Gardening + Growing

Driving home today, from yet another trip to Ikea, this one sponsored by the need for terracotta pots and to give a bad-tempered child a change of scenery (as opposed to the need for any of the three million tiny things you never knew you didn’t have until you moved) I pulled over to take these photos:

Aren’t the colours just extraordinary?

And just the other night, the sky looked like this:

Days are, at the moment, full. Full of growing kids and marking exams during naptime and small house renovations and plotting novels in the shower, novels that probably won’t be written for a few years yet, because I am not one of those people who can burn the midnight oil anymore. (My darling son burnt all of the midnight oil I had in the tank, after refusing to sleep through the night for the first year of his life. I’m in the process of drilling for more.) They race and plod by and they are, of course, extraordinarily colourful. Even on those interminably long, rainy, grey days, there is colour.

As I lurch into adulthood here in Germany, I am finding I spend an inordinate amount of time at either the Baumarkt or the garden centre. Our garden is a work in progress, with things the previous owners planted, popping up here and there, often utterly foreign to my non-European eye. Oh and having to consider genuine seasons, the first frost, Winterhart, immergrün, pulling up and replanting each spring, buying annuals just for the short burst of colour they bring; my garden, like my gardening knowledge, like my adulthood in Germany, is a work in progress.

I bought dahlias today, and gardenias yesterday, the latter because the smell reminds me of summer days at my Pa’s house, the former because they were pretty and colourful and half price and I guess I may as well see what they look like in a patchy part of the garden bed. Three gentlana scabra blau joined the dahlias, because I googled them in the garden centre and they look beautiful in bloom and blue is always good. I have no idea what I am doing, but we’re learning.

July has been cool and rainy, with a few humid sunny days here and there. Now, when it rains, I say things like, ‘oh well, at least it’ll be good for the garden’ and realise how much I sound like my mother, herself a genuine gardener. Her first job upon visiting last month was to tell us how to get rid of this awful floor cover, and consult on an immergrün fence solution, and prune the apple sapling and convince my husband to leave the plum tree.

Another part of the lurch into adulthood seems to involve a sudden , keen interest in window shopping for furniture. We drove out to an antique/furniture/garden shop/cafe wonderland the other day, to get some fresh air after a day of relentless rain that had meant being cooped up all day along with the racket of the attic renovations. On the drive over, through little villages and past old farmhouses and paddocks of drowsy cows, we passed a beautiful old house with a wildly green and colourful summer garden, and a large pig quite in amidst all the blooms. What a dream; a big, blooming garden and a pig.

We traipsed through looking at stupidly expensive pieces, considered an old restored school table. Die Lüdde went looking for snails and cows and I poked my head into the garden shop that was alive with roses and Löwenmaul. God, now that I think about it, the whole afternoon felt like something my parents used to do when I was small; the horror of realising how cyclical life is!

And so the days, they race and plod by, the kids getting bigger (much, much too quickly) and the days getting shorter.  And we wait; for a hot and sunny August, for the gardenias to bloom, the grass to fill in around the newly planted pear tree. And as the garden grows, as my children grow, as much as I do not realise it, caught up in the everyday, so do I.

 

 

 

Sunday Ausflug: Strawberry Picking

When, a couple of weekends ago, Sunday delivered 26 warm and sunny degrees, we headed north-west to a farm in a village on the other side of the Nord-Ostsee Kanal. It is strawberry season up here, a season vastly preferred to the one that precedes it – Spargelzeit – and one that means summer with all of its strawberry cake and Erdbeerbowlen is here. (The thing is, the weather up here throughout May and June is so temperamental and indecisive, that sometimes you need to look to markers other than the sky to assure you of seasons.)

Strawberries at this time of year are the reddest, fattest, juiciest things, often times the size of golfballs. They are so ruby ripe you have to eat them within a day or two of picking or purchasing, otherwise they turn. This is not a problem for my son, who would eat 1kg in one sitting if I let him (his sister is more the raspberry type).

