Leon 16 Months

Leon has just turned 16 months and it’s high time to review his language development.

During the month of October, I diligently wrote down every single new word that he used in our Port Stephens wall calendar. The selection process was rigorous: Before a word made it to the calendar, Leon had to show complete command over it, using the word at least three times and in the correct context. So just repeating a word after me or somebody else didn’t count. However, I was more relaxed with the pronunciation of a word, e.g. if he didn’t manage to say the “l” in pulpo (SP for octopus) it was still valid, as long as he was consequent with both pronunciation and usage.

By the end of the month there were just over 30 words on the list. Around 15 of these were Spanish, just under 10 were English, and the remaining were either Swedish or people’s names. Add to that another 10 or so signs or sounds and the total tally lands at around 40 words/signs/sounds.

I recall our first exhaustive conversation that month. I said we were having food, and he lit up and said “¡Pollo!”. No Leon, not chicken. He tried again, “¡Vaina!”. No, we’re not having green beans either. He made one last attempt, “Apple!”. This just cracked me up, a one-and-a-bit-year old shooting his entire food repertoire at me (except “toast”, surprisingly!), hoping to guess the menu!

Looking at the October list now, I’m surprised that such a high percentage was (and still is) English. Because him and I communicate exclusively in Spanish, and because it’s me he spends the most time with, I just assumed that my language would also be his strongest. However, it would seem that the environment and society around him (and his dad too, of course) influence him just as much as I do.

Needless to say, I’m worried! Not that I’m a language Nazi…but it tells me that I need to find other forums where Leon can use his Spanish and as a consequence also value it as a viable communication tool, rather than ditching it for English once he realises that that’s what everyone else is speaking and that’s what works around here!

When it comes to Swedish, I’m less worried. We spend a lot of time with Mrs Louis, and Leon adores Noelle and copies lots of her words. Also, with my (lazy!) siblings only speaking Swedish to their kids, his cousins are all communicating with us in Swedish.

Here’s a sample of Leon’s October words:

ENGLISH: tractor, piggy, book (sounds like “boo-ty”…don’t ask me), owl, wheel

SPANISH: uva (grape/raisin), auto (car), tiza (chalk), diente (tooth), vamos (let’s go), bulbo (bulb)

SWEDISH: lampa (lamp), mormor (mat. grandma), dricka (drink)

There are a few more interesting developments now in November; will add these later! If you’ve read this far you’re either a fellow language acquisition nerd or a grandparent—thanks!

Conversation with a Stranger

A few days back Leon and I hit the big town for a little adventure (well, errands…). Pausing for a moment in a coffee shop, to down some jarred spaghetti bolognese for one of us and a flat white for another, we had a random encounter with a stranger.

There I am, waiting patiently for my coffee at the end of the counter, when he waltzes past and starts talking to me out of the blue. He made some enthusiastic comment about this dress I was wearing, which prompted my to reply something about it being my mum’s old maxi, and how they don’t make them like they used to…these days… It ended up becoming a Conversation. We didn’t introduce ourselves, I didn’t shake hands with his mrs or ruffle his toddler’s hair, but it was nevertheless an Effortless Conversation with a Complete Stranger.

So what? I’ll tell you. I’ve spent 16 years in Sweden. And in Sweden we very seldom talk to strangers. You may get away with it if you’re an immigrant. Or if you’re drunk. Those are the two major explanations as to why you would want to break the social conventions and venture into someone else’s Personal Space. And it will most likely be perceived as an invasion. And you will be labeled as STRANGE. But then Sweden’s cold, weather-wise I mean. That must account for some of the reservedness..? I think so. It may sound a bit simplistic but, if you ask me, climate does affect culture in some very interesting ways.

I’m just saying, there’s something freeing and refreshing about sharing mundane comments with someone in the queue at Sainsbury’s or on the bus stop or the coffee shop. Even if it’s just a passing comment about the weather. It happens to us every day walking down these streets. And I love that about England. The distance between strangers just isn’t that big a deal.

Leon’s First Skating Video

We’ve had a few record hot days in an Octobery Birmingham and here’s what we’ve been up to:

Brad mowed the lawn and picked up autumn leaves in 27º heat! Leon helped. I stayed away from the rays and opted for some kitchen walls scrubbing. Lorenzo & Ernesto were shown what they’re missing out on…

Leon got a bowl cut.

And that’s what he thought of it!

Then we went to the skate park and had fun with Rebecca, Jacob and Daniel, and Leon made his first guest appearance in a skate vid! Nice, Jake!

All that rollin’ made Leon thirsty, ¡salud!

Hope you’re enjoying some nice autumnal weather wherever you are! (Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, of course…) /s.

