Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas goats and gingerbread houses

Two wonderful Swedish traditions for Christmas day!

This is the first gingerbread house that I have ever made and it was a lot of fun.

I used this recipe but I didn't really measure anything accurately (remember the concept of lagom from this post?).  Also, we are dairy and egg free eaters so I just left the egg out and kept my fingers crossed for a good result (which I got!).

OK, the icing is a little sloppy but it tasted great.  Freddy wasn't interested in it all, not even after I told him it was a garage to put a car in.

Another tradition is to put a Julbok (Christmas goat), made of straw, next to the Christmas tree.  Apparently it is traditional to try to get rid of the Julbok by putting it in a neighbour's garden then they have to do the same and so on, but for us being in Paris at the moment I don't think our French neighbours would understand what had just happened if they found our goat in the garden.

In Sweden large versions of this ornament are frequently erected in towns and cities around Christmas time and they are almost always illegally set on fire before Christmas. The Gävle goat was the first of these goats, and remains the most famous.  I believe that this year the Gävle goat was set fire the day after it was erected and it barely even got to see December as was noted on it's own blog here.

Finally a quick look at the handmade traditional Swedish Christmas ornaments that Farmor made.

Merry Christmas to you wherever you are!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

God Jul! (Merry Christmas!)

Today is Julafton!! (Christmas Eve),  which is the day that Swedish people celebrate Christmas.  So I thought I would share a little of this tradition with you...


The Christmas festivities begin with the festival of Saint Lucia on the 13th December (which I have already posted about) and everyone puts a star or candles in their windows. 

December 24 is the day when the Jultomte (Father Christmas) brings the presents, but only if you have left a bowl of porridge out for him the night before.  If you forget you will have bad luck all year.

But Jultomte doesn't come down the chimney like in England.  Instead he knocks on the door and asks "finns det några snälla barn här?" ("are there any nice children here?").  To which the reply is yes (of course).

Jultomte then comes in and takes out presents from his sack and passes them to the children.

This is Freddy's first experience of seeing Jultomte (Farfar) and he was a little scared at first until he got the hang of the taking-gifts-from-Tomte aspect of the evening. 

The traditional Christmas meal in Sweden is a smörgåsbord (yes it's actually a word that the English stole from Sweden).  It means a big buffet with lots and lots of dishes.  Here are a few of them that we ate today:

Julskinka (Christmas ham)

Dopp i grytan ("dipping in the kettle") - dipping bread slices in the ham broth after boiling the Christmas ham

Rödkål - sweet and sour red cabbage

 Köttbullar - Swedish meatballs

Revbensspjäll - spare ribs

Potatis -potatoes

Gravad lax - salmon

Prinskorv - small hot dog sausages

Eggs with caviar

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Reaching out and touching

Where is the time going??

Henry is 12 weeks now and I although it feels like he was born yesterday it is also like he has been with us forever.

With Freddy we took photos every day but the time seems to have passed so quickly that weeks can go by between photos of Henry. 

Last week I was really pleased to catch a glimpse of what appeared to be one of his first real explorations.  It was so lovely to see.

Mission: To hold papa's finger.
Target: Identified

Result: Success

Conclusion: Closer inspection required

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cultural Exchange package - England


Finally I managed to send out all of my Cultural Exchange packages!  I could easily have kept going finding more and more things but at some point I just had to stop.

So for those who cannot wait to receive their package or for those just interested in what I sent here is a little summary......
  • A Union Jack flag
  • A postcard from London
  • A list of what is in the package 
  • A letter and some printables
  • A crown to decorate (to represent the British Monarchy)
  • Some real coins
  • Some plastic banknotes
  • Chocolate coins, chocolate Santa's and a candy cane
  • A Christmas card
  • A football pencil and rubber
  • An Eiffel Tower .....WHAT???...yes I know but at the moment we are in Paris so I thought I would include one
  • London pin badge
  • Old fashioned playing cards
  • Union Jack pencil

I also added a few crafts to the packages.  The first is an explanation of how to make a friendship bracelet (which are popular amongst English school children).

And a craft project that I made up which is to make a royal Mail post box from a toilet roll tube.  I was so happy with how this tutorial turned out that I will be adding it to this site some time in the new year.

