Friday, December 30, 2011

christmas fun

 Here's how our living room looked in the morning. It's a lot of fun fun getting wrapped up in the excitement of it all. I was a lot more chilled out this year, deciding not to dwell on any of the christmas "questions" that were plaguing me last year. Should we "do" Santa or shouldn't we? How do we reconcile the different traditions Steve and I have brought from our own childhoods? Have we got too many presents or not enough? Should I really put pressure on myself to make handmade gifts when clearly there won't be enough time? Why can't I seem to get christmas cards done? (I'm hopeful that one day when the boys are a little less demanding of my time I'll manage to do more :)
Although we were all a bit manic in the run up, christmas itself was lovely- relaxed and cheerful and most importantly, SLOW. Hooray for slow days.

Here are a few photos of Brendan and Tadhg out trying out their new scooters.

And here's one showing what I discovered when going to check on what Brendan was up to after noticing he had been quiet for some time. He had decided to decorate the bannister with ornaments taken from the tree. I was sooo impressed and sat happily at the bottom of the stairs, listening and watching, while he finished the job.

Tadhg still didn't show much interest but Brendan wrapped his own presents for the three of us (with a bit of help) and then made homemade labels.  Oh and a small one for Belle the cat, by which time he was tired of writing so he just drew a cat.

There wasn't a lot of making going on but we did manage a bit of sewing. I made two pairs of christmas stockings- one out of repurposed felted wool and another pair out of an old airline blanket pinched long ago from and Air Canada flight. 
There were no photos of our meal. It was lovely, but not quite as special as the one Steve had cooked and we had shared with Caitlin, Billy and Paddy the weekend before.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A wintery walk

While Steve was away for two weeks we spent more time than usual out of the house, keeping active and using up energy to make bed time a little easier. I also appreciated the miraculous sudden boost to my patience level when out in the fresh air. It's best if there's a view, but those are not easy to come by in Belgium, at least not around here.  
Here are a few pictures from one chilly afternoon walk in some nearby fields.
 Long shadows on a December afternoon.

Brendan is pointing out the "quarter moon" to Tadhg. We walked for a while and came across two young men using metal detectors in a field. Brendan was full of curiosity so we asked one what he was doing and he let the boys hold an old coin he had just found. We were walking on a fairly flat field but it is on the highest bit of ground in the area so it was easy to imagine a settlement up there at some point.

Later in the week we came back to this spot for a few branches to bring some christmassy red into the house. We also picked some branches full of sloe berries and some green pine and something like a spruce though I'm not sure exactly what it is.

We ran in and out of a corn field. Though it's december and these plants are clearly dead I imagine the corn is still useful for something- perhaps animal feed?

All in all one of those walks that is like so many others but so special at the same time.

Winter Solstice

We started off the shortest day by having breakfast by candlelight and in silence (well, as silent as you can with a 3 and a 4 year old!) After a while we started talking in whispers about the day ahead and then talked again about the sun and the earth, life and the seasons. Brendan is genuinely interested, as long as I don't go on and on about it!

Later we had supper in the dark too and then a special fire in the garden with a candle lit path.The boys ran up and down the path for a while, jumped on the trampoline a bit and then Brendan stood up on our big log by the fire to look out for foxes. He had packed a fox-watching bag especially for the event. I know there was a torch, a pen and a notebook in it but I'm not sure what else. Probably his little encyclopedia of the earth. Ever since he found out that foxes kill chickens he gets very concerned if we are late closing up their house and is waiting patiently to see a fox in real life.
After a while we used magazines as a fan to blow out each candle as we walked away from the fire and back into our lovely warm house. I imagine that each year as the boys grow we will add to this particular special day.
These photos make it look very calm and pleasant, and it was eventually, but it started off with everyone being flustered and frustrated because I took so long lighting the candles and they didn't know what they were waiting for so didn't have any patience. There were also arguments about clothing and footwear, but once we got outside all was well. Except for me trying to convince the boys NOT to blow out the candles straight away. Hopefully next year it will feel more relaxed :)

Here's the beautiful pink sunset the day before the shortest day.

Monschau Christmas Market

Caitlin, Billy and Paddy all came to stay for an early Christmas. We celebrated Steve's birthday on Friday evening and then headed to Monschau in Germany on Saturday to explore the Christmas market.

We ate typical German Christmas Market fare- bratwurst, curry sauce and chips.

Chocolate covered banana and grapes and hot chocolate in a take-home-with-you mug.

I'm trying to add more photos but am having trouble with the new blogger update- it's driving me crazy so I'm just going to post this and try again later.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We missed Daddy!

