20 Oct 2016

Flying with a 2-year-old

Next week is half term, and the kids and I are going to Germany for the week to see my parents and catch up with friends. I’m a seasoned traveller on my own with two kids by now, doing this every few months or so (John only comes with me now and again for special occasions like Christmas or family dos or weddings – a mutual agreement, it’s just easier that way).

This journey will be slightly different though. For the first time Alex will have his own seat, as he is two years old now and no longer has to sit on my lap, which is a definite plus. The slight disadvantage, if that’s the word, is, however, that he is now also a bona fide, energetic toddler, and for the next year or so, it will probably be quite tricky keeping him entertained (and contained) on a flight (until he’s older and happy to sit still).

Luckily the flight to Germany is only just under 90 minutes long, so this is manageable – even if the worst case scenario happens and he screams and shouts the whole way through, I just have to put up with it for an hour and a bit (sorry in advance, fellow travellers!).

But hopefully it will fine, judging by previous experiences and the fact that he loves aeroplanes and gets very excited to be on one. I’ve also packed plenty of things to occupy and sweeten the journey with (literally!), so I thought I’d share all the things I’m taking with me to keep a 2-year-old entertained on a flight:

1.       Firstly, I always pack our Little Tikes backpack with reigns. It’s so handy for the airport to make sure he can run around, but not off. It’s quite hard looking after two little children in a busy place on your own, but this makes it a little bit easier.

2.       I picked up these two activity and sticker books from the Poundshop, one is a Paw Patrol one and the other is a Teletubbies one. They both contain stickers, activities and some pages for doodling, so hopefully these will help occupy Alex for a while.

3.       A pack of pencils so he can doodle and scribble in the activity books.

4.       Mini lollies. They are really handy for take-off and landing, when the air-pressure makes your ears pop. Sucking on a lolly really helps with that, so I always keep plenty to hand.

5.       A variety of children’s crisps.

6.       Raisins. Because he likes them and you need at least one token healthy snack, ha!

7.       I always make sure I get a couple of new books that he hasn’t seen before. Hopefully the novelty factor will keep him focused for a bit and make the time “fly” by quicker.

8.       Mini wine gum sweets, because he loves them, and they are an easy and mess-free pacifier if he gets cranky.

9.       The ultimate entertainer – the iPad. I always download loads of his favourite programmes from Cbeebies, and we have plenty of toddler games on there, too, so if all else fails, the iPad should do the trick once we’re up high in the sky.

I have learned from past experience that healthy eating rules don’t apply when you’re up in the air. Just pack loads of everything, because when it comes to the crunch and your little one kicks off, you’ll be glad to have some options and plenty of “sweeteners”.

One thing that I wouldn’t pack – and trust me, I learned this the hard way – is chocolate in any shape or form, be that chocolate fingers, chocolate buttons or just simply chocolate bars. They will almost instantly melt, your toddler will be covered in chocolate stains all over and will subsequently cover every inch of your seat aisle in chocolate fingerprints. Très embarrassant when the air hostess walks past and guaranteed gives you a stinking look!

With regards to Becky, she is really no issue any more at all. She loves flying, and usually she is also on the iPad for as long as we are allowed to have it on. And for the remainder, we also take lots of books, colouring & drawing pads and activity books for her to get on with, and that always works a treat.

Safe – and relaxed! - travels, y’all! 

* Linking up with #TheList

17 Oct 2016

12 Signs You're the mother of a toddler

Alex is now two years and almost three months, and therefore bang in the midst of toddlerhood. And boy, don’t I know it! Apart from being irresistibly cute, he is also inquisitive, boisterous, opinionated, strong-willed and very very naughty! He is absolutely hilarious and I love him to bits, but it can’t be denied that he is definitely a handful – just as you’d expect from a toddler who discovers the world and its (and his) boundaries. So I’ve compiled a list of all the things my little Alex does that leave me in no doubt that I am the mother of a bona fide toddler:

1. You get excited when you see an ambulance, police car, tractor or helicopter, and even when your toddler is not with you, you still go “nee-naw” enthusiastically – even if it’s just in your head!

2. The word “no” becomes your verbal adversary. Whatever you ask your toddler to do will be met with a resolute “no”, and equally, if you tell your toddler “no, don’t do that” it’s guaranteed to be ignored and he does it anyway. Just. To. Push. The. Boundaries!! While smiling sweetly at you!

