Tuesday 29 December 2015

My Bubble Will Burst

We all know those review-of-the-year TV and radio shows that pop up on every channel in December. Some years I watch them, some years I don't. With my own life, I take a similar approach. Some years I look back at what has gone on, some years I prefer not to. 

Life has been so busy over the past few years that I simply haven't had the time to reflect on what has been going on. I've just keep going, tweeking things here and there where I felt it was needed but not doing any major assessment of how my life is going. 

This year, and especially over the past month or so, life in general has been on my mind. On the whole I am happy, but I know that life as it is at the moment is not going to continue for much longer. 

I'm living in a bit of a bubble this year. I've been at home with my baby, a baby who is becoming more and more toddler-esque by the day. 

Number Two has been my kindergarten boy, coming home to me at lunchtime and staying with me for the afternoons. 

Number One, my schoolboy, has been plodding through his second year of school and, at seven and a half, is on the  border between little boy and big boy. 

Next year, the plan is that I will return to work in September. Life will change significantly. We'll have a bit of extra cash, which will be handy, but we'll also have a much busier life than we do now. 

Number Two will start school. Number Three will start kindergarten. We'll all be out of the house by 7.45am. We won't be back home till 4.30pm. There'll always be a rush to get out, to get home, to get dinner made and the homework done. 

There'll be the guilty feeling of not having the chiildren's friends over to play as much as they'd like. There'll be the unfinished feeling on leaving work in the afternoons. 

There'll be times when we have to decide whose turn it is to stay at home with the sick child and the times when tempers are lost and harsh words are thrown about.  

If I am honest, there will be times when I ask myself "Why are we living like this?", "Is this what is best for our family?", "Can't we just go back to how it used to be?".

But I know we can't. The boys are growing up. They have to go to school. I want to work and have my own income. I have too much fear of waking up one day with three grown sons and no job, no useable skills, no income of my own. 

I'm too much of a realist to entertain the idea of being a stay at home wife and mother for years to come. My bubble is going to bust. That's what bubbles do. 

Sunday 27 December 2015

Your Favourites, My Favourites

Since the year 2015 is nearing its end, I've decided I will share with you some of Three Sons Later's favourite moments as well as letting you know which posts have been readers' favourites over the year.

The top 5 most popular posts were:

My own personal favourite posts were
5. Cooking Beef Olives - Being able to watch myself cooking in this vlog 
4. Craft Myths, Busted - I love to craft and hate to hear people say they can't or they would love to but don't have the time
3. #clearoutandeat - Launching a linky, something I knew nothing about a year ago
2. 5 Tips For Outdoor Sensory Play - promoting the joys of outdoor play with babies
1. Me, Now, Happy - My very first post on Three Sons Later

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Homemade Christmas Food and Drink Gifts - Part Two

I am spectacularly late on this. Seriously. The production time on this post would rival that spent on any Hollywood blockbuster. The budget was ever so slightly lower though. 

On the 14th November, on the spur of the moment, I decided I would film the making of my homemade foodie gifts. What I neglected to take into account was the amount of editing a spur of the moment vlog needs. Especially when there are countless star appearances by Number Three. He even attempted a few stunts, but I literally caught him in time. 

But anyway, back to the matter at hand - making a few cheap and cheerful, quick and easy food gifts.

Are you in need of some last minute gifts? Does your creativity need a culinary outlet? Or do you just need a way to get rid of all the bottles and jars you've been hoarding all year? 

Whatever the answer, you have come to the right place. Take a look at my short vlog and see the gorgeous, tasty edible gifts you can make in no time, with very little effort, no cooking and very few ingredients. 

In this vlog you'll learn how to make:
 - Candy Sugar in Grand Marnier, for pepping up punch, mulled wine black tea or coffee
 - Homemade Vanilla Sugar, for adding an extra depth of flavour to baking
 - Layered Seasonings in a Jar or Grinder
 - Homemade Seeded Brown Bread Mix, just add buttermilk before baking (get the full recipe here)

You'll be amazed how much you can make in five minutes!

