Let’s talk rubbish!

Christmas tree

Imagine if we adults would get stuff too!

Christmas is over, hallelujah! And what a gift orgy it was again. Mind you, in my family only the kids get presents, we others just enjoy their excitement, great food and spending time together. Still, with parcels arriving from grandparents, great-grandparents, godparents as well as aunts and uncles, not to mention our own little share in our offspring’s spoiling, the space under our dinky Christmas tree was getting scarce.

But I am not going to get into a rant about this overabundance’s possible negative repercussions for the little monster’s character development. Instead I wanted to talk rubbish.

I hate rubbish. “Yeah,” I hear you say “who doesn’t?” The point is, I also make an effort to avoid it.

To be precise, I am a bit of a compulsive recycler.

And why not? It’s good for the environment, it doesn’t take much effort, and it does actually save us money. So why don’t more people here do it?

The other day I couldn’t help but gather photographic evidence. Take a look at this here:

rubbish

Gives the term visual aesthetics a whole new meaning

On the left, our ‘little’ pile of rubbish/recycling. This is all the plastic (in the clear bag) and garden waste three adults and one toddler accumulate in two weeks, plus one week’s residual waste (in the black bag) which is, at least in our little town, not recyclable. On the right is what our neighbours churned out in – you guessed it from the colour of the bags – residual waste over one week. I am not entirely sure, how many people live in their household but I can tell you that their house is identical to ours (yeah, the cheerful British terraced houses), so it’s certainly not more than one family.

Unfortunately, they are not the only ones in our block who can’t be bothered to recycle or even to avoid rubbish. The little monster loves to watch the dump trucks collecting our rubbish, so whenever we hear the telltale beeping sound of a reversing lorry on Fridays, we run outside. Which means I get a pretty decent look at our neighbours’ waste disposal habits. It regularly makes me want to use alliterations! I can barely refrain from rummaging through their rubbish and remove all the recyclables. Is it so hard?!

Our council offers a rather extensive recycling scheme free of charge (other than council tax, that is). Yet every so often I can hear the clinking of glass (i.e. more than one bottle) in those black bags, and it drives me up the walls. Then there is the amount of food scraps that our residential stray cats are so fond of ripping out of the bags and scatter around. Would it be so revolting to have leftover meals every now and then?

But what I saw the other day nearly made my blood curdle: a whole black bag stuffed with empty plastic carrier bags!

I mean, apart from the fact that all the grocery stores in the area have bag collection bins (and presumably recycle the bags too), why on earth do you island monkeys have to squander these things like there was no tomorrow?!

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I either have the little monster’s pram with its generous shopping basket underneath, my backpack, my bicycle basket or, in the rare cases that I use the car, a collapsible crate on me. Only every once in a blue moon I am compelled to use one of the free plastic bags all the retailers offer, and these I always reuse as bin liners.

Maybe I’m just shopping in the wrong place, but at ASDA, part of the WalMart family, which happens to be my food store of choice because I can walk there within 10 minutes, I am always looked at with incredulity at the checkout when I reject the wad of plastic bags shoved into my direction in the assumption I’d use them like pretty much everyone else. But then the same happens on a regular basis in high street shops as well. I am eyeballed like a unicorn when I ask to put whatever it is I am buying into my backpack without the free shop advertisement plastic bag to protect it from, well, my backpack. Urgh!

Seriously, people, plastic bags are bad! Where I come from, hardly anyone carries home their grocery shopping in single-use plastic bags. Mainly because they cost money. Funny how a marginal fee of 10 cents per bag can coax people into not forgetting to take their jute bags when they leave the house.

Not so here in the UK. In fact, 2011 has seen a fierce debate about introducing such a fee, and I recall with horror the arguments against the campaign: Not convenient, not practicable, not fair in the current economic climate. Really?! As a consequence, only in Wales was a 5p charge per bag introduced. I haven’t seen any results yet but it’s expected to cut plastic use considerably.

With the exception of a very few valiant pioneers like Marks & Spencer, the rest of the UK simply continues their wasteful shopping practices. Outrageous!

Wake up, Brits, or do you really want the world to be taken over by this here species?

 

PS: Our Christmas tree is not made of plastic, and it came in a pot it was grown in. So I hope we can plant it outside when the season is *really* over.

