Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Difference Between Boys and Girls...

... according to Christopher. And here it is:

BOYS like scary stuff.

GIRLS like lipstick.

And in case you were wondering, this is Christopher, being cool. Because he is the coolest guy in the family. I told him I thought I was the coolest in the family, but apparently I am sorely mistaken. He IS the coolest because he has 9 girlfriends who chase him and try to kiss him. Since I only have David, I guess I'm out of luck.

Apparently this girls-chasing-boys thing determines popularity. Christopher, despite being the coolest in our family, is only second coolest in his class, because his 9 doesn't quite match up to the 11 girls who are chasing Hugo. Of course, the boys don't actually WANT the girls to chase them, nor do they LIKE it... but it is, apparently, a critical success factor in kindergarten.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What Were They Thinking?

Benjamin came home from school yesterday, proudly carrying his latest craft projects, pictured here. Yes, in case you are wondering, the matches are real. (I took one out of his "big bomb" and tried it out, just to be sure.)

Now seriously... who thought it would be a good idea for kindergardeners and first graders to assemble matches and toilet paper rolls? Who thought it would be fun to put matches with corks? Whatever happened to "Don't play with matches?" And on what planet do matches belong in an elementary school craft kit?

Perhaps I'm overreacting... (she says as the house burns down around her...) I'm just waiting for an appropriate time for these creations to disappear, or contribute to the fireplace. Sorry, but these aren't "keepers".

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Assignment and The Problem

The Assignment: read for 15 minutes, 4 times a week.
The Problem: she can't put the book down. Usually it is a shorter book which she finishes. Unfortunately, she has chosen the first of the Harry Potter books. Three nights in a row we have come up to her room to find her still reading at 11pm! And unfortunately, this sounds quite familiar to me...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Ghost Story

Annika had to write a ghost story for school, so she finally got "inspired" and wrote one. She starts a beautiful story about a little girl who loves dolls. She writes well, with lots of descriptions and dialogue. We meet the nice little girl, her (nice) family, see the family in action at their (nice) dinner, and go into quite a few details. Three pages into the nice story, the girl goes into the woods, falls into a hole, sees a ghost and dies. Then her family buries her body and mourns her loss.

The End.

Build up = 3 pages, Hole-to-deadly-ending = 1/2 page.

"How did you like it?" she wants to know.
"Ummm... it was very well written.... do you think it is a bit abrupt at the end?" I reply.
"Well, it was supposed to be scary."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tough Lessons and a Mom on the Warpath

I wrote earlier about Annika's lack of mobile phone money... that she went through it in a matter of days. Well, seems as though I was mistaken about her usage. Apparently, she answered an SMS on the 21st of August, and since then she has been bombarded with SMS:s from a company (Funmobile - SMS 72238) with a monthly fee and a per-SMS cost that she has been paying, without realizing it.

She got a new phone on Friday (numbers were falling off the old one) and we brought it with us to Switzerland on Saturday. We scared her so much about SMSing and calling from foreign countries that we know she hasn't made a single call, or sent a single SMS. Suddenly, she got a "low money on account" warning, and was in floods of tears. "I haven't done anything" she kept saying. She had 189 kr on Saturday... 17 kr today. I checked her SMS list, and she had received more than 5 from that number, each with a cost. That makes more than 400 SEK ($57) that she has lost over the past two months.

So, I called (pity the poor customer service person who has to answer my call) and they have supposedly cancelled the service. I have also written to them to ask for my/her money back, and have reported them to Konsumentverket and Etiskarådet. She is only 10 years old. ARRRGGGGHHH!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swimming, Take 2

We finished simskola with Christopher, the expensive one, level 2. He made progress, but not enough, so it is back to level 2 again. And of course, the not-so-expensive one is full, so we're back where we started. But he needs a stronger kick, so we'll keep going. Hopefully by Christmas he'll be swimming like a fish - one that can take a breath on the way from point A to B!

He is truly amazing - he can be outside in a t-shirt in all kinds of weather, and hates wearing a jacket. However, one look at Mörby badet and he starts to shiver and turn blue. The 40 minutes of simskola are about all he can take.

Blueberry Dressage

Annika did her first "blåbärs dressyr" or blueberry dressage competition on Sunday. I was completely impressed -

  • She found about it by herself and checked dates with me before signing herself up
  • She worked with her friends at the stable to figure out exactly what she was supposed to do
  • She laid out a course in the basement to practice the path the horse would travel
  • She chose her horse and worked with a friend to fix its mane
All I had to do was provide the financing - the outfit and the entry fee - and show up. Remember that this is a kid who - last spring - couldn't remember to take her gym bag to school from the car. Amazing.

Of course, things didn't go as well as planned. The horse she chose, Mulle, wasn't in the mood to trot on Sunday, and she had a hard time keeping him going. She did, however, remember the path, and exactly what she was supposed to do at each place. In the end, she got the second lowest number of points of all the competitors.

OK... it's not so bad -
  • one girl scored lower (and I was secretly happy that Annika didn't have to be the worst at the one thing she loves more than anything else.)
  • the other rider that had Mulle for a horse also didn't score high enough for a ribbon because Mulle was being difficult
  • we know what to expect next time, and almost nobody "qualifies" on their first time
  • we have the outfit

and there's always next time!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Car Features

Just got back from a weekend at INSEAD, a 15-year reunion. Seems as if the 5 year was weddings, 10 was new babies, and now we are comparing notes on our 5-10 year olds. I mentioned to one friend that it was so nice to have kids who can fasten their own seatbelts in the car - just think back to the days when I had to buckle in three in various car seats. She agreed, with one of the best quotes -

"Yes, my car is now SELF-LOADING"

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

So Not Ready for a Tweenie

Annika came down this morning, wearing pink leggings with lace, a pair of large-ish black athletic shorts and a large black t-shirt.

"What do you think, mamma?"
"Way to go!", I say, "You remembered it was gym class, and you're supposed to go already dressed."
"No! This is what I'm wearing during the day, not at gym class."

Hmmm... well... no really good way to dig myself out of that one.

Officially Ten

Annika finally got her birthday party - her whole (new) class at the Laserdome in Stockholm. All 22 of them (plus David and the boys) battled it out in a dark arena for 2 goes of 20 minutes each. Everyone seemed to have fun, and the party was deemed a success. The only downside - I didn't really meet any of the kids I didn't already know - about half the class. But there's still the rest of the year...

Monday, October 05, 2009


We're getting there... slowly, slowly... Benjamin is now a big first grader, and doesn't quite seem to have come into his academic side. His ability to procrastinate, however, is extraordinary. Each week we have homework - a bit of math (not much), 3 pages in a very basic reader, and 10 sentences to write. The math is ok. The reading... well, he does it, but I'm not sure how much is looking at the pictures... And then the writing, which ranks somewhere up there with pulling teeth. I left him alone to write his name - all by himself - and this is what we have. BNEJMAMIN, in all caps, despite having spent the past few weeks working on lower case. But it does have a nice ring to it!

Yet when I look at Annika's 4th grade class, a mere three years of schooling later, I am amazed at how quickly things come along. Her social studies book challenges me - though since it is in Swedish, that's not so surprising. And she happily works away on math, somewhere between fortress and tower, hoping never have to do the remedial... dungeon... or something like that. I can't remember my math books having a story (hers has a family with a pet dragon) to hold their interest. But anyway, her class has come this far... so there's hope yet!

Thursday, October 01, 2009


A few months ago, we lost a set of car keys... my set, to be exact. I'm sure it wasn't me, however, who lost them. Really.

