Things I liked today

I guess it’s time to say (or well past the time to say, but never mind) that there will be another little munchkin around here in less than three months. I’m 29 weeks, and the little one is prodding at the computer on my lap as I write. It feels exciting but a little unreal. What is not unreal is the fact that bending over, putting on shoes, and picking things up from the floor are all becoming a lot more challenging.

Things that happened today that make me smile when I think back on them:

  • after some reluctance and a heartfelt explanation from myself about the difficulties of tidying up on my own, the kids very sweetly and whole-heartedly got involved. They even did a team job of wiping down the stairs!
  • it’s very sweet the way they can co-operate and work together at times – Felix explains patiently what to do, and Antonia says ‘ok!’ and complies (they do wind each other up at other times, of course)
  • Felix had a very cute moment with my friend’s one year old – passing him a glow-worm doll to play with, and patting him gently on the back
  • Felix hacking into parsnips and carrots with hair-raising enthusiasm, and passing them to Antonia to put in the pot for the soup
  • Antonia gleefully dipping her asparagus and cucumber sticks into her soft boiled egg at dinner time
  • Antonia deciding that Felix could play with her wooden rocket after all, once she understood how sad he was about it. She’s quite good at this – you just have to talk to her about how people are feeling and give her a minute to process it
  • Felix managing to swim backstroke (slowly and hesitantly) in a straight line at his swimming lesson for the first time
  • Felix managing to swim freestyle across the pool without stopping to take a breath (the instructor had asked them to go as far as they could, and then breathe if they needed, and he decided that he just had to make it all the way. He loves diving under the water so he’s had a bit of practice. It was the fastest I’ve seen him swim. Normally when he swims freestyle he takes far too many breaths which slow him right down. The instructor wasn’t watching properly and I don’t think she believed him when he said he made it the entire way across, but he did – you should have seen him puffing when he finally came up for air.)
  • reading Pippi Longstocking to both kids before bed. They liked it a bit too much and Felix decided that when I told him to got to sleep, he would, like Pippi, put his feet on the pillow and his head under the covers
  • Antonia cuddling up in bed with the pink hobbyhorse she only decided yesterday that she liked. She kept getting distressed if the horse’s pole wasn’t tucked in properly!

And not related directly to the two of them:

  • the soup itself (yum)
  • the snow swirling all day outside our windows (it was definitely an *inside* snow day – so windy!)
  • hanging out with my friends
  • reading for an hour after the kids fell asleep at 8

All that talk of books to read to Felix got me thinking about what I was reading – I hadn’t been able to find anything that was quite right. Then I found Elizabeth Strout’s latest – My Name is Lucy Barton – in our college library, and I just adored it. I’ve just finished Amy and Isabelle on my kindle, and I’m grateful that I think there are another three novels of hers I have yet to read. (I read Olive Kitteridge a few years ago on the urging of a friend, and loved it, but hadn’t tried any of her others till last week.) If any of you know of anything else I might get into – let me know!

The other thing I want to note down is that last weekend Antonia started drawing figures! Faces with arms and legs! She draws them over and over again, and today drew some dinner for them too, and a house. So far she’s been drawing with her left hand.

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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All of a sudden, summer. On Saturday night we got back from a few days in Kristiansand. We’d never been there before, and it was gorgeous. It’s Norway’s favourite holiday town, and has a very famous zoo and kid’s theme park, which has been a national treasure for fifty years now. Michael took the kids one day while I was at a conference. The conference was great, and a real thrill for me – I got to present a paper on my current favourite poet, and she was actually there, listening! She even laughed in the right places.

We took the ferry from Stromstad to Sandefjord, and that was lovely too, all sparkling sea and low granite islands. We didn’t get any photos of the trip, but on Sunday, once we got back, I was lucky enough to go with some friends to a rocky, granite outcrop, complete with tiny islands, not far away from here. Felix tried crab fishing for the first time – he was very intrigued, but a little too nervous to pull them in without help. Antonia jumped at the chance to sample the local mud.

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One of those Sunday mornings where everything goes right. We made an apple cake early in the morning and Felix insisted on peeling and coring the apples himself. Antonia helped me make the cake batter and put the apple pieces on. Then my dear friend came over with her two children, and the apple cake and cream went down a treat, and then somehow we ended up with play-doh and matchsticks out and the kids played happily for ages.

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Saturday was nice too – we played in the park for hours and hours, and had lunch in the cafe across the street. We kept bumping into people we knew. Felix had an icecream with his best friend while Antonia napped in her stroller, and when she woke up she was ready for action once again.

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Just for fun here’s Felix, just a little younger than Antonia is now, riding the same horse. (From this post from July 2012.)

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Felix hanging out with one of his best buddies and one of mine at the fortress playground on Sunday afternoon.

Antonia wobbling towards me.

I didn’t get a photo of the two of them painting together on Tuesday morning (Felix was home with a fever) but it was very sweet. Felix wanted to paint and as soon as I got the paint and brushes out Antonia was pointing at them and tugging her highchair – no chance of her getting left out of the action!

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

Happy Halloween!

