Ultimate Blog Challenge – Starting January with a Bang!

This month I have embarked on a major challenge, and decided to join a host of others in the Ultmiate Blog Challenge; to write 31 posts, one a day for the whole of January.  I must have been sipping the Christmas Sherry when I agreed to do this!  However, I´m going to look at it as the push I need to inject some life and consistency into my Blog.  There´s a long way to go till the finishing post and I hope I can think of a new topic to write about each day.  The past year has been a very steep learning curve as I set out to establish my online business, easytoddler, in a world that  I was totally unfamiliar with.  I have met some incredibly motivated mums who have inspired me to keep going when I have felt like giving up.  So this challenge will give me the opportunity to review my accomplishments from 2011, the challenges that lie ahead of me and my goals for 2012.  So join me in my mission to write a new post every day for the next 31 days.

I would love you to show your support by commenting, sharing or any other way that you choose.  I will need all the encouragement I can get to do the 31 days, thank you.

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Santa kommt zweimal zu uns!

I posted a question today on my easytoddler Fan Page on Facebook asking if we should open our Christmas presents on the 24th in German style or on the 25th following the British tradition.  For those of you not already familiar with my story I am Scottish,  married to a fantastic German guy and live a couple of km south of  Berlin.  I love Christmas and the traditions that come with it but since meeting my husband, Marco, there have been many (too many) that I have had to forgo and some new ones that I have welcomed but I want my son to grow up experiencing both cultures.  Is it possible to combine the two and for how long?

Still waiting for the roasties to be served!

My biggest lost is Christmas Dinner.  What I would give now to have an overloaded plate of turkey, roast potatoes, chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon with chestnut stuffing and gravy.  This was always preceded in our house by prawn cocktail followed by homemade soup and finished off with a choice of sweets including the grand entry of the flaming Christmas pudding and of course, upon immediately sitting down at the table we would jostle with each other as to who pulled whos Christmas cracker, don our paper hats and read out the usual unfunny joke.  Every Christmas morning my younger brother and I would wait excitedly outside the living room door urging our father to hurry up and unlock the room that would make us hold our breaths when we entered it. Is this your Christmas day memory too?

It is this excitement and joy that I want my son to experience.  Leaving out a plate of mince pies, a glass of whiskey for Santa and a saucer of milk for Rudolph. Trying to stay awake all night to catch a glimpse of Santa filling your stocking which hung at the end of the bed.  I must admit Christmas Day is slightly flat for me now.  The 24th is a lovely tradition in Germany when my son will be visited personally by Santa and given his presents at home surrounded by his grandparents and some of our neighbours and I always love going to the late night church service with my husband.  But then what, we still open some presents on the 25th and have dinner with my in-laws but it´s just not the same for me without the present opening, the crackers, the turkey dinner and of course the obligatory left over turkey sandwiches later on after having watched the Wizard of Oz for the 100th time!  Regardless of which traditions we decide to celebrate in our house I know that my son will still have fond memories of his childhood Christmases.  How do you celebrate and what are your fondest memories of Christmas? I would love to hear from you.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xx

Ich habe meinen eigenen DDR Führerschein

Don´t panic I´ve not suddenly progressed into writing my Blog in German!  Translated it means I have my own GDR Driving Licence which I proudly earned yesterday.  My husband and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary (still nursing the hangover today) and in honour of the fabulous day we had a year ago I organised a trip round Berlin drving my husbands most talked about car, a Trabant, affectionately known as a Trabi.

Where do I find the cruise control button?

The Trabi started production in 1959 and was the most commonly used vehicle in the former East Germany.  It had an inefficient two stroke engine, noxious fumes and production shortages.  The waiting list could be up to 10 years for a new car. On the other hand, it was and still is regarded with deep affection as a symbol of the failed former East Germany.  In 1989 at the opening of the Berlin wall many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany in their wee Trabis.   The East Germans treasured their Trabis and were very skillful in maintaining and repairing them with the average  life span of a Trabi being 28 years.  Not something you would get from a car these days.

