Sunday, December 30, 2012

Seriously: Parenting

You know it's been a long time since your last post when regular readers start to worry (hello to Cathy at Playing Hooky :-) Oh dear.

Two nights ago I found myself sitting upright in bed with Baby Gingerbread asleep in the armchair I'd fashioned out of ... well, my arms, actually ... while Mr Gingerbread snored his head off next to me. (In fairness, he had laid a sympathetic hand on my thigh, which is what he does to assuage his guilt at getting to sleep while I comfort a burpy baby.) I was exhausted. We'd just arrived in from a week at home in Ireland and even my bones felt tired. But whenever I put the baby down, he'd wake up, crying piteously, and no amount of back or stomach-rubbing would shift the burp that had got stuck somewhere in his little tummy. So we both sat upright, waiting for the gas to come up - or go down. In bed with two men. How very 'Fifty Shades of Grey ' of me.


It occurred to me again how hard parenting can be. And I realised that only when I had a baby myself could I fully comprehend how hard my mother and father had worked at raising me and my brothers and sisters. I mean, I was lucky to have kind and caring parents so it would be utterly churlish of me not to recognise their effort, but it's only at 3 a.m. in the wee small hours of the morning, tired to my very marrow, rubbing a 3-month-old baby's back in the black silence of our bedroom do I understand fully how much effort being a halfway decent parent requires, much less a good one.

My own mother has taken to informing us that she "might not live very long". She's trying to prepare us for her eventual clog-popping - statistically seen, most likely to occur with a cup of tea in one hand, a cigarette in the other and the phone jammed under her chin. She said this again over Christmas and my youngest sister - who has the delicate sensibilities of a barracuda - told her to shut up and stop looking for attention. I don't care how much she "prepares" us with these portents of doom, nothing could prepare me for the loss of either parent and the mere thought of it rends my heart asunder. A bit of my world would die with them; it doesn't even bear thinking about. So Mammy Gingerbread -  I know you're reading this, and possibly already sobbing into one of the many tissues you store on your person - please stop. You've read enough Louise L. Hay to know the power of thought.

In all, I've learned that it takes a while to learn to be someone's parent. And I think you do it best if you're still someone's child.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I am terribly sorry, my dears. Such a long time since my last post :-( I really enjoyed reading your lovely comments and they certainly helped to cheer up some very tiring days and quite a number of sleepless nights. Life with an 8-week-old is certainly challenging, mostly because a lot of it takes place with afore-mentioned 8-week-old in your arms. They don't like being parted from their parents, did I mention that? And as typing is generally a two-handed job, it can be quite difficult to blog.

But Baby G is starting to charm us with his antics. Yesterday morning I passed by my bed, where Baby G was getting some shut-eye (on a side note: I never, ever wanted to co-sleep. Never. But the baby had other ideas. He sleeps best with a fistful of boob and his feet tucked under the flap of fat left when he vacated the premises a month ago. I sleep curled around him like a crescent moon, one arm stretched out above his head, the soles of his feet resting on my thighs. Before he was born, I tossed and turned in bed about three dozen times a night; since his birth I sleep like a statue, waking in the morning with stiff limbs and scratched bosoms.) In any case, the child was asleep with one arm up the air, a tiny fist clenched. Startled, I realised he was doing the Black Panthers' salute. While I watched him, his tiny body did a Riverdance of flailing limbs and resettled into something equally uncomfortable-looking but much less political.

Motherhood. Ahhh.
Right now, I'm at the point where I'm pressing my nose up against the windowpanes, watching people outside in the fresh air, doing exciting things like going for a walk or buying bread. Simply leaving the house involves a lot of planning - I have to get the baby in an Ahglooba period. Yes, that's right: we've started to speak his language. We have two words so far: Nnnnngah, which expresses general displeasure - you know, when you decide you're hungry but food doesn't appear magically in front of you straightaway (this works best if you beat someone's chest while you're howling "Nnnnngah! Nnnnnnnnnnnngah!" And maybe do some kicking, too.) Ahgloobah is a general sound of contentment, doled out to parents deperately trying to please you. Both words are quite excellent. Missed the bus? Nnnnngah! About to tuck in to a cup of hot tea with a chocolate biscuit? Ahglooba! It's great fun. And, considering that the little chap will have to grow up bilingually, we're probably doing irreparable damage to his language-learning skills. Oopsie.

Anyway, here's a gratuitous baby picture for the first Advent Sunday. What does one have a baby for, if not to dress up in ridiculous holiday hats? (Note the look of pained tolerance in his eyes. Poor child.)
"Help! Help! Am being held captive by lunatics! Help!"

Monday, October 22, 2012

Seven Bags O' Sugar

Thank you all very much for your good advice, kind wishes and finger-crossing! I'll be in touch in person when my new boss decides to sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time ... xxx
(Don't be fooled. He's plotting something.)

Oh. Emm. Gee!
You are not going to believe this, but soon after publishing my last post on the 5th October, I went into labour! Clearly, the one method I had not tried actually worked: write miffed blog-post about resigning oneself to one's fate. And bing! The contractions start.

So: childbirth. Not a walk in the park. Not entirely pleasant. One becomes familiar with practically every bodily fluid one can produce - and that in a 24-hour period and in front of total strangers. And one is so physically overwhelmed, one resigns oneself to one's messy fate. Having said that, though, childbirth was no better or no worse than I'd expected and I managed to accidentally do it naturally, because by the time I'd decided that it really did jolly well hurt, goshdarnit, it was too late for an epidural. (Before I get applause and a rubber medal for my bravery, I would like to add that once the baby had been born and I'd enquired about his general good health and had been reassured that all of his appendages were in place and good working order, I turned to my husband and said, "If I ever do this again, I WANT AN EPIDURAL!" A martyr I am not.) And at 3.5 kg he was only seven bags of sugar after all.

In any case, four days later, Mr Gingerbread and I were sent home with a very small, black-eyed stranger that we named John. We both have blue eyes, but newborns - being pigmentally-challenged - often have darker eyes. Our young 'un has little black button eyes that swivel around the room, trying to follow us. It's quite disconcerting. I've also learned a lot about babies and thought I'd share - for the benefit of those of you who are thinking about a smidgen of reproduction.

(There are only three things because ... well, babies only do three things at the start.)
1. Sleep
It doesn't matter how nice the cot or bassinet is, it doesn't even matter if you've toiled for hours over his handmade blankie and coordinated his bed linen in a fashion otherwise unknown in your household, babies want to sleep ON you. Oh, and it doesn't even matter if you're grotty and unwashed, if your hair looks like a bird's nest and you're still wearing the same pyjamas you've been meaning to throw into the laundry hamper for the past two days but when night-time comes, you're too worn out to open the wardrobe and pull out a new one - no! Babies think there is  no better place to catch a few zzzzs. The uncurl their little claws hands with their teeny-tiny claws fingernails and clamp them into the delicate flesh of your chest, digging their tiny claws feet into your stomach for a good hold.

