Friday, 30 March 2012

Let the celebrations commence!

5 is a magical age. To say it's been longed for is an understatement. And so, the celebrations have begun. Up at 6:30am, a frantic ripping off of paper, a quick, reluctant breakfast, dressed for school, and off! Then back home and time to play, rollerskate, fall, fall again, fall some more and nearly twist ankle, Skype the grandparents, and dinner, cake, and bed.

Is it just me, or does she suddenly look a year older? I think she does and she thinks this is marvellous, but if it happens to me too on my birthday next month I won't be happy.

Other people's birthdays take their toll on some people. It's hard when everyone else seems to have their birthday 'first'. Especially when you suspect that your sister has managed to sneak in two birthdays since your last one. It's enough to make you take to your (mother's) bed for a little sulk. - Not that he didn't fair well out of it. He is the owner of a terrifying pair of rollerskates too (remind me to ask my doctor to up my blood pressure medication).

But he did help make Orla's second birthday cake. Oh how I long for Tesco. I made a cake for her to take to school two nights ago, then another for her actual birthday for candle blowing out purposes, ad today I start making cakes for her birthday party tomorrow. I think I may have burnt the *actual* birthday cake because I was daydreaming about just handing over my cash to Tesco for something that takes much less effort and looks more professional.

And so, with that reminder, I must get on. There are rooms to be cleared, shopping to be done, balloons to be modelled, cakes to be made and decorated, brand new pirate outfits to be washed ALREADY, and apartments to be cleaned and decorated before tomorrow's big party. (And I might eat the rest of those Smarties)

Monday, 26 March 2012

Moments when social media freaks you out.

Sometimes I really freak out about social media. This morning was one of those moments. I went on to my Flickr account and in my 'recent activity' notifications I saw that some guy, a complete stranger, had marked one of my photos as a 'favourite'. Now that's not exactly odd, but I decided that I would click on this stranger's name and have a wee look at his photos.

My photo, that the strange guy liked.

So, that's what I did. I landed on his photostream and scrolled down a bit and that's when I freaked out. Because he has this photo:

Yes, there's a particularly large and happy leprechaun in this photo, but what freaked me out was that not only do I know this green giant, but he is standing next to Stevie! Not that odd perhaps that someone else in Berlin 'favourited' my photo also of Berlin, but how weird is it that they should have taken a photo of my boyfriend and his friends out of nearly 3.5 million?

I sent this photo to Stevie at work, and he sent a text saying, "That's a nice photo you took of ----', and I said, "You think? Who was looking after the kids??". Freaky! Freaky!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Expat Experience for Third Culture Kids

I followed a link the other day from an expat community blog site and started reading some stuff about 'Third Culture Kids' or TCK's as they are known. I had heard/read a very little on this subject previously, but not so much that it had really grabbed my attention in any way. I had associated the term with Embassy kids, or Armed Forces kids who spend their childhoods and teenage years moving from country to country every few years, but it would appear that I am incorrect, and in actual fact it seems I have two of the little blighters myself. They don't neccessarily have to have grown up in more than one other culture.

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) can be defined as "... a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background." - David C. Pollock, (an American Sociologist)

So I read this paper, 'According To My Passport, I'm Coming Home' by Kay Branaman Eakin, which primarily looks at the issues of teenagers returning to their home country. And I found it really interesting reading. From a personal point of view she discusses all the issues that I was worried about for myself in returning home but shows that it's MUCH harder for teenagers returning home. 

"In the 25+ years of working with third culture kids, I don't find cultural identity confusion to be a big issue until the TCKs return to their passport country" - Libby Stephens 

For example, she talks about how when living abroad it's easy to feel like you are a Scot, or an American, or an Australian in a foreign land. You're different to those round about you. You have a different view on things, different cultural rules on how to behave, you might even look different to all the locals round about you. But then when you return home, all of a sudden it turns out that you're perhaps not quite as Scottish, American, or Australian, as the natives of your own country because you have picked up some of the practices, social skills, and customs of the land you had been staying in. For teenagers who traditionally are trying to work out who the hell they are during their teenage years anyway, unless they are saving up to 'find themselves' on a year's backpacking round the globe during their gap year, it can be a tough gig. For starters a lot about being at school is about fitting in, being normal, if not being awesomely cool. Nobody wants to stick out for odd social behaviour at high school. So this can be especially hard if you go back to your passport country and don't know what all the 'norms' are. You might have experienced a completely different way of growing up, have probably done different things, and culturally, you probably won't have seen all the tv shows that your peers have. 

