Wednesday 5 December 2018

Waiting for Nikolaus

On the eve of St Nikolaus' day children in Germany (and possibly adults too) put out their boots hoping that Nikolaus will come and fill them with sweet surprises. Here are our shoes lined up in front of the fire place ready to be filled. We hope that Nikolaus remembers our half German boys and will make a flying visit to Ireland. 

We started to get into the festive mood by decorating the house and baking gingerbread and Christmas cookies.

Aidan is thoroughly enjoying himself and I am too. I'm trying not to get too obsessed about having everything perfect. While it's hard not feel at least a little stress with so much to do, it's important to enjoy the moments. I took a whole day decorating cookies with Aidan and it was so much fun. The next day Adrian and I did our Christmas shopping while my parents in law minded the boys for us. And instead of feeling the pressure to get all the presents we just enjoyed being in town together on our own. We had our lists, got everything we wanted and then enjoyed a late lunch and a cup of coffee. It was the most relaxed Christmas shopping trip I've ever done and I really don't know why I usually get so stressed about it. 
I suppose it depends on your mindset if the weeks leading up to Christmas are hell or a peaceful and enjoyable time.
Here is a collection of things that I used to think are important and that made this time of the year so hard:

- The decorations have to be beautiful and ideally homemade.
- I have to bake tons of Christmas cookies, as many varieties as possible ( like my grandma used to do, I still dream of the giant tin boxes filled to the brim with delicious smelling bakeware).
- With every Christmas present I need to include at least one little handmade gift.
- I have to buy/make loads of little gifts that can be used to make up hampers so I always have a present ready in case somebody gives me or the boys an unexpected present.
- I send Christmas cards to basically every person I know, even if I never received a card from them in return.
- While doing all the above I need to be in a festive mood, enjoying quiet evenings sipping hot beverages by the fire place.

When I look at this list I still feel the urge to get all those things done: I really really like baking and making and showing people that I care by giving them thoughtful presents. But as much as I love doing these things, once you want something done perfect and within such a short time frame they're just chores and it will take all the pleasure out of them.

I'm downsizing a bit this year and so far I'm enjoying December much more than I used to.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Patience and Pom-poms

When I tell people that I like knitting and crocheting, they often respond by saying how they admire my patience and that their lack of it prevents them from doing needlework themselves. That always makes me feel slightly ashamed because I really don't have a lot of patience. It's one of the things I do have to work on as there's nothing worse than being impatient with small children. But it's really driving me nuts when I have to wait for my three year old son to put on his shoes, come inside, brush his teeth... especially when  I'm already pressed for time. Only that showing my impatience is making it worse and might even culminate in a tantrum. 
But doing crafts requires a different kind of patience I think. You're not waiting for someone else to do something, you're doing a task over and over again until you finished something. I obviously do have some patience for this, but regrettably not that much either. That's the reason why I'm always starting new projects without finishing the current ones. It's very exciting to start something new and it can be exhilarating to finish a project, but the middle part is often boring. Or meditative, depending what mood you're in. 
Anyways, sometimes you just really want to finish something, be it because you're impatient or just running out of time. And here is where the pom-poms come in. Being that time of the year again, I'm crocheting a few wooly hats for several small members of the family. And I just love a nice pom-pom. They aren't exactly hard to make but they do require a few tools and some fiddling around. As I don't have a pom-pom-maker ( until recently I didn't even know they existed), what I usually do is cut two rings out of carton and wind lengths of yarn around them. Not too hard or complicated but here is a way of doing it much quicker and nearly as neat. All you need is wool and scissors.

Hold the end of the wool in your hand and start wrapping it around your fingers. For a small pom-pom wrap it around two or three fingers. I wanted mine to be big so I used four fingers.

Keep wrapping the yarn around until the desired thickness. Cut the yarn.

Remove the bunch of yarn from your fingers and tie a length of yarn tightly around the middle. 

Cut open the loops of yarn on both sides.

Your pom-pom will be a bit scraggly looking, so trim the ends all around until you get a  nice round shape.