We went a bit rogue at the strawberry patch and began (unintentionally) picking in an area not yet open, which meant for a few blessed moments we had access to vast bunches of untouched berries. But even once we joined the hoi polloi and continued picking, there was an absolute glut. The toddler picked and ate, the baby just ate, and we took over half a kilo home with us (which, frankly, could have easily been a kilo but we practiced restraint).

Strawberry season has still got a few good weeks in it, so I have a feeling we’ll be back among the rows soon. And when we have gorged enough, it will be time for cherries, then raspberries and blueberries. Ah, summer, I do love you.

 

 

 

 

Landeier

One of the many, varied perks of the parents being in town, is being able to leave the house without a child. It is a luxurious feeling indeed, to sit in a French cafe/boulangerie with a vat of coffee in front of me and not one little chubby hand in sight. The number of things I could do, uninterrupted, is intoxicating, the chances of me surfing aimlessly until playgroup pick-up high. But for now the coffee is hot, the music cinematically Frenchy and the quiet lovely, so I shall fill you in on what we have been upto.

May brought the warmth with it, finally, ending a long, slow crawl towards tee-shirt weather. Even though my parents find the evenings too chilly and my Mum takes her windcheater everywhere with her, while the Germans – and I – wear short pants and sleeves. The roses are out, the beaches are full, life has, as it always does this time of year, migrated outside.

Now that we have moved out of the city, and into a more rural setting I see more thatched roofs than I do glimpses of the fjord, more blindingly yellow Rapsfelder than stately Altbau apartment buildings. The kids are outside all day everyday, their hair whitening in the late-spring sun. Whereas my parents’ previous visits have been punctuated by walks to the water, or drinks at the schickimicki Seebar, this time round we are seeing more of the north German countryside, in all of its green, ever so gently rolling glory. We have taken a couple of drives, and go for daily walks around our new village, seeking inspiration for the garden. Everything is in full, heavy bloom – the bees are pollen-drunk and the garden centre we braved on the long weekend was teeming with people desperate to plant their annuals and get maximum blossom enjoyment during the warmer weather.

We took Mum and Dad to the Freilichtmuseum and almost had the 40 hectares to ourselves. Die Lüdde picked tiny daises to try and feed the goats, rode the carousel, and we all hopped a ride on the train. Last time we were there, it was for the splendid Herbstmarkt and everything was red and golden and cosy, the air smoky and cool. This time it was warm and cloudless, the sky blue and sunny. One could even say the sky was a cornflower blue, and as naff as that sounds, it is somewhat fitting given Germany’s national flower is a cornflower. Did you know that?

We went back to our favourite animal park, the wonderful Arche Warder. Der Lüdde reminded me how new everything is to his one-year-old eyes, and how much more he is taking in as the days swish past in the blink of an eye. I forget sometimes, to be honest, how quickly the world is opening up to him, concentrating more ofteen on the experience of the older, verbal child.

We’re in for rainy weather which will probably last all the way until the end of Kieler Woche. But that’s okay; it’ll be good for the garden.

Clusters of Intensely Coloured Years

I have been wondering if homesickness is nostalgia in another guise.

When I miss home, home as the place in which I was born, the place which holds most of my family and friends, most of my touchstones and so many of my memories, quite often I miss specific, long-gone scenes and moments. I miss Sunday morning breakfasts when I lived at home with my parents when my Dad would sing really loudly and there’d be a dog on a doormat somewhere; I miss getting ready with the girls and going out to a bar Sydney had momentarily deemed cool, that breathtaking anticipation that hums in the background of a night out; I miss cousin-filled Christmasses, Nan dropping in for a cup of tea, early evening swims, summer days at Macmasters Beach.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised most of the things I miss, most of the things I feel homesick for, are things I cannot have anymore anyway. If I were to move back home it would not mean reclaiming all of those precise moments I associate with Australia, all of those precise moments that have, by their very nature, simply been outgrown. I am homesick then, I suppose, for a time and if that isn’t nostalgia, what is? Or are homesickness and nostalgia, for those living so far away, like those friends who are always together, who wear similar clothes and talk with the same inflections and intonations and whose names you always mix up? Yes, that, I think.

