Birthday 

My darling Felix turns six tomorrow. We had a party yesterday. He’d been dreaming of this dragon cake from the Women’s Weekly cookbook for nearly a year, and I’m so pleased we managed to pull it off. Michael took Antonia out swimming on Saturday morning and Felix stayed home to help me decorate the cakes and the house. ‘This is the first time we’ve decorated this house!’ he declared, solemnly, joyfully, as we sticky-taped his Jurassic World banners to the windows. Themed party decorations were also high on his wish-list, after he had wistfully observed them at his friends’ parties. It was so gratifying to be able to oblige.

I was a bit nervous about the party, as it was a lot of work to prepare, and he would have a mix of his old and new friends there, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work. In the end it was fine. The parents of his new friends didn’t stay, so I didn’t need to worry about engaging with adults who weren’t comfortable speaking English (we lived in a bit of a bubble at the kids’ old kindergarten, which was bilingual). I did, however, have to communicate with a handful of 5-6 year olds in my creaky Norwegian, but I got by ok. The new friends monopolised Felix but the old friends played with each other, and there were no disasters apart from one kid tumbling down the stairs (oops) and another one getting nervous and hiding and not wanting to eat lunch. Felix beautifully calmed this one down, and enticed him to rejoin the celebrations – I was so proud of him.

Felix loved the party, and even relished the singing of Happy Birthday (in both Norwegian and English). When he was younger – maybe even last year, I’m not sure – we could never sing it to him, he was far too self-conscious. Today he’s been cheerfully putting together the lego sets his friends gave him. We went for a little walk in the afternoon to the frozen fjord. I have pictures – I’ll try to put them up tomorrow. But it was funny, Felix’s comment about decorating the house, because I have been musing a bit on the house over the past couple of days. How our lives and daily routines have changed, expanded, to fit this space. How our move here in May last year coincided with a big change for Felix in terms of what he wanted to play with – he’s hardly touched his trains since he’s been here, and they were such an obsession for years. There’s more to say about this, but it’s bedtime, and oh so nearly his birthday.

 

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Birthday presents!

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Antonia had been anticipating her birthday for months. Mostly I she wanted us to sing happy birthday to her. We had some cake after dinner on Tuesday, and barnehage gave her a cardboard birthday crown. She was very slow opening her presents because she loved them all. (A wooden rocket, and a plastic breakfast set with salt shakers, coffee pots, eggs and egg cups. ‘Dolly’ from Grandma, and ‘Baby’ that Oma gave her last week. Once she discovered the pram all she wanted to do was take her babies to the ‘playground’. We’re having a party with some friends on Sunday, so the festivities aren’t over yet.

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A very nice birthday

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Even my garden gave me a birthday present – all its flowers opened up over the past week, just in time. Michael got afternoon tea ready. Antonia learned how to sing happy birthday (she likes to sing it to me as long as I sing it to her too), and Felix reminded everyone that we needed to sing it, and insisted that I have the first piece of cake. My gorgeous friends threw a surprise picnic for me last weekend, no less. I’m feeling fortunate, and feeling loved.

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Antonia turns 1 (32/52)

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My beautiful baby turned one on Sunday. My adorable, affectionate, adventurous Antonia. Felix was there to open her presents and eat her cake. It brought back memories of Felix’s first birthday. (That party was a little quieter, because of the lack of four year olds tearing around.) But Antonia’s was as lovely as could be. Here’s a photo from the archives, exactly one year earlier, the day Antonia was born:

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Felix was shy of her, to start with, but wanted to give her her bear.

A year. A year with these two beautiful creatures. Antonia has started daycare now and it is hard to be apart, especially from her perspective. When I pick her up we hug and hug and she relaxes quickly, then demands to go scoot around on the bikes outside. She loves to stand on the platform on the back of a tricycle while Felix rides it around.

As ever, she wakes frequently at night to feed, and I stroke her hair and breathe her in. In the morning, I wake to her smile, her earnest wet kisses, her soft soft cheeks.

Felix wants to know when she will turn proper 1, when she will start to talk. He was a little surprised that she didn’t seem much different from the day before.

More from the archives. When Antonia was tiny, all she wanted was to snuggle in close.

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Dear sweet Antonia, at exactly one year old you adore your family and we adore you. You love to be outside and bounce and zoom around, and you love to be on our laps reading books. You have kisses for all of us. You can mmmmmm like a cow, buzz like a bee, meow like a cat, and rah like a lion. When you don’t want something (food, a person) you wave it away fervently. When you do want something you point with great insistence and say eh eh! When I pick you up from barnehage you sing quietly to yourself, ‘mamamamama’. I am so very glad you’re here. We love you. We love you. We love you so.

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And more pictures from her party. xxx

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Happy birthday Mum

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This week I bought myself some baggy terracotta coloured pants, and wearing them I feel a little as though I am channeling my Mum, as she was about 30 years ago, when she was young(er), when she had small children. I’m sure she had pants a bit like them. She’s told me many times that the happiest years of her life were those when her children were little. I don’t feel she’s dismissing other times in her life when she says this, but little children are so grounding, you need to be so present with them, it is special. And uncomplicated in a way, although certainly challenging.