Your shopping list:
Caster sugar
Vanilla pods
Orange liqueur
Candy sugar
Sea salt (coarse)
Black pepper
Chili flakes
Brown flour
White plain flour
Bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
Fine salt
A selection of seeds (linseed, poppy, pumpkin)

P.S. In an ideal world (or on a better organised blog) you would find here at the end of the post some lovely printables to pin, print or download. But this is the real world, my real world to  be exact, so maybe there'll be printables next year. If I think of it on time.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Compromising on Tradition, But Loving The Cookies

During the summer, I mentioned how the memories my children have of summer are so different to my own childhood memories. Today an article of mine was published on The Irish Times website. It looks at how The Bavarian and I have tried to bring the traditions we grew up with into our children's lives.

As with many aspects of marriage and family life, establishing traditions involves compromise. Whose family dinner was better and should be passed on? Should we start our own tradition as a family? In our case, the main difficulty I had was bringing in something Irish to the German traditions that surround us here and which The Bavarian grew up with.

You can read the article here but if you just want to cookie recipes, then click here.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas for Us

The commercialisation of Christmas bothers me more with each passing year. Maybe it is because I am getting older. Maybe it is because Christmas is being forced upon us earlier and earlier in the year. Maybe it is because of phrases like 'the religious side of Christmas' (hello! it is a religious celebration, only existing because of Christianity. The commercial side is the add-on). 

Whatever the root cause, I have been aching for an old-fashioned Christmas for years now. A Christmas with a nativity play and carols, with hearty homemade food, a tree dressed in decorations with a history. A Christmas of reading and walks and board games, of card games and candlelight and Christmas music in the background.

That is my wish for this Christmas. We will be at home in our own house, The Bavarian, our three sons and I. We're having friends over for drinks tomorrow, we're spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day by ourselves. We'll have sincere gifts, nice homey meals and good wine.

We won't have new PJs, a Christmas Eve box or a mountain of presents. But we will have candlelight and snuggles on the sofa. We'll have 'It's A Wonderful Life" and games of Scrabble and Uno. Basically, we'll relax. What a perfectly old-fashioned thing to do at Christmas.  

Monday 21 December 2015

Cocoa and Knoedelbrot

I though I was doing things right, going to bed with a hotwater bottle and a book at ten pm. But here I am at twenty past midnight, wide awake, drinking cocoa and with the word knoedelbrot* stuck in my mind. 

Not being able to sleep is not a thing that happens to me. Outside of late pregnancy, I have only once gotten up in the middle of the night because it was preferable to lying snug in my bed. But tonight my mind is racing with unwritten to do lists. Only fours days till Christmas. I really must. I can't forget to. What about the. Will I remember to. 

I know that none of these things really matter. We have enough in the house to keep us fed for the few days the shops are closed. The presents are, all bar one, bought and stashed away. Santa never wrapped my presents when I was a child, so I don't think the children will mind if he doesn't get round to wrapping theirs. There will be presents under the tree. Good one at that.

We are not having visitors after the 23rd, so no cleaning needs doing. The tree and other decorations are up. The Christmas mugs have been hauled up from the cellar. 

THE STOCKINGS! Jesus, where are the stockings? I was about to type that everything Christmas-related has been brought up from the cellar, but the stockings....I haven't seen the stockings! [Adds stockings (seach cellar or buy new) to list]

OK. New plan. New list.
1. Scrap all other lists
2. Do not make mental lists being made while not being able to sleep
3. Make easy meal plan for 21st to 26th and stick to it
4. Put Christmas books, dvds, cds and board games in one spot in sitting room
5. Make final trip to post office and supermarkets (buy stockings!) on Monday
6. Do not forget the knoedelbrot
7. Forget about remembering the knoedelbrot and go to sleep

*Knoedelbrot is chopped up stale bread rolls used for making bread dumplings, Semmelknoedel, the one food Number One has asked for this Christmas.

