What's New at the Pålssons'

 

What's New at the Pålssons'
Self-absorbed rambling, useless trivia and shameless bragging

May 27, 2005 – Music lessons

Our ripped-out bathroom still isn't dry. We got a new dehumidifier in there the other day, and a specialist is coming Monday to check out the extent of the damage. My moisture detector is showing moisture on the laundry room side of the shower wall. The specialist will check what needs to be done (if anything) in the sauna and the laundry room. Wah!

We got word the other day that Max got accepted to Sollentuna's "culture school" for both piano lessons (class with two other little kids) and trumpet lessons (alone with instructor, 20 min./week)! Max is excited and wants to start right away. (It doesn't start until fall.) I'm certainly happy.

The admissions lady pointed out that Max will have to take a break from trumpet with he loses his front teeth. I hadn't thought of that. They usually start kids on trumpet after they have their adult teeth, but she agreed Max should start in the fall (unless he's lost teeth by then), due to his strong interest.

Looks like we have a nice weekend coming up. It's about 63 degrees F. and sunny. No doubt some crazy Swedes will be swimming.

Have a good weekend!


May 22 – Conflict resolution

Max was playing here with his friend Nils today. Nils was trying to put together two pieces of plastic car track. Max lost patience and grabbed them away from Nils to put them together. Naturally, Nils put up a fight. "I had that! I had that! Give it back now!" Max refused and kept trying to put it together. Nils grabbed the pieces from Max with force, and Max ran off sobbing and furious.

Nils waited a couple of seconds and then went after him, but Max screamed at him to go away. Then Nils started saying, "It's okay, you just wanted to help. Here, you can have them back. Here, take them. Please come back and play." Max calmed down quick and came back.

"Let's both say That was silly of me and I'm sorry at the same time," Nils suggested. (It was obvious they've done this before.) They both did. After 10 more seconds, Max said, "Nils, I'm the one who started it." He looked over at me, maybe for encouragement. I was standing behind Nils and gave Max two thumbs up. He looked back and Nils and continued, "It was my fault. I'm sorry." Nils said, "That's okay. It was my fault, too." Then they played great for hours longer.

I was so surprised, impressed and happy about their ability to apologize and make up so quickly—and without any prompting from me. They were so nice to each other. A year ago this would have been a major scene, and it would have taken at least 10 minutes to help them reach a shaky truce. Max has come a long way, but Nils, in particular, showed amazing self-control and generosity compared to where he was least year, when sometimes we parents kept them separated for weeks at a time because of frequent melt-downs.

Nils' parents are great. However, my guess is that Birgitta gets credit for teaching Max and Nils (two headstrong boys) to be kind to each other and resolve their differences. She's the one who spends hours with them every day. I'm sure she's given them most of their conflict-solving abilities.

Birgitta has been such a great daycare provider, I feel like an important source of support and commiseration will be gone when Max starts school. She always knows right "where Max is at," and of course she's much more objective than Bengt and I are. We ask her if we're uncertain how to interpret something or what we should do, whether it's about an issue we're having or health matters. She raised two boys herself and has seen countless kids over the years.

When I pick Max up and he and Nils come running to me, asking if Nils can come home with us, I first look to Birgitta, who can signal whether the two boys are likely to be able to enjoy each other's company for another couple of hours.

Plus she is just the kindest person you can imagine. I'm really going to miss her!!

By the way, Max got over his clingy phase about two weeks ago. Now he wants to go to his friends' houses, and he doesn't react when we leave.

Max said something today that made me burst out laughing: He and I were watching Star Trek Next Generation, an episode called "Lessons". This is the one where Captain Picard falls in love with Lt. Darren.  The two of them are playing their keyboard and flute up in a jeffries tube because of the great acoustics. People in engineering hear music coming from someplace and are stumped. You see them investigate, but then the music stops. You wonder what stopped the music.

Flash back to the captain and Lt. Darren—who are kissing. Max says, "Oooohhhhh. Oki-dokey." The tone of his voice made it a hilarious moment. I guess you had to be there.

Before Star Trek, Max and I watched a documentary about how various creatures are conceived and born. (It was a big TV day for the two of us. I rarely watch TV. But this evening he and I got cozy in the TV room and shared a giant bowl of popcorn and a big bowl of strawberries. That was dinner!) At one point Max asked me a couple of questions about reproduction that made it apparent that he knows more about it (and about his own part in it as a grown-up) than I thought he did. Well, well! Get with the program, Eileen!


May 21 – Bathroom rot

Isn't this a pretty sight? We're redecorating our bathroom. It started out as a pretty straightforward (but thorough) project. But under the 28-year-old linoleum and tile we found.... Rot. Mold. Mildew.

It's been a long time since I smelled something that awful. It's incredible that it wasn't noticeable before. In this picture you can see where the shower used to be. The corner of the room is drenched and even the wooden beams in the wall are rotten. (The black stuff on the left wall was part of the wall treatment, not rot.) The insulation was full of mold.

We've had a heater blowing on this mess since Thursday. At first the whole house smelled of it. I cringe to think what was aired through our house via our ventilation system. (When this is all over we're going to do some serious ventilation and cleaning.) Now the worst of the smell has dissipated but every once in awhile we get a strong whiff of it. And of course when we open the bathroom door the smell is positively overpowering.

So now the wall between the shower and the sauna and have to be torn out and rebuilt. Maybe the sauna itself, too, which is in great condition and which we weren't planning on redoing. We have to deal with the insurance company and so on. Ugh.

I thought the bathroom redecoration was enough work. Finding a contractor, finding tile that Bengt and I could agree on, a new sink, faucet, cupboard, medicine cabinet (vs. plain mirror....), toilet, shower doors, sauna door, towel racks, etc. etc. Even the toilet paper holder is a matter of some debate! It has taken many hours of research and discussion to plan this bathroom, and many hours driving around, ordering and buying the stuff.

Of course Max has his own opinions. He really wanted a whirlpool.

At least all the ordered stuff has been arriving much faster than promised. On the other hand, the cabinet was delivered in cherry instead of oak... ARGH!


May 20 – Costume party

I went to our company's spring party last night. It was a masquerade and I was dreading organizing a costume. Then I was wandering around in a party store and saw the "Instant Nun" package. Instant nun, that's me!

It was just the habit, so I wore that with a black skirt and blouse. Bengt was skeptical, but when I tried on the outfit, he laughed and said, "You really do look like a nun! That looks good!"

As luck would have it, another guy came as a monk. That was cool. Another colleague came as Dracula, so we had a special relationship.

My boss told me, "You're very convincing as a nun!" I didn't know whether to take that as a compliment or not...

I'm sure there will be some great pictures from this costume party next week.


May 14

Max: Mama, can you come wipe me?

Eileen: Do it yourself.

Max: Why do I have to do it?

Eileen: Because it's your butt!

Max (annoyed): Okaaaaaay.


May 11 – Max's first school visit

Max visited his school today for the first time. All the kids in the incoming class (all 7 of them) were invited to come to the school in the morning, meet the other kids, play, participate in gym class and then have lunch with them before being picked up by a parent. Bengt took Max and picked him up. Bengt said that Max was hesitant when Bengt left, but when the visit was over he didn't want to leave.

When I got home from work, Max told me excitedly about his day. He was pleased that an older kid, Kasper, was assigned to be Max's sponsor/mentor. Max enjoyed the gym class and loved playing with the other kids. When I asked him whether he thinks he'll find friends at his new school, he said that he already has friends there, after his visit today.

