Lots of changes happening around here. Of course, one thing that never changes is me being behind, so you’re getting this report on Elfling starting BIG SCHOOL! and Dude starting SPIELGRUPPE! a whole three weeks late. And low on picture content. Um, oops?

(A has C’s first day of school pic secreted away in his camera and isn’t letting me have it yet, so blame him for that part.)
ETA: Pics are up! Those that include other children are friends-only, so be sure to log in.)

Anyway. Yes. Summer is over – it was ferociously hot, weeks and weeks and weeks went by with temperatures in the 30s (and not much cooler overnight), so the change of season is quite a relief. Holidays happened, we had a week in Davos (with a bit more mountain walking than Elf would have preferred) and 10 days plus 1 in England (the “plus one” owing to a flight cancellation, so it certainly didn’t add anything to the fun of the trip), and working backwards from the present as is clearly only sensible with a backlog, you’ll get your update on that Later.

Because the new things happening now really are big news. Big changes. I’m very aware, with all kinds of mixed feelings (though probably not the way you’re imagining),* that the baby phase of our lives is almost entirely over. Dude is mostly weaned (barring first thing in the morning – I can’t cut him off completely just yet, he loves it too much), he’ll be out of nappies soon (I really really hope), and he’s IN SPIELGRUPPE. Two mornings a week for now; one more (in a different, farmyard playgroup) starting after the October holiday.

He loves it. He took to it instantly, without a backward glance at mommy as I went out the door. I mean that literally. Frankly I would really like him to give me a friendly goodbye squeeze, but no, because THERE ARE CARS and they have his full attention. It’s as different from Elf’s (desperately panicked, miserable) playgroup start as could be imagined.

Little boy going places

And, obviously, I love it. I love that he’s suddenly so much more a little boy; there was a noticeable change over the holidays, a major shift in the quality of how he plays with Claudia. They’ve always enjoyed playing together but now he can take a far more active role. He’s speaking in complete and sometimes complex sentences. So it’s a great time for Spielgruppe: he’s ready to socialise, make friends, even learn more German.

And HELLO ALONE TIME. For me, that is. I get to have two and a half whole hours undisturbed; I can listen to music. I can do work that requires concentration. I can do, well, whatever I want to do, as long as it’s not more than a couple of hours’ worth (so going into town is pretty much out, but that’s okay, what I want to do is sit at home and work, and be alone with my thoughts and my knitting). It’s not enough. I’m greedy; I want way more alone time than this. Not just for work – I really like spending time in my head, and I haven’t had that luxury for years, and I hardly feel like myself any more. But here we are, and it’s a start.


Elf, now: Elf is a first-grader, and in the school we wanted for her (we had absolutely no control over this – you don’t get to request a school allocation), which is a bit of a surprise, although a welcome one. It’s very small and ever so slightly further away, and all her friends, even the ones who live on that side, are going to the school on our street. So: yay Watt Schulhaus! Lovely teachers, lovely principal (who specifically wanted C “with me”, because our daughter is awesome, and as I understand it that’s why she’s there). But boo for a new class with a whole new group of kids. She knows a handful of them but basically has to make friends from scratch. I have no reason to be anxious about this. She formed friendships very fast in kindergarten, when she was still struggling with the language, so it’ll be easy peasy now, right? And yet, I am so very anxious. Parents, man. I should just chill.

Besides social anxiety, I’m full of vicarious academic anxiety. No, not that she’ll struggle, of course! More that she’ll be bored and unmotivated. They’re off to a slow start and I know how much she can already do – she isn’t even getting a chance to use any of what she knows, so far. But it’ll be fine, right? It’ll be fine. By her own account, she’s loving school and very happy so far. Mommy needs to chill.

One more new thing: she’s started Geräteturnen, ie proper gymnastics. (“Turnen” here is generally used to mean gym in the American sense – phys ed, sort of thing. Games. Geräteturnen = gymnastics with equipment, and competitions.) She is very excited about this, as am I. I never did any kind of sport at school but if I had had the chance, I would have loved to try gymnastics. And Elf is just stoked. I don’t think she’s particularly talented but she’s mightily enthusiastic! She has spent so many hours this year working on her cartwheels. (Still floppy.) The one kindergarten thing she was especially sad about leaving behind was the “Stange” (cross-bar thing in the playground, she used to tell me in great detail about all the ways she was figuring out to flip round it). So yay Turnen!


