. It was home. I met Michael there. We lived together in the sweetest little house. We cycled everywhere – to the shops, to the pubs, to the wonderful Baroque concerts with two pound tickets for students. I did my masters there. I finished my novel there. I started my PhD. I would walk on the stone walls, and hang out in my favourite bookshop (now sadly closed). Every time I returned there, after being away, as the taxi swung past the walls and the gates to the city, I would feel a tangible surge of at-homeness. It was so sad to leave.

But – this time I didn’t feel sad. I felt content, in myself. I have a new home now. I am building a new home.

And then, on the train, I read about Gatty in Jerusalem. And my heart surged. I have been there – the centre of the world, as they thought in the Middle Ages. I have stood inside this other walled city. Michael had a two month scholarship to be in Israel, and I went to visit him, and we went to Jerusalem together.

Like Gatty, I had heard about it all my life. The Bible was a big part of my childhood and my early adulthood – I have read the stories over and over. My parents went to Jerusalem when Mum was pregnant with me. Dad bought a little statue of Moses, which has sat in the corner of the lounge room all my life. My Mum bought a big brown coat, like a monk’s cloak, which I wore for a while as a teenager. And there I was, again, the centre of the world.

For Gatty, part of her has always been in Jerusalem, and part of her will always be there. And when she prays inside the church of the Holy Sepulchre – that mazelike, burrow-like place where I too have stood – she prays for all her friends and family at home, for those who could not come to Jerusalem and never will, but when she prays they are there anyway, with her, safe inside the walled city.

And I don’t quite know what I’m trying to say, but I like that idea – of being together even when you’re not together, of being at home even when you’re far away. And there, on the train, between York and Leeds, the journey was a burden no longer, and I gripped the novel firmly, with tears in my eyes.

Why you should all go to Austria

Update: This post is frequently in my top posts and has received more traffic than anything else I’ve written (a bit embarrassing for a bunch of holiday snaps), because a certain spammer keeps trying to leave links to his Austrian holiday apartment. Note to spammer: I have deleted your comment each time you have left it, and will continue to do so. There are thousands of cheap and comfortable holiday apartments in Austria, and I’m sure my readers can find their own if they ever intend to go… Oh, and if you want the real reason to visit Austria, go here.

*********

I haven’t been much fun to be around lately. Irritable, panicky, emotional, distracted. Luckily the one person who has to put up with me is doing an okay job. So anyway, instead of complaining about how stressful this writing up business is or composing posts about how I can’t concentrate (er, didn’t actually write that post, just thought about it), I thought I’d inflict more photos of Austria on you. And explain why it really is one of the most relaxing and affordable places to go on holiday.

(I’m actually feeling quite a lot better now. I’ve made some steady writing progress over the weekend, and more is planned for this afternoon. And the weather has allowed cycling both days, which always cheers me up and calms me down. What’s not quite so cheering are the first yellow leaves on the birch trees. It’s not that time yet, is it? Anyway… )

Reasons to visit Austria.

1. Extremely cute cows.

With mohawks, and real cowbells, that jingle and jangle.

This one longed for a paraglider.

2. Flowers.

Overflowing all the balconies. These were at our guest-house. Which is another reason to visit, because the villages are stuffed full of bed and breakfasts and apartments for rent, at about 13 euros per person per night. Bit different to Norway…

3. Cakes and ice cream.

Yum yum yum yum yum. What can I say. The German and Italian tourists love it here. They do their walks in the morning, and then sit in the cafes all afternoon, indulging. Everybody is so happy you can’t help but smile. And if it rains, there’s always the indoor swimming pools and saunas. If Austrian food isn’t your thing, there’s seriously good pizza available. And cheap beer. And did I mention cake?

How it goes

Step one: wait for the mist to clear. On previous Austrian forays, this is pretty much all we’ve done. Para-waiting.

Step two: Fold out the glider, check the lines, hook yourself in. Leg straps, breast strap, speed bar, helmet. Take the risers and the breaks in your hands. The variometer (groovy little square thing on my waist) is an optional extra, but bad things will happen to you if you forget the leg straps. Watch for a gap in the clouds.

Step three: run, until you’re running on air.

Step four: breathe. Check the lines again. Steer yourself out over the forest, into the valley. Float through the lacy edges of the clouds. In the damp, cool air of the morning, you smell a faint hint of pine. Turn more sharply now, swing out sideways – your very own rollercoaster. Then lean back, smooth and slow. The air is very calm now, because the sun hasn’t had a chance to heat the ground, but later, gusts and eddies will pull you up as well as down. Grin your little head off. Whoop for joy.

Or try to look suave whilst balancing a camera and a paraglider eight hundred metres above the valley floor.

Step five: bumble around some more, then swoop in to land. (Plan your approach so you touch the ground in the right place, with your feet rather than your bum, in the right direction, at the right speed. Preferably avoiding power cables, trees, rivers, houses, wind-socks, other gliders, pedestrians, children, dogs and cyclists. )

Step six: carry your glider to the side of the landing field, fold it up, stuff it into your backpack, and trudge up to the cable car to do it all again. The other gliders spiral down like flocks of jellyfish. And all the while, something beats inside of you, the rush and the swing and the lightness of it, as though you really had wings all along, only now you know for sure.