A point I should make is that the packages may vary slightly so don't be alarmed if you got something else instead of what I have shown here.  Also,  I think that I may have wrapped up my 2.5mm crochet hook in one of the packages which you might be a bit confused about if you find it.  If it's in your package just tell the children that it's to represent the British love of hobbies!

If you like the look of this package (or any of the other ones that I have shown on my blog) and are interested in joining next year you can sign up here to receive 5 packages from around the world.

If you want to see what other people have been sending each other check out my Facebook page.

And finally just to add to those who will receive this package - I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together!  If you have any questions about England just leave them in the comment.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Handmade Christmas part 3: DIY doctor kit

I have already talked about the importance of pretend play for toddlers and it's role in reducing what us adults might refer to as antisocial behaviour (hitting, pushing and biting).

I decided to make a little doctors kit for Freddy (24 months) which has the benefit of encouraging pretend play and the development of empathy as well as being something that he is particularly interested at the moment (following several recent doctors visits).

Everything that I make for Freddy is quick to put together (10 minutes for this) and really easy but with a bit more time and patience dedicated to neatness of finish I think that this would make a wonderful little Christmas gift for a toddler girl or boy and it was very easy to do.

To start I took a canvas shopping bag.  You could make this just from fabric but using a bag makes the sewing process painless and quick.

Cut the bag following the lines below as a general guide. 

Cut out a large and small red cross from felt.  These will be used on the large and small bags.  The pieces cut from the bag will make two bandages and a small pouch to hold them.

To make each bandage I took the long strips of fabric and hemmed each edge roughly then sewed on a cotton make up remover pad to the middle of each.  If you don't have these you could use folded tissue or more fabric from the bag.


I sewed up the small pouch after adding the small red cross to the front.  Once finished I added a few other bits and pieces that we had at home such as plasters (band-aids) and some plastic syringes.

Next I sewed up the large bag after adding the large red cross to the front.  In this picture you can see the finished bandages which I coloured in with red pen to look like blood.  If I had had some Velcro I would have added this to the bandage ends (I still might do).


Finally I added a stethoscope that we bought for my husband to listen to the baby with when I was pregnant (it didn't work).

See how easy it is??  Freddy is going to love this.

Handmade Christmas part 2: Christmas cards

Nothing is quite as much fun as a late night crafting session!

Last night I was in crafting heaven as Farmor, my friend Jenny and I made Christmas cards using rubber stamps, card blanks and a steady supply of pepperkarka (gingerbread biscuits) and
glögg (mulled wine).

We went mainly for minimalist designs of baubles and holly bush images.  We also used letter stamps to write phrases such as 'Merry Christmas' or Happy New Year.  Jenny accidentally stamped 2010 on a card instead of 2012 and it turned out to be one of our favourites.

Happy St Lucia's Day!

Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day on December 13th.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Swedish schools normally have their own St. Lucias and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out 'Pepparkakor', ginger snap biscuits.

Small children sometimes like dressing up as Lucia and boys might dress up as 'Stjärngossar' (star boys) and girls might be 'tärnor' (like Lucia but without the candles). [source]

Yesterday Farmor and Farfar dressed up as Lucia and a star boy and did a small procession.  Here is a photo of them singing traditional songs.

Monday, 12 December 2011

When toddlers start hitting

It's a fear of most parents and it's something that you never expect to happen to your children but hitting, pushing and biting can be a common phase for many toddlers to go through.

For a week now Freddy has been pushing his friends and although the children (and their mums) have handled it well and reassured me that it is just a phase I really want to understand what if anything I can do to help my little boy overcome the urge to lash out.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with 'bad behaviour' but I started off by searching for gentle ways to discipline. I read books and articles, blogs and forums and then it hit me...... I was looking for ways to correct his behaviour instead of trying to understand why it was there in the first place.

Below I have tried to summarise where I am with my thinking on the subject in case it helps others in my position (I am not a child physiologist and these are just my thoughts):

Put things into context

Personally I believe that children are inherently good. They don't hurt others because they want to cause pain or anger and this is the single most important point to remember, even when you are prising your child's jaws apart to release the arm of a friend. However, children are learning machines and they need and want to learn everything including 'what will the reaction of this person be if I do this' etc.