2. Poo
There will be a lot of it, and it will go from being something that's rarely discussed as a matter of delicacy, to something that you and your partner will openly speculate about at the dinner table. For there is a lot of it and it comes in a range of colours. More astonishingly, it gets everywhere. How a person (albeit a very small and wriggly one) can simultaneously have poo on his nipples and on the soles of his feet whilst encased in a brand-name diaper is beyond me. I wouldn't have thought it possible till yesterday - but now I know it's true. And small babies don't like being naked. Who'd have thought it? You see all of those Anne Geddes photos and presume that there's nothing a baby likes more than lounging about in the nude in a flower pot or whatnot - lies! All lies! They don't like it at all and they scream their fluffy little heads off in protest as soon as you undo a couple of buttons on their trousers.

3. Eat
Rather than being the beatific vision of Madonna-like contentment, suckling babe in arms and a halo of hazy sunlight around my head, my breastfeeding endeavours resemble something from the World Wrestling Federation: my baby is a very enthusiastic and greedy eater. And my boobess are delicate flowers. The combination is fatal. To start, I have to hold down baby's frantically waving arms while he tries to claw my delicate flowers and sideswipe the nipples. He roars in protest (because he does not like being restrained) while I pin down his flailing limbs and shove the nipple in his mouth. Everyone says you ought to bring the child to the nipple and not vice versa, but bringing the child to my bewb requires a level of foolhardy bravery that I do not have. When he finally latches on, he'll maul me contentedly for a while, detach himself and then after a couple of seconds of confusion, roar his head off at me for starving him so cruelly.

People, this is strenous. The child is a hard taskmaster. Just when we think we've got him figured out ("Aha! He likes to take long naps in the afternoons!"), he does the exact opposite, leaving us bewildered and confused.
"He's flippin' lucky he's so darned cute," I growled at my husband at 4.30 a.m. this morning, as I disposed of a reeking Pampers and wiped a dimply bottom (while my offspring screamed his head off because I exposed his buttocks to the fresh night air.) And therein lies the rub: babies are cute. It's hard to hold a grudge when they roll their little black eyes in your direction and slurp sloppy newborn kisses on your face.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Eight Bags O' Sugar

A card my sister made for me. And spookily
accurate, to boot. Except for the shoes - I
couldn't get my swollen feet into those.

You've probably noted the silence on my part and thought, "Oh, the Gingerbread Lady must be enjoying the delights of her newborn!" - cue Hallmark-esque visions of me snuggling a tiny infant wrapped in a carefully crocheted baby blanket, enveloped in the hirsute arms of my loving husband.

Not at all. Baby Gingerbread is quite happy inside, it would seem. He's in no hurry to exit the premises whatsoever - his due date has come and gone and he, if anything, is just getting comfortable. This has left me in a kind of limbo: I can't wander too far from home, just in case something happens. I can't make an awful lot of plans for the near future, because something will happen. So I've turned into a kind of crafting hermit. My biggest challenge this week has been to make a similar blanket to one I've done already - similar, but different, because the recipients are twins. In my other life (the one where I'm more organised), I would neatly record all the yarn I use for a particular project - and I try, I do, honest - but the original blanket was a scrapghan and when I tried to recreate it, I discovered that a couple of the yarns had been discontinued and one or two more were of unknown origin. So the second blanket is ... similar. But quite different.
As I planned all along.
(Shhh. That's what we're going to say.)

Expelling one would be a challenge - but eight!Eight!

I was getting a bit miffed about still being pregnant, mostly because my rotundity is the talk of the neighbourhood (all of our neighbours are senior citizens; this is exciting stuff). Whenever I leave the house, I am subject to a barrage of tired witticisms ("Don't worry - no baby's remained in there permanently yet!") or advice ("Have you tried eating a curry?" Yes, daily. Or: "I've heard a bit of wink-wink with the husband gets things going!" A very disturbing thing to hear from a geriatric neighbour with a zimmerframe) or plain old despair ("Oh no! Don't tell me you're still here!" Yes, I am. Thanks a million - now I know how Typhoid Mary felt.) But then something changed. A doctor at the maternity clinic told my husband and me that baby's estimated weight was 3.4 kg (8lbs 4oz, if you'd like it imperial.) Mr Gingerbread gasped aloud - gasped! - and clapped his hand over his mouth.
"An 8lb baby isn't that big!" I chided him. "That's in the normal range!"
The doctor confirmed it. Babies are sometimes 9lbs. Or 10lbs. Or more.
Husband sat down on the nearest chair.

But I didn't quite get what had bothered him - till we got home. Then we made a pyramid of foodstuffs on the kitchen counter - coffee, flour, sugar, oatflakes - and I realised that I have something as big as EIGHT BAGS OF SUGAR INSIDE ME! This was the point when I decided that I was going to cross my legs quite firmly and implore Baby Gingerbread to stay put. Like, forever. I've gotten used to him in there, and he's clearly quite happy. It sounds like an ideal solution for everyone.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Pregnancy Train

(This is another pregnancy post. Feel free to click away if you came for the crafts.)

I'm now in my 39th week, i.e. 38 weeks plus small change. That means - as all my healthcare providers take gleeful delight in telling me - that something can happen at any time, tee hee! Sadly, nothing seems to be happening at the moment and probably won't any time soon. This medical diagnosis is based on the fact that Mr Gingerbread needs two hours and two alarm clocks to get out of bed in the morning, so I can hardly hope that his offspring is going to exit my innards punctually or, indeed, early.

"Are you nervous about the birth?" my little sister asked.
Let me tell you about my attitude to pregnancy and birth, young 'un:

Imagine you're taking a train journey to somewhere really nice. You're looking forward to being at your destination, everyone has said it's quite lovely. And the train ride is very interesting - some parts of it are very beautiful, and although other parts of it might cause motion sickness, all in all it's really quite an experience. So you hop on the train and off you go.

The only problem is, you know this train is going to derail. At some point, there's going to be a great, big crash and the train is going go careening out of control. There's be blood and gore and confusion and chaos.  In the grand scheme of things, it won't last long. It'll seem like forever when you're in the middle of it, but afterwards you'll realise that it was just one day. And you know that, in all likelihood, everything's going to turn out fine and you'll still get to your destination and, chances are, it'll be every bit as nice as you were hoping but ...

you're still going to be on the train when it goes flying off the rails. So no matter how nice the journey is and how pretty the landscape looks, you have a sense of foreboding that sometime, sometime soon, that thing is going to happen. If you're not me, you can get into a place of zen and say, "It'll be an empowering experience! I'll feel enabled in my role as a woman!", or you can take my standpoint and view it with the same resigned dread as a root-canal treatment (of which I've had four and have survived to tell the tale.) I don't care if it empowers the living daylights out of me, I would look forward to it a lot more if it were called "slight inconvenience" or "mild discomfort" instead of "labour".