But it seemed like the most exciting part of his day was—and his eyes really shined when he told me about this—when another kid threw up on the way to lunch. Now there's a lasting memory for a five-year-old boy!

Here's a conversation that Max and I had the other day, to the best of my recollection. You could easily skip this, since there's nothing of great interest in it. I just wanted to get it down in print, for myself. Because it's related to something Bengt does occasionally: He answers questions that he doesn't know the answer to, sounding quite sure of himself. That bugs the heck out of me! If it's an important question, I've learned to ask, "Now are you guessing, or do you know that's the right answer?" If he's unsure, it's usually something I can look up someplace, so I'd much prefer an "I don't know" to a random guess or even an educated guess.

As Max and I were driving out of our neighborhood, we passed a man who waved faintly in recognition. I waved, too, having recognized him from somewhere.

Max: Who was that?

Eileen: A dad from our neighborhood.

M: Whose dad?

E: I don't know. I just remember that when I met him, he had a kid with him.

M: Which kid?

E: I don't know. I just remember that there was a kid in the picture.

M: Which kid do you think it was?

E: I don't remember! I can't "think" it was any kid, because I have no idea!

M: You can always think (tro = believe) something.

E: No, you can't. Not when you don't have any idea.

M: Yes you can.

E: What do you want me to do, make up a name?

M: No......

E: Let me ask you a question: How many balloons does it take to fill a tower?

M: One hundred!!

E: [Annoyed.] What are you talking about?! How can you just make up an answer, when you don't know how big the tower is, or how big the balloons are, or anything? You don't have enough information to even guess!

M: Well, it could be one hundred.

E: Well, it's probably not one hundred! You just took a wild guess! You don't even have the details of the question!

M: [Not saying anything, obviously not getting it.]

E: What if you asked me a question, like how many countries there are in the world. And I didn't know, so I just guessed "42". Then you went around telling your friends that there are 42 countries in the world. But that's not right at all. Not even close. How would that be?

M: Not good.

E: That's right. If you ask me a question, and I don't know the answer, I don't take a guess—unless I say it's a guess. Instead, I say, "I don't know." I expect you to do the same.

M: Okay.

E: You get it?

M: Yeeees. Now how did we get here? [I.e. where were we when we got off on this tangent?]

BAH!

Actually, I think Max does often qualify his guesses. If he's not sure, he tells me he's not sure. I really appreciate when he does that. I guess I should  give positive reinforcement for that, if I want it to continue. 


May 5 – The injured duck

Last night Max was jabbering away at dinner. I asked him to pipe down for two minutes. By the end of the two minutes, I could see he had something urgent to say or ask. When the time was up and I said he could talk, he immediately asked, "How long is a giraffe's tongue?" That was his urgent question! Good grief!

Max started soccer yesterday. Bengt took him and said it was "supervised mayhem" – a hundred little kids running around with very little order. But Max really liked it. Many of his friends were there.

Today (a holiday) Max and I rode our bikes down to Edsviken, a nearby lake, to feed the ducks. We noticed one female being mounted repeatedly by male ducks. They were stepping on her back and pulling at the feathers on the back of her neck. I didn't think it looked like much fun for the female, but she didn't seem to be trying to escape. Then I saw a seagull come over and peck at her, and I knew she was in trouble.

I went over and kicked (gently) the male ducks away. The poor female was shaking violently and almost completely unresponsive. She had bloody spots on her back and neck, and her eyes were bloody. I stood by her and protected her from the aggressive male ducks, who kept trying to get at her. Another lady came over and helped. We felt that the duck would surely die, even with veterinary help, but we should try to get someone to put her out of her misery before the others pecked her to death.

After a couple of minutes the duck waddled away from the water's edge with great effort. I used my cell phone to call the "animal ambulance." At first they said they didn't have anyone to send, but eventually they found someone, and about a half hour later a guy turned up in an actual ambulance-type vehicle.

But by then the duck had recovered to a surprising extent. She'd dried off and fluffed up her feathers, so most of her wounds were covered. She was grooming herself and had stopped shaking. Her eyes didn't look seriously injured. And she was sufficiently quick to evade us by fleeing into a prickly bush.

The guy called someone who knows a lot about ducks, and she said that male ducks are absolutely brutal during mating season. This was nothing unusual, and we should just leave the duck alone now. But the other lady and I were worried that if we left, the male ducks would attack her again. It also worried us that she wasn't interested in the bread we threw to her.

On the other hand, after our pursuit the duck was deep within that prickly bush and seemed to be resting comfortably. The males were nowhere near. So Max and the ambulance guy and I went to a nearby cafe to have lunch. When we went back to check on the duck, she was still ok. So the three of us left. The other lady had gone on with her errands, saying she would stop back several hours later to check.

Well, now I know more about ducks. They certainly are tough little creatures. But I would still chase the male ducks off a female that looked bloody and helpless. Poor thing!


May 4 – Back from Frankfurt

Bengt and I had a meeting with Birgitta about Max's development last week (like a parent-teacher conference). There were no weighty issues to discuss, but I had made a note to myself to bring up a toilet issue: Max was still having us wipe his bottom for him, and I wanted to coordinate with Birgitta that we would be working on that now. Because of course he has to be able to wipe his own bottom when he starts school this fall!

To my astonishment, Birgitta said, "Oh, he's been doing that himself for months here! Doesn't he do it himself at home?" DOH!

What a little stinker. Busted! I went right home and wagged my finger at Max: "I found out from Birgitta that you can wipe your own bottom." He hung his head. "Yeah, I can do that." He knew what I meant. "Don't  you be waking me and Papa up at 6 a.m. anymore to wipe your butt." "Okaaaay."

I visited Bernhard in Frankfurt this last weekend. We had a good visit. The highlight was a visit to Limburg, a nearby town. So many really nifty shops, a nice little cathedral, and then coffee & cake with his friend Dieter. It was a really pleasant day.

Bernhard looks exactly the same. I don't think he's aged a year in the past ten years. See for yourself: Here he is in 1983 and now. Except for the rather drastic reduction in hair, I really don't see any difference. You might think he was 5 or 10 years older, not 22 years older.

 

Not that I care if my friends look older. I certainly do! Here's me, then and a month ago (before my haircut):

 

It was like summer in Germany—very different from in Sweden, where spring is just getting into full swing. The lilacs were blooming and everything was lush green. I wore summer clothes.

Unfortunately I had a sick headache the whole time. Argh! I kept it relatively under control with pills (the ones described below), but I slept about 10 hours each night in Frankfurt and had to stay home from work on Monday. I felt awful at work on Tuesday (should have stayed home) and didn't really feel decent again until today. I wonder if it was the dramatic weather differences or something that brought it on.

A neighbor and I have been working on a website for our neighborhood association. We're still collecting information for it, but you can see the design at www.tornskogen.se.


April 21 – Max put himself to bed

I have to tell you about some medicine that my doctor prescribed for headaches that I've found prevents my migraines! I've tried really strong medicine specifically for migraines before, but nothing's ever worked for me. I always went back to Panacod (like Tylenol #3), which at least allowed me to sleep during a migraine.

This new medicine (new for me), Voltaren T, cures most any headache with just one dose. It has saved me from at least six migraines in the past six or eight months. It's saving me time and money (since I used to miss work for migraines).

The other day I was away from home for a few hours and didn't have the pills with me, and I got a migraine, but I took two pills as soon as I got home. I was able to keep them down, and an hour later I was fine. Unbelievable!