"Brought up in another culture or several cultures, they feel ownership in none. An American TCK may find more in common with an Italian or Indian TCK than she does with a monocultural U.S. teen."

Another interesting aspect discussed is about the unresolved grief many children and teenagers feel as Third Culture Kids. It's a common fact that for many children living abroad their friends are always leaving, or else they themselves are always leaving. I talked a little bit about the nature of expat friendships in one of my earlier posts and I think I hadn't realised how hard it can be on people to have a constant stream of temporary relationships, and friends leaving every year.

Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime."

- Isn't that something? That's not to say that the experience of a TCK is a negative one. Of course there are massive benefits to living abroad, experiencing different things, and mixing with others from a (or many) different backgrounds. I see it with Orla even. I think there are children at her school from around 50 other countries, and she benefits from learning about their experiences. She has a greater understanding than some of her UK friends about how people come from different places and speak lots of different languages. She's learned that there are different ways of doing things, different customs, and different foods, and while this is only a small amount, I firmly believe that all of this will benefit her. Even Hamish has learned that there are people from different places at his Kita. When it's someone's birthday, they sing Happy Birthday in German, English, Turkish, and sometimes the native language of the birthday boy/girl too. 

Page 59 of the report is the start of the section on the issues that younger children can face. But it's a long report and well, I'm feeling exceptionally tired, so I'll let you go ahead and read it yourself. :-) If you are interested in this topic, have a look at the links below for some more information.

Wikipedia -
'According To My Passport, I'm Coming Home' by Kay Branaman Eakin (a PDF exploring the issues of TCK's)
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 1 The Cultural Sponge
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 2 The Cultural Chameleon
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 3 The Hidden Immigrant
'Coping Strategies for the Hidden Immigrant' -
US Department of State - 'Third Culture Kids: Returning to their Passport Country' (offers guidance for schools on re-integrating TCK's into US schools)
'Shut Up or Go Home' - - I liked this as the author questions at what stage you win the right to criticise the country you are living in, which I talked about (in an earlier blog post) in relation to my life in Derby where I always felt I needed to be careful as technically I am an outsider, being Scottish.

The taste of homoeopathic dirt

My fluffy patch of hair is feeling a little under the weather.

Call me Captain Bronchitis! I have the power! The power to identify the first stages of bronchitis at 20 paces. Bring me a child, and I will diagnose them! Yup, Hamish is ill again. I am so bored of bronchitis already. I have lost count via all the sleepless nights I've had of the number of times he's had it.

So I had an inkling that it was on it's way again. Something funny about his breathing that I couldn't just put down to a regular sniffly cold. So I made a appointment for the following day, and yesterday we went to see the Kinderarzt. Turns out that I caught the bronchitis right at the beginning stages, and his oxygen saturation levels were still high, but I'd missed that he had a virus as well, and also a middle ear infection. Ah well, can't win them all. Just as well I'm not a doctor, eh?

We walked away with a carrier bag of medicine which cost 58 Euros. For that sum I got a new inhaler thing, which we've had before, but which I suspect is nearly empty because I use it with him every time I think his breathing is a bit funny, and I don't want to admit to the doctor that I am self-medicating him. Though he started talking to me about whether I had used any of the spare suppositories we had for him, but in my book that's taking self-medicating a finger up the bum too far. Anyway, he gave me 2 more suppositories for fun evenings in when his breathing is really bad, a nasal spray, some ibuprofen, and a bottle of homoeopathic medicine for the middle ear infection.

