Monday, 28 February 2011

Lightbulb moment: I find myself

I reckon if I just put a rug over it, that's pretty much me done*

I have never (to my knowledge) known anyone who's needed to "find themself". I have never had the urge to find myself. I am right here on the sofa woofing down a can of salted cashews like there is no tomorrow. In fact, I can barely type because I am so hungry and can't stop eating them. Why? Well, I decided I should start a diet, literally eat less cause I eat too much, and now I am really, really hungry. I can't stand being hungry, and that is probably the fundamental basis of dieting, and that combined with the fact that I am woofing back these cashew nuts, is probably not going to make my bum smaller.

Nonetheless, here I am, now utterly parched from all that salt, and I am completely off-topic. The point is, I have inadvertantly discovered an awful truth about myself. And not through going off to Thailand and laying on a beach, though that mught be nice, and I might lose weight as I don't really like Thai food. No, sadly I was reading my own blog. I was reading it because someone I met in the past few months has asked if they can read it and I thought I better just make sure I hadn't inadvertantly mentioned them somewhere or said something that they'd get upset with. Quite why though I started reading from the beginning I have no idea, but I did and it was a bit like reading about someone else.

And that person is LAZY. Totally and utterly. I think I have always painted it as 'procrastination', but no, now that it's all laid out in front of me in black and white and sometimes photographic blog form, I can see it for what it is. I have always known that I am not tidy; that I hate cleaning, but looking back, I am just kidding myself. I patently just. can't. be. bothered.

I'd like to think I had changed. I'd love to say that this move to Berlin has made me into a nicer, tidier, cleaner person, but it hasn't. Today, I got a call while I was at the doctor's with Hamish from the guy who's been looking at our mouldy window in the back bedroom to say he wanted to come round again to have another look. Hamish and I raced back, and I had a half hour to get the place into a reasonable shape for a 'guest'. I went into the bedroom and saw a mountain of assorted crap on the floor. I could have sorted out the dirty washing from the boxes of contact lenses and shin guards and shoes, but I didn't. I did my usual and opened the wardrobe and stuffed the whole lot in, and told Hamish not to go near the wardrobe doors lest he be lost in a freak wardrobe avalanche.

I then went round the other rooms and did pretty much the same thing, throwing toys into boxes they didn't come from, and cleaning only the bits of the bathroom floor that you can see. Unfortunately I missed the little brioche roll we'd been keeping behind the sofa that sits 2 feet in front of the living room window where the man stood and took some more photos. It would have been better for me if it had stayed stuck to the sole of his shoe and he'd taken it away with him.

Tomorrow I have a plumber coming round at 8am. We have a leak under the sink. I have had to force myself to clean and tidy the kitchen tonight. Not even my shame is enough. I had to bribe myself with the cashew nuts to get myself to scrub the kitchen floor. If I thought I could put it off until tomorrow I would have. But I am too lazy to get up at 6 am to get started on it.

The only thing going in my favour is the fact that I did actually sort out the pile of crap stuffed into the wardrobe tonight. But that was only after Stevie inadvertantly decided to get himself ready for football training...

* Actually, I would just like to point out that this photo was taken just after we moved in. It's not like that anymore. Honestly... Half of it is hidden by our dining room table and chairs.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Mysterious Fasching Carnival

Today was a beautiful day! Gorgeous blue skies, though you can't really tell that from the photos. And maybe (?) a little milder than it has been. We decided to go to the zoo (you know, just for a change. I've only been 3 times this winter alone). But, on our way there we bumped into the 'Fasching' near Zoo Station.

I've been wondering about the Fasching for a few weeks. There have been felt-tipped posters up in Kita (my main source of information regarding the festivals and traditions of Germany) saying that the kids need to come dressed up for the Fasching in March. I couldn't tell from the little badly cut out pictures of people dressed up what the theme was, so I asked. Only to be told there's no theme. You can dress up as anything.

So was does the Fasching celebrate? Not many people seem to know. The people at Kita couldn't tell me, and anyone else I have asked was a bit vague. And certainly going to the thing won't help you work it out. So I looked it up when we got home today. Apparently it's a carnival that starts on the 11th of November and lasts all the way until Shrove Tuesday. It is celebrated mostly in Catholic areas and is related to the Rio Carnival. There are celebrations on different days, but mostly things start gearing up around the end of February/ beginning of March.

There were a lot of people dressed up today in the crowd. And not even just the kids. A broad spectrum of age groups. There were pirates, prisoners, nuns, clowns, a family in purple wigs (wish I'd got their photo) and anything else you could imagine. The streets were mobbed with people waiting for the float procession. We decided to wait for a bit and see what would happen.

