Monday, August 31, 2009

FURTHER CIVILISING OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE


Rainy May
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I mentioned recently that Anna still had a few steps to go on the evolutionary path before being accepted as a normal member of society... Well it seems the same is true of my nephew Gordy, pictured here left.
Staying over at our house on Saturday, his parents were moaning a little about his strong independent streak. Unlike Léon, who happily shouts for someone to wipe his bottom after using the toilet, Gordy insists that all things beyond the bathroom door must be dealt with by him and him alone.
After dinner he got up and went to the loo, fortunately just to pee because as my brother watched from afar he observed him pee, then take a sheet of toilet roll, wipe his bum with gusto, take the same piece of toilet roll and dry his penis and finally raise the same piece of paper to his face where he blew his nose on it! He then proceeded to flush it down the loo! Arg!
I'm so glad Pudgeman isn't as independent as his cousin!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

THE PROBLEM WITH TOMATOES


The manse greenhouse
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I experienced it once before years ago when a workmate, Daphne, gave me some cherry tomato seeds. I grew the tomatoes on the windowledge of my third floor flat and picked and ate each one as it ripened - truly divine... however, the downside was that supermarket tomatoes, even the extra special ones, tasted like washing up liquid for about 18 months till my tastebuds forgot the homegrown ones and accepted the shop rubbish.
We now have a greenhouse and we're growing our own tomatoes - we get about three cherry tomatoes a week between six of us but it's that or the washing-up liquid variety again :-(

Friday, August 28, 2009

SMOKING IN ITALY

One thing that surprised me a lot on my holiday in Italy was the fact that smoking rates there among all age groups don't seem to have changed since I lived there in the 80s. Obviously here in the UK with smoking bans everywhere, fewer and fewer people smoke. I don't think I know anyone of any age group who is a regular smoker in the UK. Obviously back in the 80s I could not have said that. The net effect is that I am never in contact with smoky atmospheres and therefore find them even less tolerable than I did when pubs were horrible smoky places. In the 80s people smoked at work, in pubs, at uni etc and half the people I knew back then were smokers. Back in the 80s I did perceive Italy to be more of a smoking country than here, but the same was true of France - most of my French friends and relatives smoked in the 80s, none of them do now. France, like the UK, has slowly become a non-smoking nation but Italy remains unchanged. How strange! Have taxes there not gone up? Is it because more of their life is spent outdoors? Or are smoking bans different? I noticed that often in Italy when you were in a restaurant, there would be an indoor section that was contained within a windowless gazebo which meant half the restaurant was also smoking. People happily sat next to babies blowing cigar smoke all over them or others while they finished their meal. Here I think smokers are very aware that non-smokers do not want to have someone sit beside them during an expensive meal blowing smoke all over them, in Italy smokers seem completely unaware and inconsiderate of those around them. I must say it was the one disappointing feature of our trip to an otherwise beautiful country. The beautiful smells of the herbs and lavender were marred by the omnipresent smokiness.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

NEW JOB?

I am not averse to using photo-editing when a lamppost, pylon or car happens to be in the way of a pretty shot. It is often preferable to remove the odd dod of chocolate or snot from a child's face too. It isn't that hard to use and you can easily see where you need further editing to make a shot realistic. I've just been sent these actual published images by Thomas and now I've stopped crying with laughter I thought I'd show you them all too. These extra fingers are amazing - how didn't they see that? I'm not sure if that or the hand on the gate post is my favourite. In any case I might consider applying to do it professionally - I could be no worse!

