Saturday 28 November 2015

Dusting Off The Winter Projects

The other day the sitting room got a good clean. The kind where the glass gets removed from the coffee table and the crumbs get cleared out of the grooves between the wooden frame and the glass. The kind where the window sills get washed. The once-in-a-blue-moon kind of a clean. 

I could regale you with semi-amusing blog posts like 6 Things I Found Under The Sofa or Pieces of Toys That I Hoovered Up On Purpose Because I Want Rid Of Them but I won't. Not today anyway. As I washed, polished, hoovered and tidied, I found my wool basket, complete with my incomplete crochet project from last winter. 
Hands up who has literally had to dust off their last year's craft project? No? Just me? Ok. Well anyway....I have decided it is officially time to hit the couch earlier in the evenings and get back into my wooly winter projects. 

What are you up to on these cold dark evenings?

Thursday 26 November 2015

The Big Clean Up With Dettol

There are five people in our family. Four of us don't care about the state of the kitchen and bathroom. Add to that the fact that it is Winter, with bouts of the sniffles going round school, work and kindergarten and you can imagine that we have a reasonably-sized germ population in the house. 

Hygiene is not in the children's vocabulary. Not in English. Not in German. While neither The Bavarian nor I grew up in the kind of sterile households some people keep, I do think that a little bit of a germ-killing scrub of the kitchen and bathroom surfaces is in order from time to time. 

When I was asked recently to try out a few of Dettol's range of wipes and sprays, I knew we'd really be able to put them to the test. And so we did.

During the Summmer I brought my lovely white tray table out to the garden. It was so handy to have out there. But then Autumn came and we spent a bit less time outside. The table got forgotton and when I finally remembered it, it was in need of a serious clean. 
The Tray Table In The Garden
In true 1980s detergent TV advert style, let me reveal to you the cleaning power of Dettol all purpose cleaners.

I was pretty impressed with the results on the tray. So I decided to put the tougher of the two sprays to the ultimate test - cleaning the dried on food off the high chair. Number Three's high chair had not been cleaned in a week in preparation for this. Food crumbs had been brushed away, but squashed banana, mashed vegetables, gravy dribbles and porridge had been left to dry and harden.

Normally I take the blade for cleaning the ceramic hob to the high chair when it needs a thorough cleaning. This time I sprayed it with Dettol spray and left it for three minutes. One wipe with a warm, damp cloth and the chair was clean. I was pretty speechless. I never knew that cleaning a high chair could be this easy! I am a convert. My elbow grease days are over. From now on I will live the life of a TV detergent ad housewife. 

[Disclaimer: I was asked to test and review some Dettol products and was provided with the above-mentioned products free of charge in exchange for writing a review. All photos and all opinions expressed here are my own.]

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Advent Decoration With Vintage Shutters

Advent is fast approaching and it is a big deal here in Germany. I've written about it before in relation to food.  But decor-wise, too, there is a difference between Advent and Christmas. I love that. A Christmas tree up before the 15th December is, to me, up much too early. Christmas decorations should be put up very shortly before Christmas or they lose their charm. 

Advent decoration is different. It is more about counting down and setting the tone, lighting a candle and enoying a little bit of peace. In most German households you'll find an Advent wreath, something I only knew from churches in Ireland before moving here, and Advent calendars. Both the calendars and the four candles, one for each of the Sundays of Advent, are often little works of art, lovingly homemade with attention to detail. 

Here's a selection of some of my favourite variations on the Advent wreath. I make a differnet one every year, but usually decide at the last minute what kind of style I want. On the Saturday evening before the first Sunday of Advent you can usually find me pottering away at the kitchen table with candles, ribbons, jars, pine cones and whatever else comes to hand, creating a display for the coffee table.