What happened was a whole load of floats went by filled with people singing or playing music, who threw handfuls of sweets and chocolate out to the crowds. Some people came prepared and brought umbrellas which they held upturned to catch the loot. This also served a double purpose in stopping them from getting hurt by the millions of boiled sweets raining down on us.

I have never seen anything like it. Everyone was scrabbling around trying to pick up every sweetie that landed on the ground. It was frantic. People were even grabbing at the same sweets as kids and even if the kid touched it first, if the adult got a better grip, they nabbed it off the kid. Despite this, it was outrageously good fun. The kids loved it, and were totally over the moon if they either managed to catch something by themselves or pounced on a 'premium prize' like a little Chuppa Chup lolly. Our haul consisted of around about 20 pieces of Lindt dark chocolate, some peanut flavour crisps (utterly disgusting) and approx. 200 boiled sweets. At one stage they were throwing packaged oven gloves from an open top bus. The only thing that stopped me wrestling that off the girl next to me was the fact that it wasn't Cath Kidston.

After our delayed visit to the zoo, we met the Fasching as it was winding down. Orla managed to get a whole bunch of balloons and that made her day. We had a fantastic time, and next year we'll be back with our brollies and our sharpened elbows!

Friday, 25 February 2011

The time I confused bronchitis for a hernia

'Sister' checks the the patients 'vitals' (dummy, blanket, DVD on loop) and dispenses with the use of sterile gloves. "A nice cup of tea and you'll be right as rain in no time!"

Here's the thing. Hamish has a hernia. A teeny tiny umbilical hernia, that was diagnosed the minute we moved to Germany and had our first appointment with our Kinderarzt (paediatrician). I had always thought that there was something 'not quite right' (I won't go into details - it would embarrass him too much) and had asked our GP in Derby what was going on. They always said they weren't sure and told me to come back every six months when they would tell me again that they weren't sure.

Our Kinderarzt is really good. He's friendly (not always the case with German doctors who can quite often lack "bedside manner"), he's excellent at his job, and he's happy to see you at any time. To the point whereby he gave us his mobile number so we can call him anytime. Yeah, yeah, I know that's because it's all private insurance here so technically we're paying for that, but I just can't get my head round a doctor giving us his number so we could call at 3 am on a Sunday morning if we wanted (or should that be 'needed'?). The only way you'd get the mobile number of a GP in the UK is if you had had a particularly successful date with one (and you weren't their patient).

In the last couple of days Hamish has been complaining that his 'booby hurts'. His 'booby' is what he calls his tummy. In the main it's been when he's climbing stairs or when he's running, and he's been putting a hand to his tummy and crying 'Ow!'. I kept my eye on things for a couple of days and then made the appointment with the doctor. My view (and God knows, us Gray's do quite like to self-diagnose) was that his hernia had perhaps got worse and it was this giving him pain.

So, I tell the doctor what I think and he has a little feel and asks if there is anything else wrong with Hamish. "No", I say, "not really". I mention that he has a cough and a cold, but you know...

He asks, "Have you given him anything for it?". "Well, no". Of course I haven't given him anything. Because in the UK you're not allowed to buy or give cough medicine to a child of Hamish's age. You used to be able to, but they decided that 'suppressing a cough' should be illegal. It's better for you to suffer and cough all through the night keeping your parents up. And in all seriousness I do agree with the NHS on their decision. That's not to say I haven't gone to a Tesco (alone) before and pretended I had an 8 year old in dire need of some children's Benylin.

In Germany though you can buy children's cough medicines. But strangely, I didn't rush out and buy a crate-load as soon as I arrived in this country. Though I may take some back when I return to the UK. (In the same way I stock-piled Calpol, buying it 2 bottles at a time before I came here)

Then right on cue, Hamish started wheezing. Ach Manno! as they say. There are times when I would have given either of my children a mountain of chocolate buttons if they had just displayed half the symptoms they had 10 minutes earlier in the house, instead of making a miraculous recovery the moment I walked into the surgery, thus rendering me a fool in front of the doctor. Anyway, this time the total opposite. I swear I had never heard him wheeze before.

The doctor asks "Why didn't you bring him in with this cough?" (Might I add, with a scowl). I tried to explain that I hadn't even thought about it. "What? This boy has bronchitis!". And here we can see the difference between the NHS and private healthcare. In the UK, if you take your child to a doctor because they have a cough and a cold you are 'essentially' told you are wasting the doctors time. There is nothing they can do. There is nothing they can prescribe. These things are normal, especially at this time of the year. Or even as a friend reminded me today the famous line every mother has heard "It's just a virus, it'll get better in a few days". I've heard this so often that I just would NEVER take my children to see a doctor with a cough and a cold unless they were doing something odd like whooping or making some other unusual cough-y noises. You are made to feel like a time-wasting fool if you even try.