Anyway, we survived for many months with one set, but it was a problem. David seems to put things in his pockets and forget about them. The next day, pocket contents shift from one pair of pants to the other - say Sunday jeans to Monday business suits - and with those contents went the car keys, several times. The car keys were very well travelled, taking at least three Monday morning trips to Helsinki in David's pockets. Of course, I would go out on these Monday mornings, ready to load the threesome in the car for the three-school drop-off... only to find myself without keys. The kids thought it was quite exciting to be dropped off by taxi, and then I would pop over to the local Statoil to find the cheapest rental possible to get us through pick-up.

Getting a new set of keys wasn't easy. I don't technically own the car, for no really good reason, but that means I don't have the right to request new keys. And getting David to find the time to go to the dealer took months. But finally, in August, we managed to get a new set of two keys - one each.

So last night, we were looking for extra toothbrushes in the basket under the bathroom sink... and there it was, the missing key. How it found its way there is beyond me... and of course, now it serves no purpose since the car has been rekeyed. But it is nice to know that what's lost is found.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not Exactly What Hermes Intended...

It was quiet, too quiet. The boys were up in their room, playing peacefully. As usual, they were building a fort in and under Benjamin's bed. But when I went upstairs...

There was a time when my dad didn't know what to get me for birthday and Christmas. I was living overseas, so small packages were essential. And I was a Business Consultant, suits and all. So he settled on Hermes scarves. I have quite a collection that I really haven't used in... hmmm... the past 10 years or so.

Anyway, it was quite refreshing to see my scarves again - as walls for Benjamin's and Christopher's fort!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Missing Out on the Muppets

A friend sent through a link on Facebook to two great classic videos from the Muppet Show. I showed them to Annika, but the results were mixed. The first one -

she thought was pretty funny... but the second one -

she didn't get at all.

"He's not speaking Swedish," she said.
"I know - that's kind of the point," I replied.
"But I can't understand him," she insisted.
"I know - that's kind of the point. You're not supposed to understand what he is saying."

At that point, she just said she didn't think it was so funny, and couldn't we click on something else? Oh well, maybe if we had called him the Norwegian Chef...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Day of School

A bit belated, but here it is - the first day of school (in August)... surely a sign of the chaos of the fall that it has taken me almost a month to post the picture.

Notable details:
  • Annika - age 10, starting 4th grade at Stocksundsskolan. Favorite books - anything by Cornelia Funke (author of Inkheart and more). Favorite activity - anything to do with horses. Rides twice a week, taking a course to be a hästskötare (horse carer - responsibility for a horse 2 days a week). Activities - horseback riding, soccer, guitar.
  • Benjamin - age 8, starting 1st grade at Danderyds Montessori. Creativity unleashed. Concentration untamed. Loves watching absolutely anything on TV. Loves fishing. Spends spare time imagining traps for "bad guys". Favorite books - Bernstein Bears on Vacation. Activities - horseback riding, soccer, golf.
  • Christopher - age 6, starting kindergarden (förskoleklassen) at Stocksundsskolan. Loves Star Wars. Training to be a Jedi warrior when not playing football/soccer. Favorite books - Kasper spelar fotboll (Casper plays soccer) and Harold and the Purple Crayon. Activities - soccer, swimming.

Out of Touch

When Annika took over my old phone a few months ago, we had a deal - only "kontantkort" (a pay-as-you-go plan), and I would load up the phone with 100 SEK every month (about $14). Anything else she would have to fund herself. It went pretty well - though the 100 turned into 150 because that's what's easier to do on the website, and things sailed along over the summer. Then September came, school stared, friends came back...

On the 1st of September, I put the usual 150 SEK on her phone. By the 4th, it was gone. It has been hard to wait for a new payment, and we still have 2 weeks to go. And it hasn't just been hard on Annika... Of course, since she has no money on her phone, she doesn't take it with her as she comes home from school and bikes to her various activities. I can't call her to find out where she is, and I have been worried a few times. On the flip side, she can't call me either - 5 times within 5 minutes - to badger me into becoming her personal taxi service. So far it has been a somewhat healthy couple of weeks, and just a couple more to go.

By the way, all the phone companies would like our business. I have tried to tell them that if the came up with a kids' plan that allows unlimited calls to parents, yet operates with a cut-off system like the cash card system, they will get our business. Unfortunately, nobody has figured it out yet...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Made Your Bed...

Yesterday, Benjamin was very angry with us because we wouldn't let him watch tv (typical). He stormed upstairs, and emptied all of his excess playground sand from his pockets... into his own bed. And yes, he did sleep there last night. Learning to live with the consequences!

Monday, September 07, 2009

No Swimming Today

Christopher is so close to swimming... so very, very close... that we decided to sign him up for swimming lessons this fall.

First hurdle - choosing the right level. Can he really float on both front or back (the requirements for level 2) or should he really be in level 1 (which is just one step above having parents in the water with the child). He doesn't willingly float on his back... but he doesn't need me either, so we go for Level 2.

Second hurdle - choosing the class. Do we go for the "max of 5 students per teacher" or the "up to 15 students per teacher"? Option 1 is more than twice the price of option 2... but we go for that, assuming that he will get a better push and more individual instruction.

Then comes the first day. Level 2 is right, but Option 1? Seems as though Option 1 (max 5 kids) has all the ones who really should have been in Level 1, the ones who won't put their heads under the water. And the Option 2 class (at less than half the price) has 6 kids enrolled. Bad choice. But week 2 was better, and he seems to be making progress.

So in typical multitasking, I decide it will be a good time to get a playdate together for Benjamin - a friend to swim with while Christopher is busy in his lessons (and I'm trying a few laps to burn off my extra wine and cheese consumption). Week 3 goes well, and I organize week 4.

Reality intrudes. The boys decide - on Sunday afternoon, while I'm trying to read (a rare event these days) and David is napping on the couch - to play doctor by investigating each other's ears. Christopher comes downstairs in floods of tears, clutching his ear. So no future medical careers...

One doctor's visit later, I am thoroughly impressed by the design of the human body. Why else would the ear canal be s-shaped than to avoid serious damage from small doctor-playing-boys? Anyway, no serious damage, but no swimming for a few days either...

Which leads to a playdate at home, with 4 boys.... still wondering how the house survived.

We'll try it again next week!

All in Perception

We spend a lot of Sunday evenings having dinner with our neighbors at our local restaurant - the Stocksund Hamnkrog. It is perfect - no cooking at the end of the weekend, and we can bike there and back as a family. Even better, there's a park, a dock, boats, a tiny (really tiny) beach (actually it's just a bunch of sand dumped over the rock wall of the harbor, but it works for us) - so the kids can go and play while the adults enjoy adult conversation over a few glasses of wine. Our neighbors have similarly matched kids, so we end up with a table for 9 with two 10-year-old girls, an 8-year-old boy and two 6-year-old boys - high energy, but the kids are outside most of the time. And the restaurant knows us now, and manages to handle kids' orders - hamburgers with nothing on them but ketchup, pasta without vegetables, strawberry juice, Sprite, and ice cream for dessert - what could be better?

Flash back to the beginning of the summer, a rainy evening when the kids couldn't be outside as much as they wanted... and the adults were busy in a heated discussion of something... Anyway, we got COMPLAINTS from the table next to us. Yes, the kids were a bit boistrous, and yes, they weren't always in their seats, but by and large, I had been thinking they were doing really well, playing DS, drawing pictures...

