Forest, light, twigs

Late Saturday afternoon we all walked down to our little beach. Antonia needed some coaxing, but once we got there she was in her element. Straight away she sourced herself a long stick to go ‘fishing’ with, and sat poking the water for a long time, in between finding stones to throw in, and stones for me too. This was a welcome change from every other time we’ve been there, when I have been responsible for sourcing the stones. She even let me have a turn of her fishing rod. Felix, who had raced ahead, and sat pensively on a bench looking out over the water by the time we arrived,  was disappointed that all the ice had melted. But he quickly decided that climbing up all the rocks would be worthwhile anyway, and scrambled around the place on his own for a while before convincing Michael to join the rock scaling adventure. We watched the yellow light on the water as the sun dipped behind the hills on the other side of the fjord.

Today we had a picnic in the little patch of forest right next to our house. Michael strung up two hammocks he had brought back from America, and lit a little twig stove to toast marshmallows. It was just. so. good. Like camping, or being on holiday, but only one minute from our garden. Antonia got a little stroppy around nap time (I don’t bother trying to get her down anymore, but sometimes you can see she needs it), but she redeemed herself later, finding a ‘salad’ for me of twigs and leaves. She insisted on going out again just before bed – she dresses herself in her snowsuit, boots and hat, and heads out the door. She instructed me on when to walk and when to follow, where to put the pinecones she found for me, and then sat down with a stick on her lap, pretended it was some kind of musical instrument, and sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I had to do it too.

It’s light till half past six now. It feels like a different world.

Apart from this I cleaned and did laundry, which felt overwhelming and annoying at the beginning, but now I feel so much better. Felix helped by spontaneously tidying up the family room so I could vacuum. The house was in chaos from Michael being away for eight days, back for two, then away again for two (he got back on Friday night), and we were both exhausted and near the end of our tether. But it is better now. It was so good to be outside in the forest all together. There is some kind of grace in this place. It is good to be here.

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

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

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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.

The last day of September

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It’s høstferie this week, which is basically the autumn school holidays, just one week. There’s no teaching at university either. I had planned to use this time to get ahead on class preparation and rewrite an article, but Antonia has been sick (not dreadfully sick, though but they kept sending her home from barnehage). I couldn’t send her today so I decided to keep Felix home as well. We’ve all been hit by a cold this week, actually, so it is good to have a little pause.

We walked to our favourite cafe in the harbour, and Felix devoured his favourite custard bun. The ritual of the custard bun began when he was barely one, and he hasn’t tired of it yet.

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Antonia doesn’t like buns but she was happy enough drinking the foam from my latte and playing with a fireman’s helmet. They have a few boxes of toys, a play kitchen and a play table, enough to keep the little ones occupied for a while.

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They both pottered around with the toys quite happily for a bit. These are some of my very favourite moments – the sun slanting through the cafe, contented children, mine, a breath, a pause…

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Then we wandered around the harbour before meeting up with friends in the afternoon.

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The clouds and sun were all silky in the water.

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Felix: a moment of calm between jumping, balancing, climbing, splashing.

Antonia: on the go as ever!

The sun has not stopped shining for the past two weeks and it has been so lovely. Every evening we’ve been out in the garden, capering about on the trampoline and rolling around in the baby tent (the little ones, at any rate). Today was my parents’ last day before they fly back to Australia, so we had a picnic in the sunshine and then they put up some blinds for me in my bedroom – a job that’s been waiting around for months. Yesterday Dad put up a gate at the bottom of our stairs which means Antonia now has freedom to crawl around the hallway and play with our shoes. Mum was with us all of last week while Dad visited some of his old haunts in Lancashire. It was so excellent to have her around – she picked up the kids from barnehage, giving Antonia half days which I’m sure were much appreciated, cooked, and sorted stuff out for us, like our sandpit and the cupboard under the stairs. It’s very sad to say goodbye but I feel so lucky to have them and to see so much of them. We’re already planning to visit in December, so it’s not goodbye for long.

