Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Neil Family News, December 2007

Is It Dangerous?

We went through a whole spring with Benjamin’s favorite question, "Is it dangerous to…?" I almost didn’t sleep during our winter holiday, wondering if Benjamin would test our assertion that it was indeed dangerous to fall off a ski lift. But he survived, and the question finally moved on to other things, like whether it was Saturday (the day you get candy in Sweden) or where thieves come from.

At 6, Benjamin is taking an extra year at daycare before starting zero class in the fall. He also started soccer, and still enjoys hockey and gymnastics.

He loves money, especially coins of any type, and routinely sets up shop, reselling our household items (to us!). Fortunately, quantity is still more important than quality, and a prize item can be had for a handful of pocket change.

Benjamin became a fisherman this summer. Armed with a net and a bucket, he managed to single-handedly impact the local minnow population. In one weekend, he caught over 100 tiny fish, feeding them and petting them, until we finally convinced him to let them go. He would like a pet of any kind for Christmas, preferably a polar bear or a dolphin.

Growing Too Fast

After being introduced to High School Musical in January, Annika hasn’t stopped dancing. She is ready to go to East High, despite being only 8. The highlight of her year was when HSM 2 came out!
She has grown up so much this year - toys are now passé, and she wants a mobile phone for Christmas... though what she would do with one is a mystery to us, since none of her friends have one.
Annika spent two weeks at a summer camp in Colorado this year – with a bit of separation anxiety, mostly from us. She had a great time, and is ready to try a longer stay next summer, if David and I can handle it.
Annika loves skating, riding, football and gymnastics, and can often be found upside-down, practicing her handstand. She loves school and computer games. She is the family member who figures out how to program the latest device!

A Big Four
Christopher is excelling in his ability not to master language. We start speech therapy in January, when we will begin to understand how we can help him to be understood. His favorite word is "happen", which sneaks its way into all possible sentences, and consonants appear to be interchangeable. Truthfully, he really isn’t bothered about who understands him – he just sails through life with a grin and a high five.
Christopher loves games of any kind. Sleeping Queens (leeping tweens) is a current favorite. He also loves skiing, despite straining his knee at the ripe old age of three. He is now four, by the way, a fact that he won’t let you forget, and is eagerly awaiting his fifth birthday, a mere six months away.
He is a bit confused by the whole Santa thing, mixing Santa Lucia (a Swedish tradition) with Santa Claus. At the Lucia celebrations on December 13th, he chose not to be a "star boy", an elf or a gingerbread man, all traditional costumes, but preferred to dress as Superman (until convinced otherwise).
His stubbornness is legendary, showing itself most in his abject refusal to eat anything green. Grapes, cucumbers and peas are cause for total meltdown.

Lessons from 2007
We have learned a lot over the past year... important things like which head wounds require stitches, that ski boots are machine washable, and that a small crack in the ceiling can lead to major home repairs. We have mastered flight schedules to Helsinki (David’s second home) and Geneva (the family’s second home), and actually managed to take our first, real, stroller-free vacation. We even survived Disneyland Paris without losing a child!
When things at ABC Leksaker (Leigh’s internet toy business) began to get crazy a few weeks ago, Annika suggested I shut down before Christmas so it wouldn’t be so busy. But I kept going, and ABC Leksaker has had a great year - hopefully facing imminent profitability.
David’s company Genesta launched two property funds and purchased six buildings, giving David something to crow about, and something to keep him from sleeping 8 hours a night.
We wish you a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year!
The Neils

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Leeping Tweens

Christopher's favorite game right now is a card game called Sleeping Queens. He wants to play it at every possible opportunity, and runs around while I am making dinner asking "Play Leeping Tweens?" It is so hard to say no. While playing, he's like a little broken record - "My turn? My turn?" - even after he has just played.
The game is actually for 8 year olds, and involves some pretty complicated moves. He has mastered everything except for the adding part. To increase the turnover of cards in your hand, you can discard sums (like 3, 4 and 7). Christopher is well aware that he doesn't get it, but it doesn't bother him in the least. Nor does he get too upset if he loses.
Believe it or not, I have actually looked up and found both Benjamin and Christopher playing it together (!) nicely (!).