Mum always says she loved being 30; she felt when she turned 30 she had it all sorted out. Of course, she adds, shortly after that it all came crumbling down. But I admire the way she sorts it out after all, again and again. (Mostly by realising it doesn’t need to be all sorted out, I think, but loving and trusting and being present anyway.)

Anyway, I was walking into town the other day, feeling a bit like my Mum and trying to remember what she was like when she was my age, and younger than my age – she was only 25 when I was born, but I was 35 when Antonia was born. I remember her wearing autumnal colours and knitting herself a jumper with llamas on it, and talking to me from the kitchen as I drew at the table. And she would buy huge blocks of real clay for us to make things with. And all the time she was piecing together the beginnings of a new career, having decided not to go back to teaching history in high schools.

She will still do anything in the world for me, without it seeming an imposition. She’s happy to mend my clothes, listen without judgement, come for late night walks with me, chat on skype whenever the fancy takes me, play endlessly with Felix, change Antonia’s diapers, travel across the world to be with me when my babies are born. All this and work full time and be similarly grounding and reflective for our whole extended family, the children and young adults she counsels, the psychologists and social workers she manages and mentors, and pretty much anyone else who needs her. Even Antonia adores her, beaming already as soon as I turn on skype.

Her best friend, her sister, her parents and my dad are all having (or have had) dinner with her, so my birthday wish for Mum is a walk in the sun, nowhere special to be, no problems to solve for anyone, a moment to breathe, like the one I had on Wednesday, walking into town in the shiny spring sunshine, daydreaming in my terracotta pants.

Sending you so much love from all of us – we can’t wait to see you in July. xxx

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Four

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Happy birthday to my dearest four year old, who whoops with delight at his bright green ice cream cake, then blows each candle out gently, one by one, then insists that everyone tastes it, and checks that we can save a piece for Grandma. Who makes friends with ‘little guys’ in playgrounds and cafes in two seconds flat, but is nearly too scared to listen to a picture book about little chicks and a fox, and then listens anyway, his hands over his ears. We couldn’t have invented you. We love you so.

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We had pretty much the perfect day on Felix’s birthday last Friday. I stayed up past midnight the night before re-building the trackmaster Thomas tracks he received for Christmas, as his most dearly held wish for his birthday was more ‘plastic trains’, and he would need to be able to try them out immediately. (This is a feat about 20 times as complicated as it sounds, but I can say that now I’m a pro.) He unwrapped his presents on the steps in the morning. ‘Plastic Charlie! . . . ‘Plastic Emily!’

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Mum had most of the day off so we took him to the Royal Copenhagen ice cream shop in Brighton for a pancake and ice cream breakfast. ‘We should come here again’, he said, whilst polishing off substantial portions of his chocolate smeared crepe, strawberries and chocolate ice cream. He then made friends with a little girl and sat in the window seat with her pushing his little car back and forth.

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It was then time for sandcastles, a swim and a wander on the jetty, before lunch and heading back home to play. My Grandparents came over for a simple dinner. Felix was absolutely adorable the entire time. He didn’t even kick up a fuss when he realised he had received his final present. After dinner we were all sitting downstairs and he said to my Grandparents: ‘Will you come to my birthday next year in Norway?’ My Granddad started to explain that it was a bit far away, but Grandma interrupted: ‘Peter, don’t say that. Of course.’

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Early birthday

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We had an early birthday party for Felix today in our favourite local park. A perfect selection of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunties (one of Mum’s sisters and one of Dad’s), cousins and second cousins attended.

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I was very proud of the four tier strawberry sponge cake I made and Felix helped to decorate but I managed to smudge the icing just before serving, and had to patch up Thomas’s face and wagons with berries.

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Felix liked the jelly best anyway.

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Michael heads back to Norway next week but I’ve decided to stay on with the kids for another month – I’m not ready to say goodbye to my family or the weather.

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We organised the party in a bit of a rush over the past couple of days but we’d been talking about it since September when we booked our tickets. It was just so nice and I’m glad we had it early so Michael could come too.

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Felix kept asking when we were going to have ‘the race’. The park has a cute little bike and scooter path and he expected all his second cousins to get on their scooters and have a race with him! At one point he said ‘we’re never going to have this race’. Luckily enough of them obliged by getting on their vehicles and scooting around. I think Felix was the only one really aware of the ‘race’, however. He won.

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Packages

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Michael turned 40 a couple of weeks ago. There’s a tradition at his work that your colleagues decorate your office to mark the occasion and this is what they came up with. The packages are because Michael loves ordering things, and the huge photo of Trinity College library is a nod to the office library he has singlehandedly created. Felix loved it and insisted on taking the littlest package home.

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Three

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I didn’t mean to stop writing here it just sort of happened. And then every time I think about starting, I think – but how will I say everything? So I say nothing. Today I will say something.

