Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love and Other Business

Traditionally, St. Valentine's Day was not celebrated in Germany, but in recent years it has become more and more popular. That is to say, the accompanying merchandise - the chocolates, the flowers, the soft toys with "I Wuv You!" embroidered on their chests - has been stepped up an notch, making even the Valentine-shy Germans feel like they're missing something. Like they should be doing something. Like someone might be expecting something.

Of course, a significant proportion of the German population are immune and resistant to the heart-shaped explosion that occurs mid-February. Including - not surpisingly - my husband.
"It's all a marketing ploy!" he thunders (and, normally mild-mannered, Valentine's Day brings out the worst in him.) "It's designed to make poor suckers feel like they have to spend money on this commercial nonsense! It's a fake holiday made up by florists and chocolatiers - " (Goodness. Just imagine that as the next James Bond plot: James is lured into a flower shop and forced by masked florists to buy Miss Moneypenny a bouquet of roses, then - if that were not horror enough - an international group of chocolatiers descend upon him, pelting him with pralines and finally strong-arm him into parting with his money to buy a heart-shaped box of candy. My, oh my. The film just writes itself.) " - and greeting card companies," he snarls. Oh, yes. After James manages to free himself from the huge vat of truffle filling, he has to fight off the dastardly Hallmark agents, who want him to put his signature on a card. It doesn't bear thinking about.

"Well, I won't fall for it," he announces, as though this were some kind of anti-capitalist stand and not a complete inability to remember significant dates and organise himself enough to do something for them.

But that's okay. I do some mock-outrage, because I feel it is expected of me and it is, after all, a measure of my devotion
that I allow him to have a little rant. My husband is a good man and a great partner the other 364 days (or 365 in a leap year), so if I don't wake to a bed strewn with roses, I am mildly relieved (think of the mess! And the thorns! And possibly some insects!) He does some things that are tiny, yet so kind and selfless, without fanfare or a second thought: yesterday he was dividing up the last piece of cake and he cut it so I had the biggest and the nicest part. He does this every time, he'll divide up whatever he has so I can have the best of it. So I'll forgo the chocolates and the roses, the soppy cards and the teddy bears - I'll take the corner of cake with sugar icing and sprinkles and I appreciate it for what it is: a token of love.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Becoming Auntie Maureen

You know how it is when you get older. Something pops out of your mouth and barely has it left your lips when you hear the echo of your mother or your father or some other family member in your words - "If you break your leg, don't you come running to me!"
That kind of thing.

Well, in my case, something astonishing is happening. I'm turning into my Auntie Maureen. Let me explain: Maureen is my mother's older sister. When we were young, we always thought she looked quite stern - she's quite a straight talker, Maureen. You'll know where you stand with her. However, rather than appearing forbidding, she seems to able to extract the most intimate confessions from complete strangers. Whenever she travels by public transport, she disembarks with a handbag full of deep, dark secrets. Once, on a train to Dublin, she sat beside a young woman who felt compelled to share details of her S&M lifestyle. Share stories, photos and Wikipedia pages on her phone (because, God bless her, Maureen really didn't have a notion what it was, so the young woman decided to elucidate with informative Internet articles) with a 70+-year-old widow travelling to the nation's capital on her senior citizens' travel pass to do a bit of shopping and have a nice cup of coffee and an iced bun in some comfortable café. ("I told her it was all a heap of nonsense," Maureen declared decisively. "I said if any fellow tried to smack me, I'd give him a good, hard smack right back!" Clearly, Maureen did not understand the appeal of bondage.)

This is what I am turning into. I, however, have a very specific audience: children and senior citizens. I cannot begin to repeat some of the stories I have been told by the elderly: many of whom are now in their eighties and nineties and have a compulsion to tell a random foreigner stories of a childhood in the Third Reich (-> confusing), of having babies in the 1950s (-> scary and disgusting), finding husbands in bed with other women (-> also confusing) or their miscarriages (-> words fail me.) I must have a very priest-like countenance to inspire these confessions. I don't ask them, honest. People literally stop me on the street and tell me things. Oftentimes, they just plonk their zimmer frame in my path and hold me captive, sometimes they just smile at me and I smile back. And they're off!

But that's one thing: they're choosing to tell me these things and I choose to file them away in a big drawer labelled 'RANDOM SECRETS' in my mind. However, I seem to have the same effect on small children, and they'll tell me anything about anyone, no holds barred. When I deliver my son at kindergarten, I am often surrounded, Pied Piper-like, by half-a-dozen small children vying to tell me their family secrets. They bypass other parents, including their own, to corner me and start talking at me. Did I know that Mama and Papa had a fight this morning and Mama called Papa an idiot? Did I know that Papa got a new motorbike and banged his privates on it? Did I know that Mama was at the dentist and when she came home, she cried? The head of the kindergarten wades in and sends them off back to their macaroni sculptures and board books, while I stagger home, traumatised by the amount of unwanted information I have just been given.