In Germany though I was made to feel like a neglectful, bad British mother. It was the slow shake of the head that said it all. So Hamish is now medicated and we have another appointment on Monday morning to check on his improvement. I had a look on NHS Direct's website to see what they said about bronchitis. They say things like this:

"Bronchitis is usually a mild and self-limiting condition. Self-limiting means that it usually clears up by itself, usually within a couple of weeks. This is known as acute bronchitis as it lasts for only a short period of time."

It doesn't seem so bad. Not as bad as I was led to believe. But who do I believe?

I also spoke to the doctor about Hamish's hernia. He said that as it has not closed up by age 2 then it's not going to. He needs the operation but he could have it any time - either now, or when he's 24 if he likes. But it could cause problems later. And it could get bigger. He wants me to see another specialist about it. I'm happy to do that.

I also checked on umbilical hernias on NHS Direct. They say that:

"9 out 10 umbilical hernias heal without treatment by the time that the child reaches 3 or 4 years of age. Your surgeon will usually advise you to wait until your child reaches this age before considering having an operation."

So, I've decided to go British with this one. I'll wait until he's at least a year older and have it re-checked, and then if it's still not healed we can take advantage of the marvellous German healthcare through our insurance.

I am happy to misdiagnose your symptoms in the comments section below. In fact I would get real pleasure from just being *that* nosey.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The one where I deprive the neighbours of heat on the coldest day of the year

I believe we are known as 'the English' by some people in our building. In the same way our previous downstairs neighbours were called 'the Canadians'. It's not so much the name, and who cares about that anyway, cause as Scot's it's not our country that's getting derided. No, it's the tone it's said in. We might as well be 'the Gypsies' or 'the people who don't recycle correctly' - yes, it's that bad.

Our crime in earning this name, was that we complained about the appliances in the apartment to our landlord. I won't go into it. I probably already have many months ago. Anyway, our landlord went straight from our apartment to his best friend's upstairs, and presumably bad-mouthed us for his own failings. I'm not sure what the Canadians did to deserve, in actual fact, worse disdain from the neighbours. I think it might have something to do with wanting a satellite dish. Or maybe simply just having an apartment twice the size of everyone elses, when really as an old snob, you want to be the top dog in the 'Haus'. Certainly, they've never missed an opportunity to tell us that their apartment is bigger than ours because they gain about a square metre due to the position of the stairs.

Anyway, I shall get to my point on this in due course. What happened was that there was a letter posted on the inner door downstairs telling us that there was a leak in the cellar and on such and such a date we would all have to turn our heating off by 8am at the latest while it was repaired. As luck would have it, it was the day we were to experience some of the lowest temperatures this winter: -11 between 6am and 11am and then a slightly warmer -9 to -6 around lunchtime I think. I was dreading it and decided that if the apartment was freezing when I got back from German class and picking up the kids, then we would just go to the KaDeWe and take full advantage of their 3 hours of free, roasty-toasty childcare and expensive coffee.

But when we got back the flat seemed warm enough. Certainly warm enough for my two lovely children to strip off and run around naked as is their want most days. At the time we returned there was no notice up to say that we could put our heating back on, and as I didn't feel we needed it, I didn't even try.

Fast forward 8 hours. There's a banging on the door. The following conversation is very jaggily translated)

Neighbour who organised the repairs: "Are you ok? Are you ok?",

Me: "Sure, we're fine! Why, what's up?".

Neighbour: "None of the other neighbours have any heat. We can't work out the problem. Both the side houses have got heat back on, and have had heat all afternoon, but there is still a problem with our house, and many of the neighbours are worried because they are so cold. Do you have heat coming out of your radiators?"

Me: "...well, I haven't turned them back on yet."

Neighbour: "There was a notice downstairs to say that you must put your heating back on and turn all the radiators to 4".

It's not like I can say, "Ah, but I have 2 kids who won't wear clothes in the afternoon, and I'm not taking them up and down in the lift naked to check for notices".
So I said: "Oh". That seemed to cover it. There was no point in adding that Stevie can't read (and understand) German, so just doesn't even bother trying, so he wouldn't even have seen it when he got home from work.

