Spring

Feeling tired, but good-tired, after a weekend packed with friends and kids riding bikes. We even did some work in our yard this morning. We often lament the fact that we haven’t done outdoor work, so decided it was time to stop lamenting and just all go outside together and have a go. It was nice.

It’s not exactly warm yet but it is light well into the evening, and a lot more pleasant outside than it was last month.

The kids were absolutely gorgeous last night, climbing up onto the armchair together and spontaneously reading a book.

And they’re both loving their bikes. We got Antonia a balance bike at Easter in Germany and spent quite a lot of time waddling after her giving her little pushes and stopping her falling over. Very hard on our backs. But now she’s able to walk it along by herself. She doesn’t glide along yet but it’s a start! She insisted on ‘riding’ it nearly all the way to the park from the carpark at Michael’s work today. She wanted to ride it back, too, afterwards, and was very sad when I had to trap her in the stroller as we didn’t have time…

Just now

The days have been sifting past so fast. In only two weeks we leave for Australia. A week and a half ago my brother and his girlfriend came to visit for the weekend and it was lovely but I didn’t get a single photo. (I took one of Jon, Antonia and I on the last day but didn’t realise there was no memory card in the camera.) Then last weekend we flew to Berlin. Michael’s Mum came up to spend a couple of days with us and meet Antonia. We didn’t venture far from the grungy paradise of Prenzlaueberg – groovy cafes, delicious cakes and imaginative playgrounds populated by quirkily dressed youngsters, half of whom seemed to be called Felix. It was so lovely seeing Monica meet Antonia. She kept saying what a peaceful, happy child she is, and it is true. It nearly broke my heart when she cried saying goodbye, and Antonia kept shooting her gentle, knowing, pleased little smiles back at her.

Felix had a ball as well. ‘Why is it dark?’ he said one evening. ‘Well,’ I said, quoting The Tiger Who Came to Tea, ‘We’re going to go out in the dark, and all the streetlights will be lit, and all the cars will have their lights on, and we’ll go down the road to a cafe.’ He was quite delighted with this state of affairs, especially as it involved pizza with ham. The restaurant didn’t serve ice cream (essential after pizza for a Felix) so we picked one up from a supermarket on the way back and ate it as we strolled the streets.

Felix was most taken with a bicycle riding past with blinking lights. He discussed it for a long time with Michael, so on the way home Michael bought him two bike lights. When we got back to Norway he played with them patiently all afternoon as he waited for it to get dark, before insisting that Michael retrieve his bike from the basement and get it ready. After dinner I went out with him in the freezing night, Antonia bundled up in her pram, Felix most insistent on acting out his dream of riding his bike in the dark. When we made it to the footpath on the main road he declared, ‘lets go to a cafe!’ ‘We can’t’, I said, ‘there are no cafe’s up here, it’s too far.’ ‘I can cycle long’, he said. We rode back home and made chocolate pudding instead.

To be completely honest the little guy has been a bit of a challenge lately, rather too quick to demand, and screech, and ignore. Some of our attempts for force compliance have failed miserably. My old trick of counting to five, giving him a chance to avoid some threat, has all but stopped working. He was home with us today though and it went a bit better – I tried harder to emphasise the positives, and say ‘of course you’re going to get out of the car now cos I can’t wait to tell Father Christmas how well you’ve listened to me today’. And I even managed to intervene a little in his terrible tendency to whine and to ask the same question over and over again, loudly…

Antonia is a dear little thing and is currently suffering her worst ever cold. This morning she caught Michael’s eye and told him very seriously all about it, before smiling cheerfuly and drifting off to sleep.

A boy and his bike

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Felix spends hours on his tricycle every day. When we pick him up from the barnehage he is always completely shattered from riding his friends around on the double tricycle for three hours straight. This afternoon all he wanted to do was ride his trike to our friends house, so I rallied my non-existant third trimester energy and followed him over there. When we got there they were out. ‘But where can I ride now?’ he asked. ‘I know,’ I said, ‘we’ll go to the harbour.’

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After a quick stop for buns and a latte, after which I felt much better (Halden now has cafes open on Sunday afternoon!) we were off. ‘It’s so lovely!’ he said.

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He rode through as many puddles as possible all the way to the train station.