If you know Swedish, you can read about this medicine at FASS.se. If not, then I can tell you that the active ingredient is diklofenakkalium in Swedish (it's probably something similar in English), and 50 mg is usually enough for me. I hope this helps some poor migraine sufferer.

Ok, the other day I took Max to gymnastics, and that's where I got the migraine. I was in pretty poor condition by the time we got home, and Bengt was out with friends so there I was with Max expecting the bedtime routine. (I could have called Bengt to come home, but by the time he arrived Max would have been asleep anyway.)

I told Max about my headache (and he's seen me throw up from them before) and said I needed to rest. He told me to lie down, and he patted my back and said to call him if I needed anything. Then he went and got his pajamas on, brushed his teeth (we usually brush them for him), and got into bed. I heard him turning the pages of a book. A few minutes later he turned out the light and went to sleep. WOW!

I was so happy with his cooperation. I couldn't believe how mature he acted. No whining, no uncertainty, just making sure Mom was ok. The next morning I told him how good it feels to know that he can act just like a big person, and be understanding and take care of himself. He actually stood up straighter and smiled and said thank-you.

This morning Max was looking at the "part of a balanced breakfast" picture on the back of a cereal box. You know, the one showing a gigantic breakfast representing all the food groups. His comment was, "This looks like a good meal."

For some reason that really tickled me. I think he's the only kid I've ever known (not that I've known that many) who takes pride in eating a balanced meal, wants to learn which foods are good for him, and will try extra hard to like something that we say is healthful to eat. He loves almost all food and eats like a horse, but "it's not good for your body" is a reason he accepts without question if Bengt or I say "no" to pop or candy or even that second bottle of välling. (Yep, he still likes his välling most mornings—although we've reduced it to one bottle, after which he eats yogurt with a banana or a sandwich on whole wheat or something like that.) Man, if he keeps this up, his wish is going to come true: He'll grow into a very tall, strong healthy man.

Max is quite aware that I quit smoking. I never mention it because I want him to forget that I ever smoked, but he brings it up now and then (like if we see someone else smoking). He seems happy about it and I feel confident (for the time being) that he'll never start. It would be unlike him to do something so unhealthy. This is the kid who willingly swallows his vitamin every day, takes even the most foul-tasting medicine when he's sick, and even gives himself suppositories. But I guess you never know what they'll try out when they're teenagers or young adults.

A few days ago we thought Max might be sick and took his temperature. He asked how the thermometer worked. Turns out he thought that the germs got into the thermometer from under his tongue, and the thermometer showed whether bad germs were present.

Max really wants to see germs and stuff under a microscope. Our kid's microscope isn't powerful enough. We need someone here in Stockholm who has access to a reasonably powerful microscope.


April 17 – Minor traumas of childhood

Hope you had a nice weekend. I can't believe it's over already. We mostly took care of yard work, reorganized the garage a little, cleaned, did laundry, etc. The weather was beautiful this weekend. We got out our grill and had our first grilled dinner since last fall.

Max was playing with his friend Johan across the street late yesterday afternoon when he came running home and asked whether he could eat dinner there. We said yes. (Johan has eaten at our place a few times.)

A little while later he came back looking very dejected. I asked what was wrong. Max said that he had broken Johan's remote control truck by running it through a "car wash", and Johan was upset. Max felt bad.

I told Max that accidents happen sometimes, and when we break something that belongs to someone else, we apologize and offer to pay for it. Max seemed relieved to have a course of action. We got my wallet and went back over. Max stepped right up and apologized and said we want to pay for the truck. The parents refused, saying that both boys had planned the car wash, plus they thought the truck might work again after it dried inside.

Then Johan burst into tears and buried his face in his hands. But it wasn't about the truck. Turns out he had invited Max to dinner without asking his parents. Then he found out they were going to have a special family dinner, and the parents said Max couldn't stay. Johan felt sooo bad. We reassured him as best we could that it was okay and that Max would like to eat with them another time.

On the way home, Max was confused because we didn't get to pay for the truck. I said that sometimes people accept payment, and sometimes they don't, and sometimes they want to split the cost. But the important thing is to offer, because it shows that you're sorry for your part in what happened and you want to make it right.

Poor guys! Such uncomfortable feelings for them. But I thought it was great that Max and Johan cared about each other's feelings. Or at least they cared about behaving correctly (hard to tell which).

Funny: Max complains about his two friends who interrupt him. But Max interrupts them, too! He doesn't see that. But he did take my advice and tell them he doesn't like being interrupted, instead of stopping playing with them. I was right there when he said it: "You interrupt me a lot, and I don't like it." "I do??" said Mattias. There was a brief pause in their conversation, and then they resumed where they'd left off. I don't know whether the message got through (to either one of them).


April 12

We've been back for awhile, but I'm just now finishing my description of our trip. Phew, I'm too busy! Anyway, those who are interested can read about our trip, below. Pictures are here.

I got my hair cut pretty short. It's longer than Lin's but in a similar style (if you know what her hair looks like). My intention was to lose the headband, which I think looks like a '50s teenager. But my hair hangs in my face so badly that I still need it when I do yard work or whatever. I guess that's acceptable. The biggest bonus is that I now have about 1/2 the amount of hair I did before the cut, so it's much easier and faster to wash & dry. I actually dreaded getting out of bed in the mornings, because I had grown to detest that mandatory, repetitive chore.

I served some fresh coriander with homemade carrot soup the other day. Max liked the soup, but he loved the coriander. "YUMMY, Mama!!" What a strange kid.


Our trip to Gran Canaria, March 9 – 23, 2005

We recently returned from a trip to Bahía Feliz on Gran Canaria, the exact same place we went last year. We took two weeks this time. It takes so much time and effort to plan, book, prepare, pack, and then unpack afterwards that it's not really worth going for a week. Besides, two weeks isn't much more expensive than one week. Max and I loved it! Bengt (who doesn't tolerate the sun well) only stayed a week, but Bobbie joined us the second week, and we had a good visit.

There was a lot of turbulence on the flight down, and Max threw up. Yuck. But he also slept for awhile, and the rest of the time Bengt dealt with him (which was only fair, since I arranged everything and did most of the packing and stuff). I read an entire McCall Smith book in four hours.

As we were flying in over the island, Max said, "This looks niiiicce. It reeeeeaaaally does." And he was right. After two hours in the sun, Sweden's snow and cold weather were only a distant memory. At the pool, Max stuck a foot into the water. "Go ahead, jump in," I said. "I don't have my swim vest!" DOH! Good thing he was paying attention. After we put it on, he jumped in without hesitation. Cool.

Our accommodations

We had a nice two-bedroom apartment with a nice balcony, about 2 x 3 meters, with a round table and four chairs. We left the door open at night, which cooled off the apartment nicely. Great view!

Max knew his way around the place instantly. On the way back to the apartment after our first visit to the pool, Max led the way. He knew exactly where it was, even when I doubted him. No hesitation. His sense of direction never ceases to amaze me.

We were very uncomfortable in our rock-hard beds at first. (We like very firm mattresses, but that was ridiculous!) Bengt got used to his, but I got a bunch of mattress pads to soften mine up. Max didn't mind, though he would have liked a softer bed. He had his bunnies, that's the main thing. (He appreciated how the housekeeper positioned his bunnies neatly on his pillow when she made his bed.)

The pillows, too, were a joke. I almost bought new pillows at a department store. I would have if they had had the same size as in Sweden and the U.S.

The beach was a disappointment. Last year there was some sand right on the beach, but this year that sand was gone, and there was only an artificial sandy area a bit back from the stony beach. There were big waves most of the time, so it wasn't ideal swimming for Max. However, we still enjoyed being right on the coast. Max and I love falling asleep to and waking up to ocean sounds. And the pools were nice and clean.