So the neighbour demanded that we turn our radiators on to 4, and guess what, all of a sudden everyone elses heating came on too. I like to think that it was a coincidence (ha, ha, ha!), but I have the feeling that more of our neighbours will be referring to us as 'the English'. But at least we've proven what a hardy bunch we Scot's really are!!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hands up if you want me to post you some!

Do you remember just over a year ago when Kraft foods took over Cadbury's? Everyone was worried about the outcome for Cadbury's with union bosses prophetsising factory closures and job losses. One year on, and there is still concern for both jobs and factories. (See links below for further info)

Kraft also own Milka. Milka is lovely. You more than likely know that because you can get it everywhere. Only people like Stevie who neither eat chocolate nor give shop shelves more than a passing glance would not be aware of it's existence. (Though who knows, maybe there are places outside Europe that you can't get it. I wonder, is there any airport in the world where you can't buy a Toblerone?). Anyway, back to Milka...

Well, of course, sometimes not everything turns out well. We tend to dislike the idea of big companies like Kraft coming along and tampering with our Milka bars and our Dairy Milks. Kraft just don't have the right to play God when it comes to our chocolate products. Did you click the link? Did it make you feel just a little bit sick? I saw a massive billboard with that advertised on it, and it literally made my stomach turn. Though from scouting around the internet for images, it certainly gets a lot of positive reviews.

I wouldn't like to think that one day I might buy a Creme Egg or 12, only to discover that they were filled with a mix of fondant and cream cheese. There's a chance the shock could kill me before the sugar rush. But, have you seen the pictures? Have you gazed longingly at what I found in the shops? It seems like a genetically engineered dream! A cross between a Creme Egg and a Milka bar! And the box! How...just...'delightful' is that? I think I love everything from the eating guidelines, to the 2 little plastic spoons. Though I can't work out if that means you are meant to share with someone else and eat 2 in one sitting, or whether the spoons are flimsy and getting through all 4 will cause you to snap your spoon in reckless abandon!

I bought these for my neice to whom at Christmas I gifted a year of chocolate. Each month I try and find her something different that she might never have tried from 'over here' and send it with a different Berlin postcard and a little note. The trouble is, that these are meant for March - it's not that long since I sent February's, and I was fearful that they might not survive when I knew where I had hidden them. So I bought another box. The kids and I will road test them, just to make sure they are not off or anything.

Now you could look at the links below, or you could just scroll back up and lick the screen.

  • Cadbury's Chairman speaking about the takeover - (BBC News)

  • The founder's great-great-grandaughter talking on the Today Programme about 'the horror story' (BBC)

  • The Kraft/Cadbury takeover - 1 year on. (BBC News)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Close your eyes, big sister!

Grateful for 'depth of field' - it hides most of the bad bits!

A little close-up of areas to be re-painted

I have more or less finished another painting. More or less because I can't finish off the flowers. The original flowers died and I haven't replaced them yet. I assumed I would paint them before they died, but what with kids not sleeping in the evening and what not, I ended up painting them when they were busy composting themselves downstairs.

Nor did I even have them in this jug, so really the whole thing is a fabrication. I intend re-painting the flowers though, the jug I can live with. This was meant to be a complementary painting for the bowl and cup painting I did, but with time not on my side of late, and painting by light bulb and not natural light they've both turned out slightly different colour-wise. Ah well.

Everything that doesn't turn out as well as I like I tend to give to either my mum or my sister, so this may well be where they are headed. Close your eyes big sister, this might be your birthday present! I am trying to get enough paintings done to open a little Etsy shop. It'll be a mix of baby name pictures and well just regular paintings. I want to really do things that I want to do, as opposed to following a brief.

At the moment I am trying to come up with a name for the shop - that seems to be the hardest part. There is already a Fiona Gray who does lots of creative things, so I can't really use my own name, and anyway, I think I might like a different name for the shop. Once I have a short list I might have my Facebook friends have a vote. Better get thinking!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

cold, sunshiney days!

We took advantage of the sunshine this morning to take a trip to Prenzlauerberg, an area in the north-east of the city that we haven't spent much time in. We've driven through it twice, and been out for dinner there once, and every time I have been keen to go there when the lovely little shops are open and see what it's like in the daylight.

So today of course being Sunday, the shops weren't open. But it didn't matter. Prenzlauerberg is known for being the place to live for people with young families. And it's true. I'm sure it's difficult to find a street where you don't meet someone with a pushchair. Walking down one street I counted 3 baby/child shops. I have a good feeling about Prenzlauerberg! It could be the perfect place for me to sell my 'baby name art'.

