Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Tristan 2.0

Last night we celebrated Tristan's second birthday. Or, to be more precise, last night as well, since we already had a test run with some friends last Saturday. And he will have at least one more mini-party, when his Hungarian grandmother gets hold of him in a few days' time.

For some peculiar reason this year's theme turned out to be 'tractor': it featured both on the classy invitation card designed by our friend Orsi and on some of the birthday cakes. (I was wondering whether Tristan's obsession with tractors had anything to do with it). But the biggest hit was undoubtedly a personalized, hand crafted children's Bible made by Orsi.

During last night's party it suddenly began snowing, and by the time the guests were leaving, enough snow had fallen to hold a mini snowball-fight in pajamas outside our building. As it is rather unusual to have snow so early in the year in Denmark, we took it as another special present for Tristan.

Otherwise we are all doing well. Tristan's speech has developed tremendously in recent weeks. He is fully bilingual (with Danish dominating). He has about a hundred active words in Hungarian and perhaps twice as many in Danish. Lately he also started producing combinations of 3-4 words, although two-word combinations are still the norm. He's experimenting more and more with his languages, mixing them in all sorts of creative ways, which is of course so much fun to hear. Some samples can be seen here.

Since my blogging lately has been rather sporadic, I guess this is also a kind of Christmas post. Right now we are busy packing, because tomorrow we're off to Hungary to spend Christmas with my mum. But we're already back in Denmark on Boxing Day to spend a few days with Anes family. So from here, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Summer update

I think it is really time for an update, as quite a lot has happened since my last post almost three months ago. Back in May we held the semi-traditional Camphill Blair Drummond reunion for friends we used to work together with in Scotland many years ago. In spite of months of tedious preparations, this time only Jiyeon turned up in the end.

But we had a lot of fun nevertheless, hanging out in Kunsten, the local art gallery,

meeting up with Katrine, another old friend from Scotland in Århus.

After Jiyeon left, l got really busy in order to conclude the first two years of my PhD contract in time. I literally managed it the last hour, so I got permission and funding to continue with Part B. This means another two years of job security and a handsome pay rise. Ane got promoted at the social work office where she works. From 1 August she becomes an internal adviser, supporting and training her colleagues, many of whom are quite new on the job. This is a new position, tailor-made for her. The change also means that she no longer will have direct contact with service users, which should make her working life a little less stressful - at least in theory.

As for Tristan, he is developing at a breakneck pace. He is still as inquisitive as a cat, and soaks up all impressions like a sponge. We really need to be careful what we show him, as he immediately tries out everything from changing light bulbs to watering plants or driving the car. Since May he has a day carer we all are very happy with. He simply loves being together with her and the three other kids she looks after, and also we feel very confident that he is in very good hands. Besides, his new place is just a few steps away from both where Ane works and from the railway station, which is very convenient for us.

Tristan can now say about 6-10 words. His vocabulary includes dad (both in Hungarian and Danish), car (also in both languages), mum (in Hungarian) and various greetings. His favorite word is mere ('more' in Danish), which is accompanied with heavy gesturing when he wants to get hold of something. His verbal comprehension is also excellent in both languages, although, curiously, still excludes all terms for no and don't. He is simply crazy about animals, and totally fearless when together with them, as seen in this video. He also has a keen interest in motorbikes, which he definitely hasn't inherited from me.

As usual, so far our summer has largely consisted of the usual mixture of various family functions and visits. This time also my mother made it here and helped out with looking after Tristan while his carer was on holiday. Ane has been working in June and July, apart from a week's holiday which we spent at the Danish east coast. But on the 8th August we're going abroad for a week. Originally we were planning to re-visit Scotland after almost 8 years, but we figured that Tristan wouldn't get much out of long hikes in the highlands (possibly in torrential rain) and extended car-trips. So Scotland will have to wait another year. Instead, we chose Malta, as a (hopefully) ideal place for both Tristan and his parents. He will enjoy the sea and the sand, and there are plenty of picturesque historical sights for us to visit, not to mention the Mediterranean kitchen we both are quite fond of. The apparent downside is that the place is really short of trees - but we'll just have to put up with that. We rented a three-room, 70-square meter bungalow in the celebrated "Danish village " (aka. the Mellieha Holiday Center) in Mellieha. I'll write about how we found it all in my next entry.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Eastertime in Hungary