Max's clinginess

Max was in full Velcro mode throughout the trip. It started before we left, but I didn't realize what an impact it would have on our activities. He literally would not let Bengt and me out of his sight. We had to go everywhere with him—even to the toilet. If we went to the restaurant's buffet, he couldn't sit by himself for even 15 seconds. He refused to go to the Bamse Club activities that I had booked for him before the trip.

At first I reasoned with Max and encouraged him to be a little braver. Then I wheedled and bribed him. Then I threatened and scolded him. I was so desperate to get a little slack that I made most of the mistakes you can make. (I wanted to call him names, even—chicken, wimp—I was so mad, but fortunately I managed to restrain myself—barely.) I was absolutely furious, and Max's feelings were hurt and he cried and yelled.

Finally I broke down and cried, and gave up, and apologized to him. He got over it quickly, as soon as I capitulated. I remember that Lin had described a similar phase that Ben and Elliot went through at that age. They try, and they know it's unreasonable, but they can't help it. But Max's being in this stage during our vacation had a really negative impact on our time together, at least as far as I'm concerned. I had a really hard time accompanying him to the bathroom 15 feet away, 10-15 times a day (since he was gulping pool water). And he wouldn't go on water slides (see below).

Aqua Land

Max and I made two trips to Aqua Land, a water park just a few miles away from our resort. Max refused to go on any slides that we couldn't go on together. He only went on one, in an inner tube with me, and on reaching the bottom immediately screamed, "Again!!" We rode it three times and then he'd had enough.

I was really disappointed for him, because I knew if he could only bear to be separated from me for a couple of minutes, he'd have had the time of his life on those slides. One was great—winding, slow—and it would have been perfect for him—even too tame. But he wouldn't even try it. Argh!

Even the kiddie area (half of which was closed for construction during our first visit) was a disappointment. He spent hours whining about the lack of friends to play with and begging for hot dogs and ice cream. Yet he didn't want to leave (and I was reluctant to, as well, considering how much money we paid to get in). He wouldn't leave my side or permit me to go anywhere by myself, even into a stall in the bathroom.

Max did enjoy the wave pool, and having his picture taken with a parrot, and the "lazy river", which was so lazy that I had to paddle us through with my hands.

Our second visit to the water park was great, even though Max still wouldn't go on the slides. He found a boy his age to play with (Bearach, an Irish boy with curly red hair), and they both had a blast. All I did was sit there watching them for hours. It would have been fun to have another adult to hang out with—although I started talking with Bearach's mom as the day wore on, which was nice.

Oh, one little tidbit: You may remember I wrote awhile back about Max's derogatory comments about dark-skinned people, and my dismay and my efforts to get him to think differently without scolding him. Now I guess he's gotten past his negative feelings. One boy who Max approached and wanted to play with at Aqua Land was black. Max didn't hesitate or even comment on the kid's color. What a relief. I would not like my kid to be a racist!

More friends

It wasn't easy to find kids his age to play with. There were many Norwegians & Finns this year, plus Danes and Germans. He can communicate best with Brits and Swedes (and American, of course, but we were the only Americans at our resort), and we didn't see so many of those his age.

But we made it a habit to go to the playground after dinner every evening. One evening, Max met an Iranian/Swedish boy his age named Sam. Max and Sam really hit it off, and we (both sets of parents) let them stay up late to play. Unfortunately, that family was leaving the next day. So the next morning after breakfast I took Max up the hill to Monte Feliz so the boys could swim together for awhile again. They had another hour together and then hugged good-bye.

Max and I stayed up at that pool all day that day. It was a smaller area, which was good in a way: It was easier to meet people (especially other kids) in the crowd. Also, the pool was heated and they sold inexpensive ice cream and beer and stuff right there. As an added bonus, it was actually closer to our apartment than the bigger pool area that we technically belonged to.

Anyway, Max did find several other friends. In particular, there were two boys that he hung around with, mostly playing in the sand and running around, and a girl named Ella whom he also got to know at the playground but then met at the pool and swam with several times. (I have real cute pictures of the two of them, but I'm not putting them up because some people object to having pictures of their almost naked children posted on the Internet.)

Aqua Max

Max made amazing progress in the water. One step at a time, in one day he easily and happily got to the point where he could jump far out into the pool (where it was way over his head), bounce off the bottom, and with a little help swim back to the side. He hoisted himself out by himself and did this over and over, countless times, with me close by just in case (and he did need me fairly often at first). That was pretty exciting—big steps for him.

He swallowed gobs of water, burped loudly, and peed about 10 times. Of course I had to accompany him to the bathroom each time – wah!

He also participated in the water aerobics class that was held while we were there, which was a gas to watch. Max with all those women! (I've noticed that wherever there are groups of people practicing a sport, Max can't resist participating. Even if it's a TV exercise class or whatever.)

To celebrate his progress, I bought him a game where you throw weighted "submarines" into the water and fetch them. It was a challenge at first, but soon Max was really enjoying it. "Mama, I just love this game!"

Max continued to make giant steps in swimming and diving. By the time we left, he could swim a few meters under water, dive in from the side and swim back, tread water (though not for long), and do double somersaults under water. The swim vest he'd used since he was a tiny tot was abandoned. I bought a disposable waterproof camera and photographed all this, doting parent that I am.

Bobbie bought Max a yellow raft that Max requested. He had fun with that.

Souvenirs

Max also requested "two toys that make sounds". Bobbie got him two nice stuffed animals (a frog and a kitten) that croak & meow when you squeeze them. Max was charmed! He enjoyed them far more than the emergency vehicles he was expecting.

One day Bobbie and Max and I went to an open-air market, and Max got to pick a couple of souvenirs. He chose a dragon-like puppet made out of Styrofoam (see picture) and a fan with pictures from the Canary Islands painted on it. He still plays with both.

Our routine

Dinners were a problem, especially the first few days. The restaurant didn't open until 6:30 p.m. (7:30 our time!) and Max was very tired by then.

One evening Bengt decided that Max should "learn to stay awake longer" and gave him a large Coke. We went to the "Coco the Clown" show for kids, which started at 8 p.m. Max enjoyed that, though he insisted on having me close by at all times. The next morning he actually did sleep a little later—until 5:30 instead of 4:30 a.m.

After the first couple of mornings we got into a routine where Max played Game Boy or watched TV (Cartoon Network in English) until Bengt and I got up, usually at 7:00 or 7:30. Ravenous, we had breakfast at 8:00 when the restaurant opened.

Palmitos Park

Max and Bengt went to Palmitos Park, a small zoo & aquarium, that first Sunday, a trip arranged by the charter company. The two of them seemed to enjoy it. There were different animals and many large birds. Some of the birds were trained to do tricks. One rode a "bike", one did a puzzle, one "counted", etc. Max was thrilled and impressed.

While they were gone, I spent a half hour at the Internet café and then read & listened to NPR's "Fresh Air" on the beach. The weather was perfect and it was very relaxing.

Questions Max asked during our trip

Why is Papa such a water vegetarian? [What he meant was, why does Bengt avoid swimming?]
How does water make sand stick to my shoes and hands?
How is water made? What's it made of?
What's the moon made out of?
What is gas? What's a gaseous planet?
What makes thoughts in my head?
How can sun burn skin?
...and he wanted to hear the plot of a book I'd read and had been discussing with another woman at the pool.

