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.

 

Where was I…

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

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

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

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

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

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Felix: his latest creation: squares inside cubes. These magnet shapes were his birthday present from my Grandma, and he has played with them so much.

Antonia: crawling at great speed across the hallway, curly as anything after her bath.

Today was Michael’s birthday and we invited some friends over and had a lovely but busy time eating marzipan cake and ANZAC biscuits. I’ve been finding it hard to keep up the photographs recently, so I snapped these just before bedtime this evening (a bit like last week). But I don’t mind the very ordinary moments they capture  – the kids’ scatty energy at 6.30pm, the open dishwasher, the hallway. We won’t always live here, I guess, and I do love this house – its squareness, its snugness, its windows. Antonia is so very pleased that she can open the door from the lounge to the hall herself, and crawl all the way across it and into the bathroom. And Felix, these days, is a non-stop creator – rockets and balls out of magnet shapes, drawings of trees and flags, geometric patterns with his little plastic beads.

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

And I couldn’t resist a couple of extra shots of the curls.

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A room of my own

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I braved a solo trip to IKEA last week, Antonia in tow, to buy a carpet and an armchair I’ve been coveting for two years. I wasn’t sure the chair would fit in the car, and it nearly didn’t. After fifteen minutes pushing and heaving and repositioning in the drizzling rain, Antonia perched obligingly on the front seat, I was just about to give up when I finally managed to shut the car boot. I raised my arms in triumph and a passing couple cheered. ‘Super mama!’ they said.

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I’m a bit in love with the chair and the rug, and am certain they will be conducive to writing and reading, once I work out what to do with the very lightly sleeping baby in the adjoining room…

The week before I took both kids and we got a bed for Felix.

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He’s very pleased with it, and pleased as well with the little mouse he talked me into buying for him, which has slept with him every night since. He named it Antonia Elinor Celeste.

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What was I saying about spring?

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We’re back in Norway. I spent Antonia’s midday nap today shovelling snow.

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It’s pretty cosy inside though. Here’s our toy storage space in our living room, with an added box of baby toys. It’s been fun revisiting the things Felix used to play with. The two wicker baskets are still stuffed to the top with wooden trains and tracks, in use almost daily. This week Antonia has perfected crawling forward, so the tracks are frequently in peril.

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I finally managed to hang up a picture of the two of them that I took last year. ‘Do what you love.’

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Seven months

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Being seven months old with a big, adoring, bouncy brother is quite an experience. This evening Antonia laughed and laughed at Felix’s game of throwing a balloon to Michael and me, and then trying to catch it himself. This morning when she started complaining in her highchair while I was getting Felix’s lunchbox ready, Felix found a board book about a snowman and ‘read’ it to her to keep her happy.

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I’ve been enjoying kicking around the house with her once again. At seven months Antonia loves to chat, loves to smile at strangers, loves to wriggle around, give slobby kisses, snatch glasses, do downward dogs and get up on her hands and knees, but she still hasn’t figured out crawling forwards. In the car, she still sings herself to sleep. She’s been enjoying talking to my Mum on skype – now she starts smiling already the moment I log in.

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She is our cheeky gorgeous babe and we love her so.

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Back

I need to write some of this down before it fades. The flight back went very well, despite some anxiety about boarding passes in Kuala Lumpur airport. The kids slept well and played well and were generally agreeable, and did not get sick which was appreciated. I got some motion sickness tablets for Felix and who knows if he needs them or not but every other long haul flight over the past two years has ended in vomit, so I’ll definitely be packing them from now on. Felix was a little bored sitting around on the plane but he entertained himself admirably. I didn’t even have an ipad for him. He was absolutely gorgeous in the airports, insisting on walking himself and pulling his little suitcase, but quite happily going as fast as I asked him to in order to find our gate. In Doha airport by the time they announced boarding for families with small children and business class passengers, everyone else had already started queuing, so I decided to barge past them all. ‘Excuse me!’ I said. Felix piped up gleefully: ‘Coming through! We have a baby and a little guy, coming through!’

We were all so happy to see Michael again. We arrived at 7.30 in the morning and Felix did not stop talking all day, not even napping in the car on the way back to Halden, until he crashed into bed at 6pm. Antonia chuckled and wriggled whenever Michael looked at her, and when we went to our favourite cafe in the afternoon, was only interested in tasting Michael’s bun, not mine.

Driving into Halden felt so strange. Michael said it had felt strange to him to – in your mind are still all the roads and paths and light and routines of the place you have left, and you have to let them go and replace them with those of this place, but you are reluctant at first, you try to hold on. Norway has obliged by making it as easy as possible for me with a week of cold sunshine and frosted grass. Yesterday morning I looked out of the window and there were four young deer stepping carefully across our lawn.

Our friends are eager to see us. We feel welcomed. Felix has slotted back into barnehage life without a hiccup. I haven’t quite got enough winter things for Antonia to wear, but we are getting by. The days are light-filled. It was very clever of me to skip February.