3. UN peace negotiations have nothing on trying to be rational with a toddler! He wants a piece of toast. He gets a piece of toast. Only that now he wants it in triangles rather than squares and refuses to so much as look at the plate. Back to the drawing board aka kitchen and start again. *Sigh*

4. You can’t stop putting a “y” on everything, even in adult conversation. “Shall we have a drinky?”, “I don’t know where your sockies are!” and “Which cary are we taking?” are normal dialogues between hubby and I …

5. You thank heavens for Peppa Pig, Makka Pakka and Mr Tumble, even though they also kind of freak you out.

6. There are raisins in every nook and cranny of your house, car, pram … the bloody things get everywhere!

7. Equally, every corner of the house is covered in finger prints and mucky patches – TVs & iPads, walls, wardrobes, kitchen appliances, the lot - as if your toddler is marking his territory. Cleaning is futile – within minutes, the same spots will appear and everything will be covered in gungy banana or chocolate fingerprints over and over again.

8. You can’t remember the last time you went to the toilet on your own!

9. You become super efficient at interpreting your toddler’s own little language, even if no one else understands what on earth is going on: “Wa-wahs, da!” Yes, Alex, flowers, there, that’s right! “ – “Tscho-kee, Mummy, Mi-a Tum-uh pweas” Mummy, I want a chocolate and watch Mr Tumble, please – and so on.

10. You no longer visit friends (especially those without children), for fear of your toddler trashing their house within minutes of arrival. Furthermore, it’s bound not to be childproof and he’ll be grabbing kitchen knives and nibbling on the cat litter within seconds! Just not worth the stress levels – mine and the hosts!

11. Equally, your own house looks perpetually like it’s been burgled – even when you could swear you’ve only just tidied…

12. You’ve learned the hard way that when it’s silent, that’s when you need to start panicking. Because that’s when your toddler’s decided to smear your favourite Chanel lipstick all over the wall, empty the Sudocream jar all over himself, the couch, the throw, the rug… or appreciate Daddy’s collection of LPs by smashing them one by one (all happened to us!).

So there we are, my list of everyday life with a toddler. They are hard work and drive you nuts sometimes, but they are also the most loving little humans ever, and their cuddles and kisses more than make up for the chaos they cause. So I’m soaking up every minute while I can and take the rough with the smooth. Because I know I will miss the mayhem when it’s all over and my toddler is all grown up.

What are your key signs of toddlerhood? Let me know anything I’ve missed out.

* Linking up with #TheList


13 Oct 2016

A different kind of post

It has been rather quiet here on this blog for a while now; I have countless posts half written in my drafts folder, but somehow I lack the time and energy to finish them or take photographs for them, so my posting is a lot less regular than I would like it to be ideally.  There is, however, a reason for my lack of time, and I thought I'd pop a little life update on here to explain.  It's a different kind of post, and I have debated for a long time whether to write about it on here or not, but I've decided that yes, this blog is about my life, and right now my life is preoccupied with something very specific, so this post does have its place.

Basically, one of the main reasons for the lack of posting recently is that for the last couple of months or so a lot of my spare time has been occupied with reading about and researching the aftermath of the Brexit vote, what it will mean for EU nationals like me who are living in the UK, and how I can safeguard my future.

Since that day, the 24th of June 2016, when I woke up to the news that the Leave vote had indeed won, I have been somewhat numb with shock and disbelief. It still hasn't really sunk in that the UK will be leaving the European Union, and - political arguments aside - the effect this will have on millions of EU nationals who live in the UK (and vice versa, those millions of Brits living abroad, of course).

There is so much uncertainty over what will happen to the three million UK residents from the EU; every day there are countless new reports, speculations and campaigns, and it's become quite stressful to follow and stay on top of. The fact that the Government are unwilling to give a clear commitment and guarantee to us that our rights and status are protected is a really big worry. Not knowing what your legal status will be in two and a half years' time is a pretty shitty position to be in when you've made your life somewhere, when you have a husband and kids and family in a country that now seemingly doesn't want you. I think unless and until you're in that situation, it's probably hard to sympathise and understand what kind of burden this really is.

I suppose this post is more for my own benefit than my readers; it's a bit of a brain-dump as it were, because I find solace in writing my thoughts down, and maybe it will help me rationalise and compartmentalise my Brexit-anxieties. So you're more than excused if you don't want to carry on reading after this point. Normal Fairies & Pirates blogging will resume soon, I promise! But for now, I want to jot down what it's been like to be among those who will be most affected by the Leave vote.

I should probably start at the beginning.

I am an EU expat - or immigrant, as some might prefer to call me - from Germany, and have been living and working in the UK for 14 years now.