Felix turned three a couple of weeks ago and he is thrilled about it. He counted down the sleeps to his party. The next day, he said hopefully – it’s still my birthday? No, we said. First it’s Daddy’s birthday, then it’s Mummy’s birthday, then it’s Christmas, then it’s Felix’s birthday again. He seemed happy with that and recites it back to us sometimes. But, he said, I’m still three?

And I’ve been meaning to write about what he’s like at this age for months and months and I always think I won’t do it justice. But here is one small thing. He is startlingly good at adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors, which warms his mother’s heart. In Australia he was tipping sand off my parents deck, reeling off so many descriptions that I can’t recall them. Tumbling, floating, twinkling… The other night we were looking at a picture of a combine harvester and he was looking at the grain coming out of the spout. Like a shower! He said. Like a waterfall!

He also loves maps, which he didn’t get from me as I have no sense of direction. We discovered this half a year ago in Austria when in no time at all he was able to point out the river and the town on the map. Michael spent some time with him on the weekend showing him Norway and Germany and Britain and Switzerland, as Michael is in Switzerland this week. Then he showed him the road to the barnehage, pointing out the points of interest on the way. As we drove there a couple of days ago, Felix said – there’s the cranes! Like on the map!

He really is generally pretty adorable, with of course bouts of small-person attitude thrown in. He was getting bored with stirring his porridge the other morning (I’d added too much milk so it was taking a while). If you’ve had enough, I said, you can go and play. I’d be delighted to have enough, he announced, and climbed down from his chair.

2nd Birthday Party

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Felix had ball at his birthday party today: he loved the attention, the friends, the presents, the jelly, the vegetarian hotdogs (he ate three!) and the cake.

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The photographer in the house is complaining about the quality of these images (as you can see he’s in the photos not taking them), but I reckon we had so much else to do that it’s an achievement to have any sort of a record. Our house was full to capacity – five of Felix’s friends came (not counting the baby who slept in her carseat the entire time), and 8 of their parents – German, Swiss, South African, Irish and Norwegian – and everyone had a nice time. Then everyone went home and we all had a nap, which was nice too.

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Two

My gorgeous boy is two years old today. I do not know why I am quite so proud. I am terribly proud. I am proud to bursting. I want to tell everyone – look, my beautiful boy, he’s two!

When I picked him up from the barnehage yesterday, there was a valentine’s card he’d helped to make for me waiting in his spot. ‘Did you make that for Mummy?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘Thank you, it’s so pretty!’ ‘Pretty for Mummy on the train.’ As it happens I will be on the train to Oslo on Valentine’s day. I think I’ll take it with me.

Yesterday another mother was picking up her boy, hugging him and squeezing his cheeks. ‘Is he not the cutest boy you ever have seen’, she said to me, with uncharacteristic expressiveness. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘apart from my own.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘but have you looked at him closely?’

We had a lovely day – a bun in our favourite cafe, a play in the park and the library with some little friends, before picking up a parcel from my Mum at the postoffice on the way home. Felix loved his miniature kettle and whisk. In the afternoon we went out to order a cake for his birthday party (Michael is away all week, and time is of the essence), and Felix begged me to stop at McDonalds on the way back (you walk past it to get back to the car). As it was his birthday, I thought, why not, so he capped off the day with his very first happy meal. Not exactly what I had planned but he had a wonderful time, and clutched his complementary balloon all the way home.

Sixteen months: brought to you by balls, bubbles, puddles

In a couple of days, my darling, you will turn sixteen months old. You amaze us every day. You make us laugh. A couple of times this week you stretched your normal 6am wakeup to 4.30 am, which we weren’t exactly thrilled about, but as you smiled at us sweetly, your father had to ask ‘could you be any cuter?’ You took your first steps over a month ago but it has only been in the past couple of days that you’ve been comfortable just walking around everywhere without having to think about it too much. I think it’s made you much more relaxed in general. Today you were running in circles around your father in the kitchen, giggling.

Your latest words are ‘shut’, and ‘keys’. You are quite frustrated when doors are shut, but at least you have a word for it now. You are pretty much obsessed by songs with actions, and there are several we watch together on youtube every day, in addition to songs that go with your boardbooks, songs you learn in barnehage, and songs we sing in the car and in the bath. Some of your favourites right now are ‘Down at the station’, ‘Insy Wincy Spider’, and a very silly one on youtube called ‘Uh-huh’ (actually you really like all the youtube clips from Super Simple Songs). You adore your books and have taken to toddling off to pick the one you want to read next and bringing it back to me. Your favourites at the moment are any with flaps to lift, and any about trains. You love pointing out animals and practicing your animal sounds.

This weekend your parents were a bit grumpy and tired, but together we turned it all around. As it was raining today and we couldn’t think of anything else to do, we went across to the big shopping centre in Sweden again. Your father bought you hundreds of balls. When you discovered them after your nap, you couldn’t believe it. ‘Ba! ba!’ you said, tottering over to them and plonking yourself in.