Picking up Steve from the train station when he came home from two weeks away in Germany and London.  Man, had we missed him!


Tadhg had asked for a "green monster cake with one eye" and had reminded me every day for about a week- so this was the resulting effort. We had a wee party with three friends over for a couple of games and food.
Tadhg was leaning over the cake so that I couldn't get a good photo of the whole thing. I said, "let me see the tongue" so he leaned back and stuck his tongue out.

A few days later, with Paddy, Caitlin and Billy in the house, we lit the candle fire and tidied up while waiting for Steve to come home from work on his birthday. I was really excited because I had caved in and bought a bigger telly for him. It was a genuine surprise because I have been so anti-TV, let alone BIG TV, pretty much since we met, so he never thought we'd get one! It's not HUGE, so I'll still be able to sort out a cabinet or curtain or something to hide it :) For the moment, it was necessary to butcher the current cabinet in order to fit the telly on it...

The surprise ski mountain cake was made by my lovely Polish friend Monika. It was very well made with special little touches and was absolutely delicious. There were better photos on Caitlin's camera- I will try to remember to add them.

Thumbs up at being 40? Or just cake approval?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Before December

A quick post before we get into the exciting time that is December...

School was off for the week and Steve was leading a course which meant we hardly saw him. I decided to pack the boys up and head away on an adventure for a couple of days. We couldn't go far because I had a doula client whose baby was thinking about coming early, and the boys wanted beach, so we picked a spot using google earth and headed for Boulogne-sur-Mer and the Cap d'Opale.
I'm having trouble with the new editor and can't work out how to get the photos on here properly so below are a few of our photos in no particular order.
Went rock pooling on a windy wave-cut platform. Here we're talking barnacles and limpets.

The first mei tei carrier I made out of curtain material is still being used. He's getting a little heavier but it's handy when we're amongst crowds and he has excess energy. We are not very good at holding hands as a family. My fault I suppose as I'm usually happy to let them roam and explore.

Went to Nausicaa, purportedly France's best aquarium. It was very disappointing overall but there were a couple of good bits, including an incredible sea horse unlike any I've seen before and this "tropical lagoon" pictured above. The sea lion "show" was absolutely terrible, and not at all worth hanging around for, especially when the boys just COULD NOT SIT STILL. Got out of there quick and headed for the wide open beaches instead. Much better.

This one above was on the third day just after dawn. We went for a walk on a lovely little beach in the rain. Tadhg, of course, took his shoes off and ran for the sea. Brendan explored the dunes and then was fascinated by the cliff erosion. I took the opportunity to talk about glacial till and vegetation succession. Not that they paid much attention. But at least it gave my brain some exercise.
Another beach another day.

Also walked on two tiny stretches (<1km) of the GR120 littoral path. But we found some interesting things to look at. I must find out what exactly this giant old war bunker type thing was used for. It was massive and imposing up there on the high ground overlooking the channel. This part of the coast is the closest to England, and we could see the white cliffs in the distance, when the clouds lifted enough that is :)

Tadhg saying to Brendan, "look, here's your favourite colour!!" What fun to get so excited about important little things like this!

The first night was spent on the 4th floor of a dingy old hotel, covered floor to ceiling in various shades of blue carpet, with rusting radiators and a lingering smell of cigarette smoke (thankfully not in our room though). I stood on the balcony as the boys fell asleep and worked out a fire escape plan which involved swinging to the balcony next door, shimmying down a drainpipe and then jumping on to some scaffolding. I figured I could attach T to my back and tie a sheet around B's waist and mine and then sort of help him along. Thank goodness there wasn't a fire.
I'm convinced that the first hotel I tried had an unofficial 'no little kids' policy because the way the receptionist said they had no rooms, even when I said two single beds was fine, was, well, not very friendly at all, and she had a sort of chitty chitty bang bang Queen of Vulgaria look about her when she glanced at the two little boys chasing each other around the lobby.
Blue carpet hotel was actually really comfortable, and the owner was pleasant and kind, but in the morning we set off early to find another one. The next night was spent in a very dated holiday resort where the only option was full board with meals served at very inconvenient times by very grouchy staff. But the swimming pool was great and it was only minutes from the beach.

What else? We were the sole diners in a little Japanese restaurant where I ordered way too much food and then had to eat it all so that it wasn't wasted. We found a park on the beach (I know, who needs a play structure when you have a mile of soft sand?) and you could easily spot the barefoot Canadian kid in a T-shirt surrounded by French kids in their winter hats and gloves.