Among other things, Bobbie brought with her two books for Max, recommended by our friends Becki and Aaron and purchased for Max by Grandpa Marlin: Eye Wonder: Space  and Eye Wonder: Ocean. These contain so many interesting facts for kids Max's age and older! Such great books! We want the whole series!


March 4

Max is learning to read. It's very exciting. I told you about those flashcards I made about two weeks ago. Well, we haven't worked with them that much, but I started covering up the pictures and to my surprise he recognizes many of the words. He still hasn't gotten the hang of sounding out the words; whole word recognition is easier. But we're working from both directions. I just ordered some cool stuff from Amazon.

I'm always having minor trouble with my computer. My most recent gripe is that I installed Office 2003 and now it takes about a minute to open a Word document because of all the virus protection. Ok, I appreciate virus protection, but give me a break! I could probably adjust it or turn it off... if only I could find the setting.

I talked to Max today about usability. I told him that there are people whose job it is to design things that are easy for people to use without having to read a whole manual about it. His spontaneous suggestion was that each button on the remote control should say what it does. Yes! I hate those cryptic symbols. I guess he knows that. Could it have been my graphic swearing as I try to figure out which button to push on which of our ten remote controls to get the effect I'm looking for???

I overheard Max having this conversation (approximately) with a toy the other day:

Max: You can do it!

Toy (via Max): No I can't.

Max: Sure you can!

Toy: But I really can't.

Max: Why not?

Toy: Because I don't have any batteries.

Yesterday we finally got the beds that we ordered in January, with the extra firm mattresses. We slept on the medium mattresses for four weeks, and we weren't comfortable. At first I thought these extra firm ones were too soft, too, but both Bengt and I were quite comfortable last night—although, strangely, I had a really sore back this morning. I guess that making such drastic changes in your bed does weird things to your back. Or else I have some kind of flu lurking. I'm still coughing. I hope our upcoming vacation will put a stop to it.

Max, too, got a new bed. A bunk bed, in his case. I picked it up from the furniture store on Tuesday, assembled it on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and let me tell you, Max is one happy camper in his new bed.

I had to laugh: The bunk bed has built-in shelves at the head and foot, and the first thing Max did when the bed was assembled was organize his stuffed animals in the shelves. It reminded me so much of myself.

And you know what? People say all the time now that Max looks very much like me. Funny. (Or should I say scary.) He looked so much like Bengt at first.

We can't let Max sleep on the top bunk yet because, come to find out, our mattresses are too thick. They stick up almost as high as the rail that's supposed to keep him from falling out. So we have to get a thinner mattress – hopefully very cheap, since the woman at the furniture store incorrectly claimed that the standard mattresses we have would fit fine.

Do other people get as annoyed at incompetence as I do? Getting the correct beds has been an ordeal!

Anyway, Max is a little disappointed that he can't sleep in the top bunk yet, but by draping blankets from the top bunk, we made the bottom one into a very cozy enclosed fort. He sleeps in there, totally cozy and content and surrounded by about 20 stuffed animals, most on the shelves but some hugged close in his fat little arms. Zzzzzzz!

Today Max was whining about something or other that he wanted, and I got a bit impatient.

Max: But I want that toy [or whatever it was – I can't even remember]!

Eileen: Well, I want a million dollars, but we don't always get what we want, do we?

Max (thoughtful now): Why do you want a million dollars?

Eileen: So I can buy whatever I want and do more stuff with you instead of going to work and take even more vacations and stuff.

Max went to his room. Then he came back to the kitchen with his piggy bank! He started trying to open it.

Eileen: Oh, Max, that's such a nice thought, but you keep that money to buy toys and stuff.

Max: You can have it. Then you won't have to go work.

Eileen: Well, I really appreciate your generosity, but that's not enough money.

Max: There's a lot of money in here! [He shakes the thing.]

I had a hard time keeping a straight face. He thought he could change my life with the money in his piggy bank. Well, he has a big heart anyway. Not too long ago he offered all his money to a kid he doesn't even know, the son of one of my colleagues, who I told him wanted a Spiderman doll. The family has six kids and one wage earner, so they don't have money to spare for extras like that.


February 25

Max and Bengt flew down to Skåne this morning, and I have the weekend off. Woo-hoo! I have lots of organizing and stuff to do, but I also plan to relax a lot. I took the day off today, and I have a friend coming over this evening.

On the way to the airport early this morning, Max suddenly had to poop. (We should have known – he's like clockwork.) That can't be postponed. Nothing was open yet (that's how early it was), so we just pulled over on the side of the road.... What else can you do?


February 24

Max: Mama, did it hurt when you gave birth to me?

Eileen: Yes, it did.

Max: How much did it hurt?

Eileen: Quite a lot, actually.

Max: Did it feel like a tiger bit your bottom?

Eileen: Yes, I guess that's about how much it hurt!


February 23

Max is not sick. I yanked gently on his ear yesterday evening and asked, "Does that hurt?"

Max: "Ow! Yes, it hurts!"

Eileen: "Well, buddy, that was the wrong ear. You're going back to Birgitta's tomorrow."

Max: "But I want to stay home with you and be cozy and watch TV."

Eileen: "Well, Papa and I like to hang out here with you, too, and we can do that on weekends. But he and I have to work during the week. That's how we earn money to pay for our house, our car, our food, and all the toys we buy you. So you have to do your part and go to Birgitta's unless you're actually sick."

Max: "Ok." 

Max does have something going on in his ear, but it's only causing minor discomfort. He doesn't have a fever or any acute pain.


February 22

The other day I had to say something to Max that probably not too many parents have to say: "Max, could you please stop eating carrots?!" He had scarfed down almost all the carrots I'd peeled for the three of us for dinner. He said he wanted to get big and strong. I said he's not going to get big and strong by eating gobs of carrots in one sitting. He said (pointing his finger up in idea mode), "Tomorrow: spinach!"

I wrote about Max's armpit problem awhile back. After our trip to the U.S. last summer, he had a rash in both his armpits. It responded well to antifungal cream but came back every time we stopped (even when we continued treatment for weeks after all traces of infection had disappeared). Finally I talked to a doctor about it, and she figured that the fungus had become resistant. We got a different, stronger cream and instructions to apply it more often. We continued that, too, for about 10 days after the last traces of infection had disappeared. By now it's been about 10 days since we discontinued that cream, and the infection hasn't come back. Finally, after seven months, we got rid of it!

Max has been working on his numbers. He's just now learning to read two- and three-digit numbers, and to add. Bengt and I rarely tried to teach him or encourage him specifically to learn numbers. Maybe we should have, but at any rate now Max has brought it up himself, and that feels really good that it's his own initiative.

He's also learning some words. I made some flashcards for him using a workbook and some beginner reading books that Anna-Brita gave us. We've just started with that, but I was surprised how much he already knows (like many lowercase letters, which we've never consciously taught him). Interestingly, he seems to be doing better with word recognition than with sounding out the words phonetically. In any case, Max is definitely ready to read and learn basic math.

Max is home with an ear ache today. I doubt it's serious. I think he does have some pain, but the real reason he wants to be home is just to relax and watch TV and play video games. It's hard to tell. I called the clinic to see if they'd take a look, and they said, "Wait one day and see." Meanwhile, I'm losing precious time at work and two projects will be delayed because of it. ARGH!

Max asked me the other day when he's going to be in the newspaper. (We see lots of other people in the paper, so when is it going to be his turn?) I wrote a note to myself to put his picture & congratulations in the little local newspaper on his next birthday. Lots of people do that for their kids here. He'll like that.

He also wants to be on TV.