Who says traveling with small kids is no fun? We're on a two-week Easter-break in Hungary and Tristan is enjoying every moment of it. First we stayed four nights in Budapest, at the Central Basilika Hotel (which is hereby warmly recommended to families with children). Central it was, and also extremely clean, comfortable and very children-friendly. But perhaps the greatest feature was its breakfast selection, with a good mix of the usual international fare and traditional Hungarian dishes (including cakes with poppy seeds) which I personally sampled extensively every morning. The hotel is situated in Szent István Square, right next to the Basilica, the largest church in the city.
From the hotel, most of the sights were in easy walking distance, including the great Budapest Zoo, where we spent most of our first full day. It is much greener than the average European zoo, very much like a first-class botanical gardens, and the architecture of same of the buildings is also rather bspectacular. For the first time Tristan showed sustained interest for animals, especially the pet goats. These, on the other hand, were mostly interested in eating as much of my shoes as possible.
These also happen to be the days when Tristan has really taken to being at the playground. We found a great one in Szabadság tér (Freedom Square), right in front of the headquarters of the Hungarian State Television. It has almost every toy one can wish for, and in contrast to most playgrounds in Aalborg, also small kids are catered for. Tristans culinary interest in the sand and gravel was matched only by my interest in the poppy seed cakes but, when finally full, he also spent time on the large wooden train set and on the swing.
Apart from animals and playgrounds, the thing that brings Tristan the greatest satisfaction these days is stairs - the more and longer the better. He can spend unlimited lengths of time walking up and down them, like here in front of "our" church.

The rest of the time we mostly spent hanging out in one of the many parks, or on Margit sziget (Margaret Island), the green heart of the city. The only real cultural activity was a trip to the National Museum to see the excellent Press Photo Hungary exhibition (also highly recommended). As for eating out, Budapest offers a great selection of good and moderately priced restaurants. We mostly went for the Indian theme, first in the very cosy family-run Kashmir, then in the somewhat peculiar (= esotheric), but equally excellent Govinda with its all vegetarian menu.

But what has really made it very special so far is the weather. Temperatures in the mid-20s (and that is not Fahrenheit), almost uninterrupted sunshine and hardly any wind. I don't remember it ever being so hot so early in the year in Hungary. In fact the sun is so strong that one really needs sunglasses - either one's own or, even better, a borrowed pair.

After a somewhat exhausting and stuffy train ride, we are now in Nyíregyháza, at my mum's place, getting ready to celebrate her 60th birthday tomorrow. In spite of not having seen each other since October, Tristan and her hit it off right away, which gives Ane and I a bit of a well-deserved rest.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Spring update

I've been a rather inactive blogger lately. Nothing really serious, only a tight deadline for a paper at university and a language attrition workshop in Groningen, Holland. I managed to combine the latter with a short but very nice trip to Veldhoven to see Marlien, my old friend and former collague from Scotland. We spent a great evening together eating pizza, looking at old Camphill pictures and trying to recall the names of long-forgotten residents and co-workers. In short, it was just like in the good old days in her flat in Main Street in Doune.

Oh yes, and latelt I've been spending quite a lot of my precious free time on tidying up in my hand-scribbled notes, piles of documents and various computer files which until recently constituted the rather chaotic outcome of five-years worth of genealogy research. This process resulted in a new, flashy website which can be visited here. I really feel I could go on about the pleasures of family history research but I'd better leave that for another time; there are more important things to report.

Tristan has been through another explosive phase of development since my last entry. He can now walk with a lot of confidence, crawl up practically any piece of furniture and is very close to saying things one can actually recognize as words. Unfortunately his regular carer got ill in the beginning of January and is unlikely to return to work, so we have now been waiting for three months for the local authority to allocate a new place for him. In the meantime Tristan has been attending a so-called 'guest house' for kids in a similar situation. This has been an unqualified success: the place has the capacity to accommodate up to 20 children, and it seems like the bigger the crowd the better for Tristan. He simply loves being there and can't wait to get out of his push-chair in the morning. Our only concern is the constant change of attendants which prevents him from forming longer-lasting attachments to other children. So we do hope the authorities will soon get their act together and come up with a new permanent place for him.

What else is new? Just a few days after Inge's departure we also had the pleasure of entertaining Søren, Ane's stepdad as a guest. Somehow Tristan feels particularly attached to him and it is rather touching to watch the two together lost in conversation.

And finally, in a few days' time we are off to Hungary to spend a few days in Budapest and then to celebrate my mum's 60th birthday together with the rest of the family. She hasn't seen Tristan since the middle of October, so his presence is likely to become the greatest present of them all. I'll write about how it went in my next entry.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The great amber-hunt

We have Ane’s mum Inge visiting at the moment. Tristan and I went to pick her up at the airport last Thursday, and I took a few shots while we were waiting. Here are two of them.