And your pom-pom is finished and ready for sewing onto a wooly hat.

Here is one I've made for Enda's hat:

Friday 26 October 2018

Baby Blankets

This is supposed to be a craft blog, so it's about time that I write about something crafty again. Obviously with two small children to mind it's not so easy to find the time for crafts. Yet when I look back at the projects I completed since Enda was born, I realise that there's no reason to lament the lack of time. Somehow I seem to be able to squeeze in a few stitches, no matter how busy or tired I am. You always find time for doing things you really love, I suppose. And being really busy is also a good way of finding out what you really love and what you just wish you really loved. For example, I do like music, but I don't love playing or even listening to music as much as I love sewing. I took out my violine once in the last year. Looks like there was never enough passion behind this dream of being a good musician.

But to come back to my actual projects, here is a nautical themed quilt that I made for Aidan:

I started working on it a few weeks before Christmas last year realising that I wouldn't finish it for Christmas but hoping that it would be ready for Aidan's birthday in February. I didn't plan it in any way other than gathering the fabrics I wanted to use, and I didn't measure anything. I just cut fabric pieces and sewed them together, arranging them while sewing. This is not how a quilt is property done. You're supposed to make a plan and measure your fabric pieces. But I was too impatient and didn't want to lose time with making an elaborate plan. It also meant that the project felt less daunting to me. After all I was just sewing fabric pieces together in whatever way I fancied. "Making a quilt" sounds much more daunting and doomed to failure. 
Of course I didn't finish it for Aidan's birthday. It was several more months later. John, my brother in law, had just given Aidan a few ceramic buttons, one of them in the shape of a sailing boat. Perfect for sewing onto the quilt.

Since I made the first baby blanket for our first neqhew it has become a tradition to make a blanket for every new baby in the family. Yet Enda still hasn't got one. So after finishing Aidan's quilt (already the second blanket I made for him), I decided it was time to make one for Enda. I'd like it to be finished rather sooner than later ( I'll soon be making the next blanket for the next baby in the family), so I opted for something a bit simpler and quicker. I had picked up this lovely vintage train fabric in a sale a while ago but didn't know what to use it for, so now I felt the time had come for it to feature in this blanket.

For the reverse side I used a light blue fabric with red polka dots (a present from my sister in law). I simply sandwiched a layer of wadding between the two fabrics, then I folded the backing over the front and stitched it in place. To secure the layers I will use pieces of satin ribbon to tie them together. And that's it.

Thursday 6 September 2018


We went on a short holiday to Bray two weeks ago and visiting the Dubray bookshop I bought a book called "The Bookshop"'by Penelope Fitzgerald.


Having worked in a bookshop myself for a number of years, the story of a woman setting up a bookshop naturally interested me. It was only later that I discovered that the recipe book I had bought the day before was also by someone called Fitzgerald. 

The day before we also visited the town of Avoca where we passed Fitzgerald's pub which had featured in a TV series we used to watch. Three Fitzgeralds - a coincidence but not that remarkable. The name is not uncommon. But I've recently read a book by a diviner who advised people to watch out for those things: it might be a sign or an answer to a question. I don't know if something profane like this might be sign for something.
But there is more to it: My sister Marina had her surgery to remove the tumour from her lung coming up just a week after we returned from our little holiday. It was quite a big and complicated surgery: the whole middle lobe of her lung was to be removed. The day of the surgery I was going to drive our mam who was staying at our house to the hospital where she was going to stay with my brother in law. I went up to my room wondering if I should bring some books for Marina to read. We usually don't read the same kind of books - I usually favour novels that are at least a century old while Marina prefers more recent literature. My eyes fell on "The Bookshop" which was lying on my bedside table. It was the only book she might like I thought. I was still hesitating- not knowing if she would have time to read when something told me that I should bring this book. I did. And when I arrived at her hospital bed what did I see amongst a pile of other books but "The Bookshop". Marina had already got it herself and started reading it. 
I returned home and found myself restless and more worried about the surgery than I had expected. Marina had been so calm in the days leading up to it and even on this very day. But while I was waiting I started to think of all the things that could go wrong. I had made it a habit to light a candle for her whenever she had a scan or chemotherapy during this terrible illness. A lot of people do this in Ireland and I like this practice. There is something comforting in the flame of a candle. My mam had been tidying her house and found my first communion candle and brought it to Ireland. 