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I didn’t get many photos but we had such a lovely day. Felix wore his spiderman costume all day (even to the shops this morning), and went out trick or treating for the first time tonight. Unsurprisingly, he thought it was The Best Thing Ever. This was the first time he’s a agreed to wear a costume since he was a very cute pumpkin at eight months old. Antonia wore her costume to barnehage yesterday but was only interested in the hat today. Had a lovely little party this evening with home made pizza (I made the base, my friends did the toppings), swirly coloured meringues, incredible Halloween chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow cream cheese frosting (who knew?), and various other goodies, and the kids had a ball covering the floor with train tracks, tearing round the house waving plastic weapons at each other, and collapsing cheerfully onto the floor for little breaks. But Felix says the day after Halloween is even more special because Daddy comes home. halloween3

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Felix: swinging high.

Antonia: under the weather and over-tired, at last submits to being strapped into the stroller. Felix took this. Michael has taken to calling her Beethoven, because of the curls. ‘What’s Beethoven’, asks Felix. It has led to some sweet moments of the two of them sitting on his lap, watching a performance of Ode to Joy on youtube.

It’s almost exactly a year since I took these photos in the old town in Fredrikstad. I thought to myself – I’ll go back and take another one of the pair of them on that sofa in that cafe. We met up with a good friend and her two year old and went to the train museum, but our favourite cafe was completely packed, so no sofa photo. Antonia has been in poor shape, but I enjoyed the misty autumn afternoon anyway. The kids were tired after half an hour in the playground, so no time for landscape photos either, but that little town is so pretty this time of year, it’s good for the soul.

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

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I almost didn’t bother with a post this week, because I already had two portraits I love in this post from Wednesday. But then Michael snapped this sweet one of Antonia wearing a box. On Friday we went for a walk in the forest with some friends and ended up an an awesome playground. Felix was in heaven. We went there with his best friend and two other boys their age, and they did not stop racing about together for nearly three hours. Felix was so enraptured with the place he begged us to take him back there on Sunday, so we did.

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

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And here are a couple of the four boys all together. I love how they show how energetic and connected they all are, tearing about in their own little world.

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Felix eye view

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Felix commandeered the camera while we were getting the house ready to eat plum cake with our friends this morning. The photos are exactly as he took them – I haven’t altered them at all. I think they are rather charming – screaming toddler and all. (She will not tolerate the vacuum cleaner.) You don’t normally get photos of this stuff. The plum cake was delicious – my first attempt at a german style cake, made with plums from my colleague’s garden.

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Mothering. Friends.

I’ve been on my own with the kids for a little over a week – Michael gets back tomorrow. It’s gone fine, really, though I’m relieved it’s the weekend now and the whole pack lunch-boxes and get the kids to barnehage through the rain in time to get to work and teach thing is over for a while. It’s a bit of a drive out to barnehage and so much nicer when we can take it in turns. I was so tired by Thursday. Restoring the house to order every evening is somewhat gruelling, but I have done it religiously, as not doing it is so much worse. It’s so lovely coming down to a calm clean house every morning, even if it doesn’t stay that way long. It took a bit longer than usual this evening as I had invited a friend over for dinner. Adult conversation is snatched at the expense of toys spreading everywhere…

I’m so very grateful for my girlfriends. These are the friends of my small-children years, and these friendships are so different from that other period of intense friendships, university. Then, time was so stretchy – you could stay up all night, or decide to go camping at the drop of a hat, or talk for three hours in a coffee shop. Now we smile at each other in the playground, or hug briefly at the funfair, or juggle four small people between us as we drink a cup of coffee, or have early dinners at each other’s houses before bath time. It’s easiest to spend time together if our kids get on. And it’s something else we need from each other. When I was twenty, we were seeking the meaning of ourselves and everything, the future was empty blue and promising, we craved intimacy and enlightenment. Now it is good to have friends to share the very particular griefs of motherhood along with the obsessive joys and relentless work, none of which would have made much sense to me when I was twenty. Now I want… someone else with their feet on the ground, as mine are firmly these days. Someone who can meet my eyes through the swirl of activity and say ‘I see you, hang in there, I’m here too’.

Munchkins by the sea

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It’s the tail-end of a long weekend here and I’m pleased to report that we did something fun outside every day. On Friday we went to an outdoor kids day in the forest with some friends, and Felix got to shoot an airgun. (With some help from me and careful supervision from the experts.) There were other activities as well, mostly aimed at slightly older kids. It was a little stressful as we weren’t sure how it all worked and to be honest we have a preference for quiet trips to the forest, but I’m glad we went, and I’d be game to go again next year. We took the camera but didn’t have the right card in it, so no photos.

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Yesterday I took the kids to the harbour in the morning (see previous post), and today we went with some German friends to a beach in Sweden. I had tried to meet them there nearly two years ago and got lost on the way, so this time I made sure we followed them.

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Felix had a wonderful time hopping on the rocks, peering at the shrimp that our friends caught in the net, and trying to build a dam in a little stream.

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It was also a good weekend for baking: waffles, scones, pancakes and ANZAC biscuits, as well as a delicious vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and Michael mowed the lawn.

