Monday, 19 December 2011

somewhere in amongst 2011

When exactly does life change from a year taking an interminably long time to pass, to each year zipping by to the point where you are in December saying to yourself "But January was only a little while ago and I haven't even done anything yet!!"? I can't remember when this might have occurred. It seems to be somewhere between my teenage years where I simply couldn't wait to be 14, 15, 16, 17 all the way up to 22, and now. Was it having kids? Do they do this to you? Probably. I am pretty sure they are to blame for the wrinkles under my eyes too.

And so, here I am at nearly the end of 2011 and I'm not sure that I have actually managed to get much done. Why, I haven't even finished tidying up yet! I'm pretty sure there is ironing still to be done from 2010. (Actually, I have barely ironed since 2007, but I like to keep up a pretence of domesticity, so stick with me on 2010 at least).

I went and had a peek at my 'somewhere...somehow...' list of things I wanted to get done in 2011 to see how many/few* (*delete as appropriate, or maybe not as I don't want to be seen as a complete procrastinator - and that's putting it nicely). So what exactly have I done? Not much it would seem at first glance from the list. Things will definitely be sliding on to my 2012 list. Here's a quick recap:

  1. improve my cooking skills
    Well, I tried. Honest I did. And I think I have gotten marginally better. At the very least I would say we are eating FAR less pork than we started out on when we moved here. And that is something we are all VERY grateful for.
  2. learn to properly use my camera
    Alarmingly, I have only got very slightly better with my camera. I was so very chuffed with my attempts at tilt-shift effects (not even done on the camera but in Photoshop!), that I got a bit lazy. I have started using different settings on it though and I adjust my exposure more, but still... oh, and I don't think that I really have improved over the course of my 365/Photo-a-day project which is what I heard would happen. Bah humbug.
  3. enrol on an evening course for something creative (in German)
    Well, not an evening course, but I did go on a sewing course - I still want to go to pottery classes. 
  4. take my sewing machine OUT OF THE BOX and learn to use it
    Yes! I did! See above. At the lovely sewing cafe Kinkibox in Friedrichshain and while my skills are limited, I did still make a dress for Orla.
  5. make cushions for the living room
    No. I haven't even got the fabric. Maybe next year....sigh.
  6. sort out my horrible hair
    Well, I have certainly had some hair cuts and highlights this year with varying degrees of success. I *thought* I had it sussed by finding an English hairdresser at Toni & Guy in Berlin. At the moment my hair is brown...but it seems to have been done poorly and already is fading out a bit and showing where my old highlights were. Will I never be hair-happy here???
    No.6 I haven't many photos of the brown hair with fringe. 

  7. read more books
    Oh yes! I really have! And I am so pleased with that. I still go to bookgroup as well. I didn't bother with the BBC's Big Read list as I knew I wouldn't either be able to complete it, or give up on it - do I really want to read a stack of Jacqueline Wilson books?? Not overly. But I have managed 35 so far! 
  8. get to at least B2 level in German
    Alas no. I stopped for a ahem...short break at the beginning of B1 and haven't returned. I may go back if we get an extension.
  9. set up an etsy shop
    The shop is set up, there's just nothing in it yet. Total laziness on my part. No excuses. 
  10. travel round Germany - Regensburg, Bamburg, Augsburg
    We saw a good bit more of Germany this year. Our summer break took us right down to the south and we worked our way back via Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Stuttgart on the way home. 
  11. see at least 4 other German cities - Hamburg, Munich,
    Yup. Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and I can't even think where else. But I know I did.
  12. earn some money from illustration - take part in Kunst Supermarkt 2011
    Well, I have sold some prints this year, just not through my etsy shop or through Kunst Supermarkt. So a partial success I think.
  13. start a 365 photo/sketch blog
    Tickety tick! Not only did I start and pretty much complete (I have no idea how I am missing 20+ photos) my Flickr 365, but I have also maintained my fiona gray . paints blog and FB page
  14. do something different - The Night of the Jumps - The Harlem Globetrotters
    Yes. And I have to say it's been lovely having the opportunities on our doorstep to do this. We plan on trying more things next year too. Starting with 'going to a show' - I have been to theatres and things but variety and these sort of Blue Man Group shows, never. It's time to try it, I think.
  15. make a concerted effort to do more artwork
    As no.13 says - yes. It's all here.
  16. paint Orla's dolls house in pretty colours
    Yes. I think I got that done quite early in the year. Best to start with an easily achieveable one, eh?
  17. hang pictures on the living room walls
    Hmm... I have hung a couple, but the reality is that our walls are huge and our pictures look silly and far too small. But I have hung my Tiel Sievl-Keevers 'Patch Apple' and some artwork by Orla that I framed.
  18. get a lovely photo taken of the kids
    I kept meaning to get my friend Sarah to do this for me, but I kept forgetting. But I did like my photos of the two of them jumping on the bed rather a lot.
  19. make that Cath Kidston handbag!
    Not done. I keep looking at it and I immediately think: "I will rush this and make a complete mess of it. " And so it slips into 2012. Maybe I'll start with that.
  20. get round the Berlin museums and galleries - the Kennedy Museum, the Bauhaus Archiv, the Jewish Museum,
    Yes! Since my holiday from German classes I have managed to see an awful lot more than I ever could do with the kids in tow. So nice! I have a list of places to visit in 2012 already. Can't wait.
  21. make some kids duvet covers and pillowcases
    No. Of course not. I blog. How would I have time for that????
  22. get more organised - cupboards, toys, clothes, etc
    Marginally. I have given stuff (clothes) away to friends, books to the school, cleared out a few cupboards, but *still* haven't done the toys because the kids keep playing with the things I think they are finished with. Orla has just re-adopted the Fisher Price house for Polly Pocket and her friends who will be joining her at Christmas. I must be stricter about doing this (preferably before Christmas, but who am I kidding??)
  23. sell things on German eBay, starting with the highchair!
    No, but I have nearly bought stuff on german eBay. I have at least changed my account settings. I am getting rid of that highchair in 2012 FOR SURE!!!!! It is currently being used to hold coats in Hamish's little bedroom. 
  24. have just a little bit of a nice bright colour in my hair
    No. And I am kind of going off this idea. Probably won't happen. I can imagine getting fed up of it fading and having to re-do it.
  25. find a good babysitter & have a night out with JUST Stevie
    YES! YES! and thrice YES! In fact we have had 3 different babysitters. Our first and male babysitter is moving to Ireland in january, so we have started using the girl of Hamish's dreams before she goes to Uni next September, and then last week we used our neighbours daughter after speaking to her mother who said she was looking for babysitting work. It wasn't until she arrived to do it that we found out she was 13!!!! Luckily, they live literally across the hall, so her mum was on hand, and I guess she probably had most of the same toys as the kids..... :-S
  26. do more creative things with the kids
    Oh, yes. And it's so traumatic to me as they rip and manically glue and glitter that I can't even bring myself to talk about it.
  27. have my nails done
    Alas, no. A definite for 2012 I think.
  28. do more cooking/baking with the kids
    Yes. With really quite ugly, unappetising results most of the time. But we've done lots and they really enjoy it, and Orla eats more dinner if she's involved in the making of it and gets to taste along the way.
  29. look after a plant & not kill it
    Still not my forte. I've tried. But I am sticking with cut flowers. My fake orchid is still doing well though...
  30. to read the rest some (I've read 38 so far) of the '100 book challenge' listed on Facebook. I can't read 62 (when it includes War & Peace) in a year.
    Not a one. But I have read lots of books. See no. 7 for details.
  31. cycle more after winter, to the point I consider 1 of those trailers for the kids
    Oh yes, I cycled. And every time I had one of the kids on the back moaning about it, I hated it. The sooner they can both cycle unaided the better. And I didn't get a trailer. Couldn't bear the thought of them both moaning away behind me.
  32. read a novel in German
    Ha! You're kidding right? I still have half of my book of German fairy tales to read. I have barely read a German newspaper - though to give me some credit (well very little really) I do occasionally buy German Elle Deco. But I'm much more of a fan of looking at the pictures unless something catches my eye.
  33. be continued....
    Yes, I think we can say it will have to be continued. Roll on 2012...I hope it brings less procrastination, more magic telly, speedier blogging (I spend far too much time on the internet), and good health and happiness to us all - you too fellow reader. Hope you had a lovely 2011.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Let's hope Santa is real