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He was a bit annoyed I wouldn’t let him get on the train,

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but rode all the way to the end of the line.

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When we got back to the harbour I collapsed onto a bench and let him ride laps up and down both sides. If you look very closely you can just make him out on the other side of the water. Even when we got home again he wasn’t finished – eating bites of spaghetti between rounds of our deck. Such a special afternoon.

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Before I was Felix I missed you

This evening I sat outside with Felix for half an hour before bedtime. I sat on the steps and knitted a baby blanket. He sped around riding his tricycle on the deck. It was pretty cold – I had to swap to my winter coat, but it was nowhere near dark. Michael had taken him outside to drive the remote control car, and then Felix asked for his bike, and we swapped. Felix is pretty good at pedalling now – he’s been practicing in the barnehage. He’s very proud of himself. He would ride up to me, stop, then say ‘goodbye Mummy, see you later!’ and do another round. It was one of those perfect moments – the grey-gold light between the still bare trees and the houses and the green green lawns, the tiny beginnings of new leaves on the hedges, the first rows of the baby blanket under my fingers, and Felix coasting around and around, chatting as he passed. And he said: ‘Mummy, before I was Felix I missed you soooooo many time’.

And it seemed as if time was centred in this moment, everything before and after pointed to now.

We have been talking a fair bit lately about where people come from, and about things that happened before Felix was born (he always says, but where was I?). He says, ‘When I was a baby…’ And he says, ‘When you were a baby…’ He says, ‘Who’s tummy was Daddy inside?’ He says, ‘how do you make a Felix?’ (Ask your father.) Once in the car he said: ‘When you were a little guy… Are you going to be little again?’ ‘No, I’ll never be little again.’ ‘But I want you to be small like me!’ ‘But I can’t be small because then I couldn’t look after you.’ ‘I want you to look after me.’

When we first started talking about the baby, he said, ‘There’s a baby in your tummy? And it’s not me?’ And later, we were walking by a busy road, and I said ‘be careful Felix and listen to Mummy otherwise a car might crash into you and there won’t be any more Felix.’ ‘Yes there will,’ he said, ‘in your tummy.’

He talks about the baby nearly every day. Last night we all sat on the sofa. He pointed at my leg. ‘One,’ he said. Then at Michael’s leg – ‘two.’ Then at himself – ‘three’, and then at my belly – ‘four’.

Truly his curiosity has been one of the nicest things about this pregnancy so far. It is a pregnancy I have longed for for more than two years, since Felix was a baby himself. I was not sure it would happen again, and I feel so utterly lucky. It is strange to think that the probability is very high now indeed that I will have a baby at the end of this. Things will change. And I am trying, in these last three months in which there are only three of us, to soak my little boy in, to listen to him, to be present for him.

As he rode around he talked to himself and to me. ‘The baby doesn’t like to sykler?’ he said. ‘No, it’s not so safe. But I’ll ride again later when the baby has come out.’ ‘When the baby’s bigger…’ He rode some more. ‘Do more stitches!’ He demanded, when I paused to look up over the trees. (A welcome change from his customary demands that I stop.) ‘I’m going to take care of you,’ he said. ‘And Daddy. And the baby.’ And then he told me he missed me before he was born.

Kate

I met Kate in the Lake district in autumn. I remember the wet leaves on the paths, the clean air. It was a walk organized by the University of Leeds hiking society.  Kate was friendly, and tall like me, and doing a PhD in chemistry. She told me how much she loved living in her house in Meanwood. When later it turned out that she had spare rooms in the house for the coming academic year, I jumped at the chance.

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Two other brilliantly lovely young women moved in too, and it was the nicest shared house I’d ever lived in. Those are our joint collection of teapots, keeping each other company on the top of the kitchen cupboard.

Kate was always buying flowers and baking cakes. We used to wake up to this amazing smell and a scrawled note to help outselves to home-made bread. We had a cleaning roster we stuck to and the house was always sparkling. We often had house meals – pancakes, waffles. Once Kate made this incredible French Onion soup. I hate onions, but it was amazing. Another time she made vegetarian shepherd’s pie. I made chocolate pudding. Ruth made quinoa. Heather made pizzas from scratch.