This year though, there is one element to my Advent decor that I have already decided on - a vintage window shutter. Isn't it gorgeous? OK, so imagine it without the cobwebs, dead leaves, ivy and the thick layer of dust. It certainly has potential. Regular readers will know that there are few activities I love more than salvaging furniture. When I saw four of these shutters left out for the bin men last week, I couldn't just leave them there. Heavy though they were, I lugged two into the boot of the car and took them home.  

Number Three and I had a quick go at cleaning them off and they are in pretty good condition considering they have spent their lives outdoors. The paint is quite flaky in places, but that just adds to the shabby chic look. No need to sand or blister anything. No need to get the chalk paint and wax out. This pair are true vintage and I love them.

My mind has been brimming over with ideas for how to use them. Initially I was thinking about using them in the garden. The more I looked at the shutters, the more I had visions of them with holly and fairy lights. A bit of a browse on Pinterest settled my mind to the idea of using one the shutters as the basis for my Advent decoration. You can view my pins here:

I am so excited about the next few days - finishing cleaning one shutter and finding a suitable spot for it. Then, depending on where I like the look of it best, choosing the look to go for. I am leaning towards something sleek, perhaps green with silver or glass. And candles of course. Four of them.  
Home Etc

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Multicultural Family Life - Meet The Poop Rainbow Family

Because of the fact that we are a family made up of two nationalities, I am always interested to hear how other families in similar situations live their lives. And I thought you might be too. For this month's installment of Multicultural Family Life I asked a fellow blogger to share with us how she and her family survive their multicultural family life. 

The Mama from “My Kid Doesn’t Poop Rainbows” survives, sweatily, in Bangkok Thailand with the Mummy, the Baby and the Dog. The Mama is a part-time amateur blogger, a part-time teacher and a full-time toilet humor enthusiast. She started writing “My Kid Doesn’t Poop Rainbows” as a way to share the funny which happens to her family on a regular basis and give other exhausted parents a laugh or two. She trained for a year as an illustrator in kindergarten and decided to put these hard earned skills to use with her blog. She loves connecting with people from all walks of life, so be sure to stop by and say hi! You can also connect with the Mama on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

1. Tell us a little about your family's background - where you're from, where you've lived, where you are now?
When I qualified as a teacher in 2009, rather than scrabble around with the other NQTs for a much sought after teaching position in Scotland, I looked further afield. I spent a year and a half in Spain, three months in North and Central America and then I kind of accidentally found myself in Thailand. The second weekend I was there my new friends and colleagues set off for the beach while I stayed in Bangkok to attend a LGBT party I’d been invited to. There I met my soon-to-be wife and the rest, as they say, is history. That was four years ago and I’m still here, now married (although not legally recognized in Thailand) with a 16 month old son.

2. What languages are your children exposed to and how do you juggle these? Do you have a family language you speak at home or does each parent have one language they stick to?
  When I arrived I learned how to direct a taxi in Thai. About a month later I learned a few sweet nothings to whisper in my girlfriend’s ear. I’m ashamed to admit my Thai hasn’t progressed much since then. My wife speaks great English so that’s the language we use together and she speaks to our son in Thai when I’m not around.

3. What have you noticed about your children's language skills? Have they picked up on both languages equally well?
  Our son understands simple instructions in English and Thai…but that’s not to say he always follows them. I worry that between our family language being English and our planned move to Europe this summer his Thai might suffer in the future, but I hope not.

4. Do you or your other half have any of the stereotypical traits of your nationality? Has this had any effect on your life in Thailand?
Oooh, lots! My wife believes feet and shoes are dirty and gets quite stressed if people forget to take their shoes off when entering our home. It took me ages to remember this when I first moved to Bangkok. She’s very quiet and finds it embarrassing when I am being loud, usually after a large glass of wine. It also drives her nuts when I refuse to complain about anything or go to the doctors unless I’m knocking at death’s door.