My love affair with the UK goes back decades, ever since I was a little girl in fact, and most of my friends who I grew up with will attest that I've always dreamt of living in Great Britain. My parents were also huge fans of this beautiful island, and I spent many a summer holiday as a child criss-crossing the country, exploring coast to coast, and over the years I have visited most regions, from Land's End to the Outer Hebrides and John O'Groats. I spent various spells in education in the UK, too, be that a rather fun and notorious three week student exchange with my best friend Meike aged 15, living as part of a British host family and going to the local comprehensive school in Christchurch, where we stayed at the time (and fancying the pants off our then English teacher, Fraser, who was a newly graduated teacher in his early twenties and rather cute!), or actually studying here at university for a year, which is where I met John, my now husband, 17 years ago.

To me, Britain was always a bit like the "promised land" - a more relaxed, friendly, open and multi-cultural society and way of life than I perceived Germany to be. I'm pretty sure I would have ended up here anyway, but having met John was the definite trigger to go for it, so straight after I finished my Masters Degree in Germany I returned to the UK and have been living and working here ever since.

For all those years I have loved living in the UK - still do - and even though you get a more balanced view of a country when you live there (I have come to realise that not everything here is perfect and as in the "promised land", and equally, I miss certain things about Germany that I never thought I would), I consider it my home. I have put down roots here, I married a Brit, I bought properties, I have children here, a good, respectable job, professional status, amazing friends and what I would call a good, happy life, all things considered. I view Britain as much as my country as John does, and honestly, for all those years it never once occurred to me that I might not be welcome or that I don't belong here. If anything, I would boldly consider myself the prime example of successful integration.

But the Leave vote changed all that.

Knowing that people you know - friends even - voted Leave, is a strange experience. Even though their vote was unlikely to be personal, you can't help but wonder whether deep down, this is what they "really" think. Whether deep down they don't want you here, too. But of course you can't dwell on it too much, and have to try to let those thoughts go, because at the end of the day, everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion. And whether people voted Leave because they were mislead, ignorant, uneducated or actually genuinely thought they were making a well-informed choice for valid reasons that will solve their frustration with politics (which it won't, I'm convinced of it), you have to let things go and accept the outcome. Only that the outcome is extremely scary when you're on the receiving end of the vote.

In my whole 14 years in the UK, I never bothered applying for British citizenship, because, quite frankly, I did not see the point. As part of the EU, there was no direct benefit to it, my status was no different than a British person's, my rights seemed protected under EU treaty laws, and the only obvious advantage would have been that I would be allowed to vote in general elections, which I currently am not (and which is indeed a major disadvantage and a big bugbear of mine). But the process is long and expensive, and I never thought I would have to go through it.

Now, with the wisdom of hindsight, this of course seems rather naive and optimistic.

Because as of now, my status is anything but safe. I have done a lot of research into this, and it seems that being married to a Brit gives me no better or stronger constitutional and legal rights than being single and foreign (I'm still confused by this, because, why do people bother with sham marriages then?), but that's the status quo. So with that in mind, I have no idea what my future will look like in two and a half years' time, after Article 50 has been invoked and the two year negotiation period has passed.

A lot of my friends say to me: "Don't worry, you'll be absolutely fine. They [the government] won't get rid of you!", but, even though these words are well-meaning, they are also somewhat meaningless coming from Brits who have nothing to lose and can afford to be a little blasé about it (though the sentiment and gesture is appreciated). Because nobody knows at this stage. I've even heard some say: "You'll be absolutely fine. You're one of the 'good' immigrants", presumably due to the fact that I work for my living, but this, quite frankly, infuriates me even more, as most EU immigrants do indeed work, be that in skilled or low-skilled jobs, as most statistics have proven, and using such a categorisation for being a "good" or a "bad" immigrant is very flawed and subjective indeed.

And whilst I myself don't believe that someone will come knocking at my door late at night and physically drag me away and drive me to Calais to pop me on a ferry, continent-bound - I bloody well hope so anyway! - I may still find myself at a disadvantage when it comes to things like employment rights, access to healthcare and welfare, should I ever need it, general insurance, pension, residential status and so forth.

So this is definitely something I have to think about and consider carefully. Who knows, there may well be a question mark over my right to stay in the country, and the sheer thought of being torn apart from my family, my kids, who need me, keeps me awake at night.

I follow a Forum for EU Citizens in the UK and Brits Abroad, which discusses and updates daily on latest developments and news around Brexit. And yes, it's a bit like self-diagnosing with Doctor Google, with a fatal illness the certain outcome. There is a lot of panic and doom & gloom, but at the same time there is also lots of helpful information on things I never even knew about, that the Home Office itself seemingly was never clear on, and a nice sense of community in that there are others in the same boat, and that maybe, together, our 3 Million voices might be heard.