In the meantime, I'm going to distract myself by looking out the window and watching the nice scenery.
Not long now.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Oooh, it's September. Even though the sun's shining and it's warm, there's a chill in the air and the sunshine is slightly ... diluted. The first sign that September's here - apart from the stacks of Christmas cookies and gingerbread already in the supermarkets - is the proliferation of pumpkins. Ooh, I love pumpkins! As soon as I could, I got a nice, big butternut squash and made a crockpot (yes, this crackpot has a crockpot) full of vegetable soup:

which Mr Gingerbread and I ate with gusto. And a couple of slices of wholewheat bread.

The Summer Daisies is being tested by a group of nice women, whose eagle eyes will spot any mistakes in the pattern (I am numerically-challenged, so this is not an easy task.)

But in my head, I'm thinking about what I could do next. The Cathedral Rose pattern has fascinated me for a long time. But I don't want to do that one, I want to do my own pattern based on another cathedral rose window, namely the north window in the cathedral in Chartres:

beautiful photo by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle)
So I lined up my yarn and looked at it.

And did some thinking about how you change a complex image of a mediaeval stained glass window into a crochet pattern ... why-oh-why did I not pay attention in geometry class? If I had known twenty years ago that all of that stuff Sr. Francis used to torture us with in maths class actually had a practical usage in the Real World - why, I might have actually listened! I might have done my homework!
Or not.

Too late now. I have to use my geometry set from the Euro Store and work things out on my cheapie calculator, with no guarantee that I'm actually doing it right. But I persevere!

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Potential Life of Crime (and How Karma Strikes Back)

This was a gift from my friend, Pat.
Sadly, I am not this graceful and lithe
in pregnancy. But we can pretend.
In my state of With Childness, I am now quite round. Positively rotund - in fact, a bit like a roast chicken: with a huge midriff and little spindly legs and arms. However, pregnancy is not without its interesting aspects.

For example, did you know that, as a pregnant woman, you are a natural target for beggars, chuggers*, buskers, punks, sellers of homeless magazines and fresh-faced young American men from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, sweltering in dark suits in the hot German sun? With the exception of the latter - whom I would really like to take home and give a glass of ice-cold lemonade to, bless their freshly-laundered socks - they descend upon me with expressions of fake-suffering plastered across their faces, waving magazines, clipboards and paper cups, looking - inevitably - for money. Because I am an expectant mother, I am clearly a soft touch: the ol' hormones have made me daft in the head and loosened my purse strings. My only defence is to steam down the pedestrian zone, waving them off with a "No, no, thank you. Not stopping. Nine months pregnant, thirty-degree heat, you don't want to talk to me today. Thank you!"
It usually works.

With the exception of one young man, who tried to block my path and get a euro off me. At least, that's what I figured he was looking for: hard to tell, because he was smoking a cigarette and swigging a Starbucks coffee. He got a ruder version of my standard tirade. He even got my Evil Eye, the look that withers house-plants, which made him shrink back into the shade and take a stiff gulp of overpriced coffee.

On a more positive note, I've also discovered that my roundiness seems to make me immune to all suspicion of crime. I could probably kidnap a bishop and escape in a stolen car, mowing down the swing-set in a children's playground along the way, and no one would even suspect me. Somehow, being pregnant has made me a better person: shop assistants no longer follow me around snooty shops, keeping an eye on me in case I'd filch some of their merchandise. Instead, they smile at me benevolently: "Ach, look at her, with her big bump and little skinny chicken legs! How could someone as pathetic-looking as that poor pregnant woman possibly swipe anything? Impossible!"  As a pregnant lady, I am clearly above all of that kind of thing; I radiate innocence and good-will (or else it's the thin film of sweat I acquire whilst waddling around on my heat-swollen pins.) I mean, if I were criminally-inclined, I could wait till the baby's arrived, then make a fake pregnant stomach with a little pouch inside and go on a shop-lifting spree throughout Gingerbreadtown.

I won't, of course. But it doesn't stop me wondering if I could.

 I must sadly report that my wonderings about crime set off a wave of negative karma in the universe, as I myself was a victim of a heinous crime this morning -  someone stole the geranium out of the basket in front of my house. In broad daylight. Let me say that again, in a more outraged tone of font: someone swiped my geranium! So I've decided to stop contemplating a life of crime in case karma sends the thief back to rob the heather plant that's now sitting forlorn and alone outside my front door.

* chugger - in case you didn't know - is a brand-new word that entered the English language in 2002 and it refers to "charity muggers": the attractive youths paid to aggressively accost you with their clipboards and tales of third world woe in an attempt to get you to sign over your bank details and your first-born child.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Summer Daisies

When I'm feeling smart and witty again, I'll tell you about my Potential Life of Crime as a pregnant woman. In the meantime, I'll show you what I've just finished:

This started off as a round-ish blanket because I didn't want the bother of designing a half-hexagon to straighten out the edges:

Sadly, my OCD tendencies just could not cope with the chaos and a solution had to be found, even though I was reassured that round-ish blankets are also quite fetching and have their place in home décor.
But ...
I - just - could - not - deal - with - it

Already someone has suggested that this pattern would make a nice Christmas afghan, with red flowers (poinsettas) and a dark green background. Hmmm!

Now all I have to do is write up the pattern, take the photos, get my testers on their starting blocks and then I can finally offer it for sale - maybe even before the Gingerbread Cookie makes his appearance.

Monday, August 20, 2012

And back home they went...

Taking a short break from self-portraits, Dürer
also painted this Venetian lady. Who, I might add,
looked like him in drag. This set the tone for the day.

Well, Mammy and Daddy Gingerbread made it safely back to Ireland, just in time to avoid the real August heatwave. Mammy Gingerbread spent the holiday fanning herself with pieces of paper and magazines, unwilling to believe that the gentle heat was far from the scorching temperatures a typical August might attain. Today, however, the mercury in the thermometre peaked at 36°C / 97°F and my husband and I thanked our stars that my parents were safely home in Ireland - otherwise we would've had to deliver my mother to the local emergency room for resuscitation.

Sunshine notwithstanding, the Gingerbread Parents seem to have had a good time. We wandered around looking at things, ate copiously and often, drank litres of tea (= it's never too hot for tea.) We even Got Culture. We not only did the rounds of all the cathedrals the local area can offer (and there are a lot), we unwittingly managed to finagle our way into the Albrecht Dürer exhibition in Nuremberg, despite the fact that the tours have been booked out for weeks and waiting times run into hours. How did we do that, you ask? Well, I asked a passing curator if the queue for the exhibition was very long - I really just wanted to know if I had to take one of my daily 7563 trips to the loo beforehand - and instead, recognising my Delicate Condition, we were swooped past the waiting masses and delivered to the door of the exhibition. I was protesting in German - no, no, really, not necessary, I didn't want to jump the queue - tailed by my parents, who didn't have a clue what was going on. No one paid much attention to us - I mean, we mightn't have even wanted to see the exhibition, it might have been a general-interest enquiry about the length of the queue - but we were ushered through the curtain and found ourselves inside.