How can we expect our children to want to experiment with cause and effect with language and jumping and dressing and painting but not emotions? Just remembering and reminding myself of this has helped me immensely.

What is the need that the child is expressing?

If a child hits it is because there is an underlying need that must be addressed. Usually this may be because the child is hungry, bored, tired or jealous. Therefore in order to address the resulting action the need must be satisfied. For example the child might be tired but we try to keep going through a party or play date or just 'so he will sleep more at night'. If this is the case we cannot expect him to behave rationally.

Another unfulfilled need might be love or attention. I have noticed that Freddy only pushes if I am holding Henry so could it be his way of saying 'I need my mama but Henry has her so if I do this she will come to me'?.

Consistency is key

It's true that children need boundaries in order to feel secure in themselves. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of rules but it does mean consistency. That is why a special birthday treat of chocolate for breakfast for a toddler will result in the same request for chocolate the following day. A toddler is only just learning what is and isn't acceptable so to expect an understanding of the concept of a 'special dispensation' of a rule is just unreasonable for both parties.

Be a role model

Many times I have watched as adults snatch toys from children's hands. Why is it ok for us to do it but not the child? I really think it's imperative to model the behaviour that we want our children to use.  I know how hard this can be but if you want the child to do something you must ask first to show respect. Also the way we interact with our partners is an opportunity to model the right behaviour.

Yesterday Farfar threw a coin that he had picked up at me for me to catch and then Freddy started throwing coins around. This time the copying was instant but if it had been 24 hours later would I have remembered that he was just copying Farfar?

Punishment doesn't work

Not only does punishment not work but it leaves the punisher feeling awful and the punished feeling shamed or degraded or angry etc.  There has to be a better way.

I am yet to venture fully into the world of discipline but I'm not a fan of putting a child in his own room and closing the door on him.  In Freddy's case I believe that he just hasn't yet developed empathy and so using punishment would be like telling a cat off for not barking.  

Emotional development is what causes people to feel good about themselves. This is called self-esteem. Healthy emotional development occurs when love is always there no matter what happens. A loved child feels secure and is able to show warm affection to others. If your child has a healthy sense of self, he will be able to roll with and adapt to life's ups and downs.

Social development refers to your child's ability to get along with other people. Your child will learn and develop socially by watching and imitating adults. Play is very important in his social development. This is how he learns to deal with the world around him. [source]

Don't force apologies

We shouldn't impose our needs onto our children. We may want our child to say sorry to the other child but what is the real value of the child doing so if it is not truly heartfelt other than to make us feel better ourselves?

So what am I going to do? I'm going to try to work on empathy development by making Freddy a doctor kit and see if we can role play a few situations.  I'm also going to try to spend more one on one time with him but most of all I am going to respect him and be a role model.  I'll let you know how it goes....

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Happy Birthday Freddy!

My little boy is 2!

I'm not sure that Freddy understands the concept of age or birthdays but he sure understands that it's fun to blow out candles and eat cake!

We ate banana bread.... (my own recipe)

and rainbow kebabs...... (found on Pinterest)

and opened some lovely gifts from family and friends.

At first Freddy didn't know what to do with the packages, he didn't know that they contained gifts; a moment of innocence now lost forever.

We are so lucky to have Freddy in our lives.  Every day he teaches us how to be good parents and we will try our very best not to let him down.

Love you Lilla Gubben x

Monday, 5 December 2011

Watch and learn grasshopper

According to Montessori if a child is allowed to work in an environment where they can choose their work and concentrate for as long as needed on that task, they come out of this period of concentration (or meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward others.

Wow, good will towards others is like the holy grail for a parent whose child has just learnt to push his friends.

I must admit that I find it really difficult to keep quiet and not interfere when Freddy (23 months) is concentrating.  But this is one example of what happens if I do manage to just let him get on with it.