In our convoy of 8 Trabis spluttering our way round Berlin City Centre we immediately became the centre of attention.  The backs of the hundreds of Tourists admiring  the Brandenburg Gate swiftly turned round to gawp and laugh at our little group weaving it´s way along the route of the old Berlin Wall.  We tooted our horns gladly as people stopped to take photos of us. Half way round our sightseeing tour our group stopped to change drivers and I reluctantly took to the wheel and I am so glad that I did.  I´m nervous at the best of times driving a normal car round the City Centre never mind a dinky wee car with less than nothing in the way of safety protection.  This was the first time I had driven a car where the gear stick was on the column.  However, after a few grinding crunches away wee sped.  What I also failed to notice was the indicator does not go off when you turn a corner which meant I drove for the next 30 minutes permanently indicating left! Another modern day gadget we take for granted.  An hour later we sadly finished our tour and after being presented with our new driving licence we handed the keys back to our wee Trabi.

Back safe and sound

Work/Life Balance

In the past, I had never thought about setting up and running a small business as I was happy with my career in the UK as a Health & Safety Manager. However, I ended up starting a new business when I left my job in Stuttgart  and moved to the other end of Germany. I was at home with my son thinking that I wanted a good work/life balance – wanting to have something that I was clearly interested in while wanting to be at home with my son.

The choices for women with young children are to work full-time, (can be managed but essential to have good family support in time of illness, school holidays etc), work part-time (great but well-paid part-time work is difficult to find) or be a stay at home mum. When my son was 7 months old, I was offered a fantastic opportunity to work on a part-time basis for an international company as a Health & Safety Manager. It sort of worked, but with a few issues along the way.  The job was originally full-time and what transpired was that I worked 4 hours each day in the office and once my son went to bed at night I had to squeeze the rest of my job into the remaining hours in the evening which also often extended into the weekends.  When I look back on this I realise the enormous pressure I put my self under.  A first time mum with no family support, a new job which transpired not to be part-time and dealing with a foreign language in a Business environment.

So the perfect opportunity arose when we moved and I had to give up my job.  Once I knew which business I wanted to set up, and after doing some research on Baby & Toddler online selling and writing up a business plan, I thought that this, for me, is the perfect way to have that all important work/life balance. I could be there for my son in the afternoon when he comes home from Kindergarten, enjoy doing extra curricular activities with him, and start to build a business that would hopefully in the coming years give me enough profit to sustain myself.

Over the past year since I started easytoddler, I feel like the work/life balance is right and it is perfect to be at home working on the business as well as being there for my son. However, there are times when work does take over a bit (although I know now how to limit that). I now put times in the diary when I need to do certain things and make sure that I try to do things with my son when he is at home and not keep sneaking off to check my emails. The business can get to be all-consuming if you let it but I am working on that and I am trying to do enough of the right type of marketing to grow the business year on year with a new launch planned for 2012.  So please watch this space!

Have you had a similar experience?

Tränenpalast Berlin – Palace of Tears

I actually managed to spend a morning last week with real people as most days are spent in front of my laptop networking with my on-line friends!  I  joined the Berlin International Woman´s Club (BIWC) on a trip to the Tränenpalast.  The name given to the border crossing station at Berlin´s Friedrichstrasse railway station because of the many tearful goodbyes that took place in front of the building.  It was here that citizens from the West had to say farewell to their friends and relatives from the former East Germany who were not permitted to travel to the Western part of Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the building was no longer required but reopened in September this year housing a museum in memory of it´s former role as the GDR border crossing station.

Friedrichstrasse railway station was located entirely in the former Soviet sector of Berlin.  The Tränenpalast was used only for westbound border crossings, with separate checkpoints for citizens of West Berlin, and West Germany, foreigners, diplomats and East German citizens. There were guards stationed to separate people permitted to cross the border leading to many tearful goodbyes in front of the building.

The extensive checks in the building included three individual passport  checks, customs control, waiting rooms, since the crossing could take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, offices to register and record people crossing the border, and a counter for visa fees and the mandatory currency exchange. After the border check, passengers would enter an underground walkway that led to the underground stations.  Thousands of Germans attempted to escape the East German dictatorship but only a small amount were successful in fleeing through the heavily guarded Station.