We quickly split up. My father, an artist, made his way slowly and methodically through the crowds and looked at each painting properly - checking out the competition, basically. My mother and I decided to get a more general overview of Dürer's work at a brisk pace, weaving in and out of tour groups and tightly-knit packs of senior citizens.
The upshot? Dürer painted a lot of pictures of himself, did you know that?
"He was a bit fond of himself, that fella," my mother remarked with a sniff.
He was, indeed.

But that wasn't the only - or, indeed, the best cultural event of the day. When we got outside, we heard a ruckus down the street.
"What's going on down there?" my father asked, pointing at the crowds and floats.
"That's the gay and lesbian parade," I said. "But we can go back through town another way so we can avoid the crowds."
"God, no," said my father. "Sure, we'll have to go down and see that, too."
So while I flopped on to a bench and fanned myself with an exhibition brochure, my parents stood at the edge of the footpath and enthusiastically waved to the very big ladies in their three-storey high-heeled boots, my parents bopping in time with the techno music. Be-wigged, feather-boa'd drag queens blew them kisses, which my mother returned, and they waved at the local Leather Aficionados with some reserve (when two dozen men in leather jackets, shaved heads, dog collars and parachute boots marched by, my poor parents were afraid the parade had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis and were not sure about the political correctness of returning their friendly waves.)
We had to wait till the last float had passed before I could drag them away.
"That was brilliant," my father said.
"You wouldn't see that at home," my mother agreed.

She's right. In our little town in Ireland, most festivities involve tractors: the St. Patrick's Day Parade involves a few (usually pulling floats with Irish dancers), the local County Show revolves around agricultural machinery of all kinds and the town reaches a frenzy of excitement at Christmas when local farmers dress up as Santa Claus and drive their vintage tractors down the main street in convoy. See the pattern? There's no techno music, no sparkly confetti, no blond wigs, no leather whips, no women dressed as policemen, no men dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Of course, I don't think our town is big enough to have a gay and lesbian community large enough to fill a float in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, much less put on a full parade, but it would certainly make a welcome change from tractors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Gingerbreads on the Move

Mammy and Daddy Gingerbread are, as we speak, preparing to visit their pregnant daughter (me). As faithful readers know, they live in Ireland and I live in Germany, so this trip will involve the girding of loins, the gnashing of teeth, at least one marital spat and an indignant sulk. At least, this is what happens when they're forced to leave the confines of our small rural town and travel to Dublin, just an hour away; a trip to a foreign country that involves not one but two plane journeys will be even more exciting (or traumatic, depending on how you see it.)

It started with my mother announcing her intention to come to visit, with my father and youngest brother in tow. (My youngest brother is nearly twenty and in the past has been responsible for getting them through international airports unscathed. He is of the iPhone generation: international travel doesn't faze him - once he has the appropriate apps, he's good to go.)
"We're coming to visit," she said, in the tight, grim voice she usually reserves for periods of great stress.
"Fine," I said. "I'll look up some flights for you."

And I did. However, two stumbling blocks cropped up: my little brother, the navigator, pulled out of the trip, and the best flights that I found involve a stopover in Amsterdam. This latter piece of information caused my mother to suppress a shriek - yes, I heard the quick intake of breath.
"Fine," she said weakly. "Is Amsterdam airport"
"You won't be met by drug dealers and hookers," I said crossly. "The red light district is far, far away from the airport."
"But this airline - KLM - is it safe?" she asked.
"Well, it's the Royal Dutch Airlines: it's safe enough for the Queen of the Netherlands, so the Gingerbreads should be fine as well."
"Hmmm." She's not convinced.
My father, on the other hand, would probably view a delegation of Amsterdam's most colourful with great interest; I think he'd secretly like to pop into the city centre for a while, to look at the canals and quaint little houses. Sadly, there won't be time for that: all of their energy will be spent on getting from Hall A to Hall B, a journey of epic proportions and riddled with danger (they think.)

So keep your fingers crossed that their trip is uneventful - that the people in Amsterdam are as helpful and friendly as I've always found them, that Schiphol Airport is as straightforward as I last found it, that the flights to and from Ireland are smooth and punctual.
Otherwise, I'll never hear the end of it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Pregnancy

It's a bit like stopping a car to pick up a hitchhiker. At first, he's pleasant company, making chitchat and smiling politely at your witty remarks. As time goes by, the hitchhiker gets a bit demanding - he wants to change the radio channel and turn on the air-conditioning. At some point, he just becomes stroppy and starts bossing you around in your own car, insisting that you stop for breaks or making you take detours or change routes. Finally, you realise that you're basically just the chauffeur and the hitchiker has completely taken over. You're the driver but the passenger's the boss.
This is what it's like to be eight months pregnant.

My hitchhiker doesn't like it when it's quiet: he likes a bit of action and steady movement. I have to jiggle my legs constantly to create a rocking motion: as soon as I stop, I get punched and kicked. As the hitchhiker has not yet grasped the concept of night and day, he spends most of the night punching me awake. And woe betide me if I roll over into a position that he doesn't like: I'll get a kick in the ribs to remind me that my comfort is secondary and don't forget it. The hitchhiker also likes walks: lots of movement and fresh air - except that it's at least 30°C (86°F), which is about ten degrees warmer than any pregnant woman would like, so my walks are short and shady. When I sit down to admire the trees in the park and give my feet a rest, I get a few kicks of protest to remind me that it's not all about me and five minutes' rest are long enough: get your pregnant bottom moving again, woman!

Well, at least I know my place in this relationship.

This week, my husband and I assembled the baby's crib - which means that I fetched my toolbox (an empty ice-cream carton with my 99c screwdriver and one of those wrench-thingies that come with IKEA furniture) and my husband fetched his (three-tier toolbox with multiples of everything, its crowning glory the Black and Decker electric screwdriver.) It was quickly decided (by him) that I should leave my toolbox-slash-ice cream carton closed and hold up the instruction sheet instead. I did so - and very well, if I must say so myself. We decked the cot out in the enclosed draperies, but it looks like a vat of custard exploded inside it. Besides, I'm not sure about the health benefits of swathes of material and netting around an infant, so we'll strip it once it has served its purpose as a photographic prop:

This one was made to use up odd skeins of yarn. I'm still working on my daisy afghan but needed a change from white and yellow - so I grabbed all the bits and pieces that I had, and started making a random collection of squares. Now all I need is a recipient!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mrs Gingerbread, Football Expert

Yesterday, our next-door neighbour finally took down the German flag from above his front door. Last Sunday was the final of the UEFA European Soccer Championship, with Italy and Spain fighting for the title. Germany had come in third place, and only now are the disappointed football fans slowly putting away their black, red and yellow German flags.