Saturday, December 01, 2007


For the fall break, we decided to spend a few days in Switzerland, and then a few at Disneyland in Paris. Lessons learned?

I will NEVER again go to Disneyland without first checking the French holiday schedule.

That said, we had a wonderful time. Highlights included:

  • Annika saying, at the end of a long walk around a reservoir in Switzerland, "Wow, that was really fun!"

  • The children learning French... or trying... and getting a kick out of "Ca va?" to which Christopher replied "Vache". "How's it going?" "Cow."

  • The hot springs at Levey les Bains

  • The pumpkin men at Disneyland

  • Crush's Coaster (a hit with all except David, who didn't like hurtling through the dark, sideways.)

Of course, Norwegian Air Shuttle almost ruined the whole thing by calling us on Wednesday, while we were on the train from Switzerland to Paris, to say that our Saturday flight had been cancelled, and we were rebooked - tomorrow. Right. Like try to explain that one to the kids. "Sorry, but we will give up a pre-paid hotel room, pre-paid entrance tickets, and the whole Disney part of the trip - just to catch our discount flight." Thank goodness SAS had low priced one-ways!

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Bad Head Day

Perhaps a more appropriate title would be "The Three Hour Vacation".

Annika - We started our vacation packing everything for Sandhamn. Benjamin got angry with Annika and threw a set of keys at her. Direct hit, in the head, blood and tears all around.

And then...

Christopher - I arrived on Sandhamn by ferry with 5 bikes plus Leonor and Gustav (after David had taken the kids and Christer on the Two Step with a boatload of other stuff). Christopher spied his bike right away and jumped on it, thankfully with a helmet. Not ten seconds later, he slipped on the gravel and did a faceplant. He sobbed, his tears making streaks in the dirt on his face, and we inspected his head for yet another bruise/scrape/bump.

But then...

Benjamin - managed to trip on the stairs into the Dykarbaren, and - despite having a bike helmet on - slammed his forehead into the stone steps. He didn't get a large cut, but it was deep and bloody. So... three hours after arriving on Sandhamn, Benjamin and I were on the next ferry back, mopping blood, eating a chocolate muffin, calling emergency rooms, and trying to look inconspicuous with blood running down his face. Thanks to the efforts of the rådgivning telephone line, we managed to find Nacka närsjukhus 40 minutes prior to closing, so we were in, glued and taped, and out in mere minutes. Of course, the last ferry had long since departed, so B & I ended up back at home, in our own beds, for the first night of our holiday. At least he will have matching scars - one on each side of his forehead.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Holes in Your Eyes

Just got back from the US, and Benjamin seems to suffer jet lag the worst of all. He woke up at midnight, and I was in bed with him from 12 to 3:30, hoping in vain that he would drift off to sleep again. As we lay there, whispering in the dark, he said,

"Mamma, did you know that the black things in your eyes are holes?"


"Yep! Do you know what they are for? They let the people you like into your heart so they can stay there. You're in there, Mamma, 'cause I like you."

And then he started listing off all the other people he had in his heart.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ski Boots are Machine Washable...

... and other things you find out in desperation!

Yes, you really can put ski boot liners and winter boots in the washing machine, and they come out fine. It makes perfect sense to me - if they can get wet (as they do), then why can't they be washed?

Why do I know this? This long, wet winter, I picked up Benjamin and Christopher from dagis with boots that weighed significantly more in the afternoon than in the morning. Many afternoons, I could pour water out of Christopher's boots. We cycled through several pairs of boots, using ones that had previously been classified as "too small" as well as ones that were saved to grow into - just to get a reasonably dry pair each morning. Boots take days to dry out (hmmm... haven't tried the tumble dryer...) Anyway, after a few weeks, they really begin to smell... so I faced a choice - throw them out or throw them in... the washing machine. And believe it or not, it worked.