Last year I was in a panic because I felt like I had left all my Christmas shopping until way too late, and the way things were looking it appeared I only had about 3 shopping minutes until Christmas, and that was going to have to be done in the airport. Toblerone, anyone?

But that was November. November! What I wouldn't give for November and all it's juicy shopping days now. But here we are, beyond mid-December, less than a full week until we fly back to the UK, and I am so behind schedule that even if there was a schedule, I might as well crumple it up into a ball and eat it.

It's hard to believe I am in a worse-organised situation than I was last year, but there you go. It's hard to emulate those people who announce on Facebook that they have completed all their Christmas shopping, have it all wrapped, cards written, and are sitting with their feet up drinking wine, and spraying the internet with their smugness at the beginning of November, when all I can do is feel sharp, stabby, feelings of hatred curdled with jealousy towards them. It's just not me either. How can you feel festive in December if you don't have the joys of frantic impulse shopping,very late night present wrapping, and glorious panic, if you have nothing left to do in December.

If only I had known that we would have had weeks of children (ok, child, but one is enough) with bronchitis and pneumonia, followed by visitors, followed by adult illness, horrid events, more visitors, more illness combined with a complete inability to actually undertake any task beyond trying not to appear to my guests like I might just drop to the ground... and there you have have it. A month where it might have been nice to not have to do anything.

Normally the internet is my friend. He saves my present-buying bacon time and time again. But I seem to be lacking the patience to trawl and price check and go back to other sites and blah, blah, blah. I have a pile of presents for my nieces sitting in a corner of the dining room that I should have posted at least last week. But I still need to find a box the right size and that seems like a task requiring too much energy and brain-time.

So, I am reaching a place where nausea and tiredness are taking over and strangely giving me an inner calm. I can hear them chanting "None of this really matters. Put the internet down, give the children all the Christmas chocolate you have gathered, and go and lie down in the bed beside the man with the raging temperature. And sleep.".

Monday, 12 December 2011

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

But it's hard sometimes.

I have found myself lying to our neighbours in the past about our shopping. I don't know if it's because all of our neighbours tend to shop daily with bi-weekly trips to the market for fruit and veg, but none seem to do a weekly supermarket shop, and if any of them catch me unloading the car and loading the lift with a weeks worth of groceries they tend to have something to say about it. Most times I tend to get caught when we have visitors coming, and then I suppose we do have a bit more shopping to do, but with 4 adults and 2 kids (or more) in the apartment that's only to be expected, right?

The first time a neighbour commented on the quantity of shopping I was loading into the lift I felt really guilty. I have no idea why, it wasn't any more than a normal UK weekly shop - less even than a full trolley-load, but when someone actually says to you that you seem to have bought an extraordinarily large amount of groceries, well, I can't help but feel that I have somehow made an error. So I lied that time and said that we not only had friends staying for a week (true) but that was our groceries for the month, totally not true, but it seemed to satisfy her.

