Arriving

Looking out of the plane window as we landed in Oslo, Felix said – ‘that’s not snow, that’s just salt from the sea.’ And on the train down to Halden, Antonia said cheerfully her favourite phrase: ‘hot daaay!’ ‘No,’ said Felix, ‘cold day!’ ‘Hot daaaay’, said Antonia. They giggled and giggled.

It is indeed cold. We went from 40 degrees in Adelaide to -13 here. Arriving home to a chilly house and having to dig the car out of the snow before we could drive to the shop to get milk (blessedly, the engine started first time) is not without its challenges. But the snow and the gentle sun are very pretty, in a somber sort of way. This morning as I dropped the kids at barnehage I looked over at the slow-motion sunrise and saw the most remarkable thing. The sun was not yet visible behind the white forest and fields, but what I can only describe as an orange spear of light, like a laser beam, was thrusting up from the snowy horizon into the clouds.

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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.

The birth of Antonia Elinor Celeste

pregnancy-birth-9Warning: Long post. And, in Michael’s words, ‘men might not want to read it’ (a couple of gory details not left out). But when he got to the end he said he liked it very much. Here’s a link to Felix’s birth story.

In the months leading up to the birth of my daughter, I walked. For most of the summer, the days were oppressively hot, but the evenings were long and light. Every night, once Felix had gone to sleep, I walked roads and paths and winding loops. Neighbours I had never spoken to greeted me from their gardens and tracked my progress. ‘Not long now,’ they would say. I walked past lawns and trampolines and inflatable pools. Once I saw a tiny deer. Once I walked to the forest, but it was the sky I wanted the most – the sweeps of pink and orange cloud, the watery blue, sunsets that would last an hour. And the moon, which grew and thinned and grew again. I remember looking up at a perfect full moon and thinking – maybe by the next time it’s full, she will be here.

The best place to look at the sky was walking by the wheat field. There is a lovely undulating wheat field not far from our house that catches all the colours of the sun. I found a little path along its far edge so I could look at it for longer.

As with Felix, I had to wait and wait for Antonia to come. I got to 40 weeks. I got to 41 weeks. Nothing. My midwife booked me in for an overdue ‘control’ at the hospital.

pregnancy-birth-4At the overdue appointment they gave me a CTG and an ultrasound to check heart rate, the placenta and umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid and the size and position of the baby. Everything was perfect. The doctor estimated the baby would be between 3.8 and 3.9kg. She examined me internally and found I was already 3cm dilated, giving me a prolonged poke while she was at it. It might be uncomfortable, she said, but it would be nice if we can get this to start on its own. Afterwards I felt crampy and washed out. She booked me in for an induction on Tuesday, when I would be 42 weeks, but said she expected I wouldn’t need it.

Mum was with me. I felt quite weak after the appointment so I let her drive, and we went across to the old town for lunch and apple cake. I had a couple of stray contractions accompanied by back pain. I did not think it would be long. When we got back home I fell into bed and had a much needed two hour nap.

Early that evening, utterly appropriately, we went across to my friend Margrethe’s house for brownies. It was her son’s first birthday. We had visited them for brownies and waffles the night before Felix was born, and the day before she had gone into labour with her daughter, we had been out for chocolate cake together. (This time I had tried to pre-empt things by inviting them over for brownies the night before my due date, to no avail.) We sat on their deck in the sun and it was lovely. Linnea rode her scooter, Felix snuggled with us as he was tired, and the birthday boy crawled proudly around the deck, pulling himself to his feet on their umbrella. I walked back home.

As I read Felix his bedtime stories around eight o’clock that night, I felt the beginnings of more regular contractions. I was glad. I snuggled him on my lap as I read, and lay opposite him as he cuddled up in bed. ‘Mummy loves you so so very much’, I told him. I watched my beautiful boy fall asleep, thinking of the hundreds of times I had done this over the past three years. My baby, my firstborn, my little boy. I lay for half an hour after he fell asleep, feeling the quiet waves of contractions and watching him breathe.

Downstairs I drank a glass of milk and ate some cherries. ‘Is the babbie coming tonight?’ asked Michael. ‘No,’ I lied. I didn’t feel like saying anything yet.

