Saturday, 27 October 2012

I love it here.

Germany is full of surprises. I love that. What do you make of this place? Maybe you've seen a few blog posts elsewhere about all the abandoned places in Berlin that people like to sneak into, crawl under the fencing, slip past the security, and explore and photograph before they get bought up by developers and turned into luxury apartments or spas for all the horrible people like us who are turning up and causing all the gentrification in this quite lovely tumbledown city.

I've visited this place 3 or 4 times in the past month, pretty much weekly to be honest. It's got a cool vibe: like the place just shut its gates at 5:30pm one night, security locked up, and no one remembered to come back. All the buildings are falling apart, the greenery is taking over, nature reclaiming what was previously there, swallowing the man made bit by bit. I've often looked at locations like this online and wished I was brave enough to visit one and go a bit mad with my camera. Top of my list would the old GDR amusement park (Spreepark) at Treptower Park. But I'm not that brave. Too scared of getting caught and dragged off by the polizei. I don't go to this place alone. Not a chance. It would defeat the purpose. I take Hamish.

We're going back on Monday. Because this is where we meet Dr Pistor. Hamish's hernia surgeon. That building in the first picture? That's where he works. It's where we go to see how Hamish is progressing post-surgery each week. Mad, isn't it? He's a really nice man, great manner, excellent surgeon, and he's one of the last people working on this hospital site. According to one of the nurses I spoke to it won't be long before even Dr Pistor is edged out by the undergrowth. Well, not the undergrowth, by the people who are going to tur the place into a spa apparently.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The best advent calendars: 2012

Last year I wrote about all the advent calendar choice I discovered in Berlin. I was pretty impressed. We settled on two Playmobil advent calendars and I was pretty pleased with them to be honest. I managed to shop around and get them at a good price in Germany, and what would be a really good price in the UK :)

This year, I am slightly less impressed. Why? Because they look the same as last year!!!! I'm always disappointed when I get the feeling they've just rolled out all last years stock from the stock room but are still selling it at full price. Pah! I know that this isn't really the case but on the whole this years selection of advent calendars doesn't really look like it's differing from last years.

So here's the run down:

Playmobil (around EUR 12.99 - 14.99)

Playmobil this year have a choice of 6 advent calendars this year, which includes 2 new ones this year. All of them are available on the website for a great price between Euros 12.99 - 14.99, which is cheaper than you can usually find them in the shops, but there is a delivery charge to add. I'd quite like either of the new ones this year, or both to be honest. One is snappily called in English (thanks to Google translate, no doubt) 'Police Alert Treasure Robbers on the run'. With a title like that the only other thing you need to know is that the scene is set in a museum, and you get to lower the robber from the ceiling in a Mission Impossible kind of way!

The other new advent calendar from Playmobil is the Reiterhof, or horse stables. I like this one a lot. It's got a 3 horses, some people, and a little carriage you can attach to a horse and pull around. This one is potentially more for girls, but I reckon both boys and girls might like it.

The other Playmobil advent calendars are: Princess Castle; Knights Tournament (which I haven't ever seen in the shops, which Hamish likes the look of); Pirate Treasure Cave; and Forest Animals. Forest Animals is the only one this year which features Santa. There doesn't seem to be Santa's Post Office this year, though I imagine it will be available online somewhere.

Lego (around EUR 19.99 - 29.99)

Hamish has decided that he wants the Lego advent calendar this year. There are a few designs available Lego City Fire and Star Wars and this year there is also a Lego Friends advent calendar. The Star Wars one retails at a higher price than the others, and I do think these are all expensive in relation to what the potential contents might be. Mind you, you probably get the same amount of Lego in these advent calendars as you would in the Friends, City, or Star Wars sets on sale at the same prices. It's just that they are all just made from tiny pieces (for obvious reasons) that makes me feel slightly cheated.

Filly (approx EUR 22.00)
This is Orla's advent calendar of choice this year. She's taken a recent interest in all things 'Filly' and wants this advent calendar more than words could describe! Here's a sneaky peak that I found online:

Filly Advent Calendar - Tv-spot from AZT-Media on Vimeo.

Awesome stuff, huh? Take that girl's look of wonderment and multiply it by 10 and you'll get an approximation of Orla's face when she sees that jewellry.

Littlest Pet Shop (around EUR 15.99 - 22.00)

Along similar lines to the Filly advent calendar is The Littlest Pet Shop advent calendar which retails on Amazon UK for £21.49, and is available on for Euros 15.99 - MUCH CHEAPER! If you buy yours through Amazon you'll see that there are a few styles of advent calendar packaging to choose from, presumably these are from past years.