Soccer brings out the worst in me. For a start, I know nothing about it and only watch matches of major significance, and even then, seldom sit through the entire thing. However, when plonked in front of the telly, I suddenly undergo a metamorphosis, from Hater of All Sports to Self-Appointed Football Expert. My blood pressure sky-rockets and I find myself shouting at the box, engorged with know-it-allism.
"Look at their defence! Rubbish! A granny with a zimmerframe could get through that!"
"Move! MOVE!!! For crying out loud! I'm seven months pregnant and I could run faster!"
"Off side! OFF SIDE!! Is the ref blind? That was off side!"
(I have no idea what off side is, but it seems to be the done thing to shout this at regular intervals).

Worst still is my misguided sense of loyalty, which actually manifests itself in extreme pettiness. I mean, I always support the Irish team, no matter how badly they play (sadly: badly). Failing that, I support the Northern Irish team (but they're even worse than the Republic of Ireland's team, so my support is not needed there very often.) Then, of course, I support Germany - though when it comes to the crunch and Ireland plays Germany, I have to support Ireland and deal with the almost inevitable defeat. I hold a grudge against any team that beats one of "my" teams, and watch subsequent matches with these teams under a cloud of ill-will and resentment. Case in point: Ireland exited early and ignobly following a defeat by Spain and then by Italy. Germany was kicked out in a match against Italy. When it came to the final, I couldn't decided which team I wanted to win, because both Spain and Italy had beaten Ireland, but Italy had also beaten Germany, whereas Spain had beaten Ireland more thoroughly and humiliatingly than Italy had. It was a quandary of begrudgery.

And, I hasten to remind you, I don't even like football! I happen to believe that the players are all vastly over-paid and the tournament a sponsorship bonanza. Why on earth do I get so worked up? Luckily, though, the European Cup only takes places every four years, as does the World Cup - in two years' time, I'll be able to smart-aleck my way through another half-dozen matches and get inexplicably upset at other countries' football players. On some level, I can't wait.

Oh, and by the way, in case you're interested: Spain won.
The cheek of them.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ms Gingerbread Goes to the Dogs

The Pack Master in my parents' house
I have an admirable collection of books on pregnancy and child-rearing. I bought one - What To Expect When You're Expecting - but after a brief flick through it, I decided I'd rather not expect anything at all. But one cannot be properly prepared by not reading one book - oh no, I've not read half-a-dozen! I've been given a selection of books from other mothers, all of which are in unread and pristine condition (the book I got from my sister-in-law is as-new, but flops open on the chapter entitled 'How to recognise if you're in labour'. This was the first and only chapter she read.) The only books that are well-thumbed are two ancient tomes from the Seventies, featuring lots of groovy pictures of hairy women with enormous nipples, stark nekkid, with legs akimbo in various stages of labour, surrounded by brown and orange granny square blankets and even hairier husbands. This has caused me Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I can only emphasise that these books are not well-thumbed by me, but the previous owner must have found them very helpful.

In any case, I have found a more pleasant role model for child-rearing: César Millán, the Dog Whisperer. Mr Gingerbread and I found some of his videos on YouTube and we're enjoying them a lot. Mr G is enthralled by the dogs - he loves dogs - and I'm secretly taking notes. Yesterday, we watched an episode that featured a Dalmatian puppy and my husband nearly cried.
"He's so beautiful! He's so cute!" he said. "I love him!"
This is the very reaction I would've hoped for when he saw his unborn child's face on the 3D scan. Instead, he's gaga about a slipper-chewing Dalmatian puppy on the telly. Whatever.

What have I learned? Well, as I'll be in the minority among males, I'll have to establish dominance as the Pack Master, something Mr Millan emphasises again and again. The practicalities have yet to be sorted out, because I don't think I can use a choke-chain on my husband or wrestle a newborn to the ground.  Much as I love my husband, he's a sucker and, as we all know, babies are fiendishly manipulative  little creatures. So one of us is really going to have to take charge here or our already-chaotic lives will rapidly descend into madness.

P.S.: Cathy asked me how big the daisy hexagons are -  they're 12 inches / 30 cm in diameter. I think this one is going to be a paid pattern, though, and not a freebie (just giving you advanced notice so you can start saving your pennies if you liked it) because it's too complicated to write as a blog post and will need a lot of photos and diagrams.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Daisy, Daisy

 Oooh, I want to make lots and lots of these motifs, just to see what they look like in different colours. I won't buy yarn - no, no, no, I won't, I have to use my scraps - but there are so many possibilities. I'm still tweaking the pattern before putting pen to paper.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What You Might Expect When You're Expecting

 This is going to very pregnancy-heavy, so feel free to skip it if you wish. I have some crochet pictures to share tomorrow or Tuesday, so call back then if you're child-free, child-uninterested or just plain sick of tales of bumpiness.

You probably don't know this, but there are inter-cultural differences between German and Irish airport luggage trolleys (or baggage carts - see, even the terminology differs from place to place!) German luggage trolleys are in a permanent state of braking: in order to move the trolley, you have to press a lever and the trolley allows itself to roll. If, say, distracted by something shiny in an airport shop, you happen to release the lever, you'll find yourself wrapped around your suitcases, your trolley glued to the floor by the incontrovertible staying power of a set of German brakes. Irish trolleys, on the other hand, can be braked by pressing down on the lever; the rest of the time, they are free to roll about as they please - if the building tipped sideways or someone gave them a careless push.

The luggage trolleys are rather indicative of how the German medical system works, I think. This week I had the pleasure of conducting a new little science experiment on myself: I got a blood sugar reader, a pricker and a little box of test strips and was sent off to check my blood sugar levels. See, Grandmother Gingerbread probably had gestational diabetes (we say "probably" because back in rural Ireland in the 1950s, prenatal care included such gems as "Drink a glass of Guinness every day to keep up your iron levels!" and "Smoking helps the baby's lungs to develop!") and later in life developed Type 2 diabetes. So I asked to have a diabetes test done as early as possible ... and one of the readings was a little high. No cause for worry, all of the doctors reassured me, and continued to reassure me of the same when all of my self-conducted blood tests came back quite normal. BUT ...

... but I now have "suspected gestational diabetes", which means that I don't actually have diabetes, but it is maybe - possibly - slumbering inside me, waiting to be unleashed by a slice of chocolate cake or a good nosh-up at MacDonald's. I am a German luggage trolley with a permanent brake on: we will prevent disaster by expecting the worst. Adieu, Black Forest Gateau - come October, I'll wrap my lips around your chocolatey goodness with impunity.

