The semi-chaos of the early weeks of bringing a new baby home has resolved itself into somewhat of a discernible routine. Loose, I grant you, but present, which is a great leap forward and a comfort, as we found ourselves tiring at Week 6 from lack of sleep. We always feel that Week 6 is the half-way mark for new-babyhood. Week 12 is where the light at the end of the tunnel becomes dazzling sunshine, perhaps with a view of snow-capped mountain peaks, but Week 6 is still firmly ‘pick-axe over shoulder, trudging through the night towards a pin-prick of light that wavers alarmingly from time to time. Occasionally you glance over at your fellow trudger (in my case, husband Rob) and by the light of a pale and guttering candle, see the lines of exhaustion etched into a face grimy from being at the coal face of parenthood.’ So we are well and truly through Week 6, and these photos show some of the daily/weekly events and visitors who have cheered us on and encouraged us in our weariness. Don’t get me wrong, we do love our children, but the ‘new baby’ part seems to be more tiring each time. And no, I don’t think having three babies in under four years and two international moves had ANY part to play!
The WORST thing about trying to live a ‘normal’ life with two little energetic people, while getting used to having a baby in the house again, is physically getting them into and out of the car on your own. When two of us are going out with all the kids, it is tricky (now that we are outnumbered), but when I am on my own and heading out, for the first few outings it was mind-blowingly complicated. Especially when you factor SAFETY in as the top priority (i.e. not allowing any child to be hit by a car, or run away), closely followed by TIMING as the second priority (i.e. the baby has been fussing for the last 20 minutes of our play at the park/grocery shopping/preschool drop-off/pickup and now that we are about to open the car door and buckle him in, he has entered a state closely related to a crying-induced seizure, but SURE, you can look at the ant/decide you must climb in BY MYSELF!/want to learn how to buckle in your brother/sister in 27 easy steps… or insert 1000 other delaying tactics here.
Sometimes, hunching into the car – OVER one child, to reach the one in the middle, while being repeatedly kicked in the thigh by the other other, while listening to the baby screaming, feels like a special form of torture. Keeping my mind on the fact that having a car is a privilege and having three wriggling
contortionists children to strap in is a blessing can be a real challenge.
With the above as a caveat reflecting on the beginning and ending of our outing, here are some photos of our first trip to the park!
“Who’s that walking over my bridge?” – Role playing the 3 Billy Goats’ Gruff
|Enjoying some family time at Stoke Bruerne|
Lately we have been enjoying getting out and about in the English countryside on a Saturday – trying to make the most of the glorious weather and the freedom that having a toddler (as opposed to a baby!) brings.
|A view from the Blisworth Tunnel down toward Stoke Bruerne|
We have been going for walks in our local area – discovering rivers, meadows, waterfowl and the famous MK redways. We have also returned to familiar haunts – one of our favourites of which is Stoke Bruerne – home to the Canal Museum and about nine locks inside a kilometre – so lots of activity to watch when the narrow boats make their way up the river.
|Narrowboats moored at SB|
One of the most frustrating things about winter weather here is the lack of opportunity to get outside and take some exercise – particularly for R as it gets dark at 4pm and is usually bitterly cold. H & E can generally get out – even to wander round Midsummer Place and get some indoor exercise – but R doesn’t have their moments of leisure. So spring weather and light have been a real blessing and given us all some time to be together outside in the fresh air – rather than cooped inside.
|E wouldn’t get on this horse, but consented to ride in the cart!|
|E loves waterfowl of all kinds – particularly the interactive swans at SB…|
|One of our favourite places to take friends for lunch – The Boat Inn.|
|One of the rides on Wakefield|
|A country lane in spring – just past Stony Stratford|
|…when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils…|
|The Ouse River Walk (pronounced ‘ooze’)|
|H @ 36 weeks and 4 days…!|
So rest assured, if you decide to come for a visit in fine weather there is plenty to occupy you and we will delight in taking you for all our favourite local walks. If you come in winter, you too can huddle under blankets, eat loads of starch and play boardgames – either way – we’d love to see you!
|The best little reindeer in the universe|
In December, while H’s Mum was visiting, she and H had a fabulous opportunity. R had offered to look after E so that H and M could visit family in Köln, Germany.
|Hot-smoked fish – yummo!|
They had 5 days and 4 nights to soak up the sights, catch up with family and revel in some (very) rare mother-daughter time. The plan was to hit as many of the seven Christmas markets as possible during their stay, see the Dom (Cathedral) and spend some time talking, eating and laughing with M’s Uncle and Aunt.