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

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Had the most gorgeous day in Fredrikstad with Mum and the kids last Sunday. We stopped at some bronze-age stone circles on the way – we’d driven past the sign so many times it was great to finally have a look. Both kids decided stones are for climbing. Felix discovered some blueberries in the forest. Then we drove on to the old town of Fredrikstad and after lunch and a play at the playground and feeding the goats (Antonia wanted so badly to jump over the fence to give them a kiss) we ended up at the bottom of a grassy slope. We all practiced rolling down – first Felix, then Mum, then me, and then, of course, Antonia – she refused to be left out! We only let her roll down the lowest bit but she was game. I’d forgotten how giddy it makes you feel. And we just lay on the grass and the sun shone and shone and Felix rolled and Antonia picked bits of grass and chewed on them and it was about as perfect as an afternoon can get.

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The secret path (20/52)

walk Okay it’s not really a secret path, it was only a secret from me, not being a particularly avid map reader. I am in fact a terrible map reader, to the great and recurring frustration of a certain nearest and dearest. But Michael got a book of family friendly walks for his birthday, and I am determined to use it. The first one starts a mere five minute walk from our door, and follows a hidden valley down into town, so we can end up in our favourite cafe. I had never noticed noticed the beginning of the footpath sneaking past a garden, although I have walked past it so many times. walk2 After initially being nervous that it would ‘take too long’, Felix thought ‘oh, come one’ (his words) and decided to join the adventure. We first walked it yesterday and got drenched by a sudden downpour half way down (part of the adventure, I assured Felix). We spotted the waterfall but couldn’t walk past it, as the path there was steep, narrow and muddy, and I had the stroller with me. Luckily there was a way out back to the main road at that point. Today we walked it again, taking Antonia in the ergo carrier instead. walk5 Felix was impressed the stream criss-crossed the path via a series of pipes. walk6 I couldn’t believe this was all just here, so close to the road we drive up and down daily. It felt a little bit like I’d stumbled through a fairy door to a magical forest. Which is romanticising things considerably, but, well, that’s me. walk3walk9 We nearly didn’t take the steep muddy path after all (I had visions of one or other of us tumbling down the slope, and how was I to rescue Felix with Antonia strapped to my chest), but after Felix’s howl of disappointment I thought why not give it a go. It wasn’t as bad as it looked and the scary bit didn’t last for long. We were very proud of ourselves to come out the other side. I can’t wait to explore some more! walk4

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Today we went to the Inspiria Science Center for the birthday party of one of Felix’s classmates. Felix could not get enough. He was still scampering around, testing out the various exhibits four hours after we arrived, when everyone else had gone home. His favourite was a magnetic parachute launcher, but these giant amber coloured beads gave me the best photo. Antonia enjoyed herself as well – after a long nap in the ergo she was pretty excited to clamber all the way to the end of this tunnel and out again.

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

More fun below.

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Happy Easter!

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

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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.

Sunday Afternoon

fred5Michael is away this week and after a rainy morning I decided to take the kids to Fredrikstad for the afternoon. The morning had involved more train tracks and wooden blocks – on Saturday Felix and I made the walls of York, and airport and a ‘battery powered’ wooden aeroplane. On Sunday, at Felix’s request, we made a tank station, a shop, a brocolli machine, an asparagus machine and a bread machine, taking full advantage of Antonia’s long morning nap. dowhatyouloveI was a bit nervous about what could go wrong taking the two of them to Fredrikstad alone, especially as prams are not allowed in the train museum or our favourite cafe. But I’m so glad we went – it was one of those outings when everything works. Felix was happy to have a reasonably short visit to the musuem – ‘I’m bored now Mummy, I want to get something to eat’. (In the past it’s been so painful to prise him out of that place.) And we scored the table with the sofa in the cafe – resulting in possibly my favourite photo ever of the two of them. I didn’t notice the advice on the cushion at the time, but it sums up the day well: ‘do what you love’. fred2After the cafe Felix wanted to find the little bridge with the stones. Eventually I worked out he wanted to go to the little pier we had found last time, to throw stones in the river. This suited me, as we got to walk along the gorgeous earth walls above the moat. (The old town of Fredrikstad has a moat shaped like a star.) In the backpack he has everything short of the kitchen sink, really – a china tea set and his mini pots and pans. It was quite heavy but he carried it all the way.  fred4fred3fred