I went for a walk with Mum, as we did every night. We walked towards the wheat field. ‘Shall we try this little path through the trees?’ asked Mum. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I want to go past the field.’ We walked past the field and I looked at the light in the wheat. I looked at the huge moon, just one day from being full. I looked at the tiny orange and white berries on the trees. I sometimes had to alter my pace a little when the contractions came, but Mum didn’t notice. In my head, I counted through them. They would get stronger and dip away again when I reached 26 or so. I guessed they were coming every three to four minutes.

When we got back Michael was watching the end of a Dr Who Christmas special on TV, so I sat on the fit ball and joined him. When it finished I told them. ‘I think the babby’s coming tonight.’ ‘What – when do we have to leave?’ ‘A couple of hours, I think.’ It was ten o’clock. Michael raced off upstairs to finish something he had to write for work. Later he said it normally would have taken a whole day but he did it in half an hour.

I rocked around on the fit ball and wrote some messages to friends on facebook. Mum timed the contractions for a little while and they were coming every 3-5 minutes. They were still quite manageable but I remember thinking at the start of some of them – ‘I really don’t want to do this.’ Don’t be silly, I told myself, you need to stay positive. I had a shower. It was nearly 11 at this point and I was feeling a bit tired so decided to try to lie down for a while. I also wanted to make sure Michael got some rest as he’d been at work all day and I was anticipating we’d be up all night. We lay in bed and stroked our black cat Mermos. The space between contractions lengthened slightly but their intensity didn’t. After a while they started feeling a little too sharp for my liking, so I got up. ‘I’m going downstairs to call the hospital’, I said.

I paced around while on the telephone and they told me it was up to me whether I wanted to come in yet or not. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m coming.’

They were relatively strong and frequent now, I felt I had to brace myself against a doorway and flex my legs to manage them. I wrote a note for Felix and got out a chocolate egg for him. Mum packed us some cheese sandwiches and a hot water bottle. I felt so much more lucid, alert, and nervous than I had during Felix’s birth. I must have been doing a good job projecting calm because Michael didn’t realize for a while that we had to leave now, but soon enough, just after midnight, we were off.

At this point I was panicking slightly about how I would manage the 45 minute drive. But I turned the classical radio station on and that calmed me a lot. I found if I slapped my thighs hard in time to the music through the contractions, I could manage quite well. I listened to the sound it made. If the pain got worse, I slapped louder. I was grateful that I had read Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills in the lead-up to labour, as she talks about the efficacy of techniques like this – anything to distract your brain from the heart of the pain. I think sitting in the car also slowed the rate of the contractions, which helped a bit. ‘Tell me if I should be driving faster,’ said Michael. ‘No,’ I said, ‘there’s no hurry. I’ll probably be in a bit of pain, but there’s no danger.’ I explained about my weird tapping/slapping pain-management technique.

All the same, I was glad when we arrived. I staggered out of the car. Being upright again increased the pace and intensity of the contractions. It was hard to relax between them because I had the most terrible heartburn. I braced myself against the hospital walls and sign-posts during the contractions, and paced about quickly between them, as Michael got the parking ticket. 12.52am. I vomited into the hospital garden. Once I had collected myself a little, we went inside.

Huffing and panting through the corridors, we eventually found the right spot (the normal birthing wards were closed for the summer). I could barely speak to the midwives. They ushered us into a tiny room and our midwife fussed around for a while trying to attach the heart-beat monitor. I insisted on standing while she did it. The baby’s heartbeat was all good, so she made me climb up on the bed for a moment to check my dilation. 6cm already! I hopped down again immediately. I thought – I don’t want to do this. I can’t take hours of this. This time I just want an epidural and to lie quietly on the bed and relax. Of course I didn’t have time to say any of this, because the contractions kept coming and coming. Just do it, Mel, I told myself, don’t be scared, meet the contractions head on. There wasn’t time to think. During contractions I bent over, clutched the little side table, swayed my hips and groaned loudly. The noise helped a lot. The sounds I made were very, very low, I could feel the vibrations. In the short breaks between contractions I perched on the edge of the little bed, panting, clutching my legs just above my knees.