Our basement was crammed with bicycles, which we carried carefully over the clean kitchen floor, and balanced precariously down the stairs. It was a fifteen minute bike ride into town or to uni. There was always a copy of the Guardian on the kitchen table. The living room was filled with plants. The pin-up board was covered in postcards from all over the world.

Kate submitted her PhD in atmospheric chemistry (you know, climate change stuff) at the same time I handed in my thesis. Her viva was a couple of weeks before mine. She graduated the week before me, exactly three weeks ago (I stole this picture from her facebook page. I hope this is ok – tell me if it’s not). I didn’t get to see her while I was in Leeds because she was off in Germany checking out her new home. She’d been offered a two year post-doc in Mainz.

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One week ago, Kate Furneaux was riding her bike in Leeds and a truck knocked her over and she died.

My other housemate, Ruth, rang to tell me yesterday. I can’t believe it. But it’s true. I am so angry at the world. I want to punch the walls down with my fists.

Kate really was incredible. Any one of her million friends will tell you. She had such enthusiasm, positivity, generosity. I have never met anyone with such lovely energy. She loved the world and her family and the friends she had a habit of collecting from several continents.

She was always last to go to bed, pottering around in the kitchen with a pot of exotic tea, cooking up some ridiculously healthy organic vegetables and chopping salad to take for lunch the next day. In the morning, she usually left the house before the rest of us had stumbled out of bed. She worked hard on her phd, spending long hours in her office at uni. But she was always off doing something exciting on the weekend – hiking or camping or visiting friends, or going to a festival or a football match. She moved out a couple of months before the rest of us did in order to do field work in Borneo. And it feels so hollow to write this because all we can do now is tell stories about her, and it’s not supposed to be like that. She’s supposed to be making her own stories. She’d just turned 27.

I went to yoga last night and I was doing ok, but at the end they played that song by Sting:

On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star

like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are

how fragile we are

It was raining outside. I lay on my mat, breathing and alive, the way Kate should be. I lost it completely.

Because I don’t like how fragile we are. I think it’s crap.

Cycling in the cold

requires layers. Michael’s evoke a slightly more elegant impression than mine do, being various shades of black and charcoal. I have a navy blue long-sleeved woolen undershirt, over which I wear my turquoise, white and yellow cycling t-shirt. It says Astana, which I later discovered is the capital of Kazakhstan. I bought it because it has a sun on it. I wear black cycling shorts over pale grey leggings. My helmet is dark red, my gloves are bright red, veering on fluorescent orange. My socks are black but they have pink stars. At least I am visible.

I’m rather proud of us for getting out there. It was ten degrees. You hardly sweat at all but puff lots of cold air. The hot shower at the end is heavenly.

Bits and bobs

Here I am, to join the crowd (everyone else has been doing this). You can make yours here. (Or you should be able to, at least. The link isn’t working for me at the moment.)

Just got back from a ride. Think I overdid it – feeling slightly flattened. I’ve been experimenting with going quite fast up the first long hill – what’s a bit of leg pain and bursting lungs? On the way back some race-bikes overtook me but I managed to tail them for quite a way. Still can’t keep up with M. The race-bikes couldn’t either. We’ve cycled 150k since getting back from Austria a week ago.

In other news…

I have an external examiner! Much excitement. And many thanks to certain Australian medievalists who suggested him.

My introduction is getting written, one block at a time. I’ve come up with a much clearer structure than I had a few weeks ago. I wish I was quicker at this, though.

I am taller than 98% of German women, and 80% of English men. How about that.

We’ve been watching the first series of The Street. Slightly harrowing, but very cool. The red brick terrace made me somewhat nostalgic. Timothy Spall is my hero.

One of the characters was drinking his tea out of my favourite tea cup. This made me happy.

Summer

Despite the earnest sentiments expressed in my last post, this week I’ve been wondering if I should hand in my Australian passport. It’s been HOT. And I haven’t been coping. Not sleeping well, feeling faint and floppy. But when I say hot, I mean 28 degrees. Nothing.