We arrived in Koln at just after 8:30pm on the Thursday evening – an hour late due to delays out of Heathrow. Although a little nervous about the language barrier (we each had the same three words of German!) we made our way successfully from the airport to the central train station. After some difficulties locating our branch line we made it onto the platform with our bags and thence to Ehrenfeld where we were staying.
|The first flight of stairs to our apartment|
Our apartment was light, bright and clean. It was also sparsely furnished – which was perfect for all our needs and wants – except in the sleeping department.
The beds were quite short, the quilts were slightly smaller than the Australian single bed size – so you had to stay curled up in order to be covered – and the single European-size pillow was made of marshmallow. As soon as your head touched the seemingly fluffy pillow contours it would hit the bed as the other side of the pillow inflated to epic proportions. Did we mention the mattresses were about 3cm thick? It sounds a bit grim, but we were on a holiday high and prepared to accept less-than-ideal sleeping conditions on our little jaunt.
|Breakfast & coffee heaven|
The next morning we were greeted an hour earlier than we had planned for by M’s Uncle and taken on the main street to be introduced to the delights of the Mezernich Bäckerie – a family-run chain of bakeries in Koln that was utterly delightful each morning.
|Christmas decorations that dreams are made of…|
Onward to Neumarkt station, above which was Engelmarkt (Angel Market) where we bought Christmas decorations, drank gluhwein and ate potato cakes. Heavenly!
|Did you know that hot roast chestnuts will stain leather gloves? We didn’t either!|
Uncle then took us on a whirlwind tour of the city – he and it were full of buzzing energy that was very exciting – having lunch at a buffet, eating hot roast chestnuts, exploring the Dom, glimpsing the Weinachtmarkt am Kolner Dom (Koln Cathedral Christmas Markets) and entering the Heimat der Heinzel (Home of the Gnomes) in Aldstadt (the Old City) which had its own special charm. Each of the booths was decorated with a variety of carved wooden gnomes grinning and working in various industrious poses.
|Light display above the outdoor icerink at Heimat der Heinzel|
Uncle left us there to go for his weekly swim (!) while we stuffed ourselves with waffles with kirsch cherries and nutella and explored yet more markets.
|M having the first forkful of cherry bliss|
|A very inadequate rendering of the Dom on my little digital camera|
|The biggest, most elaborate gingerbread house we’ve ever seen|
The following days were stuffed with fabulous food from Mezernich; Aunty C’s amazing lunch that stretched over 4 hours (with a break for a walk to the park to visit Uncle’s bird family!); a traditional Koln meat feast; and many returns to Engelmarkt which we decided was our favourite.
|OK, so we disagree about what it was called, but we do agree that it was bigger than our heads.|
|Uncle with his lovely birds… ! They saw him (and his netto bag) from afar and came running. You’d swear they understood every word!|
|Breakfast on our last morning: hot Christmas frankfurt in a bun, with mustard and hot Kinderpunsch (fruit juice). Almost the best thing we ate for the whole of our time in Koln!|
Monday rolled around far too quickly and we found ourselves at the airport preparing to settle into the lounge before our flight. Owing to a couple of language glitches it took H too long to realise that our flight had been cancelled (eek!) due to bad weather, and that we were being paged to go to the check-in desk. After much frantic scurrying from one official to another, we were loaded into a taxi-van with 4 other passengers and taken to Dusseldorf to try to get a connecting flight to London. This gave us a never-to-be-forgotten trip on the autobahn at speeds of up to 180kph. (And we weren’t even the fastest on the motorway!)
|The most exciting thing at Dusseldorf airport!|
After reaching Dusseldorf we had to wait another 7 hours to get a flight to Heathrow, getting to experience the wild rumour-mongering of disgruntled passengers; the joys of meal vouchers and having a plane snatched from under our noses by mechanics who couldn’t get the door to close (no joke!) However, we finally landed in London at 11pm and were home in bed by 1am-ish.