Opinions on the forum are split between riding out the situation and waiting what happens, and actively seeking to do something about it. Those who favour sitting it out range from optimistic views that it won't be that bad, to being too proud, defiant and appalled at having to seek the nationality of a country that is so hostile towards them. They resent - as do I - that our lives are being turned into bargaining chips for the divorce from the EU, and a proposed "amnesty" to let EU nationals stay in the country. Indeed, the term "amnesty" is utterly misplaced - we are here legally, we haven't done anything wrong, therefore, we don’t need an “amnesty”; we just need a clear acknowledgement of our contribution to the country and a commitment to our permanent residential rights!

Many even contemplate leaving everything that they have built here behind and relocating, either back to their country of origin or elsewhere. But this is not an option for us; our lives are here, our jobs, our home, our kids are settled here, and John doesn’t even speak German - where and how would we start from scratch? And more importantly – we don’t want to!

So, whilst I fully sympathise and agree with most sentiments of my fellow expats/ immigrants, I am taking the second stance, that I would rather do something about it now than live with the uncertainty forever, because, honestly, it's quite depressing. So I have decided, reluctantly, to start the process of applying for British citizenship, so I can have dual nationality, and equally, sort out German citizenship for my kids, which they are automatically entitled to anyway and which should hopefully be just a formality. I need to be pragmatic and safeguard my future as far as I can, and the only way I see that I can do it, is to take this step. Maybe the rather nasty rhetoric bandied about by the Brexit camp and the people in charge of negotiations won't lead to anything negative for people like me; maybe, in a few months down the line they will indeed guarantee our status and rights, but I can't just sit and wait whether and until this happens.

Seeking citizenship is a very drawn-out process, the first step being that I have to apply for a permanent residency card. This in itself is rather tedious, as I will have to produce five years worth of proof of my residency, sending in payslips, P60s, proofs of addresses, bank statements, council tax and other bills, marriage certificates, birth certificates of my children, mortgage statements, details of my whereabouts in and out of the country for the past five years etc. - a whole catalogue of original documents that I have to find in the first place. The worst thing is that I will also have to send in my passport for a duration of anything up to six months, which really fills me with dread. Not knowing when I will get it back and potentially not being able to go back to Germany to see my elderly parents when I have to or in an emergency during that time is utterly scary and makes me feel really stressed and panicky. And it is a bit like handing over your identity.

If and once I receive such card, I can then start official citizenship and naturalisation proceedings, paying around £1500 for the "privilege". I can honestly think of other things I would have rather spent that kind of money on, but needs must.

A big part of me feels like I shouldn't have to do it; after all, in my 14 years in the UK I have nothing but contributed to the country; I pay a not insignificant amount of taxes, I've never claimed any kind of benefit apart from the child benefit for my children that they are entitled to, I speak the language and am fully integrated into British life and society, and I've never been a "burden" on the NHS, apart from spending two days in hospital while giving birth to my two - British! - children. And yet, I have to be pragmatic and put those thoughts to one side.

I have never been a nationalistic or patriotic person, and I truly feel like a EU citizen, a resident of the world, rather than from a specific nation. That is not to say that I don't agree that the EU needs reform, that there has to be an open and constructive discussion about immigration across the whole of the EU, and that the institution itself is far from perfect. But I do believe that change is more effective from within rather than from the outside. And I do and will always believe in the fundamental principles of the EU, that we are better united than divided.

On a positive note, I know a lot of Brits who didn't vote Leave and who are just as shocked and dismayed at the result and feel that it doesn't represent them, and not just because their summer holidays to Spain or Greece will guaranteed be more expensive and difficult to arrange in the future! I take comfort from their solidarity and just hope that things will turn out ok. And if I do get my British passport, then at least I can vote in the next General Election and help abolish these nasty, xenophobic voices who are trying to turn a great country that I so dearly love into a narrow-minded Little Britain.

12 Oct 2016

Room rejig continued

NOT my conservatory, but conservatory goals. Picture Source: Pinterest
So, as I mentioned on here before, we are currently in the midst of updating, renovating, rejigging and hopefully extending (in the near future) our current house, which we bought earlier this year.

John has spent almost all summer in the garden, digging it up and re-landscaping it, and even though he didn't manage to fully complete it before autumn and winter are setting in as it's such a massive job, it won't take that much longer to finish come spring time, so that we will have a lovely garden to play in, relax and enjoy next year.

