Once upon a time there was a house where no Christmas light shone, no tinsel shed sparkles all over the carpet and no anthropomorphised penguin sang astonishingly catchy jingles from a shelf. The house was dark and the people who lived there were away on a very well deserved pre-Christmas holiday to a place of sunshine. And so it came to pass that an elf had a very good idea. He told his wife, the three tiny elves and their auntie elf and they gathered in the early fog of a winter’s morning to set right these wrongs and let Christmas shine all over the house.
The elf and the auntie elf hunted high and low for all they would need to bring about the transformation, and the three tiny elves carried boxes, hung decorations and danced all day long. And when the darkness came, light shone from the happy Christmassy house, and in the garden a snowman braved the 13 degree weather with fortitude until the time came for the elves to sneak away under cover of the night.
They told no-one what had come to pass apart from the other uncle and auntie elf who had been sorely but unavoidably missed, and not even the tiniest elf shouting “we go decorate your house tomorrow Gran Grandad” over FaceTime could spoil this most festive of secrets.
And so today, as the light hauled itself upwards into the sky, they came home, and at last we can share what is one of our favourite videos ever, safe in the knowledge that it went down well and all the elves have been forgiven for telling fibs and are still invited for New Year’s:
All of which is to say that we filmed a Vlogmas video last Saturday when we did a day trip to Yorkshire to decorate my in-laws house before they got back from their holidays. Mum, if you’re reading this, please note that we hoovered!
It’s crazy but true; tomorrow this lovely little girl of mine is actually turning four. And as I still have to make both her school birthday cake and her home birthday cake, it’s time to let the pictures do the talking as, in now time honoured tradition, I’ve made another little video to look back on the year she was three – and just look how little she looked on her third birthday!
This time last year I was absolutely certain that this year I would have a stab at doing Vlogmas. I love Christmas and Advent and every tiny little thing that makes up our traditions, I want to have a record of the years when the children were really small, and the fact that you’d be making a video every single day means there just wouldn’t be time to panic about the editing or the music or all of that faff. Plus, it’s impossible to make a video every day for 24 days and not improve. So that was it, this year I was going to do it, camera at the ready.
Except, I think we all know how that plan went. It’s part the work situation, which isn’t going to drastically improve until March, and part that I thought to myself, I do the same thing, all day every day for every working day in December up to and including the 20th, who on earth is going to watch that?
But the more John and I talked about it, the more the stubborn part of my personality came to the fore. I might not be able to do Vlogmas every day, and it might bore everyone to tears if I did, but why not do a 12-days-in-one Vlogmas? And so we did, and here it is:
You can tell from the comments about the temperature and the fact it’s not raining that this was the earlier part of the week and not Friday, but with a few variations, this is what my working day looks like for December, with more Christmas parties and fewer impending colds (I hope!). It is spectacularly silly and was great fun to make, and has only made me want to make more videos, possibly when I finish work for the year and pour every ounce of repressed creativity into making this the most Christmassy Christmas ever ever, although a certain someone’s pre-birthday video should be making an appearance tomorrow.
I’m still incredibly beginner at videos too so if you have any tips, tricks, suggestions, recommendations for a good video camera rather than just using my iPhone, please tell all in the comments and I will be eternally grateful.
Well hello again! It seems I’ve taken a reluctant and unintentional blog break, and with no better reason for it than real life being all consuming, or to be more precise, real work. I know I mentioned in previous posts that work had gone a little bit bonkers and that’s probably the understatement of the year. It was bonkers at the end of September and for the past two months a perfect storm has been building and building; individually each knock would be manageable, taken together it’s pushed my team from ‘take a deep breath and just keep swimming’ to ‘I can’t remember the last time that my evening wasn’t flat out working from as soon as the children fall asleep to when I can’t keep my eyes open any longer’. It’s not been great, and something had to give. Well everything had to give; time with the family, cooking, doing my share around the house, and all the things that make me me, including writing and photography and just joining in and feeling part of the communities online. In the last month I’ve done a teeny tiny bit of knitting, and that’s about it; very little blogging or Instagram or anything and I’ve really missed it.