Of course, this is not a feeling I find myself in and unable to clamber out of. Rather, both nostalgia and homesickness are a constant, some days felt more keenly than others, a studied, acknowledged constant. Without them, I would feel remiss, without them I would forget to stop and absorb it all. Although, as I grow older and I watch my children take their first steps in a world I feel I only really just met myself, nostalgia has begun to reassert herself over homesickness. Nostalgia paints blocks of time with her golden brush and the moment they end, I feel their loss.

Now that we have moved and are in the process of settling in and making a new home (my toddler’s favourite expression right now, ‘new home Mummy, new home!’) I find myself missing moments from our apartment in the city. But they really are moments, moments that themselves would have ended with time, regardless of whether we had moved. Now that she searches for ‘nails’ in the garden, I recall walking with both kids on a bright, crisp morning with die Lüdde pointing out every single Smart Car and Mini Cooper within a 5km radius. I miss the daily walks to the ice-cream bar last summer.

Perhaps miss is the wrong word. I feel we have left them behind these places and these times, that they have joined other bygone days of an ever forward-marching life. I feel the closing of a time I can now only watch through a window, a golden window, but one that prohibits my hand from reaching in and rearranging a scene or moving a figure.

That part of my life has been lived, that is the sweet loss I feel. This living of eras, of short clusters of intensely coloured years, is something I have noticed occurring since my daughter was born. The newborn haze, the only-child days, the kids-in-the-bath-together years, the first family home years – these eras, these clusters that arrive without warning and leave just as quietly, they are among the most precious things I have.

If only I could keep them; they leave all too soon.

Settling In

It is like we collectively exhaled and out came 37 Ikea Billy shelves and piles of dresses I fit into a decade ago when I wore heels all the time and hadn’t had two kids. And three million books. And four million moving cartons that are currently and irritatingly wedged between a wall and the washing machine. Does anybody need moving cartons? Has anyone seen my sanity? It was slim and weak and a little pale, but I swear I had it.

Die Lüdde asks to go outside every morning, straight after breakfast. We have planted wild strawberries and mint and are waiting to see what the pruned stumps with fresh green growth will turn out to be. There is an apple tree and a plum tree and enough room in our little yard to build up a sandpit. It feels nice to be outside in the cool mornings, and nice to have the doors open in the warmer evenings and hear only the birds. The drive back into the city winds through two tiny villages with old Reetdachhäuse and vast Rapsfelder which can be the most blindingly beautiful things.

I drove alone this morning, for the first time since moving to Germany. I am not afraid of many things, except angry German letters in the letterbox and, I guess, dying, but I was always afraid of driving here. I have never really had to, I have always lived pretty centrally and I am one of those people who loves public transport and the reading time it affords. I could still avoid it, we live near the train station, and the busses are regular, but as much as anything, it was time to stomp on that fear for once and for all.

So here we are, the fifth home I have had in this country; the roots are digging deeper, spreading. One set of neighbours has already given us the customary bread and salt and penny, and the BBQ has had its maiden voyage. A summer of settling in and strawberry picking and finding all the right little nooks for our boxes of stuff awaits. And perhaps reclaiming my sanity, although I can wait a little longer for that. Perhaps another twenty years or so.

Newness Knocking

April is out of control. Someone needs to have a word with her. Two days ago, it snowed, it really snowed. Big, fluffy, wet, cold flakes. Now, this is nothing new, and I know you are all saying ‘but Liv, April April, er macht was er will’ and I know but … come on. We are days away from May, and temps are under 5 degrees. Every second day, a black cloud screeches in, hovers over the city, and dumps a bellyful of rain and hail. Some days, the wind is so strong, I worry it will sweep me off the pavement (unless I am weighted by the stroller, the big baby in it, and the toddler riding on the attached kiddy board … then I am immovable). It feels like April is taking the piss a bit, to be honest.