Last time the contractions had felt like a twisting, snarling dragon; this time they felt like a quick-rising sea of pain. I groaned and sang at them. I made different shapes with my mouth and listened to the different tones it made. I spared half a thought for poor Michael having to listen to it all but put it out of my head. I needed to focus. When the pain worsened I bellowed louder and louder. Not screaming, roaring. Michael said they would have been able to hear me on the other side of the river. And all of a sudden the sounds I was making changed slightly and I found my legs wide apart and something pressing down between them.

The midwife looked up from the computer screen on the other side of the bed. You need to climb up on the bed now, she said. Michael helped me up. I did not like being on the bed at all. I felt panicky. I need to check you, she said. I need to do a poo! I yelled. She needs to do a poo! said Michael. It’s the baby, she said.

Suddenly there were about four midwives crowding around the end of the bed. They fussed around trying to get my legs in the right position. Eventually we ascertained they wanted me to hook my hands under my knees and hold them up that way. This wasn’t particularly comfortable. I tried to rest one of my legs on Michael.

Don’t push! They said. Are you joking? I thought. Don’t push, said Michael. Ok, I thought. I remembered the book I had read. If they tell you not to push, you need to pant, lots of short little breaths. I panted loudly. I didn’t push but my body pushed a little on its own, I couldn’t stop it. This was new to me, it hadn’t happened at all with Felix. That’s great, they said, fantastic. Breathe normally!!! They told me once the contraction had finished. As in Felix’s birth, it was getting a little difficult to tell when I was having a contraction.

Eventually they said, ok, when the next contraction comes, then you can push. A big baby wedged inside your birth canal is uncomfortable. I don’t like this! I thought. But I thought – I need to work as hard and as cleverly as I can so that this is over as quickly as possible. I clenched a wet face-cloth with my teeth. I held my breath and pushed, three times per contraction. Is everything ok? Michael asked the midwives. Yes, they said, everything is perfect. This was reassuring, as it all felt very strange and very quiet. Only a few contractions later, she was coming out. Wait, they said, wait… ok, push. I felt a large, lumpy thing sliding through. She was out. She was quiet for a few long seconds, and then I heard her grizzling, and then she was flopping on my belly and I held my child.

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pregnancy-birth-29I was stunned. 1.47am. It had been less than half an hour since I was 6cm dilated. Less than an hour since we drove into the hospital car park. And I felt – fine. At Felix’s birth I had been so dazed and exhausted, but now I just felt normal. But here was our baby! Better than an epidural – it was already over. Michael kissed me.

antonia-1-1After what felt like far too long they finally let us transfer to the recovery room. Antonia curled up on my chest and I held my daughter for hours as the sun came up on her very first day.

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Summer holidays

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It’s really hot here at the moment and Felix and I have had the most gorgeous time this week – mostly down at the lake. The past two days I’ve even been swimming myself in the freezing water. And I don’t have a lot of time or energy to write much now but I wanted to write something, before it evaporates. Most evenings I’ve been going for long walks alone along the dusky summer streets (it’s light till 11). It’s my favourite part of the day. I’m pretty active chasing after Felix all day, but there’s something so incredibly lovely about being able to walk at your own pace.

Today in the kitchen, Felix said – ‘The baby is very round, Mummy. Will it be round when it comes out?’

And yesterday, stark naked astride his bicycle in our lounge-room, he said: ‘Some people speak Norwegian. Mummy speaks English. Daddy speaks German. But I only speak… nonsense!’ Which, given the exuberant mood he’s been in for the past two weeks, is about right.

Though today he offered to put sunscreen on my back for me. ‘I may not be as fast as you,’ he said, ‘but I’m very strong.’ That’s a quote from Thomas the Tank Engine, but incredibly sweet. ‘Do you ever run out of steam, Mummy? What happens if you run out of steam at the shops? I could pull you.’

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Before I was Felix I missed you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four seasons in one day

Today when I went downstairs with Felix, I was tired. Michael is away again this week after being back for the weekend. Felix has been sick and on Sunday night and Monday morning we had to go to doctor three times in twelve hours. He seemed a bit better so I contemplated sending him to the barnehage so I could rest and read. He begged to stay home though, and to get a bun, so I agreed. He was so happy it made me happy too. We drove into town and he decided he wanted to sit in the stroller (a good move actually – it was so icy). We sat and ate our buns, and I drank my particularly good latte, and we were happy. Behind us was a mother with a newborn. Soon her friend arrived. Felix went to play with the toys. I went to play with him, and noticed her friend was heavily pregnant. Soon after that another woman with a newborn arrived. They seemed so happy. I could hear them nattering away about how their babies were sleeping and eating. All of a sudden, I couldn’t stop crying. Felix played. He looked at the babies, then found a baby doll in the cupboard. ‘Mummy hold this one’, he said.