This is just a simple basket with coloured blocks which has been on our shelves for a few weeks now.  There is nothing that 'must' be done but many things that 'can' be done
First they get tipped on the floor - they make a great sound as they hit the wooden floor.  
A little later they are formed into four towers.  I stacked them but Freddy passed each one to me saying "red one goes there, blue one goes there, yellow one goes there.."etc 
Then each tower is carefully kicked over.  Freddy then says "Mama, look, colours still together!" as he notices that they are still grouped close together on the floor.
This little activity really got me thinking about how we spend most of our time as parents thinking about what we have to teach our children but I am desperately trying to change that mental model so that I allow my children to teach me about how they want to learn.   All it needs is for me to fully respect them as the perfectly made little people that they are.  

This post is linked to the wonderful Living Montessori Now site.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

It's Christmas day! (sort of)

Am I the first blogger to do my Christmas day post??? :)

My friend from Thailand (Wanita) is staying with us at the moment and coming from a Buddhist family she has never experienced a Christmas celebration. So...... today we celebrated Christmas!

When I married my husband (who is Swedish) I was thrilled to discover that Christmas had suddenly shifted forward a day from the 25th to the 24th December so I didn't need much persuasion at all to bring it forward by another 3 weeks I can tell you.

I gave Wanita a Christmas stocking that I made for her filled with lots of traditional goodies, such as a satsuma in the toe and chocolates as well as various crocheting paraphernalia befitting of my crocheting buddy.

Wanita gave me a stunning crochet bag that she just happened to whip up in a couple of days (seriously, this girl works fast).

And of course we enjoyed all of the food of a traditional English Christmas dinner.........

The only thing missing was the customary sitting on the sofa to watch the Queen's speech. But hey, you can't have everything :)

The really strange thing was that with a combination of 10 hours non stop Christmas music and the smell of mulled wine in the air all day it actually really felt like Christmas but without the anticlimax that always arrives when you realise it's a year until you can do it again.  I have to say that celebrating early might become a fixture in our home for many a year to come!

Of course for us this was an 'additional Christmas' and we will still be celebrating traditionally on the 24th but what a fun start to December this has been!

p.s Wanita has prepared a letter from Thailand that you can print and give to your children as part of the cultural exchange.  I'll be posting it shortly.

p.p.s The handmade Christmas series will continue tomorrow!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Potty training update

I have Selmada to thank for this post as she asked for an update on our progress in the comments of my last post on potty training.

We have some days when Freddy (23 months) will use the potty without being prompted and other days when he won't go anywhere near it.  We have done nothing to 'push' him to use the potty but if he is wearing nappies (that's diapers for you American folks) he is much less likely to care about using the potty.  For that reason we try to keep him either in his 'big boy pants' or naked as much as possible, that way if he does have an accident he knows instantly rather than just waiting until his nappy is dragging along the floor between his legs before making a fuss.

If he wees on the floor we ask him to help us clean it up (which he does happily) and we never tell him off.  We just say "oh next time perhaps you might want to use the potty?"

In a bid to add a more 'fun' dimension to potty training my mum gave us a potty that plays a fan fare every time it is used.

Don't let the good ideaness of this product fool you though as it took Freddy 2 minutes to realise that if he held his hand over the sensor he could simulate it being used and get a fanfare for nothing.  Then when he realised that there were batteries inside he spent the next few days trying to open the back with a screwdriver which led to the construction of the 'toddler workbench' (see me observing and following the child?).

I have made a few additional interesting observations that I thought I would share in case they are useful:
  • I have seen him using the potty a few times standing up and weeing into it.  He seems to think that this is really good fun.
  • If we have guests that he wants to 'impress' he will immediately sit on the potty and declare that he has weed.
  • It's been really good incorporating a sit on the potty into the bedtime routine so that he can try to empty his bladder before sleeping.  When he does this we often don't have to change him in the night.
  • Having easy access to his 'big boy pants' has made him quite pleased to get them from the drawer and wear them.
  • Consistency is definitely the key to success but over-the-top praise each time he uses the potty doesn't help him to want to use it himself if we are not immediately there.
  • Allowing him to flush his wee down the toilet is a really good reward for using his potty.
  • Don't keep a book next to the potty which shows a boy putting a potty on his head.

So that's where we are, just taking it day by day.  Perhaps if I didn't have a 2 month old to look after I would be able to spend more time ushering Freddy to the potty but he's a clever little boy and I have no doubt that he will just do it when he is ready.

Does anyone else have any tips we could try?
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