Then, we found ourselves skiing, and the boys somehow decided to pass on the bathroom breaks - or perhaps they just couldn't make themselves understood in a third language (French). Needless to say, their ski boots quickly became gaggable, and I couldn't fathom fastening them again. Again - throw them out (an expensive option, since we bought for hand-me-down potential) or throw them in... the washing machine.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ruby Falls Revisited

David has often mentioned a cross-country driving trip he took with his father, where "Ruby Falls" was advertised on multiple billboards 250 miles in either direction, so much so that the parents were compelled to stop for the attraction. I remember a similar billboard campaign with a dead (mummified?) Indian with similar results. After all the hype - and cross-country in the US West can be very long and boring - the end result is as promised (a waterfall with red lighting or a mummified Indian) but excruciatingly disappointing.

But we fell for it again!

Annika and I were in London, and on every bus, every billboard, every tube stop the London Dungeon was advertised. When I asked A what was the one thing she most wanted to see in London, well how could she help herself. So we didn't go to Harrods, the Tower, the Thames River Cruise, Covent Garden, the Tate, or anything else I might have envisioned for our short trip to London... and made our way to the dungeon.

The entrance was cute, and I will always treasure the photo of A chopping my head off... but beyond that, it was a huge and disgusting disappointment. A was expecting something like Gröna Lund (an amusement park) and I was hoping for something interesting. Instead, we found something perhaps designed for 14-year-olds - gross, disgusting and revolting. During the worst parts (the vivid details of exactly what Jack the Ripper did to his victims), I whispered secrets to Annika and tried to help us both ignore the ongoing descriptions. Fortunately, most of the vocabulary and concepts were way over her head, and she missed the blood, guts and gore.

Please let us never again Fall for a Ruby!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

When I was Your Age...

Annika has a new favorite song - Cara Mia by Måns ??, an entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. I have now heard it at least 47 times, and surely more to come. Technology is a wonderful thing - most of the time. When we can skip back to a favorite song again and again with a single push of a button? How easy it is. My memory is now full of favorite tracks (Cara Mia, track 2 on Absolute 54; Lion King, track 7 on Disney Hits; Puff the Magic Dragon, track 12 on Peter, Paul and Mommy - the threesome's current favorites).

Remember what it was like before?

Not wishing to date myself too much... My first stereo was a hand-me-down from my parents. It must have been the height of technology in 1950 - an all-in-one cabinet on spindly legs, with speaker-doors that opened out for that full 3-foot stereo effect. It had a record player that folded down, and a special attachment for 45 rpm records. I found out that a quarter balanced on the needle arm would cause it to repeat the record over and over (and over and over) again.

Of course my cousins had the portable version - the record player that folded into a tiny plastic suitcase. I guess we didn't think much about sound quality back then... The coolest thing of all was that if we jumped really hard on the floor next to the player, we could make the needle jump back to the beginning of the record.

I get the occasional e-mail about the changes in my lifetime. It is amazing to me that my children will probably never see a rotary dial phone, a vinyl record or an 8-track tape. They will never know life without computers, answering machines, mobile phones or portable music players. When I watch Annika dancing around the room with the remote control, replaying her song again and again with a simple push of a botton, I wonder what changes are in store for her.

The Silly Pirate (by Benjamin)

(as dictated to me)

One time a silly pirate was very funny. And he had two eye patches on his eyes.

And then do you know what happened? A little boy walked along and when he saw a bunny he said, “Stop!”

And then do you know what happened? It was very fun that a man just walked along with the boy and then the man started to cry and then because he didn’t see his boy, but they were holding hands but then he looked around and he saw his boy holding his hand and it was so fun.

And they were in the dungeon the whole time and then a big, big bomb went on to the boat because they were fighting and they were singing, “I iho hi o ho a wa mie o” and they were singing so loud!

Then it started a big bomb “Boom!” It was the Indians shooting at the pirates. The pirates were shooting at the Indians. Then they threw a humongous bomb and the pirate hurt himself and then one of the Indians said, “Sorry!”

And then they were super happy and they were friends with the Indians together.

The End

Thursday, April 19, 2007

SSL - Swedish as a Second Language (Your Tax Kronor at Work)

Just had Christopher's utvecklingssamtal, and all is great at dagis... well, almost. He loves going, has a great time with his friends, and plays hard all day. He has left some of the "trots-ålder" behavior behind, so he is more cooperative, and less prone to testing every limit. Happy, cute, extremely adept at coloring within the lines - the good news.

