Monday 30 March 2015

Things that broke in our house this week and why I don't care

There's no point crying over spilt milk is a phrase that has been on a loop in my head for the past ten days. For a couple of weeks now things have been breaking all round the house. Irreparably breaking. From one moment to the next. Without warning. 

  • First to go was the mixer. My beloved red mixer that I've had longer than I've been a wife or mother. It wasn't the steadiest of mixers and I usually stood it on the kitchen floor when using it because it tended to hop about the place. For some reason, last Sunday I lifted it onto the countertop and set it going with a yeast dough. I turned my back to get a loaf tin from the kitchen cabinet and heard a massive bang. The poor mixer had wobbled off the edge and split in two.

  •  A couple of days later the laptop, my second most-prised possession after the mixer, froze and died. The electronics in the hard drive have just stopped working. 

  • The external hard drive, which we rarely used, turns out to be broken too. So we've no backup files. Well done us! All that is left is for us to scour the house for old phones and search Facebook and sent e-mails for photos we sent over the last couple of years. 
  • The kitchen tap started leaking and needed to be completely replaced. We spent well over a week without water in the kitchen. Thank goodness we have a downstairs bathroom and a dishwasher neither of which were affected by the kitchen tap problem. On the plus side, not just being able to turn on the kitchen tap to rinse something or fill the kettle gave me a renewed appreciation for how good we have it in this part of the world. 
  • In the midst of all of this Number 3 had to go for his 6 month check up. All went well till the doctor thought she felt a lump in his abdomen and sent us for an ultrasound. My only thought was "Oh God, don't let him be broken too". The following day the ultrasound was performed and we got the all clear. The lump appears to have been poo! 
Annoying as it is to have to replace devices and to lose photos, to have to traipse to the bathroom for water and to hand-knead bread, none of these things is a real problem. They are all completely insignificant compared with the possibility of something being wrong with your child.  So when I actually did spill some milk this morning at breakfast, I had to smile to myself. Rather than being irritated that there was a mess to be cleaned up, I was happy that we have more milk in the fridge and water to wipe the mess up with as well as three healthy children, well able to create a mess in the first place.  

Mums' Days

Saturday 28 March 2015

Easter Crafts with Kids #2 - Decorated Eggs

As I mentioned in my previous egg-dying post, painting or dyeing hard-boiled eggs is a really big thing here in Germany. Even though my children absolutely detest eggs, except in cakes, pancakes or waffles, they love decorating them. The Bavarian and I are then left to consume vast quantities of boiled eggs. Last year we tried out blown eggs or the lazier version, emptied out eggs. 

Emptied out eggs are my name for egg shells that have had a fingertip-sized hole made in them and the contents literally emptied out. I am not a big fan of blowing eggs, so in the run to to Easter last year and this I used the emptying method whenever I was using eggs for baking or scrambled eggs, etc. After a quick rinse out, I put the shells to one side and when the time came to start decorating, we had a nice pile of almost-intact shells to work with. 

Here are a few photos of how we got on last year.

All the paraphernalia you need: deep bowls for the dye, a pot for boiling the eggs and plenty of eggs or eggshells. We use IRIS egg dyeing tablets. They are everywhere here in Germany. You dissolve them in cold water and add a few drops of vinegar then drop in the eggs. You can find similar egg dye here.

Various shades of blue attained by leaving the eggs in the dye for different lengths of time.

Pretty pastel pinks and purples arranged together in an egg carton.

We used strips of patterned paper to weave little Easter baskets and then filled them with shredded paper and coloured straw. These make very pretty Easter egg gifts.

While the boys fiddled about with colours, I tried out some bird stamps I bought in Waterstones on the white eggs. After a few practice goes I got the hang of how much pressure to apply and I was quite pleased with the simplicity of the end result.

I was surprised to find that the inside of the egg shells often took on a much more interesting shade of colour than the outside. Eggshells in blues and purples scattered around a little vase of bluebells made a dainty litte centrepiece on the kitchen table last Easter.


Sunday 22 March 2015

There were four in the bed and the Mammy said...

"Eight is a lot of legs David" is, for me, one of the most memorable lines from the 2003 romantic comedy 'Love Actually'. Who knows why it has stuck with for all these years, but last Friday night as I twisted and turned and failed to find sleep, I had to agree that yes, eight is a lot of legs. Too many for one bed.

Number 3 co-sleeps, as they say, with us. This is more born of convenience than anything else. Number 1 and Number 2 each spent their first eight months in this world in a Babybay cot at the side of our bed. We still have the Babybay and Number 3 begins the night in there but from about 11pm he can generally be found in the bed with us. We're used to it now. Six legs, you see, is a manageable amount. 

Last Friday night began like any other but shortly after 1am I was awoken by cries of "Mammy, I'm sick" from Number 1. He'd thrown up. I carried him to the bathroom, where he continued to be sick for another few minutes. Once he'd got it all out of him system, I brought him to our bed and snuggled him in at the foot end before sorting out his bedclothes and getting him a just-in-case basin for bedside the bed. 

When I returned to our bedroom a few minutes later, I smiled to myself on seeing Number 1, Number 3 and the Bavarian all sleeping soundly. I even felt a little sorry for Number 2, alone in the boys' bedroom, and wondered would he be upset on waking in the morning to find he was the only one who didn't spend the night in the big bed. Congratulating myself on efficiently resolving a (literally) sticky situation, I settled back into bed, naively onfident I would doze off and sleep easily. 

You'd think that after almost 7 years of parenthood I'd know better. No matter how I lay, the bed was a sea of legs and feet keeping me from sleep. And so I lay awake with thoughts of octopus and spiders and how they probably don't have any problem with eight legs. But everything is relative and when you are used to six, eight is a lot of legs. 


Saturday 21 March 2015

A Family Afloat

My dad brought us up to be adventurers not sugar babies, as he says. That is something that I am trying to pass on to my boys. Luckily the Bavarian is a hunter and fisher, so I am not alone in wanting them to be outdoorsy. 

Today we launched our new canoe on its maiden voyage. The boys had their first trip in such a small boat and were thrilled with themselves. Number 1 was bursting with excited questions and Number 2 was a natural boatsman, pushing the boat out into the water without anyone having to explain what had to be done. 

And I was one happy mammy at the sight of my boys on another outdoor adventure.

While the Bavarian and Number 1 were out on the canoe, Number 2 and I enjoyed a little picnic and made a stone man.  

I have a bit of a fear of swans when the children are around, so Number 2, Number 3 and I retreated to the car for about 5 minutes when this swan made a beeline for our picnic site. Number 2 was not impressed with the sudden change of scene but luckily the swan headed off about his business after a while and we were able to picnic and play undisturbed for the rest of our stay.
We were fascinated by the roots of these trees growing on the shore. I was never a big fan of geography at school, but I love being able to show the boys things like erosion or the effects of high water when we see them live. Children learn so much more from their own experiences than from sitting in a classroom, I find.

Number 2 did a bit of exploring on his own but was easy to spot in his red cap. 

Despite the dull weather, forgetting the picnic blanket and only having one coffee cup with us (the lid of the flask), we had an enjoyable few hours in the fresh air. In fact managing without those comforts made it even more of an outdoor adventure. We looked for a spot with some rocks for seats and the Bavarian and I shared the one little cup from the flask while the boys messed out with sticks, stones and water, as little boys do. 

Thursday 19 March 2015

Easter Crafts with Kids #1 - Mini Easter Garden

The Bavarian picked up this idea somewhere and made these boxes with the kids for me one Easter a couple of years ago. I was flabergasted and absolutely delighted to be brought coffee in bed and a cute box of dyed eggs on Easter Sunday morning. 

Given that there are only a few steps to making these, they are a perfect craft idea for toddlers. You will need:
Enough eggs to fill one egg carton (optional: hardboiled and painted)
2 egg cartons, preferably green
1 toilet roll insert
Coloured paper (for grass and for flowers)
Glue and sticky tape

Begin by cutting the toilet roll insert in half. The two halves will become the petals of the tulips. 

 Glue the coloured paper around the toilet roll halves. Leave to dry for a moment and then cut a zig-zag pattern into the top of each half, as in the photo on the left.

 Per tulip cut one upright from one of your egg cartons and stuff the wide end into the bottom of your tulip. Add some glue to the narrow end and stick it to one of the uprights in the other egg carton. 
Repeat the steps above to make as many tulips as you want.
Fold an A4 piece of green paper in half lengthways. Cut an irregular zig-zag along the fold to create two lenths of paper with blades of grass. Stick the grass all along the outer edges of the egg carton. The fill the carton with eggs to complete your mini Easter garden.


This is Motherhood #3

Forgetting that you said you'd call to your neighbour on his 50th birthday, you end up having to rush to the supermarket shortly before closing time to buy a bottle of wine. Baby, of course, is not impressed with suddenly being flung into the car seat and decides to scream at the top of his lungs as you power walk through the aisles to find a decent bottle of Spanish wine (the neighbour's preferred country of origin - naturally, you want it to look like you put a lot of thought into this gift). Wine safely stowed in the trolly, you speed walk in the direction of the check-out before coming to an abrupt stop. Gordon's Gin is on special offer and hubby loves it. Add to trolly, proceed to check-out. Lift baby out to console him. Breath sigh of relief. Notice the smiles of the woman in front of you when she catches the baby's (teary) eye then notice how her gaze sinks to the contents of your trolley...two bottles of alcohol and nothing else. Turn on heel and power walk, steering trolley with one hand and carrying baby in the other, to the wine aisle and search desperately for wine bottle gift bags. Grab the nicest looking one (preferably with something like "A Gift For You" in large gold writing so it is clear to everyone that at least one of these bottles is not for your own consumption) and head back to the now even longer queues for the check out. Wait and wait and wait then pay and head home with your screaming baby. Get the older children to bed and ask hubby to call to the neighbour before it is too late. Hear the garden gate clink as he leaves. Hear the garden gate clink again a minute later. No-one home. Seems they forgot too that you said you'd call over. Sit down and open the gin.

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Thursday 12 March 2015

Ireland's Best-Loved Poem & A Lesson in Creating Closeness

Today I read in the Irish Times that Seamus Heaney's poem When All The Others Were Away At Mass was crowned favourite Irish poem in the last 100 years. I was never a big fan of Seamus Heaney but I was a little disappointed in myself that I couldn't even recite a single line of the poem. Luckily the paper had printed it at the end of the article.

The poem describes beautifully the time the poet spent with his mother in peeling potatoes while the rest of the family was out at mass. The language is simple, the imagery vivid: "When all the others were away at Mass/ I was all hers as we peeled potatoes". The poem then changes scene to the mother's deathbed years later with the poet remembering his mother in those moments alone together one day. The final line had me, a mother to three boys, suddenly in tears "Never closer the whole rest of our lives."

One of the big challenges of parenthood is spending time with each of your children individually. For me, these lines from When All The Others Were Away At Mass highlight the importance of one-on-one time with your children. Children don't need a lot to be happy, but what they do need and thrive upon are attention and recognition. You can hear the pride and delight of the child in the line: "
I was all hers". 

Creating this feeling can be as simple as letting your eldest child stay up half an hour later than than younger siblings now and again or sitting down to draw or play for ten minutes with one of your children. Involve them in banal tasks you are doing anyway or observe your child and be led by their suggestions for activities. Don't drive yourself crazy trying to contrive memorable situations (birthday parties, holidays, days out and presents). Try to make the time you have each day count. They can't read our minds and know instinctively that we love them above all else. But knowing that they are worth spending time alone with speaks volumes to them.
Look your children in the eye when they speak to you or you to them. Really listen to what they say and lay off hurrying them so much. Allow them to share your time and feel valued by you. 

German Easter Egg Decorations - A Photoshoot

Decorating hard-boiled eggs with children is a typical German Easter tradition. There are so many ways to decorate eggs and over the last few years we have been trying them out- From sticker patterns to hand painting to natural dying, the possibilities are well not quite endless but certainly vast. 

The only problem we have encountered along the way is what to do with all the eggs. Our children don't like eggs and there are only so many egg sandwiches and salads my husband and I can eat. Here in Gemany it is perfectly normal to give painted hard-boiled eggs as a gift at Easter, so that is one way to offload some of them. 

In the end I began collecting the egg shells left over from baking. Once the kids got the hang of handling them carefully, we had quite a lot of fun decorating them. So far this year I haven't involved the kids. I have been experimenting with techniques and colours, both of dye and of egg. Here are a few photos of the variations I got out of purple dye. I'll be posting the children's version in a few days.

A variety of shades of purple arranged in a jar
To make an eggshell vase, make a finger tip sized hole in an eggshell (here I used a white egg), empty out the raw egg and rinse the egg. Pat it dry and pop it into a jar of dye. To get the two-tone effect, only fill the jar to the height you want and stabilise the eggshell by inserting the handle of a fork into the hole. This keeps the egg standing and weighs it down in the dye too. Once the egg has obtained the desired colour, remove it from the jar, leave to dry and then fill with water and small flowers. To keep the egg standing you can sit it in an eggcup or stand it into sand, salt or soil for example. I used broken walnut shells simply because I hadn't dumped them on the compost heap after making walnut cake

To create this look, stick normal gold star stickers (the kind you might use for a reward chart) onto the eggshell then immerse the shell in the dye and leave until the desired colour has been obtained. We had three different brands of sticker around the house. Of those, two stuck. One type came off in the liquid. Here I used regular brown eggs and the dye took a little longer to take effect.

The inside of the eggshells takes on a different shade of colour to the outside. Arranged in a jar or with tealights in a shallow bowl, this creates a simple and elegant Easter decoration.

Truly Madly KIds

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Cradle Renovation Tutorial

This cradle is another of my salvaged items. It was out for the rubbish collection in June 2010. I was pregnant with Number 2 at the time and didn't know whether I was having a boy or a girl. As soon as I saw the cradle I fell in love with the heart-shaped cut-outs and the contours of the rockers. 
As it happened, I had a second son and a few months ago a third one. So renovating this particular item was not top of my list of priorities. It got used occasionally as a bed for the boys' teddies and even for a while as a storage box for the growing pile of Lego we have in our house. But eventually last year it was rejected. Heart shapes are not big with 6 and 4 year old boys.
As luck would have it, my new niece arrived into the world around the same time as the cradle fell from favour. If ever I needed motivation to finally do up my cradle, this was it. 
The cradle before sanding
Step 1: As with any renovation, check which parts are removable then clean the whole thing. In this case I only needed to use a damp cloth to wipe down the surface. The only removable part is the base.
Step 2: I decided that the base should be padded and covered to look like it has a mattress and sheet. Two pieces of double-sided sticky tape were sufficient to hold the wadding in place. That was then covered with a rectangle of pale yellow cotton, cut to approx. 10 cm wider and longer than the base itself. I stapled the material into place on the underside of the base with a staple gun (NOVUS J-08 XX) 
Covered base, upper side
Covered base, underside

 Step 3: Sand and paint the cradle. Make sure to remove all dust from the sanding with a damp cloth and let the wood dry properly before painting. I used two coats of white undercoat to cover the dark wood. After that I added two coats of ivory paint, making sure to check at the DIY shop that the paint was both hard-wearing and child-friendly.

Step 4: Now comes the hard part - the pattern. I had a book as inspiration and tricked around with designs on paper before deciding on the style, size and colours I would use. I highly recommend that you take your time and try out a few different colour schemes before working on the actual piece of furniture you are renovating. 

My inspiration
Step 5: Transferring your design from paper to furniture. For this step I used the good old-fashioned paper and pencil rubbing method. Basically, you draw your design onto paper and use a soft pencil to go over it a few times. Then place the paper, drawing side down, onto the furniture. Use your pencil to rub firmly over the design on the paper (see photos below). You may want to use masking tape to attach the paper to the furniture to avoid the paper slipping. When you lift the paper, you should be able to see the outline of the design on the painted surface of the furniture.

The transferred design at the bottom on the cradle
Step 6: Painting over the transfer. Take your time with painting your design. I tend rowards impatience and have learned from mistakes made in the past that it is better to go slowly and get your artwork right on the first attempt. Of course small errors or bleeding colours can mostly be recified but patience really does play a central role here. 

Cradle standing on one end so that the other end can be painted.
Close up detail around the heart cut-out
Practice your design on paper

Inspiration from a book I bought at in an antique bookshop

A close-up of the design I painted

The finished cradle complete with hand-sewn pillow and duvet
Detail around the heart-shaped cut-out

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