ZhuZhu Pets (from £10.98*)

I'm not sure how popular ZhuZhu Pets are fairing in popularity nowadays, but if you want an advent calendar a bit cheaper than the others, Amazon UK has the Zhu Zhu Pets one for £10.98 (previously £29.99). It has a board to lay out which is designed as a little house set, and each of the daily windows contains either a little plastic hamster or a piece of furniture. It looks quite sweet I think.

Polly Pocket (around EUR 11.99 - 17.99)

I had reckoned we would be buying a Polly Pocket advent calendar this year, but Orla's not quite as keen on Polly Pocket as I thought she might be. Which is a shame really because have the 2012 advent calendar on sale for Euros 11.99 and if I bought both my advent calendars from there I'd be eligble for free delivery! So what do you get? Well it looks to me like you get one doll (Polly) and every day you get an item of clothing or an accessory. I reckon most Polly Pocket fans would love this calendar, and you'd have a good collection of outfits for Polly by Christmas Eve. I wish I could gather a Christmas wardrobe in a similar fashion.

Barbie (EUR 18.39 - 29.99)

Oh dear Barbie, I'm not impressed. Orla is just getting to the stage of being 'into' Barbie in quite a big way, and I might have considered buying the barbie advent calendar had I not just seen a photo of the contents. One dress??? Seriously? That's crazy. Even with all the accessories, the only way I would think this was good value was if they had included one of their entry level basic Barbie's in the box. They're only a couple of Euros, surely it wouldn't have hurt. I've seen this on sale at 30 Euros which just seems ridiculously overpriced. It's not even a fancy Christmas 'gown'!

Haribo (around EUR 7.99)

I've not really had a look at the chocolate advent calendars this year. Instead for the non-chocolate lovers, here's an advent calendar that seems to be pretty popular on Amazon. Behind each door is a different Haribo sweet or (I think) a little toy. It gets pretty excellent reviews, and apparently "is an excellent gift". So there you go.

Die Drei??? (around EUR 14.99 - 19.99)

Now I have to say, I feel this year there's not an awful lot on offer for boys. I haven't seen a Hot Wheels advent calendar this year, and there doesn't seem to be an equal plethora of hideously expensive tiny plastic toy advent calendars for boys as there are for girls (read: Littlest Pet Shop, Filly, My Little Pony, Barbie, Polly Pocket....). Why not? Who knows. Maybe most boys want a Playmobil one or a Lego one and that's it. Nice German boys also like the Die Drei??? advet calendars which are a spin off from the Die Drei??? mystery books and radio series which is very popular here. Admittedly, I know utterly nothing about this but I do know that the advent calendar contains lots of clues which build up to allow you to solve a mystery. Sounds like a pretty cool idea.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Diary of a move: swirly carpets and leaded windows.

I am so bored now of the whole move thing. I am fed up of sorting through all our belongings, and trying to decide which of them could possibly be taking up 35 cubic tons of extra space. I think I've narrowed it down to either the stash of free eyeshadows and mascaras that I get free in some kind of free makeup bag every time I go back to the UK and stock up on No7 products in Boots or Orla's extensive felt tip pen collection. I haven't worn eyeshadow ever really, apart from a brief foray which involved a lot of orange eyeshadow and a misplaced belief that I looked good in it. But still I keep all these free eyeshadows because I convince myself that you never know, there might be a night where I want to wear it and somehow miraculously will be able to apply it first time to achieve perfect smoky eyes and not look like I've been the victim of a rather nasty mugging.

Anyway, I suspect the current source of my moving gloom is Rightmove. A week or so ago I vowed to myself that I absolutely was not going to look on it again until 1 week before our house-hunting trip back to Derbyshire. But Rightmove is the crack cocaine of my life; I keep saying just one more hit and then I'll stop, but I can't stop, and I know it, and it's making me mental. I started out, during the whole fiasco of not being able to get the kids into school, by saying I didn't care where we lived or what we lived in as long as I got the kids into a decent school. And at the time and maybe for a few weeks after we secured the school I stood by that. Then Stevie started saying that he felt we should really look at much bigger places because it would be a real shock for all of us moving from our big apartment into something tiny. And I agreed with him. Then I went a wee bit mad and started looking at places with pools and paddocks and stables for horses that I really would never, ever want to look after or clean out.

Then as more time went by I could hear the first rumblings of Stevie saying "actually it doesn't matter what size of place we live in: it's only temporary", and I knew I had been saved the hassle of having to clean an outdoor heated pool. Bugger.

Now I keep looking at the same measly 5 properties that all look like they would fit in our bedroom and are decorated in the style of 'old person non-chic' and I feel my heart sink. I'm spoiled. I know that. Nonetheless, I can't help but rank them in order of preference and choose an online favourite - which I can guarantee wouldn't be a real life favourite, and then I pretty much set my heart on it. And then someone goes and rents it before us, and before I know it, I am gutted at being beaten to some really hideous carpets, hiddy leaded windows, and the same 'Adams' fireplace that has been a horrid feature in quite a few of our Derby house moves in the past.

So now we are two and a half weeks from our house hunting trip, and after a quick little browse of Rightmove I am totally not going to look again until one week before the trip when I need to make appointments to view.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Diary of a move: when life gets in the way

I think we've all woken up in Barbie's shoes after 6 too many cocktails.

I can't help but think that sometimes in life things happen in order to teach you important lessons about not being too lazy and disorganised and not to leave all the sorting through and throwing out until the day before you move. I believe this because this kind of thing happens to me quite a lot, and my personality type is aligned to just ignore it and carry on merrily surfing the internet without a care in the world. La, la, la-la, la!

Given that Hamish is still getting over his hernia operation, and I am utterly beyond tired keeping tabs on his movements like a Stasi agent with strong suspicions that he's up to no good; I was comfortable with the fact that I was pretty much incapable of doing much else. The dishes have pretty much sat in the sink since Monday night, though I have become more experimental in trying out non-dishwasher safe things in the dishwasher (who knew that Calpol measuring spoons melt in relatively hot water!?), while I have been dealing with the pretty much constant chants of "Mama! Mama!" (Hamish has decided to go German post-operatively it seems). So you can imagine the delight in my voice as I exclaimed "Oh. You. Are. Kidding!" at 1am when I heard a different voice whimpering "Mama! Mama!" from a different room. And ta-da! Orla had  a temperature.

Orla keeps in generally good health. A fact that always surprises me when I realise she hasn't missed a day of school through illness since she started. I like to pat myself on the back thinking that my general shoddy levels of household cleanliness have contributed towards a sterling immune system. Anyway, talk about hard work: it's been crap. I had to take Hamish back to see the surgeon at his clinic in the middle of nowhere yesterday and thankfully Stevie stayed home to look after Orla while I took him. I was really pleased that the operation seems to have gone very well, and Hamish was especially pleased to have the dressing removed and to get the news that he could now have a bath (albeit a camomile tea bath).

I am trying to be more organised about this move, and am taking the opportunity whenever I have it to sort through a cupboard, or clean a bookshelf or whatever while I supervise Hamish to make sure he's not abseiling or whatever in whatever room he happens to be in. So I decided to clean the world's most awkward corner bath before Hamish bathed in it - best not to allow the sediment that lingers under the bath toys that never get removed because they're too awkward to get to, to get into the wound. Anyway, given I had Stevie to take over child supervision, I went for it, and cleaned the giant tiled shelf behind the bath. It's like a metre deep and I can count the number of times I have properly scrubbed it on one finger.

Armed with my Cif with Bleach I scrubbed and scrubbed until everything was sparkling. It brought tears to my eyes to see it so clean, though I suspect that was the fumes from the bleach. Then I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed some more, before running Hamish's bath and boiling up a nice 4 bag litre of tea to pop into it. This is the second prescribed batch of camomile tea baths in our house in the past two weeks - seems to be far more popular here than in the UK. I imagine it is very soothing and gentle on the skin; ideal for after an operation. It was not camomile though that Hamish smelt of as I lifted him out of the bath, but the rather pungent perfume of bleach. God, I felt sick at the thought of it. Mind you, at least the wound was clean.... (arrgghh!!!!)

So terrible a mother I felt, that I did my utmost to make up for it, cooking favourite meals, letting Hamish play a little bit later than normal before bed, etc. Guilt makes me awfully productive. It does nothing for my prioritisation skills however. So instead of getting the dishes done, I stayed up late sewing sleeping bags for Barbie to go camping with. I knew Orla really wanted them and given how rotten she was feeling, I knew she'd be over the moon to discover them in the morning. Today has been a marginal improvement on yesterday, though Orla's temperature keeps going up every time the medicine times out, but we're getting there.

I'm still shattered, but what this has taught me is that things like illness could really put a spanner in the works if it had happened closer to the move, so I need to be organised and get things done early. The removal team manager phoned yesterday and told us that we have 50% more stuff than what we came here with. In my opinion that's utter nonsense, but nonetheless, I am now going through stuff ruthlessly. Or rather I would be if  I wasn't sitting here messing about on the internet....

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hamish recuperates

Hamish had his operation yesterday morning to fix his umbilical hernia, and it was more than a bit emotional for me. I didn't realise how helpless I'd feel watching him being put under the anaesthetic, and it was, well, horrible. For me at least. He was fine. Afterwards he was pretty fine too. He drank two cups of water and then we went home because they wouldn't let him drink any more.

Once home (and thankfully although I have sold the pram I haven't yet handed it over to it's new owner) we settled down to do some new Lego on my bed and he had a few sips of water. Turns out the nurses were right and these sips broke the camel's back. Vomit everywhere. Then because he disgusted himself by being sick, he vomited again and again until I magically said "It's ok! It's just water! Not sick!". And that was him.

So he is to be off school this week, and he'll be off the following week because that's half term, and then, we'll see. The list of things he's not allowed to do, and the list of things he has to be careful doing is very restrictive. It's going to be very hard.

It was hard enough yesterday when he was supposed to spend the day either lying in bed or on the sofa. It was in fact impossible. When he wasn't lying down and was up on his feet I was meant to be holding him just in case he keeled over from the after effects of the anaesthetic. Today he is a bit more mobile, but finding it hard to sit down or get down on the floor. I still can't let him out of my sight though as every time I do he either follows me, running (which is on the list of banned activities) or ends up doing something else which is also banned. This list includes: no jumping, no bouncing, no climbing, no swinging, sliding, or any other playground activities, no running, no cycling, no scooting, no trampolining, and no swimming. Add into that nothing which might cause a fall and you can see how a four week ban on all of these is going to be tiring to say the least. In normal life I can't turn my back without my two abseiling down the back of the sofa, or bouncing off the back of it and springboarding off the seat into the sea (the rug). If I head into the kitchen they'll be at my back scooting through to Orla's room to put on a 'show' on top of her bed. A show that involves a lot of serious high bouncing and splatting on to the floor below - all the better if you can impale yourself on some Playmobil as you land.

I am not looking forward to the next four weeks. I have the feeling that trailing around after Hamish making sure he doesn't land himself in hospital is going to be very tiring indeed. He on the other hand seems to be quite enjoying having me at his beck and call. *sigh*

Monday, 15 October 2012

repatriation: the simple guide.

I've just read a great post about repatriation. I think it pretty much sums up how I feel (or how I think I am going to feel). Either way, awesome. Read it.

In other news, I am utterly shattered and off to bed. Hamish had his hernia operation today and I'm watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn't run, jump, bounce, climb, scoot, ride a bike, trampoline, swing, slide, swim, etc, etc. I struggled, and failed to even keep him on the sofa/in bed today. But we have to not do all those other things for 4 weeks! Killer!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Diary of a move: inventory

I've got a bit of a headache. The kind of headache brought on by days of counting and Googling. I've spent the past few days re-doing our household inventory, which was something that we had to do before the move to Berlin. Basically the way the move works is that you don't pack anything yourself, something which is very disconcerting as you still have full cupboards and your toiletries sitting out on shelves on the day you're moving, but you leave it all to the removal men to pack. Otherwise, apparently, if you've packed anything yourself it's not covered by the insurance.

So instead of merrily flinging things into boxes and binbags (our usual method of moving house) admittedly, usually on the last day, you have another job to do. The household inventory. Talk about a pain. List all the rooms in your house, then room by room list every item in it. Then for Google fans, you have to go through it all and find out how much it would cost to replace each item in your list brand new should it get broken or lost during the move.

That's what I've been doing. Yesterday the guy from the removal company came to have a look round and judge whether all our stuff would fit back into the same sized container that it came across in. The good news is, it does. I thought we were also going to be handing over the inventory and going through that. The bad news (for me) was, we didn't. he didn't need it. I feel like printing the damn thing out and eating it.

In other news, we are just about to book our flights & hotel for our house-hunting trip at the beginning of November! i'm quite excited about that, despite the fact that the very limited choice of houses in the area where we're hoping to rent are all pretty horrible. I'm living in hope that something that I like will appear just a couple of days before our trip at the right price and in a good location. Well, you never know.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pumpkin Dinosaurs are in season.