When I walked in the door to our little house I thought – how is it possible to live in a house so small? It is perfectly possible, of course, and very lovely even, as long as you stay on top of all the cleaning and putting stuff away, so I have been attacking those things with gusto, making the small changes to our living space needed for a nearly seven month old baby instead of a three month one. An extra box of toys on the shelf instead of the box of changes of clothes we had down here before. The difference in Antonia and in the shape of our family after a space of three months is significant. She sits at the table with us now in her highchair. We need four glasses for water at dinner, so I pulled out a jug for water for us all, and it felt special. Antonia loves to drink water from a glass – she flaps her arms out wide with excitement, then grips the top of the glass and takes a couple of sips before blowing raspberries in it. Soon the novelty of all this will collapse into the every day, but I hope some of the specialness can stay.

Before I was Felix I missed you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sand and sun

It’s been a busy week and both my boys were stricken with gastro for a couple of days but today the sun finally came back and both boys felt better so Michael built Felix a sand-pit.

It turned out pretty great.

I went inside to make some waffles and from the kitchen window I could see them playing in the sand-pit. At that moment I was so very grateful. After waffles the sun still shone and shone so we walked to the forest.

Last time Felix had been here he was about this big. Now, all of a sudden, there is a little boy holding my hand. And it was a very good day indeed.

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I’m afraid I’m going to regale you with yet more pictures of you know who. We’re going to Germany next week so maybe we’ll get the inspiration to take a photo of something else. Michael took these in the garden on Saturday. We were out there for hours, on Sunday too. You can follow the progress of the weather by the gradual reduction in Felix’s outdoor wear over the last few posts!

It’s pretty fun watching Felix gather up the courage to explore the garden. It reminds me of watching our kittens discover it, nearly two years ago. By Sunday he was crawling all around, pulling the little pine cones off the sticks, turning around to check whether he was allowed to eat them or not. His favourite thing is to crawl up and down the stairs to the deck. He’s getting pretty adept at it. He’s also pretty happy with the swing that Michael strung up on our tree.

I think all the sun we’ve been getting lately has done something funny to my head, because despite the even more dreadful than usual night’s sleep we got last night, I feel so happy. I have been enjoying work lately and Felix has really adjusted well to being in the barnehage. I often get to see him during the day for short periods, and he’s even beginning to get used to that, and is not crying quite so much when he spots me.

In other news I recently had an article published in Bøygen, a journal put together by some Masters students at the University of Oslo (ooh, and I just discovered that the title refers to a great troll-snake, from the Peer Gynt story). It is a really beautiful little journal. The theme of this issue was ‘place’, and they have essays in Norwegian and English about the role on place in literature in places as diverse as Norway, Israel, Australia. The essays are interspersed with black and white photographs, mainly of Oslo. It really is lovely and it’s a bit of a thrill to be a part of it.

In the small pockets of time between child-rearing, working, and folding laundry, I have been reading Anne Enright’s Making Babies, a very beautiful collection of essays, recommended by Blue Milk. And I have been knitting. I’ve started one more vest for the little guy. It’s quite addictive. It was in this cabin, just outside the Glacier National Park in Montana, that I decided I absolutely needed to learn to knit. It was something about the self-sufficiency of the little cabin in the woods that didn’t even have electricity, and seeing Felix wearing a cardigan knitted by my Nanna. I thought it would be a satisfying thing to do. I was right. It has exactly the right balance between challenging and soothing; it is heartening to see your progress even if it is slow, the texture and colour of the yarn between your fingers is lovely, and there is something entirely wonderful about seeing your own child all snug in a jumper you made for him.

Wednesday

I was going to write a post entitled ‘slog’, and it was going to be about how hard we have been working. Clearing out the spare room in the evenings once Felix has gone to sleep (after we have worked all day) has been tough. There is still more to do, but we have cleared out enough now to get him in there. And then of course the poor fellow starts teething again, so settling him into the new sleeping arrangements has been more difficult than it otherwise would have been, and we are still not getting nearly enough sleep. So we are tired. But I have changed my day off from Friday to Wednesday, and that is better, much better. This afternoon the sun shone and Felix and I had a picnic on the lawn.

Lying for half an hour in the sun with my favourite boy and my favourite creatures was more than enough to restore my spirits.

Also I’m very proud of myself because I knitted the little vest Felix is wearing, all on my own. The pattern is here. I started it a few weeks back, when I had my ear infection, at which point I knitted all night because I was in too much pain to sleep. It took me a while because I had to undo bits when I did them wrong – if I do another one I’ll be much faster. But isn’t it great! I’ll try to show you some pictures sans bib another time.

Felix chased the cats around for a bit, bounced on the trampoline with me, then made some calls. It was a very nice afternoon indeed.

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.

Back

Landing in Oslo and the beautiful snowy drive down here was awesome, and we were so very glad to be back. But after enthusiastically exploring all the corners we let him reach of our little house, Felix was not himself, and sat on the floor, screeching. We contemplated joining him. Arriving home to a cold house (not as cold as it could have been, as our neighbour turned the heaters up for us yesterday, but still…), with an almost one year old in tow, after being away for eight months, is not exactly easy. Especially when Norway arranges a cold snap for us and our winter clothes seem to have got lost in the post. But we’ve cranked up the heating even more, the baby is asleep, and it is slowly, slowly beginning to feel like home.

