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:
Walchensee is a landscape painted in blues; all turquoise, teal and midnight. We arrived on a scorcher of an afternoon, having taken far longer than we expected to drive the width of southern Germany and we were all hot, tired, and more than ready to arrive. Curling our way down the mountain pass, dodging hairpin bends and bicyclists in equal measure, suddenly a glimpse of water opened up and through the trees, there was the lake, and it was all we could do not to jump straight in it to cool off.
The lake is Walchensee, as is the village half way down the western shore, but the campsite (also going by the same name) is around the corner, over a bridge across the stream that could have been lifted straight from the Lake District, and along the side of a low spur pointing its finger out into the water.
Living in our beautiful island, a beach holiday means going to the coast; even from the very middle of the country it’s only a couple of hours drive to the nearest beach, and it wouldn’t take much effort to find a campsite somewhere near the seaside, and when you’ve grown up with that as your default setting you forget that it’s not the norm. If you live in southern Germany, proper seaside holidays are two countries away down by Venice and so if you want to hang out on a beach, you go to a lake. Walchensee is where the Germans go for their holidays, and in contrast to Enzerklosterle where we met mostly Dutch and British travellers, here we were the only foreign car in the car park, and 71% of the Brits on site. And because of that, people potter about on site and get chatting to their neighbours; even if it is to take the mick out of the size of our tent; “Ist Buckingham Palace?!” (es is nicht Buckingham Palace, es ist beeindruckend
While the carvans have set pitches, the tent section of Walchensee is two grassy sections down by the water. You pitch your tent anywhere you can find space for it, and when we showed up there was just about room enough to squeeze our lovely big green tent into the remaining gap, even if we had to forgoe pegging out large sections of the guy ropes. With the rest of the space being filled with the teeny tiny sort of tents that people take up mountains, we did stick out a bit, and I definitely felt a lot less self conscious the second night when another nice big family tent came and made its home next to us.
The plus side of course was that we were mere metres from the water; beautiful deep clear water, blissfully cool and perfect for swimming; shallow enough at the shore line that the kids could paddle and throw pebbles and deep enough that we could swim properly without having to wade out for half a mile. We were in the water less than 10 minutes after we finished pitching the tent.
The lake was stunningly beautiful at all times of the day and night. Our first evening we went for a drive to see if there were any other options to pasta and sauce (plenty of restaurants, no shops so pasta it was), and we stopped up at the northernmost point to turn back around. All but the palest pearly pink light had faded from the sky, and the hills were midnight as they put on their cloak of darkness, and there was a stillness and a calmness that seeped into your bones.
If last year was a “doing” holiday, this year’s intention was for a “being” holiday; just being together and not trying to bat round a million miles a minute, conscious that when we got back home I’d be straight back into work and the girls wouldn’t have that much of a gap before school and nursery started. Walchensee was where we embraced the just being. We went on a day trip to Innsbruck, and we did the occasional run to Edeka and the petrol station, but mostly we sat on the beach and enjoyed that view; no circumnavigating the lake, no trying to climb a mountain to get a better view, just watching the children play along the water’s edge while I knit and John snoozed, or going for a swim, and then another swim because it was just too lovely to get out.
Each night the children would go to sleep worn out from being waterbabies all day, and John and I would crack open the secret supplies of various German beers and catch up on the Olympics. We were in Walchensee when the women’s hockey team won gold, willing the phone battery and the 4G signal to hold out as we went through to penalties. Gold medal winning aside, it was lovely to have that bit of time together, just the two of us.
And then, about eleven o’clock, every night, the show really started. Our first evening we looked up at the weather, saw the beginnings of a clear night sky and the twinkle of the first stars, and decided to leave our swimming cozzies out on the guy ropes. It was not a mistake we’d make twice. Just as we were turning in, the first drops began to fall, and out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of light that might have been from a camera. It wasn’t. Thunder ripped through the valley and the storm started up with a vengance. I’ve not heard thunder in the mountains before and unless you ever experience it yourself it’s had to imagine. There’s no build up of humidity, or low rumble from miles away as the first sign, just a crack that sounds like the very earth is being wrenched in two and forged into a new arrangement. The acoustics of the hills bounce the sound around, but there’s no mistaking when the storm is right overhead; rumble after rumble interspersed with sheet lightening and the rain pelting down on the roof of your tent a few inches above your face. The tent did us proud though; not a drop inside, and very few wobbles when we considered how little pegged out we were.
For every gently glorious day, the nights were a reminder of the violent beauty of stormy weather, and we came to expect them and even enjoy the storms, as we checked that the children were try and warm, and cuddled them in close. They for their part slept right through every single storm; such is the power of paddling and rock throwing to wear you out.
It is a truly beautiful spot, and if our little film postcard home suggests that we spent nearly every moment in the water – could you really blame us?
or, “what to do with all those conkers the kids keep bringing home!”
All through the summer, butterflies have danced across our wall, joined by some doves dangling from branches that the littlest two made at playgroup. But as the butterflies have gone from the garden so too it’s time to swap our bunting for something a little more seasonal. I keep trying to find somewhere where we could have a nature table, or some little collection of bits and bobs to mark the change in seasons, but anything on a surface low enough to be reached (and with Kitty that means almost all of them) gets co-opted back into their games, and there seems little point in having it too high for anyone to see. So bunting it is, hung between the two curtain rails in the lounge, visible, but not terribly touchable for tiny fingers.
I’ve been having a think about what to do for autumn for a little while but when the girls announced their intention to go conker hunting last weekend it all slotted into place. Conkers and leaves, perfect to take us through to Halloween and then the winter.
My first idea was simply to string up the conkers but beautiful though conkers undoubtably are, that’s just not enough colour for us, and as our latest Staedtler Try-it Tribe parcel came with vast amounts of FIMO I thought we would see if we could put it to good use.
The leaves are made from Orange, Green and Glitter Pink FIMO, mushed together to make a slightly more autumnal swirl of colours. We rolled the FIMO out to 1-2mm thick, popped it on a sheet of tin foil (top tip to stop it sticking to the tablecloth), then pressed leaves of various shapes and sizes down into the FIMO.
If you very carefully cut the FIMO away around the edges using a modelling tool or a blunt knife and then peel up the leaf you’re left with a beautiful print of all the veins underneath. For a final step I added two little holes at the top so that we could string them up, and into the oven they went.
That’s the short version anyway; I decided to have a first forray into vlogging and make a little how-to video on how to make the leaves. Does it count as a vlog if you can only see my hands? Anyway, all the details are here
Though it’s obviously me in the video, Kitty and Elma made most of the leaves for our bunting. Kitty at six could do it all herself, and Elma just needed a little help with cutting the edges away.
With the leaves cooking, we took our conker collection out into the garden and I ruthlessly stabbed them with a braddle to put holes in them. The holes were just big enough to fit a large darning needle threaded with the green and red stripy butcher’s twine that Father Christmas put in my stocking last year (having previously gone shopping at Berylune), although I found it handy to have my jewellery pliers to hand to pull it through if it ever got stuck. You do want to use something sturdy like butcher’s twine to string them up; conkers are pretty heavy en masse and even sturdy sewing thread would be unlikely to be able to cope.
Put it all together, and you have a very autumnal bunting.
As to how long it will last, well I’ve kept conkers around the house for ages before, but never conkers that have holes in, and realistically I doubt that this is going to last for ever. I have high hopes (based on childhood conker games) that it won’t rot and fall to pieces before the end of the autumn and then if I need to I can rescue the leaves and use them again next year.
But for now it’s hanging happily along the wall, a little autumn celebration for October.