Of course, with the good comes the BUT... He says only a few simple words in Swedish (and his English is no great shakes, either). Progress was evident up until Christmas, but since then, he hasn't made any linguistic headway. Of course, he has clued in that his teachers understand when he speaks English, so he doesn't really have to try that hard to make himself understood in Swedish, and he plays a lot with Aleksander, who also speaks English. The dagis will request assistance for him (and others) next year - and we already have assistance for Benjamin (and others) in his group.

What is it about our boys? At 18 months, Annika ended up on the local radio station, saying her name and that her favorite radio station was "Mix Megapol". Christopher, if asked his name, answers "Cwiss" or "Cowboy" since - at nearly 4 years old! - he still can't say Christopher. Benjamin, despite hours of speech therapy exercises with pictures - "He helps her" or "He is carrying her" - turns to his friend and says, "Honom slog henne!", translated "Him hit she". Every Swedish sentence he utters begins with the subject "Honom" (him). I took consolation while potty training (late) that kids don't go to first grade in diapers. I will now try to gain consolation from the fact that by the age of 18, most people can master some semblance of grammatical correctness in their mother tongue.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Skiing... and a Knee Brace

Another weekend of skiing - and an awesome time with the kids. The snow quality was marginal, kind of like skiing in a swimming pool at times, but the kids were troopers. David and I felt a little bit guilty for putting the kids in all-day ski school... but not too guilty. We enjoyed skiing together, something we haven't done in years, and the kids were happy. We generally skied until 1, had a leisurely lunch in the sun, and then relaxed on the balcony until it was time to pick up the kids. I asked Annika what she was working on, expecting "parallel" or "turns" in response. "Skiing backwards and taking jumps" was her response - at least they are having fun!

Of course, we had visions of family skiing holidays, when we all skied together. This year, Christopher is a bit too slow, and not safe for steep slopes. But next year may be the end of our vision - the last year when David and I can reasonably expect to keep up with our children. I'm afraid that after that, the kids will be waiting at the bottom, and when David and I arrive, panting and aching, they will say, "Come on, Mom and Dad - what took you so long? We're tired of waiting!"

Anyway, the whole long weekend went "swimmingly" except for one little blip - a fall Christopher took, on the last run (isn't it always?) of the third day. He twisted his knee, and was carried down. The next day, he refused to put any weight on it, and we took him in to the local emergency. Fortunately, 3-year-olds are still extremely flexible and not inclined to have ligament tears. He received a tiny leg brace (which hasn't slowed him down a bit - as proved by his trying to scale the passport control booth at the airport) which he actually wants to wear. Hopefully in a week...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Not Good with Locks...

After the boys' treasure chest experience, you would think we would be more careful with locks...

I bought Annika a bike lock on Saturday, with a 4-digit combination that she got to choose. She made much ado about secrecy, but told David (so he could help her set it) and then me (because she couldn't keep it a secret). Then she decided - somehow over the course of the evening - to try it out on Christopher's bed. She didn't get it closed all the way before she turned the dials... and now we can't get it open!

Looks like we'll have to disassemble the bed...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is Mary Real?

Benjamin (age 5 1/2) asked me, out of the blue, on the way to school this morning.

"Mary, who?" I asked.

"The one with the little lamb."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Is it Dangerous?

A few months ago, I thought Benjamin would never get off the food chain. His questions -"What do lions eat? What do dragons eat? What do dinosaurs eat?" - seemed continuous. Now, of course, I'm longing for those days. At least the answers were simpler.

Today's question - "Is it dangerous to...?" and then, "Could you die?" A few samples...

Is it dangerous to...
  • get bitten by a crab?
  • breathe fur?
  • put ... in your eye?
  • fall off a chair lift?
  • get run over by a car?
Of course, some of the answers are, "Yes - you could die." But somehow that one doesn't really sink in... We have talked about heaven, and he is pretty convinced that it will be great... so what's the problem?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Apple Socks and Other Stories...