Nevertheless, we went cycling yesterday evening. The sun baked down on us and the warm air brushed our skin. It was my eighth 30k ride since arriving two weeks ago, bringing my total to 240k. I want to see how long it takes to get to 1000. M’s managed one more ride than me so far, so he’s at 270. We cycle to a lake. Often there’s a lone duck, preening her feathers. Sometimes there are ducklings, six of them, peeping and paddling. And a woodpecker, tap-tapping above us. Once last week it was over-run with picnicking families, reminding me of the scene at the end of Cloudstreet. The other day, on the way back, I saw a tiny red squirrel, scampering across the road (made a nice change to all the squashed ones).

Anyway, yesterday was the first time I could actually keep up! Usually M passes me on a hill and that’s the end of it. But this time I kept him in sight. I floated up those hills, and flew down them.

But it was hot. So when we got to the lake…

Domestics

General consensus says that my small but devoted readership must be sick to death of Halden photos by now. Especially as they are, according to general consensus, all a variation of about two and a half views. Well, it’s a small town. A small town with a river and a harbour and a fortress, which is all a small town needs and more. And at least this one’s colourful, right?

I made up for my muffin-flop on Tuesday by making yesterday what was, without a doubt, the yummiest veggie-chilli in the whole world. Diced, fried carrots, kidney beans (half of them squashed), peas and char grilled red peppers. Or capsicums, as we say in the land of sun. Mixed up with tomatoes and spices and garlic. Oh my.

And I made brownies from a recipe on the cocoa box. I thought maybe if I used a Norwegian recipe the Norwegian ingredients and measurements would contribute to my success. Well, it was a success, but more like a cake than brownies. Still.

I just got back from my first bike ride of the season. Today it was ten degrees! Almost tropical! The enthusiastic donning of my sunglasses turned out to be unnecessary. But so, thankfully, were the gloves. I stuffed them all into the pockets of my fleece, and zoomed along though 30k of hills and lakes and pine forests. The light was milky, and so were the lakes. Some had patches of ice, but they were melting fast.

I love my bike. It’s sleek and powerful, and changes gear with the flick of a finger. Not like the clunky thing I get about on in Leeds, which requires the handles to be twisted and held in place to change gear – difficult when they’re slippery with rain. No, cycling here is something else. Plus there are hardly any potholes and buses and drunk pedestrians.

Anyway, I got back around 6:30 and the man was no where to be seen. There was a note, saying he’d got a dinner invite for 6. Now, in over a year, we’ve only ever had two dinner invites, and they were on the same night. Sigh. At least I have my brownie cake.

The end of Summer

I fly to Leeds this afternoon. It has been lovely to have a day and a half in the snuggle-house, to pack, to recover, to reflect. It was a good summer. We got back to Norway from Monterey on Monday night. Our Austrian paragliding licenses arrived in the post yesterday – hurrah!! Two years after we began learning, we are now fully qualified paraglider pilots. Yippee!!!

It’s always sad to leave, but I’m anxious to get on with my chapter. I think I’ve had enough sunshine to keep me going for a while. After paragliding in Salt Lake, we spent a week in Monterey California, where the lovie had a conference. I managed to get some reading and writing done, in between splashing in the pool and spotting otters and sea lions. I saw an otter in the harbour, swimming on its back, cradling a baby otter on its belly! This has to be the highlight.

And yesterday, I cycled out to the lakes. I had planned to do lots of cycling this summer, but I got sick. I love the smooth, connected feel of it – the way I can feel the road through the handlebars and the pedals, when my feet are locked in with the cleats. I love the wind in my face, and going fast uphill as well as down. I love the fields and the lakes and the birch trees sliding past, the dark, crowded avenues of pines, the taste of the cool air and the sun on my back. I sat at the lake for a while, watching the pale blue reflection of the sky hovering silvery above the deeper, earthy blue of the lake’s depths. These lakes, through Australian eyes, still seem ridiculously abundant. It is good here. But I carry it with me. It will last.

Return of the snuggle-car

The snuggle-car is back in action! For its untimely demise, see clunk cluck clunk. This next photo is proof of how happy we were before it broke down last Saturday:

We got it back yesterday, the third day the mechanic told us it ‘might be ready’. Luckily it finally was, and now we can drive to nice places with our bikes and have picnics.

And we can drive to shops. Such as the big garden shop, which has quite a remarkable collection of fake flowers and plants. Such as these lovely green blobbles.