Trotzdem, the sun gets a look in most days and, oddly, I find myself quite cheerful. Perhaps because in April I know that whatever Schietwetter the month wants to throw at me, it will soon end. It has to. One cannot be so cheerful in, say, January, because then one is looking down the barrel of February, March and April being utter rubbish. But just days away from May, I have faith the switch will flick and I can finally retire die Lüdde’s blasted snow suit that she has pretty much outgrown. (How? How has she outgrown a snowsuit that was swimming on her at the beginning of the season? Why must they grow so quickly?)

The apartment is a jumble of moxing boxes and empty shelves, and the new house a scene of non-stop work; pain-spattered plastic and partially-finished floors and invaluable friends donating their time and sharing in the excitement of it all. A new month, and with it, and a new era is knocking and it feels right.

The adventure continues.

 

Easter & the Common German

We tend to do our weekly shop on a Thursday afternoon. It is a pocket of time during which things generally aren’t too chaotic; the older citizens of Kiel aren’t out in as much force as they are on a Friday morning and the panic of a Saturday doesn’t hang thick in the air, as people buy three packets of oven-ready bread rolls to survive the shops being closed on a Sunday. There are the usual queue-jumpers, who bolt like startled deer from the back of the line when a new Kasse opens, but the bolters are simply part of the grocery shopping experience.

Last week, though, Thursday happened to be the day before Karfreitag, Good Friday. The day before a public holiday. The day before the shops are closed for a day. And I didn’t realise it, until I had finished scribbling quite a substantial shopping list, including but not limited to, 25kg of chocolate. Now, there is something that exists within the common German that I suppose could be described as an inner … pushiness. It is the same pushiness that gets them served first, that gets them on the train first, on the bus first, that gets them sole ownership of that tiny round table at the Christmas Markets that you and six other (non German) people have managed to civilly share for half an hour. On days before public holidays, this pushiness marries another trait to be found lurking in the common German, a type of ever-ready panic that they might run out of coffee cream while enjoying a Kaffee und Kuchen session over the long weekend. So what happens is this pushiness marries with the ever-present panic and, come the day before a long weekend, they stampede into the supermarkets and while they are there furiously stocking up on coffee and coffee cream, they throw in several packs of toilet paper and a bag of dirt from the Aldi weekly Angebote in case they want to do some gardening, and about three cartons of yoghurt pots. Their trolleys become perilously full, and they push them at a clip directly at other people who might have been, for example, debating over whether they need a jug that dispenses small amounts of pancake mixture with a no drip feature (it turns out, I did need a pancake mixture portioning jug and it revolutionised breakfast). Occasionally, a scuffle breaks out, as someone breathes down the neck of someone else who is heaving great buckets of ready-made potato salad into their trolley, and you hear a, ‘Hey! Was soll das?’ ring out, competing with the bell that the cashiers are desperately pushing to try and get a colleague to come and open up another line.

It is the most horrific experience.

But we got our 25kg of chocolate, and we breezed into the Easter long weekend with well-stocked cupboards and a repulsive amount of chocolate ostensibly for die Lüdde and family gifts, but really for me to eat on the couch at night because for some reason Easter chocolate tastes so much better than normal chocolate.

April is proving to be as temperamental and unpredictable as every year, but spring is fighting hard. The tulips have dropped in price, the strawberries are slowly popping up in the shops, the trees are green and the footpaths are once again lined with flowers. And the magnolias, the magnolias are just beautiful.

A little rain and hail can’t hide the fact that warmer days are on their way.

Moving

Where did March go? It slipped by in a rush of going back to work, and getting out into the sunshine, and succumbing to winter’s parting gifts of tedious, low grade viruses. And now here we are in April. April. We are careering towards Easter and after that it won’t be long until der Lüdde’s first birthday. But first, but first, another change looms, and if it isn’t the perfect season for change.

We’re moving. We found a little house with a little garden in a not-too-little village 12 minutes out of the city. Übergabe is fast approaching, and I have started packing, boxes stacked in our bedroom, completely in the way and a constant reminder of what we are lurching towards. I remember when we moved from Weiden to Kiel in 2014, thus ending a series of moves as we sought to find a city we would make ours, I said I never wanted to move again. We had been in Australia, where I had finished sorting out the last of my things I hadn’t yet shipped, and I was six months pregnant and the moving company were appalling and I figured I would rather stay put in this wonderful apartment for the rest of my life than ever lay eyes on another moving carton again.

But that was three years and two kids ago. The baby we brought home to this apartment in that hot summer of 2014 has long hair and longer legs and says things like ‘Mama on boat! Da oben!’. The baby we brought home to this apartment in the sunny spring of 2016 turns one soon and even though he may not think it, the little koala, he will love having his own room soon enough.

Of course, the usual nostalgia has crept in, wrapped itself around this apartment and this corner of the city I love. Of course, those pesky questions are bubbling around in the background; ‘but why change? Everything is fine! Keep living as you are you silly fool, why shake things up?’ Those questions, though, they bubble at the merest mention of change. I know them well, they have followed me around through countries and apartments and babies. They are the jerkiest of knees and they disappear the moment the new arrives. Besides, as much as I have loved the lifestyle living in the centre of a typical mid-sized German city (such a easy, car-less lifestyle) I know we have outgrown this apartment. And I want a garden, where I can grow herbs and flowers and release the kids without having to schlep them and all of their things down three flights of stairs and out to a playground. It will be so nice to stretch a little more, to barbecue out the back, to have those somewhat elusive of things here in Germany, a laundry room.

Ach ja, life continues apace. As much as I want to beg it to slow down, there is a time for that and it doesn’t seem to be my early thirties with two kids under 3. And that’s okay. I take the fleeting quiet moments for what they are – rare and lovely and just enough to keep the engine ticking.

For now, the boxes are waiting, the walls need a lick of paint, we completely forgot to make a Spermüll appointment in time and I have a Kellar to clear out.

The next chapter is here.

 

 

The Slow, Well-Lit Crawl

There isn’t much that is extreme about Kiel’s weather. It doesn’t get extremely hot during summer, nor extremely cold during winter. We don’t get extreme amounts of snow – although it does get extraordinarily windy, so there’s that. But what is rather novel, and a little closer than not to the ‘extreme’ end of the spectrum, is how much light we get here, during the warmer months.

As we begin the crawl towards midsummer, which always comes far too quickly for my liking, the days get longer and longer, the light hanging around until 10, 10.30, heck even 11. In the mornings, after months of making coffee in the pitch black, you suddenly find yourself ready to start the day at about 5 o’clock. At least, the birds do. (Ah, the birds. Have I told you they have come out and are singing these days? Magical. And the bulbs are bursting out too, daffodils and crocuses and Schneeglöckchen.)

As the days lengthen and the temps move like a drunk snail towards solid double digits (sliding forwards, slipping back, inching forwards once more), the urge to be outside as much as possible has taken over. It is almost compulsive. This is the time of year you actually bother to get out of the house before naptime. The hustle of boots and jackets and hats is worth it, because you will be outdoors for longer than a quick ten minute walk around the block.

On the weekend we were out for hours. Hours. Do you know what it feels like to be out for hours, after months of ducking in and out of heating, hands shoved in pockets, jumping up and down on the balls of your feet muttering ‘fuck it’s cold’ until it really is unbearable to spend a minute longer outside, and running back inside, where you have been all day slowly going mad? I shall tell you. It feels utterly rejuvenating. It feels well-earned and jubilant. It feels joyful, after months of staving off cabin fever with hot drinks and sweet treats and trips to Ikea instead of the park. It feels like the whole city has collectively exhaled.