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10 Things that I miss when not spending Christmas in Germany

Christmas is just around the corner, the season of peace and benevolence. Which is why today I decided to be nice for a change. In other words, I won’t rant about the hardships of living among island monkeys and instead focus on the hardships of not not living in Germany.

So without further ado I present the 10 things I miss most when I don’t get to spend Christmas in Germany:

 

1. Celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve

I mean, why would anyone in their right minds wait until the 25th when they could have the goodies the evening before already?! I’m way out of my comfort zone here, so correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the Magi bring their gifts on the night of Jesus’s birth too?

advent calendar

Granted, it would be nice to get one treat more out of your advent calendar, but if that's worth the wait?

 

2. Having a real Weihnachtsmann

A friend or remote family member dresses up as Santa and gives gifts to the kids. Not before they recited a poem or sang a song for him of course. Keeps them on their toes and nice instead of naughty much more effectively than just the imaginary cookie-eater who rushes in during the night, unseen by all but the cat, and leaves gifts that may or may not match the wish list written to him earlier.

Weihnachtsmann

"No, I wasn't nice!"

 

3. Getting together…

… at my best friend’s house for a Pre-Christmas cookie baking session. I did some baking at home with the little monster this year but at my friend’s it is always more fun. Mainly because they have a much spacier kitchen. And because I don’t have to clean up afterwards. OK, I admit it, I also miss the usual suspects who normally attend this fixture. And the ruckus all the kids make that we have popped out by now.

cookies

Yeah, I made these. With a lot of love and a bit of help from the little monster.

 

4. The food

Rotkohl (red cabbage), Grünkohl (green cabbage) and Sauerkraut (you can figure that one out yourself). Yes, there is a reason why Germans are called Krauts, and I for one don’t mind the tiniest bit. I love my Kraut and Kohl. Just as much as the goose or duck that comes with it instead of the anglo-saxon inevitability called turkey. And of course the dumplings. Please, can I be excused for a moment while I dry off my mouth.

goose

Sometimes it's great to be German!

 

5. Christmas markets

I mean, the Brits really are trying but they just don’t get it quite right. The ‘Authentic German Bratwurst’ is just short of tasting like the real deal and the atmosphere is somewhat off, too. As I say, they are trying.

ChristmasMarketJena

That's how it's supposed to look like: Christmas market in Jena

 

6. Seeing the look…

… in my parents’ and grandparents’ eyes when they unwrap their photo calendars that I spent 2 weeks creating painstakingly from photos of the little monster. Sure, on an intellectual level I know that they will absolutely appreciate this gift (if nothing else because they will voice their gratefulness time and again until well into March of next year). Still, being there would be just priceless.

skype

Oh well, I suppose skype will have to do this year.

 

7. Traditional German Christmas decorations

My Mom comes from a region called ‘Erzgebirge’ (Ore Mountains) which is where most of the prettiest items originate. Christmas pyramids, Schwibbögen (candle arches), Räuchermännchen (incense burner figurines), nutcrackers… the list goes on. I used to find this stuff really tacky and I wouldn’t want to put too many of these dustcatchers up in my house but now that I don’t see them at my grandparents’ every year anymore I kinda miss them. Not to mention the nostalgia that comes with seeing the tranquil and understated light arch of a Schwibbogen in a window instead of the psychedelic, incessantly flickering lights that are, for some reason completely beyond my grasp, so popular today.

christmas decorations

Clockwise from left: Pyramid, Schwibbogen, nutcrackers, Räuchermännchen

 

8. Christmas music

I know I said I hate Christmas songs and I won’t backpedal on that one because it is still very much true for the Christmassy pop songs that are played to death before and during Christmas on the radio and in stores. What I’m talking about here are the traditional songs that we used to play and sing. I guess I need to get myself a copy of a few of my Mom’s CDs for next year. If only so that the little monster gets to grow up with them too.

music

Nooooo, not these guys!

 

9. Having a fight with my sister

Seriously. We two are very different and for as long as I can remember we have fought over little nothingnesses as soon as we have spent more than 3 hours in the same room. But she is my sister and also a diligent follower of this blog (probably even the first follower ever), and I’m sure she will appreciate being featured in this post.

streit

You can't live with them and you can't... wait, YES WE CAN!

