Summer holidays

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Wow. Those summer holidays went by in a flash. Six weeks in the company of these gorgeous, challenging munchkins. I must admit I was (rightfully) a little apprehensive, but there have been a lot of fun moments, and I’ve enjoyed having my parents along for most of it. Highlights included Astrid Lingren’s World, in Sweden, pictured above. Felix loved the castles and Antonia loved meeting Pippi and exploring all the little houses.

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Spending so much time together had its challenges but sometimes they play together well which is sweet to see. Tomorrow Felix starts school, and this evening the two of them played at going to school together, taking their backpacks and lunch boxes onto the trampoline, and hanging up their umbrellas on the trampoline net. Felix even made a book for Antonia – stapling pages together with his new stapler, and filling them with robots and big letter As. He said to Mum that it would have to be a picture book, not a writing book, as he didn’t know how to write yet, and she said that would be fine. He’s quite motivated now to learn to read – I hope it goes smoothly for him.

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Antonia: a girl after my own heart. She loves to climb up onto Felix’s little chair, select a book, then sit down and ‘read’.

Felix: Mum snapped this photo of him sailing his sea plane on our recent holiday on the Swedish coast.

It has been so lovely having my parents around. We stayed down on the Swedish coast for a few nights – a gorgeous place of rocky outcrops and boat-filled harbours. It was a perfect summer holiday. The weather has not been brilliant this summer, so I felt spoilt with two days of sunshine by the sea – playing in the garden behind the B&B, clambering on the rocks at the beach, eating ice cream, cake, fish and pizza at the wharf, mini golf, bouncy castles, and a beautiful watercolour museum.

In one week I go back to work and Antonia starts barnehage. Can you believe it? My parents are off on a trip through Europe for ten days, coming back for the weekend of Antonia’s birthday. So I have some time now to focus on the transition. There are a few things left to sort out – making sure Antonia has all the gear she needs – rain clothes, shoes (she’s never worn shoes!), lunch box, rain boots etc. Not to mention locating all of Felix’s stuff too. I am excited and a little apprehensive, and I hope my dear sweet cuddly Antonia will be ok. I have been mentally preparing for this moment all year, and it is so close now that there is no time for hesitation – merely a few deep breaths before we all plunge in.

But here are some more glimpses of our trip.

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Felix: narrating as always as he explores the kids farm at Nordens Ark – a big animal park about an hour south of us. We went with some friends on Sunday and it was great. There were real tigers and panthers in the other part, but Felix was most enamoured with a wooden cow that you could milk and it squirted out water. He filled a bucket and then tried to give it to the cow to drink!

Antonia: tired out at the end of the day. She was asleep moments later.

I took hardly any photos this week as we were just settling back into life at home. Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

Munchkins by the sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Baby goes shopping

Baby capsule. (Um, if you’re sick of baby photos already, you might want to look away for a while.)

Pram (fit for arctic conditions – but we’ve been too nervous to take him out walking in the -8 temperatures so far).

First public breastfeeding attempt. Pretty chuffed with myself.

What we didn’t get was a photo of Michael and I walking arm in arm, pushing the pram and smiling our heads off, so thrilled to be finally out with our own baby after baby-spotting in this shopping centre for past year. Felix did pretty well but I think next time we will take him out at the beginning of a sleep instead of the end of one… As my Mum says, it’s all trial and observation…)

Breakfast with new teapot, for Stephanie

And new egg-cup, but don’t tell Michael. I’ve actually been wanting a proper egg-cup for ages, so that’s ok. They come from my favourite shop in the oversized Swedish shopping centre that perches on the border to Norway. It’s the iittala outlet, which is a Finnish company that produces crockery. They’ve recently brought this Swedish range in too, Hoganas (with a couple of funny Swedish letters in there that my keyboard isn’t equipped for). They have a whole new range, so they are selling the old one off half price. The new teapots were pretty gorgeous too, but four times as expensive, and I love the simplicity of this old one, its balance, its sheen, its wooden lid, and its beautiful big handle, perfect for fitting your whole hand inside. Now I just have to restrain myself from going back and buying up all the mugs and plates and bowls…

Shopping!