It felt right to light it this time. It was the first time it has been lit after the day of my first communion nearly 30 years ago. The candle helped me through those hours of waiting and strangely also the thought of this book that we had both bought and started to read at the same time. 
In the end it turned out well! The surgery took very long but the surgeon was happy with how it went. It is too early to say if she's fully healed - there will be many more scans in the next months, but we couldn't have wished for a better outcome of the surgery. 

Monday 13 August 2018

A Supermarket Encounter

I went shopping in our local supermarket the other day, carrying Enda in the baby sling, when I heard someone saying "You have a lovely baby there!"
I'm quite used to hearing that sentence: It's amazing how many people smile at you or comment when you have a baby with you. I never realised this before I had children. A lot of people love babies and will start a conversation with you, especially when your baby is carried in a sling. I've always been introverted and never at ease talking to strangers but I've always experienced this as something positive. And sometimes hilarious:  A woman once compared Aidan to the Virgin Mary, maybe referring to the blue sling I carried him in (I think Mary is often depicted wearing a blue cloak). It was very odd.
But coming back to this day in the supermarket. I turned around and saw a pleasant looking old man coming towards me. He asked Enda's name and how old he was and after I had answered he turned to go on with his shopping. But then he hesitated and came back to me.  "I'm David," he introduced himself. "From Kerry, originally, but I've lived here for many years. One day in 2005 I woke up one morning to find my lovely wife lying dead next to me in the bed."
"I'm so sorry to hear that", I said.
"I've known her since she was 15. She was tiny, but always elegant. You know, sometimes the world doesn't matter!" He said all this with a smile and quite pleasantly. And with a final "God bless you " he. turned and went.
I don't know why he told me this - he wasn't looking for pity - but I like to think that it's his way of keeping his wife's memory alive. 
It was just a chance encounter in the supermarket but I won't forget it for a while.

Monday 6 August 2018

Cooking and Baking for my Family

Over the last few years I have really enjoyed cooking and baking and trying out new recipes, especially from my favourite foodblog. I have to say that I love eating and when I'm not cooking or eating I spend a lot of time thinking about food, looking up recipes and planning the next meals. I only lose interest in food when I'm either very exited or busy or very sad. After my sister got her cancer diagnosis I didn't want to think about food for while. I obviously still had to cook to feed my family, but there was no excitement. Everything seemed to be so purposeless. But when I was trying to find a way to be useful to Marina, I started to get into cooking and baking again. Unsurprisingly she had lost her interest in food preparation as well, and she seemed to be happy when I turned up with breads and cakes and healthy treats. And just in time Minimalist Baker posted this kitchari recipe which I made for her when she was unwell after her second round of chemotherapy.

Home cooking has taken on new dimensions again since I started feeding my baby boy Enda solids. This time I'm relying on two brilliant books: Baby at the Table  by the Chiappa Sisters and Planet Organic Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Lizzie Vann. A lot of the recipes from the first book are also on the Chiappa Sisters' website. I like their outlook on feeding a family: that you shouldn't cook separate dinners for parents and kids. There is still this belief in people's heads that children don't like vegetables and have to be coaxed into eating healthily. In Ireland there is hardly a restaurant that sells children's portions of their normal food: children's menus are mainly sausages and chips and maybe mushy peas if you're lucky. But if you don't give your children a chance to taste "grown-up" food when they're still young, you can't be surprised that they refuse to eat it when they're older.
(Saying all that, I have to admit that Aidan won't eat anything else but sausages and chips when we're at a restaurant which is of course our fault. We got him used to this as it made it easier for us to go out for dinner. Well, at least he's not too bad eating his veggies at home.)