The kids loved it because there were so many play parks. It was such a beautiful sunny day as well. Just a pity it was also -3!! This week we are to expect temperatures of -10 degrees. I'm longing for the winter to be over and the temperature to be just a little less brisk! Then I think we will spend a lot more time over there getting to know the area. It has a lot of really beautiful buildings and tree-lined streets. I like the fact that it seems just a little bit busy; there are lots of people out and about.

I had originally wanted to look apartments in Prenzlauerberg - based on what I had read about it in our 'Berlin. The Complete Resident's Guide' book. I would still like to live there, but it's just a bit too far from Stevie's work, and by the looks of things it could be a nightmare for him getting parked in the evening. Ah well, I will content myself with visits!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Doctor's Outfit Debate

Is your blood boiling? Are you enraged? Does it offend you?

I just finished reading a blog post about how a mother was looking for some doctor dress-up costumes for her boys and noticed that there weren't any in the girls section, only in the boys section. In the girls section they only had nurses outfits. The blog post author wrote "Is it only me who finds that offensive?". Well, no, probably not. In fact there was a commenter who said that this sort of thing "makes her blood boil".

It doesn't make my blood boil. In fact it doesn't bother me at all. I consider doctor's outfits to be unisex and if all the dress-up isn't in the one section then do you know what? It has to go somewhere. And where some merchandiser, or some shop worker has placed it doesn't actually make me angry or offended. So if it's split into male and female and you have a pile of doctors costumes in one hand and a pile of nurses dresses in the other then chances are you are going to make the same split. Or else you are really thinking about it a wee bit too much. Does it really matter? If my daughter wants a doctors outfit I know where to find them - same if she wants a pirate outfit or a racing car driver outfit.

But as I said in my comment, perhaps the offensive blood-boiling point should no longer be that we are surmising that girls can only be nurses and boys are naturally doctors, but rather that boys cannot dress up as nurses. How many male nurse outfits do you come across?

The way I see it is that nowadays girls can be anything they want. Especially in our culture. Of course there are still places in the world where women don't have the right to be equal to a man, but let's be honest, if my daughter wants to go to university and study medicine, engineering, or whatever, it's all there for her. What can't she do?

But maybe you think that with these gender stereotypes being laid out in childhood, that she is being pre-conditioned to think 'hmm....maybe I'm not meant to be a doctor. Damn, I'll have to speak to my school careers advisor about where I find openings for princesses'. Well, for me, I think that confidence in thinking you can be whatever you want comes from home. By being told by your parents that you can try and be anything you want (presumably, brain-power and determination permitting).

Of course I understand the perspective of the these women. It's the "Have we not moved on?" viewpoint. It's the stand that says "it's things like this that prevent women in society earning the same as their male peers". I could go on about how lucky then I have been to always get paid a salary I am happy with and build a career where I have been paid equally (and probably better than my male counterparts). But.

What I don't understand is why people aren't outraged that there aren't male nurse costumes for boys or why their blood isn't boiling that they simply cannot find any princess costumes for their son in the boys dress up section. Ok, so I am making fun, but surely, there should be the same anger that boys aren't being offered the same breadth of career choice. That their options are limited. No?

Is that because it's ok to reinforce masculinity on to boys. That in actual fact the norm seems to be to encourage boys to be, well, more boyish? Pretty much all the girls I know are able (because they have them) to play with diggers, and dinosaurs, train sets, and cars. There's no issue. But I know an awful lot of boys who aren't allowed to play with baby dolls, little pushchairs, or play with anything pink. Amongst my friends, when they would come round for coffee often the boys would go straight for the pushchair and race around the house with it, ramming it into the doors or doing races, or just taking a teddy for a walk. All perfectly normal, and good for encouraging caring behaviour. But also amongst my friends are those who just can't bear their sons to be seen pushing a little pushchair. Often they would say "Thank God his father can't see him doing that!"

Oh, and especially if it's pink. Pink of course is just a colour. It really makes no odds. It means no more to your toddler child than green or blue or yellow. You can buy blue baby clothes for girls. But most people like to dress their baby in the appropriate gender colour. I mostly put this down to not wanting your baby mistaken for the opposite sex, because usually when they are really young well, sometimes it can be a bit hard to tell.

When Hamish was a baby I still had an awful lot of bibs from when Orla was a baby. Technically, she really still was, and given they both suffered massively from reflux, well, you can imagine, we had a lot of bibs. A friend was round for lunch one day and saw me (once again) sticking one of Orla's old bibs on Hamish. "I'm going to buy you blue bibs" she said. "You can't put him in girls bibs". Why not? We were in my own home, nobody else could see him. He certainly didn't care, and I didn't care, so did it matter?