So last night, there we were, our high-energy bunch, racing bikes to the restaurant, and making our entrance with helmets, jackets, etc. The table next to us had two very sedate children, who were sitting nicely, noses plastered to the window, looking longingly at the children (ours) who were playing in the sand and throwing rocks. I started to feel like the bad example... Then as our kids finally bustled into the restaurant for their dinners, dusting sand off, finding places, making sure they had the right drink, ketchup dispensed under supervision, I caught the eye of another elderly couple sitting nearby, and started to worry...

And then Christopher's napkin caught on fire. David performed a great save with a second napkin, and tossed the flaming mess out the door. I dared to glance at the elderly couple... and she was laughing, and trying to explain to her husband what had happened. The waitresses each came by to tell us that it wasn't the first time they had seen a flaming napkin, and that they were impressed with David's quick thinking. And finally, as the kids bustled out again (and we settled in for coffee), the elderly couple came by on their way out. She thanked us for providing so much energy and life to their dinner, and mentioned how much our children reminded us of her grandchildren in Boston. Whew! (and it is nice to be appreciated, even if for all the wrong reasons!) Let me know if you want us to light up a napkin sometime -

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Jedi in Training

Christopher loves Star Wars. I mean he really LOVES it. He has seen all six movies, plus the animated Clone Wars. He rarely chooses to watch anything else. Every opportunity he gets, he "trains" with a pretend light saber, a play sword, or even just a stick. He spends hours working on his moves, and he even provides his own sound effects to go with his training sessions.

On his first day of first grade, he took his Clone Wars book with him - I guess he is hoping to find like-minded Jedi-wannabes in his new class.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hanna Montana II?

Annika turned 10 on Sunday. It seems like a long time ago that I first came to Sweden, very pregnant, struggling to scrape off old wallpaper in the room that would soon be hers. In the summer heat, at 8+ months pregnant, it wasn't easy. But now her room is beautiful (though it did require help from experts) and she arrived... a couple of weeks late, but healthy.

Now she is so big, so responsible, so independent - wow - a lot happens in 10 years!

As part of her birthday present, she got to get her ears pierced. And remarkably, she has taken care of them herself, without reminders, every morning and night.

But today, she's not too pleased with me. After a week at her new school, she is ready to change again, this time to a music school, to focus on her singing. She would really like to be discovered as the next Hanna Montana. I pointed out that it was pretty unlikely, given that she has never shown an interest in music before, nor has she sung in a choir... but Hanna probably didn't either, and look where she is now. I also pointed out that since I wasn't a famous singer, and David can't carry a tune in a bucket, that heredity was also against her... but apparently my realistic perspective is not appreciated. Besides, look how many points she gets on Singing Star...
Anyway, if she is discovered by somebody driving by as she is Wii-ing away, I will be the first to admit I was wrong!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Their Own Recipie

Annika and Astrid decided to bake cookies. Of course, using a standard recipie was out of the question - they wanted to create their own. I did point out that most recipies are the result of careful testing and measurement to get just the right mix... but to no avail. I overheard some of the planning discussions, especially where they decided that flour was pretty pointless, and the recipie couldn't possible need all that much... so maybe half that amount would do.

Needless to say, the slice-and-bake roll that the recipie promised never materialized. Instead, it was kind of a formless blob that refused to slice. The girls, undeterred, spread out cookie-like shapes and baked them, but were then mystified as to why they didn't really look like cookies. In the end, they melted chocolate bars, dipped the baked results in, and stuck the lot in the fridge. And of course, anything dipped in chocolate is bound to be yummy!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Camping Out Urban Style

The boys decided to sleep out on the balcony. It was such a beautiful evening that I couldn't see why not... though I knew it was pretty doubtful that they would make it all night long. David was out of town, so I couldn't send him out there with the tent... and I knew the morning dew would be heavy.

But it was a great mutual project, and Annika even joined in - for about 15 minutes. By the time the boys finished, a good portion of their bedroom was outside - they even packed (in suitcases) clothes and books, and their outdoor beds were neatly made.

In the end, Christopher lasted until 9.30, when he decided his mattress was more comfortable. I checked on Benjamin about 10, and he then decided he would be better off in my bed!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

What to Do on the Boat?

Sleep, of course!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Zip-Lining Away

In Colorado, we hooked up with the Durrett family, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them again. Allen and Leisa own the "lake next door", which borders the club property (where our family's cabin is), and manage to escape all the club rules. I must admit that we were quite envious, imagining all the things they can do that we can't - morning swims, outdoor showers, ATVs, motorcycles, skeet shooting, horses (though not now), no building permits, no fishing regulations... and of course, the over-the-lake zip line, complete with rescue canoe.

The kids had a blast on the ATVs and the zip line, and we even did a passable job at Valley Ball, a Durrett baseball-like creation played in a valley, where first base is an uphill sprint (at over 9,000 feet above sea level).

Enjoy David's zip line run - prior to canoe rescue, and then Christopher's more successful one. And keep in mind that there is also a catcher on the far side, making sure that nobody crashes into the final tree!

Friday, July 24, 2009

People vs. Animals

Every time we come to the cabin in Colorado, I feel like we are alone. Of course, our family has sort of locked in one end of the area with its cabins, and my aunt is not often here. If we don’t venture down to the rest of the lakes, it is easy to imagine that we are alone with nature. And nature we have seen – a fawn, three deer, several duck families, a suspected beaver, a heron, schools of carp, rainbow trout, a bunny, thousands of ladybugs (literally more than I have seen in my lifetime, all in one place), chipmunks, squirrels and a BEAR (really!).

People sightings are always much more limited, and it always seems such a shame that this area isn’t full of families, kids, friends… Many of the families who have summer houses here are from Colorado Springs, which makes it both easier and more difficult to spend time here. When you are only 45 minutes away from home, small errands and social events surely intrude in a way that they don’t if you are an 8-hour drive (or a 14-hour flight) from home. And if you only have two weeks of vacation, or even three, it is hard to just “hang”.

This year, we are in for the long haul, and have been pleasantly surprised with neighbors! Of course, my family is difficult to keep track of, and we have also been happy to bump in to some of them here.

Our people sightings to date are:

  • My cousin Diane and her friend Ann, on the way home from “market” in Denver

  • My cousin LouAnn, Pieter, Petra and Chase (Petra’s boyfriend) who flew in for a short weekend

  • The Smiths, who turned up on Sunday and provided Will, a perfect playmate and fishing partner for Benjamin

  • The Reynolds (Jean and Don) and their great granddaughter, who took the boys fishing, and then – effortlessly – prepared dinner for us all, plus more fishing (Benjamin was thrilled).

  • Two different club members, names unknown, who allowed Benjamin to use his net to “fish up” their caught fish

  • And an upcoming picnic one lake over – very exciting!

I know it doesn’t seem like much for three weeks, but in comparison, it seems positively crowded!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Always Prepared

I am at my dad’s cabin, now my brother’s, hunting for my dad’s telephone “short list” of his favorite numbers. I open the desk drawer, and find an envelope with 25 $5 bills in it. Why? It costs $5 to fish as a guest, and my dad, never wanting to come up short or not have the exact amount, must have gone to the bank to stock up.