Keeping a check on the timings of all these medicines is an art. The last one, the homoeopathic one needs to be taken every hour up to 10 times a day. Just 6 drops on a spoon. I have no hang ups with homoeopathic medicine, my mum used to give me arnica when I was a child, but I do know that people say that the active ingredient is so diluted that there is no way that it can work. So seeing Hamish's face screw up and his whole body shudder at the first administration came as a surprise to me. He said " I think Dr ----- has made a mistake with my medicine. This can't be for me. This tastes like yucky dirt.". So I tried it. Jeez-us-CHRIST!!! Even I dived for a drink to take the taste away. So hideously intense! So utterly vile! I even triple checked the box to make sure I wasn't meant to put the 6 drops in his ear rather than in his mouth. If this is the stuff diluted I can't imagine what it's like in undiluted form. It better work, is all I can say. I have faith that something that tastes that bad must be doing some good. And now, wish me luck for I must go and administer the next dose.

Friday, 16 March 2012

5 before 5

You must have seen these things all over blogland. 25 before 25; 30 before 30; you know where people write lists of things they want to do before they hit a certain age, or before their next birthday. My list I made last year was more or less the same thing, except I didn't tie it in with my birthday. It becomes a bit of a pain as you get older. I'd need to be bungy jumping or flinging myself out of a plane on a near daily basis in order to just get it done. And frankly, that would just eat into my Facebook time a little too much for my liking. Unless I made it really easy.

Anyway, the thought popped into my head at the weekend about how much simpler it would be to do these things when you are younger: 3 before 3 for example: 1. improve language skills; 2. play all day everyday 3. perfect the art of eating like a dog. So I asked Orla: "what 5 things would you like to do before you're 5 years old?"

And this is what she told me:


1. Tidy my room.

Hamish was a massive help. And yes, it is nearly Christmas again.  Only 286 days folks!

I feel as though my daughter may have been briefly possessed by my mother. I don't know if Orla thought she might be getting some kind of strange row about something, but this is not the response I was expecting. But hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth as they say. Bunny, I think we can make that happen! Heck, maybe even by 5 o'clock if you really want!

2. Go shopping for toys.

I love the first photo: Orla has on her 'I want some over-priced Barbie nonsense' face, and Hamish is engrossed in a Barbie hair-beading set. Awesome! Hoola-hoops and unicorns - it's what 5 year old dreams are made of.

I had suggested to Orla that we might go to a toy shop in order to see what she might like from her other granny who has very kindly plonked money into our account so that she can spend the money that would have gone on postage on skipping ropes and sweeties. So we went to Karstadt. Orla's a funny one. I never know what she really likes. I know that she loves drawing and painting, so anything along those lines works well for her, but toys-wise she can be a mystery. She likes 'whatever the girls in her class like'. Which makes it difficult as I have no idea what they like.

3. Do that bead thing.

Look into my tired eyes, not around the tired eyes, and you're into a deep sleep:YES, it IS the perfect time to 'quickly & magically' tangle my hair into undo-able knots. And 3,2,1, you're back in the room.

We have this purple box of little teeny plastic beads sitting on top of the wardrobe. It's actually a hair beading kit, and it's been up there since Christmas, mostly because every time I think of it in Orla's hands I imagine having to chop big chunks of hair off of her head that are tangled up in beads to an extent that is unsalvageable. I am starting to wish that 5 was another year away. And if this hair beader falls into the hands of Hamish then we're all in trouble.

4. Make a cake.

Easy. We do this all the time. Practically weekly when the weather is bad. No problem. Except we didn't. We made yorkshire puddings instead to Delia's recipe. And ate them too quickly to take photos.

5. Do my homework.

God, I hate maths. Even reception-level maths bores me to tears. And finger-counting makes me want to scream. You already have TEN fingers so we agree on that so let's not start at 1 again....pleeeeeeaaaasssseeee.

Really? Is it possible that she was switched at birth with another studious baby that looked an awful lot like Stevie? I think she must have been running out of things to achieve before reaching the momentous age of 5. Getting your homework done is at least a good aim to have. I should be encouraging that instead of going 'eh???'.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Choo, choo, choo, there's even a tiny little conga at Loxx Miniatur Railway

All trains powered underneath by hamsters with magnets on their backs, or similar magic.