* I’m not sentimental about losing my baby. A is, a bit. And it’s absolutely true that M is an incredibly delicious baby/toddler and this rapidly passing stage is to be treasured. But I love watching kids grow, and am very aware of how much easier things get for me as they do grow. So that’s not it. But: things getting easier means fewer excuses for me. And I’m pretty uncomfortable, right now, with questions of what I’m doing and where I’m going. So: mixed feelings. I want to move forward, but don’t have a vast amount of faith in how much forward I’m actually moving.

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I realised that I never wrote about the monsters, and there is a real danger that we might eventually forget about them, and that would be unthinkably terrible. So: let me record for posterity how a 3-year-old Claudia felt about monsters under – er, in the bed.

Some toddlers are scared of monsters. Some, apparently embrace them. Claudia had a whole passel of baby monsters who tickled her feet while she was going to sleep, and made her giggle.

(They weren’t the only invisible bedmates. Three of her preschool friends cuddled her to sleep also. They lined up in the same order every night, from least to most beloved, thus: “Himmat will look after Krishan, Krishan will look after Eshan, Eshan will look after me, and I’ll look after Suki.” Suki is her number one doll.)

The monsters came out with us, too, from time to time. They’d walk in a line behind her. One time, we were off to a party and one of the four monsters accidentally failed to get off the tube with us at our stop. “It’s okay,” she told me, “he’ll stay on the train and wait for us on the way back.” He didn’t, though. Apparently he got tired of waiting and headed home alone, so we caught up with him there.

I never found out what the monsters look like. But they were always around. I miss them.

Update: I wrote the above in August, and apparently I saved as draft instead of publishing. Whups. However! I have since asked C whether her baby monsters were still around. No, she said… but I’m glad I asked. Because they’re back.

Of course they’re not babies any more. They’re grown-up now, but still little. They huddle on the floor beside her bed, and she can lift them up to snuggle, one by one. They followed her out, the other day, to go and play with her friend Giacomo. Oh, and they’re making new baby monsters. Because mommies and daddies do that – even mommy and daddy monsters.

Claudia received a small weaving loom for Christmas – one like this. She took to it with great enthusiasm, producing a small and colourful thing that we agreed might be a doll’s house carpet… and so she declared her intention to sell the pattern.

A fine and woolly piece of diminutive decor.

A fine and woolly piece of diminutive decor.

Well, sure. She knows I sell knitting patterns online. She loves the idea that (occasionally) money rolls in all by itself while I’m doing something else entirely. She thinks she sees a way to cash in even more than she already does from pocket money and the tooth fairy!

“I will sell it for A HUNDRED FRANCS,” she declared. I suggested that nobody would buy it for that. She was greatly disappointed but allowed me to talk her down to five francs. No further. Below that, she figures, it just wouldn’t be worth her while. I pointed out that if the price is too high, nobody will buy it, but if the price is fair, she will make more sales and can earn more. She remains unconvinced. I explained that people are reluctant to buy patterns from new, unproven designers, that many people publish a whole heap of patterns – even for free – before making a single sale. I gently suggested that perhaps her rather ad hoc instructions for a very simple item might not be worth that much, to the average customer.

I got the Stubborn Face. She has the stubborn gene from both sides. She is stubborn squared. It’s premium Stubborn Face.

Here, then, is the first published pattern from Elfling, aged five and three quarters. It’s all her own work – although she can’t write (much) or type, she made and photographed the sample (including figuring out how to weave, since the loom came with NO instructions and I’ve never used one), made the artistic decision to include a black and white photo, and dictated the pattern instructions.

As her publisher, I have made the executive decision to make the pdf freely available, on the tip jar system. As it is easily viewable and downloadable, you can review the quality and style without making a purchase. If you like it, you can donate what you feel it is worth… whether Claudia’s recommended donation of Fr5, or another amount – say Fr1 – that might help her to learn about market forces.

Or, of course, nothing at all. That’s a lesson too.

Happy weaving, everyone! And a special thank you to Ravelry’s BdLasGi, for the encouragement.

Dollhouse carpet pattern

Small Donate Button

You wouldn’t know it from the ringing silence around here, but Max has indeed been growing, not only in size but in charm. And now he’s TWO.