5. How different, if at all, would your life be if you lived in the UK rather than Thailand?
I imagine if we were in the UK my son’s favourite food wouldn’t be wonton noodles. He’d also probably own a jumper or two and some jeans. I’d take him to the park or for a walk in the woods instead of searching for air conditioned venues.
 I also wouldn’t lie awake at night worrying what would happen to our son if I died because my wife isn’t recognized as our son’s legal guardian in Thailand and she would most likely be denied a visa to raise him in the UK.

6. Have there been any child-rearing differences between you and your wife based on the mentality of your home countries? 
Thankfully my wife is quite open minded, which balances my stubbornness. She was willing to listen to my objections to some Thai customs. For example Thai people prefer to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs so they don’t get a flat head. We always had our boy on his back (and his head is a bit of an odd shape). My wife told me that for her it was normal for children to sleep in their parents’ bedroom until they were at least one.  Our boy moved into his own room when he was 6 months old so we could all get a little sleep. It also is a bit of a challenge for my wife not to be too overprotective. I give our boy a lot more independence and space to explore than she feels comfortable with.

7. Are there any Thai customs you've adopted in child-rearing or anything else?
I try a lot harder to control my temper, eat fewer potatoes and take more showers since moving here. I almost always forget to bring the pushchair as there are so few opportunities for us to use it. I am more used to eating with a fork and a spoon than with a fork and a knife.  I think with regards to child-rearing I am still very much the same, as all the research and reading I do comes from either the UK or the USA. 
Thanks for sharing your family's story with us, The Mama. It sounds like life worked out well for you by looking further afield for work as opposed to remaining in Scotland. 
It is great that your son can understand both Thai and English at sixteen months. It would be a shame to let the Thai slip once you move back to Europe. 
It is interesting to hear that your marriage is not recognised in Thailand and of your concerns should anything happen to you. I think all parents have worries of the "what if I die?" nature, but in your specific case there is the extra element uncertainty due to your family's legal status.
Best of luck with your multi-culti family and your relocation to Europe next year. Maybe we'll return to you in a year or so and see how life is going with another language in the mix!

[Are you interested in joining the series? Contact me on the contact form on the right. I'd love to hear from you.]

Monday 23 November 2015

Thursday, 23nd November 2000

The following is an excerpt from the diary I kept while working as an au pair in Bavaria in 2000/01. As I read it, it struck me that it echos the way I occasionally feel with my own children now. 

L., the child I was looking after was seven then, the age of my eldest child now. 

This evening I totally freaked out with L. All day he had been irritating me. I'm still  not sure if he was being exceptionally bad or if I was just being particularly easily annoyed. As I was putting him to bed, I broke down in tears caused partly by him, by the frustration of work and the fact that I couldn't call up Laura. It hit me this evening how she and I used to vent our emotions at each other over a beer or a few glasses of red wine at 'El Catalan'. I couldn't hold in any more all the feelings that I had bottled up since she died - sadness and loss, homesickness after returning from Ireland, frustration from the au pair job and uncertainty about the future.
An old-fashioned selfie

I remember that evening so well, although it is fifteen years ago now. When I lose my temper with my own children, there is always that thought at the back of my mind - was it their behaviour or my frame of mind today that made me snap? 

My Random Musings

Saturday 21 November 2015

Baking German Christmas Cookies

Like it or not, Christmas is fast approaching and it is time to start planning what to bake. To help you out with this I have gathered up my Christmas cookie (Plaetzchen) posts and reposted them here for you to drool over browse through.

If you have any questions, comment and I'll reply. Happy baking! Fionnuala 

Home Etc
Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

Friday 20 November 2015

Pitch In, Sign Up And Help Out - How To Volunteer When You Think You Don't Have The Time To

As a parent, I am a firm believer in doing your bit. Before complaining about that state of the school, the lack of activities in the community or how difficult it is to meet other families, I prefer to make a suggestion, volunteer or start an initiative. 