Anyway, we have friends staying with us again this week, and I went off to buy the shopping. I was just taking the last of the bags into the apartment and was heading out of our door and up to the lift when I saw our upstairs neighbour eyeing up our crate of beers. I said 'Hi!' and she said "That's an awful lot of beer!" in a quite accusing manner. I did that quick look across, look up multiplication and saw that I had bought a crate of 20 as requested, but still felt the need to say "We have friends staying for a week this week" - totally making sure I said friends in German in the plural. And she looked at the crate of beer in my hands again and said "That's still an awful lot of beer".

What can you do? I haven't the patience to even say in English "5 beers each does not make us alcoholics", so I just smiled and said goodbye.

Later that evening Lucy, our unlucky downstairs neighbour came upstairs to collect the kids to take them back to her apartment so that they could feed the cats. I have mentioned Lucy before as she is one of the 'Canadians' a race seemingly much loathed by the rest of our neighbours. I told Lucy about the beer thing. She told me that I'm lucky that they like me enough to even speak to me. They just get cheeky notes through their door and if they get a 'Guten Morgen' on the stairs then they're lucky. We don't really know what it is that has made our neighbours despise the various Canadians that have lived here, but maybe they shop and drink even more than we do. Good grief!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Mr & Mrs Matching Coat Mystery

How does this happen? 

Mrs: "I want a green coat"
Mr: "Funnily enough, I was just thinking the same thing"
Mrs: "What style were you thinking of?"
Mr: "Oh you know something with a huge pleat from the top of the back, you know making it 'swingy', and long, with great drape. Lichen? What were you thinking? Lichen or moss?"
Mrs: "No WAY! Oh that's freaky. Do you want a fur collar too?"
Mr: "Yeah, but make mine detachable, you know so we don't look like freaky twins."
Mrs: "I'll call our tailor"

I was just heading to the shops when I saw this lovely couple outside the KaDeWe. There are moments when I am glad I am lugging my camera around in my bag instead of other probably more vital items. I probably wouldn't even have noticed them had it not been for the huge darts on the back of their coats. But it made me wonder: where do people go to get his and her matching coats?

I'm not talking about the his and her Berghaus brigade. That's easy enough done. And I guess it wouldn't be too hard to rock the his and hers Burberry mac look, but these are like, proper normal winter coats. (Well, maybe not normal, but you know what I mean). Where are these shops? Or do you have to have a tailor?

It's a total mystery to me. And I'm not even going to start on the subject of why you would want to be wearing the same clothes as your partner.  

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

2011: The year I wanted to lick my son.

Farewell to longish lie-ins on Christmas.
I was woken at 5am by someone shouting "I need the front door open!"
For it is Nikolaus, the 6th of December, fill your boots with chocolate, don't confuse him with Santa, time.

Marek? Who is Marek??? Who cares. You had me at "hello".
I believe in Nikolaus. Mostly because this year he seemed to have been thinking of me too. The kids put their boots out just before they went to bed, and just before I went to bed I handily remembered that I had forgotten to fill them. That would have been a bummer for the early risers this morning. I would have had to have said that patently their behaviour hadn't been deemed good enough this year and empty boots meant that they were in for a darn good spanking. However, when I opened the door last night to my delight, the boots had already been filled! With Lindt Santas. And not just that. But 'Marek' above was sitting on the doormat. In true Cinderella style, I know Marek was left for me, because he fits in my boot. And as for all this sharing nonsense the kids are coming away with, well, it's funny how I only hear that word when they're not the ones skipping in circles up and down the hall, cradling their Santa-shaped-built-for-diabetics-who'll-happily-take-another-zillion-units-of-insulin-just-to-cover-this-breakfast. Uh-huh, you want to share? You can have the ribbon at the top. 

Orla, who seems to have inherited Stevie's self-control has gone off to school with a small chocolate hippo (that would have been from me obviously - totally off-theme) which she's keeping until lunchtime. Hamish on the other hand, sat in a huff because he wanted to eat all the chocolate for breakfast and was being forced to eat at-least-some-toast before being let loose on a Lindt Santa. I don't know who he takes after to be honest. Must be some distant relation on Stevie's side...

There goes at least 50 cents worth down the drain.

And I can honestly say, this is the first time ever that I have thought "I'd quite like to lick your hands clean" and had to steel myself to say "Let's get you to the bathroom without touching ANYTHING on the way".

'The Local' gives the lowdown on Nikolaus (

Thursday, 1 December 2011

But most of all, I don't want this...

I just read on a blog about a gift giving service called which uses your Facebook eh...'stuff ' to select presents for your friends and family... or yourself.

Sounds like my idea of fun! So I went on the site and allowed it access to all my details and ran myself through their ginormous computing might to see what the perfect gifts for me would be. After all, we need to test it's accuracy, right?

I have the feeling that status updates and comments on other people's statuses are not probably that indicative of the kind of gifts that you like. Unless of course each day your staus is something like "Today I would like a Kitchenaid mixer in ice blue".

Alas, I seem to talk about messenger pigeons quite a bit. I don't know why either, but there you go, I'm complex like that. But let me tell you what came up with for me. Before you go getting your credit card out and asking for my delivery address, here's what I don't want.

Dear Santa,
I really would be quite saddened if you were to 'make' me:

This book: 'Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird' (I'm swithering on this, it could be a good read couldn't it? Actually having just looked at it on Amazon, it get's fantastic reviews - I shall post an excerpt of one review below)
Mermaid Songs (I have never heard mermaid songs, but I am 100% sure they would make my ears bleed)
Kushion Kraft Void Filling Paper (though it would be handy for packing the boxes I have to ship back after Christmas, but hey let's save that special one for Stevie to get me)
A Somalian 10 shillings rope edged coin on an 18" chain (honestly save the US delivery charges - they have this kind of crap in the Argos catalogue, and I would have a better chance of returning it)
4, yes 4, commercial sausage stuffers (Honestly how much sausage chat do I do???)
Palm Tree Crystal Necklace in Monkey with Banana Gift Box (I know it has crystals on it, but that's still not selling it to me)
A Huntingdon Snubber Hard - I don't know what that even is, but if you want to send me the $92 I will definitely, probably not, order this for myself. Sadly the link to buy it doesn't work.