... of my stupidity.

Somehow, the kids think it is funny to hear the story of my French bakery mistake. I hadn't been in France for several years, and finally went back, found a bakery, and ordered my favorite thing - Chausson aux pommes, or apple turnovers. Of course, I managed to forget a key word, and ordered instead Chausette aux pommes, or apple socks. The baker, needless to say, was somewhat confused. The kids think it is hilarous, and beg to hear it again and again.

I need some variety - other times I did or said something stupid that doesn't involve concepts beyond their years (preservatif/condoms in French bread, pregnant/enceinte vs. pleine/knocked up, etc.) or times I was just plain stupid but not funny (like running into a tree while skiing). Have to think a while on that one...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scared of Heights?

We went skiing over the weekend and it was AWESOME! I began to see what life will soon be like. Annika (7) and Benjamin (5) were all over the mountain and skied beautifully - though Benjamin preferred a straight-down snowplow to actually turning...

We met up with the family (Pieter, LouAnn, Kara, Saskia and Petra) and managed to ski with them for two days. Christopher (3) joined us for the first day, but his ski reins were a necessity, and he was a significant downward drag.

A few highlights:

After a Friday spent holding the reins, I moved Christopher into ski school. I spent most of Saturday agonizing over whether he would be permanently scarred from being sent off away from the rest of us, but needn't have worried - he had a blast! His teacher, Yann, knew every bump and jump on the baby slope, and had Christopher giggling and having a great time - so much so that he is still wondering when he can ski with Yann again.

Benjamin spent every lift asking, "Is it dangerous to fall off?" When he missed a chair and ended up riding by himself, alone, in the chair behind mine, I checked on him constantly, afraid that he might try to see how dangerous it really was. In the end, the only problem was that he wasn't strong enough to push up the security bar, and it conked him on the head when he got off. I guess that's what helmets are for!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Nouvelle Cuisine á la Benj

Today, Benjamin offered to cook dinner for me and Christopher. I was busy in the yard, and thought I would just let him have the run of the kitchen. After all, what would it be but a bit of a mess and some wasted food. And truly, surprisingly, it wasn't that bad!

First, Benjamin got off on a roll with some banana bread that I had baked earlier. He sliced it and put it neatly on plates (with a knife artfully stabbed into the middle like a large birthday candle) and served it outside to me and Christopher (who was sort of helping with the raking).

Filled with the joy of his success, he then branched off in new directions. After a few minutes, he brought me a drink - water with fresh-squeezed tomato, seeds and all. Actually, it was quite refreshing, and I tried to just enjoy the new taste and not think about when he last washed his hands...

And then, his piéce de la resistance - cabbage and garlic. He had carefully taken small pieces of cabbage leaves, arranged them neatly in the center of a plate, topped them with a garlic clove (unpeeled) and zapped the whole thing in the microwave. Also surprisingly tasty, though I did give the unpeeled clove a miss. He even got his two cents in by admonishing me about the proper use of a fork and knife - see - he was listening!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Boys and Stitches

There was an article in the parents' magazine last week about how we get too caught up in the differences between boys and girls. Well, you know what? They ARE different. Just one simple statistic from my sample of three.

Trips to the emergency room for taping/stitches:

  • Annika - 0

  • Benjamin - 1

  • Christopher - 2
Yep - that's two boys and three scars over the past year, two calls from dagis about boys with blood running down their faces. And they're only 3 and 5!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Treasure Chests (and little boys)

Both the boys got little padlocked treasure chests for Valentines Day from their grandparents. Not 30 minutes went by before Benjamin came to me to ask how to open the padlock.

"Where are the keys?" I asked.


So I called Christopher over with his locked treasure chest.

"Where are your keys?"


I guess it was the safest place for them... Fortunately the quality of the lock made it easy to open with a well-wiggled safety pin, and we were back in business (and this time, I saved one of the keys).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Being Prepared

Last weekend, David and I had a night on the town - which for us means dinner without kids, and we're always home by 11. Anyway, as we wandered through the icy streets of Stockholm, David stuck his hands in the pocket of his coat (which used to be Daddy's) and found a set of Daddy's business/personal cards. David noted that every coat he has of Daddy's (several, since they were the same size) comes equipped with a pair of gloves and a set of cards neatly tucked into one of the pockets. So like him... and so nice to have a reminder of him in an unexpected way.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Disappearance of Baby

One of my favorite jokes (from when I was about 10) -

"Why do you always find something in the last place you look?"