I report back to my husband and he shakes his head. "Why do you get involved in this kind of thing?" he asks, as though I had a choice.
"I just look at them," I protest. And, really, I do. I look at them and stuff pours forth. So I'm coming to terms that whatever it is Maureen has, I have it, too. One of these days I'm going to read up on S&M, just to be prepared for future conversations on trains.
I really should keep my head down more.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sonic Mama

As regular readers might know,  I have two children: the oldest boy is three and the youngest is a year and a half. They are talkers. As a language teacher, I was expecting my bilingual male children to be like many other bilingual male children and start to speak late because, y'know, that's what The Experts say happens - no, no, that wasn't the case. From the moment they rise to the moment we press them into a horizontal position in their beds, they never shut up. They even talk in their sleep.

Their favourite thing - above raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens - is to say, "Mama?" about a thousand times a day. A thousand times a day EACH. I wish I were exaggerating but it doesn't feel like hyperbole: every breath they draw seems to exhale a Mama somewhere. Sometimes they Mama even when they don't mean to, when playing with their cars ("Brrrrmmm brrrrmmama...") or when they've discovered something interesting ("Oh, Mama!"). I answer, "Yes, love?" because it's easier to answer that way than figure out which child it is and sometimes it serves as a double-answer if I'm being Mama-ed in stereo. Everyone's happy with that answer.

And I can often ignore it, but not for long. The MPMs (Mamas Per Minute) increase and become increasingly frantic because - heavens above! - I might've disappeared! I might've been abducted! Or, God knows, I might be sitting down with a cup of tea and a book or writing a message to another literate, full-sized human being on my phone. If they can't see me, e.g. if we're separated by the insurmountable obstacle that is the bathroom door, the MPMs might increase to a wail, "Maaaaaaamaaaaaaaaa!". And if I'm resting - the cruelty! the neglect! - they'll Mamamamamamamamama onto the bed and I'll be given a couple of seconds of ominous silence and feathery smallchild breath on my cheeks, till they try to poke my eyes open.
"Yes, love?" I'll say to the little faces pressed up against my own.

I say "Yes, love?" oh, hundreds of times a day. Sometimes there's an answer:
"I'm a baby octopus now."
Or: "I want to run away and away."
Or: "My feet smell disgusting"
However, there often isn't. The child in question stares at me blankly and visibly racks his brain to find something to tell me: "I like owls."
"That's super," I'd say. "What's your favourite owl?"
And off the child goes on an owl monologue, punctuated by - you've guessed it - twenty million Mamas.

Yes, yes, it's lovely and sweet, but also exhausting and relentless and head-wrecking. When I come in from work, I just want five minutes of peace and quiet, preferably with a cup of tea, and instead I'm bombarded by two children climbing on to my knee, up my sweater, into my face: "Mama! Mama! Mama!"
"Yes, love?" I answer. "Yes, love? What is it, love? What would you like to tell me?"
Exhausted. Weary. Fed up.
Go away, children, and just leave me alone.

"What flavour would you like?"
And then today I learned something interesting. I went out for a walk with my oldest boy and he had an ice cream, his first of the year. I sat on a bench and he sat on my knee, holding his ice cream and delicately eating it with his plastic spoon.
"Mama?" he said, squirming around to face me.
"Yes, love?" I replied automatically, distractedly.
He repeated it, but he said, "Yes! Love!" and turned back to his ice cream with a grin on his face. And then I realised that what I'm saying to my children and what they're hearing are two different things. I say, "Yes, love?" and they hear: YES! LOVE! and they seem to need to hear it hundreds of times a day. They use it like a bat's sonic signal to locate me and I answer. I didn't know that. I'd never thought about it. To them it's not a question, it's an affirmation. Now I know.

This evening my youngest son wouldn't sleep. He told me about trains and dogs and Papa and more trains and Papa and then there was something indistinguishable about a monster truck ... till he finally fell asleep. Drifting away, his eyes rolling, being pulled downwards into soft sleep, he whispered, "Mama?"
I watched his lids fall, kissed his forehead, and gently I replied: "Yes. Love."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Crafter's Thingy

When I was packing up to travel to my in-laws' before Christmas, I did my usual search for one of the little bags I have on hand to carry my crafting supplies. As I scrambled to find some scrap of paper or cloth to stick a darning needle into, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have a thingie that had all of your crafting bits and bobs in one place?"

Aha. An idea was born. And I created this ... thingy. I asked members of an online crafting group if they could come up with a name for it, and the first suggestions were a thingamajig, a thingummy, a thingamybob and an it - as in, "Where is it? I need it!" So I think I'll just stick with a crafting thingy. You know what it is.

In any case, self praise is no praise, I know, I know, but I love it. It's brilliant. It is the first thing that I have made in years that I have not only kept for myself but (whisper it) kept two of. I feel so naughty and so decadent - imagine! Making something for me! And you can make one for yourself, too. It's not difficult, I promise.

You need
  • a very small amount of thin yarn, about 20g. I used self-striping sock yarn, but you could also use cotton or thin acrylic
  • something to stuff it with - enough stuffing to fit in your fist
  • a darning needle
  • a folding scissors (I ordered 10 on Amazon for less than $1.50 each)
  • a round, retractable tape measure (also can be ordered on Amazon for about $1 each or found at a local euro/pound/dollar store)
  • something to attach the scissors to the ... thingy. I use a keychain, but a piece of ribbon would do just as well
** This pattern is written in American English! The British English terms are in [brackets]. ** And a PDF of the pattern can be downloaded HERE. **

Start with a magic loop and make 10 SC [DC] and join with a slip stitch to form a little circle.
Round 1: Ch 1, then 2 SC [DC] in the same stitch. 2 SC [DC] in next nine stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 2: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next nineteen stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 3: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC] (30 stitches in total)
Round 4: Ch 1, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next twenty-nine stitches (30 stitches in total)
Round 5: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next two stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC] (40 stitches in total)
Round 6: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next thirty-nine stitches (40 stitches in total)
At this point, stop and place your little circle over the tape measure. It should cover it, but not be bigger than it. If you need to make it bigger, do another round of SC [DC] with a double SC [DC] in every fourth stitch. 

After this point, you won't increase any more, just continue by doing 1 SC [DC] in every stitch, so your work starts to form a little saucer-shape:


When you are satisfied with your little dome (I normally only do 3 or 4 rounds of SC [DC] to achieve it), continue:
Round 8: Crochet 3 chain, then 1 DC [TR] in next and each stitch around till you come to the last three stitches. Do not do any DC [TR], simply do three chain and join to the third chain in your initial 3Ch at the start of the row.

Round 9: Do 1 SC [DC] in each stitch. Finish by doing 1 chain, cut yarn and yank tight.

 When you fit this over the tape measure, you will see that the hole formed by the 3 chain is designed to allow the tape measure to poke out.
The back (part 1)
Chain 8-9 stitches - large enough to form a circle around the button at the back of the tape measure. Crochet a flat circle by following the instructions above:
Round 1: 1 SC [DC] in each of the chain.
Round 2: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each next stitch
Round 3: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around
 - in other words, every second row has a double stitch spaced between 1, then 2, then 3 single SC [DC]. Do this till your work covers the bottom of the tape measure.

Place some stuffing on the 'top' of the tape measure - not the side with the button! - I hold it in place by just smearing a bit of glue on the tape measure, then pressing the stuffing down, till I have the little crocheted dome in place. Then I sew the back to the bottom of the dome with a whipstitch.

The back (part 2)
Follow the instructions as per the front, but just before you finish the final round, stop about 10 stitches before the end. Do 1Ch and cut your yarn, yanking it tight. This creates one side that's a bit flatter than the others and this serves as a kind of pocket flap. Sew this (almost) circle over the bottom of the thingy, covering the button.It will create a pocket to store the folding scissors.

 And that's it! Now you simply have to attach the scissors to the thingy, by using e.g. a key chain or tie it on with a piece of ribbon. Then you're ready to go! Be warned, though: they are very addictive. Very, very, addictive.

The legal bit:
This is my idea, my work, my photos, my pattern. You may not reprint it/them, republish it/them in any form, or claim it/them as your own. What you can do is make them for friends and family, and if you can make yourself some pin money by making them for sale - good for you. Just don't go into mass production with them, though - not without my permission. It would be nice and decent of you to credit me with their design, though - but I don't need to tell you that, do I? Only nice and decent people read my blog :-)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015 ... Rainbows in 2016

I haven't posted in a long time and the reason for it was simple: I hadn't wanted to. 2015 was a strange year, a year that felt discordant or adrift to me. I'm normally quite a pragmatic person, someone who tends to always look on the bright side of life, but this year tested my limits. The German 'Word of the Year' this year was Flüchtling, refugee, and really, no other word came close to being in the running for first place this year. Over a million people, mostly from the Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, made their way to Germany this year, fleeing (in some cases) from war and (in other cases) from poverty and (in all cases) for a better life. The incessant - and I mean incessant - coverage of the plight of thousands of people arriving over Germany's borders became too much to bear and I went on a total media blackout for a long time. I can focus on and do something for what is in front of me, in my own neighbourhood and town, but I had to finally admit that I can't worry about every overcrowded refugee home, mourn every dead child, cry for every lost family - and 2015 seemed to pour a lot of that mental burden on my head.