We are having a memorial service for him here on Monday, three years after his death, nearly to the day. So much here is unchanged, and I truly think Christopher expects his Morfar to come wandering in at any moment. Annika and I sat up last night and told stories about the cabin’s history, and how we came to be in such a wonderful place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just Before He Puked

We’re running a little infirmary here in Colorado. On Monday, I took the boys to see the Molly Kathleen, an old gold mine, open for tours. The tour packs you like sardines in a tiny, tiny elevator and drops you 1000 feet underground, and – new since the last time I was there some 15 years ago – they now show mine equipment in operation. Benjamin was a bit off all morning, but he topped it off halfway through the tour when he raised his hand and said, “Excuse me – I feel sick” and then proceeded to puke all over the floor of the mine. We were ushered out immediately, with a special non-sardine-like elevator ride to the top… and I’m pretty sure the other people on the tour were horrified or nauseated…

And as we arrived home, the phone was ringing. Seems Annika contracted the virus running rampant through camp, an Influenza Type A, likely swine flu. She had a fever, and was spending the night in the nurse’s cabin... but she wasn’t lonely. Seems this flu is spreading like wildfire through camps across the US, bringing 3-5 days of fever, and then leaving its victims with the equivalent of a nasty cold. Annika had the company of 4 or 5 others who also spent the night, and the nurse was visited by 20-30 other campers throughout the day. By the next morning, she was ready to come home early. A Tuesday pick-up versus a Thursday pick-up (planned) seemed like a good idea, since the likely prognosis was no activities and her last days in the nurse’s cabin. So, Tuesday morning, Christopher, a puking Benjamin and I set out to pick up Annika and stock up on Junior Motrin. Her fever topped out Tuesday night at 102.9 F, the highest any of my children have ever had, which sent me scrambling to the internet at 3:30 am… but the Motrin did its job, and we’re back in the 100-ish range.

How many more of us will end up with the flu (or the stomach bug) remains to be seen, but we feel a bit like a quarantine post here in the mountains.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Letting Go in Colorado

I do really love the book and the concept of Free Range Kids, the idea that our children should enjoy the same freedoms and adventures that we had when we were young. The theory is great… but putting it into practice?

My childhood summers were spent in Colorado, weeks at a time with my grandmother at her cabin. My mother was often there, and my father joined when he could, though the bank was not generous with vacation time (two weeks, taken together, June through August, not at Christmas). I’m not really sure what my grandmother did all day, but we – my cousins, my brother and I – were free to wander, as long as we were safely tucked inside if it rained or if there was thunder, which was essentially every afternoon. Then we would be shut up in the sunroom with a deck of cards (to play “spite and malice”) and a TV, trying to make the motorized antenna point towards either Colorado Springs (a better bet in thunderstorms) or Denver (which had the more rerun-intensive channel).

The point of the whole area around the cabin – a 50-member-50-cabin community tucked in the middle of National Park land – was fishing. I could never understand who would want to spend time fishing when there was so much to explore. Our explorations took us all over the place. I’m sure my grandmother had no idea what we got up to – if she had known, she would never have let us wander. We rock climbed on piles of boulders, exploring the “lion’s den” (with no safety gear). We made forts at the base of trees which were not even on our property, rather on the next door property (but the owners were old and never there, which left their lake free for exploration). We took scrap lumber, never mind the rusty nails, and built a bridge to a rock in the lake. We pretended to smoke real cigarettes (unlit) in a cave until they got soggy and fell apart (well, actually, she did find out about that one and was not pleased…). We made garages and houses for our matchbox cars under the deck, possibly undermining the foundations. We played Kick-the-Can in the dark. We rode wagons down the hill at breakneck speed – without helmets, elbow or knee pads. And somehow we managed to do all of the above with nothing more than a few skinned knees… and one slight concussion…

So now I’m back, for the first extended stay at the cabin in years. This year I will be here a total of three weeks, something I haven’t done since high school. And now I have children of my own, and I want to share with them the joys of my youth. And I am afraid to let them go. Think of the dangers the mountains present – I helped the boys climb a rock and they raced to the top and danced around, never mind the 2-story drop on the far side. Benjamin loves the fishing, but I’m much happier when he stays on our end of the lake, where the marshes make it unlikely that he could fall in over his head. I tried to show Christopher the lion’s den, but chickened out when I realized that he might fall, and a fall on those boulders could be deadly. I haven’t taken the boys up the valley yet – and don’t want to send them alone for fear of mountain lions. And I would love for them to build a fort… preferably somewhere close to home! I’m working on it… but letting go is hard to do!

Put to the Test

The boys have given up on socks for the summer. Benjamin has been sticking with his Crocs, which are practical in some ways, not in others... and Christopher has been wearing any and all of his shoes barefoot. So I decided it was time to get serious about sandals - Keenes - for both of them. Christopher was, typically, very excited to have something new to wear... and Benjamin was, typically, reluctant to consider the prospect. But by the time we tried them on and they both did a race around REI, they were sold. Blue (or Newport) for Benjamin, green (or Pine) for Christopher.

Within 12 hours, the shoes had been put to the test - rock climbing in Garden of the Gods club, exploring the Cliff Dwellings, stomping on the ground during the Indian dances, trudging through the muck at the end of the lake - and finally, testing the premise that the shoes are indeed machine washable. (They are!)

And by the way, the fish they "caught" was pretty dead... Benjamin swore it was swimming, but given the stench (and the stench of the shoes) it is doubtful. But they are happy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Benjamin's First Time at Camp

Benjamin tried camp overnight last year and loved it. This year - at just-turned-8 - he was ready to try two weeks. Annika would be there - added security for everyone - though she would stay 3 1/2 weeks. We got him a trunk, stocked it with extra clothes, underwear, towels, sunscreen, and a ton of other stuff he needed for his two weeks (and Annika was so excited about camp that she packed herself!).

Benjamin survived the two weeks, and though he had the option to stay on, he decided that two weeks was enough. He had a great time, and everyone agreed that he did really well. A few notable points
  • he was the youngest boy in the session
  • he fished faithfully every day, naming the two fish he caught (Sam and ...)
  • he tried arts and crafts and horseback riding
  • he got a bit sick (cold and cough) but was not homesick
  • and he made friends.
We are now full of stories about the Ghost of Florissant, tips on how to hold a flashlight, and information about fishing and general out-of-doors skills. He wants to go back... not next summer but the summer after. But I'm hopeful that next summer he'll be ready again.

Monday, July 13, 2009

If You Have a Hammer...

... is everything a nail?

A colleague of mine used this analogy once when discussing business analysis tools, but it is equally applicable, apparently, with small boys and soccer.

I just finished a week of tennis camp in Vermont, and when Christopher (age 6) wanted to play, I was delighted. We took our balls and rackets to Rob's front yard and started hitting - anything goes. Of course, Christopher just finished a week of soccer camp in Nantucket, and clearly had soccer on the brain. We finished our tennis game with a score of 11 goals to 10.

And then later in the golf shop, Christopher was putting away on the little indoor green. Every time he got a ball in the hole, he would jump up with his hands in the touchdown position and shout "Goal!"

Friday, July 03, 2009

Introducing Josiah Hubert Armstrong!

We arrived in Denver, got the kids set up for camp, delivered them to Florissant... and waited. Finally, on the 2nd of July, Jed made his entrance! Welcome to our nephew and cousin!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mom, What's Hail?

Just two days ago, Benjamin asked me what hail was - I had mentioned it, but had forgotten that he had never seen it. Sweden, a land without thunderstorms, stands in direct contrast to Colorado, where thunderstorms roll through daily. Annika, Benjamin and I began our drive to the cabin just after an enormous hail storm covered the ground with at least an inch of hail. In all the years of coming to the cabin, I have never before seen so much hail. Where the road wasn't white, it was green with aspen leaves knocked down by the hail. Fortunately, we missed the downpour, but the road was washed away, and had enormous ruts - glad I took a 4-wheel drive with extra insurance from the rental company!