I like to think that when you lie in your bed at night and think of me, 'train-spotter' is not the first label that comes to mind. 'Google-stalker', yes, 'bad-person-with-a-compulsive-habit-for-flushing-uneaten-breakfast-cereals-down-the-toilet', absolutely, but 'trainspotter/model train admirer', nah, no thanks.

Beach Volleyball. If you peer really closely you'll see Stevie in his bikini at Beach 61 
Seriously! Stop putting spin on that ball! If I have to go into those bushes to get it one more time, I will Dr Pong you into next week!! 

So even I was surprised to find myself at Loxx Miniature Railway yesterday morning. Well not surprised to be there, me and my pal at Workingberlinmum got the tickets half price on Groupon and saw it as a perfect little outing. "Oh, your kids will love it!" our mutual friends said. "The trains! The boys will think it's amazing!", "Honestly, it's fantastic: a great place to take kids!". Yeah, yeah, as if we're taking the kids. That would spoil our fun! We were taking our cameras on a little outing; cameras that don't moan after 5 minutes that they're bored and want a snack. Two glorious hours we had! And we snapped away like mad, stuffing images onto our memory cards like we'd never have the opportunity again. It's nice doing these things with someone just like yourself. S starts to complain after a while that I can't seem to enjoy experiences unless I am viewing them with one eye closed, a camera stuck to my face, and a constant 'snap, snap, snap' soundtrack.

Sandstation (beside the O2) I've seen this! I've seen this! Well, that's me peering through gaps in the fence cause S wouldn't pay the entrance fee and said we'd go 'another time'....grrr...honestly it's amazing!

I can't tell what the joke is here, unless the guy who built this section thought everybody had an extra toe on each foot...."and this little piggy was a special little extra piggy and cried 'weee, weee, weee, weeee', all the way to the Kinderarzt"

Anyway, it was great fun. I am surprised that I haven't heard of it before and now that I have I seem to be coming across more and more blog posts about it (all with better photos than mine). It's right at the top of the Alexa shopping centre in Mitte on the third floor. You can find it by following your nose. We were the only people there on Thursday morning, well just us and the smell of chip fat that followed us around and was seeping out of the exhibition and there to take your tickets at the front desk.

No, this can't be Berlin: why if it was there would be at least 3 Berliner Kindl beer stands in this photo.

Night time in Berlin. I may have been criticising the rather tragic clouds they had fashioned for the sky, but I was hugely impressed by the brilliance of the thunderstorm. 

They have managed to construct a mini Berlin with lots of humour in a huge room with dreadful lighting. It was really hard to keep the lights from appearing in the background of all the photos and it seems like an impossibility to take a photo of the Fernsehturm without strip lighting kind of spoiling it. But aside from that, it's great. There are trains galore, and the airport section is excellent. You can see planes taking off and 'flying' into giant cubic clouds, and see President Obama getting greeted off his plane on the runway. There is even a row of airplane seats for you to sit and watch all the action.

Good evening President Obama. We've booked the Bier-bike for you & the secret service men for 10am tomorrow. At 12pm you'll be met at the viewing platform of the Park Inn for your abseil, then your driver will collect you and take you to Tropical Islands for the G8 summit ice-breaking session.

Meanwhile in the main display area you can admire all the standard Berlin sites and enjoy some of the ones you might not have seen. I really, really want to visit Spreepark in Treptower Park where there was a funfair and some fairy tale houses and so on. It looks amazing except the real thing closed down years ago. You can see parts of it in the film Hanna - which is a really good film if you haven't seen it.

President Reagan: "Folks, it's time to draw back your iron curtains and let some capitalist sunshine in"... or words to that effect. Man, I missed my calling as a speech writer...