Coming back to the two books on weaning: I really like Baby at the Table and it guides you very well through the first few weeks of weaning, but after that most of the recipes are just lists of what ingredients to put together in a baby  purée and sometimes it's not clear if you're supposed to cook an ingredient or leave it raw. There aren't many recipes for a baby that has moved on from simple purees but can't chew very lumpy food yet. So I'm glad I have the other book to fill that gap. There are loads of recipes that are proper meals with several ingredients and you just mash or purée them according to how much texture your baby can manage. (I still highly recommend Baby at the Table, especially because of the toddler and family sections.)

The decision to cook my babies' food myself instead of buying readymade was an obvious one for me even though it can be tough sometimes. Though I really enjoy cooking for Enda, especially now that he has properly taken to his food, it's not always easy to find the time. Often I have to hastily cook his meal while he is crying and Aidan is testing my patience by chasing the cat or climbing the back of the  armchair. But I want Enda to eat homemade food just like the rest of us. This doesn't mean that I never buy baby food: while it is possible to take homemade food when out and about it is not always very practical, so I do feed him readymade food now and again. I also keep an emergency bag of baby food in the press for those days when I don't have the time or patience to cook and the stash of frozen food happens to be empty. I just can't afford to be too proud to buy readymade food. Being a grumpy and tired mam is worse for my children.

This is something I keep having to remind myself about: Not to overdo the whole home making process. It's easy to fall into the trap of self blame. After managing to keep up baking my own bread for over a year now I always feel I've failed when I do cave in and buy a loaf from the supermarket. But baking bread shouldn't be about stressing yourself, it should be enjoyable and not a chore. So I decided to scrap those late nights of baking when all I want to do is grap a few hours of sleep before Enda wakes up for his next feed. The good thing is that I got better both at baking and at planning ahead. At the start making sourdough bread felt really intimidating and I mostly stuck to the instructions (something I do very seldom), but over time I realized that the dough still rises, even if I don't knead it for 20 minutes or proof it for four hours. Maybe sourdough starter gets easier to deal with the older it gets... I don't know. But after tackling the problem of inflated loaves I never had a sourdough bread that hasn't risen beautifully in the oven. As regards planning ahead, I always bake a big loaf of bread and freeze half of it, thereby avoiding having to throw out mouldy bread as well as always having a bag of sliced bread in the freezer that can be easily defrosted in the toaster.

Thursday 19 July 2018

It's been a long time...

When I look at my last post I find it hard to believe how much has changed since then. Everything had been alright then: I was pregnant with my second baby looking forward to the birth and my sister had just told us that she was expecting as well. But shortly afterwards she began to show signs of a miscarriage and the day before I had my baby boy we learned that there wouldn't be a baby for my sister. And though it's hard to describe the ups and downs, the feeling of alternating bliss at the birth of a healthy son and desperate heartache at my sister's miscarriage, I can only guess how much worse this time must have been for Marina. And as if this hasn't been enough, worse was to come. It began with a pain in her chest and a few weeks and several tests later she was diagnosed with lung cancer. There was a sense of unreality about it when we first heard it. I was in a state of shock for a few days, my whole world seemed to have been shook. I didn't intend to continue this blog, it made me so sad to see my last post and having to write about what happened. But it's a strange thing: it's impossible to stay in a continual state of shock and despair. Somehow life went on and now we've become used to Marina's illness. We don't accept it of course: there is this determination that we won't allow it to get the better of her. And although there is not much we can really do for her ( that's up to the doctors), we try to do everything to help her get through this: if it's a chat, an uplifting quote, a massage or some baked goods. At least you don't feel completely useless and powerless. And if there is one good thing that has come out of this terrible diagnosis it's that it created an even stronger bond between us sisters and our mam.
With more positive feelings taking over, I realised that I had used my sister's illness as a pretext to discontinuing this blog.  Of course it's hard to find time to write now with a second child who's only a few months old. But I started writing this blog because I wanted to try and find time for creative things amidst everyday life. So I decided to come back to it.