Sunday, August 31, 2008
Within the first few days of getting the keys last September, we realized the built-in fridge was running at 12 degrees turning milk sour within hours, the built-in freezer wasn't much better - defrosting and refreezing at will, but of course the built-in oven had to be our favourite - it wasn't wired in and there was no cooker socket to wire it to, so the only possible explanation for its used-looking state was that the previous owner - one Mr Haq, whom we never met, had found it in a skip and thought it'd look authentic. Of course we complained to our lawyer within the requisite 7 days but he's still trying to track the infamous Mr Haq down in deepest Pakistan...
We decided to build a new kitchen in a big empty room at the back of the house. We got kitchen quotes that were ridiculously expensive but decided eventually the only thing for it was a DIY job.
Now with electrics moved and a new waste pipe installed Thomas, dad, the kids and I have been slowly building and putting up cupboards.
At the halfway mark in dismantling kitchen one and installing kitchen two, I feel demented - I want it done now, today, this minute - I can't carry on cooking meals for 6 on 4 gas rings without slowly losing my marbles!
We've got 13 coming for Christmas this year... if it isn't in by then, I'll have moved out!
Friday, August 29, 2008
Tonight Thomas and I were discussing bilingualism and translation. As a child he hated being asked by fellow pupils to provide German translations for their homework because translation doesn't come naturally to bilingual children. Things are probably worse for the British bilingual child as we have such a poor record of language learning and understanding. I know exactly what Thomas means given that I am the mother of bilingual (and trilingual) kids. Most people I know are now used to the concept of my kids so it is now rarely mentioned but when Lots and Marcel were still preschool, it was a hot topic with many who met me. As many Brits have never met a bilingual person, they would often say things to me along the lines of Wow - he's only 4 and he speaks two languages already, that's amazing. Then they'd turn to Marcel and say What's the French word for green beans? What's the French word for hoover? Marcel of course would look blank because bilingual kids don't translate naturally, they just think in the other language. He'd look really puzzled as the adult usually followed this up with - Oh I thought he was better at it at that... can he even say cat or car in French then? I would often then turn to him in and say in French What do you call the vegetables Oma grows in her garden? Quick as a flash he would reply des haricots verts. I would then ask, again in French What do I use to clean the carpet? and of course he'd reply l'aspirateur, pourquoi? You simply have to switch the bilingual child to using the French part of his brain by speaking to him in French. Translating is a totally different skill. Finding the equivalents in your two native languages take much longer, as does the concept of not translating something word for word. Even tonight for example, because Thomas and I had been discussing the two different concepts I tested how the land lies now Marcel is 11. I nonchalantly asked him over dinner 'Tu veux boire quelque chose? and he said yes. Two minutes later, once he'd had time to forget the spontaneous conversation, I asked How do you translate Do you want a drink? in French? Now, old enough to understand the concept of translating, he answered Tu veux une boisson? I then asked if that is what a French person would naturally say and he wasn't sure. Instead of swapping him onto his French brain when he'd have said Tu veux boire quelque chose?, he had simply translated literally. This is such an archetypal bilingual error. What has happened between 4 and 11 is that he has now mapped individual words from French to English, and he can think and speak in either, but he hasn't yet realized the final link - that to translate well, you translate the meaning NOT the words. I wonder if bilingual people as adults make the best or the worst translators. I certainly feel as someone who was not born into a bilingual context that the better I get at a language, the worse I get at translating to or from it - I start to function semi-bilingually - by splitting my brain into different language compartments. Interestingly, or maybe even perversely, the usual pattern in a bilingual family is for the older kids to reply in the language of the country they live in (the language they use in school and with friends) to the questions asked by the foreign parent in their other main language. This two language dialogue which I have witnessed between French André and his German mother, my Scottish kids and their French father, Danish Thomas and his German father and that I myself have often used in France with German relatives is one of the most fascinating aspects of true bilingualism.