Max and Bengt are off to Perstorp on Friday. If Max is ok to fly.... I think it'll be ok.


February 11

I know, it's been over a month since I last wrote! Since I sit in front of a computer all day, the last thing I want to do when I come home is more computer work. Sometimes I don't even check my email.

Update on Eileen's work situation

I've been incredibly busy at work. Recently I had the most stressful day I can remember. With about 20 things going on at once, I struggled all day to keep track of all the details. I rushed through the whole day in order to be able to leave on time and get home to Bengt and Max (Max was sick that one day). The result was that by the end of the day I was a wreck. My whole body was in knots from the stress. When I got home, I was completely exhausted and went right to bed. I got up around 7 p.m. to play with Max for awhile and put him to bed. Then I went back to bed myself.

A few months ago my tech-writing colleagues and I talked to management about the fact that the three of us have far too much work and too little time. At management's request we put together a report presenting the facts of the situation. A few things were immediately apparent:

  • We definitely need at least one more full-time person on our team. That was approved almost immediately. This was just after Christmas, but unfortunately we haven't had time to do anything about it yet (namely start the advertising and hiring process). But we will...
  • The company also needs someone to deal with company-wide documentation issues and tasks. So far I've been dealing with the most pressing of these, in addition to my usual work. That's no longer sustainable – I'm getting burned out. I submitted a detailed proposal for creating a new position within the company, and it's under consideration. (I was already requested to provide more info about one aspect of the proposal, so that's a good sign...)
  • As the most senior writer and the one most familiar with the products and the workings of the company, I'm the natural choice for all sorts of quickie projects (I can hit the ground running), urgent reviews, and diverse issues and questions that may or may not be related to product documentation. While my colleagues each deal with one or two projects at a time, I handle up to four smaller ones at a time, as well as fielding all these requests and questions. (That's not to say my colleagues aren't under pressure—they are. But they are allowed to concentrate on their projects without constant interruption.)

When Bengt got his new job, I decreased my work time from 8 to 7 hours/day. That prevented me from having to get up at 5 a.m. every morning to get in my hours before picking up Max from daycare (Bengt drops him off). But of course it didn't lessen my workload, and most days my "workday" continued at home, with cleaning, laundry, cooking, Max's gymnastics, grocery shopping, etc. etc. I felt like I was stuck in one of those exercise wheels for hamsters, and it kept going faster and faster.

Now I've reduced my monthly work time even more: I work 7 hours per day, and officially I have every other Friday off. I can take those "Fridays" whenever I need them, but that's the official schedule and my pay has been reduced accordingly starting this month. Woo-hoo!

The biggest advantage is that I'll be able to take those long weekends in Perstorp with Max, or take the Friday off when Bengt and Max are down there, without digging into my vacation time.

I'm so happy my manager agreed to this (after some discussion). He even praised me for bringing it up instead of letting myself get run into the ground. How many people have a boss that smart? I didn't say it directly, but he must have realized I'd quit if nothing changed. I love my boss.

My total work time is still over 75%, so I don't feel like I'm dropping out of my job to any dramatic extent. This arrangement is much more sustainable. Stress at work and at home is not all bad (and even has it rewards), as long as you have "down time" to look forward to.

Anyway, that's what's been going on for me, work wise, and it's taken a lot of energy getting this all worked out, but the future looks bright.

Home improvements

Bengt and I have gotten offers for redoing our downstairs bathroom and putting in new stairs up to our front door. Both projects are much more expensive than we expected. The bathroom project involves (among other things) ripping out all the tile that now covers the walls, putting up new walls before retiling, reconstructing the floor according to strict new building codes, putting in new lighting, and so on. Outside there's even more special, expensive work to be done.

Still, I just didn't foresee the cost. Both the projects together would cost about the same as my annual net salary! Oh sure, we could do both projects—if we didn't go on any vacations and if we drastically changed our spending habits for the next five years... DOH!

So now Bengt and I have some discussing and prioritizing to do. We have to do something about the bathroom, or we risk moisture damage and mold. The outside steps are in bad condition, but maybe we can somehow patch those up ourselves this summer – though I foresee a lot of backbreaking work. We need to get rid of the big leaning birch, too, because its roots are pushing our asphalt driveway upwards in places.

But we did go ahead and buy ourselves a new bed. Our cheap Ikea mattresses that we'd let Max and his friends jump on were causing us back pain, and the pine frame we bought used when we first moved back to Sweden creaked so loudly that it woke us up when we moved. (Even Max complained that our bed creaked, and he sleeps in the next room!) So it was high time for a new bed.

I spent many hours researching the different mattresses available here, and going to different stores to try them out. After narrowing it down, Bengt and I made the final choice together. We chose a continental style bed (with box spring and mattress, as is common in the U.S.), plus a thinner natural latex mattress on top (the Swedish substitute for a pillow top mattress – actually quite a good idea, because you replace the "pillow top" every 5-8 years, and the mattress itself lasts much longer). Extra large (huge, actually). Extra firm.

Well, the whole package had to be ordered from the Norwegian manufacturer, and we waited four weeks before it was delivered last week, to my great excitement. But they delivered medium instead of extra firm! ARGH!!! We were so bummed. I was close to tears.

The store reordered the extra firm version, and of course it will take another four weeks before it arrives. In the meantime, Bengt and I are sleeping on the medium bed. We're both very unhappy with medium, although I think anything is better than our old bed. But another bummer is that the top latex mattress emanates strong fumes. If it were summer, we could just throw open the bedroom windows and air it out for a few days, but it's below freezing now, and in addition Bengt and I are both sick, so freezing temperatures in the bedroom all day are out of the question. The fumes made my cough worse, so I've been sleeping in the guest bedroom.

The store is reimbursing us by giving us two fitted sheets free of charge. Granted, those special sheets are quite expensive, but I would have preferred getting our extra firm bed on time.

An aside: Max was with me a good part of the time I was trying beds in different stores. He would make himself comfortable in a bunk bed and play GameBoy for as long as I needed. When Bengt and I were making our final choice at a large warehouse, the salesman's 7-year-old son was also there, and the two boys went wild in the store, running around like maniacs, playing hide and seek among the beds, etc. We offered several times to go ask our son to settle down, but the salesman declined and seemed happy to let the boys work off steam (and there were very few customers). Max had a blast in the store with that boy and was close to tears when we left after a couple of hours. The seven-year-old looked pretty pitiful, too, sadly waving good-bye from behind the store's big glass door. Max said that was his "best friend ever." I felt for him as we drove away.

Anyway, after all the bunk bed exposure, Max really wanted one of his own. He didn't care which model. When I asked him to choose one, he kept basing his choice on which one had the most colorful sheets and the fluffiest pillow! I said, "We can get new sheets and a fluffy pillow right away. But which frame do you like best?" But Max had trouble taking in and evaluating the different characteristics of the numerous bunk beds. Obviously he just wanted to be up high, and he wanted colorful sheets and a fluffy pillow. So Bengt and I chose the frame ourselves – now on order from Finland. Doh! (Ikea was the only store that had bunk beds in stock, and we didn't care for those models.)

Dental mishap and wild & crazy husband

On January 17 I almost had a root canal by mistake! I'd been having pain around one tooth ever since I got a filling last September (though it never hurt before I got the filling...) When I finally went to get it checked out, the dentist couldn't get any reaction from the tooth's nerve at all, even using electric current. If the nerve is dead, root canal is the only choice, she told me, and was about to start drilling.

