Tuesday 24 February 2015

Laundry Haunts Me

Laundry haunts me, 
Taunts me. Gaunt me.
Colours, darks and delicates,
Whites, tights, even hand-knits
All call out for some attention.
The kids do too, I need not mention.

Frazzled, hassled, sleep deprived,
For empty wash baskets I have strived.
But boys like muck and grass-stained knees
And what food leaves no stain 'cept cheese?
Toddlers tend to spill their juice
And their bowels tend to be loose.

So I've resolved to forgo ironing
But stick to washing and to drying
(That which is most urgently required.
A mummy can't simply be fired).
And I will keep the time I've gained
To keep my children entertained.

Friday Frolics

Monday 23 February 2015

Things on my bedside table

Here in no particular order is what you would find on my bedside table at the moment.

My work blackberry. Dead. Password and PIN long forgotten. 
An iPod Touch, the height of cool in 2009 and barely worth charging now.
A small bottle of baby oil for Number 3's cradle cap.
A reading light - one of those dinky clip-on ones, for those nights when Number 3 fed for ages and I could read in the middle of the night.
Ten books - some finished, some started, some for dipping into. The Wonder Weeks is one. I bought it when Number 1 was at a particularly difficult stage at around 7 months and I still have a read of it now and again.
A pack of homeopathic teething medicine - for the times when The Wonder Weeks offers no consolation and the old "he must be teething" excuse gets rolled out.
Two hair ties. Sadly, tying my hair up in a ponytail or bun before getting out of bed generally equates to my daily style routine. I'm determined to change this. A dab of moisturiser and a dusting of bronzer to the face really should be managable.

A glass of water for that middle of the night thirst.
A mug of rosehip tea, gone cold.
A pen and a notebook - an old habit. So many to dos and ideas spring to mind just before I drop off to sleep. Nowadays these things get typed straight into my phone.
My phone and charger.
A teddy bear my sister gave me years ago. The boys insisted I keep it near me when the realised it was mine not theirs. How one can sleep without their favourite cuddly toy is beyond them.

Hairs - that's one of the few downsides to breastfeeding. Since I have particularly thick hair (we're talking two packs of hair dye at a go here), there is A LOT of stray hair floating round our house.
And then there's dust. Lots of dust.

Add a nappy and a slice of cake and you'd pretty much have a microcosm of my life.

Sunday 22 February 2015

The 10 Minute Walkie Talkie

Friday morning, 7.45 am. Number 1 has just been dispatched to school (primary starts at 8am here - criminial, I know). Number 3 is being breastfed. Number 2 and I are in our PJs at the breakfast table.
Number 2: Mammy, can you make me a walkie talkie?
Me: Yes love.
Number 2: OK. Here. [hands me the box from his cough medicine]
Me: You want me to make this into a walkie talkie?
Number 2: Yes. Can you make it now? [jumping up and down excitedly]
Me: [stifling a groan and thinking "actually, why not?"] Yes love. OK. I need sticky tape and a pen.
Number 2 dashes off and returns a moment later with sticky tape,coloured markers and a pencil. After putting Number 3 down on his play mat, I slit the box down one side, turn it inside out and tape it closed. We discuss the desired functionalities - screen or no screen, how many buttons and what they are for, what colour each button should be and where to place the microphone - me drawing, him issuing instructions. Finally we stick the pencil into the top of the box as the antenna. 
From start to finish it took us roughly ten minutes, it cost nothing, he has a new toy and I was reminded of how easy it is to say yes instead of "later", "not now", "we'll see" or "no". 

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Lenten Resentment

I don't know about you, but for me Ash Wednesday always starts off with me longing for something sweet. I've been daydreaming about making a batch of chocolate caramel squares since I woke up this morning. The fact of it being not only the start of Lent but also a day of fasting and abstinence only makes it worse. I feel deprived before I've even decided on what I'll give up. 
I used not have any trouble sticking to whatever I had given up for Lent. But ever since my first pregnancy I have had a slight feeling of resentment towards Lent. Was it not enough that I was denied a medium steak, alcohol, Parma ham and smoked salmon? I ended up opting out of Lent during my pregnancies. Generally I like to do the right thing in life. When it comes to religion, I am not really sure where I stand but I do feel that you have to take the good with the bad. If you want to celebrate Easter, you put youself through Lent. so this year I am going to make a good effort to stick to my decision and get rid of my Lenten resentment once and for all.
I am giving myself one little treat though. I'm allowing The Bavarian and the boys have Minestrone soup including the bacon. If I gave them vegetable soup, I suspect I'd be in for an evening not only of further fasting and abstinence but also farting and obstinance. 

Monday 16 February 2015

How's Your Sowing?

I know I am alright at sewing, but I'd never thought about how good I am at sowing till yesterday. 
As I lay in bed with sinutitis, Number 1 came in to ask if it was morning yet. I replied it was but would he and Number 2 please play quietly in their room for the moment. I was prepared for some whining and complaining  and my having to explain that I needed peace and quiet. My head was throbbing and my face felt like I'd been walloped between the eyes. As it turned out, no explanation was necessary. Instead Number 1, very eloquently for a six year old, assured me that he and his brother would do nothing to annoy me because that would make the pain in my head stronger. His notion, he went on, was that bringing me happiness would be a better plan. Using one hand to represent happiness and the other to represent pain, he performed a battle between them: "The happiness will fight the pain". Indeed, in his impromptu scenario, happiness overcame pain. "Maybe we can take you into the garden later and pick you some flowers. Do you think that would help you?" 
I sat in the bed already starting to feel better and wondered where we got such a wonderful child. If it true that you reap what you sow, I reckon we must be reasonably good at sowing. 

Friday 13 February 2015

Carneval is Here Again

The house is strewn wth discarded costumes - a hard hat, swords and shields, a fireman's trousers, a pussycat's tail - and the baby is dressed as a dragon. I myself am about to don Bavarian tradional dress and hand out sweets at kindergarten (the things you do for your kids know no bounds). Carneval has arrived in Germany.
The six days preceeding Ash Wednesday are known as Fasching or Karneval. It is a non-stop fancy dress party marathon for chidren and adults alike. I have spent the last ten days preparing for the annual Kindergarten Kasperletheater, a Punch and Judy show for ninty-something under sixes. Legs have been sewn onto puppets, the princess got a skirt of Ikea napkins, and a balloon and some papier mache became a talking stone. 

Here's a sneak preview.

The princess, Seppel and Kasper

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Keeping the Flame Alive - Managing Valentine's Day with Kids

Let's be honest, Valentines Day plus children is not a great combination. But sometimes it only takes a small amount of effort to show that you are doing your part to keep the flame of love alive in your relationship. Here's my favourite minium-effort Valentine's Day gesture  - "I love you" toast as part of breakfast in bed for your other half.

Sliced white bread

You will also need:
Tea or coffee and / or a glass of juice
A tray
A heart-shaped cookie cutter
Take a heart-shapped cutter and a slice of bread
Stamp the bread with the cutter
Toast the bread and the heart shape stays white

Sunday 8 February 2015

A Lick of Paint & Some Wood Glue Can Work Wonders

I am a firm believer that a lick of paint and a dab of wood glue coupled with a little imagination can work wonders.

Little chairs with our two older sons' names. 

The chairs I used here were old wooden chairs with damaged seats that were being thrown out by a local kindergarten. With the help of some wood glue, cut-to-size plywood and a couple of coats of paint, they came up nicely and have lasted the last 4 years well.

A homemade toy kitchen for the playroom.

A few years ago, we wanted a play kitchen for the boys but didn't want to get the same one that every other house in Germany seem to have. Having recently moved to our house and having installed a new kithchen, we ended up with quite a few bits and pieces that inspired us to build our own toy kitchen. 
The basis for this is one of those mini Ikea coffee tables that cost about €10. We'd had it for years and it was living in the cellar . On one half of the tabletop we painted two black circles as a hob. In the centre we installed a cheap kitchen tap and glued a flat-based metal bowl in front of it as a sink. The splashback is a cut-off from the bargain box in the timber section of our local DIY store. A few hooks and plastic utensils finished it off. Three years on, it is still in regular use. Only this morning I was offered a cup of coffee (a brown stone in a wooden cup) and a banana split (a blue bucket filled with various colours of Duplo and a toy wooden spoon) made in that very kitchen.

Family Breakfast & DIY Sunday

After the many disturbances I had last night, I was so pleased to have a little time to myself this morning as The Bavarian and Number 3 slept and the boys played. At 8.07am I turned on the oven and at 9.15am we sat down to breakfast together - homemade jams, sweet bread and butter.  

After breaksfast, we began our DIY Sunday. The Bavarian finished off the bathroom (photos of this large project will follow) and I put the finishing touches to our shoe closet.

Before - Tattered and shabby but with potential

I spotted this tattered old closet at the beginning of December. Someone was dumping it in the annual Sperrmuell collection and I couldn't resist it. Despite the rain and no-one to help me load it into the car, I managed to get it home. Over the past two weeks I have been sanding, painting, polishing and stapling and today I finally finished it off. I am delighted with how it turned out and even more delighted that our cluttered little cloakroom has now been relieved of some of its contents. 

Inside  - a sensor light
and lots of room  for shoes
After - looking pretty in
smokey blue, with new fabric
and polished handles

Saturday 7 February 2015

Saturday Night Supper & Sunday's Breakfast

Obviously, I knew life would change with children and, like many people, I underestimated it a bit. I realised that going out on a Saturday night would not be the regular occurreance it once was. But six and a half years in I find myself perched on the top step of the stairs with my laptop and a hot whiskey for company. Now THIS is definitely not how I imagined things.

The evening began normally enough and I had planned, as the title suggests, on blogging a little about tonight's supper and tomorrow's breakfast. The Bavarian put the boys to bed while I fed Number Three then put him to bed. The Bavarian wanted a bath and I wanted to write, so that's what we agreed to do. He hopped into the water, I made a hot whiskey and promptly Number Three woke screaming. It seems he wasn't too pleased with not being included in the evening's activities. So here I am attempting not too successfully to get the soother back into his little mouth before he really wakes, whisper soothing words into his ear and then return to the laptop at top of the stairs
Cue crying (his).
So now it is a cold whiskey and one-handed typing with a relatively content baby on my arm. But let's get back on topic...Saturday Night Supper. We spent most of this week galavanting with our visitors from home and ended up with loads of food that needed using up. In an effort to use up as much as possible, I cobbled together French bread pizzas and salad. To make the pizzas, I sliced two par-baked baguettes lengthways and spread them with creme fraiche. This I topped with freshly ground black pepper, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, grilled red peppers (recipe here)and slices of a goats cheese log. I baked them for 12 minutes at 220°C and served them with a salad I threw together while they were in the oven.
The salad consisted of lamb's lettuce tossed with the grated zest of 1/3 of a lemon, walnuts,finely sliced pear and very finely sliced fennel. Dressed with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and my good olive oil no one else is allowed to touch, it was the highlight of the meal for me.

Considering the turn the evening took, I am very glad that I took ten minutes to get a headstart on tomorrow's breakfast. Germans love a type of sweet yeast bread plait (Hefezopf) for breakfast on Sundays  and I love making it. It is so simple but looks and tastes fantastic. Basically you throw the ingredients into the mixer with the dough hook on and give it a good old knead, then leave it to prove overnight in the fridge.

As I waited for the kettle to boil for the boys' hot water bottles, I weighed the ingredients into the mixing bowl and while I brought the hot water bottles upstairs, the dough got 6 or 7 minutes kneading. Then all I had to do was lift out the dough, oil the bowl, pop the dough back in, cover it with clingfilm and place it in the fridge. 
When I get up in the morning I just have to divide the dough in three, plait it, brush it with egg and 45 minutes later I will be sitting down to breakfast. 
P.S. The recipe will follow soon on My Kitchen Notebook 
My last yeast plait


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Thursday 5 February 2015


The mind is a fantastic thing. It stores up information, day by day, and then seems to throw random chunks to the forefront every so often, leaving you wondering what just happened, why you suddenly remember an event or develop a longing for a person, place or food. Often it is a smell or a sound that triggers the mind.
Yesterday, on the walk home from music lessons with the boys, we walked as usual on the path through the green. A digger or tractor must have been working there the previous day because part of the green was churned up and tracks were visible. Immediately the boys ran to it, muck being a boy magnet. The severe frost the night before last meant that the muck had frozen. The tracks had more or less ploughed up the damp ground, so when it froze it resembled potato drills. 
The sight of my two sons stumbling on the hard ground and trying to balance on the drills instantly brought snipets of poetry and prose to mind that I assumed I had long forgotten, namely Patrick Kavanagh's 'Stony Grey Soil' and Brian Friel's short story 'The Potato Gatherers'.

Kavanagh's opening stanza suddenly popped into my head, a good twenty years after having learned it by heart in school:
'O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.'
It continues 'You clogged the feet of my boyhood...' When I came to this line, the meaning of the poem came rushing back to me; how little joy Kavanagh's childhood in Monaghan allowed him. 

Friel's short story tells the tale of two young brothers who skip school one day in November to pick potatoes, back-breaking work in the bitter cold for money that woould be handed straight over to their mother.
When I finished school, I never imagined that I would be glad for having learned these pieces. But they opened my eyes to how good my children have it. To them, a field of rutted, frozen muck is a souce of excitement. Wrapped up in fleeces, anoraks, gloves and warm winter boots, clodhopping along the hard ground, they marvel at the little frozen puddles and compete against each other to see who can balance the longest on the drills. 
I told them about the poem that I had remembered and sais we'd look it up when got home. To my surprise, they seemed genuinely interested in hearing it. "Is there a video of that poem on the compuer, Mammy?" Number 2 wanted to know. We are definitely a long way from Kavanagh and Friel's depictions of childhood. 

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The Mammy Projects

If you are anything like me, you love hearing people say things like "My grandmother made this for my mother and she passed it on to me on my wedding day / on the birth of my first child / [enter sentimental event here]". I am a total softie when it comes to such situations. So I thought to myself "Why not be that gandmother?". 

In the coming days, I'll be posting some tutorials on what I like to call Mammy Projects. These are about creating pieces that have the potential to become family hierlooms. 

Of course I can't be sure that I'll ever be a grandmother or that these pieces will survive the test of time, but at least I'll have given it a go. I really enjoyed working on these projects and hope that the tutorials will inspire you to begin some hierlooms of your own. 

How to Sew a Christening Gown for your Baby

From this...
...to this.

Renovating a Doll's Cradle - perfect for a little girl's room