Tuesday 21 December 2010

Thank god for free wifi with your coffee...

... or in my case, hot chocolate. This could be the shortest blog post ever as I'm on High St Ken, beset by the boys as they eat lunch noisily and messily whilst I try frantically to check my e-mail, organise a night out tonight, and write a blog post... (do I need to say that we're we staying doesn't have internet?).

We made it back to Blighty - finally - yesterday, two days late, after hours spent at Moscow airport, in taxis, and on the phone and at airport check in desks rebooking flights (3 times) because of the snow at Heathrow. We raced across concourses, trunkies trailing behind us, cannoning into whoever was unfortunate enough to get in our way, and muttering curses under out breath (well, that last was me. The cannoning into was done the boys - mostly).

We were the victim of soviet-style lack of communication, misunderstandings, and random acts of kindness (thanks Tattie Weasle for reminding me of that phrase!), and were adopted at 10pm on Saturday night by Amy Winehouse's tour manager who sent one of his guys to go and find our luggage for us so we could go home rather than spend the night in a cruddy airport hotel.

And finally, after a Sunday spent doing not very much in particular (which was actually a welcome bonus in an otherwise crazy Christmas season), the boys and I made a flight yesterday afternoon which went amazingly smoothly and which delivered us and our luggage intact into an incredibly deserted Heathrow Terminal One.

And now, having scored the last pairs of snow boots in the Boys sizes for a 100mile radius of London (according to the shop assistants in the 5 stores we visited this morning), we are taking a break before heading back to where we're staying. Well, when I say 'taking a break' I'm alone with the boys and one of them is desperate for the loo. So now I have to go.

You get the picture... Happy Christmas, all!

Friday 17 December 2010

Co-operation- and how it can work

Cooperative Membership Fund

This is a sponsored post...

Here's something I can bet you didn't know about me; my dad grew up living above a Cooperative shop in a small Northern town, which his father managed and which provided a community hub for the locals when supermarkets as we know them today were the stuff of fantasy or tales brought back from across the Atlantic by tourists. I don't know this for certain but I imagine grandad knew all his customers by name - because, back then, that's how things worked in small towns - and that he exchanged pleasantries with them whilst carving them the requisite slices of ham or slicing them the right weight of crumbly Wensleydale.

Dad left that small Northern town more years ago than he might care to think about, but my grandparents stayed on and some of my earliest memories are of visiting that flat with it's icy concrete steps in winter, feeling the heat from the bars of the electric fire burn my chilblains, and huddling under nylon-topped quilts, sheets and blankets... (Why is it always cold up North in my memories, I wonder?)

Since then, the Cooperative has become more than a store and a savings scheme (remember the stamps?); it's now also a mainstream bank that punches above it's weight not only in terms of customers but in terms of ethical codes of practice, holding true to it's name and remaining a body run for the benefit of all it's members than just for a small handful of share-holders.

I was particularly interested to learn about their initiative The Cooperative Community Fund. This is a charitable foundation which receives donations from a group of public-spirited members who chose to give a percentage of their twice yearly share of profits to be used for the benefit of the larger community in their area. This year's total was £1.2 million and is to be allocated within the geographical area that money is received from.

Projects are allocated by postcode, and grants vary from a minimum of £100 to £2000. That may not seem a lot in today's world of high finance and telephone number mortgages, but even that much can make a positive difference if spent wisely.

Why was I asked to write about this? Because they are looking for applicants. I was tasked with thinking about an example; something that money could be spent on in my local area that would have a positive long-term benefit on the community (note: a group does not need to have charitable status to apply for one of these grants), will address a local issue, support co-operative values and principles, and ideally be innovative in it's approach.

Hmmm. I live in Russia, remember. 'Co-operative' is not a word that get's bandied around very often here; it smacks too much of pre-1991 and communism. 'Every man for himself' is more like it, if I'm honest. You only have to travel on the metro in rush-hour to see that. Unless of course you're talking about in a family environment, where everything is shared equally and one person's trouble is the problem of all. The problems arise, however, when a person has no family, for whatever reason that might be. I've recently become involved with - in a very minor way - a charity that helps with that, giving orphaned children not a home or care, because that is already - to a point - provided by the state, but which helps to give them the tools to deal with the outside world once the umbrella organisation looking after them moves them out of their institutions into a semblance of every-day life.

Now unfortunately, £2000 isn't going to provide much tuition for these children (teachers need to be paid, overheads need to be funded), but what it could do is provide them with some interactive tools to help them practice budgeting - even in gaming form, for example - and which might simulate some of the real-world decisions they could be called upon to make once they leave their 'home'. I read recently about a new computer game which simulates the effects on the world of certain environmental policies; make the wrong one, for instance, and India is flooded or Spain becomes a waste-land. I'm not a gamer, but I'm sure there must be similar games out there which do the same job but with real life situations.