Although the Museum is small in size it is packed full of original photos, artifacts, recordings from families telling their survival stories and a small cinema showing old newsreels from both the West and the East.  This was really fascinating seeing how one story was transmitted to the West side and the same story relayed with an entirely different meaning to the East. Makes you question the power of media!  The museum is well worth an hour or more and I will be adding it to my list of “things to do and see” for our UK visitors.

Entrance to the Tränenpalast which is not visible when exiting Friedrichstrasse Station

BundleBean 5-in1 Waterproof Fleece Foot-Muff

Some product reviews on Baby and Toddler Products are easy to write and this is one of them.  When BundleBean offered to send me a sample of their 5-in-1 Waterproof Fleece Foot-Muff (Fußsack) I got very excited at the opportunity of reviewing a brand new product not yet available to the German market.

Firstly, a wee bit of background information on the story behind BundleBean.  The designer is  a mother of two who came up with the ingenious idea on how she could combat the amount of expensive kit needed by parents when venturing out and about with their little one.  BundleBean is a blanket which coverts into a foot-muff that fits on to all buggies, bike seats, rear facing car seats and also cleverly converts into a front style baby carrier.  It also opens out flat for use as a travel picnic rug or play mat.  It really is a one stop solution.  I liked using it as a foot-muff (Fußsack) for Roan´s bike seat when we cycled to Kindegarten. Particularly last week when the weather turned colder.  My husband was unfortunately away so I couldn´t get any pictures of Roan and I using it.  But promise to post some soon.

BundleBean is so versatile that it can be used from Baby to Toddler and from the Winter through to the Summer months.  All this in just one Blanket!

Everything has been thought of.  When using it as a baby carrier there is a pouch pocket to keep your hands cosy and to keep things in.  A waterproof nylon shell to keep your little one dry and  backed with fleece to keep them warm.  It comes in 3 different colours; pink, blue and black and when you´re not using the BundleBean it rolls up to a nice neat easy to carry bundle.  I am delighted to say that I liked it so much that I decided to add it to my product list and you can now buy the BundleBean here in Germany for the first time from easytoddler.  Another great idea from a clever mum.

I´m a WAHM and proud!

What is a WAHM you´re asking? It´s a great term for a work at home mum; multi-tasker, wife, mother, cook, taxi driver, cleaner, teacher and mumpreneur.  The list is endless but you get the picture.  And this, I am happy to say, is my now my station in life.  In the past this wasn´t something I thought about, going self-employed, working from home and being my own boss but I am so glad that I did.

Although easytoddler has been operating since June 2009 I was only selling one product, the Thudguard Baby Safety Helmet whilst still working full-time as a Health & Safety Manager.  In June this year easytoddler expanded its range of Baby & Toddler products and I went full-time running my own online-shop and what a roller coaster of a journey it has been.  Perhaps if I hadn´t been so naive and knew exactly what an Online business entailed I would probably have run as fast as I could in the other direction.  Thankfully my naivety has led me on a path to a fantastic new learning experience and great networking opportunities, where I have interacted with a whole new world of hard working, inspirational Mumpreneurs.  One of the challenges has probably been learning all about Search Engine Optimisation.  I sometimes feel like a hungry animal daily searching through Facebook and Twitter for hours on end trying to gather as much information on optimisation tips as I can.  For anyone else thinking about starting a new business these platforms have been a brilliant source of information .  As well as getting free advice from experts I have interacted with some really lovely mums and networking groups, some of whom are there solely to help other mums achieve their dreams and I need to give credit to Alli Price @ www.motivatingmum.com and Joanne Dewberry @www.charliemoos.co.uk who without their advice and inspiration I would still be in the dark.

Yes, it´s not all been plain sailing and one of the biggest hurdles is running a business in a foreign country with a language that I am not totally fluent in.  However, it is improving my German, and on the positive side this can only be a plus.  I probably now work more hours in the day on my business than I did in my old job but who´s counting, not me.  It´s irrelevant cause it means I am here when my son comes home from Kindergarten.  I close my laptop till after my son is in bed and enjoy my other role, being a mum.  If I can give one piece of advice to another wannabe Mumpreneur it would be to get networking, build as many relationships as possible with other people or groups relevant to your business.  It costs nothing!

easytoddler HQ

Note the spectacles another bi-product of working on the laptop

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