 

10. Snow

Though I will deny I said that should anyone ever claim I did. Well, I guess I should also phrase this a bit differently. Something along the lines of: The higher likelihood of having a White Christmas. There is nothing like taking a walk after a lovely (=heavy, greasy, unhealthy but divinely tasty) Christmas dinner through snowy streets where every sound is muffled and everything is just soooooo peaceful…

snow

That's right, this is outside my Mom and Dad's house

 

Of course, after Christmas is over, there are still some things German that I will miss. Like watching Dinner for One on New Years Eve. I know, it’s not even in German but it has been a tradition forever.

 

So here are two things to be grateful for this Christmas season: Skype and Youtube. Yeah, I know, they are no replacement for being there in person but they are better than nothing at all.

 

Merry Christmas to everyone!

 

 

PS: I might have pilfered one or two pictures from Google images. Dear artist, please don’t consider this as a vile act of copyright infringement but rather an hommage to further your fame and the awareness of your awesome artistic skill. Rest assured, I am not making any money with this, so you’re not missing out.

Queer cards

‘Tis this time of the year again and, after trying to ignore the impending holidays for as long as I possibly could, I am finally starting to get myself into the mood. It does take a bit of effort, you know, some tricks I’ve acquired over the years. Like ordering the presents for the kids (’cause they are the only ones getting Christmas gifts in my family) online, thus dodging the insane crowds that are currently milling through our high street and malls. Like extreme-fast forwarding the bits of adverts where huge eyes staring out of starving African children’s faces are trying to blackmail you into parting with your hard-earned savings in the name of Christmassy generosity. Or like closing my eyes every now and then when walking through the streets to avoid bringing on an epileptic seizure induced by all those hectically flashing, multicoloured, oh-so-peaceful Christmas lights.
Snowflakes

I suspect crafting is not exactly my strongest suit but I think I deserve brownie points for trying. Plus, the little monster really enjoyed running wild with scissors.

Other things that help me conjure up a Christmassy atmosphere are some old family traditions. Like crafting little things, or baking Christmas cookies. Especially with the little monster around now, these small pleasures do bring a bit of Christmas spirit to my commerce-weary soul.

Then there is the habit of writing a Christmas message or card to the most important people in our lives. I haven’t written any real cards myself in a while, mainly because email is so much faster, less hassle, less environmentally questionable and, oh yeah, cheaper. For special occasions I tend to send e-cards. Not the soppy ones with puppies and butterflies. I like the cute b-cards by German artist Chris Schlag.

Cards aplenty

They even have a section 'Suitable for terminal illness'!

I am digressing. Cards. Sending cards is HUGE in the UK. Much bigger than in Germany. Where I come from, I have never seen an entire store exclusively dedicated to greeting cards. Here, in our little town which has exactly one (1) cinema, there are actually double as many card shops. Wow! Not to mention the card aisles in the big supermarkets. Granted, they also offer a small collection of wrapping paper, ribbons and gift items like balloons or cuddly toys but by and large they are selling cards, gazillions of cards.

Unfortunately not a single one without a pre-printed message inside! What’s up with that?!

The other day I was looking for a birthday card for my granddad in Germany. He is one of the few people I know who doesn’t have internet so I thought I’d surprise him with an old-fashioned, snail mail greeting card from across the English Channel. Except he doesn’t understand English. And I didn’t fancy versing around a bog standard, run-of-the-mill text. So I ended up buying some coloured cardboard and making my own card instead. I am slowly but surely getting really good with that crafty stuff. I suppose I should thank the unimaginative card manufacturers who can’t conceive of people like me who are actually able and willing to come up with their own words. But I won’t be thankful.

Because here comes the most annoying thing about these instant cards: They are way too often sent exactly as is! I mean, if you don’t have the time to at least rudimentarily personalise my card I’d rather not get one at all, thank you very much. It’s like birthdays on facebook. Dozens of people leave messages on your wall but only a handful manages to write more than a slight variation of ‘Happy birthday, have a great day’. What’s the point?

Seriously, if I get one more Christmas card that doesn’t show any other signs of individualisation than ‘Love/xxx/All the best, [name]’ I will forget that I have put myself painstakingly into a Christmas mood and hate the holiday all over again! And then promptly discard the culprit.

PS: This one captures my pre-Christmas thoughts pretty neatly. Prominently featured: Writing Christmas cards 😉

Boys in tights

OMG, it's a boy!

OMG, it's a boy! (© me!)