It’s going to get better (it has to get better) and hopefully soon, and then I can get back to being slightly more well rounded than I am at the moment. I managed to turn my laptop off at the end of the working day, and I haven’t opened it more than once since (it’s baby steps!). And on Thursday I had the loveliest treat/enforced happiness.
Sat at my desk at quarter to five on Thursday it took a little while for the sound to break through my concentration and underlying worry about making a train that was actually going to get me home early enough for John to head out to training while also being fully prepped for a meeting the next day. But then there it was again, persistent, and oddly familiar:
And as I turned a page of notes and refreshed the station departure board on my screen, I smiled to myself, and thought “so it’s not just my children that stand in the street and shout up then.”
But they did sound familiar, and in that moment a colleague said “that isn’t your kids is it Carie?”
So we all looked out of our windows, and as faces filled the sixth floor windows, three tiny people and their Daddy started waving madly up at us. In the spirit of ‘if Mohammed won’t put down her laptop and come to the mountain’, the mountain had come to take me out to the German Market for an evening and a bit of time together as a family that didn’t involve domesticity. There are many many reasons why I love that man, but his ability to rescue me from myself is right up there.
They all came upstairs while I finish getting ready, and did as well as six, three and two year olds can be expected to do in a gently silent office. I have a new picture for my board from Kitty, and several pens down the side of my desk and under the radiator, a very colourful to do list from Elma, and Pip’s occasional chirrups of “what doing Mama?” were I’m told, sweetly entertaining to my team (but then I am their boss…!)
And then we were off. The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is apparently the biggest German Market outside of Germany. It is vast, and this year is the 50th anniversary so it’s even more vast and staying for even longer. It fills the whole of New Street top to bottom, and up by the Floosie-no-longer-in-the-Jacuzzi-because-the-council-planted-up-the-fountain and around the corner. On a crisp winter night it is light and sparkle against the darkest of darkness and it is beautiful, and noisy, and warms your soul, even before you get to the mulled wine. The kids started dancing even before we turned the corner into Victoria Square, and then of course they saw the carousel.
It’s becoming a bit of a tradition with us now – all carousels spotted on family outings must be taken for a spin, so while Elma sailed along regally, Pip and John, Kitty and I pulled her sleigh from the three horses in front; Ellie, Penny and We-forgot-to-look.
I’d love to show you photos of the market but for once the camera staying in my bag; my brain was tired and I didn’t want to think about lighting, and persuading the children to stay still or anything more than just being with them – and eating an amazing pork schnitzel and a white chocolate marshmallow (yum). What I do have is a tiny snippet of video that John took, that captures a little of the fun of our evening.
a very precious evening in the crazy of this autumn.
The foothills of the Bavarian Alps build steadily on the German side, tracing the road up through the valleys until suddenly you round the corner, the road falls away beneath you and there, several hairpin turns below you, is Austria and the Tyrollean plateau. It’s completely unexpected and breathtakingly beautiful, even half smothered in mist.
I think I thought of Innsbruck as being a larger version of Zermatt; tucked into the side of the mountain, nestled among the Austrian Alps, but they’re more of a fence, soaring hundreds of feet into the sky wrapped around the valley below. Perhaps they’re not quite so awe inspiring as their Swiss cousins, but they still dominate the sky line; a solid wall of rock and snow capped peaks to the south and west, with little green swards appliquéd on to the side, looking utterly flat compared to the mountains behind. They looked completely inaccessible, and yet more often than not there would be a little village and a church tower perched up on top; dropped there by giants playing at keeping house.
Innsbruck itself is beautiful. We headed for the old town and its famous gold roof, meandering along the riverside as all of the past few days worth of thunderstorms washed away downstream. I’d started taking pictures of the pretty coloured buildings before we got anywhere near; they were the perfect oranges and golds to brighten the sky on a misty grey day while we waited for the clouds to clear, and reminded me so much of growing up in Devon where we paint out houses the colours of ice cream and think its totally normal.