So my question is, why are we all busy 'boying' up our boys and narrowing their options, when to make our girls girly is now seen as a negative. (I'll put money on one of the things that makes the 'blood-boiling' commenters blood boil is the proliference of candy pink toys). Is it really that we want our girls to have it all, preferably in boyish hues as well, but really none of us can really get our heads around our boys being a little more effeminate? And what's wrong with boys being girly? Because surely girls can be anything they like, which is more than you can say for boys!

(A bit ranty and serious for me, I know. Normal service will be resumed shortly). Oh and of course, this is only my opinion. I know hee-haw about feminism, didn't live in a time/place where women didn't have the same opportunities as men, and of course can only talk about what I have experienced or observed. But reading about women getting offended about stupid kids costumes seems to make my blood boil! Ha!ha!)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

You just don't know it yet, but you need a banner

I have come home and discovered my Facebook inbox and my email inbox full of good news. Good news of commissions. Yippee! I recently did some illustration work for my friend Sarah who has opened up a DaWanda shop called Millicent's Closet selling vintage-style jewellery.

We agreed to do a skills exchange where I would do the illustration work for the site and her business cards and so on, and she would take some nice photos of my kids (and I have another request I haven't yet told her about!).

In the time that it took to do the work, it turned out that someone nipped in and opened an Etsy shop, a Facebook Fanpage, and a blog also using the name 'Millicent's Closet'. Ugh. So Sarah is trying to think of another name but has opened her DaWanda shop up in the meantime.

Meanwhile I posted the image above on my Facebook page (in actual, fact I find Facebook a brilliant way of being able to show someone work) and very nearly put a comment on along the lines of "I know now you've seen this, you'll all want one". Well, there you go, turns out to my surprise that there are quite a few people out there with banner needs. Yippee!

Now if you find yourself suddenly with strange urges to have your own illustrated banner, of course feel free to get in touch with me by email. ( Or if you just want to go "Ooh!" and "Ah!", fill up the comments box below and make me feel marvellously talented!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Baby books I read and loved

Tame this Dr Christopher Green.

My friend at WorkingBerlinMum is looking for birth and childcare book recommendations.

Way back at the beginning of last year before we ever made the move to Berlin, I started clearing out some stuff I didn't need and discovered that I had around 22 baby books. As in, a little mountain of books on the topic of pregnancy, birth, babies, and toddlers. I utterly loved them. I especially loved the pregnancy books that tell you what's happening month by month - when you baby is the size of the Giant Snickers you just ate, which month you can teach it to love listening to the Sugababes, so that you have at least 1 person who understands you. You know, that sort of thing.

My pregnancies weren't exactly typical as such. As a diabetic things are a little bit different. You have more frequent scans - which is lovely because I have about a dozen scan pictures of each of my two, but the flip side is that you have a lot more to worry about. I would go to one scan and at the end of it the sonographer would say "Ok, well at your next scan we're going to be looking for heart problems and so on, as the children of diabetics tend to have heart defects" which would give you something new to mull over for the next 4 weeks and have you worrying yourself to death. Every scan there would be something new to 'look forward' to. So poerhaps these books provided me with a window into a nice, fluffy, normal pregnancy.

My favourite pregnancy books were:

The Best Friend's Guide to Pregnancy - funny and informative, and down to earth.

The Rough Guide to Pregnancy & Birth - a week by week guide and very funny to boot following the authors pregnancy.

What to Expect When You're Expecting - month by month, and serious in tone, but it's indispensible and answers most questions you might have or worries that are niggling you.

Expecting - by Anna McGrail & Daphne Maitland - I really liked this book. I found it one of the most informative and covered a lot of ground and dealt with health issues well. Can't remember much more about it though now, just remember I looked at it quite a lot!

Minus 9 to 1: Jools Oliver's book telling her story of problems conceiving and her journey through pregnancy to having a new baby. A nice insight for those who haven't had a baby before.

Birth. I was/am terrified of giving birth, and dreamed of being knocked out and coming round after the caesarian scar had healed. I had expected to have a c-section as I am diabetic, and that's what I wanted, but I am also desperately scared of surgery and being 'awake' during an operation was not high on my list of things I wanted to do in 2007 and 2008. But then I found this book:

Stand & Deliver by Emma Mahony. It's lots and lots of individual stories about birth and all the different experiences women can have. I read this book, and I swear I felt confident and far less scared than I could ever have imagined. This would be THE book I would recommend for anyone who is at all frightened about giving birth. It's excellent.

My favourite baby books were (oh, and I'd advise reading these prior to having a baby as you don't get any time to do so afterwards):

What to Expect: The First Year - great if you have problems. It's got an answer for everything.

The Baby Whisperer - I never had the proper full-on 'Baby Whisperer' book, but I did have one called 'The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems' or was it sleep problems?? I can't remember because my mind was so addled from lack of sleep. Anyway, I bought it for sleep problems, and I quite liked it. This author strikes a halfway point between Gina Ford and someone who doesn't give a crap. Perfect! I remember it did work, but I was never good at not caving in after a week or two and brining them back into my bed. Hence the reason I have a 2 and a half year old cuddling into me most nights.

The Best Friend's Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood - it's all there in the title. I'm saying no more.

The Baby Book: How to Enjoy Year One by Rachel Waddilove. This is a great book and really practical. But I've never heard anyone else talking about it that I know of. It's an excellent book for first time mums. Oh and it's got a foreword by Gwyneth Paltrow as the author helped her out when she had Apple.

The Rough Guide to Babies - Miranda Levy - good, but not as good as the Rough Guide to Pregnancy & Birth. Different author, but I see now that there's another book by Kaz Cooke the author of the RG to Pregnancy about babies - so it might be good.

I don't have favourite Toddler books as such - I kind of gave up - the novelty was over ha, ha! Plus, by the time I had a toddler I already had another baby, and my problems surpassed those that even Tracey Hogg herself could solve. But, I did have, and would recommend:

The Best Friend's Guide to Toddlers - excellent as per the other books and I might actually have a look at it again, if I can find it under the mess.

What to Expect: The Toddler Years - great if you want to give yourself a complex about what your child can't achieve, or give yourself a pat on the back because they are over-achieving! Otherwise, pretty pointless, unless you are really stuggling with your toddler, or don't have the confidence yet to trust your instincts. Having said that - I still bought it.

Toddler Taming - Dr. Christopher Green. This outlines all the problems you are likely to come up against with your toddler. Easy to read too. I only had a quick read of this before a friend asked to borrow it and never gave it back, so it must be really good. Though not that good that I felt compelled to ask for it back.

So that's my list of recommendations. Other pregnancy, birth, baby & toddler books are available. I know. I've read pretty much all of them.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Ausländer Anonymous

I've just found a better name for my blog - 'The Trailing Spouse'. I really like that. Damn, missed a trick. I suppose I could still change it... hmm..I'll mull it over.

Anyway, we have a new student in our midst, from Japan, though she's been living in Boston for quite a while. Her husband is German and has decided that they will stay here in Berlin for the next 22 years, until he retires. She is feeling unbelievably homesick. I can't blame her. I've always thought that it's so much easier to adapt to a country and live in it if you can keep in your head that it's just temporary.

Two years doesn't seem like so long a time, especially now we've done more than a quarter of it. In fact, if anything, I wonder if we'll be able to fit in all the things we want to do and see in the time that we have left. In some ways, yes, it is just like a big, long holiday. But of course, when I'm not thinking of all the nice places I want to visit, and all the great things we can get out and do and see when the weather is good, then it's not like a holiday; it's just like normal everyday life with strange things and a foreign language thrown in.

I can't really imagine what it's like to move say, to Australia, for good. I think that must be really hard. So I'm rather lucky really. When this woman opened her heart to me today it got me thinking back to our pre-assignment briefing and all the tings we were warned to expect.

The honeymoon period where (supposedly) you do all the touristy things and eat out loads and go drinking and dancing and generally have loads of fun and treat it like a holiday. I never really felt like I had a honeymoon period very much as it was my job from the off to get us settled and do all the practical things like registering the car for a parking permit and seeking out half a dozen doctors and looking for schools and Kitas, and struggling with the language.

The next phase is a trough phase where you start to miss things from home, even things you wouldn't normally miss or want when you were at home. This is the point at which you have to start coping with the realities of actually living there. It's fun, fun, fun.

After this phase you hit the 'rubber wall', where you come up against things you consider illogical and unreasonable and you want to kick against it. Stevie thinks I 'hit the wall' about a day after we arrived here. I'm good that way: I like to fast track to the crappy bits.

Finally, in the last phase you can go one of 4 ways. You either continue on a decline and feel a bit depressed about the whole thing and eventually make the decision to return home, or you just continue with struggling with all the problems you feel you are encountering. The third path is more positive and you recover and discover that life abroad really isn't that bad and your life is just as good as at home, and finally 40 - 45% of people discover themselves on the path where they feel their lives are positively enriched by the experience.

