Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Hey Willie Wallacky, it's International Day!

There was a wee cooper that came from Fife
Nickety nackety noo noo noo.

Jings! It's no International Day already, is it? Awa'! As much as I would like to blog in the style of The Broons or Oor Wullie, I just can't keep it up. I seem to be heading down a wee Scottish blogging vein these days. Can't be helped with International Day coming right up behind Burns Night. I didn't get the email about International Day from the school until one of the other parents started talking to me about how she was "bagsying shortbread" as her international food, and when I didn't dive in with a "No way! That's not fair!" she realised that I hadn't been informed that we were going to have to bare our Scottish roots for all to see, and unleash our spectacular(ly bad) Scottish cooking on a class of innocent tiny children.

You'd think our house would be awash in tartan breeks (trousers) and sporrans, but we appeared to be a tartan-free zone much to my horror. The quest as revealed in the forwarded email was to send your child to school in their national dress, bearing some home-made foodstuffs from their home country (enough for all to try and with a comprehensive list of ingredients supplied). Not exactly easy, but I quickly Googled 'How the hell do I make a kilt when I can barely sew', and then swiftly chucked that idea and wondered whether I could pretend we were half-Greek and just wrap her in a sheet in some approximation of a toga, and sling a can of Irn-Bru into her rucksack. And I was more than disappointed to discover that there isn't an Edinburgh Woollen Mill in every town in the world. My mother does not believe this and says there MUST be one in Berlin - God knows, there's a market for it, they like their hellish-looking knitwear here too. And by Sunday night I would have run into any one of their 6 billion UK branches, launched a bag of cash at them and bought anything that I could have squeezed Orla into.

Instead though on Saturday I had to face the awful truth that I was going to have to make something. So I decided to make life as easy as possible for myself and take them literally, for I made her a national dress. My process leaves a lot to be desired. There were no patterns involved; just a lot of freehand drawing on the fabric (which I couldn't help thinking would make lovely cushions) with my expensive artists pastels (I appear to be lacking dressmakers chalk, but anyway, pastels come in much prettier colours) and confident if mis-judged cutting.

By Sunday, I had most of a smashing tartan dress that even Houdini would struggle to get on and off. Using my best imagination I decided I would construct *something* using multiple pieces of elastic and buttons that would have enough 'ping!' about it that a 4 year old could get all their wobbly awkward limbs through. I thought it was going to be a work of genius; there were moments when it was starting to look like something you could patent, and then after one shoulder contraption was finished I tried it on the reluctant model again and realised it looked crap. Plan S (by this point) was sew it up, hide the mess of elastic, and work on having one shoulder strap open with a button. I saved that until last night. Which was also the point I had saved to learn how to use the automatic button-holer on my sewing machine. 2 hours later I had it! Wey hey! Go me!

I daren't even tell you how badly the making of the potato scones went. Pity the poor wee kiddies having to eat them....

We were able to collect my mum's parcel from the Post Office today that was meant to save my bacon. Alas, it was too late for Orla, but at least I have a very happy boy!

Help ma boab, Hamish! Yer roots are showing!

Michty me! Some links:
DC Thompson shop (publisher of The Broons & Oor Wullie)
How to make a kilt
Scotland's other National Drink - Irn-Bru

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tae a haggis supper...

It's Burns Night! You know Robert Burns, don't you? Famous Scottish poet? From my home town (well his house is a 15 min walk along the road from my mum & dad's; not that he's in much, it's mostly full of American tourists these days). Anyway, tonight's his night.

Would you recognise him better if I stuck him on a tin of shortbread?

The 25th of January is Rabbie Burns' birthday. He's 262 years old today. Luckily we Scots don't celebrate this marvellous event with a cake and candles. Instead there will be Burns Suppers happening the whole world over, where you'll see many a kilt, a wee dram or two, and a hell of a lot of haggis being spoken to and stabbed with a dagger, or a knife (whatever's to hand).