I'm shy and the phrase "we are looking for volunteers" scares me off as much as it does everyone else in the room. However, since having my children, I feel I have to fight that feeling and get involved in things for the greater good. If I want them to grow up in a close-knit community where people are friendly and helpful, where the school is well-equipped and where extra-curricular activities abound, then surely it is only right that I chip in and support that happening.

Some may say it is easy for me because I am at home at the moment; that I have time for these things. But the more I get involved in voluntary community work, the more I realise that it is mostly the busy people who volunteer. The working mums use their weekly day off to man the cake sale stand or accompany the kids on the school tour. The dads who aren't around for the kindergarten drop offs join the parents' council or lug furniture about in preparation for the annual open day. 

When I was one of those working parents, I did my fair share of pitching in. It was because it was so enjoyable and satisfying that, once I became temporary stay at home mother, I chose to do more. 

Knowing that you are helping a child get the attention they need to keep up with the class or that you are raising funds for playground improvements is a great feeling as a parent. Plus there are the benefits of getting to know more people in your community, meeting fellow parents and maybe having an off-the-record word with the teachers. For the sake of an hour here or there, there is a lot to be gained from volunteering your time.

Here's how to get that feeling:

1. Sign up to help at once-off events in your local area, whether it is baking a cake for the cake sale, helping out with the school sports' day or cleaning up after the open day.

2. If you've noticed an issue, whether at the creche, the school, the parish hall or the sports club, speak to whoever is in charge. Ask if there is anything that parents or the community in general can do to help the situation - from painting the walls to raising funds for improvements or extra staff, there is usually something that needs doing and can be done.

3. Get out of the habit of saying "someone should" or "x needs to be done". Be the someone. Do the thing. 

4. Think of how you want your children to be treated, the environment you want them to grow up in and the values you want them to learn. Wouldn't your example as a vounteer support all that?

5. Look at the amount of time you spend watching TV, having coffee, fiddling around with your phone and then ask yourself whether or not you could spare a hour now and again to improve the lives of those around you. 

Do't let being shy stop you. I didn't.

You Baby Me Mummy
Ethan & Evelyn

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Zazzle Personalised Gifts Review

It may only be mid-November, but Christmas is definitely in the air. I love this time of year - the planning, the organising, the making and baking. It is quietly festive. No rush and bustle. No need to go shopping or be bombarded with Christmas music. I prefer to keep the TV off and live a bit of a hermit lifestyle In November. I craft and  plan, light cinnamon-scented candeles and drink lots of tea. Then, in the last few days before Christmas I dive into the Christmas spirit with music, last minute (but carefully planned) shopping, Christmas films and lots of hot port. 

This seaon my planning got a kick start when I was asked to review a few personalised products by Zazzle. In mid October I made my selection on the Zazzle website. I could have spent days on it! There is so much choice, both in the range of products and in the choice of personalisation designs. You can even upload your own photo or design and use that. 

I would like to point out that if you are using one of the Zazzle templates, make sure to personalise it completely. The gift tags I ordered have text on both sides. I didn't notice and only changed one side, so the other still has Zazzle's text on there. So that is one little thing to double check before you finish placing your order. 

A week later the parcels began to pile in and I was thrilled with everything I'd chosen. A cute monogrammed notebook for a friend, a t-shirt for The Bavarian, an inspirational print for my craft room and a set of stickers for my homemade preserves.

Finally my main purchase, a tea tray, arrived. I had chosen the design from Zazzle, selcted the colour - a nice festive red that will go well with my kitchen all year - and added our family surname, Zinnecker, and initial, Z. It measures 14.5 inches x 10 inches and is a nice size for tea for two. Initially I thought the price of 35.90 GBP a little pricey. Once it arrived I thought otherwise.

 The Bavarian happened to be at home when I opened the parcel and he was delighted with it too, being a fan of woodland themes. Just as we were oohing and aahing over it, I spotted a small crack in the black veneer in one corner. The damage hadn't come from the shipping. That was clear from the perfect condition of the carton the tray was packaged in. It seemed as if a screw had been tightened just a tiny bit too much. 