Autumn walk

awalkI took the two little ones on a walk to feed the ducks and look at the beaver homes on Sunday afternoon. My ambition of taking a photo of the three of us feeding the ducks was quickly abandoned in favour of making sure Felix didn’t fall in the water, scaring away two bold ducks on Felix’s behalf, rescuing the bread-bag, and scooping Antonia off to find a bench for a feed. But we had a nice walk.

awalk2Above, Felix is grumpy that I am taking photos instead of retrieving the huge stick he threw into the water. Needless to say, I rescued the stick. After a feed and a short nap in the pram, Antonia looked up at all the trees with her quiet, shiny eyes.

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Six weeks with my Mum

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Mum left yesterday. It is always sad to say goodbye. Felix says, paraphrasing one of his favourite books: ‘we are sad when the dawn comes and we have to part. But we can meet again.’ The book, which is about the friendship of a duck and a mushroom creature who lives deep within the earth, goes on to point out that even when we are far apart, sometimes just thinking of each other makes us happy. Thinking about my Mum makes me happy.

We had the most gorgeous six and a bit weeks together. Two weeks before Antonia was born of long evening walks, playing with Felix, visiting Stromstad and Fredriskstad, and frequenting of coffee shops. And then an whole month following Antonia’s birth, involving baby cuddles, more playing with Felix, picnics in the forest and by lakes, adventures at the fortress, clothes shopping for us and the children (how much fun it is to buy baby girl clothes!), returning to Stromstad and Fredrikstad with our babe, and many, many more coffee shops. Mum also helped with cooking. washing, waking up early with Felix nearly every day, and completely sorted out some very messy patches of our garden, taking away a dead bush, planting trees, shrubs, and spreading pine bark.

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A second baby does not enable the same quiet cocooning that I experienced with my first. Everyone told me a second baby is easier, and this is true and not true – yes I already knew how to look after a newborn, but looking after a newborn AND and an exhuberant, curious three year old at the same time is a new adventure. Adding to the excitement, Felix had not one but four medical emergencies during Antonia’s first month home! Two asthma incidents requiring ventolin inhalations at the emergency department in the middle of the night, one tick bite behind his ear which got infected and neede two weeks of strong antibiotics, and to top it all off, a pea getting stuck up his nose. The whole family (apart from Antonia and me, thankfully) also had terrible colds for the first two weeks of Antonia’s life, so energy levels suffered. The lowest point was two days after we returned from my hospital, just as my milk was coming in. I was exhausted, in pain (those who told me breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt a second time were wrong indeed), Mum and Michael were sick and Felix was coughing up a storm and getting more and more distressed. I sat on the toilet sobbing, while Michael took care of Felix. Mum asked if I was ok. ‘No!’ I said. ‘Everyone’s sick. I’m going to get sick, and Antonia’s going to get sick, and I’m going to get mastitis.’ ‘It will be ok,’ said Mum, ‘just remember it’s your hormones talking.’ I had a shower, and felt better. Antonia and I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get mastitis, and the cold going around was just a cold (despite Felix’s asthma), not some lethal virus which could hurt my baby.

Two nights before Mum’s departure Felix’s asthma saga reoccured (he gets it every time he has a cold). Michael was away for the week. We had two trips to the emergency department over night (first Mum, then me), then at 9 in the morning Felix was still in terrible form so I took him to his normal doctor who sent us on to the hospital. Luckily he stabilized on the way over, but we still spent the day there, having tests done and getting another inhalation for him. I was so, so pleased Mum was with me. As Felix sat in his bath after we got home that evening, he said – ‘but we didn’t have an adventure!’ ‘Oh’, said Mum and I, ‘I think we did.’