Haggis is possibly the most famous Scottish food most people can think of. It's made up of sheeps heart, liver, and lungs (all minced), mixed with oatmeal, onion and suet (and seasoned) traditionally encased in the lining of a sheep's stomach. Nowadays though they tend to come in the kind of casing that they put sausages in, but you can still get your hands on a proper one in the butchers. Being of a 'faddy' type myself, I must admit I am not a fan of haggis. Never have been. And haggis is tradionally served with neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes, usually boiled) and I was never much fond of those two things either, so I suspect most Burns nights I have dined on toast.

Seeing as I am not really one for traditional Scottish fare, it might not surprise you to learn that I won't be boiling up a haggis for 3 hours this evening (or microwaving it, as I understand you can do these days), nor will I be popping out for 4 of these....

from: The Art & Mystery of Food 

the traditional ye olde (deep fried in batter) Scottish haggis supper, available at all good Scottish chip shops, because beside the fact I don't like it, they're quite hard to get your hands on here. I am told that the KaDeWe don't stock them (shocking, isn't it?), but you can get them tinned in Broken English, the British shop here in Berlin. Tinned almost has as much appeal as deep fried in batter, doesn't it?

No, we won't be having haggis tonight. Indeed, shame on me, I only realised it was Burns Night when I was wished a happy one this morning when I met a friend for coffee, and we had already made our dinner plans for this evening. You see, Stevie's gone off to Derby for a few days, and we've been left the car, so in fact, dare I say it... we're heading to IKEA for some decidedly un-Scottish Swedish meatballs!*

* As my just desserts for this heinous crime, I am going  to be spending the next few days sewing a kilt for Orla to wear to 'International Day' at school on the 30th. Never having made a kilt, I have high hopes for how it might turn out!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The art of procrastination (in a morning nutshell)

I woke up knowing that I have some forms to fill out. Once I get Orla's packed lunch made and her breakfast out, and roll into bed with Hamish for his morning cuddle while she eats, then it'll be time to get her dressed and off out the door, and get Hamish fed and dressed. Only once that's done, and usually once Hamish is off to Kita (but not today) then my day starts. And I remember that I have to get these forms filled out.

I am walking from the kitchen to the living room when I glance at the table and see what I was working on last night. It wouldn't hurt to just paint a little more in while I am still in the mood and feeling enthused. It's the sort of thing that you can paint in small amounts anyway, so maybe just a little bit. You know what? I should really take some photos of this. I should send something to Sarah because all she's had is that teeny sketch, and it might have been hard to visualise. Ah, my battery needs charging. I should sort that out now while I remember. Which reminds me that I need to charge my phone as well. Where have I left it. Must be in my bag.

I'll just charge my camera battery for a short time while I make coffee so that I can take a quick photo to upload. Oh, is that some Schoko leibniz in the cupboard. Gaarrgh...yes it is, but they've been sitting since last summer, and gone all soft.I might as well clear out this cupboard first. Ok, so, coffee. Then I'll just get this photo done and uploaded, and then I can do those forms.

Should I just do those flags? I should. probably. Because it's going to annoy me not knowing if that red is going to work or not. I should just do it. Ok, so upload and get it into the secret album on Facebook. I'll just check my notifications and emails first. Let's see if there's anything happening on my Fionagray.paints facebook page. Ugh. Nothing. No wonder I haven't posted on the blog for ages. Might as well just do a quick one with this picture while I know where it is. Just a quick one. It will take no time at all. Oh, my stats are up! I wonder why? Oh there are links from Pinterest, I wonder if it's anyone I know, I'll just take a look and see and quickly check if there's anything new that catches my eye.

20 minutes later. I should get on to those forms, but I should just check my email first. Orla needs 'national dress and food' for International Day on the 30th. I bet that Tam O'Shanter hat is in a drawer in her room. Maybe later I should take Hamish down to Idee and see if I can buy some tartan fabric to make her a kilt. Snack time. Which means peeling a cucumber and chopping it into lumps for Hamish. I'll have some of that nice cheese that Lynne recommended. I should send her a quick text and thank her for Sunday. Which reminds me, I need to wrap Ofek's birthday present and see if I have a card somewhere. Really should go to Idee after I fill out these forms, because I am pretty sure I'll need a card.