Later I made us a cake. I turned 33 this week and took two of these cakes to work on my birthday, but I decided we needed one all to ourselves. It turns out a family of three can demolish a sponge roll in one sitting, even if one family member is less than a meter tall. (It’s also probably time a sponge roll featured on my blog again. Our new oven is better for baking than our old one. I’m always tempted to try out variations such as chocolate and raspberries, but I will record here for posterity that you cannot beat a sponge roll with strawberries and cream.) You insisted on eating your piece with a spoon. Mermos was also impressed and snuck in through the kitchen window to lick up the cream.

Just before your bedtime, the sun finally came out, so we headed into the garden. You ran around the trampoline for a while and had a poke in the sandpit, but got frustrated trying to walk on the lawn in your gumboots so I took you over to the driveway. Oh my. We have the best puddles. The cats couldn’t quite work out why you wanted to stand in the middle of them.

I remember a card my Mum had sent me half way through my pregnancy, with a photo of a little boy toddling down a lane. And it’s hard to say exactly what I felt, except that it was somehow momentous, seeing you stamp around your very first chain of perfect puddles, and pick yourself up when you fell.

Five Years

This little blog turns five years old today. Five years feels a long time and a short time. Much has changed, and, strangely, much has not. When I started blogging, I split my time between England and Norway, and I was midway through a PhD. Now I live in Norway, the PhD is long finished, and there is a new little human in our lives. I have enjoyed posting these little postcards to myself and to the world.

To celebrate, over the next five days I will repost one of my favourite posts from each year of this blog. To begin:

                                                                                                           

July 2007: Parapenting

That’s paragliding. In French. We return with brown arms and peeling noses, serious leg muscles, and – almost – two paragliding licences. Eight amazing flights, but no photos. Too many other things to think about. I shall attempt a slide show in words.

Image 1, Monday: Despair

Our attempts at paragliding always involve highs and lows. In the past we’ve battled floods and weeks of unflyable conditions. This time it seemed too good to be true – Monday morning, up on the mountain bright and early, light wind, perfect conditions, arranging our lovely new wings ready for take off. And then the instructor takes a closer look. Where’s the gutesegel? Wings flown by German pilots in Germany are required to be certified by the DHV – the German hang-gliding and paragliding association. Our wings are certified by the European association, not the German one. No matter that we are in France, we live in Norway and England, and the flight school is Austrian. We cannot fly.

We sit on the back of the launch site, our shiny wings crumpled around us, our heads in our hands, as other people launch. It had been too good to be true, after all.

Eventually a very kind man who already had his licence offered to swap gliders with me. His wing was ten years old, but at least it had the right certification! And we were the same weight, which is important. I got two flights. Poor Michael carried his glider back down to the landing field. The next day the school found one he could rent from them. All was not lost…

Image 2, Tuesday: Rain

We lie in the back of the snuggle-car, and read. Rain falls on its roof and the windows, all day and all night, turning the camp ground to mud.

Image 3: The French Cat

White, brown and ginger patches, beside the red geraniums.

Image 4, Wenesday: The Climb

Despite the shuttle service, you still have to lug your 15kg glider on your back up the mountain for at least 15 minutes in the sun. That’s where the leg muscles come from.

Image 5: Take off

You can’t take a photo of this, anyway. The weight and the balance of it, as you plunge forward and the glider lifts behind you, and now is above you, and you run, and are suddenly weightless, and the wing that you carried now carries you, and the hillside disappears below, and you sit back in your harness and the air is all around: gentle, smooth, free.

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In the afternoon we go to the high mountain. There are gliders everywhere: launching, hovering, spiraling up in the thermals, crossing against the sun. Like great multicoloured birds, like a carnival.

Image 7: The Thermal Flight

Now it is my turn to launch. The wind is quite strong but I’m off with no problems, and the instructor says fly right, fly into the thermal, fly circles. Soon I am high over the launch site. I am flying up, for the first time. My first thermal. Other gliders kite around me, but I seem to be in the perfect spot, I go up and up and leave them behind. I am at cloud-base. The air beneath the cloud’s grey belly is slightly misty. It’s much colder up here, 6000 feet above the valley floor. My t-shirt is not enough. I wish I was wearing gloves. The mountains stretch below me in every direction. I can see the whole valley. I can see white clouds beside me in the sunlight. I can see the other gliders far below, distant and tiny, like tic-tacs. I hover there easily. Eventually, slightly nervous that the cloud will swallow me, I fly out towards the landing site. But I do not come down for a long time, nearly an hour, shivering with cold and with joy. The sky is reluctant to let me go.

Image 8: Wind

The next day the wind is too strong to launch, but we play about with the gliders anyway, practicing. The lovie does fine. Come, Meli, come, he says, you try too. Apprehensively I hook myself up to my glider. The wind seems to get stronger. Just hold it there for a minute, he says. But the wind is insistent and it shoots up anyway, dragging me sideways until I manage to get it up properly, controling it above me. But the sky likes me too much. Suddenly I am four metres above the ground, and I’m not coming down. The lovie stands below me, more scared than I am. When I do come down, he grabs me and pulls the lines, and we tumble over together and the glider miraculously stops. No harm done, and I got an extra little flight. Heh.

I can fly. I can fly. I can fly.

Happy birthday, Nanna!