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We tend to fall into a rut and just do the same old things, so I’m glad with a little encouragement from our friends we tried out a couple of different things. I also managed to play with Felix a couple of times – this doesn’t sound like much but too often I get to the end of a day which has been punctuated by repeated requests to play with him, and find that I have not. So during Antonia’s first nap this morning instead of saying immediately ‘no I can’t – I need to do this first…’, I said ‘ok’, when he told me we would play with the digger and the truck. He drove the tiny digger around on the mini truck, and it was my job to dig the holes. ‘What are you going to dig, Mummy?’ ‘A foundation for the new town hall,’ I said, remembering Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, which Mum has read to Felix lots of times. So we dug lots of foundations and used the magnet shapes to build buildings on top of them, and it was lovely. rosso3

I felt a bit flat and aimless at the beginning of last week, but I managed to turn it around, making sure I spent time with friends and their children. On Thursday I took Antonia to an ‘open’ barnehage – a place with kindergarten facilities but you can’t leave kids there – you have to stay and play with them. She was badly in need of some new stimulation and she had a ball – I’ll definitely go again this week. Everyone keeps saying to enjoy this time before I go back to work, so I have decided that I will. And it is so nice on a Sunday evening to have the memories of the silvery light on the water and the little balls of seaweed, and the clear air all around.

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Happy Easter!

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We normally go away for Easter, and so, for that matter, do most of our friends. This time, we all stayed put, and it has been so nice. I’ve made hot cross buns (twice), done Easter crafts with Felix, lit candles, chilled out with the family, dressed Antonia up like a little bunny, and taken the kids on a walk to look for beavers. And today we went around to our friend’s house for an Easter egg hunt – four little boys careering round the garden collecting their sweets were a sight to behold. Happy Easter!

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Bouncing

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One of my very favourite things this trip has been seeing Felix interact with his second cousins and my friends’ children. He’s finally reached an age where they can scamper off on their own, chat for hours about who knows what, and sort out their own problems. This photo was taken on our second Christmas celebration a few days after Christmas.

Spring

Had such a lovely day today. So much sunshine. It was the first day it really felt like spring, so I met some friends at a lake with a beach and and ice cream shop, and the little boys were in heaven. As soon as we got the water Felix ran straight in and his jeans and winter boots got soaked, so we took them off. Then he insisted on taking his undies off so for a while he was running around in a winter coat and nothing else! Then of course the coat came off. I sat with my friends on the rocks and drank tea from a thermos and felt the sun warm on my face. Felix threw stones into the water with his little friend. He eventually talked me into taking my shoes off and dipping my toes in, and the water was like ice. There was a ten minute walk back to the car, and he held my hand, wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt, underpants, and wet winter boots. My darling, funny, funny boy.

We have been talking about taking the side off his cot for more than a year, and the response ‘yes, we’ll do it soon’, has been starting to wear thin. This morning when I went in to get him, he had managed to loosen one of the bars. ‘I’m taking the bars off, Mummy, help me!’ And indeed he managed to take two of them out, so we decided today was indeed the day. He was giddy with delight all morning, realising he could jump onto his bed whenever he wanted, and ‘hide’ under his quilt. We’ll see what awaits us tomorrow morning…

This evening Felix sat on my lap and stroked my belly. ‘Baby’, he said, and drove his little car down the slope. ‘You can talk to her, Felix,’ said Michael, you can say ‘BAH!’ ‘Noooo, the baby doesn’t like that.’ We chatted about babies and ‘tubes’ (umbilical cords) and names for a while, and I tried to explain that Oma had chosen Michael’s name, because Oma was Michael’s Mummy. It suddenly got a bit confusing, and Felix said ‘I think Mummy should always keep Daddy and Mummy and the baby and Felix’, and I said yes, we are together, this is our family.

Sunday Week

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Well that week went fast. Blink and you miss it. I can’t believe this was a week ago. Last Sunday Felix and i went to the fortress twice – the first time just the two of us, the second time to meet a friend.

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These days it’s impossible to take photos such as these – I’m too busy making sure the boy’s not about to tumble off a cliff.

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But there are compensations. When I asked Felix was his favourite part of the day was, he said the puddle.

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Beautiful May

Today was filled with sunshine and parks and little boys running, laughing, laughing, shouting, climbing, poking sticks in fountains and stones through holes, giggling, munching, singing, counting. In the morning Felix and I went to the park in the centre of town, and he hooked up with a noisy three year old chasing the pigeons. They had a ball following each other around. In the end the other boy followed Felix to the fountain and they poked it with sticks. ‘En, to, tre!’ they counted, then flung their little stick-boats in the water. The mother of the other boy came over and we had a lovely chat in Norwegian. It cheered me up enormously after my stressful spoken Norwegian exam yesterday. I had felt so stupid and incompetent, but it turns out I have enough Norwegian to chat with a patient mother in a park, after all.

In the afternoon I met up with two fellow foreigners who have boys just a little younger than Felix, and we went to a playground by a huge lake and had ice-cream together and just the nicest time imaginable. Now I have to tidy the kitchen again (Michael, my trusted kitchen cleaner, is away), and learn some more Norwegian verbs before bed (written test coming up on Tuesday), but sunshine pretty much makes up for everything.

Lately

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Felix keeping a very firm grip on the wheel a couple of weekends ago…

The blog has been quiet lately because I have been busy. Every spare moment (i.e. every moment in which Felix is sleeping and I am not) I have been marking essays. They are all done now save one. Despite this, it’s not going to get any easier till July. The next big deadline is the end of May – my level three Norwegian test, and before then I also need to finish my syllabus for my teaching next semester. In the midst of this I’m trying to straighten out the house a bit to make life more streamlined. And one week after my Norwegian test, I’ll have fifty exams to mark. I have one day a week to myself – the rest of this must be done in the evenings. One day at a time.

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Despite this Felix and I have been enjoying ourselves. Michael was in America last week and I was impressed with how calmly we kept things together. Yesterday Felix and I spent an hour in the park in town. Felix poked sticks into puddles with some bigger kids, and then ran round and round in the rotunda while the seagulls reeled about us. And today Michael was back, bearing gifts, and we had the loveliest day all together again.

It’s Michael’s birthday later this week. When I asked Felix what he thought Daddy would like for his birthday, he thought about it for a minute, then said ‘beads’.

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Greetings

I love how my Swiss friends always kiss on both cheeks (though I always forget).

I love how Felix always says, slowly and sweetly, ‘Mummy!’ when I pick him up from the barnehage, as though it were an unexpected treat, and he gives a little smile and trots towards me.

And I love how a South African woman I met today in a cafe told me that South Africans are very into their hugs, and I got a hug from both her and her three year old son as they left.

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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36 hours later

We are back in chilly Norway. The house feels small. The snowy expanses were very beautiful when we came in to land. Felix was an absolute darling throughout the whole trip. He slept quite well and the rest of the time was cheerfully occupied observing and commenting on everything that went on. He loves planes. He loves airports. ‘Lady make it dark!’ he declared when they switched all the lights off for landing. When we finally arrived in Oslo after stopovers in Singapore and Frankfurt, he said ‘more plane! More in the big plane!’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘we’ve had enough of planes now.’ He looked out of the window. ‘More plane! Blue one!’ ‘Do you want to go in the blue plane?’ ‘Yeah!’ He was so excited when we got off the plane that he ran all the way to the luggage belts with only one crash. He was still talking about the planes on the train home.

Our good friends picked us up from the train station and cooked dinner for us, which was about the nicest welcome back imaginable. Felix finally and comprehensively conked out about an hour before we arrived in Halden, so we laid him down on their sofa and he didn’t make a sound.

Now we are home and the fire is burning. It is hard to say goodbye to the beautiful light-filled love-filled days in Adelaide. Having a toddler to supervise on the long journey back, I haven’t had a lot of time to dwell on it. And here I must hit the ground running. I have a Norwegian test on Wednesday and another one next Monday; I’m back at work on Tuesday, and on Thursday I have four hours of tutoring at Oslo University, with some preparation still needed. (I’m tutoring an introduction to British literature subject this semester, which is exciting.) When this crazy fortnight is done and dusted, I have a meeting about some other possibilities for the autumn. I take a deep breath. I will do my best.

A day in the woods

Every weekend, whatever the weather, Norwegians go into the forest, make little fires and cook their lunch. Last Sunday some of our friends invited us to join them, and it was a lot of fun. Remember these photos? It was so sweet to see the little guys together again a year later.

Just how do I get to that truck?

And after reading Blue MIlk’s post about photos of the invisible mother, I just have to include this photo too. It may look like the babbies are pretty self-sufficient in the above photos, but that is an illusion!

 Our friends cooked us pancakes.

After their lunch, the little guys slept in their prams while we ate more pancakes.

After that a couple of intrepid Norwegians changed into their running gear and went for a run (did I mention it was freezing?). Felix woke up and practiced his walking. All in all, a pretty perfect day.

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.

A most beautiful afternoon

We took Felix to Brighton beach again this afternoon, intending just to get a coffee and then have a stroll along the sand. Felix had other ideas. Mum held him while I kicked off my shoes, and she said she heard him gasp when he saw the ocean. He wriggled and wriggled, so we put him down to play on the sand. But he was off like a shot, crawling full-pelt towards the water. Mum caught up with him and stood him up in the shallows for a couple of minutes, then carried him back. He was away again immediately, ‘like one of those turtles’, as Michael put it. I ran after him, but there was no way he was standing up this time, he wanted to sit in the water!  We didn’t even have a towel with us, but we stripped of his clothes, slathered him in sunscreen, and let him go.

He had the most fabulous time. He crawled straight into the water, and even went quite deep at times, but not too deep. The little waves splashed him. He splashed them right back and clambered around and dug his hands into the sand. Then he spotted a two year old girl and crawled over to her, and they played and played, splashing and picking up shells. I chatted to her grandma. And I do not tell a lie when I say it was one of the loveliest hours of my life.

Craft morning

I took Felix to my Nanna’s craft morning today.

He ate strawberries, we ate strawberries and cupcakes and pikelets with jam and cream.

There’s quite an amazing story about how my Nanna met these women in the first place, but I’ll have to tell you that another time when I’ve got the details straightened out.

We had such a nice time. The closest I got to doing any craft was showing them the pattern of a cardigan I’ve decided to knit once I find some yarn that will work. They were very encouraging, but I was blown away by the projects they were working on!

Felix enjoyed playing with one of Nanna’s golliwogs.

I’ve had to put my postcolonial qualms aside, for these are truly impressive creations.

Packing up

Felix has been getting into the spirit of things. No, really. This week, for the first time, he has been all about putting things inside other things. The other night in the bath, he spent a good ten minutes assiduously stuffing his squeezy sheep into a plastic cup, and then immediately scrabbling it out again. Michael, I said, come and look at this! And he sat on the bathroom floor, and we cheered and cheered, amazed at our son putting a toy in and out of a cup, over and over. Clearly a genius. (This is not to discount the pleasure of putting a baby in a box.)

We have only two days left here. We are mostly packed. We’ll ship our last two boxes tomorrow, and somehow fit everything else into our bags (maybe Felix will help). We’ve started cleaning our apartment but there is lots more cleaning to go. It will be a relief to get on the plane, despite the fact a long flight with a nine month old may not be terribly relaxing.

Today was Thanksgiving, and we had dinner with two of the women from my Mom’s group and their families. It was a lovely way to conclude our time here. The Mom’s meetup group has been, for me, one of the best things about being here. They even held a farewell meetup for me on Tuesday; I was so touched.

The past few days I have been walking my familiar paths, stopping in my familiar places, feeling like a ghost of myself.

On Monday we said goodbye to my friend Katya and her daughter Willow, who is almost exactly Felix’s age. Sharing our entry into motherhood over the past six months has been wonderful and I felt so sad after saying goodbye. We have decided to rectify the situation and see each other one more time before we leave. And I do so hope they visit us in Norway someday.

But this time next week we’ll be in Australia. This sounds too good to be true!

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.

Sunshine

Just so much warm beautiful shiny sun. Because of the altitude, the sun is quite fierce here – even when the temperature drops a little, in the sun it’s hot. I’m just loving these slightly milder fall days. This feels like the first real summer I’ve had since leaving Australia eight years ago. Apparently the fall can be fickle here – winter can hit with a bang at the beginning of October. But last year it was long and mild, and it looks like this year will be the same.

This morning I went for a walk along the river with the mother’s group. There was about eight of us, all with strollers (several with double strollers!). We stopped at the park half way along for the kids to play. One of the little one and a half year old girls has taken a shine to Felix – she keeps coming up to him and saying his name. He loves it. He is such a social creature. And talking to the other mothers is just so great. It’s such a brilliant group.

Felix prompts conversations wherever we go. He flirts with everyone. This morning an old lady stopped to say hello in town, and then she spotted us again in the bookshop this afternoon. Felix stared and stared at the man setting up his computer at the table next to us, until he relented and started showing us pictures of his family. Felix’s favourite regular acquaintance is one of the barristas in Barnes and Noble. (She loves him too.) He looks forward to seeing her so much that as soon as we stand in line to order drinks he grins and jiggles his legs in anticipation.

I’ve had a madly busy week trying to put the final edits into an article, in between caring for the little guy. The days have been pretty exhausting. But it’s done now. And the sun just shines and shines.

See how much I can write in half an hour!

I miss writing. Even writing blog posts, which is just about all the writing I’m managing at the moment. Felix is still only sleeping half an hour at a time during the day, so unless I start doing whatever it is I want to be doing the minute I put him down, it doesn’t get done. Sometimes it’s having a cup of tea, which takes fifteen minutes; the remaining fifteen can be used for tidying or daydreaming or making lists of all the things I think I should be doing. Today it is writing. If I want to write I must not put anything away – even my teacup, even his pjs which need to go to the laundry, or wipe any benches, or put the washing on. I must not read anything, even other blogs. I must not click on facebook. I must sit, immediately, with my computer, and write.

When Michael emailed me the last batch of photos (he’s good like that), he titled them ‘Felix and Mum’. And I thought – gosh, ‘Mum’, is that me? I wonder if you’re not really ‘Mum’ until someone calls you that. Which I guess won’t be for a while. But still. I am undoubtably a mother. And I am used to it now, and used to him, but if you think for a moment about the grand, long-term scheme of things, which I can’t help doing from time to time, this is still terribly new. We think – I wonder what he will look like in a year? We think – we can’t wait until he can sit up at a table, and run around and kick a ball, and read a book by himself, and give us a hug. But at the same time, he is utterly gorgeous right now, as small as he is, which is considerably larger than when we first met him nearly twelve weeks ago. Children do something strange to time, and to the future – it feels less predictable and more exciting. A little scary, even, but it doesn’t have to be, it comes at you one day – one minute – at a time.

I’ve had a couple of low patches recently – they never lasted terribly long, not even a whole day, but I would hate to ever get stuck in one. It’s partly just how relentless it all is, and when you feel trapped by it it’s frightening to think you can’t escape it, you have to keep doing it every day for a very long time. I think part of the problem was a mundane one of eating too much sweet stuff. I love sweet stuff. And I love baking. But I feel much more energetic today than last Friday, and the main difference is that there aren’t any brownies left!

The other thing is time for yourself and space to connect with friends. There is not much time for myself but there is a little bit. I have been reading and loving A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I will write more about that later. And after reading this post by Penni, I have been listening to The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, as an audio book. I’ve been enjoying that too. And writing… not so much. But right now I am. I am surprised by how much I have to say!

The other problem, of course, is social interaction. We had a bbq here last Thursday, with a couple of old friends and a couple of new friends, and it was nice but Felix got a bit stressed by all the people so it ended up being quite exhausting. He is best with just a couple of new people at a time. But on the weekend a good friend of mine came over to help us with putting an ad up about our car. She is Norwegian, and lives around the corner, and brought her little daughter who had a great time examining Felix, sitting in his little chair (he’s actually borrowing it from her) and trying to give him her dummy. And it was just so so nice. Then on Tuesday I met with an American woman about my Mum’s age, who is here for a couple of months but comes from Idaho Falls, where we are headed in a couple of weeks. And that was also unexpectedly lovely, and we had the most excellent conversation about pregnancy and children and childbirth, and how pretty the landscape is around here. And then on Tuesday evening I went out for dinner with two friends I met at the kindergarten: my Welsh friend (who is younger than me and adores children including Felix but is waiting for a couple of years before trying for her own), and my Irish friend (who is older than me and pregnant with a much longed-for baby, due in June). I was worried how Felix would go but he was utterly charming and didn’t mind coming out at all. And it was just so so nice. I hadn’t been out with a couple of girl friends for at least two years. I will not let two years lapse before I do it again! It has been a slow process, making friends here (Michael and I are both natural introverts, really), but we are getting there. I know these friendships will survive our eight month absence, and be here when we return.

Apart from that we have been filling in forms and dealing with bureaucrats, and trying to find someone to care for our house and our cats (please don’t ask how it’s going!) and there is a lot a lot to do before we go. Today I have to go to the police to renew our residency permits and get one for Felix. But we are getting there. And the little guy smiles at us every day, especially when Michael comes home from work, and we are loving our brand new family, we are.

A day in the sun

Yesterday when spring decided to show her face again (today is back to dense mist, but at least it’s not snowing), my friend invited me to her mothers’ group meeting up at the fortress. It was still pretty chilly, but we all sat around the fire and roasted sausages! Well, the others roasted sausages, I don’t eat them. But it was all very charming, and very Norwegian – the older kids (3-5 year olds) in the kindergarten do this in the forest once a week. Felix’s gorgeous knitted overalls which were much too big for him a few weeks ago now fit him perfectly. (They’re not too small yet, they’re just riding up a bit here.) We trialled our first outdoor breast-feeding session, huddled in a blanket against the wind, and that went fine too.

Then we went for a lovely walk beside the golf course. Yep that little pond’s still frozen. And there aren’t any leaves yet. But it’s very very pretty all the same. The ground is sort of golden and bare as it emerges from the snow. Some patches are still strewn with autumn leaves which have been hiding there all winter.

And I couldn’t help myself but to walk through the fortress itself to the lookout over the harbour and the town. You can see that the harbour still looks pretty iced over, but that not far beyond lies the clear and shining sea.

Felix meets a friend

We had some friends over for tea and scones and the babbies entertained themselves.

This is the gorgeous Aksel. It’s hard to believe Felix will be as big as he is now in half a year or so!

By the way, Annie, if you’re reading this – we love the socks you gave us. He wears them nearly every day.

Ready to go

Hat and overalls by my friend Kylie; jumper by his Great-grandma. He has so many great clothes!

Had a trip into Halden town centre today with Mum and the pram. People admired the little man at every turn. He slept through the whole thing save for the last ten minutes. Pizza at our favourite restaurant, and lots of shopping. It is so, so lovely having Mum here; I am trying to savour every minute. That’s why I’m writing this down, as though it makes it more real, our quiet little afternoon outing. The sun shone and shone and the snow was all melty.

 

A wedding in the snow

Yep. Got married today.

I didn’t really mean to wear black to my own wedding, but it was the only maternity dress I could find. I like it. And at least it’s got lace on it, right? Michael insisted on buying me a proper bridal bouquet of red roses. I wore the sparkly green jewellery Michael bought me within two weeks of our first kiss, six and a half years ago. (I did think about wearing the little casket of uncut emeralds Mum wore to her own wedding, but I decided I needed the extra sparkle.)

We decided to tie the knot now rather than later not because of bubs (I really don’t think he’ll mind much either way), but more out of visa considerations for next year. All that aside, it felt like a good time to do it. It felt special. The script for the ceremony was perfect. Here’s a link to it in Norwegian. If you copy and paste it into google translate you’ll get an idea of it, allowing for some amusing translation errors. We alternated between listening seriously and glancing across at one another and smiling shyly.

Then there were the rings, and the signing, and it was done! We bought the rings in October, from Robert Feather, who has a workshop in a little town near York. That was special too, because we met in York, and lived together for two years there, and the gold of our rings was like the gold of the leaves on the trees.

The wedding was a more solemn and more joyful experience than I had expected. It was very small – just us and our two witnesses – and was over very very quickly. But we were so happy!

The courthouse was right on the harbour so we trundled out there to get a couple of shots in the snow (thanks to Michael’s best man who was our impromptu photographer).

Then we all had pizza at our favourite restaurant, Spisekroken. These guys make the best pizza I have ever tasted. Nowegians love pizza, but mostly it is barely edible. The owners know us, and were very happy for us, and brought out sparkling wine on the house.

We know our families would have loved to be there, and we would have loved that too. But I hope I can share the moment with you this way! And I hope we can eat cake together at a later date. After eating all that pizza, there was no room for cake anyway!

It was a perfect mini wedding. We even got presents. Kylie came back for a cup of tea and we cracked open the Swiss Glory chocolates my Mum had sent for Christmas while the snow filled the windows and the kittens snoozed.

As I write, there was a knock on the door and more roses arrived, from my parents! They are beautiful, but I will take a photo tomorrow because now I think it’s time for some snoozing of our own.

December is better than November

The world has been very pretty around here lately. I’ve even got used to the cold. -7 feels positively mild after -16. And -1 feels almost tropical. During the day, especially, our house is lovely, with the windows filled with sparkly white trees. And quite cosy at night, too, when we light the fire. The kittens have adjusted to the weather too: their coats are fluffier than ever and their paws have gone all leathery, so they can walk on the snow without getting blisters. Mermos’s favourite spot, though, is here:

I’ve finally kicked the never-ending cold, and I feel so much better for it. There are still so many things to do, but we’re ticking them off one by one. Today we borrowed a car seat and a cot and some odds and ends from a friend. And thanks to an early Christmas package from Mum, we have more than enough clothes to get the little man through his first month or so. There are just a few little things we need to still get hold of, and then we need to wash everything and sort out the rooms upstairs, and Michael needs to finish off the insulation in the loft, and then we should be ok.

There’s still paperwork to send in, and expensive car repairs to orchestrate (at least I’ve booked it in now), and something special that we’re doing this Thursday, but we’re getting there. I also had a chat to the head of the department of languages at the University College here this week, and he’s very keen to get me on board there after my maternity leave, so that’s exciting. (They’re also looking to expand their English literature teaching and their research credentials, so it’s sounding very promising indeed.)

I’ve had a very busy weekend and eaten a lot of cake. We had the Christmas concert for the barnehage on Saturday morning, followed by our work Christmas lunch. More cake today from the friend who leant us the car seat, and then even more cake at a three year old’s birthday party. Now I’m tired. Goodnight!

Yorkshire

We had a beautiful beautiful trip to York and Leeds last weekend. I saw many old friends. The places themselves are like old friends, and it was so refreshing to see them. It was lovely to see my old supervisors, although everyone in UK universities is extremely depressed and worried at the moment, because the government is cutting state support of universities by up to 75%, which will have a devastating impact… My supervisor reckons it will be the biggest change in the university system in the UK since the 1960s when they made many of the old polytechnics into universities. He guesses that now many of them will have to go back, or close down… Student fees are set to at least double. It’s also a pretty impossible situation for many of my friends who, like me, just finished PhDs, but now can’t find any casual teaching work (which you need to build your CV), because when people go on leave or retire at the moment they aren’t replaced – the remaining staff just have to work harder. Which in turn effects their own ability to research and publish, which will impact on their university’s standing and ranking, etc etc.  Anyway, my supervisor reckons it’s a brilliant time to take time off and have a baby!

Depressing economic situation aside, it was lovely to be there. The towns and countryside of Northern England feel so much more settled, established and cultivated than Norway does. The houses are brick and stone, the fields have hedgerows, ancient abbeys crumble slowly next to the rivers. It feels loved and lived in.

I also did lots of shopping. I love maternity wear. Finally I can buy t-shirts and jumpers that are really long enough for me! We were lucky enough to get two days of brilliant sunshine, and on Sunday we took our old friend Vic to Bolton Abbey, and did the first section of one of our favourite hikes ever.

Not much more to say really, except that if you’re ever in the area, you really should go there. You can do a short walk of an hour or so along the river, or you can keep going on up through the ‘valley of desolation’, climbing up to arthur’s seat for the most incredible views of the North Yorkshire Moors. (Wasn’t up for that this time but have done it several times.)

When we got home the kittens had survived being fed by the neighbour for five days, and were very pleased to see us, curling up tightly on our laps and refusing to leave for hours.

A Swedish weekend

We drove past the stone ship and down to the coast, where we got our fill of sun. But the real fun started when we got back to Norway, and our Swedish friend put on a traditional kraftor party at our house.

It involved silly hats, lots of these clawed creatures, and just as much snaps, augmented with wine and beer. Oh, and songs. You were supposed to eat a crayfish or two, sing a swedish song, and knock back a shot of snaps.

I joined in the singing even if I couldn’t indulge in the snaps. It was quite entertaining watching everyone else get more and more plastered. As Michael put it – ‘The party was great. Rocking up at work the next day – not so much.’

At some point we had to sing the Swedish national anthem. All well and good. Until someone translated for us and we realised we’d declared a burning desire to live and to die in the North. This is all very nice for now, but can we take that back?

Quiet Saturday Morning

Last night I stayed up till midnight, for the first time in nearly four months. I did feel like crawling into bed around 10, and I was slightly ill with tiredness by the time I got there, but still – midnight! We had some of Michael’s international work colleagues over for dinner. I made roast tomato and carrot soup (yum), and then we had falafels, homemade hummus (I think I’m perfecting the recipe, and topped it with toasted sesame seeds), fried halloumi, roasted peppers, tzaziki, olives, sundried tomatoes, pita bread, potatoes, and a green salad with lettuce, cucumber and avocado. (It was fun expanding the cheese horizons of the Americans – one of our guests had never tasted Halloumi before, and I also gave her some Norwegian brown cheese to try, which she was pleasantly surprised by.) Then at Michael’s insistence (and after a decent pause), I made my childhood favourite: chocolate self-saucing pudding, which was appreciated by all. The kitties were the stars of the show, and enjoyed trying out the different laps, and cavorting with a toy mouse in front of an audience.

This morning Michael’s off at yet another meeting. I’m deciding whether to head off to the shops in Sweden (to be sucked in by a sale at my beloved Iittala outlet), or just to bug down here. Most of all I’d like to go for a coffee with one of my Adelaide friends, or cousins, or Aunts, or my Mum or Dad or brother. I wish there was a fairy who could whisk up our house and our lives and plonk them down somewhere in the Adelaide hills.

My Grandma had a knee replacement operation this Wednesday, and she is recovering well to our great relief. It was a really annoying operation, as she had it done a few years ago, but they discovered they had put in a faulty part that was shedding bits of metal into her knee, so had to take it out and do it again. The first time she had a quite a scare with clotting problems, but this time they were keeping an eye on that from the outset, so it’s all going well. I send her and Granddad all my love and I’m so glad it’s all going smoothly. (In true G&G style, they spent the two weeks before the operation on a bus tour of outback Queensland!)

And two more of my dear Adelaide friends have had a daughter! My poet friend and his wife now have a little Beatrice! (So four of my best friends have, between them, a Beatrix and a Beatrice, born only a couple of weeks apart.) I know my poet friend really loves the Paradiso, and listened to it on audio-book when he was recovering from his stroke. Beatrice is a lovely name – all light and hope and exploration.

So most of all I’d like to see my Grandma, and meet the little Beatrices, but there will be time enough for that next year. In a couple of weeks I get to meet my cousins and my Aunt for a weekend in Berlin, and the Michael’s parents are visiting, and in October I’m zipping across to the UK for a weekend to see my Leeds friends. And my family are with me here, even in the food I cook: Mum’s and Grandma’s chocolate pudding, Dad’s hummus, and the roasted peppers that my cousin Sal learnt how to make when she worked in a cafe.

This week Autumn has arrived – a chill in the air, a smell of apples and woodsmoke, and torrential, flooding rains. I’m loving our little house at the moment – I’ll post some ‘after’ pictures of all the work we’ve done soon. In other news, I’m 17 weeks now, and I don’t feel pregnant at all! In fact I feel better than I did before I got pregnant… We have another scan in a week – it will be nice to confirm that the little thing is still in there! Love to all. xxx

Lots to catch up on

1. Kittens being cute

2. The best house guests ever

Some very old family friends came to visit me in Halden. They pretty much feel like family, actually. I lived with them for a year and a half when I started University. It was so fun to see them! They turned up with Australian wine, Belgium chocolate, timtams and the most amazing flowers. They helped me empty out the basement for some work we need done there, and Loris even donated her mobile phone charger to me because my kittens wrecked my old one!

3. Sunshine, skies and holidays (ongoing).

Whales and worlds

Today the light was soft. Sunlight hazed through billowy clouds, gilding the edges of the harvested fields, getting caught in the golden trees that have already started losing their hair. English weather really. Most mornings, frost glitters on everything, and once the mist clears, the sky is blue as ice.

Quite a lot has happened in the past two weeks. I had my last day of my summer job of proofreading and newsletter writing. Finishing up was actually a bit sad. We made a seriously brilliant newsletter though.

I held a two week old baby. She was beautiful.

I got back from the UK yesterday, a five day trip that started with an essay exam in Leeds, continued through a packed two days of catching up with friends in Leeds and York, and culminated in a lovely weekend involving curry and beer in London with my brother and two cousins and their wives. Family is just the best.

I also squeezed in an exhibition on T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber in the British Library (did you know, there was only ever one Faber but they thought that two Fabers sounded more distinguished). Seeing type-written letters between Eliot and Pound and Stephen Spender and a whole host of other poets was just cool.

And on Tuesday morning I went to the Turner Prize exhibition with my brother. Probably not quite worth the eight quid but fascinating all the same. My favourite was a partial whale skeleton that you could only view through slits in the wall so that you were taken aback by shocking details and strange angles. It was called ‘Leviathan Edge’. The artist had also reproduced Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculptures in coal dust. My brother preferred a different installation involving an atomized aeroplane scattered on the floor like a desert landscape, and wall sculptures made of a mix of plastic and powdered brain. Actually both installations seemed to be about trapped flight, and movement, and time…

Speaking of flight, that’s what Michael’s been doing – brushing the sunset with his wings. He’s in the States for a conference (and other things), but I couldn’t join this time because of commitments.

I got home last night to a fat package covered in stamps with whales on them. It was a copy of the brand new Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature, which my Grandma very very kindly posted to me. Another world, more than a thousand pages long. I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

I’m happy to be back – happy to be at the kindergarten, and to have two days a week free now for writing. Let’s see where it takes me.

Flowers for Kate

The celebration of Kate’s life was a week ago. I couldn’t make it, but I was thinking of her. I found this beautiful tribute from her supervisor. And I read the transcript of the celebration. They wanted it to be a celebration, because she was a beautiful person and the only way she lives now is in our memories. They asked her friends to bring a garden flower to leave on her grave. These were all I could find.

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.

daff4

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.

kate

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.