So thank you very much, 2015, for all the lessons you have taught me, but I'm looking forward to making 2016's acquaintance. It's going to be a year full of rainbows, and it's starting here and now. I have lots of new patterns and tutorials lined up - I'm going to craft my way through 2016 with a vengeance.

Happy New Year.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

Today, Sunday - Mothers' Day -  I tried to clean the bathroom.
The point I gave up at was when I was leaning over the bath with my trousers around my ankles, my nearly-one-year-old clutching my knees and joyfully wiping his snotty nose into the cellulitey cushions on the back of my thighs, while the 2.5 year old squirted my knickers with water, joyfully singing "The WHEELS on the BUS go ROUND and ROUND, ROUND and ROUND!"
It was a beautiful moment.
Ginger of hair and gappy of tooth,
he is half-child, half-goblin
I put down the Mr Muscle, pulled up my trousers and gave it up as a hopeless case. That was my Mothers' Day present to myself.

We've had a busy week and that's why the bathroom is filthy and the laundry train got derailed somewhere last Monday. The result of this was that I'd had to root around the depths of my wardrobe to find myself something (reasonably) clean and pounced upon a pair of  pregnancy jeans in desperation. Turns out, pregnancy jeans worn when not pregnant can be yanked down very quickly by thigh-high children and - it turns out - this is a hilarious exercise, especially when accompanied by 72 verses of The Wheels on the Bus. This, dear readers, is life with a one-year-old and a two-year-old.

That's right - you can hop back through the sparse entries of my blog in the last twelve months and establish that a full year has passed since I was waddling around, ready to pop. My younger son Robert is about to turn one! And Mr Gingerbread and I are at a loss as to what he should get for his birthday. The house is full of toys - he has a dozen aunts and uncles, after all - and more clothes than my poor laundry skills can cope with. And, to be honest, we tend to think babies and toddlers want this kind of thing

when in actual fact, my son would really like something like this for his birthday.

A compromise must be found.

I decided to radically attack scraps and half-skeins, and this has been my on-the-side project for the last few weeks.

 Because it's May and the magnolia is blooming and the balcony is beckoning! Hurray!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Terrible Twos

I learned a new word recently: threenager. It describes the delight that is a moody, irrational, temperamental three-year-old. And frankly, readers, I quaked. I have a two-year-old son and he is currently in the throes of Tyrannical Toddlerdom. I used to look at children writhing on the floors of supermarkets, red-faced and hysterical, and think, "How embarrassing! How mortifying! Why don't the parents do something?"
Oh, yes, those were the days when I could revel in smug judgement. Smudgement. When I have children I'm going to make sure they never behave like that.

 - pause for laughter -
Now I'm the mother standing off to the side, scratching dried yoghurt off her t-shirt while her child throws a conniption on the floor. I could care, really I could - but I'm often too tired to bother. And this might be the 42nd hissy fit in a three-day period; and if it's my child writhing around the floor, the cause of the tantrum might be any of the following (and many more besides):
a) the cockerel on the front of the cornflakes packet looked at him funnily
b) he doesn't want to be in the trolley, he doesn't want to walk beside the trolley, he wants to hover in the air above the trolley
c) he wants to eat a raw egg from the carton and I won't let him
d) he loves me, why won't I carry him?
e) he hates me, why am I carrying him?
Basically, sometimes I can do a SuperNanny move on him and distract him swiftly, but my son John is not easily distracted. He is eerily focussed and won't be fobbed off just like that. Sometimes I swoop him up and remove him to a quiet place. Sometimes I just let the tantrum run its course and exchange sympathetic been-there-done-that looks with parents of older children.

This morning, John woke at 6 a.m. and in a gesture of marital love that you will only understand if you have kids yourself, I swooped him up and left his father and little brother fast asleep in bed. We got dressed and slipped out into the quietness of the city. I hate getting up early, but I love being up early - if that makes sense. I love the stillness of the early morning, the lemon sunshine and the chill  in the air. John and I used to spend a lot of early mornings together, but since his little brother came along, we haven't had much chance to get out alone. This morning we walked side by side the entire length of the town.

We walked across the town square, where someone had decorated the concrete with chalk mandalas in the night:

We walked to the bakery and bought a chocolate croissant, then ate it together on a park bench.

And took a bus home, just because we wanted an opportunity to sing 'The Wheels on the Bus' - well, he did the singing and I had to clap along. More about the singing some other time.

We got home in time for breakfast but even as we climbed the stairs, my son was screeching, "Papa! Mama and I went on a secret walk!", an indication that his future will not be in the CIA or diplomatic field. But the walk did us good: no tantrums, no fights. We should really do it more often (just not tomorrow. Tomorrow is Papa's turn.)