This weekend my wonderful and very clever Nanna turns 89. We’ll be on the road back to Norway, so I wanted to wish her a very happy birthday now. We had such a nice time visiting her while we were in Australia, and going shopping with her, and going out for breakfast at the French Cafe, and out for lunch with Dad at the Belair Hotel. We crashed Dad’s and Nanna’s regular Thursday lunchtime date twice, and they got us to take a picture of them at their regular table. I love you so much, Nanna, and wish I could go out with you every week. xxx

A little birthday party

Today some close friends came over and we had a little birthday party for Felix. Good friends are so precious. In this photo you can also see: Felix’s lion, which was a hand-me-down from a very lovely lady in Idaho Falls, who has a son a couple of years older than Felix (Felix adores this lion, so my cake was an attempt to approximate it); the curtains my Grandma gave us; the coffee cups and milk jug my Nanna gave us for our wedding; tulips which reminded me of the ones you can see here; a vase which was a birthday present from the barnehage; a delicious cheesecake made by my lovely Norwegian friend; a colourful bowl that my parents gave me when I moved to York; a candle holder that Michael acquired many many years ago, long before I met him; and the gorgeous cardigan that my Mum knitted for me while we were in Australia, shortly after these photos were taken. So although we are a long way away from our families, we were pretty much surrounded by love. And Felix seemed to like the cake.

The little guy had a good time playing with his birthday presents and his new friend Pearce.

In the background in this one you can see the walker that we spied in a shop in Adelaide, but Michael’s parents bought for Felix in Germany. It was a happy day. Surrounded by love, indeed.

The week you turned one

You fed yourself porridge, spoonful by heaped spoonful.

The sun shone on our little house and we were happy inside it.

The tracks I made pulling you on a little sled around the tree stayed there all week.

You watched schnappi with your father.

You patted the cat, and chased him around the house, and squealed with glee every time you saw him. (Sorry that Mermos just looks like a black blob – it’s really hard to get a picture of him. It’s even harder to get a picture of Felix and Whitby together because every time Whitby hears Felix make a sound, he’s out of there.)

You slept in your pram.

You walked up and down our living room, clutching your new walker. You stood by yourself with your hands in the air and a grin on your face. You had your first full days in barnehage, which just about broke my heart. You really liked it until you were smitten with a nasty cold. You held up your lion blanky and whispered ‘raaa!’ You pointed to the sheep in you books and said ‘baa!’ You pointed out the doors, and exclaiming ‘door!’ everywhere you went. The image of you crawling up to a new doorway and peering around the corner is one I never want to forget. You looked very sweet in your new winter wardrobe. (And yes, that’s the green jumper I knitted. I am so pleased with it.) You woke me up many times, every night. But I adore you.

One Year

things don’t recur precisely, on the sacred earth: they rhyme

Les Murray, ‘The Idyll Wheel’

There was snow today, but not as much as last year. It was cold, but not as cold. The sky that filled the bare trees was pink as the sun rose and orange as it set.

This day last year, I baked brownies, I waited, I walked through the snow, I visited friends, I waited, I went to bed. I would not have long to wait.

Today, I baked an orange and blueberry cake, I made a lentil shepherds pie to eat for dinner today and tomorrow, for I return to work tomorrow, I knitted, I finished writing a paper, I walked through the snow, a friend visited me, I tucked my very nearly one year old son into bed.

Returning to Norway this past week has felt like the right thing to do. It has been strange, overlaying last year with this year. Being suddenly back here, at just this time, I feel the memories in my body. My body feels narrow and strong, because last year it was stretched and heavy. Small things bring moments back – walking along the cobbled main street, bending over to blow-dry my hair (something only a Norwegian winter can induce me to do), the warm, woody smell of our bedroom.

Things do not recur precisely. But a world with a Felix in it is a better world indeed.

More photos from Australia Day

On Australia Day we had a BBQ at my aunt’s house, which turned into an impromptu early birthday party for the babies. Here they are testing out each other’s presents.

I made some bug-cakes

Mala tried to steal Grandma’s lunch

Felix practiced his standing

and learnt how to wash the dishes.

Next time the little guys meet they will be taller, older, wiser. This next little sequence of events is too sweet not to record.

Six months

Well, my dear sweet boy, it seems tonight you have forgotten how to sleep (or, more precisely, sleep without me by your side), which means composing this post is taking longer than I had anticipated. We do however persist in lugging you all over the country, so it’s perfectly understandable if it takes you a couple of days to get back to normal. I’ve left you snoozing in my bed, which you’ve made abundantly clear is more palatable than your crib this evening. It is your half-birthday, after all.

You were weighed and measured two weeks ago, and you are a very tall and healthy guy. You were 8.4 kilos and 71cm, which puts you at the 99th percentile for height and 78th percentile for weight, and means you’ve grown on average three centimetres a month! At six months, you love water bottles, paper cups, and, most of all, plastic cups with icy drinks inside.

You also love cameras, the TV remote, and our computers. You would quite like to eat them all. You will also happily gnaw away on a stick of sweet potato or a pizza crust. You are not so keen on any form of goo.