Friday 18 December 2015

The Dos and Don'ts of Bringing Children to a Christmas Market

Get them a mug of Kinderpunsch (hot, non-alcoholic punch)

Point out the twinkly fairy lights, the Christmas tree and any other light effects

Make sure they at least try some of the delicious, sweet and savoury food on offer

Let them go on the carousel

Bring them to see the crib

Make sure they see the handcrafts on display

Explain what they should do in case they get separated from you

Remember that their eyes are much lower down than yours. They may only see peoples bags, elbows and the backs of jackets

Expect a few grumpy moments after the initial awe

Let them out of your sight for a moment

Say "we're not staying long", unless you really aren't

Promise what you can't deliver. Check in advance what events are on, what is on display, etc. before you go, if possible

Let them touch the items on display at the stall. It could end up costing you a lot.

Drink too much mulled wine

You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday 17 December 2015

Homemade Christmas Food and Drink Gifts - Part One

So, the "in a few days" I wrote in my initial post on Christmas food has turned into eleven days and I am very sorry about that. Somehow the days just flew by in a blur and here I am with my photos and my half-editied vlog, desperately trying to get my recipes out to you before Christmas Eve.

You'll be glad to hear that I have a whole host of easy, tasty and quick-to-make edible gifts for you. Of course, you don't even have to give them away. You can keep them all for your own enjoyment. It is up to you.

So now to get down to the recipes. First up is my non-alcoholic punch. With so many friends and family members dropping in over the Christmas period, it is handy to have something a bit more festive than tea on hand to offer any non-drinkers or those driving. Click here for my delicious spiced punch with a rooibush tea base. You can bottle it and store it in the fridge for a few days, heating as necessary. 

Visitors like nibbles but mince pies or the same boring crackers with cheese everywhere you turn can get old fairly quickly. That's why I've made my own crispbreads this year. So easy and a great way to use up stale bread. I make my own bread, but you can use any loaf bread or baguette-style bread. I like to use my white, multi-seed bread.

Before the bread goes completely stale, slice it into very fine slices, almost wafer-thin. Lay the slices out on baking trays and brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake in a preheated oven at 150°C for 10-12 minutes. Leave to cool completely before stacking in tall, wide-neck air-tight jars. Tie with a ribbon and give as as present or keep in your own cupboard for nibbling with wine or port and cheese. 

For a sweet treat for yourself, your guests or to give as a gift, try making your own marzipan truffles. I flavour mine with walnut and orange, both Christmassy flavours, and coat them in cocoa. Click here for the full recipe. Pack the finished truffles into a jar or clear plastic gift bag and tie with a pretty ribbon to finish.

Jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes make excellent gifts at this time of year. If you are a jam-maker, you'll have a stock of jars at the back of a cupboard somewhere, bursting with all the flavours of late Summer and early Autumn. Some of the recipes I use are:

I hope I've been able to provide you with a little bit of insiration here. A combination of the gifts listed above can make a gorgeous and inexpensive hamper for neighbours, teachers or friends. Why not give some of them a go to get you in the festive, generous spirit?

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Nostalic Christmas Decorations

I've spent the day getting Christmas sorted - the goose and other meats ordered, the presents bought and wrapped, the cards written and posted. I set myself a tough goal and I got through a surprisingly large number of the items on my to do list, but not everything.

Tomorrow we are buying the tree and I had hoped to root out all the decorations in the cellar. But time just hasn't allowed for that. I had to tick off other equally important items like listening to Micheal Buble's  Christmas album and drinking mulled wine while revising my list. 

We have a big selection of decorations that has been built up over the years - Newbridge silver gifts, blue and white ceramic baubles from a trip to Amsterdam, Villeroy and Boch glass mistletoe pendants, as well as several pieces from Christmas markets. 

This weekend, the collection was added to with a couple of lovely nostalgic pieces from the Christmas market in Regensburg, Bavaria. My dad was visiting and treated his older two grandsons to their choice of decoration each from a stall with a huge and varied selection of nostalgic decorations.

Number One chose a cute little squirrel while Number Two chose about five different things before settling on an igloo. 

I love that they didn't go straight for the snowmen or Santas. And I'm relieved that they didn't opt for the fire engines or police cars. 

I was so busy taking it all in, I completely neglected to buy anything for myself. I did put my eye on this gorgeous deer, although he is rather large for hanging on a tree. 

Just look at the colours! Not to everyone's taste, I imagine, but they are so vibrant and eye-catching, aren't they? 