But most of all, what could possibly make you think that I would ever want
a Solid Brass Rodent Jaw?

I wouldn't say no to the 48 Cadbury's Creme Eggs though. That would make up for having to send back all that other guff.

Need I say, this is not a sponsored post?

Excerpt from one Amazon review on the Pigeon book:
"Though I must also confess that the revolting chapter related to the gutting and lung-ing of squabs elicited a whole series of voluminous UGHS! and BLECHS! The mental picture you provided was gruesome enough to force me to consider going totally vegan.

The man who wrote his doctoral thesis on spider hearing was intriguing, can you write his biography too? 

And you also left me wanting to know more about the man who wrapped himself in tinfoil to keep himself warm. Sally Bananas was fascinating and I was riveted by the chapter devoted to Mike Tyson. Despite never meeting him you captured something NO ONE has ever done before... You showed his subtle and poignant humanity and made me wish the whole world could know him THAT way. "

Sounds like a fun read, huh? I might suggest it to my book group.

*Giveaway!* on Fiona Gray . Paints!

Come on over and 'like' my Fiona Gray . Paints Facebook page, leave a comment, and share the love, and you could be in with the chance of winning a lovely print!
I dream of greeny
‎*GIVEAWAY!!* Now that Fiona Gray . Paints has 100 Facebook fans, it's time to celebrate with a GIVEAWAY! All you need to do is share the Fiona Gray . Paints page on your FB wall and encourage your friends to come along and 'like' too, then leave a comment on my FB page telling me you've done it and what your favourite Fiona Gray . Paints image is. Easy! *
The first person drawn out of the magic hat on Monday 5th December will win a lovely print of 'I dream of greeny' - my rainbow paint tubes (above). Then 2 lucky runners up will receive either a print of the green paint tubes ('The greeeenest of greens') or the blue paint tubes ('Blue in the face'). 
*P.S. All new followers who join before the 5th December and leave a comment with their favourite image will also be entered.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

1000 steps... round the KaDeWe!

Main: The Princess & the Pea window display. Inserts: Outside the KaDeWe.  No matter the day there will always  be a crowd outside waiting to get in at 10am. 

It's Christmas time in the KaDeWe. Last week the windows were shrouded while the displays were perfected, but it didn't stop people trying to peek. The theme this year is 'fairytales', and it's been done beautifully. I couldn't wait to see the main foyer display. So I waited with the daily crowds (instead of going to the supermarket) and decided it would be the perfect time for another 1000 steps!

 30 steps... 

If you don't have a silver hand-held mirror that rests on a silver platter, then don't worry: they've got it! Christmas comes in all shades. These pale lilac baubles were rather lovely, though my camera hasn't quite captured their true colour.

Oh, and inside it's just lovely. The foyer is packed full of beautiful things. A zillion things that I wouldn't say no to. Admittedly, that would mean that my house would be chock-full of Christmas tree decorations and scented tealights, but I could be happy living like that. Especially those little tealights that smell like the essence of Christmas and come in the teensiest little ceramic casserole dish complete with lid. Oh, and they have a fine selection of festive fascinators - my favourite was a jaunty cup of tea with lovely ribbons, but I'm not sure if it would coordinate with my snowboots, so I've left it for now...

 50 steps... 

Main: birdcage and birdies, the tree of many baubles and Christmas products piled high. Inserts: Louis Vuitton boots, and the most gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales. I esp. like the purple cover.

Enter into the world of eclectic prettiness. I have fallen for their gilt birdcages which are dotted around the outskirts of the foyer. They sit atop golden pillars, displaying little feathered or glass birds to clip on to the branches of your tree. Want, want, want...the whole lot. But the foyer complete with all it's overflowing displays is dominated by the KaDeWe's very own ginormous Christmas tree. It's the place to stop with your baby or your boyfriend and have your photo taken for your Christmas card, or more likely your FB profile pic.

 300 steps... 

For the girl who has nothing and wants everything: a crystal studded DeLonghi coffee machine; Red Westco scales: totally worth the money as turn them around and they're a CLOCK!; I do need a hole punch for Orla's school newsletters...

So I skipped the rest of the ground floor which is mainly populated with the cosmetics department and handbags. Which is nice and everything and there are probably more exclusive brands than you'd get in other department stores but really, most cosmetics departments have the same 'look' so I just bypassed it on my tour. The ground floor is also home to an outer perimeter walkway where there are lots of little individual stores. It's here that you can find Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Chanel, etc, and the lifts without a view. If you are in a rush, avoid the glass lifts in the central atrium, you'll be waiting forever.

I also skipped the 1st and 2nd floors. Menswear & Ladieswear. I couldn't be bothered and I thought I might run out of 'steps', so I went to the 3rd - home of bed & bath, childrenswear, hairdressing, and the creche of joy. But I haven't sorted my photos of it. I love the 3rd floor. I can never get tired of gasping at 50 euro Armani baby bottles, or choking over a completely plain tiny baby t-shirt that costs the same as a return flight to Scotland. And the creche, well I adore the creche and the 3 hours of FREE fun they allow me.

So onwards and upwards to the 4th floor - homewares. When I first arrived in Berlin my neighbour's famous words to me were "Buy your fruit, veg, fish, and meat from the market. For everything else there's the KaDeWe". As I couldn't find a single shop selling mops, I did what my neighbour said and went to the KaDeWe. Alas, while the KaDeWe have most things, they do not stock mops. Unless they are studded with diamonds...

 500 steps... 

