Friday 24 July 2015

Crazy, Hazy, Lazy...School Holidays with Three Sons

The kitchen floor is littered with plastic laser swords, the coffee table is a mess of Lego pieces and yogurt cartons and I haven't had a coffee or loo break in nine hours. Yes, that's right, the school holidays have begun. 

I've just spent twenty minutes blowing up balloons and letting them whizz around the kitchen to entertain my three small, sweaty, sugar-buzzed boys. We are only on day one but the crazy levels are pretty high among the under 35s in our house today. 

I can't blame them really. It is Number Two's birthday, Number One had a half day at school because of the holidays beginning and, to crown all, they know that we are off on our trip to Ireland soon. As a brthday treat I let them have Capri Sun and buns for breakfast and I am paying for it now. At least the two new Lego sets and the scooter Number Two got as birthday presents have keep them occupied for short periods. 

But I won't complain because I am happy at the thought of having all my boys around me for the next six weeks. In my imagination, we'll have lots of family fun in Ireland and in the couple of weeks that we'll spend at home too. 

Just in case my imagination is not to be trusted, I have a couple of child-free one-night hotel breaks lined up too, to keep me and The Bavarian sane. 

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

...or at least he might as well. "Batman buns" is the answer I got when I asked what Number Two would like for his birthday breakfast. It is my own fault for asking. I suppose I should have phrased the question better, "If you could choose something from our usual breakfast portfolio for breakfast on your birthday, what would it be?". 

The thing is, he so rarely asks for anything that I hate to disappoint him. He must have picked up on my anything-to-please-the-middle-child vibes because once he knew he was getting something special he went into incredible detail. The buns should have white chocolate flavour. No wait, they should be brownies in the shape of muffins. But white not brown. No, actually they should be stripy and have layers of dark brown and white. The icing should be brown with a black bat. Can you make yellow icing Mammy? I want yellow icing with a black bat. 

So here I am on another terribly humid evening trying to make something resembling the Batman logo out of fondant icing that is melting before my eyes. I'm trying to ignore that I have to make 12 of these bats, one for each of the dozen fairy cakes cakes that are in the oven at the moment. The white chocolate was as soft as the fondant as I tried to cut it into chunks (he specified chunks rather than just white chocolate flavour at some stage earlier today).

But this is what you do, isn't it? Never mind that I should be packing for the holidays and organising a thank you card and present for Number One's teacher. [Tomorrow is the last day of his first year at school]. Never mind that I am going out for a drink tonight for the first time this year and would like to shower beforehand. Never mind the heat or the fact that someone is calling to test drive our old car in half an hour. My middle child birthday boy wants Batman buns and that is more important. 
The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday 22 July 2015

My Kitchen a. k. a. Atelier, Centre of Education, Surgery, Refuge

I can spend whole days in my kitchen and not even notice I have been confined to one room for hours on end. It is by no means of vast proportions, measuring roughly 3.5m x 4.5m, but to me it is the perfect room. It is where I am now, actually. 

By perfect I don't mean the decor, as such, or the layout, moreso the feel and functions. It multi-tasks, in somuch as a room can. It is quite obviously a kitchen, having all the usual fittings - cupboards, sink,  kettle, dishwasher, hob, oven, fridge, microwave - as well as an extendable table and six chairs. At the same time it is so much more than a kitchen. 

For a start it serves as commnication central in our house. Of the two windows, one looks out the side of the house allowing me a view over the comings and goings of the neighbours, should I chose to look, and it overlooks the garden gate too. The second window looks out on the garden. Anyone approaching the front door has to walk past it. Needless to say our doorbell doesn't get much use since we have usually seen our visitors coming and have opened the door already. I generally do my blogging and anything else computer-related from the kitchen too because the light is better here than at my small and incredibly untidy desk in the no man's land between the livingroom and playroom.
Cheesemaking with my four year old
Cooking with figs from the garden