Struvor and Api (But Mostly Api)

Some lifestyle/family blogs only publish the fun bits. An outing a sunny autumn day, the perfect crafty idea for a 1-year old, an amazing flea market find.

Well, that’s exactly what I had in mind for this piece on last night’s tea! “The Mighty Successful Struvor-and-Api Combo”.

Only it turned out to be more of a kitchen disaster.

Here’s what happened.

Ages ago I was given a struvjärn, and, longer still, the Swedish baking classic “Sju sorters kakor”. Inspired by the recipe’s grandma vibe, I set off making these Belgian Waffles-like delicacies.

This is proper Jamie Oliver-defying deep frying, and the oil needs to reach 180ºC. So while both the iron and the oil were warming up, I prepared…

the api! Api is a thick purple drink made of (purple) maize, and drunk in the Bolivian Highlands. It’s D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. You jump off your night flota at the magnificent Bus Terminal in La Paz, made by Mr Eiffel (yes, as in the tower) himself, get a steamy polystyrene mug of way-too-sweet api from one of the ambulating kitchens and feel your stiff limbs coming back to life again. Not forgetting to squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon in your api to get that characteristic zingy twist. Or, you’re a lucky ex-pat who gets occasional goodie packs in the mail from a loving Dad. (Me! Me!) Easy peasy: Mix the contents with one cup cold and 3 cups boiling water; simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry your struvor until golden brown and pick them loose with a fork. Alternatively, don’t bother. I don’t know how the nans do it. What a mess. So I settled for blobs, in all shapes and sizes.

Voilà! Delicious treats for a weekday evening viewing of Skavlan! (That stray strawberry makes it look a whole lot healthier, ey?)

The Blackboard

So now that he’s turned 1, it’s high time he learned the alphabet.

We’ve devoted an entire wall in the kitchen to this, painting it in blackboard paint.

Super fun!

All Good

Saturdays are full of good intentions.

“First. I’m gonna have Breakfast. Black coffee and sautéed mushies on toast. Sitting down, in Peace; no rush. Then I’ll cut the grass, finish organising my wardrobe, rearrange the furniture in the hobby room and catch up on some reading. Oh, and run a half marathon.”

“Pah.” Doubtfully, my inner pessimist (I prefer calling her Ms Realistic) let out an aspirated exhalation.

Instead I said: “Don’t forget that we’re going out to That Party tonight. And that my roots are showing, again.” (Ms Realistic added “do the weekly shop” but I didn’t pay her any attention.)

At this point, Leon announced the beginning of the day by calling out “papá bye-bye” very loudly. It’s code for “Could you guys scramble out of bed and give me my bottle?! Please.” So we did.

And with that, Saturday was on The Roll.


Husbands are full of good intentions.

The grass is still long and the hobby room still un-rearranged. But breakfast in the garden was sunny, the Party was epic, and my hair is a uniform shade of brown.

Today’s Monday. And Mondays, too, are full of good intentions.

Time for some Leon-snuggles.

Dr Rachel Says: What’s Up with Mineral Oils?

Hello there!

This week we have one more ingredient to keep your eye out for in your face and body products:

MINERAL OIL (look for paraffinum liquidum or petrolatum)

Ever heard anyone say that they couldn’t use oil on their skin because they have oily skin?? Well, this MAY be true- if you’re talking about synthetic oils, that is… But if we’re talking natural plant oils, there’s nothing better to help moisturise dry skin, heal blemished, irritated, redness-prone skin and balance dry skin.

What is it?
Mineral oil is derived from petroleum, (that alone puts me off!) Because of the nature of these oils, however, they are not well recognised or absorbed by the skin. This means that they sit on the surface, creating the illusion of soft, smooth skin, instead of sinking in to the deeper layers where they are much needed to deliver moisture. The result= DRY SKIN- sometimes the very problem you are using the product to treat. What’s more, this pore-clogging action actually inhibits the skin’s natural function of ridding itself of toxins and protecting you from infection. The result= OILY SKIN and spots.

NOTE: Mineral oil is often used at the base for foundation as well, so don’t forget to check the ingredients on your make-up as well as your moisturisers!)

So why is it used?
As usual, it is a very CHEAP ingredient (are we seeing a pattern??)

What are the risks?
Though mineral oil may have less obvious effects on your body than sodium lauryl sulphate, for instance, what it does is make your skin feel smooth on the surface (because it remains on the surface of your skin rather than being absorbed) whilst the underneath layers are becoming more and more dehydrated. Mineral oil, like parabens, has also been shown to be xeno-oestrogenic, meaning it mimics oestrogen’s action in the body, so best to be avoided.