They remind me of the delicate baubles my parents had when I was very small. One would always break, either being hung or being taken down on Little Christmas. Fingers crossed the squirrel and the igloo with survive a few Christmases!

Home Etc

Christmas in One Day

I have an ambitious plan for today. I am going to organise Christmas. 

Tomorrow we are getting the tree. 

Today everything else is being done. 

ALL the presents will be bought. 

ALL the presents will get wrapped. 

The goose will get ordered from one butcher. 

The special Christmas Eve sausages will be ordered from another butcher.

The decorations will be brought up from the cellar. 

The Christmas CDs will be found.

The cards will be written and posted. 

Love Actually will be watched.

Mulled wine will be drunk.

From nought to Christmas in 24 hours.

Wish me luck. 

Monday 14 December 2015

Octaland 4D+ Review and Flashcard Giveaway

"Grandad, do you want to see an astronaut floating in our kitchen?" This was how Number One greeted my dad when he arrived to visit us the other day. 

It may sound a little bit crazy, but it was a valid question. We were asked recently to review the Octaland 4D+ flashcards and were sent a couple of sample packs to test out. A astronaut floating in our kitchen was one the the amazing things we discovered. 
Image Credit: Octagon Studios

When the Octaland 4D+ flashcards arrived, they looked like regular alphabet flashcards but I was highly excited about showing them to Number Two. He's alphabet-mad at the moment. You see these are no ordinary flashcards. They come to life once scanned.

Now, when I first read that the pictures on the cards come alive, I was seriously sceptical. But then again, I had never encountered augmented reality before and it is augemented reality that gives these cards their magic.

On the back of the packs there are instructions on downloading the relevant apps from the App Store or Google Play. You need the apps to use the cards to their full potential. 

Unfortunately for me, I have a Windows laptop and a Windows phone and the apps are not compatible with those. 

As soon as the Bavarian set foot through the door that evening, his Android phone was commandeered, the apps were downloaded and the fun began. 

For the next half hour there was a steady stream of "Mammy, look!" , "It is moving!", "He's floating in the air!" and "Did you see the horse jump the fence?" from Number One and Two, while The Bavarian and I marvelled at the animation. 

The effects are mind-blowing. When viewed through the phone, the characters appear to be standing right on top of the flashcard that is lying on the kitchen table. 

The animals make noises, chew, look around or walk. The characters in the Occupation series go about their business, the vet seeing to a sick dog, the orthodontist fitting a brace on a boy, the builder building a wall and the firefighter spraying a fire extinguisher. 

Whether you are looking for a stocking filler, a fun little gift or something educational to go with a child's tablet, I can recommend these Octagon Studio products

We  took our two sets with us when we went away this weekend and they were handy to have as a lightweight, portable form of entertainment. Even without using the app, the cards can to used for reading practice or as regular letter flashcards. Whether we were in our hotel room, a cafe or the car, the cards could be taken from my handbag and immediately the children were kept busy. 

Image Credit: Octagon Studios


If you fancy being in with a chance to win a set for yourself, leave a comment on this post. We'll pick a winner at random at 9pm GMT on the 15th December. 

The giveaway is open to all residents of the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

Good luck!

Little Hearts, Big Love

[Disclaimer: I was provided with the two sets of Octagon Studios flashcards free of charge in return for an honest review of the product. All opinions are my own.]

Thursday 10 December 2015

The Constant Pile of Crap

For 2 weeks now I have been moving a pile of crap from the table to the chair and from the chair back to the table depending on the circumstances.  Things get added. Things get taken away. But it remains a sizeable pile of crap.  

Some of it is important. Passport forms and bank statements, minor bills and receipts that need to be kept. But a lot of it is junk. It always is. 

No matter how often I clear off the windowsills, the coffee table and the top of the high press in the kitchen, the resulting pile mostly ends up in the bin. 

But the thing that really annoys me is where does it all come from? Why does it not go straight to the bin? Or to where it belongs? 

As I write, I have noticed that the one kitchen windowsill that I have been trying to keep clear of things that don't belong there is now home to
- 9 62 cent stamps,
- a €4 roll of 10 cent pieces,
- a few coupons for yogurt,
- two ramekins, 
- an egg cup (why? we haven't eaten boiled eggs in at least three months!),
- a broken ceramic caterpillar,
- a broken stick of chalk,
- a mixing bowl full of acorns and chestnuts. 