Punch line - "Because you stop looking when you find it."

Actually, the punch line should read, "Because you have looked in every conceivable place, in the car, in the bathrooms, in the cupboards, in all bags and backpacks, under the sofa, on top of the wardrobe, in the shoes... and the in desperation, you Googled it, and finally found a potential source for a new one on some obscure webstite in Kentucky... "

Yep, last weekend, Baby (Christopher's blue teddy bear) disappeared. Actually, he was gone for a couple of days, long enough for nobody to really remember when he was last seen. Christopher didn't even notice for a few days, and David, Annika and I only discussed Baby's disapperance in code when he was around, lest he should clue in that Baby was indeed missing.

Finally, on Monday night, after I had searched the house top to bottom, Christopher finally noticed. At bedtime, he started asking, "Where Baby? Him not here." When I tried to explain that Baby was surely having fun with friends, Christopher kept insisting, "Him can't walk." He got a bit tearful - as did I...

The loss of Baby was like losing a wonderful picture of Christopher, the one where he wanders in sleepily on a Saturday morning, clutching Baby by the paw. Or the picture of him sleeping with one arm around Baby and one around his 2-4 rags... Or the picture of him tromping proudly through the airport with Baby's head sticking out of his backpack... Neither one of us was ready to let go...

With Christopher finally asleep (with a stuffed dog, a poor substitute) and Annika looking over my shoulder, I searched the internet for collectors sites (Baby is a discontinued Ty Beanie Buddie named Baby Boy) and almost bought one, though I had second thoughts about where to have him shipped, and how to explain to Christopher how Baby had really spruced himself up... when my brilliant husband suggested checking the piano bench. Yup - there, looking slightly flatter, was Baby! I tucked him in Christopher's arms, kissed them both and snuck off to bed.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Foreign Concept...

I was reading Annika's veckobrev from school - the letter from her teacher every Friday describing what they have done and what they will be doing over the next week. The teacher (Anna, by the way, not Mrs. X), wrote that with the snow, many of the children were bringing their cross-country skis to school to use during recess. Wow - for a Texan, that was a foreign concept...

Skiing to me is loading up the car with masses of equipment, driving 8 hours to the nearest slope, arriving late at night, and getting up early for a hearty breakfast. After parking a mile away and waiting for a shuttle bus to get to the mountain base, waiting in line with a pushy crowd to buy a lift ticket... well, then you're there for the duration - until the last lift closes.

Admittedly, cross-country skiing was not really part of my vocabulary until I was 25, and I had never tried it until a trip to Norway where a friend and I gave it a shot and were passed by old and young. Which, by the way, is true humiliation - puffing along, struggling on your skis while a 3-year-old whizzes past you, singing songs as she goes - and then her 80-year-old great grandma leaves you in a wake of powder... and on the only downhill part of the trek, you trip over your skis and get a fat lip from face-planting in the snow... but I digress...

Anyway, how wonderful that skiing could be something like basketball, that you just "pick up" for a 30-minute break!

So inpired were we that we rushed out today and bought (waxless) cross-country skis for the threesome, and wax for the skis that David and I bought ourselves two Christmasses ago and have never used. I am full of visions of how it will be - picking the kids up early from dagis, heading for the local golf course (with prepared trails - not ready to go it in the rough) and schussing along in peace and joyful appreciation of the winter landscape. Tune in next week...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Angels and Dreams

(on his 18th time out of bed)

Benjamin: Mom, I want to be a kid when I'm an angel.

Me: Well, Benjamin, I'm sure that would be fine. I suppose you can be anything you want when you're an angel.

Benjamin (with excitement): Really? Can I be a cow?

And Annika, who told me about her nice dream, when she got to play games with Morfar again, like when she was 4... so glad she remembers.