This week also had a more pleasant pregnancy experience: we got to see a 3D scan of the Gingerbread Baby to check that all of his organs were as they should be and where they should be. Our doctor even gave us a photo of his little face, hand bunched up under his chin.
Now, let me be honest with you: these photos are generally quite creepy. The baby is inside you - yes, dwell on that for a minute: in your interior - and something akin to a hightech supermarket scanner takes a photo of its face. Very often, the babies look like little aliens or something from a horror film.
Except my child. My child is a stunner.
"He looks gorgeous," I pronounced, with all the certainty of a hormonal spike. "That baby looks just beautiful."
There was a diplomatic silence from my husband at my side. The doctor made non-committal murmury noises: she was more concerned with making sure it had kidneys and a liver.
"Seriously," I said, in the direction of the not-adoring-enough father-to-be, "Isn't he lovely?"
"He looks like ..."
"Don't say it!" I hissed, "That. Is. Your. Child!"
I can't say for sure because I was too busy fixing my husband with a gimlet stare, but there might have been some eye-contact between doctor and father, and wisely, he shut up.

But let me tell you, readers, my baby looks amazing - far more handsome than any other baby I've ever seen. Never before has there been a more beautiful child.
And that is my unbiased, impartial and totally objective opinion.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Flower Power

So ... what have I been up to?

I finished a blanket for a friend of mine, Lisa, who's expecting a baby. I used Krochet Krystal's daisy square pattern, which I really like because it has the potential to use up so many different yarn colours. This blanket coincided with me getting my hands on a skein of black worsted weight yarn, which means that I can finally fulfil my obligations and make a daisy square for Krystal in "payment" for the pattern.

I've also designed a new motif. This is actually a motif that I'd had in mind for about a year: I think I remember seeing a black-and-white photo in a 70s crochet book of something similar, but like many half-memories, I don't even know if I really have seen something like this or whether I dreamt it. In any case, I tried again and again but it didn't work:  I just I knew I could do it, I just couldn't figure out how. Suddenly, two nights ago, it clicked, and as though I were inspired, it just ... worked.

Now all I have to do is make 30+ more, sew them together and see if the motif works as an afghan. Then I'll do the same thing again, but with the motifs in different colours and then again with all of the motifs in a single colour, and then I'll write up the pattern. Gulp.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

PATTERN: Circle-in-a-Square

This is a simple square - or, to be more precise, a circle in a square. I've chosen to do mine with a restricted palette - cream as the main colour and three bands of colour (cream, cappuccino and sky blue) around the circle.

This pattern can be dowloaded as PDF via Ravelry: download now

This pattern uses American terminology. The British terms are in [brackets].

  • ch  - chain
  • SC [DC] - single crochet [double crochet]
  • HDC [HTR] - half double crochet [half treble]
  • DC [TR] - double crochet [treble]
  • TR  [DTR] - treble [double treble]
Start with your main colour

Chain 4. Join with a sl st to form a loop.
Round 1: Chain 3. This counts as 1st DC [TR] here and throughout! 11 DC [TR] in loop. Join with sl st to top of ch 3. (Stitch count: 12 DC [TR] in loop.)
Round 2: Chain 3, 1 DC [TR] in same st. 2 DC [TR] in each st in the round. Join with sl st to top of ch 3. Ch 1, yank tight, cut yarn and weave in end. (Stitch count: 24 DC [TR] ).

Change colour - colour 1
Round 3: 1 ch, 1 DC [TR] in same stitch, *2 DC [TR] in next stitch, 1 DC [TR] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 DC [TR]. Join with slip stitch.

Change colour - colour 2
Round 4: 1 ch, 1 DC [TR] in same stitch and 1 DC [TR] in next stitch, *2 DC [TR] in next stitch, 1 DC [TR] in next two stitches. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 DC [TR]. Join with slip stitch.

Change colour - colour 3
Round 5: 1 ch, 1 DC [TR] in same stitch and 1 DC [TR] in next two stitches, *2 DC [TR] in next stitch, 1 DC [TR] in next three stitches. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 DC [TR]. Join with slip stitch.
You should now have 60 DC [TR] around your circle. 

Change colour back to your main colour
Round 6:  1 ch, *2 TR [DTR] in same stitch. 1 DC [TR] in the next two stitches, 1 HDC [HTR] in the next two stitches, 1 SC [DC] in the next five stitches, 1 HDC [HTR] in the next two stitches, 1 DC [TR] in the next two stitches, 2 TR [DTR] in same stitch, 2 chain **.
Repeat from * to ** three more times. Join with slip stitch to the top of the first TR [DTR].

Round 7: 1 ch, 1 DC [TR] in same stitch and *1 DC [TR] in each of the next stitches. In the corner space, crochet 2 DC [TR] + chain 2 + 2 DC [TR]**.  Repeat from * to ** (i.e. crochet one DC [TR] in each stitch, and 2 DC [TR] + chain 2 + 2 DC [TR] in each corner.)

Round 8: Repeat round 7. Leave a long tail to sew the motifs together. 


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Hath Knitteth!

As regular readers may know, socks have long been my personal challenge. Why I'm so obsessed with knitting socks is beyond me: I think it might have to do with my deep-rooted suspicion that, in order to fully assimilate with my German habitat and finally become a good Bavarian Hausfrau, I should be able to knit a sock - and knit a sock on double-pointed needles (I know you can knit them on circular needles, but I want the hard-core sock-knitting experience, because that's how I roll, crochet-hookers.) But thus far, it has been beyond my abilities. Like all bad work(wo)men, I readily blamed my tools:

Ode to my DPNs
I hate you so much & I just have to share,
I know that you’re mocking me and really don’t care.
I’m beginning to see you as the essence of evil:
My personal Everest is a double-pointed needle.
The ones not in use have a mind of their own
And will stab or attack me, given a second alone.
My fingers are sore, work twisted and grubby,
And the blue cloud of cussing has scared off my hubby.
You’re psychological torture in crafting disguise
I’m sure you’ve been used to break KGB spies.
It’s taken me an hour to accomplish three rows,
With each knitted stitch my hatred just grows.
I hate you, I hate you! - that had to be said,
And if I didn’t say it, I’d break you instead.
So I give up: you win. What more can I say?
I’m going back to my hook and my comforting crochet.

However, I am pleased to announce that the pregnancy hormones have finally been good for something: I have mastered double-pointed needles (seriously, if I can't get a handle on them, how I am supposed to keep a hold on a wriggly newborn? No messing about any more) and I have knit not one, but two socks, using a boomerang (yo-yo) heel method. This method is wonderful - it has been described as a "miracle of German engineering" and while I'm not sure whether it really is German, I'm willing to ascribe this wonder to my adopted homeland. Vorsprung durch Technik, how are you?

Anyway, I feel this should be announced in Ye Olde English to underline its gravitas:
I doth hath knitteth a socketh!
(okay, I got a bit carried away there, but there's nothing like a splattering of 'th' and superfluous auxiliary verbs to fake Ye Oldinesse.)


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gestational Alcoholism

Aww - look at that tasteful image of the
blooming pregnant lady! Lies, all lies.
That cramped look on her face clearly
indicates an attempt to suppress a bout
of pregnancy flatulence. The Murkel of Life
involves inordinate amounts of gas and
liquids - don't be fooled,
oh childless innocents.
Today marked the end of my fifth month of pregnancy. By all accounts, I ought to be "blooming" and "flourishing" and the sight of my roundiness ought to bring a tear to the eye of random strangers. Instead, I have acne and leg cramps and am so clearly pregnant that people are afraid to ask me when the baby is due, and when they do, their eyebrows shoot up in surprise when I tell them that there's another four months to go.