Interlude to make a track for Hamish and his trains. Back to the table to finish the ribbon on the present. Those flag poles are going to annoy me. I must at least get rid of all the white space on this picture. Then I'll be able to put it out of my head until this evening. I consider whether I should outline everything in pen once this is finished or just leave it. I would do it now except for the fact that I know I am going to rework the hill sections so that they look more blended. I might need a finer nib pen because didn't all of mine run out before Christmas when i was trying to draw on some surface that just sucked the ink out of them? i must get to Idee later. Or maybe a grey pen would work better than black. I check how fine the ones I bought in that chemists are. That would be great actually. Right. Flag poles and then forms.

My blood sugar feels a bit low. How can it be lunch time already? I'll get Hamish ready and we can nip round to Nah und Gut for something for the lunch. God, my blood sugar is really low. I might peg out before we get there. I eat a bar of chocolate and then decide just to make ham sandwiches. We can go out in a bit. I haven't even put on any make-up yet. I'll do that now. And then sort those clouds. And put on a DVD for Hamish. And maybe get those forms done. I should blog about this. It'll only take a minute and he's watching  Thomas the Tank Engine anyway. I could do those forms when he has a nap. If he has a nap. Or I could do a bit of painting. While there's a bit of light.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The less you care, the happier you will be.

bear sea rescue.

God, I was in a foul mood. But, today I feel good. Very good!

I am working on solving Hamish's Kita problem out one way or another. All the hitting which I have spoken to the Kita about over the past few months is getting Hamish down, and the final straw seems to be his best pal smacking him one in the face. I get it. So, it's all in hand. I'm going to speak to the Kita manager on Monday; I would really like them to sort this out once and for all because the staff are nice, and there are people working in Hamish's class who I really like. There are others I have less time for, so if it comes to it I will strike a deal with them where every time my son gets hit, spat at, bitten, punched, I get to do the same to the staff member of my choice. I can see her with the Sport form getting a bit of a raw deal... ha, ha!

But seriously, if this isn't something they feel they can resolve then I will just remove him completely and find somewhere else. This little episode has made me feel much better about the prospect of returning home. And in actual fact I feel more at peace with whatever outcome we end up with. Whatever happens will be fine.

I am still making plans for the possibility that we get an extension to our secondment, and still making plans for if we decide to stay on without the secondment extension, and now I am making plans for if we go back to Derby. Admittedly, the return to Derby plans come down to me having a darn good think about what colour I am going to paint the walls (very, very pale grey?) and where I might have a plate wall, and whether I could talk Stevie into a carpet the colour of purple heather. It's hardly major life decisions... unless you count being stuck with a really bad carpet colour choice for quite a few years.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Having a bad Wednesday? We have a form for that.

{This post is punctuated with my favourite gloomy photos of Berlin just to cheer me up*}

I made a fool of myself this morning by crying at Kita.

Hamish was screaming like a banshee and I had been wrestling his coat and boots off of him while trying to talk calmly to him. But that wasn't working and as I was putting his stuff in his cupboard and closing the lock he was screaming at my heels and unlocking it and grabbing all his belongings back again.

Normally, this wouldn't happen. it's never normally as bad. But today was a screaming and howling all the way there kind of a day, and normally even if this did happen I would have the time to sit and cuddle him and make him feel better, and the time to get him settled and playing and looking for his little friend.

Today however, I had to get back to the apartment as quick as possible in order to wait in for a guy coming to change the water meters. And of course, because the child-to-staff ratio is so high here, there wasn't anyone who could help me just deal with Hamish.

So I ended up shouting "Enough!", which caused all the other mothers to stare at me - honestly, do German mothers never shout at their children?, which made me feel like some kind of foreign outcast, and then after some more screaming, calm talking, and further wrestling of coats and boots from tiny, claw-like, vice-gripping fingers, I gave up.

I was running out of time, and I had to get home. So, I told Hamish just to get his boots back on, and I helped him on with his coat, and it was at this point (with parents still staring at me), that one of the staff came up. I said 'I must go', and figured she knew the score. Instead she started lecturing me about why I hadn't handed the form back in for Hamish to do sport. I tried to explain that I was having 'some difficulties' and that I couldn't give a crap about didn't have the Sport form. No kind words; no "He'll be fine here"; no "Let me take him so you can go"; just "Why have you not completed the Sport form?".

So I cried. And I left. On the plus side, it's a reminder that it's not all good times and lovely living here. There are still times when I feel like such a total outsider here that the prospect of going back to the UK in five months is a comfort. If it comes to the point whereby we know we are definitely going back and I am having serious second thoughts about it, I think I might take myself to the Burgeramt and apply for a new parking permit or something without having all the correct paperwork with me. That should sort that out.

{*Should you wish to flick through a few more of my photos, dreary or cheery, feel free to visit my flickr page}

Monday, 16 January 2012

Before every party, I Google my guests

The spy who went out in the snow.

Ssssshhhhhh..... the neighbours might be listening!

There are moments when I think that it would have been wise to have thought about this whole blog thing prior to starting it off. At times I have my regrets that I have used my own name and used photos of myself and the kids and all that malarky, and obviously if I had done that I could talk about anything I like without worrying about people I know either Googling me and finding out things about me that I wouldn't really want them to know, and I could have a good old moan about all the people who thoroughly annoy me, and I could talk about other things that I'd like to talk about but which I am rather reticent to because I want to keep some things a little more private.

But I didn't. And it's not that big a deal really. Sometimes though there are little moments when people say things to me and I jolt thinking, "How did you know that?". Sometimes I am surprised by the people I know from real life who read my blog. It's never who I think it would be.

Last night I spent some time trying to find out how strangers see my 'timeline' on Facebook. That was a whole lot of not much fun. For yesterday afternoon we went to a New Year/New Baby/New Neighbours party (yes, really, it was 3 times the fun) downstairs in our building. And about 30 minutes after we arrived the hostess and I had the opportunity to chat for a bit and her opening line was "I know your daughter is at the British School, but your looking at ###### School, aren't you?".

I couldn't help but be shocked and ask "How did you know that?". There was a slight pause and then she gave me an answer which didn't really answer my question, and eventually took it off topic. I could have pressed her, but my brain had already bolted back upstairs and was logging into Blogger, searching posts for references to this. It was just my body that was locked into being polite, and stayed drinking coffee for a while longer, and comparing apartment sizes with the rest of the neighbours.

For there is no way that this woman should know this. I haven't mentioned my plans to any of my neighbours, and I don't believe that we share any friends that would have mentioned this fact. So, the first thing I did once we got home after stopping Orla from crying, getting Hamish a drink, making the dinner, getting the kids ready for bed and settling Hamish down, was check out my blog and when I found no reference there, I checked Facebook. And then I considered that the apartment might be bugged. (Which led to some really bad dreams)

So, I might be a little more cagey about what's happening with us and our staying/going/relocating plans for a while. At least until things are little more settled.... and I have checked the lightswitches for tiny microphones.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Thinking outside the brown cardboard box

'Heaven knows I'm miserable now'

'You've got everything now'
(and for a bonus point, name the album which I have never owned but am strangely referencing in these captions)

The decorations in our house are down; the Christmas markets have been dismantled; and yet yesterday, for one day only, it was Christmas once again. For finally our big, annual box of Christmas goodies arrived. And there's nothing more fun than opening a giant box of presents you have already opened when you haven't seen them but have longed for them for ages*  (*or just over a week which can seem like ages to a 3 and 4 year old.).

This year we shipped one box less than last year. Not for any reasons pertaining to the recession, but because Stevie is starting to resist allowing new things into this apartment given our potential return to the UK in just under 5 months time. Still, very little can dent the joy of enthusiastic parcel receivers like Orla, Hamish, and myself, and we were more than satisfied.

The only dampner on the day was the news from work headquarters that we may not be able to request a years extension to our secondment. Stevie, immer upbeat, says that "this just provides us with more options". But still, I feel a little sad. I am just not ready to go back to Derby.

While I do miss my friends from there, I now feel like I have some really good friends here. People who I not only want to keep as my friends for years to come, but also whom I wish I had been able to have met sooner. People who share my new, altered view of the world; people who understand how awful & amazing all at the same time it is to live here and make me laugh like mad about it; people who...I am beginning to feel settled with. And the thing is that I would miss them terribly in a way that I didn't have to miss my Derby friends, because then I was departing on an unknown adventure, and the excitement of that offset those feelings, whereas a return to Derby feels like a trip into the known, and not much of an adventure at all.