But the rest of the time was truly lovely. It was wonderful having Mum with us during the first weeks of Antonia’s life. Four weeks is long enough for a little personality to emerge. Rare smiles and long serious stares and little ‘hnnnnn hnnnn’s. Long enough for a baby to grow round and soft. Antonia squeaks with delight as she lies on her change mat and looks across at the picture of the baby on the pack of diapers. Over the past week, she has been genuinely pleased every time she sees my Mum – she smiles, and looks intently, purses her little lips, and coos.

In less than three months we’ll be in Australia for an extended holiday, so Felix is right when he says ‘we can meet again’. But I’ll always remember this special, special time of Mum being with us as we became a family of four. A time, after all, of quietness, love and adventures. As Mum’s stay drew to a close, we found ourselves consciously repeating things we’d done before, to close out the circle. On Tuesday, on Antonia’s one month birthday, we went back to the very same cafe in Gamlebyen where we had eaten lunch the day of my overdue control, just hours before Antonia’s birth. And yesterday, we took Felix back to the cafe in the harbour where we had taken Mum the day she had arrived, and then we all walked her across to the train station together. I cried. I feel so very looked after.

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A walk

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Last weekend we had the most gorgeous picnic and walk around a little lake. It was so sweet watching Michael and Felix race ahead of me, ‘discovering’ engines trapped in the ‘mines’ under the big rocks, and ringing the rescue service to come and save them.

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I’m 37 weeks in this photo, but you can’t see much cos of what I’m wearing.

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It was a truly perfect outing, topped off by plenty of blueberries.

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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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A boy and his bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By the way

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Did I tell you I got a new job? It is so momentous (and took such a long time to be confirmed) that when it finally happened (well over a month ago now) I couldn’t quite bring myself to write about it. But, there it is – I have a permanent job as Associate Professor of English Literature at my local University College. The start date is August 1. August 1 also happens to be the due date of my baby. Norway is one of the very few places in the world in which this isn’t a problem – I can take parental leave, and begin work next year.

It will involve the type of teaching I’ve already been doing (though slightly less of it), plus research and admin responsibilities. Even now, it feels a little too wonderful to write down. It is truly my dream job, which I’d almost abandoned hope of ever getting, in my dream location (a five minute drive from our house), with excellent colleagues and lovely students. And I will be able to get into research again, and there will be a point to it, and it will be supported.

It does feel a little strange that I won’t be able to start right away (currently I’m working there under a temporary contract, which will carry me through to the end of the exams period). Right now my head and my heart feel pulled in two directions – I’m 29 weeks already – can you believe it? I’m getting to the point at which I need to pull Felix’s baby things down from the loft before I’m too heavy to do so, and preferably clear some cupboard space for them first. The kicks I’m feeling are more solid, slow, persistent, and the baby blanket I’m knitting is growing. Third trimester tiredness and discomfort are catching up with me. But the fact that the job is waiting for me is a wonderful thing indeed.

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Spring

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

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

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

Back

We went to Australia. For Christmas. For Ages. It was great.

We got back nearly two weeks ago. It took a week to combat the jet-lag, and until today, really, for me to get used to the cold. It’s not even that cold – it’s been hovering around -4. Tonight the fire whirs and snowflakes drift in the streetlight outside. Today I took Felix to Gamlebyen to look at the model train museum, and it was, in his words, a lovely afternoon. The most difficult part was getting him to leave the place. The bribe of a hot-chocolate nearly didn’t cut it.

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Friday Evening

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Yesterday afternoon after a long week I looked up from my books and my computer screen to realise the sun was shining though my brain was like sludge, so I picked up Felix half an hour early and we went to our favourite cafe for tea – mushroom soup and cheesecake for me, and an I-can’t-be–bothered-convincing-you-to-eat-something-else-first bun for Felix. Then we walked out to the park and the sun and the leaves.