After a while I told Felix it was time to go. We walked to the park but it was so icy we didn’t stay for long. The bright sun got in Felix’s eyes and the seagulls dipped and soared. We went to pharmacy in the shopping centre to replace some of Felix’s medication (we’d picked it up yesterday but it wasn’t in a toddler-friendly form). We went next door to Lindex and I bought Felix a cardigan with rainbow cuffs. By the time we got home I was feeling better. We took off our coats. ‘No winter’, Felix said, ‘No snow come down’. ‘It will be spring soon,’ I said, ‘and all the snow will melt’. Felix entertained himself beautifully while I did the dishes and heated some soup. I thought about the modules I will be responsible for teaching in the autumn, and had a good idea about a text to include. We ate our soup at the table. ‘Light on!’ he said. ‘Light on in the kitchen!’ ‘We don’t need the light on in the kitchen. But look – we have a candle! The candle means we can sit at the table together and enjoy each other’s company.’ Felix looked at the candle and then at me, and gave me the most beautiful smile in the world.

Water, fire

Felix loves the fountain. He tries to climb in. Failing that, he sits on the edge. He throws leaves in and fishes them out. He walks around the side of it, holding our hands.

Michael took these photos last Saturday, and already today I saw council workers getting ready to board up the fountain for the winter.

There are quite a few photos here but I want them all: I love the light and the water and the leaves and Felix’s concentration.

Here

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.

More Autumn

It’s hard not to feel a little melancholy in Autumn. Not that you’d know it from these photos, that Michael took last weekend in Salt Lake City. That day was just beautiful – perfectly mild and almost still, with a hint of cool when a breeze brushed your cheek, and a gentle warmth on your skin from the sun. (Sorry about all those adjectives.)

This week in Idaho Falls it has been much much colder – there has been frost most mornings – but it has been blue and bright every day, and the air is utterly clear. It’s very dry. Everything is charged with static. At night when I snuggle into bed my duvet lights up with dozens of sparks, like a mini lightening storm.

A couple of days ago the tree outside our apartment had the perfect ratio of yellow leaves on its branches and heaped in a bright ring at its feet. I recalled the many summer evenings I’d sat out there with Felix. One day, walking back from the park, I passed two girls raking leaves in their front yard. ‘We’re making a leaf pile’, the smaller one told me. ‘And then we’re going to jump in it!’

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.

New Years Day

Michael is surpassing himself with photos at the moment. And how much mileage are we getting out of our Christmas tree lights? This might evoke a slightly more festive atmosphere than was actually felt around here as we watched re-runs of The Lord of the Rings in order to stay awake.

We fell into bed before midnight but luckily all the crashes and bangs ensured we got up again to watch a 360 degree fireworks display from our windows. Very handy to have windows facing all directions. And there is something so satisfying about bursts of noise and colourful explosions.

New years day was a perfect day for the beginning of a year. I watched the crescent moon dissolve in a clear sky and the sun rise (at a very respectable hour, I might add) from my desk. In the afternoon we went for a long walk in the forest. The temperature had crept above zero, the sun shone and shone, and honestly it felt like spring.

The honeymoon Christmas

For once we didn’t go anywhere. This was our seventh Christmas together, but our first Christmas alone together. Our first Christmas in our very own house with our very own tree. Our first Christmas with our very entertaining cats. Our first Christmas married. Our first Christmas in Norway. My very first white Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we tidied up a bit then settled down for presents about 4pm (Michael having ascertained in advance that we would do German presents rather than Australian ones so he wouldn’t have to wait till tomorrow). The kittens were most excited with their toy mice, Michael loved his huge warm grey dressing-gown, I put my early Christmas present of an ipod touch to good use providing some quality Christmas music, and we emptied the Christmas stockings of an over-abundance of Swedish chocolate I had purchased to make up for already having eaten the Australian chocolate Mum had sent me. (We still have some German Christmas goodies left cos Michael’s Mum sent over four boxes of them!) We then called Michael’s folks, had a yummy dinner of roast carrots, parsnips, garlic, red onions, falafels and brussell sprouts, and capped off the evening by watching ‘Let the Right One In’ – brutal and poetic and heart-warming all at once.