Of course this move is not all exciting stuff like doing an inventory of every book I've hoarded over the past three decades. No. Indeed sometimes I feel the need to get away from the dust as I crawl around under beds and sideboards looking for the 37th fork, and the need to celebrate finding sausages that went missing in June rises up and we escape from this house into the fresh air, kicking up our heels like Dick van Dyke dancing in Mary Poppins. At the weekend we went to a place I can't talk highly enough about: the Spargel farm. Or Buschmann-Winkelmann Spargelhof in Klaistow to be precise.

We wanted to fit in another visit before we left Berlin, and I knew that it was pumpkin season so it seemed like perfect timing. Because they do this thing where they make stuff out of pumpkins, and I'm not talking about soup and pies. No, they make giant dinosaurs out of pumpkins. If that's not enough to excite the little folk in the backseat of the car, then well, of course you have everything else that the Spargel farm offers. My two particularly wanted to have a last bounce on the inflatable pillows, but sadly it was pretty rainy when we went so bouncing on soaking wet pillows with no spare socks was out.

Anyway, aside from the rather spectacular dinosaur display, I couldn't help but just laugh at the sheer number of pumpkins that were dotted around. They were literally everywhere. On roofs, on fachwerk, in piles in corners, adorning tables, in displays, lining pathways. Everywhere. I wouldn't want to inventory them, let's just put it that way.

If you like pumpkins then this is the place to come. Actually, I'm not such a massive fan of pumpkins myself, my enthusiasm for them if you had asked me a week ago would probably have extended as far as 'indifferent', but the sheer number and variety of them breeds a strange interest in me. I guess it's a bit like the button thing at Knopf Paul the other week; i'm a sucker for things en masse and stacked up stirred up with a little variety. But even if you aren't drawn to this sort of thing, the Spargelhof still has a ton of other things to offer. There's a Mais maze, or should I say a corn labyrinth at the moment, and as always there are weekend events with music and breakfasts and so on. The little stalls selling farm grown produce and smoked fish and honey and all sorts of other things seem always to be in attendance and well worth the money.

Inside the restaurant there is also a really nice little butchers/deli which sells a big range of sausages and meat including a whole section of 'Wild' sausages: Wild Bockwurst, Wild Bratwurst, Wild Blutwurst... but I don't know where they get that from... cough cough...

But I imagine it probably has a high pumpkin content....

For the love of asparagus - my post about this awesome place during Spargel season.

Buschmann-Winkelmann Spargelhof - the official website complete with tweeting bird sounds.

Monday, 8 October 2012

How will Santa know we have moved?

Good grief, is that October already? I feel like I've lost a few days because I dived into the big pile of Harlan Coben novels that I ordered off the Book People, and I've not been able to stop reading until they're all done. I'm on my last one. And Stevie has just broken me from my reading marathon with a phone call to say the removal team will be visiting later this week, and I need to have the apartment fully inventoried before they arrive. And by that I don't mean "Living room: curtains, light fixtures, wood flooring, phone/braodband/power sockets", oh no..... what it means is documenting all our belongings room by room complete with a value for them if we needed to replace them as new. Fun, fun, fun!

To give you an example of how horrific a task this is, I wrote about it here when we were preparing for the move out to Berlin. Let me just say, I have tried really hard not to buy *stuff* that might take us beyond the limits of the container that we must fit it all into, but I have not tried very hard at getting rid of things that we possibly don't need, and haven't needed for a very long time. Things like the highchair which admittedly has performed a really useful role as a coat rack should not be returning to the UK with us. There are other things which looking back at my old post probably should be got rid of. That hurricane lamp is still sitting stuffed with letters that I haven't looked at since before we came here...ugh.

Anyway, I am setting off now, armed with Excel, bin bags, and a strong cup of tea, and I am going to go through this apartment room by room, ruthlessly pricing and tidying, or chucking out or ebaying, and I will not stop until I get bored!

In other news, we finally told the kids that we are moving back to England. After the cheers of "Yay! We're going back to our old house!" subsided we were able to explain that in fact, no we would be going to a different house as we have to find a house near to a school that we can get them into, they were still very happy. Orla in fact couldn't be happier. She asked about her new school, but mostly wanted to know that she would be able to visit her cousins more. Hamish, had one concern, which was "How will Santa know we have moved?", to which I said that when we write to him we can pop in a change of address card, which seemed to satisfy Hamish.

We also told them that we are planning a trip back a few weeks before we move to find a house. I am thoroughly looking forward to this trip as there is nothing I enjoy more than looking round houses. The downside though is that according to Righmove there are very few houses that suit our requirements in the right areas. Hamish asked whether he can choose the house. I think he may struggle to find what he's after even more than I will as he says he wants either a blue house or a black one.

Links: Get ready for a rush of activity!
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