Of course, with the downpour, hail and thunder, the power and phone were out, and the water, too, since the pump runs on electricity. A & B weren't too keen on staying overnight with candles and flashlights. Even after a dinner in town, power was still out, so we opted for a hotel. (My cousin, Diane, and her friend Ann were happy in Lou's cabin with candles, wine and romances - and reported that the power eventually came back in the middle of the night, some 10 hours after the storm.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Midsummer in Switzerland

We had a great midsummer weekend in Switzerland. The Tour de Suisse passed through, with a finish line just below our house for the second-to-last stage. Although it was a bit of a pain that the whole village was shut down, the kids loved the energy and excitement. The whole day was spent in preparation, setting up barriers, traffic patterns, etc. for the racers. And even better, the central square offered free activities for kids - bouncy castle, giant trampoline-bungie cord jumping, wall climbing, and more. The finish line was packed with people long before the racers even apperared, and the crowds were held in place with the freebies being handed out. Our threesome got t-shirts (one size fits all... for the next 25 years), water bottles, hats and clapper things.

The race finally came through, but we were so busy with the activites that we hardly noticed the flash of color as they passed...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Christopher's ABCs

We have been working on basic literacy over the past few weeks - for both Benjamin (now a big 8) and Christopher (a week shy of 6). Having two languages makes it difficult, and half the time, I'm not sure if we are helping or hurting the boys by focusing on English. Maybe we should wait until they have reading down in Swedish... but I just feel like Benjamin is already late and I don't want to waste a whole summer... and Christopher has enough speech and language "creativity" that I don't want to wait until next year in his kindergarten class of 26 (!) kids.

This evening at a pizza restaurant, Christopher had the opportunity to write the whole alphabet. he couldn't really do it, but with help he managed. He was so proud of himself and his new "cheat sheet" for his ABC song (that he never really learned properly) that he sang all evening and begged me to put him in video. So here he is!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Run Up the Flagpole

At Annika's end-of-school celebration, one of the parents gave a speech to the children, a traditon. She had asked the kids for help with ideas of what to do if the summer gets boring or doesn't go as planned. Each had done a drawing or written a suggestion, the best of which were distributed in a booklet after the event. Of course, during the speech, she showed the "best" of the drawings, three from Annika's class... and the lead drawing was Annika's. I should be a proud parent...

But the drawing was titled, "What to do if Mamma spends too much time on the computer" and featured a laptop being run up the flagpole with a nervous, fingernail-chewing woman at the bottom. So, that's me, I guess, the fingernail-chewer who spends too much time on the computer. The one who refuses to pick her daughter up early and take her to the shopping center at 2 because she still has work to do. The one who doesn't automatically run home and pick up the latest forgotten item (homework, gym clothes...) in the middle of the day. The one who limits TV time, but uses it shamelessly (or shamefully) as a babysitter so she can get some work done (or blog, as I'm doing now.) The one who is thrilled at Annika's biking independence because it takes the pressure off. The one who has said - when asked repeatedly why I can't conform to all of her wishes - "Why don't you ask your pappa!"

I guess I thought it would be more equal, this kid-raising thing. I grew up in a traditional family, where my mom was responsible for 99% of the household day-to-day, and my dad came home at 6 for dinner. Sports activities, music classes, school pick-up and drop-off, groceries and meal planning - that was all my mom. Not that she wasn't smart. Not that she wasn't qualified. Not that she wasn't extremely well-educated. It was just the way it was done. I wonder if she would have gone back to work eventually when Rob and I were both in school. I guess she probably would have if she hadn't been busy with her 14-year battle with cancer... a full-time job of another sort. (A clue - when I was 2, she put me in daycare and taught Spanish to Peace Corps volunteers at the local university, but that ended when Rob came along, and then cancer came along when he was just 2.)

Anyway, I do enjoy my life, and I have created and chosen my job because of the flexibility that it offers. However, it does bother me sometimes that all the "flexibility" in our family is mine... but it bothers me more when the kids only see the same thing that I saw growing up. I want Annika to have the view that women can "have it all" (though that theory may be a little outdated these days) and I want the boys to see that dads can take an equal role in the day-to-day. When I ask Annika what she wants to be when she grows up, and she says a mom... well, that's not a bad thing, but what about a doctor? A scientist? A guard at Gröna Lund (Christopher's career plan when he's not planning on being a janitor)? Why should being a mom exclude all else?

After the event, I asked Annika why it was my computer that was up the flagpole, and not David's. (We are an equal-opportunity data household.) She said that it was because he's always travelling anyway... So maybe it isn't such a bad thing to have the household day-to-day. And now the TV babysitter is almost done, so I must sign off and get back to that day-to-day.


I was at Annika's last-day-of-school celebrations, watching her sing the national anthem (of Sweden) with confidence. I don't know it, though I am starting to recognize the tune after so many school events. But truthfully, I don't think she would recognize The Star Spangled Banner if she heard it...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

You Mean He's NOT With You?!?

I did it. That bad mother thing. Even though I always count to three - over and over again. I count after school, at the pool, at the beach, skiing, in the car - always to three to make sure everyone is accounted for... but still...

Tuesday was a crazy day, in so many ways. I played tennis, as usual, with the group of 8-ish that I usually play with, the last game of the season. And we had a luncheon for one of the ladies who is moving back to England. Then after pick-up, I was planning to chop veggies for 35 - Annika's class party that evening, and I had organized a babysitter to take and pick up Christopher from his "graduation dinner" at his dagis. Everything planned, all pieces in place.

Well, the tennis was fun for the first 45 minutes, but then on a deep shot, I ran for the ball and felt that pop in my calf muscle - that muscle that has been bothering me for the past few weeks - and realized that my game/set/match/season was over. (BTW - I got the shot, hit it deep, and scored the point - the bright side of my injury.) So I limped out early, home to get ready for the luncheon. On the way, I stopped by Apoteket for a wrap for my leg, and then took the opportunity to buy a few kilos of veggies for the evening.

The luncheon was lovely, hosted by the wife of the Belgian ambassador, and a sub for our game-of-eight. But long. And I didn't drive, thinking I would help the environment/avoid parking in town. And at 3.45, I started to panic. "I really have to leave - but I can take a cab..." thinking that I only had 30 minutes to make it home and pick up two boys. But of course, as always happens, that first one to break the leaving ice starts the flood, and goodbyes were said among all. In the meantime, I saw that the mom of one of Benjamin's friends had called, so I called her back. "Could Benjamin play?" - Absolutely. Now down to 15 minutes, having only one boy makes all the difference. Then traffic. School finishing parites, trucks full of beer-drinking graduates... chose the wrong street... friend's car almost out of gas... called the dagis... finally home at 4.25. Dash to pick up Christopher, home again, chopping veggies like a madwoman, hobbling around the kitchen with a knife.

And then... 5.05 the phone rings. Answer while still chopping. "Are you going to bring Benjamin over soon?" asks Benjamin's friend's mom. "You mean he isn't already there?" Yes, Benjamin had been left at school, through a huge miscommunication on my part. I had just assumed the mom was still at school when we spoke, but she wasn't, having picked up her child a good 30 minutes previously. Duh. She was on her way by the school anyway, so she picked him up - the last kid there - and explained the miscommunication to the staff.

Benjamin, typically, was completely unphased by the whole thing. In fact, he experienced it as a good day - not only did he (eventually) get to play with his best friend, but he also got an extra strawberry juice at fritids (after-school). So, no harm done, veggies chopped, three kids eventually in place... just a lingering feeling of guilt that I actually let one slip through my fingers.

And it is such a good thing I don't have four...

Saturday, June 06, 2009

And He's Eight!

It was Benjamin's eighth birthday today, and Sweden's national day. We usually take a day trip to Sandhamn since Benjamin loves it there so much and has such fond memories of our past summers there (and since he thinks the house we rented belongs to him). It usually isn't the best of weather, though usually it is better than it was this year! Rain, wind and generally dismal conditions prevailed, and we couldn't really think up a reason to be outside more than absolutely necessary. So we went to see Night at the Museum 2 (though the kids were still laughing at the previews for Ice Age 3 long after the feature film had started - can't wait 'till it comes out!). Then we went bowling, which - thanks to the lane guards - is actually fun to do as a family. Benjamin won, which was only fitting. Of course, his bowling looked more like pool, with at least two ricochets for each shot!

Somehow, I just don't have it in me to plan two birthday parties before the summer. Benjamin's class has a picnic planned for the 7th (Sunday), so that leaves out this weekend. Then it is "full fart" to the end of the school year, with class parties, football parties, football matches, etc. I think we will end up taking two families to the laser game place... maybe later this month...

Toothfairy Overtime

It has been a busy week for the tooth fairy.
  • Annika lost one of her molars (they're just popping out - loose for two days and then gone)
  • Benjamin (thankfully) lost one of his front, lower teeth - one where the permanent tooth had already come in behind, and one that we had an appointment with the dentist to remove. Good that he lost it without professional help!
  • And Christopher lost his first tooth. Yep - my baby is growing up.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Before and After

Annika has wanted long hair - and has been growing it out for the past three years. Every haircut has been an ordeal of just how little the hairdresser can clip. Brushing her long hair is also an ordeal, and every couple of days she chooses to get in the shower with a handful of conditioner (a bucketload?) and a brush to get out all the tangles. (Of course, this leaves the floor of the shower feeling something like a skating rink for the next one in line...)

And hair, in my book, is something that always grows back. Any decisions about it are hers to make, and if she truly wants to die it green and shave parts of it - though I would in no way be thrilled - at least it is not a tattoo!

But last week she decided that she wanted it shorter, RIGHT NOW, of course. I booked her a time, but with the end of school fast approaching, appointments are hard to come by. Her time is booked next week... but we were at the mall and went by the walk-in place where RIGHT NOW was an option, and voila!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Planning Ahead

I'm that mom... the only mom at the park without cookies, the only one who's kids don't have water bottles at sports practice, the one without tissues or wipes... Well, sometimes I'm a good mom.

Annika went on her school overnight to a camping-in-a-tent kind of place. We got some packing suggestions - extra clothes, sleeping bag, "underställ" (which I took to mean a sleeping bag pad, but which apparently meant long underwear to sleep in), hat and swimsuit. Being a former boy scout (ok, explorer), I added to her list - towel, bug repellent, sunblock - and she came up with iPod speakers and flashlight on her own.

So the result? She was plenty warm given her Arctic quality backpacking sleeping bag (mine) and didn't really need the "underställ" that I didn't pack - and she was comfy since she had the sleeping bag pad that she didn't really need. And her bug repellent and sun block came back empty, since she was the only one who thought of it. And she even got kudos for the flashlight. "Wow, your mom plans ahead!" was the comment from one of the other moms. Yes.

My Little Swedes

We went out on the boat yesterday - one of the first truly beautiful days of the season. Sunny, warm, no wind, calm water, everything blooming - really, really beautiful. Of course, we were busy with football matches and Annika's overnight, so we didn't really get out until after 4... but we packed a picnic, dropped anchor off Grinda, and just enjoyed. 

All three of the kids swam, for a sum total of 12 seconds - 4 seconds each! David and I (wisely) stayed wrapped in fleeces and watched, armed with towels and blankets for the swimmers. Clearly not being born in this country has had a significant impact on our inner temperature controls... or maybe it is age that keeps us warm and dry, rather than diving into water that makes you gasp just to put your big toe in. 

And I enjoyed being a boat wife, some thing I vowed I would never be. When we bought the boat, nine years ago (almost to the day), I promised and swore that I would know just as much about it as David - that I would be able to drive, dock, set lines, fix problems - everything that he could do. 

And for the first few years, I did just that. I had had more experience with captain-ing a sailing boat, so I was the choice for all docking manoeuvers. Those first years, every time David tried to dock, something would go wrong, he'd get in a tight spot... and then say something like, "Dammit - you do it!" and leave me the wheel. So there I'd be, trying not to hit someone else's precious boat, trying to get ours worked into a slip without injuring it - or us. All in all, a great learning experience! 

But now, David's skill at the helm is equal to mine, or better, so I'm no longer in demand in the tight spots. And of course, I missed out on running lines, so he does that, too. So I made and served dinner, sat on the front with the kids, screaming at every tiny bit of wave and wake, lounged on the back bench - and generally had a carefree time! Not so bad - this boat wife stuff!

Of course, the kids are also so much more engaged in the whole boating thing than they were before. We bought the boat when Annika was a baby, and had a wonderful summer when she was too young to move around. We could easily put her below, playing with toys, and be confident that she would be happy and stay put. The summer we had a newborn, 2- and 4-year olds was tough - too many unaware of their own mortality, and no way to leave any combination below deck. But now we have kids that can get on the boat themselves, kids who don't have to be passed through hatches but can climb around on the boat themselves, kids who enjoy being on the water (and don't just sleep), kids who can maybe even help load, unload and generally be counted on to not fall in at inopportune times (or at all). And of course, kids who can swim - what a difference!

Our next goal (after nine years) is to master the Swedish art of "docking on a deserted island" - drop a stern anchor, bow to shore, tied off on a tree. We're not too confident just yet, but it when in Rome... (or when in the archipelago...)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

David's Home!

David was away sailing this week, and got back yesterday. Today, he took the boys fishing and frog hunting - apparently with great success! This is the stuff dads are especially good at (and moms would prefer to see electronically!).

Career Choices 2

So this is the theory lesson - David teaching Christopher one of his favorite sports - golf. Annika and Benjamin are also having a lesson with the pro. 

And here's the result - a swing somewhere between log-splitting and ice hockey. Looks like we have a way to go before he becomes the next Tiger Woods!

(and by the way, I have now learned how to rotate a movie before I post it, but next time I will try to remember to NOT rotate the camera!)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Career Choices

I couldn't figure out what to call this shot - it was somewhere between "Career Choices" and "Annika Doesn't Know How Good She Has It!". So let's start with the career choices...

Annika would make a wonderful teacher - she patiently works with Benjamin (and sometimes Christopher) on reading, writing and math. She likes putting together math worksheets, and sometimes writes "books" of exercises. Benjamin will eagerly do any of his homework assignments with her - somehow she is a lot more fun than me. 

Benjamin would make a wonderful writer or an inventor. Instead of focusing on any one task, he is always off in a fantasy land, telling long stories about friends, bad guys, etc. Or he is building forts, hide-outs and homes for stray animals out of pretty much anything - trash, scraps of wood, couch cushions. Of course, if the creative side doesn't pan out, he can always train as a masseuse - he loves giving massages, and is quite serious about it. Though any one massage rarely lasts more than a minute, he is very methodical, working with fingers, palms and elbows to give the best effect.