They do have a 'My First Barbie' but I'd rather have one of these. Left to right: Van Gogh Barbie, Gustav Klimt Barbie, Sinatra Barbie, Elvis Barbie, Grace Kelly Barbie, and Farah Fawcett Barbie - all 50 Euros each - uh-huh-huh, ooohhh, yeah!

Next floor up and it's toys, stationary, books, and technology on the 5th. I love the toy department. It's not the best one I've ever been in, but it's nice. They have a great selection of Playmobil & Lego, and a lot of Steiff, and Haba, and their play food selection is to die for. Admittedly the play food is far more expensive than the real thing, but you are paying for cuteness, and eh..the creche staff wages.

Lego Santa is back in town; the glorious English-language section of Hugendubel in the KaDeWe; the big Steiff bear who costs more than your house is worth.
  600 steps...  

We're still on the 5th but we're round at the Hugendubel franchise. This is my usual first stop hangout when I drop the kids off at the creche. There is an English-language section - look that's it you can see right there! This is the place that is responsible for some of my stranger forays into literature. I just buy what they have that I haven't read. Especially as I haven't really been in the mood for crime since I got here, so I limit myself to 1 bookcase. But it's made me more experimental, and on top of that, there are seats where you can just sit and read as much of a book as you can in 3 hours and then put it back! Yay!

 800 steps... 

Hello! It's lucky you are protected by glass or I would throw myself at you.
 Just one floor up on the 6th is the KaDeWe food hall. It's great. You'd like it. I promise. It's everything you could ever want at a price you can barely afford! There are unusual, hard-to-get-hold-of things and there are everyday things. I like the bread counter and the cake counter with the lovely little petit fours - they do the tiniest little chocolate eclairs that are only about 3 cm long and a cm wide, they have the broadest range of loaves I have seen this side of the city all displayed beautifully. There are little restaurant stands dotted throughout the food department which are on the ok-side of a-bit-dear. Stevie and I have frequented the Chinese restaurant a couple of times where you can watch your food being prepared as well as watching the world go by and it seems pretty reasonably priced. Really I want to be one of the people hanging out in the Moet bar at 10:30am, having a little glass of champagne while I meet a client. Those are my kind of meetings! Behind the Moet bar you can find the fresh fish; fresh to the point that some of them are in tanks so you can point to the one you want. Around this part of the food hall there are oyster bars which are always busy. Ah, oysters and champagne, or even oysters and beer...if only I liked oysters!

You can buy tea from giant ceramic urns, and choose wurst and cold meats from a massive selection. There are walls of sauces and condiments, a whole section dedicated to different chocolate companies including Godiva. And of course there's the 'American section' which I adore. But you could do all your regular grocery shopping here too. There are fruit and veg sections (see below) which stock everything that you could hope for. I read on someone else's blog that they didn't think people actually shopped there, but that in order to be a proper food hall it was a requirement. I can confirm that I have seen on quite a few occasions people buying potatoes or apples or in fact a whole shopping list of perfect quality produce.

The KaDeWe food hall. This bit has the more exotic things like baby pineapples and plantains, but you could also buy just a regular apple, onion, or orange round the corner. 
 1000 steps... 

Part of the glass roof on a sunny, blue sky, November morning. The seasoning station where you can add herbs, oils, dressings, and spices to your lunch. Nice. Bottom: Dessert. Kids in the creche? Why, yes, I think I will have the strawberries!

From the 6th floor there is an escalator (or lift) which takes you up to the restaurant and bar on the 7th floor. (Just before you get on the escalator you should take a moment to admire the huge Brandenburg Gate which sits in a glass display cabinet. I never gave it too much examination before, but it turns out it's made of 50 kilos of marzipan and took 150 hours to make by hand)  In the restaurant the food is displayed no-less beautifully than you would expect. Everything looks totally delicious. You can buy salads and so on by weight, there is a lovely selection of cakes, always at least two soups, and a wide range of hot meals all freshly prepared. But it is quite dear. You can however get perfect strawberries and cream all year round - but let's just say, you'll pay for that pleasure.

The restaurant itself is set in the roof of the KaDeWe and has great views from the giant arched window which faces out on to Tauentzienstrasse and Wittenbergplatz. You can also see the Fernsehturm from here which is the only place round this end of town that I have actually seen it from. But mostly it's nice just sitting under the glass roof, with a beer, and a new book, and two kids having a great time in the creche 4 floors below. Aaahhh.....

More photos on my Flickr

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Advent calendars galore!!!

Have you noticed the sudden glut of advent calendars on the market? When I was a kid you just got one where you opened the little doors each day and there was a different picture behind. That was pretty exciting. It was especially exciting if the door for the 24th was extra big. I could barely contain myself. As I was growing up I remember the introduction of advent calendars with chocolate in them. In fact I can still taste the horrid cardboardy taste of that awful brand Kinnerton. To give them their due, it says on their website that they offer a 'dairy-free' chocolate filled advent calendar (you can find a downloadable order form on their site). As I recall even way back in the 80's you'd be hard pressed to taste any dairy in that chocolate. Now maybe their recipe has changed since then and it takes much better, but I am in no rush to try. Especially when there are Milka advent calendars on the market. (Kids ones too - here)
Hello, I am made for mummies. Oh yes I am! That's why I am priced at Euro 13.99 - no way you're spending that on a kid. Plus I have more child-friendly versions for them. Cheaper too. Look you could hang me right beside your side of the bed. I have a lovely satin ribbon. Why not buy one for both sides of the bed to balance the room? He doesn't like chocolate anyway....
See? This is the one to get the kids (or maybe store under your pillow). It's only  Euro 5.49. Not as pretty as the mummy one, but not as much chocolate either. 200g versus 329g...

Of course nowadays it is possible to even order your own branded advent calendars with chocolate in. And when I say 'branded' I mean YOUR OWN brand. You might need to order 1000 of them to get a good price £1.76 each per 1000 I saw somewhere, but you could sell them on to your friends, hand them out to promote or just eat them all yourself. That would be 24,000 chocolates. You could build a little cairn around yourself and eat your way out.