You really are a charming little fellow, and whenever we are out and about (which is often, as you insist upon it), you are constantly scanning the environment for new people to entrance. When we were out at a pizza restaurant in Boise, the waitress was trying to tell us the specials, but you kept interrupting with your own monologue: ‘aha! aha! aha!’ You looked very pleased with yourself and had the rest of us in stitches.

Your hair is getting fairer and thicker. Your eyes are going greyish in the middle – I don’t know if they’ll end up grey-green like mine or grey-blue like you father’s. You are learning to sit up and can manage it for a couple of seconds at a time. You’ve discovered you can rest your feet on the tray on your stroller.

You are very clear about what you want, and if we suggest you might like to chew on one of your toys instead of the TV remote, for example, you are not easily convinced. You have also just worked out that if you throw something on the floor we will pick it up for you. You think this highly entertaining.

You love your baths. You especially want to eat the flannel. You look for it as soon as we get in. I do not encourage this. You love getting dried off after your baths by your father. He’s invented a game where he drops a little towel on top of your face, saying ‘where’s my baby?’ and you pull it off and you laugh at each other.

You are still a snuggly little guy. When you are tired you cling to my shoulders and bury your face in my neck.

Today we walked with you along the river, hung out with you in the coffee shop, and played with trains for the first time in the Barnes and Noble. We didn’t buy you a train yet but we bought you some farm animals to play with in the bath. We celebrated with cupcakes after you went to bed (six months is quite an achievement for us, too).

You are the sweetest and funniest person we know. You’ve changed everything. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy birthday Grandma!

It was my grandma’s 81st birthday yesterday. I even remembered to call her. (It helps that it’s Guy Fawkes day: remember remember the 5th of November.) Anyway, I’m glad you had a nice day Grandma and that everything is going so well for you. I thought of you as I heated up my soup for lunch yesterday. I miss being able to drop in to your place for lunch! (My Grandma has a pretty much open house policy for family members. If you turn up around midday you get lunch. She even gives us keys so we can raid her chocolate biscuit stash even when she’s not home.) And even though she’s on the other side of the globe, she insisted on buying me new curtains – proper curtains, with lining – to help keep us warm this winter. Here’s a shot of them. I love them. I wish she could come around for a cup of tea.

In other news, I’ve been writing and writing and the big siberian larch outside my window is turning brown. Michael thinks it looks pretty depressing, but in the sun (which has finally returned after two weeks of rain) it lights up like a birthday candle.

Birthday thoughts for Grandma

It’s snowing outside. It started this afternoon, so faintly I didn’t notice at first. But the babbies didn’t like it, it was far too cold, so I took them all in again. Now, under the streetlights, the night is broken by swirling white.

It’s my Grandma’s 80th birthday tomorrow, which is already today in Australia. Happy happy birthday!!!

I have thought of my Grandma often since I started working in the kindergarten. Being with all the little children has made me remember my own childhood. My Grandma was such a big part of it.

My brother, my cousins and I spent so much time at her house. I remember…

Sitting in her clothes basket in the garden. I’m not sure if this is a memory or a memory of a photograph.

Having very many dinners with my cousins around her kitchen table. Recently I’ve been re-imagining all these memories from and adult perspective. What must it have been like to have all those children around?

Sneaking down the long hallway on sleepovers because we ‘couldn’t sleep’, and knew if we poked our heads around the tv room door we’d get hot milk with honey in the cups with the birds on them, and half an hour of late night tennis watching.

Grandma showing me these incredibly long cloths embroidered by distant aunts a long long time ago.

Her kitchen. The texture of her bench-tops, the ABC news on the radio, the funny little secret drawers where the flour and the sugar were kept. The day we were making Christmas pudding and the mixer exploded and we got Christmas pudding all over us. The day I accidentally broke a china bowl and she wasn’t angry at me but I could see that she was sad because it had belonged to her mother. I felt terrible, and so did she. But she said – ‘it’s only a thing’.

Trips into town for afternoon tea.

Her garden. The big leaves out the back where we played at being tigers. The miniature violets I used to pick for my great grandma, who lived with my Grandma at the end of her life. She told me fairies lived there. Sometimes I pretended I saw them. The broad green lawn where my cousins and I build space ships out of garden furniture. The swings on the island. The jasmine growing on the bridge.

Her love of beauty – whether mountains or gum trees or autumn leaves or jacaranda blooms or Lalique glass.

Her stories of the wide wide world. Her joy in my chance to explore that world.

My Grandma taught me how to make bobbin lace, and how to make the perfect sponge roll. When I was doing my masters in York, Grandma and Granddad came to visit me, and took me to St Petersburg because I loved Dostoevsky.

So, yep, my Grandma is pretty special. She has always adored all of us, no matter what, and we’ve always known it. And these memories only scratch the surface. I’m so glad you had a wonderful birthday party last weekend, and I hope you have a brilliant day today. I’m sending thoughts of the last bright autumn leaves and the first whirling snow flakes into the beginning of your Adelaide summer. And I can’t wait to see you at Christmas. xxx

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.