Ah, pregnancy. I had no illusions about the whole mess before I began but I was lured into a false sense of security by having had a very easy time so far. Suddenly, this changed: leg cramps. Not particularly painful cramps (although I've had those, too) but more often than not, tickly muscle cramps that make me stretch and twitch my legs in search of some kind of relief. I've been taking magnesium and calcium, stretching legs and putting my swollen, Shrek-like feet up on towers of cushions, enduring the loving lymph massages doled out by my husband and his lumberjack hands. I've even tried a couple of folk remedies: my mother told me to squeeze the bridge of my nose very, very hard. That just resulted in twitchy legs and a sore face, to boot.

Were all of that not fun enough, the child has decided to make his presence felt. While I lie in bed in the witching hour between 3 and 4 a.m., my hips and legs breakdancing involuntarily beneath the bed covers, my child decides to get in a few punches. Literally, kick me when I'm down. When I finally do drift off to sleep, I inevitably roll over on to my stomach and then get a sound karate chop ("Mama! You moron! Roll over!"). I've actually woken and shouted, "Sorry!"

Oh, the glamour.

This, on the other hand, is a tasteful
image of a bottle of wine that I would
like to rub my face up against and
inhale deeply.
And if that weren't bad enough, I've developed something that I think is actually gestational alcoholism. See, I was never a big drinker - during my student days I didn't have enough money to drink myself stupid in the grand ol' tradition of college parties and once I actually started to earn decent money, I discovered that I was more of a Quality rather than Quantity Gal. I can go for months without touching a drop of anything exciting, and then really, really, really appreciate a glass of good wine. But ever since alcohol has been denied me (24th January, 2012), nothing, but nothing has a greater appeal. Do you know how good Bailey's Irish Cream smells? Do you know how luscious a glass of Burgundy looks? And how about that delicious fizzzzzzzy sound of champagne splashing into flutes? Oh, man. I'm aware that I'm beginning to creep other people out, what with my googly eyes and pathetic facial expression. I definitely ruined the strawberry limes cocktail my husband got to drink yesterday at his father's birthday celebration ("Is that good? It's good, isn't it? Is it really sweet? Can you taste the strawberries? Is it made with vodka? A lot of vodka? Is it chilled or are there ice cubes? Are you enjoying that? Are you?") When someone (usually my husband) suggests that I take a sip, I cover my unborn child's ears and hiss, "Are you crazy? Don't you know the dangers of foetal alcoholism??" Actually, I'm more concerned about my own lack of self-control: a sleepless night of leg twitchery and a battered uterus might not allow me to stop after one sip - and he mightn't be able to wrestle the bottle of strawberry vodka out of my hormonal hands fast enough, to be honest.

Sigh. Four months. About 18 more weeks to go. And knowing my luck, childbirth will put me off alcohol forever.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TUTORIAL: Sprinkly Donuts


This pattern is available for download as a PDF here.

This "recipe" was inspired by Nevada Mama and KTB Design's iced donut patterns. I've tweaked the instructions a bit to create a donut that worked well with my yarn and tension. Bear in mind, though, that this is a recipe and, like every recipe, you might have to add or take away a stitch or two here or there to make something you like.

You need:
  • Some brown yarn for the donut (about 15g)
  • Scraps of pastel yarn for the frosting
  • glass-headed pins (the 'sprinkles')
  • a smaller hook than the size recommended for the yarn. I'm using a sport weight/DK yarn with a recommended 4.50 mm - 5 mm hook (G or H) and I'm actually using a 3.50 or 3.75 mm (F) hook. The reason for this is that you want a really tight weave, so the stuffing isn't visible.
  • ... and a darning needle.

This pattern uses American terminology. The British terms are in [brackets].
  • SC [DC] - single crochet [double crochet]
  • 2SC [DC] tog - 2 single crochet [double crochet] together (Insert hook into stitch of previous row, draw yarn through. Put hook into the next stitch, draw yarn through. You now have three loops on the hook... yarn over and pull the yarn through all three loops. Picture demo here.)
  • HDC [HTR] - half double crochet [half treble]
  • DC [TR] - double crochet [treble]

You will be working in rounds, so end every round with one slip stitch into the top of the first stitch in the round. Chain 1, then begin the new round by doing your SC [DC]s into the top of the first stitch of the previous round.

The increase rounds (with 2 SC [DC] in one stitch) and the decrease rounds (with 2SC [DC] tog.) don't have to be exact - the increases/decreases have to be spaced more or less evenly across the round. So don't worry if you've done 2 SC [DC] before an increase and then 3 SC [DC] before the next one - no panic, just a minor blip, no one will notice!

The first round is quite wriggly. Persevere!
Begin by chaining 18 stitches.
Rd 1: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch.
Rd 2: 2 SC [DC] in each stitch around.
Rd 3: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 4: *2 SC [DC] in first stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next stitch**. Repeat from * to ** all round.
Rd 5: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 6: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 7: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 8: *2 SC [DC] in first stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next four stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round. 
Rd 9: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 10:  *2 SC [DC] in first stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next five stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round.

At this point, my donut is like a flat(tish) saucer with a hole in the middle. It measures about 12 cm/4.75 inches across. If yours is bigger, don't worry - you might be using a thicker yarn. You can either rip back a row or keep going to make a bigger donut. (See? My tape measure does imperial and metric!)


Now we're going to decrease:
Rd 11: *2SC [DC]tog, 1 SC [DC] in next five stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round. 
Rd 12: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch

At this point, you might notice your work is starting to curl back in ... that's perfect!

Rd 13: *2SC [DC]tog, 1 SC [DC] in next four stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round.
Rd 14: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 15: *2SC [DC]tog, 1 SC [DC] in next three stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round.

Rd 16: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 17: *2SC [DC]tog, 1 SC [DC] in next two stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round.

Rd 18: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 19: 2SC [DC]tog all round - crochet every two stitches together

 It now ought to look something like this:

Now the fun bit starts! Stuff it with as much stuffing as you can manage and sew the the inner edges together as shown. And then stuff some more stuffing in there - they have to be really full.



Begin by chaining 18 stitches.
Rd 1: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch.
Rd 2: 2 SC [DC] in each stitch around.
Rd 3: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 4: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 5: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch
Rd 6: *2 SC [DC] in first stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next four stitches **. Repeat from * to ** all round. 
Rd 7: 1 SC [DC] in each stitch

You should now have a shape similar to the flat donut photo above, but it might curl in a little more. Again, don't worry - this is good. The edge of the frosting is done by making stitches of different heights into each stitch of the previous row - randomly, to look like dripping frosting. For example, I usually do:
1 SC [DC],  1 HDC [HTR], 1 DC [TR], 1 HDC [HTR], 1 SC [DC] - up and down, up and down!