Pretty much everything I wrote six months ago still holds – he’s delightful, cuddly, obsessed with brum-brums, devoted to Claudia… but with one notable exception. I’m not sure I’d call him “fundamentally chilled” at the moment. Maybe it’s the teething, or developmental wossnames (he’s sleeping terribly again, despite three glorious weeks of quite spontaneously sleeping through the night). Very likely it’s just a phase. But while he can, on occasion, potter around in relaxed fashion, it seems more by accident than design. More often he’s loudly demanding attention, either by physically grabbing and push/pulling me to come with him, or through the time-tested tantrum method. (Which always prompts Armin to sigh, “Claudia never did this,” which is a dirty stinking lie. She certainly did. Though I do think it’s true that her super-intense tantrum period was a lot briefer.)

When he is quiet, the universal parent rule applies: better RUN and find out just how bad the destruction is! Yes, those white walls have been defaced. And the sofa. And the coffee table. And the floor. On this, I have to agree with A: C never did this.

He continues to take great leaps physically (quite literal leaps – jumping is a hot favourite game), and to be a bit behind in the speech department. We communicate very well, and lately he’s been trying out new words seemingly every day – often carefully repeating after me – but total vocabulary is still small. In fact, I think a list of Max’s words, in approximate order of when he started using them, might do very well as an indication of his personality. There are a lot of special Max words, sometimes just sounds that he uses with a very specific meaning.

Mama = sometimes actual Mama, but more often “feed me now” or sometimes just “attention now please” (from anyone!)
Brum-brum = car, truck, bike… anything with wheels (originally – see more specific words later)
Dada (rarely)
Nana = sometimes his actual Nana, most often Claudia, who knows why
Lala = C’s friend Lea, a hot favourite, because (encouraged by C) she used to pick him up and swing him around
Moo, baa, woof-woof, ow (= meow = cat)
Ow = actual ow
Voom = fast, or “let’s go” (gesturing with both arms)
Wow-ow = round and round/circle (gesturing)
Tooter = scooter/bike (he doesn’t distinguish; this is a VERY IMPORTANT word and probably the most used of all)
Snoring sounds = sleep

Mmm, nyum nyum = obviously, enthusiasm for food, either about to be consumed (pointing to open mouth) or just consumed (rubbing tummy). The gesturing is pretty much obligatory.
Guv = glove
Clook = train, maybe because of toy tracks that click together
Boo = tunnel, who knows why. Maybe something to do with peekaboo?
Duck = truck
Daw = draw
Alle-alle = empty (this is German kid language, apparently)

There will be more photos, but not quite yet. I will however leave you with some Motion Pictures (two automagically created by Google, one actual video)  giving you a little taste of our Maxilein.*

Very busy and important.

Very busy and important.


SOMEONE’S got to take care of the doggie!

* You’re not hopelessly confused/forgetful, and I’m not mistyping. Maxilein (“little Max”, for the German-impaired) is a favoured nickname. Maximilian is his never-used actual name.

Twann harvest festival

This weekend we went to the Trüelete harvest festival in the village Twann on lake Biel. Here’s the photoset: Flickr album.



It will surprise no one reading this, well acquainted with us as you are, to hear that Armin and I do not have the best track record with holidays. Planning them, taking them, organising them. We tend to forget to make holidays happen, unless we have a pressing need to visit someone, and when we do take a trip, we may completely fail to realise, say, the impact of the season (top tip: in Britain, the “off season” really means OFF, as in, closed! In SA everything’s just a bit quieter and cheaper, ie really great), or which bit of the place we’re visiting is actually nice to visit. We’ve also had astonishingly bad luck with weather, during our 11 years in the UK. A wet week in north Wales in November is to be expected… but lashings of freezing rain in Dorset in June, not so much.

So it shouldn’t be exactly surprising that everyone we told we were spending a week in Solingen, northern Germany, responded with a variation on “Hahaha… oh, you’re serious.” Or more simply: “WHY?” The why was actually pretty simple. We were invited to a wedding there, and being slap bang in the middle of Claudia’s autumn break, we figured we’d make a proper holiday out of it. Originally the plan was to go on to Hamburg, but friends there weren’t available. Berlin, we decided, was a bit too far. Saxony-Anhalt sounded good… but then we found a really nice-looking guesthouse in Solingen, and we thought about spending less time driving cranky kids around and more time exploring our surroundings, and it seemed like a pretty good idea.

Surprisingly enough, we were right. Solingen is… well, it’s kind of a dump. A grimy, depressing industrial city that had to be rebuilt almost entirely after the war. It’s nobody’s idea of a beautiful destination. But our holiday house was fabulous – a 300-year-old farmhouse with floors that tilt like a ship at sea, with extremely welcoming and helpful hosts right next door, bringing us delicious, generous, amazingly cheap breakfast every day and an endless supply of toys for the kids. You arrive via another depressing semi-industrial street, but then suddenly you’re looking at fields and horses and perfect rural charm.