We hit the Kieler Umschlag, we hit the park, the playground, the bakery for mini Spritzkuchen for breakfast. And just as well … because Monday brought with her a cruel wind and I found myself back at the playground jumping up and down on the balls of my feet muttering, ‘fuck it’s cold.’

 

How it All Began

In honour of Heimat now being available in ebook form, I thought I would share an excerpt of it with you all. This is taken from the introduction essay, previously unpublished, ‘How it All Began’. This essay summarises how the hell I came to be where I am. Somtimes I have to reread it to remind myself.

***

What drove an Australian without a lick of German, who had never owned a ‘proper winter coat’ in her life, into the rainy, snowy, rule-loving, meaty arms of Deutschland? Good question. Excellent question.  I still, to this day, can’t really answer it because I don’t know if we ever really know what we’re doing in our early 20s, no matter how convinced we are that we do. But I can try and explain. For one thing, Germany isn’t London. For another, as a – very young and very inexperienced – writer, I was looking for stories. I needed a big, unexpected, unusual plot twist in an otherwise very lovely, rather uninteresting life. I wanted things to write about and I thought that by digging out my roots and dragging them, coiled and dirty, into a soil entirely different to that which had nourished them for 25 years, I would find precisely that. Tales and morals and lessons learnt, characters and tragedies I could put onto paper, weave into a narrative. And I had two added benefits; I didn’t really know precisely what I was doing – oh what we can do when we don’t know what we’re doing – and I had a warm, solid, unconditional home to return to, should my little body grow aweary of the great world.

Moving to Europe after my studies was a foregone conclusion – I come, after all, both from the generation of nimble feet and instant gratification, and from a country of people who turn up with broad grins and a cold beer in every corner of the world. I had, of course, done my six month ‘backpacking’ (without, admittedly, a backpack) stint around Europe and the States following university, and soon after lived and worked for a summer on a Greek island. I wanted more. I was ripe for a grand gesture, something more interesting, more daunting. A bigger shock to the system. The UK, London specifically, as an English speaking European country that had disgorged my ancestors on Sydney’s shores all those years ago, was the most obvious, but I ruled it out almost immediately on the basis it was already chock full of Australians, many of them old school friends. ‘I live in London’ had become, and indeed remains, interchangeable with ‘I come from Australia’. I needed something more, something European, still, and thus conducive to weekend jaunts across borders, but something a touch more daring. So, you know, I went with Germany.

While my family’s connections with Germany go back 160 odd years to a minuscule town in Baden Württemberg, a more recent one laid the foundations for what has become a lifelong relationship with the country – an exchange student. Hailing from Münster, he slotted into our family like my parents’ long-lost son and over a decade, our families went back and forth, visiting each other. During my backpacking stint, I spent two months in Münster drinking Jägermeister and being terrified on the Autobahn. And so it was Münster that I returned to in the autumn of 2010 after another mercurial summer spent working on the island of Santorini, making cheap cocktails for cheap backpackers. The old North Rhine-Westphalian city of churches, with its grand old palace turned university, cobbled Altstadt, and millions of bicycles ridden by the immaculately groomed Münsteranians, was the first setting of the grand gesture, the plot twist.

I thought it would be so easy. So seamless. Uni degrees and Working Holiday Visa in hand, I was anxious to set sail, ready to be on the move again. I had a few wonderful friends there, one in particular I would flat with on a big, leafy tree-lined boulevard. I even had prior knowledge of the town I was moving to, knowledge albeit somewhat eviscerated by nights out on Liquor 44 and milk. All that was left was to become fluent in the language, land a wonderful job and become, overnight, a bilingual ingénue tapping out a cult blog and a bestseller simultaneously in cafes on cobbled streets.

Read more …

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