Then sew the inner edge of the frosting to the inside of the donut and whipstitch the edge of the frosting dribbles to the outside. Stick in your pins ... and there you go!

You may use these patterns to make for your personal use, as gifts, or to sell at craft fairs or craft markets. You may not reproduce this pattern in print or claim it as your work. You may not sell the pattern. Do not copy and paste pattern to another website, please use a link.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Naughty Me, Pudgy Me

Yes, I've been a bad Gingerbread Lady and haven't posted in ages and ages. In case you've been worried about me, I have to reassure you that this was mostly due to the fact that nothing much was happening in my life. As I said, pregnancy is sucking out my creativity - it's being turned into valuable vitamins and minerals for my little Murkel. But I am doing a number of baby blankets - 2012 is awash with fecundity. This is one I just finished:

As you can see, I am expanding daily. Daily. As in, every day. My midriff now has a mind of its own and, as you can see above, has started to gatecrash photographs. If you've never been pregnant before, you might find it alarming to imagine that one morning you wake up and look down - and you've grown a potbelly overnight. Or so it seems. Even more unsettling is the fact that everyone congratulates you on your roundiness: what a great bump I have! How rotund I've become! It's like wearing a very silly hat: everyone feels compelled to comment on it.

In addition, I'm beginning to feel movement (strange) and see movement (creepy). Mr Gingerbread is currently reading a book about his impending fatherhood and this is giving him Notions, e.g. every time I mention that I can feel something squirming inside, he drops everything to get in on the action by kneading my stomach. Yesterday he had his hand on my stomach when the fruit of his loins decided to karate chop the wall of my uterus. He shrieked and whipped his hand back, as though stung. "I'm sorry," he said, "but that just feels weird." Haha. Bet they didn't tell him that in his stupid book.

See, gone are the days when men were present at conception (just about) and then, nine months later, were hauled out of the pub closest to the hospital, handed a cigar and told the sex of their offspring. No. Nowadays, they are involved from the beginning onwards and are encouraged to interfere.
"Your bag is too heavy, let me carry it."
"No, it's not too heavy. I took most of the stuff out of it so I could carry it myself."
"Give it to me, I'll carry it."
"I said I was fine, thank you."
"You're pregnant, let me carry it."
(tug of war with bag ensues)
"I'm pregnant. It's a condition, not a disability. Let me carry my own bag, please."

Worse still is the Battle of the Bicycle. Mr Gingerbread is not keen on my riding a bike. We have a battle of wits every time I try to mount my trusty velocipede. He's not so much afraid of my cycling abilities, but rather the possibility of me falling off, or being hit by some other vehicle. Clearly, there is more of me to hit than there was before, but that doesn't mean that the entire population of Gingerbreadtown has plans to whack me off my bicycle on the way to work (and if they did, they'd have to drive up into the bicycle path to do so.) On the rare occasions that I cycle, he stands in the doorway and watches me reproachfully, his big, blue eyes full of remorse at my wilful endangerment of our unborn child.

P.S.: Mammy, I know you're reading this and I know your fingers are itching to pick up the phone and lecture me the dangers posed by bicycles in pregnancy. I cycle at a snail's pace on bicycle paths, I will not fall off, go into premature labour or be hit by a bus, I promise. The husband has already outlined every possible danger from attacks by rabid squirrels to crashes involving out-of-control trucks.
No need to worry, honest.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I love cathedrals, I really do. And I love living in a place with a plethora of them. This is Regensburg's Cathedral:

People built this with their bare hands a thousand years ago. Bare hands! A thousand years ago!

I want these in my living room. Is that so wrong?
Although this looks like a venerable saint being mugged for his cloak, it actually represents St Martin sharing his cape with a penniless beggar. I find the statues in Regensburg's cathedral charmingly ambiguous. See below:
Two figures, smooching saucily. Quite at odds with their surroundings, not least because - to my untrained eye - they look like two women. Very mysterious and very much ahead of its time.
The dirndl shop down the road. I want a dirndl. I want to be clad in the costume of a nation that celebrates the virtues of the well-stacked woman.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mustn't Grumble

I spent the weekend working with a group of people from the south of England. I must mention that it's the south of England, because my boss - who is from Hull, in the north of England, - says that the northerners are different. Different to the southerners, that is, who are also different to the Irish. Now, despite our centuries of political, um, disagreement, I - like most sane Irish people - quite like the English. I don't have anything against the Queen; on the contrary, I tend to think that she's a remarkable old dame and I must admit that I admire her greatly. I sincerely hope I'm as full of beans at 85 as she is. However, in a group of southern English, I notice how ... unEnglish I am, despite the fact that we island folk are often lumped together as one vaguely Britishy entity.

For starters, I simply have not mastered the delicate art of understatement. I actually find it quite difficult at times to figure out the degree of seriousness or severity being relayed to me by a stiff-upper-lipped person of gentle English persuasion: "Indeed, it was jolly inconvenient to have to call an ambulance at 4 o'clock in the morning but I dare say that my husband's chest pain was rather discomforting, given the fact that his lips had turned slightly blue and he was a tad comatose. But, after seven weeks intensive care, he pulled through, so mustn't grumble!" More alarmingly, information like this is often delivered with a bright smile and the cheerfully rallying voice employed by Mary Poppins during her nursery-cleaning extravaganzas. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure out that we are, in fact, discussing a near death experience with this person's nearest and dearest, and not the likelihood of MacVities discontinuing their range of chocolate Hobnob biscuits.

Irish people, on the other hand, tend to relish the drama. While some groups of English people prefer the curt, mustn't-grumble approach to life, Irish people often welcome the opportunity to embellish the circumstances and spin the story. While the English people of the stiff-upper-lip variety would sooner wrestle a komodo dragon than succumb to emotion, Irish people slather it on top, like butter on toast. Plus, we invoke our deity and a variety of minor religious figures for good measure - and if you are not keen on the Lord's name being taken in vain, I would ask you to (a) look away now and (b) never visit Ireland. For example,
"Jesus, Mary and holy Saint Joseph! I nearly ended up in the emergency room yesterday - the foot nearly fell off me with the pain! I very nearly took a hack-saw to it and amputated my own appendage! God above! I nearly died in agony!"
(In this case, the speaker probably stepped on a Lego brick by mistake and endured a sharp, short shot of pain, but with no lasting effects on foot or ability to walk.)

As you can imagine, putting people of these two very different persuasions in the same room results in some very interesting exchanges, probably because we expect to have so much in common: our history is so interlinked, we share so much culturally that the differences are all the more shocking. George Bernard Shaw, a fellow Irishperson, once said that Britain and the US were "two countries separated by a common language." I wonder, to what extent, this also applies to England and Ireland - if not language, then the way the language is used?