BUT, of course there are things about a move back that I would love. So in fact, I am not wholly against the idea. In fact, let's face it, the fact alone that I have known that I would/could return is the reason I have been able to enjoy my stay in a foreign land so much. I could never deny that I have adored my little safety blanket.

And now, we have options. And more than likely over the course of the next few months, I'll start talking about what those are for us. In the mean time, my job is to investigate them and see which ones would realistically work for us as a family. And options are good, for in the very least I will have loads of big brown boxes to open somewhere, be it in Derby, Berlin, or somewhere in between.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Years *Intentions*

Apparently only 12% of all resolutions made are achieved. That's not that hard to believe really. The top 5 resolutions year on year seem to be 1. Lose weight; 2. Save money; 3. Fall in love/get married; 4. Read more books; 5. Keep an notepad of awesome moments. Most people, well, Americans - they were the ones who were surveyed, but I'm going with it, give up after the first 2 months.  I've read this year that some people are making lists of  'New Years Intentions': a thoroughly modern idea for the commitment-phobic amongst us. And perfect for those who can't deal with failure.

My own list of failures featured on my last blog post is likely to roll over into 2012. Apparently this is NOT good working practice. You are meant to scrap anything that you didn't achieve, and start afresh. Though re-phrasing seems to be allowed. So, if for example you failed to shift that 30lbs last year, this year you could say that you "intend to eat healthier/take more exercise" - see that "intend" in there? I am so very modern in my commitment-phobic-realistic-goal setting.

I haven't really got any strong feelings for resolutions-slash-intentions for 2012. Instead Stevie has been making some for me. Aside from that I have had a few thoughts that may end up being resolutions.

1. Lose 5kg. This is Stevie's 'Happy New Year. Here's a resolution for you' idea. I would like to lose some weight and he has said that if I do it he will buy me an iPad. (We do love incentive schemes in our house!) As yet we haven't negotiated on the memory it'll come with, I feel there's plenty of time for that, dear reader, oh yes. It seems that 'thinking thin', my previous strategy lacks any kind of proof that it works. So I may actually have to do something *shudder* to make this happen. I hate to say it, but I have my fingers crossed for a really bad stomach bug....

2. Blog less, do more. It would be nice, wouldn't it? I noticed when I was in Scotland over Christmas that I didn't miss it, and didn't feel like I had anything that I was bursting to blog about. In fact, I quite revelled in the additional time I had when I wasn't stuck to a computer. Though now that I've typed that I realise that if I gained an iPad (see resolution no.1) then my online time is likely to surge, not decrease. Ah well, I can't succeed at everything. But in fact, the thing which led me to this idea was that Stevie keeps talking about how we will potentially be moving back to Derby in May. Yes, I know, it's making me panic too. But while I was lying awake in bed worrying about that prospect, I also thought that if that happens I will stop blogging. When I announced this to Stevie he seemed to think I was just full of the 1st of January blues. But the truth is if we were to go back, I am not sure beyond the initial horror of repatriation shock and settling back in, that I would have anything to blog about. You know? Obviously though I would pick it back up again when we realised we hated being back (despite the wondrous supermarkets, M&S, year-round sales, English speaking people, tv on tap, etc, etc) and move to Canada.

3. De-clutter. Last year I wanted to get rid of all the remaining baby stuff. I think my plan was to start using German eBay and the first thing I wanted to sell was the highchair. This year I am totally vowing to sell the highchair. As handy as it is for holding coats in Hamish's little bedroom, it's got to go. It may also be a fond farewell to my Phil & Ted's, two cotbeds, and a whole lot of toys that are too young for both of them. The toys drive me to distraction. every time I embark on a clear-out, O & H decide to start playing with the stuff again. It will have to be done in the dead of night. Oh and here's another one: I vow not to feel even the tiniest pang of guilt this year when I hoover up every last Playmobil flower that I come across. Seriously, do they make those just to drive mothers mental?

And that's about it. Doesn't sound too unattainable, does it? What are your goals for 2012?
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