Christopher has his heart set on either being a cleaner (he wants to quit school before it has even started to come and clean my office) or a security guard (to keep the bad guys away from the local amusement park, Gröna Lund). He actually wants to live at Gröna Lund - and has plans for moving all the rides inside his house in the winter time. 

Of course, the boys may give up these dreams in favor of being... hairdressers. Yep - last night, after her shower, Annika made an irresistable offer to them - "Boys, would you like to dry my hair?" They lept at the opportunity, bringing in a bench for her to sit on, a book for her to read (Christopher's current favorite - Kasper the football/soccer player) and then divided up tasks. One manned the blow dryer while the other manned the brush. And Annika enjoyed every minute! 

Thursday, May 07, 2009


At dinner this evening, Annika informed us that she had broken up with her boyfriend today. News to me - I didn't even know she had a boyfriend. Of course, she haughtily informed us - "I've had three". The first one I knew about - a neighbor that she played with from time to time. Then it was a 2-day relationship with a boy in her class, and now, the mysterious number three. So mysterious, in fact, that she couldn't even remember HIS NAME - just some guy in second grade, and the relationship lasted a total of 24 hours... or less. 

The breaking up part is getting easier, she tells us. The first one was hard, but now she just says, "I break up. We can still be friends." and all is fine. 

Benjamin then informed us that one of the girls chases him and William around, trying to - horrors - kiss them on the cheek. So far, they've been lucky to escape without... what? Injured pride? 

Which all brings back memories... I think I chased a few boys during my elementary school years, and I'm positive I "went steady" with every boy in my class sometime before the end of 6th grade. My mom just didn't get it - "going steady" to her meant something just shy of an engagement ring, but at 10 (or 11, 9 or 12) you're still just getting used to the terminology. So my current strategy is just to listen and enjoy. I'm sure I'll be reporting a case of the cooties soon!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Biking Independence, Part II

So with her newfound bike-to-school independence, Annika informed me this morning that after school, she wants to bike to the... LIBRARY and check out some books. Wooo hooo! (and I said yes, in case you were wondering)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Rant on Manners

Oh, the new generation. In my day (you know - when we had to walk to school, uphill, both ways), my mother had definite rules on manners, and especially on phone conversations. I had 5-minute limits on phone calls, one call per night, and I was always required to be polite. "Hello, Armstrong's residence, Leigh speaking" was the only way to answer the phone at our house. And if my mom had ever caught wind of rudeness, my 5-minute-calls would have been out the window. 

So here's the latest in the girl sagas that have me annoyed right now -

T rings, asks to play. A says "Sorry, but today I can't but..." and never gets to finish because T has hung up on her, ostensibly to call someone else with a higher liklihood of playing,  Right Now. T routinely hangs up on Annika... (and let me tell you that if I ever catch Annika hanging up on anyone, her phone minutes will come to an abrupt end.)

And then there was the whole "unless something better comes along" attitude. I'm sorry, but you have to commit to your friends. Annika was at D's before soccer practice, and D asked her if she could come over and have dinner after practice. At practice, Annika asked me if it was ok, which it was. But when she told D, D said, "Sorry, but I asked S instead." Annika had a very long face - "Mamma, do you think D doesn't like me?" 

I hate to see what it will be when boys are involved... by the way, I was never (ever) allowed to call boys. Never. Not even my boyfriend (now my husband). I don't suppose it is the same nowadays...

Waiting... not so patiently...

for academic success. Yep, my son (Benjamin) is turning 8 in a month, and he can't read. It isn't really his fault, and he isn't failing at some academic level - it just isn't expected. We did decide to hold him back a year in kindergarten since his language was not quite where it should have been, so he is a bit older than the other kids in his class.... but he's still in "nollan" or "zero-class" where the expectations are... well... just about zero. By the end of this  year, he should be able to recognize his name, know the basic shapes (we're talking square, triange, circle here, not diamond, pentagon or parallelogram) and count to 10. 

He's going to summer camp this summer, where he won't be able to read what activity he should go to next. Nor will he be able to write the obligatory Sunday-meal-ticket letter home, and even though I have already bought check-the-box stationery, he can't really use it without help. I don't know what he will do at reading time, when other kids his age (second-graders, surely) are reading chapter books...

But now an article in the New York Times makes me feel much better about the whole idea. Seems as though he will catch up in a couple of years, and maybe even be more balanced and well-adjusted, due to his years of play. Right. One can only hope! For the full text of the article - see the link below:

Friday, May 01, 2009

Nike Dreams and iPod Reality

I love running - at least the idea of running. I love looking at the shoes, the clothes, and enjoy the latest in outerwear technology. The electronic component is even better - how fun to run when you can know everything about your run - your distance, time, heartbeat, etc. I bought the Nike-iPod-thingy-for-your-shoe last year, and think the idea is great.  

However, I'm not sure what my Nike-iPod combination really does for me. Unfortunately, all it showed me about my running was that I am not a runner. I didn't meet any of my goals, and I failed at all my challenges. (On that note, I thought the challenges were pretty badly matched. I wanted a challenge - like "Run 50 km in a month" - to keep me motivated. In the challenge I joined, most of the members had reached the goal on the second day. Not very encouraging for the rest of us...) I did realize that I was running about once every three weeks... and that does not a runner make.

So now comes spring, new weather, new motivation - and summer pants that no longer fit. I have started getting up at 5.30 every morning to do something... run, Wii Fit, eliptical... something. And it is going... well... Anyway, I'm not as fit as I once was, nor am I getting fit as fast as I used to. But so far, I'm on track to meet my first Nike-iPod goal, and today was the first run (of 8 in this fitness go 'round) that I actually started getting a "wind" - we're not going for second wind here - I'll settle for the first one. 

So here's hoping I can keep it up!

Happy Valborg

I took the kids to the Stocksund Valborg bonfire last night - high time to celebrate the end of winter! We biked by a friend of Annika's, then down to the waterfront park, taking two extra kids with us (their dad was walking with their third). Of course, the moment we arrived, all 5 kids vanished in the chaos... 

Benjamin's eyes lit up when he saw the fire and the waterfront reeds, racing to the water's edge to get a six-footer that he could light in the bonfire. I tried (in vain) to point out to him that - if it indeed caught fire - then what? But he was already dreaming of lighting things on fire and was beyond reach. (Consolation note - he was not the only one with that thought.)

Christopher found some friends and a tree to climb, and I had a moment's panic when I saw a kid on the highest branches (not mine, whew!) . Otherwise he busied himself investigating the many small campfires around. 

David (age 6, not mine) also raced for the reeds, revealing a squashed marshmellow he had brought in his pocket that he was hoping to grill.  

And Annika and Ellen both raced off to the waterfront with some football friends, all of whom seemed to be fascinated by what some older boys were doing (I have no idea...)

Which left me, the coat lady, wandering around, trying to catch an occasional glimpse of my children (and the two extra) in the crowds, chatting with friends and enjoying the warmth of the fire. It was a stunning evening - in other words, it wasn't raining or snowing - and the fire was in full blaze. (We missed last year's when they apparently couldn't get it lit, but the scent of lighter fluid in the air made it clear that this year, they were taking no chances.) And it was a wonderful time to be in Sweden - where my children could race around with friends and strangers, with all the natural dangers presented by fire and water - and I could be confident that somewhere, somehow, some adult would step in if they got too close to danger.

It was admittedly quite hard to convince the masses that it was time to leave. I found the boys huddled in a group by the water where an older boy was demonstrating the combination of aerosol cans and fire - when they weren't lighting fireworks. Annika and Ellen had lost interest in the older boys, and were playing tag with 6-year-olds (hope this phase lasts!)