Going to Germany was a fabulous experience. Neither of us thought we’d ever get the chance to sit and talk with family in their home, be shown around their city and experience part of their lives. It was an enriching time of blessing and we were loved and spoilt thoroughly during our stay. We didn’t struggle with the language and communicating as much as we had feared. Although neither of us really managed to speak German well our understanding of what others were saying and what we were reading on signs improved enormously and helped us feel involved in things. We loved Koln and would return any time, and recommend it as a fabulous city to walk around (even at -8C!)
|Our favourite public artwork in the world!|
|Our ‘let’s spread out all our goodies and gloat’ table|
|E at Dee Why, soaking up the sun|
It’s just over a month since we touched down back in the UK. It feels like many months.
We had a wonderful time in Australia with our family and friends – it was a refreshing break from daily life that felt like a gift from God. Despite the fabulous time we had, we were looking forward to coming back to the UK and getting back into the swing of things.
E took awhile to find his rhythm after our trip. He spent the first two weeks sleeping for up to 5 hours during the day plus 12 hours at night – the jetlag was a big factor for him, despite his fabulous behaviour on our flight home and record-breaking 14 hours of sleep during our plane trip.
|E climbing in the Koorong Cafe playground|
He is now going very well – sleeping 2-3 hours during the day and 12ish at night, and motoring around at full speed during his waking hours. The longer days and slightly less intense weather have meant that he is out and about outside much more – digging in the garden (i.e. putting rocks down the drain or getting covered in mud); opening the side gate to step into the haven that is Nanny and Sidney’s kitchen; riding his little red car down the road and hitting every puddle on the way; or walking down to our regular Thursday coffee morning yelling “Good morning dogs/birds/buffalo/deer” at whatever wildlife crosses our path.
|E in the middle of ‘helping’ Cousin I at Dee Why|
We three have all had constant colds/chest infections/ear infections/ conjunctivitis (ergh) since arriving home – this weekend is the first one where we’ve all been healthy at the same time and happy to be so! We are hoping that once we hit the 12 month mark we will then have reasonable immunity to the ferocious English germs. We aren’t always thrilled by the rigmarole involved in getting to see our NHS doctor, but are learning not to take great healthcare for granted – and to be pathetically grateful if a) we can get an appointment within 2 days of calling and b) we are given a prescription for heavenly antibiotics – which are doled out here as though they are the elixir of life itself…
It is just over 8 weeks until our baby is due and we are nearly prepared. Setting up the nursery with E has been a real joy and he has been very interested in everything we’ve bought/set up/ washed and put away in drawers. He talks about the baby’s room and, when asked what the baby will do on arrival his answer was ‘Sleep. Cry. Drink juice. Eat biscuits.’ So at least we will know where the crumbs originate from! Our friend Z has offered to take E when we go to the hospital and judging by the trial run when he ran into her house, gave her a joyful hug, waved H out the door and enjoyed himself thoroughly for her 3 hour absence, God is preparing his little heart for the real thing. We are so thankful that Z is less than 100 yards away and good with E – it is really reassuring to know that E will be in capable and loving hands.
|E ‘sharing’ Miss H’s scuttlebug during a park reunion|
R has begun a vege patch in the middle of the back garden’s flower bed and we are hoping to have something left to eat from the ravages of the rabbits. Chicken wire is being explored as a protective measure. His long legs are eating up the miles around the estate as he walks at least once a day on the weekends. H and E usually get about halfway before either someone’s legs get tired, or there is a request to be carried. E is getting better but sometimes it is easy to forget how little he is and we are always reminding ourselves to make allowances.