The 25th continued in much the same way – our favourite food, a crackling fire, novels on the sofa, a walk in the snow, skype calls to family, and Michael practicing taking photos of lights. Some new friends, a Japanese family, came over for dinner, and their little daughter proved what a good kindergarten teacher I’ve been for the last few months by giving us spirited renditions of ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’.

I thought some more about how much I like that Norwegian advent poem – how joy and hope are there, but longing too. The last verse goes:

We light four candles this evening,
and let them burn down,
for longing, joy, hope and peace,
but most of all
for peace on this small earth
where people live.

 

My Nanna said that Christmas wasn’t the same this year without Irene, my Dad’s twin sister who died earlier this year. And I must admit, looking at several of my friends’ Christmas photos on facebook of their six month old babies, I felt a little twinge for our lost little one whom we will never meet. But then I felt an even bigger twinge from the very present little one kicking and wriggling inside me, and I smiled. We should meet him very soon. But I like that poem very much because those who are absent can be with us too, they are not shut out.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas in Australia with my family and the sunshine, and I love Christmas in Germany with Michael’s family and the perfectly wonderful German Christmas markets. But this year, this quiet, happy, snow-filled Christmas was exactly what we needed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Christmas lights

Ok so this is just a gratuitous shot of the kittens snoozing in our lounge room. I really want to write about light. Light is very important around here at this darkest time of year. All the houses have little white electric candles in their windows, which shine out calmly to the snow-filled streets.

On December 13th we celebrated Lucia. I think it’s even bigger in Sweden. The children at the kindergarten dressed up in white smocks and carried electric candles and walked in a procession singing songs about saint Lucia. It was strangely moving.

And every Monday at the kindergarten, we lit an advent candle. A day late, but it didn’t matter. Advent candles are pretty new to me, as the church I grew up in wasn’t big on that sort of symbolism. I had of course come across them, but only in passing. So I wasn’t sure if the particular meanings attached to the different candles were universal or peculiar to Norway.

I looked it up, and found this site, which explains it all beautifully. In Norway, the advent candles symbolize, in this order: joy, hope, longing and peace. It feels right to have the longing in there too. This particular configuration of meanings comes from a poem by the Norwegian poet Inger Hagerup. They recite one verse for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a beautiful poem. It’s worth looking at the Norwegian version on the first site I linked to, but an English translation would go something like:

So we light one candle this evening.
We light it for joy.
It stands and shines for itself
And for us who are here now.
So we light one candle this evening,
We light it for joy.

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.

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.

Autumn light

Right now it’s rainy and miserable, but all week the light here was glorious.

Last Monday we climbed the fortress after dinner, all too aware that soon it will be too dark to do that.

For just a little longer, the leaves catch light and spin it and weave it.

This is exactly the time of year when the sunset hits the cobblestones through the fortress’s inner archway.

And I can’t help but believe that if I run along that path I will reach some place altogether new: a city of gold, with a gate only open for a few seconds each amber-washed autumn evening.

The beauty of mist

A patch of it weirdly fills with light.

It blurs horizons.

It thickens in the creases of the fields.

People have said: this weather is depressing. I haven’t noticed. The grey is quiet and enclosing. One day it will lift, but for now we don’t need to see very far. Two weeks ago, on the early morning train, when the snow still held the monochrome world, the bare trees in the misty fields stood out against the white in different shades of grey, like a design on expensive wrapping paper. Today the grey holds traces of green and straw and brown. I stare out the window and slowly wake up. It is just after seven. And I see, in a field, a grey wolf. It stands completely still, like a concentration of the mist itself.

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?

Winter light

We had our work Christmas party last night, which was seriously fun. They’d booked out a huge restaurant and there was champagne and a buffet and dessert and coffee and dancing and games… And a cash bonus inside our Christmas cards which made us all smile! There was a band who sang lots of songs about sunshine and summer. I stayed with my friend who lives in Fredrikstad, and we wandered around its astonishingly beautiful fortified town today. I must remember to visit more often, it’s only half an hour away. So. All good. Now I have only three days left, before I start heading towards a summer all of my own. I am counting down the hours…

Oslo

How’s that for a library? All glass and pillars and light. Here it is front on.

Swoon. Inside, the desks all have individual lamps, transparent lily-pad green. And there’s a coffee shop; you can sit and look out at the skeletons of trees.

Here is the train I caught back to the city from the university. It was only about three stops.

And here are the Oslo Christmas lights.

It was getting dark, but I wandered around the streets for half an hour before jumping back on the train to Halden. It felt so good to be in a city. To hop on a metro, to wander up a street filled with people. The other night, at at the annual Ladies’ Christmas Party, I told a couple of the ladies how much I liked cities. I love the energy of them, how you are anonymous there, how they sweep you along. They didn’t get it. Cities are busy and inconvenient, they said. The Norwegians I’ve met seem pretty ambivalent about cities. Some of the parents of the children I work with are even dismissive of Fredrikstad (a town slightly larger than Halden about half an hour away) because it is a ‘little Oslo’. As happy as I am here right now, I am glad Oslo is only a train ride away.

Twilight

Twilight seems to happen a lot around here right now. It would be a good town for vampires. It’s completely dark by four, and when I drive to work at eight, they sky is still only thinking about waking up. I’ve hardly seen the sun in a month. One morning I watched it rise from the window of the barnehagen – bright and orange and clear – but it was raining again two hours later. One mercy is that the icy weather has receded for the moment, so no scraping frost off windscreens or skidding on the roads. (The boardwalk by the river, however, remains treacherous.)

In less than a month I will be in Australia for Christmas. I can’t wait, though sunshine and beaches seem mighty improbable right now. But I am not wishing the time away. There are many things to do before then in my twilight world.

Postcards from the sky

I wasn’t there this year, but I haven’t forgotten

how, in the right wind, you soar up the slope

to join the jelly beans in the sky.

The launch site is a green and distant memory, mere patchwork

and the snowy mountains are all yours.

Afterward,

your feet on the ground as your wing falls slack,

you’ll never forget

the staircase of air

the aeons of sun.

* all credit to Michael for the amazing photos!

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.

bleh

I caught a cold from the babbies which is making me very grumpy. The same kind of grumpy I felt last time I flew to Australia and I was exhausted and I noticed that the people at the back of the plane had four seats to themselves and could lie down but I had no space and had to sit up. Yep.

Today the sun is shining for the first time in just about forever, and it is gleamy and bright and cool in the most magical autumn way, and the leaves outside our window are already going gold. Most of the leaves about town are still green, mind, but it won’t be long.

Michael’s gone out for a ride but I’m not well enough. Might wander down to the harbour later though.

Apart from that, things have been slotting into a new routine quite nicely. At the moment I’m working three days a week at the kindergarten and two days at Michael’s work – proof reading and working on a newsletter and a website. The proof reading has been fascinating in some ways – it’s funny seeing which parts of the language slip for non-native speakers. The biggest problems for Norwegians writing in English, it seems, are conjugating verbs (you don’t have to do it so much in Nowegian), and using words which sound the same in Nowegian and English. ‘Start’, for example. It means basically the same thing, but when writing in English the Norwegians use it far too freqently, and in a much broader context than it can be used in English, for example when they mean ‘initiate’. Anyway…  I realise that their English is far far better than my Norwegian or my German!

Sorry the blog’s been rather neglected of late. I’m feeling my way into a new space, which to start with didn’t leave me much time for musings. That’s changing, though, as I get the hang of it.

Sun

Today was the first day of summer, for sure. The meandering flocks of cumulus, which can turn sunshine into torrential showers and back again in the space of five minutes, were nowhere to be seen. Only the slightest wisps of white feathered the blue blue sky, so high they had nothing to say to us, nothing at all.

Work finishes at four. It’s not dark till eleven. We rode our bikes through the forest by the lakes in the sun and then climbed to the fortress, walking back by the harbour and the river. Folks drank beer in the shiny yellow light at 9pm. The little town beamed and gleamed, showing off its prettiest faces.

So different from the frozen wasteland, the lakes we could walk on, the brave colonies of ducks on the snow.

I wasn’t ready for the summer soltice. Let it be summer forever, I say! But it is true, the summer has just begun. This northerly land buries its face in the sun. The light tips all over us, all over the roads and the lupins and the lakes and the green leaves and the the warm, warm stones. And I say let it. Let it come.