Anyway, prepare yourself for some pretty awful photographs. I was in the toyshop and I wanted to sneakily take some photos of the new breed of advent calendar - those with gifts! Last year, we had 2 Playmobil advent calendars but I saw the range of alternate advent calendars on sale this year and I was very tempted.

Here we have a car construction one, followed by  two Star Wars ones. 
 I have also saw a Hot Wheels one (ah, it's in the photo below) which I thought gave you a car behind each door but it's one car with lots of bits you can interchange. Not that great for the overall cost in my opinion, and no use really for anyone under 5 really.
Here we have some of the Lego advent calendars on the top (Hamish rather fancies the Lego Police one) and then the Hot Wheels one. On the second row you can see a couple of the Playmobil ones, followed by something to do with volcanoes and jungles and then the girl version with a unicorn. I have no idea what's in these. Bottom row: more Playmobil and the My Little Pony & Filly ones you can see better below...
 I like the Lego ones, but what puts me off is the fact that they say "Other sets will be required to create this scene" or very similar wording to that effect. Really? Well, that seems like a bit of a swizz. Cause I would like to think that what you see on the box is what you get in the box. So what are you getting? A brick behind each door? Probably not much more than that. If it takes you longer than one day to create say the Christmas tree then that's just too much waiting for a child I'd say.

I am a big fan of the Playmobil ones, though I have noticed that they are a fair bit more expensive in the UK. At the moment you can get these for around Euro 12.99 in places like Kaufland. The toy shops are a bit more expensive at around Euro 14.99. This years' Playmobil themes are: Princess Wedding; Santa & Woodland Animals; Pirates; Dinosaur Expedition; Santa's Post Office; and the Knights one. In fact, I've just seen that most of these are reduced on the website to Euro 11.99. Which is good, but if you add on the delivery charge you are back to the original price...might as well wait until after Christmas then buy one for next year in the Karstadt sale.

Finally here we have the My Little Pony and the Filly advent calendars.
Orla would love both of these. I did think about getting her the Filly one but it was Euro 19.99 (which seems to be the more or less standard price for these gift filled advent calendars) and it was just too expensive. Especially if I think about the fact that I would need to buy one for Hamish too. Euro 40 makes me kind of choke. Orla would probably also really like the Barbie one or the Littlest Pet Shop one (Both not pictured), but I thought they were kind of dear too.

So there's a lot of choice out there. Of course looking at these I can't help but think I should buy a nice wooden one with little drawers and fill it myself and use it year after year. There are loads of them here and they're all very pretty. So what would you choose?

Guardian article on advent calendars v selection boxes

Advent calendars for cats (I know, this is truly mental, isn't it?):

Gawd-awful Kinnerton advent chocolate:

Monday, 14 November 2011

1000 steps from.... kita

I undertook a little project this morning. The other day Morganmuffel  of Anglo-Deutsch was set a little project by Linda of Dummy Text to walk one thousand steps from her front door and take photos every so often. Sounded like a fun idea to me. But seeing as everyone knows what me and the kids look like, our real names, etc, etc, I decided to preserve our last shred of privacy and not start at our front door. Instead I started at kita. So this is not far from where I live. Unlike Morganmuffel's and Linda's, mine is more like an architectural tour. However, it's a nice way to see parts of the city so I may do more of these setting off on different directions or from different locations in the future.

150 steps...

This is the Ellington Hotel. It's a vision of 1920's streamlined architecture. It's a lovely hotel, with what looks like lovely restaurants and very lovely modern rooms. At one point around this time last year they had a Veuve Cliquot bar which I could happily have whiled away the hours in. Alas, I didn't have the funds or the babysitter to be able to partake of this particular service. Along the side of the Ellington there are a few shops. My favourite is Florale Welten, a supremely stylish flower and 'lifestyle' shop which always has stunning displays.

200 steps...

Just a further 50 steps along from the Ellington Hotel is Peek & Cloppenburg's flagship Berlin store, a modern glass 'skirted' building. You'll see this in all the modern architecture books about Berlin. It is rather pretty. It was designed by Professor Gottfried Böhm, the only German to win the Pritzker award seen as the 'Nobel Prize' for architecture. Another building you'll see in the srchitecture books is Nike Town which sits diagonally across Tauentzienstrasse from Peek & Cloppenburg. Quite why it merits even a mention is beyond me, but then I'm no architecture expert. (You'll see it in a minute.)

220 steps...

Across the road from Peek & Cloppenburg (or rather in the bit in the middle of the two lanes of traffic on Tauenzienstrasse) you have a good view of the 'Berlin' sculpture, or the 'knot/spaghetti thing' as I call it. It was designed by Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff and Martin Matschinsky in 1987, and is actually meant to represent a broken chain, showing the broken link between East and West Berlin. Today is the first time I have seen it in about 10 months or so. They removed it while they dug the living daylights out of the portion of land it sits on. But obviously they want to have it back in place in time for all the Christmas market tourists.

As you may be able to see from my ropey panorama above there's quite a lot going on in this part of town. From left to right: All the Christmas decorations are going up for the festive season. There are a couple of giant trees usually dotted along Tauentzienstrasse and Kurfurstendamm (which extends from Tauentzienstrasse). The KaDeWe (known as the Harrods of Germany) sits behind those trees, then we have Peek & Cloppenburg at the junction. Crossing over you can see the Berlin sculpture, and through that you can see (kind of) the Gedachniskirche, the famous bombed church which was left standing in ruins after the second world war. It is undergoing restoration work so it's under a lot of white panels (Follow the link if you want to see how it normally looks). If you head in this direction you end up on Kurfurstendamm, known to all as 'the Ku'damm', Berlin's famous boulevard in the West, where you can find all the designer shops. Moving further to the right you can see Nike Town, as I mentioned earlier. Is it just me, or is it nothing special? Anyway, most men like to drop by there when they visit. And then we finish up with a continuation of the street which leads you to the Berlin Zoo. Wikipedia says it is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany, and the most visited zoo in Europe. I imagine me and the kids have contributed quite substantially to that last stat.