At the beginning of my little monster’s first winter, he was about 6 months old and had just begun to crawl. So I went out to a store for children’s clothes, wanting to buy this indispensable item of winter clothing that is tights. Alas, no luck. I only found the pink, purple and white-with-flowers varieties for girls. Now, while I personally wouldn’t have minded seeing him in those I wanted to avoid him being called a little girl any more than necessary. It might also have had something to do with the fact that I like being in my husbands will.

So I tried another store. And another one. To no avail. Relating the story to my English Mom-in-law finally shed light on the matter: Island monkeys don’t do tights for little boys. Why? Because tights are for girls. Ah yes…

So I would like to make a case here for tights for boys. Maybe I can change one or two of your island monkey’s minds.

1. Tights are comfy.

I mean, have you seen how your little one struggles to get up onto that chair there in his (undoubtedly handsome) little pair of jeans? No such problems in tights. He can run around as if naked. Actually, I think, tights are the next best thing to letting them run around without clothes. Especially in winter! They are just perfect for horsing around at the nursery or playgroup.

Oh, I hear you argue that track suit bottoms (or whatever you might call them) are also quite comfortable. Well, they are, but have you looked at these usually grey, shapeless things lately? There is a time and a place for everything, and track suit bottoms should be worn in a gym or when going for a jog in cold weather. Otherwise the wearer just looks like a chav.

2. Tights are practical.

My little hero is potty training and unless his jeans have an elastic waist, he struggles with pulling them down and – after the deed – back up. Never happened with tights.

You advocates of track suit bottoms: See above.

3. Tights are cosy.

Why do you think your daughter likes wearing them?

4. Tights are essential for layering.

You know, the onion principle. When it becomes colder, you put on layers. You also put layers onto your little boy’s upper body. Vest first (if you’re sensible), then a longsleeve. When you take them outside (as well you should!) you add, depending on temperatures, a cardi, jumper, jacket or coat – or all of the above in case it gets really mean cold.

But what about their bottoms?! Nappy/undies, then trousers/jeans. And when you go outside? The same, even though it might be 20°C colder than inside? Ever thought about the fact that they only develop hairy legs a bit later in life?

I found that the easiest way to dress my little monster for a cold winter day outing is to simply put a pair of jeans over the tights, just like a coat over the top. Double layer, double warmth – result! Try that with track suit bottoms. Hah!

(By the way, more tips on how to dress appropriately in cold weather here. Brought to you by an expert in cold German winters – me.)

5. Tights put an end to losing/pulling off socks.

The little blighters just loooove taking their socks off. And in some socks the cuffs are just too loose, so they frequently lose them. Now, if you don’t mind your little one having cold feet, by all means, go ahead and let it be. Alternatively you could purchase some of these nifty sock ons for your baby boy. Or you can simply try tights like you would for your baby girl too.

6. Tights are cute!

This one comes with an exclamation point because it’s such an important factor. Granted, little boys look cute in pretty much anything you throw on them but tights are – in my not so humble opinion – a notch above everything else on the cuteness scale. I mean, these adorable nappy bottoms… Which isn’t to say that a toddler’s bum isn’t the most adorable body part without a nappy too! Especially in tights. So will you please shut up already, you insufferable track suit bottom lovers!

Also, to put those of you I couldn’t quite convince yet a little more at ease with the thought of boys in tights, here are a few points of clarification:

  • I never let the little monster go outside in just his tights. Neither would any other German mother. They are indoor clothes, think of them as slippers for legs. Or maybe not, as slippers stay indoors all the time. Tights can go outside but then they hide under ‘real’ trousers or jeans. Except maybe when you take the rubbish out and the little monster – as always – ignores your command to stay inside.
  • As I mentioned, I try to steer clear of colours that are too girly and so should you if you consider getting some for your little boy. But I do love bright colours, especially for kids. So the tights I buy (at the moment unfortunately only in Germany) often have red, orange or yellow in them (see pic above). So cute…
  • Tights really are only for boys of a younger age. I don’t expect you to wrestle down your teenage son in order to put tights on him. Plus, at that stage he might have developed some hairy legs anyway.
  • Wearing tights does not make your son look gay. He’s a little boy for crying out loud!
  • And no, WEARING TIGHTS DOES NOT MAKE YOUR SON BECOME GAY either! He will be gay or not, no matter what clothes you put on him as a youngster (and frankly, what difference does it make anyway?). I thought I better state the obvious again. To my knowledge, the percentage of gay men in the German population isn’t any higher than in the UK. If anything, we are less homophobic. Or maybe not. Scientific research yet to be conducted.