Monday, August 24, 2009

SENSE IS CREEPING BACK


Cool Marcel
Originally uploaded by PhylB
One problem with having a bilingual child arises when the second language the child speaks happens to be the most common foreign language taught in schools in the country where you find yourself living. Had Marcel been bilingual with Danish like Anna, I would not have a single worry, but learning French before English means that the French lessons his nursery and primary school insisted on giving him were 99% meaningless. His primary dealt reasonably well with issue by letting him become teacher's helper using him as a facilitator between his classmates rather than making him roleplay Je m'appelle Marcel or J'ai un frère et 2 sœurs.
I had been a bit worried about what was to come next. Given he needs to sit in a French class for the next four years, minimum, I had visions of them trying to teach him to conjugate avoir, while he sat on his mobile downloading music, being thoroughly bored. Worse still he could encounter one of the archetypal middle-aged French teachers who hadn't set foot on French soil for thirty years and who would nit-pick his idiomatic French slowly trying to force her 1970s version down his throat. I was apprehensive about what they'd do to my wee boy. Would they appreciate his fluency or simply clamp down on his less formal than textbook speech?
He left out the French textbook the class will be using on the couch on Wednesday night. I was horrified. By the end of it, they were still in the basics he could have down from his buggy as a two year old. I decided to phone school and arrange a meeting. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised on Thursday when he returned home. You forgot the French book, I told him. Oh, I won't be needing that, he replied. Today my teacher took me aside and interviewed me in French and said she'd deal with me quite separately from the rest of my class, she's French herself and can see that this would be pointless for me! Phew! Sense is creeping in for once.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

COMTÉ OR BRIE PHYLLIS?

Now here's an interesting one...
Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows the literature you get loves to bombard you with lists of food items that will cause you and your baby to drop dead if you so much as look at them sideways in the supermarket. Instead of assuming you have a brain that can understand the concepts they are throwing at you, you get a list of banned substances. I've always taken these lists with a pinch of salt - for two reasons. Firstly, being part of a multicultural family, I know the taboo list is quite different in both France and Denmark - that gets you wondering for starters. Also the taboo list has changed a bit over the last 12 years so I tend to figure finding a happy medium is sensible.
The other problem I have with it is that by oversimplifying it, they are actually making things more, not less dangerous. Take cheese for example. I have been advised by the NHS that I should avoid soft cheeses but hard cheddar-like substances are fine. So I buy a brie and a comté in Makro today. Obviously following NHS rules I am headed for comté and biccies tonight after dinner BUT when I read the back of the brie it says 'made with pasteurised milk' and when I read the back of the comté it says 'made with unpasteurised milk' so if it is indeed listeriosis they want me to avoid, then I should be avoiding the comté and devouring the brie... wonder how many pregnant women are caught out because of their oversimplified rules?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WHEN DID SENSE DROP OFF THE RADAR?

Sometimes people make up new rules and no one stops to ask why? No one has the courage to say to the rule-maker: this is utterly stupid, or this is a waste of peoples' time or a waste of money.
What in particular am I ranting about this time? The NHS of course.
As you all know I am not exactly what would be classed a spring chicken on the childbirth front, so it (sadly) came as no great surprise when the ante-natal blood tests came back telling me I was fairly high risk for Downs and other genetic problems. Although I have had one amnio before, I can easily say it is one of the most stressful experiences of my life. It isn't overly painful having a needle the length of a knitting needle stuck through your abdomen into your womb without anaesthetic but the risk of miscarriage coupled with the waiting for test results and of course the knowledge of the decisions those results may engender are heart-stopping.
My appointment was made for Tuesday at 11am. I left Anna with mum explaining I expected to be back within the hour. On arrival at the Queen Mum's, the doctor announced I could only have an amnio after they took a blood sample to determine my blood group as anti-D would be necessary if I was rhesus negative. She was holding my notes, stamped in pink on the front: Patient is Rhesus negative! Problem solved... we pointed out I had had four babies at that hospital over the last 12 years. She leafed through my notes and sure enough page after page mentioned my B negative blood group and every time over the years I had been given anti-D. It mentioned their testing of my blood type every pregnancy and the fact that (funnily enough) I seemed to always be the same blood type! However the new hospital policy is to check the blood type on the day of an amnio so I had my blood taken. I had a half hour scanning and amnio procedure at 11am followed by a wait till nearly 2pm in the waiting room, starving while the lab checked my blood type so they could authorise my anti-D. And you'll never believe it... at 2pm the lab confirmed I was indeed B negative! So glad my tax money is being put to such good use!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