It is amazing what a difference the presence of a grandmother can suddenly make in one’s life. I can make dinner or wash up without a 20-pound child hanging around my neck, the laundry gets hanged up in the basement before it dries inside the washing machine and it is even possibly to steal away for half an hour to check emails or write a blog entry. Inge even offered to do a bit of baby sitting so that Ane and I could get to the cinema - only the second time since Tristan was born. We saw Gomorra, the Italian Mafia / Camorra movie everyone's talking about and which harvested all the major prizes at the European Film Awards a few weeks ago. The film was great; really harsh and completely lacking the cheesy gangster romantics and glamor that Hollywood normally throws over the subject. It really shows you the vast devastation across the whole society that this type of criminality can cause. I particularly liked the cinematography: hand-held cameras, lots of focus-shifts, really dark scenes among the desolate semi-ruins of the Naples housing estate, which is really made to look like the worst place to live on earth (which it probably is).

Winter, at last

Yesterday we had the first (and possibly last) real winter day of the season. When we woke up, the town was covered in an inch of snow, and later it turn out to be the most beautiful day with sunshine, only temporarily disrupted by liberal scattering of picturesque clouds. Inge and I took the opportunity to drive to Lyngså on the east coast to look for amber on the beach.


Finding amber is not easy. It requires patience, luck, and, according to a common Danish belief, a special sense that one acquires only by starting out as a child. Some would even claim that being a great amber-hunter runs in the family – but I’d rather not get into that. Since the likelihood of finding amber on the housing estate in Hungary where I grew up was extremely slim, I will probably never make it in the amber-hunting trade. My record so far is nothing to brag about: over the years I think I’ve found about five pieces in all – although two of them were rather large, earning me 10 minutes fame and admiration in the family.

To be honest, finding amber is not something that gets me going. I just don’t see the fun in strolling along the beach at a snail’s pace, bent forward, steering at the sand and poking it from time to time with a stick (see below). For me the point of being by the sea is actually watching the waves, the sky, the dunes, the birds, and, possibly, the female sunbathers (who were regrettably very scarce this February morning).

Apart from luck, patience, that special sense and possibly the genetic component, it also helps if there is actually amber on the beach. This is most likely after a proper storm, when the waves throw up pieces of various sizes onto the beach. As the weather had been rather dull earlier, we didn’t find anything apart from a relatively small piece. A rather meager harvest after a day’s work, you might say – but the sun, the sea, the silence and the total luck of people made it absolutely worthwhile – in spite of the lacking topless sunbathers.

More pictures here.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Quiet days

A few quiet, uneventful days, at last. Our holiday in the States is now a distant (but very nice) memory, as we have long readjusted to our daily life in Denmark. The weather here is also back to its usual dullness that is characteristic of this time of year. We haven’t experienced any of those winter storms that from time to time hit the west coast with ferocious force, flooding low-lying areas and causing general havoc. So far this winter has just been wet, gray and windy. How we sometimes long for the deep snow of Wisconsin! At least the days are getting perceivably longer.

The greatest recent news is that Tristan has learned to walk! He took his first real steps in Madison. For some reason in the beginning he felt most sure walking barefoot, holding something in his hand But these restrictions don’t apply any more, and now he can even change direction and turn around without falling – most of the time.

Having mastered this advanced form of locomotion, he is now clearly getting ready to speak. In his babbling I can distinguish the distinct intonation patterns of his two languages. We really wonder what his first word will be. An interesting question in this respect is whether what we normally consider first words are really words or perhaps something else? Many linguists would say that these are in reality not words but mini-sentences or “holistic utterances”. This is because they seem to have a wide range of partially related meanings, only some of which are covered by the same word in the adult word. Thus the “word” apple may mean anything from ‘give me the apple’ to ‘I want to give the apple to daddy’ to ‘it looks like an apple’. (In the last sense, of course it can be applied to oranges, tennis balls and a myriad other things.) The other reason why we can’t really talk about words is that these utterances typically have the intonation patterns of short sentences. For example, apple, when applied in the sense ‘where is the apple?’, would have the rising-falling prosody of English questions.

Anyway, Tristan is not quite at this stage yet, although in some sense he already has a single “word”: mamama. It meets two of the three criteria typically applied to first words: it has a fairly clear and stable meaning: ‘give it to me NOW; 'I want it bad and I can’t wait' ('it' being mostly, but not exclusively food) and a very stable pronunciation. Only the third criterion is lacking: it doesn’t sound like anything with a similar meaning in Danish or Hungarian. But I’m sure he will soon be more explicit than that.

Anyway, what else is new since my last post? Tristan had his second haircut yesterday and it did not go quite as smoothly as the first time. I think the procedure of being installed in a high chair and having a comparative stranger fiddle around his ear reminded him too much of his recent traumatic visits to the ear specialist. But after some crying the result was excellent, and he looks quite cheeky with his new, trimmed looks.