No, not for baby clothes – but thanks for the advice!

I just had my first entirely frivolous Friday off in ages. After a delightfully slow morning I went shopping in Sweden. I bought not one but two pairs of winter boots. Although I have already lived through seven northern winters (that’s if you include the English ones, which don’t really compare to Norwegian ones but are difficult enough for antipodeans), I have never bought winter boots. This is due to a general frugality when it comes to buying clothing (and especially shoes), and to a general attitude of ‘making do’. (I’m not sure this is particularly admirable, it’s related to a habit of reading books but not attending to practicalities.) But the shoes I have worn practically every day for the past three years now have cracked soles and let the water in. And tying the laces to my hiking boots was getting increasingly difficult due to a certain little being taking up space around my middle. Anyway, now I have one pair of uber-practical ‘snow fun’ boots which will be suitable for ploughing snow from our driveway, outdoor activities at the kindergarten, and any kind of walking when the weather is treacherous. And another pair of nice warm boots that aren’t quite so hard wearing but much kinder on the eye (and very easy to put on) that I can wear on the days that it doesn’t resemble Antarctica out there. So I’m pretty pleased with myself really.

I also bought a cutting board thing to help me cut fabric in straight lines. Last night I finally got around to pulling out the sewing machine Mum bought me for my birthday. I am starting on a couple of very simple projects to try and get the hang of it. (I don’t think I’ve touched a sewing machine since I was about 10.) And last night I realised I’ll never get my seams straight if I don’t cut the fabric straight. So. Problem solved, I hope. (And I bought a couple of other bits and bobs to help me finish my first projects…)

Last but not least, I bought a cornflower blue Swedish teapot. It is beautiful. I have missed having a teapot. There is a kind of promise in teapots. Of friendship and warmth, of giving time and space to being together. I used to drink tea from teapots with my girlfriends in Adelaide. This teapot is the perfect size, not for a huge gathering, but for two or three. I’m sure it has a happy life ahead of it. It makes me calm just to look at it.

A Swedish weekend

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

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

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

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

Vertigo and veggie burgers

We went to Sweden yesterday, home of all good things. Or, at least, affordable groceries. We bought six kilos of couscous, at half the price we would have paid in Norway. A huge bag of red peppers. An equally huge bag of fat sweet potatoes. (A craving for sweet potatoes on Friday led to us staring sadly at the tiny shriveled mouldy dregs masquerading as vegetables in our local supermarket.) Snow peas. Frozen spinach. Halumi cheese. Several cans of tuna. And two small boxes of veggie burgers. (Although veggie burgers have the privilege of existing in Sweden – we have never seen any here – they are not cheap.)

I felt a bit strange this week. There are too many balls in the air, or, to swap metaphors, I’m standing on the brink of too many things. Too many possible pathways, tangling outwards. Too many places demanding attention, both near and distant. Too many words to be written. Too many people to be – I fear if I commit to one, I will lose the others. I fear if I step down one path, the others will be barred forever. Which, of course, is not the case, and nothing is to be gained by standing still.

Last night we went to a bbq and watched the sun set over the fortress. And today we ate veggie burgers and teriyaki mushrooms and lompe bread for lunch, and they were just marvellous. And today the sun is shining, madly, brightly, and we will ride our bikes past the glittery lakes. The many words that need to be written will be written, one by one. I will not hover on the brink forever. I will jump. Again and again and again.

The Stone Ship

A detour on the way to our grocery shopping takes us to Blomsholm. When the sign mentions stone ships I don’t pay much attention. These are standing stones. If they found stone ships here, they must have taken them away.

The wind is cold. The stones stand as they have for fifteen hundred years.

And there it is – the stone ship.

The stones outline the shape of the ship – a ghost ship, sailing through the earth.

What skies it has sailed.

Return of the snuggle-car

The snuggle-car is back in action! For its untimely demise, see clunk cluck clunk. This next photo is proof of how happy we were before it broke down last Saturday:

We got it back yesterday, the third day the mechanic told us it ‘might be ready’. Luckily it finally was, and now we can drive to nice places with our bikes and have picnics.