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Felix collected a lot of chestnuts to post to Grandma. Grandma will like them? Very pretty for Grandma? I want to post lots of them to Grandma. I’m not sure what Australian customs will say about this, but I decided not to mention it. Then it was on to the leaves.

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It was exactly what we needed.

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Sunday Week

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

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

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

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May!

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The first of May is a holiday here so we took full advantage and wandered off to the forest in the morning. Felix is happy to sit in the stroller for the fifteen minutes it takes to reach the edge of the forest because he knows he’ll be able to run around once he gets there.

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Felix had fun hiding behind trees

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and banging them with sticks.

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After a picnic lunch Felix raced off to chase the deer in the field.

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There were two of them today, though I didn’t manage to take a photo of them. When we came here last weekend, there were six! I couldn’t stop Felix trying to reach them. ‘Want a pat?’, he said, ‘just want a cuddle!’. Later he informed Michael that deer are ‘a bit shy’.

walk8

Exam day

I’m kicking myself for not packing my camera this morning, though I had two exams, so I guess I had other things on my mind. But my Norwegian exams were held in Gamlebyen, which is pretty at the worst of times, but a winter sunrise while the world is covered in fresh snow is something else altogether. It really is so lovely here. The clouds were dissolving as the sun came up, the sky a warm yellow behind the paper cut-out trees.

The tests went as well as they could have, I guess. The spoken test was fine and quite fun, really. The written test was split into listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and writing production. It’s the last section that I’m most unsure of – I guess it just depends how many little errors they let through. At this level they tell us it’s about communication more than perfection, so I should be ok. I’ll get the results in a month. These were level two tests, which are the end of the beginner’s level. I can’t wait till I’ve learnt enough to come back for the intermediate ones!

Looking at my schedule I thought – oh, good, I’ll have just enough time after the exam to go to a coffee shop and work on some teaching preparation before picking up Felix. And I may take out my books in a minute. But right now it’s so nice just to sit for a moment, amid the increasingly comprehensible conversations going on at tables around me.

You’ll learn a language just to be able to eavesdrop in cafes? A friend asked me while I was in Australia. There are other reasons, but, well, yes, actually. It’s very alienating not to understand the words spoken by strangers.

Teaching last week was wonderful, by the way. We spoke about sonnets, and my students were lovely, and it made me remember that there’s not too many things I would rather do than talk about poems.

36 hours later

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

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

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

Two moments

Standing at the top of our drive after taking out the rubbish, glimpsing the newly bare tree branches against the deep deep blue of an almost winter twilight.

Felix sliding down the playground slide on his tummy again and again, wearing his brand new bright green winter suit, his little fingers pink with cold: ‘knees! one, two, three, wheeee!’

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.

19 months

I wrote the bulk of this post several weeks ago when you actually turned 19 months, but it is only now I’ve managed to slot in the photos, courtesy of my Dad.

This month has been all about talking. And buns from the local cafe. You love your buns. You’ve taken to parroting what we say, and you have really a lot of words now: ‘blue bus’, ‘big tractor’, ‘dinner’, ‘warm milk’, ‘Mama more cheese’. And when my Mum was supervising you climbing the stairs yesterday, you pointed to a little crack: ‘It’s a hole! Bit dirt… bit dirty.’ (!!!)  You’ve started saying people’s names: Dama (Grandma), Poppa (what you decided to call my Dad – we were saying Grenville and Granddad but Poppa it is), you say the names of all your carers at the barnehage and insist on saying goodbye to them when we pick you up. You’ve also half toilet trained yourself this month and do most of your poos (at least when you’re at home) on the potty now.

You have reveled in having my parents around and were pretty excited to visit your Oma and Opa in Kassel again, too. Unfortunately this time we didn’t get many photos.