It’s my time

Thanks for the birthday wishes, folks! Michael has devised a play-list for my birthday, which pretty much consists of this stunning UK Eurovision number, plus ‘Can you feel the love tonight‘ from the Lion King. He tells me he won’t stop playing ‘My Time’ on repeat until I put it on my blog and inflict it on the rest of you… (The pink, for some reason, is also a requirement. Probably because it matches the pink champagne he brought back from Paris…)

It’s only a number

Michael is giving me a running commentary. Three hours and forty minutes to go, he says. He says people in their thirties are very sensible and don’t laugh at rude jokes or say silly phrases or bounce up and down for no reason. He says couples in their thirties only kiss twice a day: one goodbye kiss as you leave for work, and one goodnight kiss. He says people in their thirties don’t wear socks with blue smiley faces on them. He says tomorrow is the first day of the rest my life.

We’ll see.

Rare Sunshine

It’s mostly been low clouds and rain you can walk in.

Meeting went well today. They liked my introduction. We went through it together, in detail, and they had lots of minor suggestions to make it better. But they are small things. Stylistic things. (I need to keep an eye on the ends of some paragraphs and where I pick up again after block quotes.) But they said it is good. It is all there. And they really loved the first three pages, which I had revised over and over every time I read through it. Eek! Eek! Eek! (Very pleased with myself. My thesis-zone last time I was in Norway paid off.)

And they think I can make December. I told supervisor two that I didn’t want to hand it in if it isn’t ready. She said it’s never ready. Just do it.

They are very pleased I am staying in the UK next week too and have offered to meet with me again, individually.

Everyone is being very nice to me. Offering me beds to sleep in. Lending me money when the bank refused to give me any without my passport (long story – will bring passport tomorrow). Supervisor two even offered me money (which I refused) and told me I can stay with her if I need. Can I say again, she is one of the nicest, best, cleverest people on earth. (I’m pretty sure they don’t read this, but it’s still true, even if they do.)

I have been thinking about distant friends. Including one who is not well. She had better be ok.

Been thinking about my Mum too. Would be nice to drink tea together. Next year will do, I guess.

And my brother’s art exhibition.

And Michael, teaching in Stavanger.

It was my Grandma’s birthday yesterday. Happy birthday! There were lots of fireworks here, just for you.

I am happy-gleeful-joyful about the election. But not about prop 8.

And now I am calming my buzzing mind and beating heart and preparing to look again at the intro, and thread in all their suggested changes, and look again at my weakest chapters before I meet with them next week. Pity I can’t just smile at the thesis and watch it grow wings. But it will get there. It will.

More thoughts on 29

(And another gratuitous cake photo.)

I was going to write a long reflective post last night, but found I was completely exhausted, and went to sleep instead. So.

1. Birthday conversations.

M (on skype): happy birthday!
me: Thanks! My housemate made me a cake.
M: I made you a cake too.
me: oh did you? What kind is it?
M: um, it’s a very nice cake. A chocolate cake. Very light and delicate, filled with – er – cloud-cream. Yep, cloud-cream. And it’s transparent, too.

Grandma (on the phone): happy birthday!
me: thanks! and thanks for the present – I got it early. I haven’t spent any of the money yet, but I’ve eaten all the chocolates [completely amazing Swiss Glory truffles].
Grandma: oh, Granddad knew you would have eaten all the chocolates.

My brother (on email): happy birthday mel. i have to go to bed now. working at a book sale tomorrow. if only i had read as many books as you. love j.

2. The day.

My parents are here at the moment, and they completely spoiled me. We went to the David Hockney gallery in Salt Aire (something Dad has been dreaming of doing for years), and had dinner at Betty’s in Harrogate (brought back memories of last year, G&G!). I had rosti with smoked salmon, a glass of pimm’s, a glass of raspberry lemonade, rose-petal tea and a vanilla slice. And the icecream and chocolate sauce from Mum’s dessert. Yum yum yum yum yum. And then we went for a walk by the river in Knaresborough. Mum remembered taking me for evening walks in an English pram in Birmingham when I was a few weeks old.

My parents gave me aeroplane earings made by my cousin’s boyfriend and a green walking shirt. Because I got these early (a technique I recommend) they gave me more presents on the day – a veggie cookbook, socks that don’t match, and a green spoon with a hole in it. M’s giving me the best present ever – a new reserve parachute. Cool.

3. Thoughts.

Usually, on a birthday, I think back over the past year. But as 29 is so close to 30, in the way that, in marking undergraduate essays, a 69 is practically a 70, I’ve been thinking more about the decade. The past year has been a wonderful blur of travel, work and play. So, I suppose, has the last decade. Ten years is quite a long time. I’ve spent half of it in England. I’ve spent most of it at university. I’ve changed a lot. I have a feeling the next ten years might be very different. Bring it on!

Today, despite growing panic about my neglected thesis, I’m off to do one of my favourite walks with Mum and Dad. Then I’m going to get hold of some new scales (because my old ones broke and I need to weigh the boxes) and finish packing the boxes to send to Norway. And next week, I’m going to squeeze all the stuff I need to organize to the edges of the day, and I’m going to make some progress on this thesis.