Other highlights were listening/watching JFK and Reagan give speeches in front of the Reichstag, hunting for nudists in the Tiergarten, and the kite flying on the hill. It would be a great day trip for kids it has to be said but at a normal price of 12 euros for adults and I think 6 euros per child (above 100cm tall) it might be better waiting for another Groupon deal.

Loxx Miniature Railway, Berlin
andBerlin post
Uberlin post
Workingberlinmum post

My other Groupon adventures:
Unsicht-bar - eating in the dark restaurant
Panoramapunkt - sightseeing from the top of Kollhof Tower.
Die Welt hot air balloon - sightseeing from Berlin's famous hot air balloon
Like I just stepped out of a salon - getting a Groupon haircut - eek

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Playmobil Olympics: Is it wrong to be more excited by this than the real thing?

So, I am still thrilled by the fact that I am now here in Germany until at least November. I couldn't be happier. Well I could but that would involve finding out a giant Tesco was opening up round the corner selling everything I wanted it to sell at UK prices.

The funny thing is though that when I found out that we had a 6 month extension there was a bit of me that kind of went 'oh', in an ever-so-slightly, how-can-I-admit-this, disappointed way. Because I think once you think you have settled on the idea that you are going back, (whether you like it or not,) you start making plans about what you are going to do once you get back, and you start thinking more seriously about all the ways you can make this move a good move. And I know my list of 'things to be positive about' was not exactly large, but I suppose I had decided in my head that this wasn't going to happen, and I had made my peace with that.

I'd come up with a few more things that I was looking forward to, though still not feeling over-enthused about trudging through the Peak District on my weekends. One of the things I was looking forward to was being in England for the Olympics this summer. Not that I have tickets for anything, but it would be nice just to get wrapped up in the excitement, watch the events in English, and maybe even take a wee jaunt down to London to soak up the atmosphere for a few days (of atmospheric shopping). So my happiness was tinged with a little sadness for the things that we're not going to be doing in England at the end of May.

But look! Look what I saw in the new Playmobil catalogue!! Germany might not be hosting the 2012 Olympics but they have launched the Playmobil version. Aren't they great? I have already been dreaming about expanding the range to include a whole Olympic village and sports arenas and tv cameras, and medal podiums, and a little Playmobil Heather Small at the centre of the opening ceremony with a little Playmobil microphone that you can belt out "What have you done today to make you feel proud?..." while you re-enact everything. Wouldn't that be AMAZING?

Alas, there are just a few figures to collect. My favourites are the weightlifter and the gymnasts.

Beach Volleyball - Great tans & one that the men no doubt will love.

Fencing - Is that a riposte or a parry? I don't know, I'm only getting these words off of the Olympic's website . If it wasn't for the 'foils' I could easily mistake them for beekeepers.

Gymnastics - The balance beam. -  She's already lost out on a perfect 10, sadly marked down for her lack of flexibility (unless they've made her out of bendy rubber, which would be awesome!)

Hammer - Just LOVING the fact that the hammer thrower is a little bit 'chunky'!

Pommel Horse - He's great, isn't he? Look at the attention to detail: you can see his toes are in tights. I wouldn't be surprised if he got the gold.

Javelin - Nice to see she's made an effort to look pretty by putting on her mascara.

Judo - After 5 minutes of getting thrown around, I bet one of these competitors won't be smiling.  Oh, it's making me wish they had made sumo wrestlers. Can you imagine how cool that would be? That's not in the Olympics though is it?

Asymmetric bars - Love this. I hope she has enough room to swing round the high bar. I'd be disappointed if she couldn't. Maybe with bent legs, you think?

Rings - Love that he is Asian. And that could be so much fun to play with on your desk. 

Shooting - This one doesn't excite me very much. Can I swap it for a sumo wrestler please?

Swimming - sweet. Take your Olympics with you into the bath. Mark out lanes with bath crayons.

Table Tennis - I know, I know, it's a terrible racial stereotype, but I'm putting my money on the guy in blue, and I'm also turning his bat upside down in that funny professional hold ping pong players do.