Snapshot

I walk the long way back to the train station. The street is wide and the Victorian shopfronts glow faintly bronze in the fading light. The sky is opaline, scalloped, pink and blue. Two aeroplanes pencil bright orange trails beside the crisp white rind of the moon. My belly is just slightly too full of Hansa’s curries, mango lassi, white wine. My head whirls with the discussion about openness and uncertainty with three sweet Danish girls. Happiness is curry and wine and the slow evening sky so close to the city. I remember the first weeks of my phd, in October, hurrying back to the train station as the sun set earlier every day, watching the fiery clouds touch the buildings. Four winters have passed since then. Now the plane-trails broaden and turn pink. Like paths I could tread.

On the train, I realise I’m still carrying the thesis. The window takes on a sheen because it’s finally dark, though I hardly notice. I take out the manuscript – fat heavy green thing that it is – to read my favourite poem about the river. But I don’t open it. I hug it. I hug it tight.

Late night footnote checking

About to call it a night. Listening to the Beatles (it’s necessary to listen cheerier and cheerier music as the night goes on). Remembering this night. Can’t believe it’s only two months ago. As ‘Penny Lane’ plays, I can smell the smoke of spurting fireworks, mixed with the just-rained-on sea smell of a winter much milder than this one. I rememember jumping up and down. Holding someone’s hand. Belting out ‘Hey Jude’ over the smoky, sparkling square at the top of my lungs. All the glittery lights. It’s still going to be a good year.

Goodbye Feb

I cannot believe it’s the end of February. That’s two months best over and done with! The snow has been pretty. But I can’t wait until I can wander blithely along a footpath again without the very real danger of slipping on the silly ice. Bring on May, I say. May here is just the best. I’ve checked up on my handy back-blogging of weather, and it snowed in April both last year and the year before. The first birch leaves didn’t appear till mid-late April and the trees along the river were even later. I guess spring happens all of a sudden… But at least at half past five now it’s not quite dark. The sun has set, but the light lingers. And the only way is up.

March will be a blur anyway. Hopefully a productive blur!

A most beautiful day

On Friday, after lunch, I looked out the window, and the snow was still tumbling down, ever so lightly. But the sun was shining! A sun-snow-shower! So I put on my coat and pulled up my hood.

Everything sparkled, even the air, laced as it was with floating crystals.

And snow everywhere! Snow on the steps, snow on the boats, snow on the train tracks and the lampposts, snow on the stone walls and crosses.

The seagulls sat on little nests of snow on top of the posts in the river. Picnic anyone?

And I am so tired now, and not doing this justice. But it felt like the most beautiful day in the world, ever.

The snow glittered below and above and the sun shone on everything, and the seagulls swarmed and flocked like snowflakes themselves.

Snow and fire

The landlady is shoveling snow off our steps. Yesterday was the first blue day in ages. I saw shadows I had never seen before.

And I am sad about the bushfires. Which of course doesn’t change anything but there it is. And because I am writing about belonging right now, I can’t help but notice that the reason I am sad is because they are burning in my home. My country. The place that shaped my childhood. Luckily for me, they are not burning the people or places dearest to me, but they are burning people like them, places like them.

So I feel really quite Australian right now. Having grown up with warnings of how to deal with snake-bites, which jelly-fish not to step on, which spiders can hurt you, where not to swim, how to cover up in the sun, and how much water to take with you if you go for a walk in the bush. And stories of what bushfires can do. How you should wrap yourself in a blanket, and stay down. (Amazingly, in all the news stories I’ve trawled through, this does seem to work in some instances.) I’ve never been bitten by a snake or a poisonous spider – but I’ve seen plenty. I’ve felt the tug of dangerous rip-tides as I’ve stood in the shallows. I’ve never seen a bushfire. But I’ve seen the glowing lick-and-flame of campfires, their nests of embers. I know the heady, dusty scent of eucalypts, and how days like this, they’re fuses waiting to go.

And yet – it’s white outside, and quiet, and cold. I wish I could send some snow.

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.

The ribbon of mist

Came back! At half past nine, as the light crept down the hillside, it appeared again. After my rash but poetic promise, what could I do but wrap up in scarf and coat and rush outside. Running proved not to be practical on the icy footpath, but I did what I could.