The weather is gradually getting warmer although we are expecting a colder snap for the first week of spring. Today was odd – leaving for church it was 8C and glorious sunshine (the best and warmest we’d had since leaving Aus) but by the time we left church one and a half hours later it was teeming with rain and 6C. On reaching home (a 10 minute journey) it was 4C and the ‘Icy Road Conditions’ warning light was flashing on the dashboard. At 4.30pm the rain had stopped and it was about 6-7C so we all went for a walk. It was the best walk we’d had for months and we’re looking forward to many more as the weather improves and we learn to take a baby and a toddler out at the same time. We think it might take us only 90 minutes from the time we think of leaving to when we actually get out the door!!
|E with Nan-Nan; Grandma, Natty, Lolly and Pappa.|
|‘This might look awkward, but it’s so much easier than holding the beaker, Mum.’|
|‘I like to cook my own breakfast – at least that way it’s done properly…’|
|‘Daddy and I have a lot of work to get through and if you keep taking photos I won’t be able to concentrate, Mum.’|
|‘No matter how early I leave in the mornings, there’s always traffic…’|
|‘People told me it might be easier on a bike. What were they thinking?’|
|‘Possibly a bodyguard/traffic cop could help with my commute?’|
|‘Where’s the NRMA when you need them?’|
|‘This replacement from the garage isn’t half bad – there’s even room for a passenger!’|
|‘Daddy and I have to work together to get through our list of chores.’|
|‘Hey, how’d I get stuck doing this all by myself?’|
|‘This screwdriver isn’t a Phillips head…’|
|‘They think they’re so funny. But I’m only a little kid.’|
|The comraderie of the open road.|
|‘Time to sort the garden out.’|
|‘If I don’t check them, anything might slip through. You’ve got to keep an eye on your staff, you know.’|
|Our little grown-up boy|
Sometimes we look at the calendar and wonder where the time has gone. We are fast approaching autumn and in two days’ time will have been in the UK for four months, and Dairy Cottage for three.
Little E is not so little anymore: the baby who was toddling when we landed (but still mostly crawling) now runs everywhere as fast as his legs can carry him. He walks very firmly and solidly – when he is upstairs and one of us is downstairs all you can hear is
“thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk” hither and yon as he runs between bathroom and bedroom.
|I’m the King of the Castle…|
E can pull himself up onto the kitchen chairs and the couches in the lounge room – albeit with a bit of scrabbling and flailing. He is a bit of a climber-in-the-making, and we have had several sticky situations – especially on the first floor. R has since installed child-proof window catches, which has gone some way to helping us feel more at ease.
|It was very quiet in the playroom – looks like we have a reader-in-the-making.|
E loves our next-door neighbours very much and is usually not downstairs for long after breakfast before he is ‘asking’ H to put on his shoes so he can get outside to knock on the gate. Once through the gate he makes a beeline for the (usually) open kitchen door, then plonks himself on ‘Nanny’s’ lap with little ceremony. We think their house is like an Aladdin’s cave for him – full of things he doesn’t encounter at home, all of which he is allowed to touch and play with (carefully) as long as he puts them back in the right spots. Thus far he is good as gold: playing with keys and ‘unlocking’ all the doors; moving magnets around on the fridge and squeezing himself next to the person with the most comfortable-looking chair. Some days (not all) he is given a cup of juice or water or maybe a chocolate digestive. H is not so keen on the biscuit since the last time when she ended up with little chocolate handprints all over her nice clean shirt and trousers.
|Ok, so it’s upsidedown and not quite Shakespeare, but already he has a devoted audience.|
He also loves the garden next-door (which is truly a garden, rather than merely a patch of lawn and a couple of flower beds, like ours) so when the inside conversation and activities get a little slow he trots out to play with the flowerpots, wheelbarrows, the hand-cranked water pump, multiple watering-cans and the bead curtain at the entrance to the greenhouse. In high summer when the garden loungers were out, E delighted in stretching himself full length in the most lushly padded one. The prince is firmly in charge of his little kingdom on the other side of the gate.