But by the time we found the gold roof all thoughts of beautiful buildings were entirely forgotten, even though we were in the heart of the pretty bit. On the way in we’d been stopped by an actual traffic policeman (a first in itself) and redirected to clear the road to allow the police marching band to go past. I love marching bands, they’re definitely one of my guilty pleasures, and it seems that Kitty has similarly excellent taste in music as she insisted that we rolled the windows down and listened for as long as possible. To our huge delight, as we turned around the corner to see the gold roof, we could hear a solid brass oompa-oomp-pa. There’s something about that music that makes my toes itch to be moving, and Kitty and I sped up as we headed forward and around the corner to see the band set up in front of the old town hall.
Exploring to do? What exploring. John and Elma went for a little wonder but while Pip was busy batting out a beat on my back, Kitty was mesmerised. She found a spot on the cobbles and sat in front of them, immersed in the music and utterly in the moment. And with a bit of time to stop and look around we finally worked out what all the little white banners were about; we’d come to Innsbruck in the middle of Music Festival.
Having thoroughly enjoyed one impromptu concert we lucked out again when our stop for a picnic in the Innsbrucker Hofgarten turned out to be just outside the Musikpavillion where a group of students from the Innsbruck School of Music put on a more classical concert to a packed pavilion and a good number of people just outside the door. We couldn’t stay for the whole concert, but to hear just the start, and be able to watch the children running around quite happily outside was a serious treat.
The reason for our scuttling away, despite the very excellent tree climbing trees, and the discovery of the princess and the frog in a fountain, was a castle. Not the Habsburg Palace (beautiful though it is), but a gorgeous castle adventure playground, complete with tower, battlements and a nice swirly slide. One of the two was always going to get the majority vote in our family and much as I would like to go everywhere and see everything when we travel, the priority for travelling with little kids has to be making sure that they’re having as good a time as you are, so play parks and good spaces for running around have as much merit as very pretty palaces.
The funny thing about being in Innsbruck is that it doesn’t feel like an alpine town when you’re just walking around the gardens, or along one of the main roads. It’s completely flat, and it’s not until you suddenly look up about the roofline of the streets, or something that isn’t quite a cloud catches your eye, that you realise that you’re surrounded by these stunning peaks.
In a day we were only ever going to scratch the surface of Innsbruck, and tempted though we were by the idea of a cable car up the mountain, or a visit to the Alpine Zoo, we opted to spend what time we had pottering around and soaking up the atmosphere. And paying a visit to a yarn and fabric shop of course. If you follow my handmade posts you’ll know that I have developed a serious addiction to making leggings for the children. It meant that after owning it for four years I finally got around to figuring out my Mum’s overlocker (and promptly wondered what on earth took me so long) and it all started in Innsbruck when a window display of Christmas table cloths caught my eye and before I knew it we were standing in the middle of one of the biggest and loveliest fabric shops I have seen in years, facing a wall full of rolls of cotton jersey. That I only came home with four lengths for leggings for the children, a starry cotton print to make Pip shorts next summer and the most eye-popping sock yarn I’ve knit for John to date I see as a testament to my restraint, though I agree that may not be a view entirely mirrored by everyone else within the household. I have made all of the leggings though!
When the family finally tore me away, there were still little winding lanes to explore; grockle shops filled with miniature dirndls and lederhosen and every souvenir you’ve ever thought existed. Splurging our pennies on ice cream instead, we peeked into a glass blower and became appropriately dazzled by the swarovski crystal displays in front of the museum; enough sparkles even for my glitter loving lot.
Down Maria-Teresien Strasse we found a wonderfully pink church, and a little further on the Annasaule (St Anna’s column), also in pink, this time of the marble variety and therefore much admired. By the time we arrived it was mid afternoon, the skies had mostly cleared and the sun shone; perfect timing because this is one of the views of Innsbruck; the street, the column, the church and the mountains.
I know we want to explore more of Austria some day and we couldn’t help but love what little we did see, but this was the far point of our trip, the furthest we were ever going to be from home, all 866 miles of it, and I think we were all a little reluctant as we turned for the hills; back to Germany, and an acknowledgment that for this year at least, it was time to start making our way home.
I loved filming in Innsbruck and got slightly obsessed with the Police band and recorded quite a few snippets of their performance, so it seemed only appropriate that for our little film postcard home, I should turn the soundtrack over to the very talented Polizeimusik Tirol.
If you’d like to read some of our other postcards home from this year’s adventures check out: