I Want, Never Gets

Good advice from The Rolling Stones...

Good advice from The Rolling Stones…

In a rare moment of televisual bad taste, I watched a few minutes of one of these celebrity wedding programs (you know the kind: X-list TV star helps incompetent would-be groom/bride to pop the question, find a venue/suit/dress etc… “all in the best pahsible taste!”, as Cuddly Ken would have said…) the other day. I think I felt a few hundred brain cells go belly-up.

Not only was the cringeworthy-factor heightened by the celeb presenter’s massive fake eyelashes and pneumatic breasts and the couple’s truly horrific taste (note: no-one should ever, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, get married in a hot pink meringue-dress. Got that?), but by the continual use of the phrase, “I want…” followed by whatever moronic demand had just popped into either of their heads. As my Mother always said, “I want, never gets” (after which my Father would chime in with a rendition of The Rolling Stones‘ song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want).

It is a maxim which applies to pretty much any situation in life. For example, we wanted to invite everyone we know to our wedding, seven years ago, but as we were paying for it ourselves and my parents were hosting the party in their garden (not the tiniest garden, it has to be said, but not a massive sweeping expanse of lawn either) we had to limit the guest list. Did this diminish our enjoyment of the occasion? Not a bit.

I want a house that would make Martha Stewart weep with envy. I want box rooms, a laundry, a pantry, a massive kitchen with all mod cons, a living/dining room with a beautiful ceramic wood-burning stove and, most importantly, a bedroom for every child (plus guest rooms – note the use of the plural) and a well-appointed master bedroom with an en suite bathroom (with a bath) and walk-in wardrobes. I have thought about this quite a bit, can you tell? But is this likely to happen? I have not entirely given up hope, but I don’t think our budget will ever be able to cater to this level of luxury. Will I be disappointed to live in a smaller home, but one which we can afford without going broke and ending up owing masses to the bank for the rest of our lives? No, not really. Well, maybe a tiny bit, but I don’t think it will ruin my life. I am happy to have a home. So many people do not have that luxury.

Beginning to sound a bit Pollyanna-ish. Perhaps a bit Panglossian?…anyhoo…

My point is, there are many things we may want in life, but we can’t always have them. And if we can have them, do we need them? It surely cannot be good to always be able to get everything you want. Can it? And is it right that television, which appears to be the moral guide for so many people these days, perpetuates the “greed is good” theory of life and makes them believe that it is correct to demand, demand, demand. Are we really a society of pirates, sticking to the code of “Take what you can…Give nothing back”? Or is Mick Jagger really a great 20th Century philosopher? Crikey…this is what happens when I watch bad television.

I am also interested in your thoughts on this. Please feel free to leave (relevant) comments/thoughts below. Thanks!

Budget Christmas Blues

We still have a couple of weeks before Christmas and I have less (much less) than EUR 200 in the bank account. Dear Husband is also broke. Christmas Day is fast approaching and we are asaulted on all sides by adverts and expectations.

“I got them budget Christmas blues…” (cue soulful harmonica music)

Like many, many other families this year, it is going to be slim pickings under the tree for Darling Daughter and Son #1 (Son #2 is too young to remember, thank goodness). Everyone outside of the Inner Sanctum (husband, kids) will be getting homemade presents. I have been doing homemade gifts for many years, so hopefully no-one will notice (unless they read this blog…hmmm…)

At this point, I would like to have a rant about the pressures exerted on families via the horrendous advertising that is foisted upon us on television, radio, via mail (yeah, thanks a lot local toystore, I really needed you to dump a massive, colourful, tempting catalogue of all your children’s toys through our door…) and on every high street. I would like to, but I just don’t have the energy. We all know it happens. The question simply comes down to whether we can resist or not. But when you are broke, the choice is pretty much made for you.

Sorry, this post is sounding a bit whingey and sorry-for-oneself. We are by no means in the kind of dire straits that requires, for example, food bank usage (hats off, by the way to Jack Monroe and her campaign #JACKSPETITION) and although I have been trying to sell some of my clothes (suits that (I hope) I will never need again) on eBay, it is not an act of desperation; more one of  frugality. We will be able to buy one or two nice new presents for our kids for Christmas (because, let’s face it, kids do not need a pile of pressies the size of Mount Everest…will save this for another post). And if I am brutally honest, I do have a tendency to spend money on things that are not absolutely necessary (see, for example, my nice shiny new Shellacked nails or that nice new kitchen gadget for biscuit decorating…). But it does seem that no matter what we do, no matter how we do try to budget and cut down on the uneccesary, there never seems to be enough money (particularly at the moment when I am on only 75% of my normal salary..ah, maternity leave…).

Three kids are not exactly inexpensive to raise (but we chose to have them and we will always make sure they have what they need, if not always what they want). If we did not have them in daycare then it would be a lot cheaper for us (a hell of a lot cheaper, it must be admitted). But if we did not have them in daycare, I would not be able to go out to work (Germany still has a very retro attitude to working mothers…again, I will save this for a separate post…) and as I am currently the major breadwinner in our family, this would not be a good thing. We were also really screwed over when we took out the mortgage on our current house (well, the land our house happens to be on) as we were not actually resident in Germany at the time, so had to agree to horrendous rates of interest (which really bites, now that interest rates are so ridiculously low). We are half way through the 10 year mortgage now and if we re-negotiated the terms of our mortgage we would have to start all over again. Which we really don’t want to do now that we are actually starting to pay off the capital. Damnation.

Have you ever done one of those Facebook quizzes that purports to tell you what literary character you are? I don’t need to, I know who I am: Meg, from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women“. Poor, but old enough to remember the good times… It’s all in the name.

*slap*

Ok, enough wallowing. It is in my nature, but I will not allow it. When you have kids and it is the festive season, no amount of worry for Christmas/life Future is allowed to dampen the spirit of Christmas/life Present.

It’s all in the jeans

Warning: girly content. If you are a bloke, look away now.

Every woman has a favourite pair of jeans, right? They are the faithful clothing friend that you can rely on to always make you feel great and look good. Or just to be damned comfy. Or, indeed, all three. You can pull them on without thinking whether or not they will fit/look good/match whatever is going on your top half. As long as they are clean, of course.

And then, one day, a tragedy occurs. They break. Irreparably.

This happened to me a week ago. I had a pair of jeans from H&M that I LOVED. They fit me well, looked cool, were incredibly comfy and did wonders for my backside/hip area. I think I probably wore them almost constantly for 2 years. Due to their low waist, I was also able to wear them during my last pregnancy until around the 6th month, when my girth finally necessitated maternity jeans. You cannot imagine my joy at finding I could fit back into my good ol’ pair of jeans a few weeks after Tom’s birth (although I must admit that this is probably more due to the amount I stretched them through continuous wear than any amazing, model-like postpartum shrinking on my part).

Last Monday, while in the usual oh-my-god-we-only-have-20-minutes-to-get-ready-and-get-to-school!!! mayhem, I pulled my freshly washed jeans out of the laundry basket, heaved them upwards and heard, to my dismay, a loud ripping sound coming from the back left-hand side. Nonononononononono!!! A quick inspection found that the fabric between the back pocket and the central seam had finally become so worn that it simply gave way, creating a massive, awkwardly-placed and irreparable hole. Damn.

This means that for the past week I have had to wear my Fat Day jeans, which are totally unflattering and normally only worn in the depths of a Fat Day depression. This means I have had a week of feeling utterly unattractive. It is fatuous and silly, I know, but if I don’t look well put together and appropriately dressed, I feel bad. I feel depressed. It is something that has plagued me since childhood (as my long-suffering parents and, now, husband can attest). Unless I have been clever and laid out my outfit for the next day before going to bed, wardrobes may be divested of all their contents in a search for the right top/jumper/cardigan/trousers/skirt; several complete changes of outfit may be pulled on and then discarded; once the clothing has been sorted out and approved (by me), I may then try on several different pairs of shoes before I am satisfied that I am appropriately attired and shod. This knowledge makes me feel calm and able to face what the day may throw at me (which, when I am at work, can be just about anything…).Yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous this sounds. There are many, many more important things to worry about in this life than how one looks (the seriously depleted state of our bank accounts, for one…). What can I say? It is a foible.

This rigmarole does not happen every day, I hasten to point out. I am not (yet) a complete basket case, and this has mainly been thanks to my wonderful, newly departed jeans.

So, The Great Jeans Hunt of 2013/2014 is on! My local H&M has decided that no-one over a size 38 wishes to purchase clothing of any kind at their store, so I fear I will have to make an expedition downtown and trawl through every High Street purveyor of denim until I find another miracle pair of jeans. Ugh. As the Christmas Markets are now up and the teeming hordes have now descended upon downtown Hamburg, this thought does not fill me with joy.

Does anyone have any suggestions where to start? Where did you purchase your favourite jeans? What is your preferred style of jeans? Are there any online shops that you recommend? I would love to hear your suggestions!

On Christmas

I have been sitting here, starting and deleting several versions of this blog post. Why? Because I am not sure what to write and there is so much I could write.

Should I reminice about past Christmasses?

Discuss how Christmas has changed for us since having kids (especially now that the elder two are old enough to really get excited by the whole affair)?

Should I get philosophical and wade into the debate as to when exactly (and why) it became “not the done thing” to use Christian greetings or terminology at a time of year when it is a (predominantly) Christian festival (all pre-Christian elements aside) that is being celebrated?

How about a discussion as to when it is appropriate to start celebrating, i.e. is it right that shops kit themselves out for “Xmas” the minute they have whipped the Halloween goodies off the shelves? Who wants to listen to carols in October…? When is too early to put up a tree?

Should I allow myself a mini-rant on the subject of culture clashes at this time of year? Tempting…tempting…it is something that deeply irritates me, that while I accomodate my husband and his family in their European tradition of having Father Christmas arrive with the presents on the evening of December 24th, to be distributed and opened immediately amid renditions by the children of various traditional songs/poems, my tradition, whereby Father Christmas comes unseen during the night of Christmas Eve and presents are opened amid squeals of excitement on the morning of December 25th, is largely dismissed as nonsence. This results in an annual argument, the solution to which is an uneasy compromise whereby only presents from his family are given/opened on the 24th and we tell the kids a tale to explain why Father Christmas came twice and then on the 25th they open up the presents from us and my family. It is not perfect, but until we come up with a better solution (or my family-in-law recognise that just because it is not their tradition does not make it less valid…I am not holding my breath…) it will have to do. I guess. Ok, I gave into temptation…

What about a debate on the virtues of homemade vs. store-bought presents?

How about a bit of crystal ball-gazing as to how future Christmasses will be celebrated?

I don’t know. Is it a fitting analogy of the glut that tends to accompany this time of year that I cannot choose, from all the possible options, one thing on which to write? Hmmm…

Well, it is only the second day in December, so perhaps I will discuss some, all or none of the above in the following weeks. We shall see.

A cure for the common cold: motherhood

The leaves have fallen, the ground is frosty, the air is frigid and redolent of the sound of sneezing far and wide. Yes, this marks the start of The Cold Season. But take heart! A cure for the Common Cold has been found: motherhood.

Mothers do not get sick. We simply don’t have time. My grandmother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 32 and given six months to live. She told the doctor she was the mother of three small children and did not have time to die. And she was right; she lasted another 30 years.

This maxim is especially true if you have young children (older ones do, obviously, still require maternal care, but as they are not quite so dependent, my feeling is that they can fend for themselves for the three days it takes for a person to battle through to the other side of a headcold). No matter how thoroughly rotten you feel, a baby still needs to be changed, fed, burped and played with. No matter how much you would like to down a bottle of nighttime cold and flu syrup and drift into a medicated oblivion, if you have a child (or indeed, children) under the age of five years of age, this is simply not an option. Nightmares and bogeymen under the bed will still need to be fought off with The Power of Mum. There will still be the occasional nocturnal toilet trip that happened just. too. late. Dinners need to be prepared and the eating of said dinners still need to be monitored, despite your sniffles, coughs and sneezes. And if your kids are already in school or in daycare (as is the case with my two eldest), lunch boxes still need to be made and the school runs endured (unless you are lucky enough to have someone who can do this for you).

Mothers take it all in their stride. We moan and complain about it to our friends (or perhaps to the blogosphere…), but The Cold Season is just another one of those things through which we persevere while those around us drop like the preverbial flies. Which is what we would do too, if we had the time…

To a certain extent I can understand anyone thinking, “well, you chose to be a mother, so you should have thought about this before getting pregnant!” But I don’t seriously think that anyone has ever decided against motherhood based on the idea that you would not have enough/any time in which to recover from a cold or even ‘flu. At least I hope not.

I think the thing that irks many a mother is that many a husband will take to their deathbeds at the merest hint of a temperature. The Man ‘Flu Debate is not one I want to get into here…but it is irritating beyond belief to be a paid-up member of The Walking Dead, yet still be expected to take care of the children, hold down a full time job and take care of the housework, when while when sick, your darling spouse nurses a Lemsip and weakly offers his help “should you really need it…”

No, that’s ok dear, I’ve got it all covered (cough, cough, sneeze).*

*Spousal “get out of trouble” clause: my husband is actually fairly wonderful and helps out enormously if I am sick or have a migraine (a near future blog topic…)

Thanksgiving – mixed blessings

In nine days, millions of people across the North American Continent will be celebrating the annual festival of Thanksgiving. This will be done in a myriad of different ways, but all will adhere to one basic tenet: gluttony in the company of as much of your family as you can fit around a table. And don’t get me wrong: I love Thanksgiving Dinner (although I am more in favour of a roast ham than a roast turkey) and a little food-coma-inducing gluttony is good for the soul (even if it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins…).

However, many will only have a basic idea of why, exactly, they are shovelling turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie like there is no tomorrow. Which, indirectly, is why they are doing so.

On the last Thursday of November, we citizens of the US of A (whether we live there or no), give thanks to the kindness of strangers in a strange land who pitied the poor, starving colonists who had come to start new lives in this vast, unknown (at least to Europeans) land as unprepared as newborn babes. For thousands of whom there was no tomorrow as sickness, starvation (due to failed crops and a lack of knowledge of the indigenous fauna and flora) and attacks by the (quite rightly angry) native “Indians” took their toll.

In a fateful moment of kindness (or perhaps just acceptance of a fait accompli) local natives brought the inhabitants of one colonial town food, drink and renewed hope that they could indeed forge the new lives as they had hoped. We colonists then repaid this by killing our hosts in vast numbers (both intentionally and via introduction to diseases against which they had no resistance), taking their land and then confining the remaining Peoples into what amount to no more nor less than concentration camps (in the original sense of the term). Nice.

All historical guilt aside, one of the things I like about this festival is that it makes us stop for a moment and think, “for what am I truly grateful?”

So for what am I grateful? Well, this year I am grateful that I was safely delivered of (another) son (as the Royals say…) and that he is just as wonderful as his siblings. But mostly, and forever, I am grateful to the wonderful team of doctors and nurses at the hospital in Brussels, Belgium (where I was living at the time) who, four years ago this month, saved my life.

It was late November, so when my throat started to hurt I did not really think much about it. Another cold. At worst, perhaps another bout of tonsilitis. Meh. I went to my GP and he diagnosed just that and sent me on my way with a prescription for amoxicillin. A misdiagnosis that may actually have helped save my life, as it turned out. A day later and the crick in my neck was now a painful ache between my shoulder blades, which only got worse. An out of hours doctor was called to our apartment and she diagnosed a pinched nerve and gave me a shot of heavy-duty muscle relaxant. I slept.

When I awoke I was cold. Freezing. Shivering. But boiling hot to the touch and sweating like the proverbial pig. I hit the shower, yet no matter how hot I turned it, I just could not get warm. I got out of the shower, collapsed onto the bathroom floor in the foetal position and screamed with terror to my (probably petrified husband) that something was trying to take me away from him and my baby girl (who would be turning one year old in just over a week from then). He dried me off, got me into my pyjamas, into bed and brought me some water. I could not keep it down. All that day I could not keep anything in my stomach. By evening, he called another doctor who came round immediately.

At that time, Swine Flu was sweeping through the country (and most of Europe) and with my 40 degree fever, the good doctor suspected I may have caught a dose. He called an ambulance, which arrived with much flashing of lights and screaming of sirens. Men wearing masks carried me out on a stretcher before the big, big eyes of my baby girl and the curious gazes of our neighbours. At the hospital they did a lumbar puncture. And that is when they found out that I did not have tonsilitis, a pinched nerve or Swine Flu. I had meningitis. They never did determine whether it was of the bacterial or viral variety, as my taking amoxicillin had half killed it, but also made it impossible to differentiate (at least that is how I remember the explanation…)

I spent the next week in lonely splendour in the isolation unit of St. Pierre’s Hospital. I don’t remember much, as I was alternately at the mercy of fever or asleep. But the kindness of strangers shone through like a lighthouse in a storm. The cool hands resting on my forehead. The fact that they never, ever let the pain medication drip run out before replacing it. The calm, quiet voice in the wee hours of the morning that told me, “everything is going to be ok”. The fact that they took me seriously when I said I would be going home in time for my daughter’s 1st birthday.

Thank you.

And I did. I fought and I made it home on the 22nd of November: Belle’s birthday. We opened her presents together while I lay in bed. It was the best birthday party ever.

So, what are you thankful for? I would love to know. Leave a comment below.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…

Well, not that old *actually*, but yes, I have many children (three in fact – currently* – under the age of five) and I frequently do not know what to do. I do believe that spanking can be a useful parental tool in the Battle of Bedtime (and other such situations), but not as a first resort. I do not live in a shoe, but I do own many, many pairs.

So this is my “me”  blog. This is where I will whinge, rant, giggle, gossip and give you a glimpse into my life. Here, I will share the funny/sad/interesting/outrageous with you. Here, I will post pictures/photos/videos of people, places and things that I like. Or that I don’t like. It depends… Here, I will review, discuss, dissect and point out.

You get the idea.

If you are looking for recipes or household stuff, please see my other blog.

* Autumn 2013