Two years ago I had wanted to go and see Mamma mia on Broadway when I was in New York, but somehow with only five days I ran out of time, and because I was alone there with Léon, it would have meant taking him or finding a professional sitter. Since then it's been on my to-do list next time I am in New York or London. Recently I heard the movie had come out. :-) While I was on holiday I got an email from my parents raving about it. Now, my mum and her friend Joyce often go to the cinema but I can't remember a single time in my childhood when dad went to the cinema, except when we were on holiday and rainy weather forced us into one. More surprisingly he was suggesting that if I wanted to go and see it when I came back, they'd come and see it again! That good? Wow. They suggested I left the kids home with Thomas and went to the cinema. I don't think so! Firstly, for anyone who knows us - this whole new chapter in my life started when Thomas asked me to dance to an ABBA song (Dancing Queen) nearly four years ago at a work's night out, so ABBA isn't something he was being left at home for! Secondly, I am not willing to have another relationship where we can't share in each other's interests. If he goes to ABBA, I promise to watch Star Trek when it's on! ;-) I went on to the cinema websites for last night because André was having the 3 big kids for dinner. It is infinitely easier and cheaper to go to the cinema just with the baby than with 4 kids. Glancing down the show times I noticed they were showing the 'Sing-along' version at 8 O'clock! I figured that was unmissable but was I pushing my luck? I suggested it to Thomas - Does he love me enough to be dragged along to an ABBA sing-along? He didn't look horrified, he didn't claim to be washing his hair that night - I truly have found the perfect husband - Barbra Streisand in London last year, an ABBA sing-along this year! I suggested it to my parents. Dad was scared and offered to babysit Anna instead. I decided he was coming anyway, tough! So we went for a quick curry and then turned up at the Quay cinema. It wasn't sold-out, phew! I was a bit apprehensive about someone else singing the beloved ABBA songs of my adolescence but I needn't have been. It was such a happy, feel good movie that didn't come into it. The setting was beautiful - sunny Greece. I haven't been to Greece since I was a thin long-haired 20 something like the girl in the movie - I suddenly felt 20 years younger! I love Meryl Streep so the fact that she was completely the wrong age for the character she was playing (If Sophie is 20 and Meryl is nearly 60, this crazy week of hippy passion that resulted in her being pregnant and being told not to return home to the US by her mother happened when she was 40ish, I don't think so!) just added to the happy cheese factor! And Pierce Brosnan's singing was so bad the cheese was further enhanced! Julie Walters was a scream as always especially as she tried to chat up Bill. It was lovely to catch glimpses of Abba's Benny and Björn both looking very pleased with themselves in cameo roles. I loved the way songs took on new meanings in different contexts. Songs that had always seemed to indicate the sad end of relationships such as When all is said and done, Winner takes it all, Our last summer changed in the movie. By changing the sex of the singer, songs became amusing too - Does your mother know? of course. And sitting in the cinema watching this was bizarre. The audience interacts as if it is a stage play with actors present - cheering at bits, clapping, shouting for encores - which actually come! And of course singing along with the words on the screen - wonderful. At the end of almost every movie the audience rushes out during the credits to avoid the carpark rush but of course this time everyone sat to the very last note of Thank you for the music. Suddenly I was transported back 31 years when I sat watching ABBA the Movie with my mum in the old cinema in the Gorbals - it too, like all ABBA things ends up with Thank you for the music. The perfect end to a perfect movie. I can't wait till the DVD comes out - this, like Grease, is something we'll all be watching for 20 years to come. A real feel good movie!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I laid my computer down for two seconds today to lift my coffee and Bits touched something, the screen went completely black - the cursor was still there but looked like it was pointing down instead of up. Eventually it flickered back into life, phew... arg! Oh no, the screen is upside down. I move my cursor to see if anything is working and it moves in an exact mirror image to what I want it to do - OMG, OMG, what has she done??? I open my email and close my eyes (I know I can type a message as long as I don't look at the screen.) I tell Thomas what's happened and 10 minutes later I get a reply telling me she must have hit Ctrl-alt-up arrow. I hit Ctrl-alt-down arrow, and close my eyes, terrified. The screen goes blank, suddenly my Australian world pops back round and normality is restored, phew. Anna - you are a naughty (if clever) girl!!