|This is his “Look what I can do” face.|
E is getting taller now – his head now rises above the level of the kitchen table – and he remains quite strong. The things he manages to lift and drag are often enormous, but we are almost used to it now, except if someone else comments, when we remember that it isn’t as common as we think.
|First go at an ice block.|
He is still keen on his food, although more sensitive to textures than before. He isn’t particularly fussy – although grapefruit and melon are not favourites – but makes himself heard when things don’t go according to plan. Last week, H was preparing to give him morning tea but obviously wasn’t moving fast enough… E got his bib, put it on and then climbed into the highchair (which we didn’t know he could do) as if to say “What’s the hold up? I’m famished.” He truly is an entertaining little fellow and we are having a lot of fun together.
|A young Bendicks BitterMints fan|
One of our favourite forms of entertainment while eating is to watch the birds on our bird feeder. We are slowly learning all the different kinds – nuthatches, tits, robins and the odd woodpecker. We’ve even seen next-door’s scavenging squirrel heading for our bird-table, but so far we’ve been able to frighten him off before he snatches so much as a mouthful.
|With T – a special visitor from Aus.|
He is now saying a few more words than before, including the names of his two best friends from down the road. ‘Tractor’ is possibly the clearest of all his words, bar ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’, but he makes himself understood to us quite well – if not always to people outside the family circle.
|“No, Officer, of course I wasn’t texting and driving at the same time.”|
We hope that (doting though this is) you’ve got a reasonable idea of where E is up to as well as a sense of his cheeky self.
|He loves to sit with Chaucer-Bear and watch all that’s going on in the kitchen.|
* Virgil: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means, “But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”
There is currently a pan full of elderberry syrup cooling on the stove, prior to bottling. There are jars of pickled cherries, raspberry jam and blue plum jam in the store cupboard, and bottles of raspberry vinegar in nooks and crannies in the kitchen. Courgettes (zucchinis) the size of pumpkins lie on my bench – awaiting their transformation into soup, roasted vegetables, stuffed marrows and the like. The farmshop has blue and victoria plums ready for picking, with greengages not far off. E and H harvested elderberries and blackberries in their hundreds from hedgerows that line the estate roads on their usual afternoon walk. The cooking of seasonal produce has been a joyful experience since we moved here.
Our neighbours have kindly supplied us with all sorts of things – one of which is the abundance from their vegetable plots: bags of lettuce with the sap dripping from the stems, courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, cherries, elderflowers and berries and fresh green beans. Our own garden gave us a bumper crop of raspberries early in the summer, and is preparing another batch for autumn.
The farmshop has a PYO patch, and we’ve encountered our first gooseberries (they grow on small bushes) and redcurrants there.
We have baked vegetables; churned raspberry icecream; made syrups and vinegars; eaten fresh salads and enjoyed all the glorious bounty that we’ve been given and/or bought from markets and local producers.
We aren’t eating as much meat – partly because if you want to eat something that hasn’t been factory-farmed then it is quite pricey, and partly because the vegies are so delicious on their own. Cauliflower here is a revelation – it has a nutty, creamy flavour and is absolutely gorgeous. Savoy cabbage has become a favourite side dish, and we use the pumpkins that the English scorn to make a tasty Haloumi and roast vege bake.
H missed out on elderflower season – and therefore was not able to make elderflower cordial – but is on target for elderberry syrups and jellies. She is starting with a syrup – to use in building long, cool drinks, or to pour over cake and icecream for dessert. Hopeful friends have suggested making elderberry wine, but that will be a plan for another summer, once she’s worked out the intricacies of cooking with them!
|Step 1: Select a likely-looking bunch of berries|
|Step 2: Strip the berries from stems, if possible.|
|Step 3: Pick up the jumpy ones…|
|Step 4: Individually hand-pick the sourest ones for a quick taste|
|Step 5: Mashing the berries through a sieve – E’s absolute favourite step so far!|
|Our courgettes/marrows -and a cucumber|
|The chief tasters…|