The house is the same, but we have changed. When we left, Felix was a little baby – we would perch him in his bouncer or lay him on the floor, and he took up no space at all. Now he is a little tractor, roaming everywhere, making his opinions known. We need to reshape the space for this new us. It is the heat, slowly taking hold in the air and the wooden walls, that lets me know we’ll be ok. It starts to smell like it did a year ago, when we kept the house oh so warm indeed. And I would wake in the night and carry tiny Felix out to the change table, and he would squirm and fuss as I maneuvered him out of his miniature sleeping suit. No, more precisely a year ago, I hadn’t met him yet, and it was just my taut, uncomfortable belly I was lugging around, as my due date arrived with nothing to show for it. February. Month of beginnings.

Generations

My grandparents left yesterday. They caught the bus up to Oslo, for a night there, before flying back to Amsterdam, from whence they are hopping on a boat which will meander down various rivers all the way to Budapest. They truly are world travelers! I was sad to see them go, but the memory of those few days we had together here in Norway will be precious to me forever.

As we were walking through Gamlebyen on Thursday, Grandma said if anyone had told her several years ago that she would one day be walking through Norway with her great-grandson, she wouldn’t have believed them. It would be better to live close to family, but one gift of living so far away is that it makes the time you have together so special. And we are planning to visit Australia in December, so we look forward to seeing them then!

The evening before they left, Michael’s parents arrived! It was only a little chaotic having everyone here at once, and they were very pleased to meet each other. Michael’s parents don’t speak much English, and my Grandparents don’t speak any German, but they managed to understand one another ok. Anyway, says my Grandma, there’s always the international language of smiles.

It is a very nice thing to share a child, to watch others loving him. Especially as I have absolutely nothing to complain about regarding any of Felix’s grandparents – you hear stories of mothers receiving unwanted advice, but there has been nothing like that coming my way. Michael’s Mum, Moni, said she likes my Grandparents very much, and wishes she had had such nice Grandparents. It doesn’t matter, I tell her, because you are a most wonderful Oma.

A perfect day

Something about this photo – the positioning of the figures, our paper cut-outness, and Felix’s benedictory gesture – reminds me of a medieval triptych. Also the overblown sky – just imagine it gilded! I was perched on a little table, which I knew wasn’t a good idea when I’m already so tall. I love the photo anyway. You can tell how happy we all are to be there.

It felt so surreal on Monday night when my Grandparents arrived at our door, and I opened it and said ‘come in’. Just amazing. And then they came in and cuddled Felix, and Felix said ‘ooo ooo ooo’. And now I’m afraid I’m about to bore you with some details but we’ve been having such a lovely time that I don’t want to forget any of it. Yesterday, we wandered around town a bit, had lunch at our favourite pizza place, and walked to the shopping centre to get Grandma a new phone. G&G went back to the hotel for a couple of hours to have a rest, and then Michael picked them up again. We cooked salmon and potatoes for tea, and finished with icecream and strawberries.

Today, I picked them up at 10 and drove up to the fortress, where we wandered around and looked at the view. We then met Michael for lunch at my favourite little cafe in town (a very baby-friendly place with space for prams and toys for older kids to play with and a big stack of high-chairs and surprisingly delicious food), and called in at the other shopping centre to replace Grandma’s handbag. Felix was content napping in the pram and feeding in the cafe before we ate. We drove up the hill home again for tea and easter eggs and a skype chat with Mum and my aunty. G&G went for a little walk (they have more energy than me!!!) while we chilled out a bit at the house. We then had such a lovely afternoon sitting on the deck in the sunshine.

I’m wearing the amber earrings my Grandparents bought me in St Petersburg, when they took me there nearly seven years ago. (At that point I was doing my masters in York and I’d just decided Michael was rather nice and I was hoping something would come of it…)

Granddad read the copy of the Guardian that Michael had somehow procured for him. I cooked dinner – fool-proof spinach and ricotta cannelloni followed by delicious brownies – while Michael helped Grandma install phone numbers into her phone. It has just been so lovely having this time with them, and hearing stories of their children and houses and early life together (next year they will have been married 60 years!).

While we ate, Felix cooed and gurgled. And it was the perfect, perfect day.

Our other darlings

Michael took these gorgeous photos of our beautiful cats last night.

I remember when they were kittens, thinking how nice it would be when they were grown up cats and could just hang out on the deck with us. And it’s very nice indeed, especially when you add a baby or two, some friends and some Sunday afternoon scones and tea.

Mermos caught a bird on the weekend, though. I guess it was only a matter of time. Thankfully he didn’t try to bring it into the house. Here they are checking our their next catches:

Ps. If you live in Halden you don’t fancy adopting them for six months from the middle of May, do you? We will be away and they are such lovely, lovely animals… Also by then they’ll probably have shed their winter coats. Right now there is fur on everything.

Spring!

We had a really lovely weekend which involved much sitting around in the sunshine. And pushing prams in the sunshine. And bouncing in the sunshine. And drinking tea in the sunshine. And eating scones and Russian soup with friends in the sunshine. And flying a remote controlled plane in the sunshine (well, we tried at least but it was a bit windy). It was just what we needed.

(In other news, the little fellow has slept from 11pm to 6.30 or 7am for three nights in a row!!! I’m not counting on it continuing, but it’s pretty nice. He’s eight weeks old today, and as gorgeous and smily and cuddly as ever.)

 

Confinement

Such an old-fashioned term. But at the moment it’s just about right. It was a lovely day today, really. Plus 3 degrees, which feels so, so warm. It had rained over night, and the trees were rinsed of their frost. The sun shone through hazy blue patches of sky and the bare tree-tops reminded me of England. But as soon as Michael got to work, he sent me an email entitled ‘ice’, which read: ‘Don’t go out under any circumstances. It’s too slippery even for crampons.’ Which was fair enough, as these three-day forays into the positives only succeed in turning our sloping driveway into an ice-rink. And all the footpaths, too.

So I washed the floors, and baked rosinboller. (My recipe wasn’t as fancy as that one. I got it straight off the sultana pack. But check out that blog! She lives in a much prettier part of Norway than I do. And has a cute baby boy. And I think I might be clicking back over there to try out some of her other recipes…) Over the weekend I had a serious craving for hot-cross-buns, so I bought some yeast and sultanas on Saturday morning. When I got home, though, I discovered it would take several hours to make them, so I made scones instead. (Which were amazing, by the way.) Anyway, today, having the whole day to myself, I thought I would have a go at the boller. It’s the first time I’ve tried cooking with yeast on my own. (When I was a kid, Mum and I would do it all the time.) And it worked! They rose! The living room smelled all warm and yeasty as they sat in the windowsill. They were very nice, though next time I’ll have to add more spices. I ate four of them straight out of the oven. Michael liked them but said the scones were better. But now I’m thinking of all the other things you can do with yeast…

I’m pleased with the photo I took today. I’m getting quite fond of this bump of mine. It is nice to feel round and full of life. (Also if you’re planning on getting pregnant I recommend being extremely tall. You get much less squashed.) 38 weeks tomorrow. When I see photos of myself not pregnant it feels like that’s not really me. Right now, this is me, and I am grateful for these few last weeks. I like that I am looking out of the window, and that the windows are full of light but that you can’t see through them. I like the crib stacked in the corner behind me, with my maternity bag inside it and a box of baby things. And for me, the photo is strange, because the room is reflected in the mirror, and it is all the wrong way round. Everything is stilled in the strange light. It captures perfectly this deep breath, this pause, this readiness. This quiet, hopeful time of looking straight in the face of a future I cannot yet clearly discern, and saying, despite this, yes. Yes.

A day in the life

Scratch scratch scratch. Mooowwww!

Open back door for kitten 1.

Kitten 1 pokes his nose out and sniffs. -15, ouch. Sits there looking.

Close door.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open door again.

Still -15. Kitten 1 decides to sleep on the couch instead. Gets bored quickly as has been sleeping for the greater portion of the past two days.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open hallway door for kitten 1 to go in hall. Brief pause.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open hallway door for kitten 1 to come back into lounge. Kitten 2 goes into hallway. Brief pause.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Let kitten 2 back into lounge.

Scratch scratch scratch, Mooooowwww!

They sit forlornly and look at back door.

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!

Thank you Nanna!

My Nanna (my Dad’s Mum) reads this blog, and when she read what I wrote about not knowing what to get for the baby, she promptly sent over some cardigans and booties she has knitted for him! We love them. They will be perfect to keep him warm. And I love the little pearl buttons. I remember when I was a little girl I loved little pearl buttons. I miss you Nanna. We both send our love.

For anyone wondering, here’s the bump in progress, at almost 30 weeks. I get a shock whenever I glimpse myself from the side. It looks much bigger that way than it does from above. He is starting to feel like a bit of a lump in there. Last night he decided he wanted to lie sideways for a while and kick and poke me, which wasn’t much fun. But sort of amusing all the same.

Aside from that, it has been cold. The forecast says cold and colder. I’ve been struggling with the November blues the past week, not to mention the never ending head-cold which developed into a nasty sinus infection. It’s hard knowing that just about now it’s sunshiny and gorgeous in Australia.

Here’s the frost on the balustrade of our deck. These crystals cover everything, every morning. Well, until it started snowing yesterday. I took these frosty pictures on Friday morning, but I haven’t raced out to photograph the snow yet. When you know it will be a pretty constant companion for the next five months or so, you lose the sense of urgency…

The frosty mornings are beautiful though. It’s hard to capture on camera the puffy yellow clouds of the sunrise shining through the iced branches of the trees. And things are coming together. We’ve spent the weekend snuggling in front of the fire, eating soup, figuring out how to better insulate our loft. My doctor prescribed me some antibiotics on Wednesday, and I’m starting to feel a little more human. And I have my winter boots.

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.

Night light

Playing with the camera settings, Michael got some pretty cool pictures of our house and garden on Saturday night. I love how you can see Mermos in the window.

Unfortunately there’s more and more of this these days. Night, I mean. Waking up in the dark is a pain. Today was grey and miserable and it still felt very dark at nine in the morning because of all the clouds. I guess one advantage of shorter days – at least the clear ones – is that you actually get to see all the sunrises and sunsets. The sunset in my header at the moment is from some photos we took from the bridge between Norway and Sweden on Friday, about six pm.

Anyway we are bugging down in our warm little house and watching the dvds we brought back from the UK. Just finished season two of Dexter and I am completely hooked.

The pregnancy is going well. Twenty-five weeks tomorrow. I’ve felt the little thing kicking and wriggling every day for just over two weeks now. It’s delightful and strange, and what’s even stranger is that I’m starting to get used to it. But it’s very hard to mentally connect the hidden thing wriggling inside me with the demanding little one and two year olds I run around after all day. It’s getting more difficult to pick things up off the floor. By no means impossible, but it takes about four times as much effort and time as it used to. Also I frequently think I’ll be able to squeeze past someone or between a chair and a bench and I’m shocked to discover I can’t…

We are loving and loving our kittens.

It was so cold last Friday morning that I could hear the frozen yellow leaves clattering down from the trees.

Live-blogging our wood pile

That’s a lot of sticks. (Norwegian people think English people call logs of wood ‘sticks’. I think that sounds quite sweet so I’m happy to adopt the terminology.)

Actually this is just the first load. We’ve ordered more. Eep!

Michael and our unbelievably helpful neighbour are out there as I type.

I helped for nearly fifty minutes but then my back started seriously complaining. Their backs probably are too, but they aren’t pregnant.

Anyway, I think we owe our neighbour a lot more apple cakes.

Home improvements

Dad cooking dinner.

Hummus! (And you can see our partially installed dishwasher in the background. It worked but tipped over if you weren’t careful, and we hadn’t taken off the bright blue protective plastic. Dad helped Michael to get this fixed – and propped up to the proper height – before they left.)

Yum! Veggie curry with hummus, coriander, and rather good South Australian white wine.

Mermos trying to help.

Mum patching holes after we removed the green kitchen door that the previous owners had decoratively hung on the wall.

Dad moving the power-point so we could put a bookshelf next to the sofa.

Mum painting our kitchen wall after patching the long narrow crack.

Dad installing the kitchen door back where it belongs. (Which means this winter the kitchen won’t resemble a freezer – hooray!)

When they left, Dad left behind two huge boxes of chocolates (which sadly didn’t last for long), and Mum left behind a gorgeous blue and white fruit bowl with two matching tea mugs, also buying two of the mugs for herself so that we can have matching cups of tea, hemispheres apart.

Now if only they lived a bit closer…

Swimming

I’ve started to show a little bit this week. Not much, but my colleagues are gleefully pointing to any evidence. They are very excited for me. (But the new lady, who didn’t know, was surprised when she was told, so I think if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t see much.) Anyway, this was accompanied on Monday by some rather alarming back pain in my lower back. Nothing debilitating, I suppose, but I am not accustomed to back pain and I don’t like it! And this is only fifteen (well, nearly sixteen now) weeks! I haven’t even gained weight yet! It’s got to be downhill from here. So I dragged myself off to the pool.

It’s a pretty small pool, but it’s only a fifteen minute walk from the house. On Monday I managed fifteen laps, today twenty-five. My back still felt pretty dodgy on Tuesday, but it’s better now. So I think I’d better keep this up. Mermos doesn’t like it because it makes my skin smell funny.

I never used to be terribly good at swimming, but then I discovered goggles, and the swimming cap. Without a swimming cap, all the water gets caught in my hair and drips down into my mouth when I’m trying to breathe. I polished my swimming skills in Adelaide, before I moved to the UK seven (gasp) years ago. I thought it would be a grounding, calming thing to do. It was.

In York I used to swim a kilometre twice or three times a week. I would walk to the pool – an old, fifty metre monstrosity – with my housemate and fellow masters student Neil, early in the morning before our day of writing our dissertation. It kept us sane, and the thought that a friend was waiting for us ensured we dragged ourselves out of bed. I kept it up for another year or so after I moved in with Michael, riding my bike there to break up afternoons of writing and thinking. But after a while the chlorine made me sniffly, and I joined a fancy new gym, where we just used the pool to boat around in after a workout, and that was that.

But I think it’s good for backs. And I love the smooth, cool rhythm of it. And this little pool is more than enough for me in my current state! Tonight I even managed to walk down. It’s still light until about 9pm. There are trees bulging with green apples blushing pink in many of the gardens. It rained heavily this afternoon and this evening the sky was still grey though it’s pretty warm. The ground is clean and shiny.

I arrived home to Michael furiously sanding our kitchen and our lounge room door, to the strains of a rather groovy playlist. The amount of work he’s put into these doors is staggering. (After Dad re-istalled one of them). Stripping and sanding and filling holes. And painting and sanding and painting again. Michael calls it the circle of life. But they’re nearly done now. Just have to get hold of some proper oil paint for the final coat. Anyway, will stop rambling now. Good night!

Many more things

Austria was gorgeous. It already feels like a distant dream. I had some beautiful flights, nosing about in the thermals and surfing the rising air above the ridge. My parents, Michael and I bought a five day cable car pass, which meant that we could go up each of the four cable cars in the region once a day. One of them you could paraglide down from. One of them had a toboggan thing on a monorail, which was awesome. And they all had beautiful views and walking opportunities.

We had amazing weather – it was warm and sunny nearly every day. The food was cheap and good, the accommodation was great, the landscape stunning. Too many adjectives, I know. But it really is the most relaxing place. Most afternoons we would head down to the local pool (entry was free with the guest card we got with our holiday apartment) and float around, looking up at the mountains and zooming down the waterslide. My parents were duly impressed. I have a feeling we’ll all be back. Mum had a tandem flight.

Michael’s Mum came along too, overcoming her fear of heights by coming with us on two cable cars all the way up to the base of the glacier, and talked about getting a tandem flight herself next time!

***

It’s a good thing we had a decent summer holiday this year because we have been back a week and the weather has been dreadful. As Michael puts it: Norwegian summer = a gap between rain showers, just enough to mow the lawn.

My folks have been here all week which has been so nice. I had this week off too. We have worked incredibly hard though!!! My suggestion to drive up to Ikea on Wednesday was met with enthusiasm, and resulting in four major (and several minor) purchases that then required assembly. Each job seemed to lead onto another one… Dad moved one of our powerpoints so we could put the new bookshelf where we wanted it. He then not only took down the door which the previous owners had ‘decoratively’ hung on the wall but also re-installed it in its proper place between the kitchen and the hall. This will be brilliant in winter because it will mean we can actually keep the kitchen warm. And we have been patching cracks and holes, painting walls and cupboards, installing light fittings, hanging curtains… Everything I thought to myself – oh we should do that sometime – is getting done. Michael reckons my parents deserve their own TV show.

My new sewing machine has been getting a workout. Michael made a pillow for the kittens and I made a mouse.

Many things

We’ve been very busy this week. So many things that writing is daunting and I’m not sure where to begin. It’s the last week of my summer holidays, and my parents are visiting, and they are being absolute gems helping me sort things out in the house that I’ve been meaning to for ages. Including a day long trip to Ikea and (so far) one whole day of putting things together and installing light fittings and removing heavy green doors from walls and hanging up mirrors and moving power points and patching holes… Just the wardrobe left to put together and I’m kicking myself for buying the wrong size shelves. We had so much stuff, though, really, something was bound to go wrong.

And my Mum bought me a sewing machine as a late birthday present, and it is amazing. And Dad is the kind of person who upon hearing that we can’t buy humous here, promptly gets hold of some chickpeas and makes us some! They have been cooking us all sorts of yummy things like beetroot risotto and eggplant parmigiana.

So it is very lovely to have them here. And there have been other things happening, other big things, other good things, but I will tell you about them soon because right now it’s all so exciting that it’s exhausting and I need to be quiet about it for a while.

Rainy day

Perfect for exam marking. But of course I am procrastinating. When there are exams to be marked, what better time to write a blog post! The rain is quite lovely in fact. Mermos is purring in my lap, Whitby is curled at my feet (I have a lambskin rug under my desk). They are such funny, friendly kitties. They always follow you around (even to the toilet, one thing I could do without!). A load of washing is on, I’ve sorted out the kitchen, and hung some pictures on my office wall.

On my left is a lovely print of an early drawing of a wombat family, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur in 1804. I bought it when there was an exhibition in Adelaide many years ago of early French drawings of Australian plants and animals. It was the most amazing thing! Because Australian creatures were still relatively odd to European eyes, the representations looked slightly odd because they hadn’t worked out how draw them yet. Anyway the print sat under my bed in Adelaide for about seven years, but I took it back with me in January and found a frame for it. There is a mother wombat with about four little baby wombats toddling out of her pouch (do they have that many babies?), and a father wombat looking on bemusedly.

On my right are two prints of pages from the Book of Kells. I bought them on a trip to Ireland with the University of York hiking club in early 2004. Michael had organized the trip, so he was there, but we weren’t together yet. (We did, however, always sit next each other and talk for hours…) I remember offering him one of the posters on the train home in a kind of clumsy courting gesture. He said no thank you, he wasn’t into putting pictures on walls, he wanted to wait until he had his own place and could do it properly. (I bet he’s forgotten the entire conversation!) Anyway, here they are, and here we are. One of them is extra special to me now, because it is the Q from the Quoniam page, which Les Murray has written a poem about, and which I devoted about two and a half pages of my thesis to… (I can tell you more about that if you’re interested…)

Michael has been in the south of France all week which I am insanely jealous about. He gets back tonight only to leave again for Texas on Wednesday… Anyway, I’m very glad not to be at work today. Fridays are now my own! But the exams are calling. Wish me luck!

Neighbours

Here is a brand new pine cone on the tree in our garden. At least that’s what I think it is. I’ve never seen one before. I tried to get a photo of the old wooden ones too, but couldn’t coax the little camera into focussing twice…

Last weekend one of our neighbours wandered over as we were planting seeds in pots. Between our terrible Norwegian and her terrible English, we managed to work out that she is 75, she grew up in our house, and her mother lived here till she died. Her children knew our house as ‘the grandmother house’. Her father planted the big tree.

She told us what sort of tree is was and Michael understood because it’s also called that in German, but it didn’t mean anything to me. It’s a Siberian something-or-other.

I think she told us that the fruit trees in our garden are yellow plums.

She warned us that deer would try to eat our flowers and our herbs. She said they especially like roses. You cannot plant roses here. But she said she has lots of flowers in her garden every year, not yet but soon.

I told her that I come from Australia and I work in a kindergarten.

I realized yet again that my handy stack of Norwegian sentences: ‘Would you like some more?’; ‘Are you finished?’; ‘Come here!’; ‘Don’t do that!’; ‘Mummy’s coming soon’; ‘Can I change your nappy?’; ‘Have you done a poo?’; are not really adequate for social encounters with people older than two years old. I so wanted to talk to her that I lapsed into my dodgy German, which didn’t help anyone.

So. Once the teaching is finished, the Norwegian books are coming out. Really they are.

Tonight another neighbour came to visit but she didn’t stay and chat.

Easter

Michael’s parents arrived yesterday for Easter. They seem to like our little house! Although it’s raining at the moment we saw a deer sauntering along our driveway this morning, so Norway is still doing its best to impress. Yesterday we spent the whole morning sorting things out – vacuuming and tidying, clearing the third bedroom which had remained a sort of dumping ground from our move, putting the back seats back into the car and cleaning that up a bit, and wandering around our driveway and garden picking up all the bits of rubbish and cigarette butts that had been hiding under the snow for three months (the previous tenants weren’t the tidiest folk). It all looks pretty good now. Then Michael went to pick up his folks and I put a banana cake in the oven.

It’s lovely to have them here. The weather’s looking up for tomorrow, but I don’t think anyone really minds just relaxing in the house for the moment. We had a lovely slow breakfast of coffee and jam and bread and cheese, and now Monica is getting stuck into our little pile of ironing. (She really really loves ironing and folding clothes. I used to feel a bit funny about that – in regards to our clothes – but I am totally over that now!)

Anyway, here’s the current status of Henry. I reckon I’ll finish Jane Seymour’s head this weekend. First there’s about fifteen essays left to mark, and a novel to read for my class next week. But it’s so, so excellent to have six days off!

Slowly

In the last week we’ve bought a tumble dryer and ordered a dishwasher. Moving up in the world. And some hooks to hang towels on. And lights for the stairs. And summer tyres for the car. I made waffles for breakfast on Sunday. I’ve been making progress on Henry. We’ve stumbled on, alongside our interrupted and interrupting grief. I am so unbelievably glad it is Easter break now. Easter starts on Thursday in Norway, but at the kindergarten we have Wednesday off too. I plan to mark essays all day. It will be brilliant.

The snow has all but gone. The land looks strangely naked without it. Brown and rubbed thin. As though the whole world could just collapse from exhaustion. But it won’t. It will just catch its breath a while longer, while the birdsong already haunts morning with dreams of colour. And before we know it, it will be May, beautiful May, though that still feels as distant as a foreign country.

Update: for old Henry posts, see here and here and here.

Things we like about our house

Sunlight and firelight and windows on all sides.

A working shower, toilet and washing machine (ok we’re taking these for granted already, but they were a welcome revelation when we moved in after camping in our old place for weeks).

A mirror in the bathroom that’s as tall as we are.

An upstairs and a downstairs.

Quietness.

A kitchen that isn’t also a hallway.

The morning air when we step outside, that smells of ice and sun and woodsmoke.

A room for everything.

And did I mention windows?

Let me rephrase that…

There really is a lot of snow.

Snow that puffs off train tracks and whips off roofs.

Snow that closes the underground lines

and glitters in the dark like sugar.

Snow that stills the afternoon,

that falls and falls,

that fills the tracks left by foxes

and smooths the edges of the world.

Snow we shovel into heaps

but blows back over night,

every night,

without a word.

Eeeeeeeee

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

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

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

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

‘JUST TELL ME!’

‘Yes.’

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

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

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

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

October

It is, all of a sudden, cold. There is something exhilarating about the swift change of season. We swapped lapping up the sun in Berlin parks for scraping ice off the windscreen at 7:30 in the morning. The trees are swiftly turning gold, and I drive through wreaths of mist to get to work. All week, the afternoons have been shiny-bright, and at the kindergarten we’ve been making the most of them, bundling up the babbies in layer after layer and spending hours outside. On Friday we had an impromptu outdoor disco. One my co-workers, sitting on a grassy slope with a babbie on her lap (the babbies she’s responsible for are too old for extensive cuddling and lap-sitting, but she usually steals one of mine), watching the rest of us bounce about and flail our arms, said: ‘this is really quite a good job, isn’t it’. And I had to agree.

The best things we brought back from Berlin were two hot water bottles Michael asked his parents to buy for us. They have little blue and red fleece suits, and they are great. Soft and furry and warm, they feel exactly like kitties curled up under our duvet. I keep expecting them to bite my toes.

Aside from that, we’ve been looking at houses. We’ve seen so many houses. And so many reasons for leaving. Old people moving to smaller apartments, young families needing an extra bedroom because a third (or a sixth) child is on the way, a messy divorce, people who bit off more than they could chew in terms of the renovations required, people climbing the property market, and people falling off it – there was at least one case of insolvency. One house was a little spooky and rather sad – the deceased estate of a teacher, with gifts from her grandchildren still on the walls.

Every single house seems to have a fatal flaw. They’re a bit like people. Last week we fell madly in love with a house out in the countryside with amazing views and a balcony flooded with sun, but we decided we’d feel lonely out there, and as we only have one car and cannot sensibly afford another, commuting to work in opposite directions could prove a big problem, especially in winter, when the car is prone to dying at short notice. Topping the list at the moment is a funny little house that looks like a shoe box, or, more precicely, a lego man’s shoe, perched precariously half way up a rocky outcrop, with stunning views of the town and the fortress and the harbour. We haven’t seen inside yet, but wandered up there last night. A full, flat moon hovered above the fortress as though on purpose. The problem with this one is access – you have to park at the bottom of a slope, and clamber up a steep narrow driveway. This isn’t a problem in summer, but in winter we might need spiked shoes and an icepick.

Settling in, or, everything is broken

We arrived back very late Wednesday night, or, more specifically, early Thursday morning, after discovering the car had flat batteries (brand new batteries, as it turns out, after the old ones died decisively during the relentless months of snow). Anyway, the car park attendant helped us out and the car seems fine now.

But the washing machine is broken. And the chest of drawers which I’ve been stuffing far too many clothes in for too long is broken. And the top shelf of the wardrobe into which all our paragliders almost fit is wobbly and unreliable. (These are the joys of the cheapest possible ikea furniture two years in.) So everything is very messy.

After feeling rather overwhelmed yesterday, we managed to restore some semblance of order. I found a temporary home for my clothes, I sorted and dusted and folded and threw things away. I collected a very tall pile of phd drafts to take to the recycling. It’s sort of sad to lose all my scribbled notes on the endless versions of chapters, but really there’s nothing I need them for now. Tonight we’re going to thread M’s paraglider back together (we had to disconnect some of the lines from the risers to get it out of the tree), and we’ll try to get a new washing machine on the weekend. Also there’s a huge pile of paperwork that we’re going to put into separate folders. Why does life involve such never-ending sorting and tidying?

I’m sitting at my reclaimed desk space and it’s rather nice. There is no way, however, that I can listen to any of the music that propelled me through the last stages of the phd. So for the moment it’s The Proclaimers.

There’s lots to be getting on with. Articles, book proposal, viva preparation, conference paper, job applications, German and Norwegian learning, getting my head around an Ethnography subject I’m taking by distance education (haha I can’t stop). I still have my ‘reasons to finish‘ smiling at me from my whiteboard. I’m going to leave them there a little longer, to remind me why it’s good to be where I’m at. Because I think it’s going to take a little getting used to. But the sun is shining today; the birch trees are shivering greenly in the wind and purple lilacs poke their faces over the top of our neighbours’ roof. I think I’ll go for a ride later. It’s all good.

Small things

  • This week I ate porridge for breakfast every day
  • There is thick snow outside and it’s still snowing
  • My three day plan became a five day plan
  • I went for a swim for the first time in years (not counting splashing around in lakes and beaches)
  • We found and lost the house of our dreams
  • I decided two warm jumpers are the way to go
  • When I walked out of the bathing hall at five pm, my hair still wet, it was dark. The ground was covered in a not insubstantial layer of whiteness that hadn’t been there when I went in. The clean blank footpath glinted like diamonds. Tiny, tiny flakes swarmed down. If you looked up beneath a streetlamp it seemed the air was made of glitter.

Ahah!

Thinking about homes and houses – in a strictly academic sense – and have solved a niggling problem at the end of my best chapter. Ie – what to make of Randolph Stow’s very strange book The Suburbs of Hell. It’s still not my favourite of his novels, and it won’t be the most interesting point I make in that chapter – but it’s enabling me to draw it all together much more neatly. Before, all I could say about that book, really, is that it’s an experiment in genre. I have to say something about it, because of its overt medievalism. But when you think about homes, and houses, it clicks into focus a little better, especially in regards to my thesis. Hurrah! Hurrah! (Maybe I’ll tell you why sometime – it involves the Gothic and a mysterious assassin. Ooh, and can link in with Beowulf quite nicely too.)

I’ve been reading The Politics of Home by Rosemary Marangoly George. Rather late in the day for someone whose thesis title contains the word ‘belonging’. Still. It’s fun to tweak my perspective on things and see them in a slightly new light.