As part of this whole house / garden project, we are swapping a few rooms around. I have already shared my interior plans for Becky's and Alex's rooms, and once John has put down the garden spade and digger for good for this year, we will dedicate the rest of autumn to finally making these room changes happen.

One of the first steps is to turn our conservatory into a proper, liveable and usable room, which will allow us to free up one of the double bedrooms, which will become Becky's new, bigger room. So the conservatory is kind of a priority now, as the rest of the house rejig depends on it.  It's currently used as a bit of a "nothing-room", it's mainly the kids' playroom in spring and summer and houses tons of toys, but it gets very cold in winter, which is when we don't really use it. So this needs to change, and I have been looking at heating options, both under floor and standard heaters, which we'll be making a decision on soon.

The next step is to repaint the currently bright turquoise walls (not our choice, might I add, we inherited a rather bright colour scheme from the previous owners) in Dulux Egyptian Cotton to neutralise the room. I love this colour. Over the last few months I've spent way too much time, effort and money on the wrong shade of off-white until I found this perfect shade for our living room, and I am now in love and want to put it everywhere. It's off-white without being too beige, too grey, too yellow or going into other funny shades of pink or blue, which many off-whites do.

Then, a major consideration are blinds, as we have both roof windows and a full window front to cover. For the roof windows I'm thinking energy blinds from VELUX as they provide not just cover from the glaring sun, but also insulation against the cold, which is what our issue is with this room.
And for the main window front we are probably going to get these easy to fit ones from Binds 2 Go. This will give us both privacy as well as openness when desired, and therefore lots of flexibility, which is always a good thing.

I also want to get new flooring in - currently it's tiled, which is fine, but I'm not a super fan of floor tiles. But we might have to leave that for another time, as I don't want to spend all autumn just on this room. We have a nice oriental rug in there, which I will keep and which covers most of the floor area, and I might add some more soft furnishings just to make it that bit more cosy. On the one, walled side of the conservatory, we already have a good old Billy bookshelf by IKEA, but I will be adding a couple more, so we have ample storage for books and bits and bobs, and I wouldn't mind a nice antique bureau and comfy chair to complete the look of this room - when it's a proper room.

Hopefully this will be a lovely grown up space for John and I, with beautiful garden views thrown in as a bonus next year. I'll share all room tours with you eventually, when all of our renovations are completed.

*Collaborative post 

3 Oct 2016

My September 2016

Where has September gone? It's been a strange month, so fast, fairly uneventful, and yet kind of full of events. The months was mainly dominated by the return to school and normal routine - well, at least that's what I thought. But if I ever thought Year 1 would be easier in terms of expectation on the parents and involvement - well, I'm having to think again. If anything, it is tougher yet, and there are so many things parents need to do and so much more homework and other things to do. No wonder we are all already pretty exhausted and finding it a little harder to adjust than anticipated. Roll on the end of October and term holidays!

1. We soaked up the last rays of sunshine and summer weather earlier in the month, playing with a funky water display while out and about. Ah, to be a child again!

2. I had a lovely Mummy-daughter-date with Becky the weekend before she started school again; we had cake, hot chocolate and marshmallows in our local deli, and it was lovely to just hang out. I feel like we don't get to do this enough, and it's weighing heavy on my mind sometimes. So we vowed to do this more often, just me and my girl.

3. We were also very last minute with getting Becky fitted for her school shoes, and had to squeeze this in on the Sunday before school started. Oops! The Clarks shop we went to was very "fancy", as Becky said - she was measured with iPads and a lot of hoo-ha and fanfare - which she really enjoyed, bless her. I had to put my foot down though over buying Becky some shoes she wanted just because they came with some stupid, cheap toy. Talk about sales tactics and pester power! Sigh!

4. September was also the month we got our first taste of autumn, and with it came the purchase for some cosy autumn pyjamas in dinosaur print for Alex. I couldn't resist - doesn't he look cute!

5. We went for a few long walks, and Becky and John were always ahead, Becky on her bike and John jogging alongside. Alex and I would be safely behind, taking it easy.

6. The day came and it was Becky's first day at school and Year 1. Year 1! Can you believe it.

7. It was also my birthday this month. Just how I got this old, I do not know - I'll let you guess my age, if you don't know it, ha! Please be kind! But, as the old (excuse the pun) adage goes - I'm not old, I'm retro!

8. Becky completed the rainbow run at her school, and got a lovely medal (to be fair, everyone got one, but that does not deflect from the fact that we were very proud!). She really enjoyed it this year (last time she fell over at the beginning and then cried for the rest of it!), and it was even a lot of fun to watch.
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