Tennis - I wonder if they'll reissue this set in time for Wimbledon and give the guy on the right brown hair. It looks just like Andy Murray losing yet again in the final stages :-)

Track cycling - digging the glasses, but I am hoping that helmet is really streamlined at the back.

Weightlifting - Mr Awesome. LOVE the stubble, and love the bend in the bar with all the weight.  Hope he grunts too.

They are available to buy on the Playmobil Deutschland website now, and will be available in the UK from June.

Link: Olympics figures for sale on the website


Until NOVEMBER! At least. Maybe more! That's a whole summer! That's an extra 6 months of joy! That's 3 months of excellent schooling for Hamish! That's oodles more mid-week nights out! That's more time with friends! That's completely and utterly confirmed! And that's all!!! I'm thrilled!!!!!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Well, you know what they say about Brits abroad.

Hic. Stevie & I were invited to a do at the British Embassy by a friend of ours who works there. Scratch that, by the parents of Orla's best friend whose dad works there - we just live vicariously off of the back of her social life, and occasionally benefit from it. The event was arranged by the Embassy as they wish to engage more with the British community living in Berlin. So I asked some friends to come along, and just as well I did, because not only did Stevie get ill and thus decide to stay home, but I needed their steadying arms to lean on to get home. 

It was a casual enough affair. No ballgowns or cocktail dresses, no black tie. The dress code on our lovely white card invites stated "Business suit". Given that I haven't worked in business since I had the kids that proved more of a headache than I had thought it might. In fact, it was almost harder to sort an outfit for that than it was to dress Orla as a rainbow from her favourite book for International Book Day that morning. (It's the shoes mostly, I don't have the shoes any more for these things. Actually, I have yellow shoes or red shoes or turquoise or pink shoes that I could have worn if I had gone as a rainbow, but black business heels are slightly lacking.)

As it started at 6pm I decided not to eat beforehand. And then once I was there I didn't really fancy eating. Possibly because I'd already started drinking. The big disappointment of the night was that while there were silver service waiters complete with big silver platters, they were sadly not piled high with pyramids of Ferrero Rocher, but with tiny sandwiches, dates wrapped in bacon, mini skewers of cherry tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella. Oh, and free drink. Endless free drink. They gave up with the trays of glasses after a while and just followed me around with a bottle. I don't know how much I drank on an empty stomach, but I do know I very only a vague idea of what the message they were trying to get across through last night was.

I remember the prize draw, and all of us singing happy birthday to Orla's friend's dad, and I remember them wanting us to watch a film about, well it was either about the Olympics or about the 'Great' Britain campaign, but what I remember about it was that they had used M People as the soundtrack. You know, "What have you done today, to make you feel proud?..." - yup, that one. That seems to have been used for every promotional 'upbeat/patriotic/blah, blah' British event for the past 10 years. Seriously, has there been nothing else to replace that yet?

I took my camera with me because I thought the building would be architecturally wonderful to photograph. And it probably was, but at the beginning of the night I felt a bit self-conscious, and by the time I had lost that self-consciousness, the architecture had gone a little bit blurry. It was a great night though, I met a few people I knew from Rolls-Royce, and a few people I knew from the school, and a few more people like myself who were having more than a little trouble getting their sentences to come out straight.

We stayed beyond the official end of the event. In fact we stayed until the wine ran out and the waiters took the glasses from our hands. Though my good friend at the top did put up a particularly good fight for hers with a waiter with enormous muscles. He might have been strong, but he wasn't strong enough to come between a girl and her last dribble of wine.

So perhaps I am meant to be full of the joys of patriotism this morning, and blogging about how exciting it will be for M People to be back in the charts this summer, but it's all a bit of a blur. Oh, there was a bit about a gate as well, though I am not sure what that was really about. And there was a bit where I mistook someone from Rolls-Royce for one of Frau Dietz's friends from Uni, and nearly asked "How is it you seem about 6 inches taller since the last time I saw you?". But judging from the shocking deterioration of my photos over the course of 2.5 hours, I'd say it was a roaring success!

P.S. Completely coincidentally, I read this article in the Guardian this morning about national stereotypes which is quite funny. 

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