The mist was elusive. But what was that strange sun, reflecting up into the clouds?

Windows, glowing. And then the mist curled around the hillside, and away.

This morning

Just after eight, when it was still night but almost night no longer, a thin, frail ribbon of mist hung over the houses on the other side of the river. I had never seen one so fine, just lying there. By half past eight it had dissolved, and the air was growing ever lighter, though the sun had not yet risen. The yellow eyes of the houses blinked at me. The clouds were pink in scalloped layers stacked above the hillside, and the sky emerged from dark slowly, now grey, now violet, now blue.

The river is flanked by snow, so that the sky’s pale colours are all that lives. Every time I look at the clouds they’ve changed – bleaching to a pearly cream, then deepening almost to terracotta. It is quarter past nine now, and the sun is still not up, but the edges of the sky glow like peaches. At nine-nineteen precisely, the first light touches the highest building, and it will be day again, it will.

I watch the slither of light creep down the hillside ever so slowly. And next time I spot a ribbon of mist so fine I could thread it in my hair, I will not stay inside my house. I will go after it, I will catch it, I will run.

Cold

We got back on Monday night. It was freezing. I have never been in a house so cold. The sheets were crisp with cold, even our clothes in their drawers. The floor was slippery. The toilet seat burned. We put the heater on in our bedroom and shut the door, and snuggled in with extra duvets, fleeces, thick socks and make-shift hot water bottles.

There we are, fluffing our feathers.

It was so cold that our refrigerator and freezer had decided there was no point staying on. Which meant it was warmer inside the freezer than out of it, and all our food had defrosted. I kept the fire going all day Tuesday and once it warmed up a bit it kicked into gear again. Also the pipes under our shower are broken.

It’s been regularly -10 for the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, the forecast inches up to a comparatively toasty +5. It is with great reluctance that I turn my attention towards my phd for one final push. I walked to the harbour this afternoon, but the sun slid behind the islands all too swiftly.

Happy New Year!

We flew in the new year today, through silky air above the blue peninsulas and patterned ocean (the dark reef, the cloudy whiteness near the shore). When the lift is good, the paragliders swarm.

Last night we sang and danced and jumped around outside the casino in central Monaco, to a seriously good Beatles cover-band, the Love Beatles. We arrived in the square as they sang ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’. The palm trees and buildings glittered around us, and fountains of fireworks erupted at our feet. I was just complaining about the reluctance of the posh Monaco residents to dance, when a little old man in a suit started jiving around in front of a spurting fire-work sprinkler, while his wife took photos. It was so cute. We joined in a dancing-caterpillar to ‘Obladi-oblada’, swayed happily to ‘Let it be’, and sang out lots of loud na-na-nas to the final rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. Ah, it was absolutely great.

2008 was a pretty good one. We went to some amazing places in Norway, Austria, France and America, we spent time with our parents, we got our P3 paragliding licences and zoomed around like birds. I almost finished my thesis, and read lots of books. M’s work is going great.

I’ve got so many plans for next year. First up, slay the dragon – er – thesis. Hopefully within two months. And then… I want to learn Norwegian, and brush up my German. I want to have another look at my novel, to see if anything publishable can be salvaged. I want to get more IT literate. And have a haircut. And join the gym. I’d like to be a better correspondent to my far away friends, and make some progress on Henry. Get some articles published. Renew my drivers licence. Be a bit more organized. And – oh – get a job. Who knows where we’ll be by the end of it?

Bingley Footbridge, 8am

On one side of the bridge, the misty moon hazed and floated. On the other, the sun thought about emerging. When I returned, ten at night, the moon had shuffled to the other side, and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

(And you all come here for photos of the same places in different lights, don’t you?)

The footpaths are sparkly with frost.

Yesterday, as I walked along, thinking of dear friends, a stranger told me I had a beautiful smile. Which made it all the broader.

I had a two hour meeting with my brilliant (medievalist) supervisor. She identified a couple of places I’d been tying myself in knots, and corrected a couple of generalisations. I felt exhausted afterwards, but now I know exactly where this chapter needs to go, which luckily is not all that far away.

I talked to some fellow phd students and graduates about hopes and fears.

I am on the cusp of something new, standing on the bridge in the changing light.