Happy birthday Mum!

It’s Mum’s birthday tomorrow. Which is almost today even in this part of the world, so it must be well on the way in Australia. I haven’t sent her anything, but maybe she’ll accept a slice of cake and a pitcher of Pimms in three weeks time – if the weather’s up to it! That’s her, in New Zealand, taking off…

More pictures here. We knew she’d love the view of the mountains from above just as much as we do. And here we both are, on a boat, about to discover a cave of the most amazing glow worms. Like galaxies underground. It was her idea to go. She’s good like that.

Sending you much love! Here’s to many more adventures, very soon….

Happy Birthday Dad

My Dad wooed my Mum with poetry – a paperback copy of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s selected poems. He used to sing ‘Morning has broken’ in the mornings. He likes opera, especially Carmen, which he listens to turned up very loud (especially when he’s the only one in the house – this is not a shared passion). He’s a great cook. He takes black and white photographs of spider orchids. He has a red motorbike, and a red push-bike, and a red raincoat. He has a tiny statue of Moses with his arms upraised, standing on a square of slate, from Jerusalem. He taught me to love Elijah and David (but not Elisha). He also taught me to draw houses with perspective. His Lancashire accent has only been slightly tempered by more than thirty years in Australia. He quit his high-flying job to become a care-worker. His beard isn’t as red as it used to be. He loves planning and renovating houses. And more. Lots more. Happy birthday for tomorrow, Dad.

And while we’re on the topic of birthdays, it was my brother’s birthday ten days before Dad’s. So, er, a late happy birthday to you too. I didn’t mention it, because I don’t think he’s too keen on this whole self-exposure side of blogging. He’s rather lovely, that’s all I’ll say. But I don’t think he can complain about this one (he’s the little one, in the middle – thanks bethie for the picture):

And, now we’ve started, this one’s my favourite. I think we look like we could be in a band.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thank you everyone for all the good wishes (due to my mother’s clever ploy of wishing me happy birthday a day early)! The sun is shining its little head off and the sky is blue, and a birthday in mid-summer is a wonderful thing. Makes a change from my wintry June birthdays in Australia. Michael’s parents sent me a singing box stuffed full of German chocolaty goodness. Yep. The box sings happy birthday. It’s light activated, and woke us up this morning around five.

Apart from that, I’m getting used to being 28. Sounds serious, though I know that due to my round face and youthful demeanour I can pass for 22. I think this will be a good year. If I finish my chapter segment I might even bake a cake.

Happy Birthday little blog!

One month old today. This calls for a little celebration, or at least reflection. Do I like my little blog? Yes, yes I do. Here’s why. It’s a little virtual house, all of my own. I can paint it whatever colour I like, and no one leaves dishes in the sink. It’s fun to note down my daily observations, and to have an outlet for things I’m thinking about. And it’s been so wonderful discovering other blogs out there – I think I’m making new friends.

I started the blog to help stay in touch with family and friends, and to help me keep track of myself. I thought it might make living in two different places a little easier. I’m still in the early stages of this experiment, but I think it does. As well as keeping track of my own life, it opens up a whole new world. The life of a phd student can be a bit isolated sometimes, especially as I’m spending half my life away from Leeds, and the blog-world offers a counter to this.

I was talking to my brother yesterday about the whole anonymity issue. He said he wouldn’t feel comfortable exposing himself in this way. The funny thing is, before I started the blog, I felt a bit the same. I’m naturally a private person. Any fears evaporated as soon as I started. You only post what you want to post, after all. My brother raised the possibility of things coming back to haunt me, and what potential employers might think, but I don’t think I need to be ashamed of liking cats and trees and paragliding holidays. Or even of having the odd self-doubt. It might be interesting to record the highs and lows of my PhD here – it’s so easy to forget the journey once you have the sparkling finished product.

The other thing is whether keeping a blog has actually changed the way I live. And it has, a bit. When I first started, I noticed that even as I experienced things I would be composing sentences in my head, working out how best to describe them. As I’ve always been interested in writing, this wasn’t really a new thing, but it was strange to have it back with so much force. It’s toned down a bit now, which is probably a good thing. But I guess what a blog encourages most of all is a tendency to see your own life as a narrative. We do this anyway, but a blog is one way of expressing it. Three cheers for you, little blog, and best wishes for a long and happy life.

Happy Birthday Roby!

It’s Mum’s birthday tomorrow, but tomorrow comes sooner in Australia than it does here, so I thought I’d better write this now. Happy Birthday! Here is a hug sent through time and space.

Reasons why my Mum is great: tireless proof-reader, poster of manuscripts and grant applications, well of encouragement, walker round duck-ponds, fryer of pancakes, dear friend. And she has her own life too! When I was in Canberra using the National Library earlier this year, she came over for a few days and bought me lunch everyday which we ate by the lake.

This photo taken at Brimham Rocks is perfect of Mum: camera in hand, she always wants to see round the next corner and over the next hill. I want to wish her all the best for a happy day tomorrow and for a new year full of adventures. And I had to include this photo too, taken on a hike through Bronte country, cos it’s such a nice one.