Now, Zazzle has a promise on its website and on the delivery documents that they will replace any product the customer is not satisfied with. That includes personalised gifts. I took a few photos of the damage and was straight on to them. The damage was very slight, but promise like that needs to be tested, right? Within minutes I had a reply from Zazzle to say, not only that they would send me out a replacement but that they would inform manufacturing of the issue to prevent it happening again.  

Just the other day my new tray arrived, as gorgeous as the first and completely flaw-free. I have been giving it a good testing, using it for my many tea and coffee breaks. Its glossy surface is easily wiped clean with a damp cloth and, so far, the tray gives a hard-wearing impression. On the underside there are little felt pads to prevent the tray scratching surfaces. I was particularly pleased with this since our coffee table is glass topped and our kithcen table is painted. Considering the finish the tray has and the fact that it is personalised, I think the price is quite alright. 

With its colour scheme and pretty pattern, it is really getting me into the festive mood. I will definitely be heading back to Zazzle shortly to do a spot of Christmas shopping now that I know I can rely on them for quality and for keeping their promise.

Home Etc

[Disclaimer: I was asked to test and review the Zazzle website and their personalised products and was given the above mentioned products free of charge in exchange for writing a review. All photos and all opinions expressed here are my own.]

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Time To Toughen Up

If there is one thing I have learnt as a parent it is that, once your child starts to speak, you need to toughen up. Children have no fear when it comes to telling it like it is, so if you are easily insulted, you're going to have a hard time of it.

I have been blessed with very nice, polite children (mostly) but in the past three days alone I've had to put up with the following comments.

Number One, when I mentioned that my hair needs colouring: "No, your hair is not grey" Aw, how sweet. "It is white, Mammy". Yes, well, thank you for pointing that out love. 

Number Two, on a separate occasion: "Mammy, you are like Anna" Aw, he thinks I'm a princess. "Your hair is white too". Oh, right, that's what you meant. Nice.  

Number Two: "Mammy, you are not one bit like Mary Poppins. You are whole [completely] like her". I was puzzled at this till I realised we were out for a walk with the buggy and I had a hat on and an umbrella up.

Number Two: "You have a very wobbly bum, don't you?" Hmm, do I indeed? How kind of you to say.

Needless to say I am quite content with Number Three only being able to say "Mammy", "shoes", "kissies" and nothing else for now. 

Little Hearts, Big Love

And then the fun began...

Sunday 15 November 2015

Saturday 14 November 2015

The Ups and Downs of This Week

Some weeks go by and are instantly forgotten. There is nothing memorable about them, just the usual humdrum of normal family life. Then there are others that stand out as particularly good or bad. For us, this week was one of ups and downs. 

The Ups
 - Number One is getting more and more into reading to himself as a form of entertainment. While Number Two was at football training, he took out a book and read it from cover to cover and didn't once say he was bored waiting.
 - Number Two asked to go to football training. He stuck out the whole 75 minutes and enjoyed it. He is getting more and confident in himself and his abilities.
 - Number Three slept through the night for the first time on Thursday (a major high point of the week) and learnt to high-five The Bavarian the following morning.
 - The Irish Times newspaper printed my article in praise of German food

The Downs
 - I scraped someone's bumper in a car park while reversing and now have to fork out for the repair.
 - Number Three escaped out the door while I was getting ready to leave the house and fell down the back step, banging his head on the paving slabs.
 - The Bavarian got a short bout of man flu.
 - Number One and I got into a big row over whether or not he looks carefully before crossing the road.
 - With all the rushing about this week, I forgot my very good friend's birthday on Thursday.

Looking back now, having written it all down, I would say the highlights outweigh the low points. After all, we are all still alive and well with a roof over our heads. So I am classing it as a good week. Here's to a happy weekend!