You see here one of the key contributors to our good experience: just two of the assorted scooters and bikes, in appropriate sizes, that were made available to us. (There was also a swing, and a goodly number of indoor toys, including masses of matchbox cars and a long ramp for racing them down.) Max’s first word every day (after “Mammaaaa…” and after having a good long drink) was “Tooter!” (Meaning scooter, meaning also bike.) Then, “Tooter?” Then, and for most of the rest of the day, “TOOTER TOOTER TOOTER TOOOOTERRRRR!” (Please to imagine that last word in a really deep, guttural, full-throated roar of absolute enthusiasm.)

So he quite liked it there.

Solingen also provided just enough by way of outings and attractions that we had something to do every day, in a gentle way, without feeling any pressure to pack everything in. In better weather, and with bigger kids, I expect we could have enjoyed a lot more traipsing about (visiting Cologne and Düsseldorf, hiking and such), but we took it easy, and relished it.

On day one*, which was on the grey and drizzly side, the morning was given to grocery shopping and settling in. In the afternoon we went to check out Germany’s highest railway bridge – underneath which is a large, newish and rather lovely park, with a smithy producing interesting art, and a Schwebefähre, or “floating ferry” (powered by the vigorous pumping of those who wish to cross, as well as the ferrymen).

Müngstener Brücke

Art is for climbing, right?


Day two was a bit sunnier, and looked likely to be the best day of the week, so we headed to the Wuppertal zoo. Zoos have never been high on my list of must-dos, but I’m starting to change my mind on that. A lovely zoo is lovely, and they all have such distinct flavours, it’s always a pleasure. Going to the Wuppertal zoo had the bonus of giving us a chance to take the Schwebebahn, or “floating railway”. (The more usual English translation would be overhead/suspension railway, but I love how “schweben” here becomes a verb in the London sense of “tube”. Ads urged passengers to “float to the theatre” etc. Marvellous. Plus, the Wuppertal region clearly has a Thing for floating-type transport; good on ’em, let’s all take a leaf, etc.)


Gibbons at play

On day three we embarked on the grand adventure of seeing three countries in one day – visiting Armin’s aunt Gudrun in Maaseik, Belgium, and then going with her and her husband Ricky to an animal park in Born, Netherlands. Armin wasn’t entirely convinced about this plan, having just done the zoo, but I really enjoyed it. The park is located around a ruined castle! How can you not love a chance to eyeball camels, peacocks, flamingoes and lynxes underneath a ruined castle? Plus, curious goatses.

Kasteelpark Born

The curiosity of goats

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, day three concluded with Max sicking up repeatedly at Gudrun’s place. Unpleasant (especially for him, poor baby, he’s never ever done that before) and inconvenient. Luckily Gudrun has a grandson just three months older than Max, and so was well provided with muslins etc, even lending us a sleepsack to take him home in (his clothes being, well, sicked on). In the morning, just as we thought he was all better bar a touch of diarrhoea, he Exorcisted all over me, and himself. So day four, our last full day, was mostly spent at home, making sure he really was recovered. (I did however take Claudia off to the local shops to procure emergency clothing for Max. The local shops were about as dreary as you might expect, with the delightful and unexpected exception of a truly excellent yarn shop, the wonderfully named Woll-Fühl Oase. The owner gave Claudia a bag of gummy sheep, so she kept wanting to go back.) In the late afternoon, when we could see his tummy was properly settled, we went to a swimming pool. Which turned out to be Claudia’s favourite part of the whole holiday, because since acquiring goggles, taking classes and learning to go underwater without fear, she is 100% hooked on swimming. (And learning to actually SWIM btw, not in class but off her own bat. I am so dang proud. Max is also learning to float by himself (with wings) and loving it. Yay waterbabies!)

Day five was home time, but we stopped off at the local castle on the way. It’s either Schloss Burg or Burg Schloss, I can never remember. Either way it was a proper European castle and much enjoyed.

Schloss Burg

We also stopped at Bad Krözingen, in (I think) Hochschwarzwald, where I completely failed to take any photos but enjoyed the scenery very much. It felt a little bit like driving through the Cape winelands. But only a little bit. Not nearly as gorgeous, obv, nothing could be; but very nice natheless.