I had previously left the car at Annika's friend's house, a wise move since the kids were pretty exhausted after their evening. And it was pretty dark at 10pm, when we finally left. It turned out to be a good plan, though Christopher still managed to throw a fit the entire way back to the car - it is beyond me how a kid can both cry uncontrollably yet still see and breathe enough to ride a bike. All in all, a fun evening!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Newfound Independence

Annika has started biking to school - no small feat, since her school is a fair distance away. But there are bike lanes almost the whole way there, and few streets to cross. Letting her take this new step was not easy... we had a few test runs, and the first morning, I went halfway with her, through the worst of the traffic. But she is careful and responsible, and seems to have grown a couple of years in maturity with her newfound independence. 

However, it's not all fun and games... 

Annika started out riding with M, a friend from school that also likes horses. The two of them spent the first independence week riding early, stopping by the stables to pet their favorite horses. But then L started riding, too. First problem, M and L don't like each other. Second problem, you can't ride three abreast. And L, being somewhat manipulative, both literally and figuratively, managed to position herself by Annika, cutting her off if she tried to ride up with M for a while. So... take turns, thought Annika.

Week 2, L called to ride with Annika, but she had already made plans with M, and told her. L arrives at school with her mother, in tears, and proceeds to cry all morning. Huge guilt. Much appeasing on Annika's part. But finally everyone seemed happy, and the three of them left school together, biking by the stables on the way home.

Week 3, Sunday night. Late. SMS from L asking to ride with Annika on Monday morning. Annika already has plans with M, and has promised that they will just be the two of them. Annika stressed. If she tells L that she already has plans with M, she risks a repeat of week 2. If she tells L to come, then she risks the wrath of M. I (not so wisely, it turns out) suggest that Annika not answer, and then at school on Monday, invite L to ride on Tuesday. 

Monday morning. Hectic. Late. Lunch required. At breakfast table. Phone rings, twice, L both times. I tell Annika to either answer it or put it on silent, so on silent it goes. Annika dashes out, late to meet M, but on her way. 9am. My phone rings. Annika is crying so hard she can't speak. "L's mom is really, really angry at me, and I don't know why" I finally manage to pry from her. Noon. Speak to L's mom, who accuses Annika of arranging to ride with L, then not turning up, and hanging up on her several times. Turns out she took her other two children to school, leaving L at home, waiting for Annika because she had "promised she would come" (a statement I know to be untrue). So she lays into Annika - "Don't know how you could do something like this... Thought better of you..." in front of everybody. Makes a big deal of how her daughter will be late because of Annika (she wasn't - arrived on her bike with T in plenty of time). Had a long talk with L's mom, though I think neither of us is pleased with the outcome.

End result - Annika is afraid of L's mom (after knowing her for 5 years). Biking has lost some of its glamour, moving from a step towards independence to one more power game in the social network. L and Annika are friends again, after much sucking up on Annika's part. And on it goes... Yesterday, L invited Annika to ride, then invited several more (but not M), insisting that Annika would ride across town, pick up E, then back to L's house, then to school (I put my foot down on that one.)

So what are our lessons?
  • It is always better to face your problems head on, rather than postponing them, hoping they will go away.
  • You shouldn't screen your calls (though the important corollary is that just because you have a mobile phone doesn't mean you are perpetually available, at all times, in all circumstances.)
  • You should never yell at someone else's kid.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Simmärke Scam

When I took swimming lessons, we had little cards when we had achieved certain goals - Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Intermediate (I think) and Swimmer (which wasn't available until you were 12.. or 14...). That's it. Low cost - like free. 5 levels.

Benjamin just finished his swimming lessons (school sponsored - ain't Sweden great?) and he qualified for 7 (that's seven!) medals. Each at 35 SEK, of course. So we could purchase the Blue Lifering, the Bather, the Silver Frog, the Gold Frog, the Silver Fish, the Gold Fish, and the "Back-Frog" Blue. He has also previously qualified for the Dunker, the Turtle, the Blue Crab, the Red Crab, the Silver Penguin and the Gold Penguin - 6 more medals. If I bought all 13, it would cost 455 SEK, about $54. 

The medals are designed to be encouraging, I guess, though some children are clearly more motivated by them than others. Some pools require you to do lessons to qualify for medals (at an additional cost) while others just let you prove your case when the lifeguard has extra time. Annika, who is both motivated by the medals and a good swimmer, had an expensive summer last year at our local pool. The lifeguard had lots of free time, and she qualified for 2-3 new medals every day. 35 SEK here, 70 SEK there...

The medals are also designed to progress - silver frog for 10 meters in shallow water, gold for the same in deep. The first medal - the Dunker - you can get just by putting your head under water, the next one - the Bather - is doing the same five times. 

In the end, we settled for just three - the gold frog (10 m in deep water), the gold fish (25 m in deep water) and the blue lifebuoy (swim with clothing). And summer hasn't even started...

Of course, the best moment during the whole swim school "showing" (picture parents on their way to work, padding around barefoot with business trousers rolled up) was at the diving platforms. Each kid got to show how they could jump in and swim to the side. After the first little girl daintily jumped in and swam to the side, it was Benjamin's turn. "Cannonball!!!" and we were all just slightly more damp...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kuh Dat Why

is Christopher's new phrase. In case you were wondering, it means either "You know why?" or "Because".
A typical conversation is:

"Mamma - I say sumting?"
"Yes, you may say something", I reply.
"Mamma, I go football snart - kuh dat why?"
"Why are you going to football soon?" I answer, trying to stick with just one language.
"Kuzz I ah-muss sex." (Because I'm almost six - for everyone who needs a translation, which, unfortunately, is most of us.)

I so hope he survives kindergarden next year...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Here we are in Switzerland for Easter again - expecting a forecast of miserable weather that has turned out to be beautiful. We decided not to ski - partly due to the temps (skiing on slush?) and partly since we have had so much skiing that we are "skied out". The kids have been all over the place on their scooters, and we have taken excursions to Zermatt and Leukerbad. Yesterday was a three hour swimming extravaganza at the thermal baths at Leukerbad that left us all wrinkled and exhausted. 
The Easter Bunny came to visit, and the kids managed a reasonably peaceful Easter Egg hunt, dividing up the loot at the end with Annika driving the process - again remarkably peaceful. 
Happy Easter to all!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The New Nils

When Benjamin was three, he was in daycare with Nils. Nils was a bigger boy, and popular, and Benjamin looked up to him. Over the past three years, Nils stories have made their way into our family history. Despite the fact that Benjamin and Nils rarely played together, Benjamin seemed full of information about Nils, his family, and his escapades.
I guess it is really an issue of conversation and wanting to participate that kept Nils in our day-to-day lives. Benjamin wants so much to be a part of things, yet lacks the life experiences for really interesting stories and comments. His active imagination doesn't really work on himself - we all know too well what he has done - or not done - to be taken in by a story. But Nils... Nils has been a character in all kinds of adventures.
Despite the fact that Nils and Benjamin have not been in the same school for 2 years, the stories have continued. Until now... and we have Marcel... the new Nils.
I am sure we have a writer in the making...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Steamin' Fun!

Christopher's new word is "steamin'" - as in "It is steamin' hot outside!" However, he seems to have given up all other modifiers in favor of the "steamin" awesomeness of the word steamin. Like -
  • It's steamin' cold outside.
  • I'm steamin' good at Star Wars (Lego version on the DS - his favorite game)
  • I'm steamin' fast

and many others which are too numerous to name. I can't figure out where it comes from...