A couple of weeks ago an old friend of mine from Australia visited with her husband and two year old son and you had a fabulous time playing with him. On Saturday afternoon your friend Linnea came over, and the three of you bounced and flopped and scampered over the trampoline while we stood in a ring around it to make sure you didn’t tumble off. It was just about the sweetest thing ever, but we couldn’t get a photo of it because we had to keep catching you!

You spent the first few days of being 19 months in a hospital in Kassel. You were terrified of the doctors and nurses but liked the cleaning lady. ‘Floor’, you said, ‘clean floor’. It was a bit scary but you coped really well and now even remind me to give you your ‘special air’ (ventolin puffer). I so loved having my parents around to share in your antics and your language explosion. You’ve also been pretty obsessed with slides this month. There were some rather huge slides in Kassel which you flew down fearlessly on your own, over and over, but here you are in Halden before we left, warming up.

Summer holidays

The past few days the sun has even decided to come out, and Felix and I have been having the loveliest time hanging out with friends and playing outside. On Tuesday I took him to the forest (just a five minute drive from our house) where he played with a super-duper wooden car.

Yesterday we went into town and I let Felix wander around for a bit. When he discovered a locked door he demanded the keys out of my pocket and promptly tried to open it.

This evening it was warm enough for a paddle in the lakes, but we didn’t manage to get any photos. On Saturday we leave for a week Austria, with a few days in Germany either side. We’ve been looking forward to taking Felix to Austria pretty much since he was born. I think he’s going to have a blast.

Mat- og Trebåtfestivalen

Today we took Felix out to the food and wooden boat festival down at the harbour.

The weather was perfect for fluttering flags.

There were plenty of other food options, but Michael had to take a photo of the ubiquitous caravan selling hotdogs.

We went for fish soup. Felix insisted on feeding himself whilst sitting on my lap. The results were … interesting. Here he is tucking into passionfruit panna cotta for dessert.

It was fun to get out and see other families enjoying the first day of the summer holidays.

A flying visit

We had a lovely time last weekend when my cousin Richard and his wife Polina visited from London. Until the day they arrived, we didn’t think they’d be able to come, as Polina’s shiny new British passport had not arrived, but it turned up in the end with two hours to spare.

We gave them a whirlwind tour of the region. I think the highlights were a little bridge to Sweden and a monstorus swedish candy store.

Felix enjoyed the new faces but was a little grumpy about disruptions to his schedule. Richard was impressed by just how much work one little guy creates…

Since they left the week has passed in a blur and I can’t believe that it’s already the weekend again!

Euphoria

Last night we made the most of the long balmy evening with a Eurovision party for two.

I like Eurovision. You’ve just got to embrace the cheesiness. This year wasn’t quite as exciting as 2009, when Norway won, or 2010, when it was Germany’s turn. Michael liked the Russian grannies and I thought France was pretty cool. France never seems to get many votes though. Norway did dismally this year and came last (I have to admit I wasn’t terribly surprised, sorry Norwegians!), while their neighbours the Swedes stole the show with Euphoria.

17 May

It’s that time again. The day when Norwegians get dressed up in their gorgeous bunads, watch their children march down the street waving flags, buy them an overpriced balloon, eat copious amounts of ice-cream and hotdogs, and complain about the weather.

It’s also the only day of the year when you will see this many people in the Halden town centre. Michael got some great photos back in 2009, when not only was the sun actually shining, but Norway had just won the Eurovision, so everyone was on a high.

The bunad tradition is apparently based in nineteenth-century romanticism. I’m a fan. As I had to look after the little guy, who was more interested in walking around in circles and poking his little flag into the holes in the park benches, I didn’t get a very good view of the parade. It didn’t matter, because everyone who walked past me was wearing something like this, so I had plenty to look at. Secretly I’d quite enjoy wearing a dress like this. One little girl we met was wearing a beautiful dress that her grandmother had once worn.