And then we crossed the border into Switzerland, and suddenly we could see Alps, and the light was gorgeous, and the landscape was gorgeous, and I couldn’t quite believe this was now home. The next day we went for a walk around Regensberg, the little medieval hilltop village/castle just behind where we live. It was without a doubt the prettiest part of our holiday. And we weren’t even on holiday any more.


Regensberg school playground

Homeward bound

Don’t get me wrong: the actual trip was great, and we thoroughly enjoyed everything we did and saw, and of course the weather is just luck of the draw. But it’s pretty amazing to come back and have the opposite of that deflated post-holiday real-life feeling.

(More hopelessly overprocessed pics here. Armin’s still to come.)

* Excluding the night we spent with Armin’s aunt Brigitte in Heidelberg on the way up, and the wedding, though both were lovely.

Räupli no more

Yesterday was the last day of Claudia’s first year of kindergarten – that is, her first year in the Swiss school system. While kindergartens are physically separate from the primary schools, and of course are very much play-oriented with no formal lessons, kindy is still considered the first step in school (and for that matter, the kindergartens are each closely integrated with a particular local school).

Kindergarten lasts for two years, but kids in both years share the same class (with separate afternoon sessions). The great thing about this is how the older kids look after the younger ones (something I’ve seen practised off school grounds, as the “big school” kids look out for kindergarteners, too). It’s common for the two age groups to be given animal names, to distinguish between them; eg Penguins and Polar bears. At C’s kindergarten, they have a particularly sweet and sensible naming system: Caterpillars and Butterflies. 

For the past few weeks, excitement has been building at the idea that she’s almost a Schmetterling. (I’m maybe even more excited than Claudia. It’s just plain cool.) But first, of course, come five weeks of holiday, during which she is neither a Räupli nor a Schmetterling. Logically, she’s now entering the cocoon stage. 

It’s pretty clear to me, though, that the transformation has already occurred. The changes wrought over the past year have been breathtaking. 

She’s discovered a passion for drawing, and particularly loves to draw black outlines, then colour in with bright pens. (The pens must, absolutely must, go back in the pack in a perfect rainbow. This is a compulsion I share, and which I’m told will serve her very well in Swiss schools, where being organised and tidy count for a vast amount.)

Bow tie

She’s started learning to read – entirely of her own volition; in fact, parents were specifically asked by school authorities not to teach our kindergarteners to read. But a little while ago she declared she wanted to learn, and there’s no way I’m going to tell a kid not to learn if they think they’re ready. (She’s doing great. Struggling a bit with concentration, but doing great.)

Her maths skills are also developing; addition and subtraction are both a bit patchy but it seems to me that she has a pretty strong intuitive grasp on matters – that is, once she thinks she needs to really think about a problem, it gets rocky, but she’ll work things out for herself quite casually at an impressive level. As long as she doesn’t realise she’s not supposed to be able to do so much! It’s an odd thing to witness. She’s starting to figure out how to count beyond 100 –which she could do well before she turned 4, so frankly progress hasn’t been very exciting there, but now of course she can also count to zwanzig auf Deutsch. 

She’s learnt a whole new language, and many Swiss German songs, which she sings lustily at any opportunity. But most wonderful by far is how she’s blossomed socially. “I have TEN FRIENDS!” she boasts to me, and is greatly looking forward to making more next year.

I only realised just how far she’s come recently, by way of contrast with one of these school friends. Julia lives close by, and has been very keen to play with Claudia after school – but she has a new baby sister, which complicates things a bit for her mother. Julia would be welcome to come and play here, but she flat out refuses. Not without mommy. And mommy is tearing her hair out at this hopeless clinginess. Now, Claudia herself is still pretty attached to mommy – maybe always will be. So it’s easy for me to think of her as, still, clingy and fearful (truth is, I think, she just wants attention, rather than needing security). Yet I regularly get phone calls at 12.30pm (ie after kindy lets out) from various mothers saying “Uh, hello… Claudia is here!” She’ll just trot off happily with whoever asks her to play that day. Not always a good thing, but I welcome the newfound independence.

We’re enormously, ridiculously proud of her. She had so much to deal with, and she’s done amazingly well; even other mothers comment on how much she’s grown in confidence. 

Of course there are times we’re not completely enamoured of her. She can be stroppy, sulky, rude. But at the parent-teacher meeting last week, the only criticism was… she daydreams and dawdles. (*cough*I can’t imagine where she gets that*cough*) On every other front, just praise. She works well. She shows intelligence and creativity. She plays well with others. She is charming and perfect. (Well. Near as dammit.)

I knew it all along. 


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