And we can drive to shops. Such as the big garden shop, which has quite a remarkable collection of fake flowers and plants. Such as these lovely green blobbles.

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Well, it started well. We took the snuggle-car out for a spin. We decided to drive down to Ikea in Goteborg. That’s right, a real Swedish Ikea! Goteborg is about 180k south of here, so it’s about the same distance as Oslo but a much nicer drive. The plan was to get a futon and some bits and bobs to finish off the spare room. Which we did, plus some other bits and bobs, and some more, and ended up getting far more than we came for… All sorts of fun. Easy to get carried away when you have a huge van to stow it all in. We even drove down to the other Ikea in the south of Goteborg cos we’d got our hearts set on this beautiful mirror…

We were just over half way back, and I was thinking what a luxury it is to have a car. You can go where you want when you want, you can put things in it, you can zoom around like the kings of the road. And when it’s your car you can feel at home in it, it’s like a little house on wheels. I was making a shopping list so we could stop by for groceries at the big cheap Swedish supermarket on the way back. Suddenly there was a bang and a crunch and a shuddering. Great, we thought, pulling over, sure that we’d blown a tyre. All the tyres were fine. The car definitely wasn’t, however, so after a few minutes of stunned disbelief, we drove it (limped it, rather) up a side road to put ourselves at the mercy of the locals. It went clunk, clunk, clunk.

Luckily there was a man in his garden playing with his grandchildren, and he spoke English, and he called a mechanic for us. The mechanic happened to live quite close by, so he turned up quickly, though he was rather smelly. After a brief diagnosis, he decided to drive us, and the car, back to Halden (he had one of these big trucks you can put cars on). The problem was something inside the wheel – a ball-bearing, maybe? Anyway it was broken and grease was leaking out the middle of the wheel. I wish I had got a photo of our little red van being pulled up onto his big red truck. Though probably the funnier photo would have been the expressions on our faces.

And that wasn’t the end of it. The hour long ride back to Halden was an adventure in itself – the cabin of the truck was even smellier than its owner, and it only had two seats, so I had to perch cross-legged on a glorified armrest. The hairier moments included when swedish-mechanic decided to shuffle through some papers, look up a number on a business card, talk on his mobile and note something down all at once while he continued to steer with his elbows. As I crouched beside him with no seatbelt, no shoes, and nowhere to put my feet, I tried not to think about what would happen to me, and the little van, and its ikea loot (especially our lovely mirror), if he had an accident. Instead I considered how I would write this blog. A nice thought, because by the time I was telling the story, it would all be over, and I would be snuggling at home with a cup of tea and my laptop…

500 Nowegian kroners later, he dropped us off at the Ford dealer. It was 6:30 by then, so no one was there. The car dealers are a little way out of town, so it was an hour and a half walk back to our house. Of course the futon and the mirror couldn’t come with us. But we saw a couple of deer scampering into the pine forest. And the sun always looks incredible on the fortress in the late evening. And we even made it to the supermarket ten minutes before it closed, so we have bread and milk for tomorrow. We have to be lucky sometimes.

Easter

We hired a car over Easter and did two trips down the Swedish coast, one trip to the islands near Fredrikstad, and one trip on the ferry across the fjord into central Norway. Halden is right in the south east corner of Norway, next to Sweden. It was good to finally explore the area further afield than you can reach with a bicycle! We also spent an eminently horrible day trying to look at used cars in Oslo (me in charge of directions, not a good start…). Unfortunately the weather, which had been glorious, turned a bit nasty on us, but it wasn’t too bad.

The rocks on the Swedish coast are amazing. I love bleak landscapes – bare rock and sea and sky. It’s why I love the North York Moors, and the Dales, and the Australian desert. It was fun to get away from the pine trees. Unfortunately it was too windy for ground-handling (paragliding practice where you try to get the glider above your head and keep it there), but that didn’t stop Michael trying, resulting in several frenzied efforts to fold it up again before it blew us away.

And then on Sunday it snowed! You can see it through the windows of our flat. Snow on the spring branches of the tree outside, snow on the riverbank and the rooftops, snow on the little car.