The Great Parent Adventure

We all look happy, right? I must admit, I was slightly apprehensive about spending a week with all four parents in the Norwegian mountains, especially as my parents don’t speak a word of German, and M’s parents don’t speak more than two or three phrases of English. And then there’s the different backgrounds, the different ways of doing things, the stress involved in spending time in such close quarters with family you only see once or twice a year. (With my parents it’s usually only once a year, but this year it’s twice.) But when one family lives in Australia, one in Germany, and we live in Norway/England – how else can you do it? Anyway, it turned out great. As Moni put it: ‘wir haben uns gut unterhalten’. Which means they understood each other. And they liked each other. And it was fun.

We saw some amazing fjords, and passed through Jotunheimen, the home of the giants. And there were reindeer, with their babies, grazing on one of the mountain passes. They are funny things, with their blunt faces and shaggy coats.

We passed glaciers, and plateaus of snow, and speckled mountains, and great lakes melting in jagged slabs. Rainbows bloomed in waterfalls, and orchards perched on the slopes of fjords. We weren’t quite north enough for the midnight sun, but even here it didn’t get dark – the sky was pale at midnight, and the sun surged through the curtains at three a.m., blazing all day on the snow and the rock and the green.

More photos here. It was amazing how quickly the landscape changed – in some places dry, others lush, others icy. Sometimes the mountains were spiky cathedrals, and other times they were rounded like whales. Bright streams gurgled through the valleys. The air was clear and the colours were pure, and it all felt so old, even as it flushed with spring. Yep. We like it here. And it’s fun to share it.

Summer blogging

I took a picture of the weather outside, but it made it look more depressing than it actually is, so I thought I’d spare us both. Suffice to say, you can’t see the tops of the hills for the mist, the river is a rapid flowing murky brown, and the trees are brown and bare. Very pretty they are in the evening, though, when the lights of the small town shine through their hair. And it’s cozy in here. The fire warmed up the flat so well yesterday that we haven’t even had to light it yet today. The cold that knocked me out over the weekend is slowly fading. The lovie is faring a little worse, and keeps telling me that he’s about to die, but I think he’ll be okay. We sleep for at least twelve hours a night at the moment. And here’s what we left behind.

Me flying at the Bluff. It felt pretty cool to zoom around this South Australian landmark. Well, it’s a landmark of my childhood, anyway, from countless weekends in Victor Harbour. I’m not about to land on the rock – I’m actually going up.

See? That’s me in the background. And now can I tell the story of how the wind got too strong and I nearly didn’t land safely? (Some people I know are already sick of hearing it.) It was scary. I was almost dragged across the road. But at least I know for sure now – when the wind gets too strong for you, come down. Don’t stay up an extra five minutes cos it’s fun. Just don’t. Anyway…

Happy flying bugs.

We don’t fly these, but they’re pretty.

My favourite Christmas photo – me and Auntie Annie, the feast in the background.

Sydney sunshine. And the paragliders out surfing the wind at Tunkalilla. I bet they’re out there still.

Berlin

I first went to Berlin ten years ago, on a whirlwind backpacker bus tour with my mum. It was love at first sight. It snowed and snowed. The city was covered in cranes and big fat blue and pink pipes. We did an incredible walking tour and went to checkpoint charlie one evening. I bravely caught a bus out to the Die Brucke museum only to discover it was closed. We saw the Reichstag. The new dome hadn’t been finished yet, so, like everything else in the city, it was still in the throws of reconstruction. My high school history classes came flooding back to me (admittedly they were only a year old). I couldn’t believe it was the same building that burnt down when Hitler came into power. There was something strange and beautiful about Berlin, it seemed the centre of history: old and new, broken and healing.

So when, two years later, I got the chance to spend a month there, I didn’t take much convincing (I took a bit of convincing, because I was very shy). I went with a group of students about to embark on honours in European Studies, and our charismatic head of department. The idea was to learn German. They’d all done some before, but for me it was torture: I’d never even heard of cases and declensions, and my impatient beginner’s teacher would only condescend to explain them to me in German. I also have a stammer, which makes speaking new languages difficult. I didn’t get far. And I was intensely homesick. At the age of twenty, I was quite convinced I knew the meaning of the universe, and was scared of anything, or anyone that questioned this, which the people I was with, and the city itself, certainly did. Nevertheless, Berlin continued to work its magic. We had a guided tour of Daniel Liebeskind’s incredible building for the Jewish Museum, before it had any exhibits in it. It was like being inside a sculpture of silence and horror and hope. We had a tour of a Russian prison by two men who’d been wrongly imprisoned there for years. And I discovered the Pergamon museum, with its reconstructed Babylonian gate, which still affects me in a way I can’t quite explain.

There are monuments in Berlin which speak of wordless sadness and terror. And there are new buildings, shining, all of glass, like secular cathedrals. And there are spindly trees like black feathers – to me it is a winter city. And – cocktail bars, and bakeries on every corner, and a large, calm river, and a spirit about the place that just delights me.

Yet more paragliding

The wind was quite strong today, so I took photos and stroked little lizards while the lovie zoomed around.

In the evening, they all came out. It was so pretty.

When it calmed down a bit, I had a lovely peaceful, perfect flight, just after the sun set. Perfect, I say – the launch, the turns, the landing. And I did it all on my own – no radio contact, no instructors watching. I’m still smiling.