No photos of us, because although we learnt our lesson in previous years and did not turn up in jeans, we can’t really compete with the natives. You do feel conspicuously non-Norwegian on the 17th of May. We were invited to a party in the afternoon, and Felix ate a hotdog in lompe (a kind of potato pancake), tasted jelly for the first time, and generally had a ball playing with other kid’s toys and trying to keep up with the big kids. So despite the fact that we are all really very tired just at the moment, it was a very nice day indeed.

Annie’s visit

We had the most wonderful visit from my Aunty Annie last weekend. We only found out a couple of weeks ago that she could come – she had a conference in Paris and managed a side trip to Norway. We were too busy enjoying ourselves to take many photos, but she is of course immortalized in our video of Felix’s first steps. (I think she felt a bit sheepish that she got to be here for that – she said my Mum had already had to forgive her for coming!) Felix absolutely adored her and we had the nicest time. Despite uninspiring weather we managed a whirlwind tour of our favourite spots in Halden, Fredrikstad and the shopping centre across the Swedish border.

When she left I felt bereft, but after spending some time with my favourite Halden friends this week I feel a bit better. Sometimes it is just wretched living so far away from family, though of course if we didn’t live so far away, we wouldn’t be able to have such nice visits.

A day in the woods

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

Just how do I get to that truck?

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

 Our friends cooked us pancakes.

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

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

2008: Mornings

To celebrate the five year anniversary of my blog, for five days I am posting one of my favourite posts from each year. I wrote this post almost exactly four years ago. It’s one of the image poems I had great fun with for a while.

                                                                                                      

April 2008: Mornings

On days like this, the mist-machines
get going early.

The town is shiny with it

but the islands are asleep.

They dream grey dreams
of moon-suns glowing in the depths
beneath the pointed masts.

The harbour polishes the sky

and all the trees say

soon,

soon.

 

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.

The week you turned one

You fed yourself porridge, spoonful by heaped spoonful.

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

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

You watched schnappi with your father.

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

You slept in your pram.

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

One Year

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

Les Murray, ‘The Idyll Wheel’

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Norway

I am, of course, thinking about what happened in Norway two days ago. Not as much as I could be, because the mind and heart flail at such a thing, especially, perhaps, the mind and heart of a new mother. But I think of this dear, dear country, and the terror that was felt, and the lives that have been lost and shattered, and I do not understand.

 

Ready to go


I was going to write – it’s hard to leave Norway in May. It’s true, the country is now at its most beautiful – the brand new glittery birch leaves are a sight to behold, and it’s light forever. But the past couple of days it’s been raining. So it’s not that hard. I will miss our long evening walks into the forest: the slanty light, the cool, fragrant air, Felix cooing at the treetops. Last week I even saw a young deer standing staring at me on the path ahead. I didn’t get a picture of the deer, so here is dear Whitby instead:

Things are finally coming together. Our passports with our visas arrived on Monday, much to our relief. We’ve renewed our residency permits and got one for Felix. Our cats have a home for the time we’re away (we left them cowering under the sofa on Saturday, but apparently already by Sunday they were much happier). We’ve arranged for some friends to stay in our house while we’re away. We even managed to sell our car! Talk about leaving everything to the last minute.

The place feels a bit bereft without the cats, to tell the truth. I hope they are having a good time exploring their new kingdom.

Felix has recovered from his vaccination grumpiness but it has mucked up his sleep patterns. I guess they’re about to get mucked up anyway. He is still being very adorable. He loves to say ‘agoo’. Michael was zooming him around like an aeroplane one evening, and every time he zoomed in to give me a kiss, he said ‘agoo!’ And last night I was giving him a bath, and he looked at me quietly, saying ‘oooooooo’. ‘Can you say agoo, Felix?’, I asked. ‘Aaaagoooo’, he said. He just melts my heart.

We just have to pack up the last bits, and tidy up a tad more. Someone’s coming to pick us up at 7am tomorrow morning. I’m so, so excited.