350 steps...

Instead I wandered along Tauentzienstrasse towards the Ku'damm. Christmas is now officially on it's way! This morning along with all the street decorations being set up, all the Christmas market stands are being put in position and stocked up. The Christmas market around Breitshiedplatz and along Tauentzienstrasse and the Ku'damm is, I think, the biggest one in Berlin. This morning I saw the catering equipment going into the food stalls and the shelves being stocked already with those wooden nutcracker soldiers. From what I can tell the markets don't start until the 21st November, by which point we should have lots of pretty snow adding to the atmosphere. Yay!

450 steps...

I had intended walking towards Zoo station, famed for it's U2 connections, and it's seedy past. But my path was blocked by the barriers surrounding the Christmas market at Breitshiedplatz. So I headed a little further along the street. My 'neighbourhood' is chock to the brim full of souvenir shops. I thought I'd share with you some of the highlights. I am always surprised by the number of people who buy these bags. More than that though, I wonder where they keep getting this endless supply of 'wall' that they've been happily selling to millions of tourists since the Wall came down.

1000 steps...

We're at the last stop on my mini-tour. We're at the corner where the Ku'damm meets Bundesallee. I thought I'd finish up with another very modern glass building (of which I know zero), the rotunda of the Cafe Kranzler, and some signs telling us what else is around.

And that was the end of my 1000 steps. I should get one of those widgety things so we can group all these 1000 steps together. Let me know if you plan on doing one too. I hope you enjoyed mine.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Laterne, laterne, or the one where Stevie buys us a house-pony

Like he cares how many trees I cut out...

It's Laterne Fest time again. Seems like hardly any time at all since I was last coated with a fine layer of PVA and glitter, but here we are again. Last year it was all a bit of a mystery to me. I had no idea who St. Martin was or what exactly the celebration was meant to entail. All I knew was that I was told to make two lanterns out of cardboard and tissue paper and anything else that I could find that was highly flammable, insert two burning tealights, and set my children loose, swinging them and whacking each other until every last hair on their heads and eyebrow was burnt off. Fortunately, I had just misunderstood, and what I was actually being asked to buy was a 'Leuchtstaebchen' - which is a tiny light bulb on a stick powered by batteries and often with some kind of flashing mechanism. (Also doubles as a weapon/switch in the hands of a toddler, so you'll be able to coordinate your body glitter with the bruises across your knees and thighs).

Of course if you are embracing integration into German life with gusto, you can buy a 'traditional' kit and with a "Viel Spass!" to your toddling 2 year old flame-swinger, cast aside all your UK/USA Health & Safety ingrained paranoia. The irony of course is that your decidedly-non-German child will expose you as the hapless foreigner as they wander around setting light to all the other kids lanterns as they bash them together. So I would probably recommend spending an extra Euro or two and getting one with a bulb.

As regard the lantern itself, well you have 3 choices. You can buy one ready-made (most tend to look like paper ball-type lightshades with pictures printed on them); you can join all the mummies at Kita and make on on the day of your Kita's Laternefest (I have heard that it is normally a far more civilised affair at other Kita's, but it's a real 'elbow-sharpening' event at ours where there can be nearly 100 parents squeezed into a small room at a time all desperately snatching the nicest bits of paper); or you can make one in the relative peace and calm with or without child input.

In actual fact my greatest concern last year was not that there was a possibility of my children inadvertently setting the Kita alight, but that I didn't know what the 'theme' was meant to be. I assumed that all the lanterns should be decorated with let's say pumpkins or something representing the occasion, but it's a freestyle decorating event. Last year I made both Orla & Hamish's lanterns though they chose the materials. Hamish went for some lovely translucent flame printed paper that I thought would be hideous, but actually worked quite well. They also chose sparkly coloured card which I used to cut out the letters of their names - as I was clueless on the theme thing I decided to go 'neutral' in case ballerinas and tigers were a real no-no.

This year my work is greatly reduced as Orla is making her lantern at school. Hamish is interested in making a lantern as far as choosing the materials and giving the odd bit of art direction goes. He chose a black lantern frame with blue translucent paper, and green holographic sticky-backed paper. I was worried by my eh... creative limitations with the black on blue thing (I considered 'bruises' as a theme), but I decided on making it a dark sky with a green holographic forest and I am adding some foxes and a moon. Hamish heartily approves. Phew. I've started on it, but I have until next week to get it finished and I am bored of cutting out trees already.

Orla's Laternefest is this evening. Sadly, I don't think I can go as I already had plans for tonight. So Stevie will get to do his first Laternefest with Orla & Hamish. I was looking forward to it as well, especially after I did a double-take on the school newsletter which says "If the weather is kind the event will be held outside. There will be sausages and hot chocolate available after our lantern-lit walk through the woods. In order to cover the cost of the ponies we will have to ask for donations on the night.". Do you think we get one to keep? Or will we be eating horsey-sausages???

Info on St Martin (
Idee Laterne supplies (
Songwords to 'Laterne, Laterne' - lower down they have the full song in both German & English (

Thursday, 10 November 2011

urban eyesores and satellite dish art

This is one of my favourite buildings in Berlin. From the first moment I saw it I was hooked. I don't blame you if you're not quite as struck by it as I am. But if there's one thing that the Pallasseum is, it's striking. It can't help it. I think when I first saw it I may have said "Wow! That's ugly!". But over the time that I've lived in Berlin, the more I have driven past it, or more accurately, under it, the more it has grown on me.