Friday 13 November 2015

Making A Naughty or Nice Behaviour Chart With Your Child

A few years ago during a trip home to Ireland I spotted some behaviour charts in Marks & Spencer. They covered the six weeks till Christmas and came with cute little elf stickers - smiling elves for the good days, sad elves for the naughty days. I bought one each for Number One and Number Two. They reacted really well to them, behaving really well in the run up to Christmas. 

Since we don't have M&S here in Germany, we have made our own naughty or nice behavious charts the last couple of years. We had a lot of fun planning the design and colours to use and the charts worked just as well as the bought originals.

To make your own chart you will need:
Card in various colours
Felt tip pen

Optional extras:
Stamps and ink
Washi tape
Cutting board

1. As the basis for your chart you need a rectangular piece of card. We use card approx. 20 x 40 cm. Allow the top third of the card for the picture and the bottom two thirds for the grid of days and weeks.
2. Mark the division of the picture area from the grid area. Last year we used a strip of card and cut a pattern into it. This year we used strips of washi tape.

3. Design your picture, cut out the pieces you needa and glue them into place. Last year I went for an elaborate scene with Santa, Christmas trees, presents, snow and stars wich the boys stuck in place while I instructed them. This year we simplified it and I let the boys design their own pictures.

 4. Draw the grid for the days and weeks. You will need 8 columns (one for each day of the week plus a column on the left for the dates). Depending on how many weeks are left till Christmas, you can decide on how many rows you need. Last year we tracked the boys' behavious over 6 weeks. This year we're doing it over 7 weeks.

5. Write the names of the days in the top row of your grid and the dates of each week in the column on the far left. Now your chart is finished. 

6. At the end of each day mark the square on the grid which corresponds to that day with a smiley sticker, a gold star, an ink stamp or a black mark, depending on the child's behaviour. 

You Baby Me Mummy

Ethan & Evelyn

Thursday 12 November 2015

Stuck In The Middle With You

Number Two hasn't had it easy this past year or so. In September last year, within the space of a week, he got a new baby brother and saw his older brother head off to big school, leaving him behind in kindergarten. He has mostly put on a brave face, kept a stiff upper lip and just gotten on with being the middle child. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that. 

My many plans to take time out to spend just with him have seldom come to fruition. Either he wants his brothers to come along or the plans fall through because of a lack of someone to look after the other two. Recently some cracks are beginning to show in his brave facade and I have been feeling more and more guilty for not being able to make time for him. 

Being a middle child myself, I know exactly how he feels. He knows that I am busy with the other two (keeping the toddler out of harm's way and helping the schoolboy at his homework) and that I am not ignoring him. But constantly being told "Not now", "in a minute" and "I'll get to you as soon as I can" isn't good for him.

I hate to admit it but the wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the oil, and he doesn't squeak. He has kept turning reliably. Until now. So I've begun a maintenance program for him. 

The best I have been able to do is to squeeze in some time in the evenings, when Number Three is asleep and Number One is entertaining himself. Even if it has only been helping Number Two get ready for bed and listening to his ideas and stories from the day, I notice it has helped. He's happier in himself. He thrives on the attention. The more we use the few minutes we have, the more we seem to find little more time just for us. 
Another thing I've found is that telling him we are going to do an activity which he suggested or which revolves around him lifts his spirits a lot. Last week, for example, we went to the kindergarten latern-making afternoon. We had to bring Number Three with us, but he stayed strapped into the buggy beside us while Number Two and I cut and glued and chatted. 
Yesterday we went to football practice for the first time. Both his older and younger brother had to come along. But he was so pleased that he was the main man. Every so often he would look up from training to smile and wave to me and his brothers where we stood and watched. 
This afternoon we had a bit of quiet time while Number One was visiting a friend and Number Three played by our feet. We browsed the toy cataolgues and he started his Santa list. 

After bedtime, as I was halfway down the stairs, he called me to come back. As I peered round the doorway he blew me a kiss. I think we're slowly finding our way out of the middle. 
The Twinkle Diaries