My cookery book collection is housed in one corner on a five-shelf-high bookshelf. On the short stretch of wall between the shelf and the window to the garden we have our set up our learing area. It features a map of Europe, a multilingual alphabet poster and our garden birds identification cards. As the boys have got to pre-school and school age so many questions have come up about nature, spelling, geography or food that this corner with the means for them (and us as parents) to answer their questions grew organically over the past couple of years, beginning with the bird cards. Jars of pens, pencils and safety scissors adorn the window sill along with an atlas, craft books and pre-school activity books. 
Part of our learning corner
 Any regular readers may have noticed the grey flooring that appears in the background of many of my photos. No, we don't have this throughout the house. It is only in the kitchen. When we bought the house I was delighted that we had a decent-sized shed, a garage and a guest room. I imagined I would have plenty of space to complete all my upcycling projects. And I do. Space is not the issue. Trying to fit these projects into life with three small boys is the issue. The kitchen is the only place where they can get done, unless I employ a nanny (not an option). So the kitchen has developed a parallel life as an atelier.  
The cradle renovation was carried out entirely in the kitchen
I am not the only one who gets creative in the kitchen. My children have a great love of experimenting, especially if it involves water, paint, food colouring or homemade volcanos. Again, the kitchen sacrifices its original function and becomes a science lab for an afternoon now and again.   
Experiementing with dyeing eggs
 Not least among the many and varied roles of this most wonderful of rooms is it that it serves as my refuge. Here I have my coffee maker, my pantry and my well-stocked wine rack. I have my books and my radio. I can write, bake or watch the children play in the garden. I can sit with a cuppa, my feet resting on a Tripp-Trapp, and feed Number Three. I can browse my craft books and cookbooks and favourite blogs. I can rest, cook or dream. 

Food photos from my cookery blog, My Kitchen Notebook

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Tuesday 21 July 2015

Summer So Strange

It is not quite 7am and the display on the main street reads 23 degrees as I stroll past on my way back from the bakery with a baguette in my hand. Still sleepy from the muggy nighttime heat, I try my best not to scratch the mosquito bites that tingle on my neck and the back of my leg. I'm getting good at it, finally. You see, I am not on holiday. This is my life, this summer so strange to me.

Oppressive heat, intense humidity, thunderstorms, eating meals outside, afternoons at the ice-cream parlour, mosquito bites, the school closing because it is too hot to teach / be taught, day trips to water parks and lakes for swimming - these are the memories my children will have of summer. A summer so strange to me.

The local pool
After school on a Wednesday
My childhood summers were filled with playing in the garden, trips to the beach on the sunnier days, believing that if the temperature rose to 20°C you could fry an egg on the footpath, eating Choc Ices, the pain of sunburn and the excitement when the tar would melt on the road from the heat.

My children are growing up as the kind of children I only ever encountered at campsites in France - the kind that have a slight tan year round, the kind that speak two languages and run round in the nip without a thought as to why they should wear swimming togs. The kind that eat foods we'd never seen then and who aren't at all bothered by temperatures above 25 degrees. 

Whereas as a child I looked forward to two weeks of outdoor swimming pools, water slides, the smell of suncream and to eating scoops of ice-cream in exotic flavours like pistachio or mango, their lives are like that every day of summer from May to September. 

Yet still they look forward for months to their couple of weeks in Ireland. They plan trips to the beach in their wellies and raincoats, hoping to see horses gallop in the waves. They want to visit Lough Conn, after which one of them is named. They beg to be allowed go back to the Viking exhibition in Dublin and want to go to Tayto Park again. They want to munch cheese and onion crisps and lick 99s "like last time", to play with their cousins, go swimming with Grandad and eat Nana's meatballs. "How many sleeps Mammy?", they ask every evening, longing for their Irish summer, so strange to them. Strange and wonderful.

I'm linking this post up to Twinkly Tuesay and The Truth About.

And then the fun began...
The Twinkle Diaries

Sunday 19 July 2015

A Family Camping Holiday in Frankonia, Germany

We recently returned from our second family camping holiday. It was our first with all three of the boys and it was a great success.

The Bavarian was responsible for the choice of location since 
a) we were going camping with Bavarian friends in Bavaria, and 
b) he wanted to do some fishing while we were there.
In the end he chose See* Camping Langlau, a campsite directly on the Small Brombach Lake in the Frankonian Lake District, not too far from Nuremberg, approximately a 2 hour drive from Munich and 3 hours from Karlsruhe.
*See is the German word for lake.
On Friday afternoon as soon as school finished up, we headed off, having loaded up the car in the morning. Thankfully traffic was reasonably good and the children too excited about the prospect of sleeping in a tent to argue much. We stopped for  a break after a couple of hours, the heat having got to us all a bit. 
Everything but the kitchen sink, as they say.
Our view as we devoured chips and stretched our legs before continuing our journey.
After a stop at the local fishing shop to top up on tackle and find out what works best when for which fish (or if you are me, after a 35-minute aimless wander round a fishing shop trying to entertain three children and keep them from breaking expensive sunglasses and binoculars), we finally reached the campsite, checked in and began to set up camp. This is when we realised that a canoe makes an excellent playpen.

We are by no means seasoned campers. Our tent has only had three outings, the first of which was in our garden. But we have good intentions and our levels of skill and organisation have increased from trip to trip. This time round, we had the tent up quite quickly. As the Bavarian and our friend set it up, the boys and I got to work unloading the roll-table, the fold-up chairs, the rucksacks and cool boxes.

I had put quite a bit of thought into the food for the weekend. With camping I am torn between cooking food outdoors and bringing food that just needs heating up or can be eaten cold. Both have their ups and downs. In the end we opted for a combination. We brought ready cooked pulled pork for Friday night and we had a barbecue on Saturday night (buying the meat locally on Saturday, the fishing expedition having proved unsuccessful in terms of catching). I made a couple of cakes (a banana-chocolate chip tray bake and an iced lemon loaf) that would do us just as well for breakfast as they would for with a coffee later in the day for a snack for the children. Both the cakes and the pulled pork went down a treat. The campsite shop sold fresh bread rolls in the mornings and we made coffee on our one-ring electric cooker (a bit of a cheat but the fishing shop had run out of gas canisters for the gas cooker).
Banana chocolate chip tray bake,squeezed into a lunch box.
My slow cooked pork joint, reheating in the marinade, ready for pulling and scoffing.

After we had set up camp and eaten our fill of pulled pork, salad and rolls, we set off at the onset of twilight to explore the lake shore. On booking we had requested tent spots near the lake and the ones we got were prefect. In less than a minute's walk we were at the small sandy beach of the lake. The four older children headed straight for the water and busied themselves with building a dam. The silouette of their playing was magical to watch and certainly put me in a holiday mood.

Our walk over, we put the children to bed. Within minutes all five were sound asleep. My concerns about Number Three not settling vanished when I saw how comfy he was in my sleeping bag with this brothers in theirs on either side of him. The adults returned to the camping chairs and made plans the following morning - fishing (the men) and beach (women and children).

A quick bit of exploring in the tent before falling sound asleep.
The rest of the weekend was an incredibly enjoyable, relaxed affair with plenty of sun, splashing, fresh air, good food, and a fair bit of fishing. We didn't have to leave the campsite all weekend and barely used the fantasic playground, so busy were we with the beach, the canoe and the fishing.
Sailboats on the lake on Saturday morning.
Suncream on the lens created this dreamy look of my boys playing on the beach.
For our two-night stay, each family paid approx. €60. That covered the two nights' tent spot, the car, two adults and two children over 3 each.  The campsite was clean and quiet, the washrooms regularly serviced with no need to queue for showers or toilets and the shop sold everything we needed. In addition to the playground, there is a surf-school and a reasonably-priced Italian restaurant on site. We ate at the restaurant on Sunday afternoon before heading for home and were quite impressed with the food. 

By the end of the weekend, I was left with a feeling of "why don't we do this more often?" and I have a feeling that now we will. 
The Free Range Family

My Sunday Photo - 19th July


This Is Motherhood #009

Saturday 18 July 2015

This Week I've Loved...Milestones

The past week has been one of milestones for us. Sometimes when the children reach milestones it can be very hard for us as parents to accept that our baby is not a baby any more.  But this week's milestones were happier ones for us. 

For a start, we went on our second family camping trip, our first with Number Three. I was a bit concerned about the amount of sleep we would get, what with it being bright till after 10pm, us all sleeping on one tent and the excitment of being on holiday. Thankfully it all went very well. The fresh air and activity wore us all out so that we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the sleeping bags. 

Just an hour or two after our return home from camping, Number Three surprised us all by taking his first steps, at the tender age of ten months. Our wee man was over the moon and spent the rest of the evening staggering between the sofa, coffee table and armchair while giggling his head off. I now well and truly have my hands full and need to keep an eye on his every move. 