First, I turn on my computer and am blasted by ads of where to go for a nice family holiday if I haven't been on one yet this summer - Newsflash - Scottish kids go back to school 3 weeks before English ones - we're all done with our 2008 family summer holidays up here, ok?
Then I open my email and I have Back to school sale ads - where to buy my kids uniforms, books and shoes - Newsflash - Scottish kids go back to school 3 weeks before English ones - we're all done with buying school uniforms - your sales are 3 weeks too late for us, thank you very much.
To escape it all I turn on the radio just in time to hear Steve Wright tell me - yeah it's Wednesday, not Tuesday, you're confused aren't you because it's a short week...huh??? What??? Oh, of course there was a Bank Holiday in England this Monday - guess what? We didn't get it up here. My kids went to school on Monday, my man went to work - so gonna shut with all your anglocentric nonsense before I scream, ok?????
I'm away to Gretna with a big spade to dig a trench...
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
For about a week Anna has eaten very little other than breast milk. As it came on the back of a trip home from Denmark, a nasty wasp sting and a fever, we thought she was just ill but a week on with no remaining symptoms, I was starting to worry. I even bought some first stage baby food again in case we were rushing her with too grown-up food. But on Saturday night, when she wouldn't even eat that I was at the end of my tether. I offered her a spoonful of the cannelloni I was eating myself and she opened her mouth wide. It seemed she wanted more grown-up food - in fact she wanted the same as the rest of us. Not content with that she decided she'd rather try to feed herself. I'm not sure how much of Marcel's home-made lasagne actually hit the target yesterday evening but you must say she's looking very pleased with herself. Poor Thomas had to take all his clothes off to take her out the high chair, she was so dirty! I should have got a photo of that - it was quite a sight!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Last week I was discussing the genetics of baby Anna's motor skills. This week I am more interested in the differences in her character.
Since I became a mother I have often felt vaguely puzzled by the age indicators on toys - I mean the Not suitable for the under 3s classification. The reason being that none of my kids has ever put anything unsuitable in their mouth - I could leave any of the others in a room with the floor literally covered in nails, age 3+ lego, coins, marbles, you name it and they'd have picked it up, looked at it and replaced it on the floor. Pudge spent his crawling months in Thomas's flat navigating between screws, Stanley knives and electric saws. Anna on the other hand has explained to me in the space of 2 weeks what the 3+ thing is all about. This annoying little person picks up everything - foam, leaves, stones, bugs (probably wasps for all I know), sticks them in her mouth and chews on them happily for hours until either an adult pulls the things back out or she chokes to death - whatever comes first.
I am left with no choice but to either supervise this one - God forbid, or invent some device to suspend her from the ceiling about a metre above the floor until her 3rd birthday...
Thursday, August 21, 2008
These are Marcel's trainers - I bought them on 26 June 2008 - the last day of school before the holidays so I remember exactly how old they are. My own trainers (which I bought more than 2 years ago do not look half as bad). It wasn't that they were cheap - Lacoste no less - reduced to a mere £35 in a half price summer sale. Would you look at them? They look like the dog ate them, or a truck ran over them. If I had an infinite supply of cash I'd already be consigning them to the bin but with 4 kids and an ex who still refuses to buy the odd pair of shoes for our kids - what am I to do? If I have to buy each of my 4 kids new trainers every 6 weeks from they learn to walk till they turn 18 I am looking at a bill of £20626.66. Nobody tells you that before you have kids, do they?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Anyway, I got to wondering whether the lack of travel in my early childhood - I first went abroad (by car) at 13 and didn't step on a plane till I was 15 - made me the traveller I am or if it is more innate. I hope the latter is true because I was watching Marcel and Lots on the plane on Saturday morning. The weather was perfect - clear skies with a postcard view of Denmark from the sky. Despite having been on literally hundreds of planes I still hang out the window in wonder at the beauty of it all - knowing how long I had waited for this view as a child. My kids on the other hand sat with jumpers over their faces trying to sleep away what they see as another boring run of the mill flight because they too have been on hundreds of planes, but they started flying at 15 weeks, not 15 years, so never knew what it was to wait to fly. I hope that despite their lack of awe, they will want to travel the world while they can rather than sit in an office.
I guess their enjoyment of our little missed flight hiccup in Stansted gives me hope.
Monday, August 18, 2008
One of the best things about marrying into another culture (even if you don't marry) is getting to know the little hidden bits of that culture. If I was a normal tourist popping over to Denmark for a week, I would never have discovered Ymer for example, and even if I had, I'd never have found the sprinkles to go on top!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Today my parents took Bits for a walk up to their house for an hour while I finished the ironing and Thomas cut the post-holiday grass. They been gone about half an hour when I got a phonecall to say she'd been stung in their garden. Though they weren't sure, their money was on a wasp. So I took up the piriton and calpol and administered a bucketload of tlc. Poor, brave bitsy thing.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Last night I fed her as usual around 9pm, but instead of falling asleep she became playful. We left her sitting on the floor in the sitting room and an hour later Peter told us she'd fallen asleep on the couch so we put her to bed, not worried because she'd had her last feed of the night.
At 4ish she cried as always. I picked her up but she didn't seem to be able to feed. She couldn't latch on and screamed and twisted in a very unusual manner. I tried for at least 15 minutes in bed before deciding something was very wrong. I had considered she could be unwell but there was no sign of fever, just discomfort. I turned on the light and tried to feed her again. She started to cry and to my alarm, I realized something was stuck on the back of her tongue making her unable to move it to breastfeed properly. I held her mouth open while Thomas fished out this large piece of foam. I can only assume she found it on the floor or under the couch before falling asleep and had managed to sleep 6 hours without choking despite it being stuck to her tongue. She fell asleep almost instantly after a proper feed, relieved. I, on the other hand, sat up the rest of the night watching her breathe thankfully.
What a night....
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
When Anna rolled at 3 months, I figured I knew what was to come next. But I didn't. When I say she rolled at 3 months, I mean exactly that. She rolled over twice, decided she didn't like being on her stomach and hasn't done it since. About a week later she sat up unaided, at half the age of the Gautier babies and has been sitting ever since. At 6 months she started to shuffle around slowly, not moving far but moving definitely, on her bottom, not on her knees. Now at 7 she's pulling herself up onto her feet when she can, but still is completely uninterested in crawling. I have this sneaking suspicion she's only a short way off just standing up and walking away, completely missing out on the crawling stage, as it would involve the dreaded being on her front that she so detests.
Only time will tell.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Thomas, Lots and Marcel just completed a game of Scrabble in English using a Danish set. We removed the ÅÆØ but the problem was the ratios of the remaining tiles. At first we rubbed our hands together in glee when we noticed the letter C gave you 8 points. C is very rare in Danish but in English it is the 2nd largest starting letter in an English dictionary (I've written enough of them to know - yeah I know that's sad). But of course that means there are only 2 or 3 in the box and yet you need them in every other English word. Likewise, you suddenly find yourself with dozens of Ks and Vs, you can't place. Despite that Marcel managed to score 170, just beating Thomas and even Lots managed 133.
Friday, August 08, 2008
I can see the future now. When she's 12 and desperate to play Chemistry in High school she'll be hanging up her goggles and lab coat the first time the teacher points out she needs a bobble on before igniting the Bunsen burner, despite Chemistry being a great love of hers. Silly child.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I decided tonight that Anna's 2 teeth are now through enough for me to brush them, so went upstairs with her new yellow toothbrush and stuck it in her mouth. Luckily she seemed to quite like them being brushed. Once I had finished, I put back the Colgate on the shelf (we're at Peter and Brita's house) and that reminded me of one of the first things Thomas told me when I moved in with him. He told me his family had always used Colgate throughout his childhood - at the age of 6 he'd misread the tube as Golgotha - obviously a minister's child - I had sure never heard of Golgotha at that age! He had hated brushing his teeth as he hated the taste of Colgate and had discovered with some surprise when he left home at 18 that toothbrushing could be pleasurable if only you used Aquafresh instead. Personally, I had never noticed any difference so went ahead with the new household Aquafresh policy. Anyway - on arrival last Friday Thomas went out and bought a tube of Aquafresh for use during his holiday in the all-Golgotha house. Lying side by side on the shelf tonight, I decided to do a taste test... Hmmm, how am I going to tell him I definitely prefer Colgate!? :-(
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I decided after more than 2 years, I was a bit fed up with the girlie pink background on my blog so I thought I'd go for a more sedate and grown-up look - for a few weeks anyway. Who knows I'll maybe tire of my new sensible look soon enough...
Sunday, August 03, 2008
Marcel had over ten pounds on his phone this morning but having received a string of unwanted texts from some magazine add he now finds he has only 77p remaining despite not actually wanting the texts. We are abroad so he is having to pay incoming texts. Fortunately he has PAYG and not a contract or he could run up an infinite bill. Isn't it time phone companies allowed you to see who a text is from so you can accept or reject it when you are abroad? Either that or charging for incoming texts is a recipe for disaster and financial ruin :-(
So what a breath of fresh air to discover the standard Danish keyboard. Firstly it is QWERTY, which is nice. Secondly the actual Danish accented characters have their own separate keys: look ÆØÅ! But the also have dead accent keys. If you want é, you simply type a dead accent and the computer remembers it so sticks it on the next letter you type. So you can make anything valid up: éèÖã etc
Easy peasy lemon queasy - wish I could afford a Danish laptop but I guess it comes with too high a tax bill :-(
Saturday, August 02, 2008
As a photographer, I love nothing more than leaving my kids, the smaller the better, with mucky food and waiting for the photo opportunity to develop.
The other day was a wonderful example. I left the dining room to answer the phone leaving Marcel, Lots and Pudge eating Heinz tomato soup. Unknown to me Marcel and Lots finished and left Pudge alone. I returned to the dining room where Léon had dipped both his hands in the soup and was gleefully squelching the soup between his pudgy fingers. I remained hidden. He then did two handprints on the wooden table and started covering the table in soup from end to end squealing in excitement. I appeared in the doorway, Léon jumped in fright, knowing that he'd made a huge mess. He held his arms outstretched and said I think I need to give you a sorry hug! Sweeeeeeeeet! I wasn't mad with him - I'd watched a simple joy of childhood - the discovery of texture - messy play.
Kids are meant to be dirty. :-) They aren't meant to be wiped between every mouthful of yogurt in case their clothes get soiled. In this day and age with washing machines and tumble dryers it is not hassle to wash dirty clothes so why tell a kid it isn't meant to get dirty? They learn through investigating. Just watch Léon in our vegetable patch discovering how potatoes grow, where worms live etc. I hear kids in the summer saying 'I'm not allowed to get wet'. Why the hell not? - childhood is about getting wet with water pistols, playing in the mud. It's adults putting their own adult hang-ups onto their kids. By wiping the babies from birth we are subliminally telling them being dirty is bad, so getting dirty starts to freak them out. We are the ones making the kids hate being dirty, they aren't naturally against dirt.
Sadly the message they are really getting is Grow up too fast - being a child isn't allowed! Sad :-(
It does help with a small child to have a bath, story bed routine at more or less the same time every night. But I think 'more or less' is where it should stop. I know so many people who think that means a rigid time for each of these things that must never be broken. Instead of using the routine to make their lives easier, they use the routine to make their lives a nightmare. These parents, instead of taking junior to the odd activity that would mean disrupting this routine, arrange babysitters, or worse still call off all other activities until junior reaches 10. Of course the knock-on effect is that the annual family holiday becomes a stressful nightmare instead of a relaxing time because you have to find flight times to accommodate junior's bedtime and meal times. They don't realize that by breaking the baby's routine - skipping his bath once or twice a week as a baby, shifting his mealtime by as much as an hour, not being able to give him a nap at the correct time, they would actually be creating an adaptable child who could cope with what real life will throw at him.
I got to thinking about this after yesterday's travel fiasco. I know so many people who'd have cracked under the pressure of potentially being stranded 4 days at Stansted with a 7month old, a 2.5 year old, an 8 year old and an 11 year old. And I know so many kids who would not have been able to cope with dinner being suddenly moved from our usual 6-30 to 11pm, bedtime being falling asleep on a bench in Stansted at 1am after no bath or story, the lights on all night, check-in for the new flight being 4-30am and a subsequent 6 hour 4 train journey.
My kids are adaptable, calm little human beings in a crisis not because of routine but because of the lack of rigidity in their routine. They have a set dinner time, bed time etc but these can be moved when necessary, and often enough that they are not freaked out when they need to be moved. This has been the case since babyhood - if you leave introducing this concept till they are old enough to understand, their routine and expectations are already too rigid for them to cope with the adversities of real life. Not only will my kids always be copers in life but they will know that some times even adversity itself can be fun.
Friday, August 01, 2008
Why would I want to stay up all night the first night of my holidays? Well, thanks to Easyjet my quick (and usual) trip through Stansted to Denmark became a 24 hour adventure, the likes of which my kids have never seen.
On arrival at Glasgow airport yesterday, we were told our flight was delayed 15 minutes - no problem - we had nearly 2 hours before check-in was due to close. By take-off the delay had stretched to 30 minutes, which once in the plane took an extra 30 minutes to get airborne - air rush hour seems to happen around 5pm too. On arrival above London we flew round in circles in an ominous stack for 30 more minutes so touched down exactly 10 minutes after Ryanair's Århus check-in closed.
Technically I had actually checked in online so could have gone but Thomas, Léon and Anna hadn't as they had the luggage in their names - I couldn't go ahead because my boobs were needed so we were all stuck.
A simple case of moving ourselves to the next day's flight then going for a night in a Travel lodge or the likes - or so we thought.
Oh! Tomorrow for Århus and Billund are fully booked - let me check - oh we can't get you to Denmark till Monday, said the bloke on the Ryanair check-in. He, of course, wasn't obliged to help us given the original balls-up was of an easyjet making. Ok, it's a pain, but gimme Hamburg instead, said Thomas - Emmm that's full too, he replied. F@ck - this was becoming a problem!
He said he could give us Bremen checking in at 4-30am. Where the hell is Bremen? Somewhere north of Hannover but no idea where. We declined and tried Easyjet, Air Berlin, BA and Sterling before realizing that we were not prepared to pay between 800 and 2000 quid on offer so crept back to the Bremen guy and agreed to it before even checking really where it was!
It cost a £250 'missed departure' fee but that was definitely becoming the lesser evil. It was 11pm and we'd to be back in Stansted by 4am. No time for a hotel. We'd just have to lie in the airport. Kids asleep, adults awake and keeping vigil.
The kids were beside themselves with excitement - the prospect of even 4 nights on the floor in Stansted didn't worry them. Lots was thrilled at the improvised camping trip. Marcel said it was the best thing that had ever happened and Léon danced and sang in the airport till 1am. Next year I might just book 2 weeks in Stansted airport!
Overnight Léon and Anna slept 1am -4am. Lots and Marcel didn't conk out till 2am. Thomas and I each slept 90 minutes while the other watched the kids and the bags.
So we found ourselves in Bremen this morning at 9am and realized it was actually only 300km from where we were going. A short tram ride into town later we found we could get to Jutland by taking just 4 trains and travelling only from 11am to 5-30pm non-stop at €175 - piece of cake.
Of course there were several delays in that and we missed another connection - we got to Thomas's parents around 7pm having had little more than breakfast. A whole day in 4 trains at 30 degrees and yet none of the kids misbehaved, Anna hardly moaned and even Léon - on just 4 hours sleep was an angel. I think they've definitely inherited my calm traveller genes.
It wasn't the trip we'd planned but we're here safe and sound. We've discovered Bremen has a pretty station. And the kids have an experience they aren't likely to forget in a hurry.
I'll upload the airport photos in a couple of weeks, but you can already find the various train ones on my flickr account.