For safety's sake she whacked the tooth with a little hammer a few times before drilling, and WOOOOAAAA! The nerve "woke up" and after that everything she did to it hurt. So instead of drilling she painted some type of protective coating on the tooth and we decided to "wait and see". There might be some minor infection or other problem that will eventually heal by itself, or the tooth might be on its way out – which seems unlikely since the filling wasn't that deep.

The dentist said she'd have a special look at it at my next scheduled appointment, in September. Yeah, right. Like I'd go back to her after this! I never liked her, anyway. And remind me not to schedule dentist appointments at 7:30 a.m. That was not a good way to start my day.

Gossip: Bengt went out with his colleagues last Friday after work and didn't come home until 5:30 the next morning! He suffered for it, too, with a hangover and screwed-up sleep rhythm. I don't think he'll be doing that again. :-)

Update on Max

Max went through a rebellious period several weeks ago. It only lasted about a week, thank heavens. He didn't want to cooperate – questioned every routine and objected to every suggestion and request. At least that's what it seemed like. In addition, Max acted like he expected to be waited on hand and foot. We had a few "scenes" here at home, but Birgitta barely noticed anything. It ended quickly enough, and as usual after one of these periods, he suddenly seemed much more mature than he was before the bad patch.

It was funny – I had to buy Max some new clothes soon after that, and as usual I eyeballed them for size rather than going by the tag. When I got home, I found that I'd bought the clothes much too big. Max had suddenly become so mature and reasonable in my eyes, such a "big boy", that I'd misjudged his size!

Here's another funny thing: We had to renew Max's Swedish passport recently, and when Max and I submitted the application in person, they asked Max to sign! The woman pushed the application towards Max and asked if he could write his name. Max said yes and took the pen and paper. I said to her (quietly) that he couldn't write his last name yet. She considered this for a moment, then shrugged and said, "That's ok." So Max wrote MAX in his scraggly print, and that's the signature that's printed and laminated right in his passport!

We were so charmed when we got the passport, it's so cute! His first official signature! We're keeping that passport forever. (I'd love to put a picture of it here on the website, but of course I can't do that....) In my mind, this is a small example of treating children as real, whole people. Not as the property of their parents or as incomplete people whose feelings and opinions (and signatures) don't matter.

Max has this fleece jester's hat that he picked out at a flea market. (You can see it in the picture here.) I've heard him take semi-teasing flak for it, but he won't be deterred from liking his hat or enjoying wearing it. I'm proud of his confidence.

Another example: When Max picked out his new sheets, he chose the Lion King theme, with cute little lion cub Simba. The stupid salesperson said, "Oh, I thought a big boy like you would choose the superheroes." Max said, "No. I think Simba is cute."

Speaking of the sheets, there's a big picture of Simba on the pillowcase, and that first night Max refused to put his head on the pillow. He wanted Simba beside him, not under his head. Bengt and I got a kick out of that.

The infatuation with playing GameBoy (and computer games, too) has abated, thank heavens. The Rescue Hero game that Marlin sent over around a month ago was right up his alley, so he lost interest in the much more complicated Zelda, which was a big relief. But even putting out fires and saving people gets old after awhile, so Max has been playing less and less. Some days he doesn't play at all, and when he does play, he stops without complaint when his hour's up.

His new interest is in checkers and card games. We played checkers a lot for a few weeks, and right now it's mostly Uno, which we play every day. Besides learning more about numbers, following rules, and handling the cards and stuff, he has become a much better loser. At first it was really hard for him to be a good sport.

Max requested ski lessons this year, so we signed him up for a series of six lessons at the ski run about a half mile from our house, with a group of beginners his age. But the class was full. We were a little bummed, but as it turns out, after our long period of snow in November we barely got any more snow, so it's been an exceptionally poor winter for skiing. No huge loss. We'll do it next year. (I've already put it on my calendar to sign him up early.)

Some people created an ice rink on the tennis court nearby, so Max has been skating a lot. He's become quite a good little skater! Right now he's working on tricks like skidding to a stop and spinning in place on one skate (!). As an added bonus, last year's skates still fit and we didn't have to buy new ones.

As most people who know Max are aware, he really enjoys eating. Recently he started going overboard. He was getting bad stomachaches from overeating. The worst was when a mom had to call me to fetch Max from a birthday party because he had eaten too much cake.

Max and I discussed different reasons for curtailing his eating and ways of preventing himself from overeating. He was happy to have me talk to the adults around him and enlist their help in keeping him to his new and better eating habits. We remind him to take smaller bites, chew more, eat slowly and enjoy, and refrain from that third helping that's going to make his stomach hurt. It seems to be working really well, and Max feels proud that he managed to change his habits and prevent tummy aches.

As an aside, in connection with overeating I was telling Max that eating too much and getting too little exercise can make people fat. I pointed out that I'm guilty of this. Max said, "I don't want you to get fat." I said, "Well, I already am rather fat, and I wouldn't mind getting less fat." Max looked me over and said matter-of-factly, "I love you just the way you are." I said, "Wow, that was really nice to hear. Thank you for saying that. You know, I love you just the way you are, too." He came over and hugged me and said, "I liked hearing that, too, Mama." Awww!

Credit to the photographer

When Max and I were in Perstorp a couple of weeks ago, he took all the pictures of me that are on this page. I was pretty pleased with them. And he'll feel proud when I show him how they look on this website.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


January 4

I still haven't written about Max's 5-year checkup at the clinic. He is 119 cm (46 3/4") tall and weighs 27 kg (59 1/2 lbs.). His vision is still perfect. He got his fourth polio vaccine – watched the needle go in and barely blinked. 

He was very cooperative and friendly with Birgitta (the midwife), and she commented on how outgoing and confident he is. She said he's in no way behind the other kids who are starting school next fall, even though he was born at the very end of the year. (But we knew that.) He's not any smaller than they are, either – on the contrary.

As usual, we talked about my greatest concern – that Max eats like a horse and rarely feels full – and she said we're doing the right thing when we say he's not allowed to eat any more when he's already had three portions, even though he says he's still hungry. His weight is fine; he's got some meat on him, but that's good for young children, she says.

Today Max and I picked up Bengt from the commuter train station when he got in after work. Right after that, the gas tank indicator blinked on, indicating that the tank was empty. But I just filled it up yesterday, so I thought maybe someone had siphoned the gas while I was parked at the shopping center, or that the gas tank was leaking (!).  So we drove straight to the gas station and tried to put more gas in, but it was full. So I guess it's a fuse or something. The seat warmer in the driver's seat also stopped working today. I doubt that's a coincidence.

As we were driving to the gas station, the three of us were talking about what's wrong with the car, and Max said, "Fucking car." DOH! Unfortunately, it's perfectly clear where he got that expression....

At Stinsen I got a pair of summer pants for 1/4 of the original price (great for our upcoming spring vacation on a warm island...) and a classy Christmas shirt for 1/2 off. (I was so annoyed this Christmas to find that, once again, I had nothing sufficiently glittery to wear to a Christmas party. Next year I'll be prepared.) Then Max got a Batman shirt, at full price but not expensive. It was fun.

Tomorrow I'll pick up Max and his friend Mattias early from daycare, and we'll go to the domestic animals expo here in Sollentuna. Max and I go every January, and it's a blast. (That's where I bought Maja, our cat, by the way. That was back in 1998, I think.)

All the Swedes who were injured in Thailand are home now. Grief over the tragedy in Asia continues as caskets are shipped home. For all those who lost loved ones, this is just the beginning of a long struggle. 