It's not just it's giant scale that I like, it's the pattern of it. Driving towards it, you are struck by it's repeats towering over you, but within those repeats there are some little gems of detail. Portions of family life and individuality. One of those things are the satellite dishes. My love for them is limitless. I just think they're great.

Have you seen the pictures on them? They're kinda cool, huh? Not just that, but they are art. The Pallasseum has gone from being a social problem to a bit of a success. With the help of the people who live within it's 514 apartments the building was revitalised both structurally and socially. In 2008, artist Daniel Knipping was visiting a friend in Berlin when he came across the Pallasseum with it's hundreds of satellite dishes. He came up with a project to display images personal to the inhabitants on the dishes thus inverting the idea of the dishes bringing images into the home. The images are printed onto canvas which is stretched across the dishes and doesn't affect the picture quality received by the dish.

Aside from the "robust" design of the Pallaseum built in 1977, this wonder of architecture hides a little secret. Well, not exactly hides and I suppose less of a secret and more of an urban eyesore were it not for the monstrous scale of this housing block distracting from it. For not only does the Pallaseum span the road allowing the traffic to flow through it, it also is built over a huge World War 2 concrete bunker. Almost impossible to remove the building was built 'around' the bunker, one of many situated above ground around Berlin.

P.S. This post is a little bit of a cheat. I wrote it for my fionagray.paints blog, but I just love this building so I thought I'd just post this over here too. Feel free to come on over to fionagray.paints and have a browse. Aside from urban eyesores I also like lovely rainbows and pretty things and patting kittens.

Pallas Strasse & the Pallaseum links: information regarding the bunker and some better photos of it.,10810590,10721592.html - article on the art project by Daniel Knipping. - Inside Out - The website of the satellite dish project by Daniel Knipping Pallasseum - history, context

Friday, 4 November 2011

"We're not in Karlsruhe anymore, Toto". - or repatriation shock pt. 2

Part two my repatriation story. So what did I find out (/Google)?

"Repatriation shock lasts three times as long as the culture shock endured by new expatriates."
-eek! That's a bit of a shock in itself. Why is that the case? Surely it should be just as long as the initial culture shock if not shorter because you know what you are going back to?

"For many expatriates repatriation back home often becomes the most challenging relocation experience. They arrive back to discover that not only things have changed in their home country – but also that they have changed and they no longer feel like they belong at home. They feel disconnected both from the country and from the people that used to be their friends and acquaintances; they miss the status of being a foreigner and being special; they struggle to fit in; and they often feel as if they’ve lost some degree of freedom." - Global Coach Center.

That's a worry for me. I haven't kept up with what is going on at 'home'. Not only do I know very little about current affairs in the UK: if I am honest I have thoroughly enjoyed living in my 'bubble' where I don't watch the UK news (beyond occasional glimpses of BBC World News, which is a bit more global than British) or read newspapers, or even for that matter watch the German news, so what news I do get is gleaned mostly from the internet and what I hear on the radio in the car. Not only that, but I haven't got a clue about what has been happening in a social or cultural sense. I haven't seen a 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', can't talk about the people on Big Brother (though I stopped watching that years before I even left the UK, so that's not really an excuse), and haven't been much to the cinema, and I don't know whether all my children's friends are busy having sleepovers and talking make-up and Nintendo DS games or ....well, doing something else.

Some common symptoms or situations that repatriating families encounter*:
  • irritability/ resentment
  • sense of difference and disconnect
  • disappointment
  • inability to concentrate
  • low morale
  • change in values/attitudes
  • marital conflict
  • fatigue
  • parent/child conflict
  • educational/adjustment problems for children
  • depression
  • feeling unappreciated personally/professionally
  • decreased productivity
  • loneliness
*Source: 'Reverse Culture Shock (or Why Do I Hate Being Back Home?)' by International HR Forum

The reasons given for 'reverse culture shock', as it is known include the fact that most people plan pretty thoroughly for their move abroad. You are in the mindset for moving abroad, and if, like my family you are moving abroad because your company wants you abroad then you may get some assistance with the move and settling in. Often when you move back home there isn't the same kind of support for settling back in - it's just something you are expected to get on with. More and more companies are starting to recognise that they need to support their employees more with their return, as the statistics for employees who end up changing their career or returning to a life abroad are higher than you might imagine. From personal experience, we know three couples who have worked in other countries and have returned back to the UK in the past year. All of them have said that they would either like to move back to the country they had lived in or were hoping that they would be able to get another foreign assignment in a different country. 

From the various articles I read I've read that around 25% of people who have moved abroad because of their employer resign within 2 years of repatriation. And I am pretty sure that I read that this percentage increase to 33% within 4 years. 

The big factor seems to be the unexpected changes that you notice on your return. Whether it's a change in politics, or the dynamics or structure within your previous group of friends, or work and school, these things all seem to make a difference. And of course, it can be the feeling that you've changed while those around you haven't. 

"I noticed my frustration levels rising with people who have never worked or lived abroad, or worse, with people who travel regularly but have never lived abroad." - Trevor Hall comment on the Repatriation article by Global Coach Center

Making friends with other expats, even when you return to the UK because they are the people who 'understand' "people who hold a similar world view"

"When we return to our ‘home’ culture we will more often than not connect most easily with people like ourselves who have lived overseas as that is what sets us apart from others." Ruth Forsythe - Global Coach Center

Yikes! It makes me come over all uneasy... enjoy the links below and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too.

Repatriation shock by Shelter Offshore
One woman's experience of repatriation in the UK by Shelter Offshore
Repatriation & belonging by Global Coach Center
Paper on problems with repatriation for employees and their families by by Andreason, Aaron W, Kinneer, Kevin D
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