And that's about it. It was challenging for sure, travelling with them on my own. The key was to get out first thing in the morning, let them run and run on the beach and not go back to the hotel until they were exhausted. Even if it was raining. Which it was, some of the time. Want to do it again though. Just to show myself I can :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day Two on the Isle of Mull

Well, here we are on day two of our adventure and life is great. This was one of the first views we came to on our way towards the South-East.

While en route, we where getting pretty desperate for fuel.The petrol station in Salen was closed and the pumps in Craignure where broken. Regardless, we still had just enough fuel to get a few stops in before heading North for fuel. The first stop was at a Mausoleum for the late MGen Lachlan MacQuarrie, the father of Australia (1761-1824). I just wanted to highlight the dates. History is amazing.

This is Brendan on top of the rental car having a look at the ferry boat and the castle which we are heading towards.

The MacLean's of Duart Castle was closd for the season but we still had fun walking outside it. I think this is Tadhg trying to figure out where the powder and flint goes. I didn't know Paul came from money $$$$$.

There was a nice little path which went down to the shoreline from the castle and as usual... the boys, a bunch of rocks and water.... heaven!

Thanks Paddy for all the help. Yet again you've spoiled Brendan and Tadhg with love and attention. After the castle, we stopped in at the Craignure Hotel to have a swim. It was a great little pool except for the fact that the chlorine levels were way too high. And warning for Siobhan, Tadhg is even more fearless when it comes to water (FYI).

We headed back to Tobermory for petrol and a nice pub lunch. The sun was out and the waterfront was bursting with colour compared to yesterday.

Once we where done with Tobermory, we head back towards home and stopped off at Calgary beach. Not my fault. The boys wanted to run in the water and there was nothing I could do. Honest! Oh well, at least we all fun getting wet.

This is the boys and I on our way back to the car to get warmed up and head home for the night.

And finally, here's Tadhg playing in one of the box beds in the living room while I cooked up a cottage pie for supper.

As a last note, some of the wildlife we came across during our travels on the Isle of Mull where; cows, sheep, an owl hovering along side the car as we drove, a sheep dog in the middle of nowhere looking for its herd, an eagle, falcons, cranes, rabbits, a mouse, a nice stag, a baby doe, oh and the prize... we saw a falcon lift of with a field mouse or something in its talons.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adventures on the Isle of Mull

With Siobhan on a Doula course in Edinburgh and nothing better to do, the boys and I rounded up Uncle Paddy and headed off for the Inner Hebrides for a weekend of fun and adventure.

So here we are, Siobhan is on course in the big city and Tadhg, Brendan, Paddy and myself are on the beautiful Isle of Mull.

Determined to have a quick start to our Saturday, we got the boys fed, dressed and out for our first walk. Before we even started to head out towards the Treshnish Headland, the boys already began bouldering on this small outcrop.

After exploring along an old stone dry wall, Brendan was the 'expedition leader' as he likes to put it. Leading the way and checking the path for dangers.

 Here we are on the headland looking for a way down.

Finally we found this path which opened up towards the raise beach.


Once we were down by the water, the boys were in their element, yet again.....throwing rocks into the water.


At one point the ways got a little bit bigger and the tide start to move in. It's amazing how Brendan is very aware of tides and very cautious about it. I think he has watched a bit too much Fireman Sam.

As for Tadhg, he's hilarious. He just decided to plop his butt down on the ground in order for him to pile rocks in his lap, mumbling to himself and singing as he did it

On the way back up to the car, I mentioned to Brendan that the Isle of Mull was made from volcanic activity a long time ago. This obviously sparked Brendan’s curiosity and the 100+ follow-on questions about 'volcanoes, lava, is it dangerous, will the houses fall, etc…' This is Paddy continuing the conversation using a balloon as an analogy. We think it satisfied his curiosity. Oh, and once Brendan was done, Tadhg decided to start asking question as well about volcanoes.

Not sure how this happened but I turned around and Paddy was on the ground with the boys piling up on him. I guess it was dog-pile on Paddy time.

After our walk, we got in the car and head for Tobermory. It is were they filmed the children's T.V. show Balamory. Although Brendan wasn't very interested at first, Tadhg keep going on about it.

Here's Brendan pointing out PC Plums house.

Before the sun went down, we headed off to Ardtun in order to check out the fossilized leaves but between the strong wind, sideways rain and two cold children, we only made it 3/4 of the way.

We came across these old boats on our way back to Tobermory where we had a nice but quick dinner in a pub (mac-&-cheese for the boys and fish-n-chips for us) before we saw..... TINTIN. Yup, all four of us went to see it in the Screen Machine, a mobile theater which provides cinema service to the remote Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Apart from having to go out for 5 bathroom breaks, Tadhg even enjoyed the movie and was well behaved.

Hope you're having fun on course Mummy...... See you soon.