That same evening the next milestone was reached as Number One read his first library book by himself. He usually reads a page, maybe two if there are lots of pictures, before handing over to me to read the next few pages. But this time we were delighted to witness him reading a full chapter. What astounded me though was that the following morning over breakfast he read another two chapters and insisted on bringing the book to school so that he could read the final chapter at breaktime. Since then he has become a real book worm. Fingers crossed he'll become as much of a book lover as the Bavarian and I are. 

This Week I've Loved

Thursday 16 July 2015

Invisible Parenting

There are things no one sees me do. They are not secret. They are not hidden. Small things. Unimportant-seeming things. They go unnoticed. That is, unnoticed until they are not done. I think of them as invisible parenting.

They are things like:
Keeping an eye on minor ailments (rashes, itches, tummy pains) and changes in behaviour (wetting pants, tiredness) to see whether they are something or nothing.
Shaking the sand out of the children's shoes after they've been playing in the kindergarten sand pit.
Keeping the swimming things together in one bag and keeping that bag in the same place, always.
Picking up stray shoes, clothes, toys, spoons, jigsaw pieces from various places around the house and putting them back where they belong.
Subconsciously doing an inventory of the contents of the fridge and presses so that I know if we have milk, ketchup, yogurts, fruit or other snacks before they get asked for.
Knowing the nappy and wipe stock levels at any time but especially on Saturdays since on Sundays all shops here are closed.
Planning breakfast and packed lunches in my mind before I go to bed.
Putting away clothes for the holidays weeks before we go.
Checking schoolbags for spilt drinks, melted sweets or notes from teachers.
Checking the school and kindergarten lost & found baskets for missing gloves, scarves, PE shorts and odd socks.
Writing appointments into the kitchen calendar and turning the page each month.

I'm sure I am not the only mother to perform acts of invisible parenting. Do you? 
You Baby Me Mummy

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Wednesday 15 July 2015

What Might Have Been Seen?

I often wonder about the history of my salvaged pieces and whether anything significant has happened around them in their lifetime - who sat on those chairs before I adopted them, what child rocked on that rocking horse I'm renovating, for whom was the play shop I picked up at a flea market made? It is all so intriguing, but I will never know their stories.

For one of my recent aquisitions, however, things are a little different. I can speculate with a bit more certainty. The cellar window I picked up from a house in our village that was being gutted and renovated must have many tales to tell. The house, although one wouldn't know it to look at it now, must be somewhere between 70 and 100 years old. The window looks as if it was an original, with its woodworm-ridden frame, cracked filler and thin glass. 

I loved the look of the window when I spotted it left out for the binmen a while back. But the brown paint that had been applied in a very slapdash fashion to the frame and metal handle was very ugly. At home, I took a wire brush to it and brushed the flaking paint off the frame and freed up the metal fittings and glass panes as best I could with paint remover. Finally I washed the panes with soapy water to remove the grime and last remnants of paint. 
Cleaning the window, it suddenly dawned on me that I was looking through the window, a window. A window that in its original position had been a cellar window facing onto the main street of our village, just a few inches above the footpath.  On either side of the glass I held in my hand, life had gone on for decades and decades. I got goosebumps as I thought of all that had occurred during the lifetime of this simple window.

As you may know, I live in Germany, not far from the border to Alsace and on the banks of the Rhein. The second world war had a huge impact in this area. 

Perhaps through this window the the feet of the local Catholic priest may have been seen passing by in the period before his internment in the concentration camp in Dachau. Or possibly afterwards, when he returned to the village in 1945 and, incredibly, resumed his job. Was this cellar left empty during the evacuations of villagers in 1939 and 1944? Did the panes rattle in their frames when the nearby bridge over the Rhein was blown up in March 1945? What was observed through it during the occupation of the village through French forces in the post-war period? 

Anyone looking through this window in the late 1940s would have witnessed the rebuilding of the village, the industrial development and the influx of refugees from the eastern parts of Germany. 

Does this cellar window feature in the film that was shot in the village in 1957? Or did it, ten years later, witness the celebrations of the twinning with a town in Normandy brought about by a French soldier who was stationed in the village after the war? Did it see people take to the streets in celebration after the Wonder of Bern, Germany's surprise World Cup win in 1954? Or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989?

Now, so many years after this window was first installed, I couldn't let it go to the dump just because the house it was part of was being renovated. I felt it had to stay in the village, just with a new home. It is no longer a window to the activity on the main street. It is spending its retirement looking out on our garden, watching as a new generation of village children grown, a silent observer as we make our own history.

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