MYSTERY DEEPENS

After nearly 18 months of spot problems with Léon we went on holiday to Tuscany. The weather was great, sunny and generally not under 30C except during three afternoon thunderstorms and nights when we got down to a chilly 27C. We were not within walking distance of a shop so his fresh milk intake diminished, though his ice cream intake increased so maybe one cancelled the other out... His diet wasn't wildly different - we'd more pasta and tomatoes than usual, more salami type cold meats but in general the same. He drank mainly water though had a few fizzy drinks. Suddenly as if by magic, my wee man was spotless. Excellent! Problem solved...
Of course we had to come home again. We arrived back on Friday night and just two days later they started to reappear as if by magic :-( What is causing this? Is he allergic to Scotland?

Monday, August 17, 2009

GOING SENILE?


Perugia, Umbria
Originally uploaded by PhylB
When we went to Perugia last week I was quite excited. I had only been once (in 1992) since my time there studying at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia for three months in 1986. Perugia was my first stay away from home. Perugia was the first time I interrailed alone across Europe (there was no wimpy Ryanair for the students in my day - we only had the means to ship ourselves surface-mail!) So Perugia was where I grew up in the space of three months. I learned very quickly (the hard way) how to be a lone 18 year old foreign female.
When I first arrived in Perugia, for example, I knew I needed a residence permit - this was way before the borderless 1990s. I heard the place to obtain one of those was the police station. I popped into the local Caribinieri and asked for one. The officer behind the desk, probably 30 something, asked me my name, address, phone number etc and filled out the forms. He then asked what I was doing Friday evening. I wondered if, with my fairly intermediate Italian, I was misunderstanding. He then went on to thank me for my private details, told me he'd look me up and pointed out I ought to be at the Polizia and not the Caribinieri! I'd started to learn.
A week later I broke out in a rash. A friend back home had rung me the night of my departure to say she'd come down with chicken pox. The timing wasn't great given we'd had lunch the day before. I thought I ought to have it checked out. I went to the farmacia, they weren't sure and sent me to the cottage hospital nearby. I went in and asked two doctors in white coats. They made me strip, checked me over inch by inch and then declared that they too weren't sure but given they were porters they'd call me a doctor. I'd learned a little more!
After that I think I got the hang of Italy.
One thing I really loved in Perugia was my flat. I shared a beautiful attic flat in Via della Viola with two Austrian boys of about 20. It was an ancient stone building in a narrow street as you can see from the photo above. I used to love to look out on the red roof tiles of the neighbours. I can still smell the old wooden staircase. Unfortunately after just two or three weeks the roof began to leak in a storm and my landlord moved me to a boring modern flat two or three streets away with a lovely balcony, fig tree and several weird Korean inmates. I lived two or three weeks in my beloved Via della Viola and another ten in my boring modern flat. So Viola was my true home, my first love: the first flat of my own, the epitome of ancient Italy. I lived at number 88. I dragged Thomas, Marcel and Lots round the back streets of Perugia in the searing heat for half an hour before finding it. I skipped happily along the road as far as number 56, but the road stopped there! Huh?! I was 100% sure I lived at number 88 but there was no number 88. This is bizarre. I thought through later flats - one in Germany, four in France - I still know all those addresses by heart though they date from the same era. I even remember the boring modern flat in Perugia's address so how can I have got the Viola number wrong? I am now contemplating climbing up in the loft to retrieve an old suitcase where I kept the letters from my student days to get to bottom of the Viola address problem. Was it 8, or 18 or 8.8 or something? I doubt it, but how else can I explain it?
Of course the other three have spent the week casting aspersions on my sanity or senility.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

ESPRESSO MACHINES

Thomas and I have owned two different espresso/cappuccino machines over the years. Brita and Peter have now just bought a beautiful model over in Italy too.
Can anyone explain to me why the steamer arm of these machines is always so short and in an awkward position?
You have to hold your jug with the milk at a funny angle to steam it and then when you try to take it back out half of it spills out because of the angle. They all seem to be like that.
Odd.
Talking of espresso machines though, I found this in Italy last week (it's a much darker red in the flesh) and was soooo pissed off I didn't have the 169Euros it cost. Wouldn't it just have looked superb in my kitchen?!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

NEW BED


My parents bought us this lovely comfortable bed recently as a wedding present. Back in February when we got married, we had told people to hold off on wedding presents till we threw our big wedding party at some point in the near future but given the depth of this recession, finding the job security to blow money on a wedding party is looking very unlikely in the short to medium term. My parents took pity on me with my pregnant belly trying to sleep in an uncomfortable old bed and offered us this. It is just lovely. For years I assumed you woke up at our age with a sore back every morning simply because of age and not because of the bed but now I could sleep all day - well if the little people would let me. (So the end result is usually getting to stay under the duvet till 8am which really isn't bad with all these kids.)
And the most wonderful feature is the nice padded surround. Last time Thomas and I had gone on looks, buying a basic but fairly attractive black, iron bed frame, not considering that the metal bars would be so painful behind your back that you wouldn't be able to sit in bed with a book or a laptop. With this bed I can do a day's work without ever needing to get up! In fact it probably means I can work from the day after I have the baby which is just as well because the company I work for would struggle to pay me maternity leave this time round!

Friday, August 14, 2009

OH NO - CROCODILES UP THE WALLS!

Sweet little Pudge has been abroad a dozen times already but only once south of Paris (if you exclude NYC) and that was when he was less than a year old. He has often seen photos of lizards and crocodiles but in isolation with nothing to give an idea of size.
A few hours after arriving in Tuscany, he came running into the house extremely excited. Mum, mum there's a crocodile half way up Brita and Peter's wall! he shouted. Of course, I was then dragged out to see a 15cm lizard on the façade of the house.
Sweet!

FIRENZE - MY PERSPECTIVE


The other day I went back to Florence after a delay of 17 years. I still remembered my way around as if nothing had changed. Indeed nothing had (or had it?)
I walked round the market and the famous squares and churches in the centre. I drove up to Piazzale Michelangelo and realized the little campsite with the view to die for was still there and the view was still stunning. I felt 18 again (as long as I didn't catch sight of myself in a mirror!) It was still as beautiful.
But there was one sad factor. In the city in which I fell in love with the old Fiat 500 from the 1950s, I didn't see one single little chuggy car :-(

FIRENZE - MARCEL's PERSPECTIVE

The other day I drove Thomas and the two big kids to Florence, leaving the little two home to play with Thomas's parents. I know Florence well having lived in Perugia back in '86 and visited it since so figured knee-deep in tourists at 35 degrees wasn't the best day trip for the two little ones.
I wasn't sure how Marcel and Lots would take it. When I touched down in Florence at 18 I was blown away. It was the first time I left home to study at a foreign uni, I was 18 and interrailing alone across Europe. I had found my raison d'être. Would my kids love it, or were they still too young?
We parked under the main market and came up just one street back from Santa Maria dei fiori. I walked round the corner explaining Florence's history and art to the kids. I told him about the banking history, about Dante and Boccaccio, Michelangelo and Da Vinci. They were at least feigning interest. We walked round the duomo and up to the Palazzo Vecchio. Marcel was very positive, excited. Muttering over and over how wonderful Florence was and how he'd never been anywhere like it. I was proudly feeling like I had indeed raised a cultured individual but of course when I pressed him on his favourite statue, painting or piece of architecture he looked at me as if I was mad and started waxing lyrical about the Armani shop, the Ferrari shop, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci... here we go again with that stupid child's obsession with designer labels.
He has now decided he's going to move to Florence 'when he becomes a millionaire' so he can 'go shopping'!

I guess I should have seen this coming... Give me strength!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SENSIBLE VERSUS UNREALISTIC


A walk in Largs
Originally uploaded by PhylB
It's interesting how you can bring up two kids in what feels like the same manner and they can turn out so completely different.
Recently I needed to get trainers for the kids (because certain people haven't bought them a pair of shoes now in nearly 4 years but I won't start that rant again.) So I took them into a sports' shop and Charlotte went round the entire shop trying on all the trainers on offer in a UK size 1 starting from the cheapest up. She found some trainers in her size reduced from £30 to £15 but they weren't comfortable. Then she came across some Kappas reduced from £27 to £12. They felt fine she said and she went off to the cash desk pleased she'd got a bargain and found something comfortable.
Then came Marcel's turn. I told him to look at the reductions first because I have muuuuuuch less money than the person who won't contribute to trainers... He went over to the wall with the Nike, Ferrari etc trainers and started pointing out ones reduced from £70 to £60. He, of course, made no effort to try any on because it is the badge that matters not the comfort to him. He can't understand how a comfy pair of trainers at £20 could ever be more desirable than an uncomfy pair at £50 with the right badge on. I try to explain designer goods and how it isn't something he should get into until he has the means to but he looks through me as if I am speaking martian. We compromise: I refuse (kindly) to buy anything over £30 and he vows to check out the sports' shop's reduced items weekly till he finds a make he isn't embarrassed to wear. The net effect of course is he ends up stuck in his scabby old trainers while Charlotte wanders around happily in her comfy cheap ones!
Mad child!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ANTIHISTAMINES FOR PUDGY PEOPLE

On our second night in Italy we noticed Marcel, Charlotte and I had been mosquitoed whereas Thomas, Pudge and Bits were spotless (literally). I'd been warned off antihistamines because of my pregnancy but we thought we'd check the instructions to see if either Lots or Marcel could have their itch relieved.
Apparently Tesco antihistamines can be used by anyone who is over the age of two and weighs at least 30kg. 30 kg sounded awfully heavy to me for a two year old so we weighed Pudge and he was 16kg. Even Charlotte was only 29kg and she's nearly 10! I guess they are expecting extremely heavy toddlers in Silverburn Tesco. Must be all those chips and deep fried pizzas they feed them in Pollock!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ZANZARE

Zanzara was one of the first words I learnt in Italian when I started studying it in '85. My tutor liked the word's onomatopaeic quality so mentioned often how beautiful a word it was. I'm not so sure though. Unlike French mosquitoes, which do buzz loudly before assaulting you, I am finding that either I am going deaf in my old age or these Italian zanzare aren't zzzzzzing. The evil, nippy, blood-sucking, poisonous little bastards just sneak up on me and dine out like they think it's Xmas. I have lost count of the lumps on my legs and my pack of antihistamines say not to touch them if I am pregnant. I am coming close to not caring.
Tonight, after yesterday's thunderstorm, they seem more numerous than usual. I am unable to venture outside without being divebombed. The kids are out though. They (the zanzare) tired of their taste on day two. Why am I still on the menu?
I take pleasure in sitting bare-legged waiting for each little bastard to land on me and then squashing it dead. That may be nasty but I can't sleep for the itching so I am deriving a certain satisfaction from making these godless creatures suffer as they have made me suffer. I imagine catching them and simply pulling off their little daggers and then freeing them into the wild unarmed.
Mosquitoes are, to me, the ultimate proof that there can be no God.

SQUEEZY HONEY

I love honey, especially on my morning croissants but jars and spoons, even dedicated honey spoons, just drive me mad with their stickiness and waste. I don't want to lick the spoon clean - it's just a bit too sweet for me and I don't want to waste one of three spoonfuls I eat on each occasion. When I discovered squeezy honey I thought I'd found the solution. It's just perfect for croissants. There is no waste and no mess... but as usual there's a drawback. At the supermarket I can have two boring, mixed-flower honeys in the squeezy bottle or a selection of ten different and tempting types of honey in jars. Why can't we have all the fancy flavours in squeezy bottles? Why can't I have Spanish lavender or Australian eucalyptus in squeezy bottles? It seems unless I want to be bored I am back to square one :-(

Monday, August 10, 2009

ITALIAN CAR HIRE

I'm used to hiring cars all over Europe but it occurred to me when we touched down in Pisa that although I have driven in Italy before it has either been at the wheel of a friend's car or in a French hire car.
So off we went to pick up the Nissan Micra we'd booked online. We passed all the large, well-known hire companies and found our Internet one on the end. We were given our keys and tramped out to see our car. The guy on the desk assured us the car was in perfect condition but asked us to check because he couldn't really be bothered going out in the sun. When we noticed one wing was completely bashed, we took a quick photo of it and rushed back in to show the guy, before we got charged for it. And did the guy care? Not a jot! It seems we've arrived in Italy!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

BOY RACER?


Thomas's new car
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Thomas has never owned a car before and has often astounded me with his lack of basic knowledge of common models. If someone gave him a lift, I'd ask what kind of car he'd been in or what model and he'd have no idea. When hiring a car he'd ask things like - should we hire a Fiat Punto - what size are they? He could barely tell the types of car other family members owned. So when he bought his first car last week, I expected it to be a functional but boring addition to his existence... but oh no... Much to my surprise, within hours of acquiring the paperwork he was looking at number plates with EU flags and saltires on them, followed by steering wheel covers, replacement gear knobs and now he's talking alloy wheels! My beloved car virgin is turning into a boy racer, no less! It's quite cute to watch. Now I just need to indoctrinate him in the merits of the new Fiat 500!

Friday, August 07, 2009

MONKEYS


watching monkeys
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I must have mentioned before I am not a fan of monkeys...
Something that has often irked me as a mum of both boys and girls are those obnoxious little Baby on Board warning stickers. Firstly, I think they are stupid because we should all be driving sensibly anyway and not just when the car in front potentially has a preschooler drooling on the backseat. But mostly because of the two varieties that seem to be on offer. If you don't opt for the boring 'Baby on board', it seems you have a choice of a pink 'Princess on board' sign or a blue 'Cheeky monkey on board' one. So why the discrimination? Anyone who knows my angelic little Pudgeman wouldn't dare consider him a cheeky monkey. Why are girls nice but boys not? All that sugar and spice nonsense annoys me and when monkeys are thrown into the mixture, I am even angrier!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

TWINS?


A walk in Largs
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I can't help but think when I look at this photo that Anna and Marcel are very alike. I think it is something to do with their similar expressions around the eyes and mouth. The fact that they have the darkest eyes and skin of all the kids too make them look closer than say Marcel and Léon, or Anna and Lots.
It's funny, for many years I was told Marcel had nothing of me and was only like his father. Since Anna was born I also constantly hear how she is her father's double. But I guess if they are alike they must both have some hidden Mummy traits given they have different fathers!

Monday, August 03, 2009

POTATO PARANOIA?


Mashed Potatoes
Originally uploaded by jugglerpm
Thomas seems a tad more worried by green-skinned potatoes than me. In fact he approaches them in the same way that most Brits would approach a plate of toadstools collected randomly in the forest by an amateur.
Here in the UK we might avoid a dark green potato but a slight green haze on one potato in the bag wouldn't send us looking for an all-night doctor. We're used to the odd green chip or crisp in a bag and we happily munch them.
Thomas explained to me that Danes are so worried about the toxicity of green potatoes they'd take one back to a shop for a refund or bin it.
I thought I'd investigate.
It seems they are toxic but an adult would have to ingest 2kg of green potatoes at one sitting before the toxicity would start to affect them.
Interesting!
(I'm away to eat my mash - I hope Thomas won't notice the one greenish potato I threw in ;-) )

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A SORE HEAD

What is it with me and pregnancy? I seem to be more badly affected by headaches during pregnancy than anyone I know, particularly when I am having girls. Charlotte, of course, was the first though she'd probably deny having been a female foetus at any point. With her, things were so bad by 15 weeks that I was referred to a migraine specialist who prescribed some drugs I could start taking at around 20 or 22 weeks - that was a long month or two seeing double and waiting to see again :-( Anna was bad enough to warrant about eight paracetamol a day from week 15 to 30 but I tried to steer clearer of the other stuff that time. I'm now in my 17th week with 'Baked Bean' and again I've been maxing out on paracetamol for about three weeks now so I guess I need to discuss that with the doc again :-( I wonder if 'Baked Bean' will also turn out to be female?