I'm thinking of inviting this woman round to my house with her 1 year old baby. I don't know that it'll make her feel much better, but I'm not sure what else I can do to make her feel better about living here. If you have any 'homesickness' remedies please let me know.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

What I did before the internet

Copyright obviously belongs to me, Fiona Gray. I don't want to come round to your house for a cup of tea and see this on your coasters.

My laptop is showing lots of signs that it's not going to last much longer. On top of that I can't stay on the internet for more than 10 minutes before it loses the internet connection and the connection is fine it's just that the laptop seems to have become all despondent about surfing the web.

The other night I walked into the living room after putting the kids to bed to find Stevie had it in two pieces (possibly more) on the rug. I nearly keeled over. Stevie's not really the kind of guy you'd trust with diagnosing PC problems. Cast your mind back a month or so to my dad's reaction at Stevie going at his brand new boiler with a butter knife, that's the kind of technical guru he is, so I was alarmed to say the least.

So I had an evening without the internet, and in actual fact it did me the world of good. Instead I used the time to paint a little picture, just something easy and relaxing and that evening I went to bed feeling a lot less stressed than I normally do. I've decided I am going to try and incorporate a bit of painting into every week. No themes in mind, just whatever takes my fancy. I need to get practising anyway if I want to get my drawing back up to scratch and actually start painting and illustrating properly.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The trouble with co-sleeping

This better just be exhaustion and not concussion. Do you snore with concussion?

The trouble with co-sleeping is that it's difficult to know when to stop, and if you leave it too late then it can be very difficult to get out of it without an awful lot of screaming (on your part) and crying (also on your part).

But generally there's some catalyst for change. And ours has come. Every day I wake up tired. Tired as though I haven't been to bed yet. Two nights ago Hamish woke me up at 3:30am thinking it was breakfast time, and to be honest I was so disoriented by tiredness that it might as well have been 7:30am because it didn't feel any different to me.

I've been having a bit of trouble getting the kids to go to bed and stay in it of late - it's non-stop requests, moans, complaints, 'ideas', and so on that in the evening not 2 minutes goes by without one of them at me for something. I'm finding it hard to get anything done. It's impossible to even concentrate on my German homework never mind anything else because I'm just waiting for the next interruption.

Last night Stevie arrived back from Derby at 10pm and both kids were still awake. Orla had decamped into our bed to wait for her dad, and Hamish was claiming he couldn't sleep on his own. So I ended up sleeping with Hamish and 'the guys'. The guys are made up of Tigger, Pooh, and Tiger. They seem to like to sleep with their heads on my pillow and take up a remarkable amount of space.

So we all went to bed tired and woke up tired. Then we got ready for Kita and left the house. Downstairs normally both of my children are lingering around pressing the lift button repeatedly and turning on the light and I open the inner door and call to them to hurry up. Today though I opened the door and Hamish ran full pelt into the edge of it, and bounced backwards off his feet with his head gushing with blood.

After a morning at A&E I've come to the conclusion that we all need our own beds. And I need to become super strict mummy and stop them constantly bombarding me with requests. Maybe when I am less tired I'll be able to work out how to do that.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

To see oursels as ithers see us...

Just how is your homeland perceived in other countries? If you had to write a shopping list of foodstuffs that would neatly encapsulate the beloved traditional meals and the nations favourite foods, what would be on it. Chances are you don't see the 'typical' foods of your own country the same way as foreigners do.

The photos above show the American food section of the Ka De We. The Ka De We is essentially the Harrods of Berlin. I love the food department, it's full of interesting stuff at 500 times the normal price. A box of Weetabix for example will cost you in the region of £5. Not that it's that much cheaper in the other supermarkets.

Anyway, one of my particular favourite sections is the American section. It's like they just eat crap! There's not a vegetable in sight. The only fruit that's being boasted about is 'artificial'. Do American's only eat cakes that come from a box or bottle? Do they really have AA meetings for Jim Beam sauce addicts? And what are they doing with all that 'Fluff'? I mentioned the Strawberry Fluff to my American classmate, cause I wasn't sure what you would use it for. Apparently it can be used in sandwiches in conjunction with ...did she honestly say, peanut butter??? Or was it jelly (jam)? Either way, I'm feeling a little nauseous.

Sadly, my photos just miss out the Cheese Zip. I like the name, but the idea of something cheese-based, unrefrigerated, in a plastic bottle slightly turns my stomach. Something tells me it aint 'Bio'!

And if you Brits are sniggering up the back, believe me the British products aren't much better. I'll keep those for another time. Hold on to your Kettle Chips!

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