A light in the darkness: Over 446 million kronor have poured into official charities. That's an average of about $7 for every man, woman and child in Sweden, and it doesn't include the smaller charities, church collections, and mountains of clothes & food that people have donated. It makes me proud to be here, among such generous people. If that much money were donated by each American, it would amount to almost 1.7 billion dollars! 


January 1, 2005 – HAPPY NEW YEAR

We hope all of our friends and relatives had nice holidays, and we wish everyone all the best in 2005. 

We had pretty nice holidays ourselves. However, the day after Christmas the terrible tragedy in Asia hit us hard in Sweden. Khao Lak, the hardest hit island in Thailand, is a Swedish tourist haven, and about 3600 Swedes (not to mention over a hundred thousand others) are missing and feared dead after the killer waves. 

In a country of only 9 million people, this is a national trauma. Planes are arriving daily, full of traumatized and injured Swedes. Some don't have any clothing and are simply wrapped in blankets. Convoys of ambulances take many of them to hospitals in the region. Nineteen children have already returned just to Stockholm all alone, without the family they went on vacation with. Thirty-five more are to arrive tonight. Parents are returning without their children, wives without their husbands, husbands without their wives. Entire families have been wiped out. Thousands of Swedes are apparently still wandering around the destroyed tourist areas in Thailand, looking for lost loved ones. Meanwhile, bodies that have been collected are rotting beyond recognition in direct sun. 

It seems like everyone knows someone who is/was there or who is directly affected by what happened. We have friends who were (and still are) in Thailand, but fortunately they were on a protected island, and they are shaken but unhurt. We're so grateful for that.

However, we read the heartbreaking stories, see horrific pictures on the Internet, and watch the dreadful news every day, and it is hard to feel happy about celebrating a new year while other people are dealing with this tragedy. Over 125,000 people are feared dead. It's beyond comprehension. Every time I watch the news or read the paper I end up with tears streaming down my face. Bengt is moved, as well. We made a donation to Save the Children. (We're not the only ones; donations to charities in Sweden are literally pouring in.) What more can we do?

I've waited so long before updating the website that it seems like a huge task—one that would be easy to put off for another few days, and then a week, and then another couple of weeks. I guess I'll just dive right in and start writing things down as fast as I can....

Our Christmas was quite nice. After Bengt and I did some intense cleaning and shopping, Sven and Anna-Brita and Anders arrived on December 21. (Since a snowstorm was forecast, they came a day earlier than they'd planned.) They brought gobs of stuff with them; I think we spent about 15 minutes bringing stuff in from their car. :-) Basically Anna-Brita brought the entire Christmas dinner with her. Bless her! 

We hung out for a couple of days. I worked some. Anders played with Max a lot, as did Sven and Anna-Brita. Anders and Max and I went bowling one afternoon, which was a fun little outing. 

Christmas we did in the typical Swedish style. Disney, big Christmas dinner, and then Santa arrived with so many presents that he couldn't hope to carry them all. Anders was our Santa this year. He went out to go buy a paper, and five minutes later Santa showed up. Max believes so completely in Santa that he wasn't looking for discrepancies, so he was clueless. Nevertheless, Anders was wearing a mask, and he cleverly disguised his voice using a Danish accent, claiming his reindeer got off course. It was funny! He was a great Santa, and we were grateful. 

It was fun watching Max's respectful bearing. Like, "This is the guy who decides how much loot I get!"

Max's biggest presents were a remote control truck and a microscope (Sven & Anna-Brita), Transformers (Anders), and three (!) Real Wheels adventure DVDs (Grandpa Marlin). Bengt and I got him some games and a soft Bamse bathrobe. He got lots of other presents, too, which were greatly appreciated. Of course the rest of us received presents, too—I won't go into that, though.

We played a little Uno and enjoyed some fine alcoholic drinks. Ate too much. Watched TV. Read our new books. Played with Max. Marveled at all the snow falling. It was over all too soon. The guests left for home the day after Christmas. And that was probably good, because I'd been sick all night. I got "winter vomit disease"—intense nausea, vomiting, fever, bad body aches, headache. For me it was mercifully short. I was only really sick for about 24 hours. Then it took another 24 hours for the body ache to subside and for me to get my strength back. 

Anna-Brita came down with it the night they got back to Perstorp. She was also quite uncomfortable, and had aching in her legs days later.

I think it was Max who gave it to us. He was a bit unwell on the 24th. He already had bags under his eyes when he woke up in the morning, and he napped for two hours that day, which he does only when he's sick. He seemed a bit warm, but he was in reasonably good spirits, so we didn't think much of it. (There wasn't much we could do about it, anyway....) 

After me, Bengt had intermittent nausea and body aches that dragged on for several days. Strange how differently it affected each of us. 

Anyway, I worked between Christmas and NY. Max's birthday was the 30th, but as you know, he has his party in the summer so we didn't make a big deal out of it. He got some presents, though, most notably a Game Boy that he really wanted (and which I suffered terrible qualms over).  But last night we had another family over to celebrate the New Year with us, and we had Max's birthday cake then and everyone sang for him, which he clearly enjoyed. 

At 8 p.m. we set the clock forward and counted down to midnight so that the kids could experience a "real" new year countdown. (We learned this trick when we celebrated with Marriotts and Pluth/Kowalskis in 2001.) At the stroke of "midnight", we blew our party horns, wished each other a happy new year, and toasted each other with red pop from a bottle that was equipped with a cork just like champagne. Then we went out and shot up a bunch of fireworks. 

Max got to bed just a hour past his bedtime. Bengt and I stayed up to see the new year in. As usual, we stood on our balcony with our glasses of champagne (real this time) and watched all the fireworks in the area. The night was clear and not too cold, so we were able to stay out for awhile. (As I remember, the last couple of NYEs have been much colder and windier.) It was a strange and bittersweet celebration, as I said, because of all the sorrow in the country right now. We couldn't shake it. 

Then I made the mistake of popping open Max's new Game Boy. He'd gotten stuck on Zelda, and in an unusual show of generosity—I usually refuse to have anything to do with these games—I wanted to help him. I practically memorized what few instructions came with the game, and then I created another file and worked through part of the game myself. I had no idea it was so complicated, so intricate, and so long! No wonder people get so caught up in them. I was up until about 3 a.m., and of course I only got a fraction of the way into the game.

Max was overjoyed to learn the new tricks this morning, but the problem is that there are literally thousands of new tricks to figure out. (Of course it's only a problem if you consider it a chore rather than the adventure and entertainment it's supposed to be.) I realize now that there's no way I can stay ahead of Max without playing at least an hour every night. 

Over my dead body. 

So I found one cheat sheet online, and Bengt found other. Between the two of them, I should be able to help Max out of these fictional predicaments often enough to keep him from getting completely frustrated, but without losing my sanity.

However, clearly I'm going to have to ration/limit these Zelda help sessions. I was trying to work on my computer this evening (writing this, actually), and Max interrupted my work approximately once per minute. He was so driven, so persistent. It was really annoying. Maybe I'll do something like give him two tips per day, and other than that he's not allowed to question me about the game. Or maybe I should give whatever assistance I can for a fixed amount of time each day. "Ten minutes, then I'm done with this game for the day," I'll say.

Still, it's kind of neat to have spent a couple of intense hours on the game. At least I know what Max is up to, and I understand the "world" he's in, and I can make sense of the clues that these cheat sheets offer.

There are pictures from our holidays on Max's website, http://max.palssons.com/

I will try to write again soon, for example about Max's 5-year checkup. Sorry to end so abruptly, but suddenly I find it's almost 1 a.m. and I really need to get some sleep.

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