Alongside all of that is a vanilla-scented candle, a small jar of homemade pot pourri, a candlestick and a box of tissues - all there on purpose in a futile attempt to deter litter leavers. 

Is your house like mine with various gathering spots for stuff that should be somewhere else? Who are the main culprits? Does anyone have the perfect solution to this? I'd love to know.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Hitting The Christmas Markets

It may be a bit quiet here on the blog for the next week or so. The Christmas markets have started and as a result we will have a steady stream of visitors over from home to visit them.  

Soon I'll be sharing photos and tips for any of you who may want to plan a trip for next year. Germany's Christmas markets really are a highlight and one of the best ways to get into the festive mood. 

Getting all your Christmas shopping done while surrounded by twinkly lights, the scent of cinnamon and vanilla in the air, a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a bratwurst in the other - for me the magic hasn't faded yet. I hope it never will. 

Sunday 6 December 2015

Painted Clans Personalised Crests Review

My Christmas shopping is not done. Not nearly. The problem is that I am trying to avoid impulse buys and, obviously, that entails planning. 

Normally I am a master list-maker and know by the end of November what I am going shopping for. This year, however, I am so tied down with school and kindergarten pick ups and drop offs, nap times, homework and play dates that I have not had time to browse the shops, online or off, and be inspired. 

I could just bite the bullet and sit down at the laptop at ten at night to click my way through a large online store and pick out presents for my family and friends. But the idea horrifies me. 

I have never been a big online shopper, preferring to shop locally. Of course I do, from time to time, buy from large online distributors. Who doesn't? But the older I get, the more I feel that I should support local businesses and new enterprises. 

When I was asked recently to take a look at the personalised crests by Painted Clans, I got quite a nice surprise. Here was an online shop where I could order a personlised, handcrafted gift with the added benefit that it is made in Ireland by an Irish artist, Brendan Mc Carey.

Brendan has modernised the traditional crests, simplifying the imagery, removing text and focusing on the core images. From single painted crests to whole family trees, the range is wide and each item is unique, being hand-painted to order. 

Perfectly packaged for shipping

Our older two sons are mad about knights and have been for years. We've had knight birthday parties, we have countless Playmobil and Lego knights and castles, and we have a vast selection of shields and swords. 

With that in mind, I'm sure you can well imagine the excitment that the arrival of our own family crests caused. I am very pleased with our framed double crest, showing the crest of my maiden name and the crest of The Bavarian's family name as well as the date of our wedding.

The boys are thrilled that our names have such strong emblems - the lion, the eagle, the crown - and I love the clean lines and vibrant colours. That the whole things ties in well with our dark red and white livingroom is an added bonus. 
Our names and the date of our wedding
I imagine these crests would make a wonderful wedding or anniversary gift. Indeed for anyone interested in family history and genealology, a Painted Clans crest would be a welcome present. 

Brendan also paints county crests of the counties of Ireland, something that would make a sentimental leaving gift for anyone emigrating or returning to their home country after a stay in Ireland. I know so many people here in Germany who feel a strong connection to Ireland, having studied or worked there for a period before returning home. 
The Painted Clans Stamp and Signature
While on the whole our framed crests are beautiful, on closer inspection there is one little snag - my family name, Matthews, has been written as Matthew. 

One other thing I would like to stress here in this review is that the crests are hand-painted. The reason I am emphasising this is that the texture of the brush strokes is quite visible and in places streaks of the base colour are visible. I like the textured look. However, on the wing of the black eagle of our crest there is a streak of white which looks like a scratch. 

Despite the above, I still feel this is going to become a treasured family hierloom, a feature on the wall that my children will remember, just as I remember the picture in my grandmother's hall and which now lives in my own hallway.  

[Disclaimer: I was sent a framed double crest by Painted Clans in return for an honest review of the product. All photos and opinions here are my own and I was not paid to write this review.]

Please note that should you wish to place an order, last orders for international shipping will be taken on the 10th Dec and for Irish orders on 15th Dec. 2015.