What are some more natural alternatives to mineral oils?
Natural oils (think coconut, olive, almond..)
are from plants, and are similar in content to the skin’s own sebum and therefore are more easily recognised and absorbed by the skin. As a bonus, these kind of oils are naturally rich in vitamins, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids, (delicious AND nutritious, your skin will lap them up!) They are easily absorbed and will not block pores or cause spots/acne. In fact, natural oils provide the raw materials to help the skin heal up old scars from spots and re-balance the skin’s moisture levels. As I explained earlier, using a moisturiser can actually help to balance the skin’s own sebum and may actually help regulate oily skin, which is over-producing sebum as a response to dehydration. There are also certain essential oils, such as geranium, and ylang ylang, which when included in products you’re using on your skin, can help control and restore the balance of oily skin.

NEXT TIME: The Organic food debate and Make Your Own skincare!!

xx Dr Rachel

Word #4

So Leon’s first word was papá. I felt a tiny bit of outrage but then figured that that only shows who is there constantly, i.e. who he doesn’t feel the need to call out for. Then it was mamá. So we’re even. Then it was the next member of the Gómez Hawkes-family: bebé. Although pointing at mamá’s boobs instead of her tummy slightly gets her into outraged mode again.

And now…it’s tatú! Yes! My son is showing true Bolivian spirit by making sure to include Mr. Armadillo in his baby vocab. And I’m bursting with pride. //s.

P.S. Thanks to Anna Homer for yet another educational toy!

A One-Year-Old’s Communication Skills

This last month Leon has been making remarkable progress. It’s like suddenly everything slotted into place in his little brain. All of a sudden he’s making new signs, things we’ve been showing him for ages but which he finally seems ready to incorporate into his communication repertoire.

So now, instead of just signing flower and train and dog, he’s also doing duck, jaguar/lion/large feline and, more excitingly, he’s started to babble loads, with an impressive Polish-esque combination of consonants thrown into his ramblings! He now imitates the sounds of a bird, a cat, flying insects, a woofing dog instead the sign for it, food time, a snake, cars/any wheeled vehicle, a little kiss and green frogs. And only a couple of days ago he surprised us by signing his first word which requires two hands: his favourite food, toast. Most of these words (and our accompanying commands “what does the cat say?”) he knows in both Spanish and English. Oh, and a few weeks ago he learned to clap properly when he means bravo/music/mum’s singing is lovely. Well I just love him!

But best of all is that he’s finally found his legs! He’s pulling himself up on any box, table and sofa, then starts laughing out loud of sheer euphoria and clapping bravo at himself, only to end up on his bum again of course! And the day before his first birthday my Mum caught him taking his first crawls! Yes, my peeps, up until day 364 of his existence the only way Leon’s moved around has been through the army shuffle. And now that he’s crawling I expect my chill days to be officially over. //s.

P.S. I’ve had to update this post twice in the last couple of days to add more words and sounds that Leon just keeps popping up with. The latest thing is him signing his little friend Noelle’s name. Funnily enough, because they both involve a rotating motion with his hand, Noelle’s name becomes very similar to the sign for washing machine… :)

Extra footage: Brad’s educational lineup… “Where’s Kevin the Kangaroo?”

A Little Bit of Summer

SUMMER. More than 10 years after graduating from school, I’m still dividing my year into terms: Autumn term, Spring term and Summer term. Warm sunny days and long illusive nights. In the land of the Midnight Sun anyway. And even if this Summer I’ve been working more than usual there is still that lovely lingering feeling of everything slowing down for a while.

This year we were lucky to have the Grandparents come visit from Down Under and stay for a good old time! So nice for everybody to get together again and especially for Leon to meet them for the first time and be thoroughly spoiled! Fred&Liz&Levi popped by in July and we got to fly over to Sweden for a great family rendez-vous on the Summer Island, as well as duck over to Örebro quickly to see Brad’s Swedes—what a treat! And to finish it all off we went camping in the Malverns, 1-year old and all. It was fun! Oh and then there was Leon’s first ever birthday!

Here’s a few samples of all the adventures!

Grandpa Ken and Leon

Watching the Royal Wedding downtown Brum with the relos

The Gómez-Ortega cousins—4 babies under 1!

Chilling with Grandma Inger and Grandpa Geoff

Pretty Great Malvern with Abuelito & Abuelita

Having fun with Abuelito imitating the birdies!

Walking in the Malverns

Kookaburras in Bourton-on-the-Water

It’s a Bolivian piyu!

Levi looking good in Speedos

The Jimmy Spices’ crew sang for Leon and gave him cake!