And whilst it may not seem like a very worthy way of spending this type of grant, anything that could stop the young people I'm writing of being persuaded to swap their government-funded flat for a new wii, for example (and this does happen), and then finding themselves homeless as a result because they had no proper understanding of the ramifications of their decision, can't help but have a positive effect on the local environment, surely?

Cooperative Membership Fund

Click here to find out more about the application process to qualify for one of The Cooperative Community Fund Grants

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Thursday 16 December 2010

Banya hats & letting it all hang out...

A few posts back I wrote about a visit to the banya. I loved it, not sure why, but I did, and I'll be going back.

And when I do, I'll be wearing my fetching felt lilac flower-pot hat. Nothing else - except perhaps a decorously-draped towel - just the hat. It's not (only) a fashion statement - although the regular banya visitors all seemed to have much more interesting ones than mine, with pretty appliqued flowers etc - there is good reason for it; apparently it protects your hair from overheating which is a) bad for it and b) bad for the scalp beneath it.

So I don't know why I was surprised when Husband confirmed that men also wear these hats in the banya, but I was. The thought of a group of men sitting around naked in extreme heat, no doubt not bothering with anything as girlie and modest as towels, letting it all hang out, and wearing big felt hats (although probably without the flowers), for some reason seems even more ridiculous to me than a group of women doing the same thing.

And here, for those of you asking to see my hat, is a picture of what I'm talking about. Don't worry Iota: head-shot only...

Lovely, isn't it?

*Please note; I was wearing a towel when this photo was taken...

Wednesday 15 December 2010

No time for Shrinking Violets...

Russia is not a country for the shy and retiring. Exciting things can happen here - and do, every day - but not if you sit at home waiting for them to drop through your virtual letter box. Well, not normally, anyway. But today has been a bit of an exception...

It's easy, as I sit here in Moscow 1500 miles from home, to feel a little bit out of things. My trip back to the UK a couple of weekends ago didn't help matters; I had a lovely time but discovered that 2 of the group of 4 close friends I've known for 24 years are moving; one to the Far East, and the other to Yorkshire. (Well, at least she'll have Betty's). I hadn't expected that time would stand still whilst we were in the frozen wastes of Russia, but... Actually, scratch that. I had expected that time would stand still. Rather naively, I thought that we would be away a couple of years, it would fly by, and then I would return to London and just slot seamlessly back into my old existence.

Well, PM, life ain't like that.

So I found myself - more than after previous trips home - feeling a little bereft. That's not to say that we haven't made a life for ourselves out here in Moscow. As a family we've put ourselves out there (never was there a better piece of advice given to arriving expats than 'when you first get there, say yes to everything!') and in return I have been on the receiving end of more kindness and warmth than I could ever have expected. On occasion, people have so surprised me with their generosity of spirit that I've found myself thinking 'Why? What's in it for them?'

The interesting thing though is that the longer I've been here, the more I've come to understand the impulse behind such actions - helping people out who are in the situation you so recently were in yourself, and crucially in this transient expat world, could be in again at any point - and the less cynical I've become.

Established expats put themselves out for the newbies because they can remember feeling lonely, disorientated, confused and homesick themselves.

But even with that support structure, I have to say that there is one thing that, perhaps above all else, kept me from going crazy when I first arrived out here. You guessed it: the blogging community. Specifically, the blogging community centred around the British Mummy Bloggers ning.

Because I knew that if I blogged about it, there were people out there reading, sympathising with, hopefully laughing at and commenting on my posts. And that they understand that whilst life isn't always a bundle of laughs, it can sometimes make the hard things so much more bearable if I concentrate - in writing - on those that aren't.

So I'm not ashamed to say that I teared up a bit when I saw that I've been nominated in 2 categories as a finalist in the BMB Brilliance in Blogging Awards alongside some truly awesome writers. You'll find The Potty Diaries in the shortlist for 'Funniest Post', and 'Outstanding In Their Field'. Thankyou to anyone who nominated me; I would love to say that I blog simply for the love of it, but this is the icing on my bloggy cake...

And finally, since one of the things that being here in Russia has reinforced for me is that if you don't ask, you don't get, I'm not ashamed to ask this of you; go and check out all the other nominated blogs. But then:


You can read my post nominated for Funniest Post here, and click here to go through to the BMB blog to find out more about these awards.

Monday 13 December 2010

Stop Press: Proof that there is a god...

... or alternatively, that I am a goddess.

(It all depends on your point of view).

So there we were, the Boys and I, making our way home from a friend's house and up against it to get there in time before Boy 1's slimy (I'm sorry, but there is no other word for him) guitar teacher arrived and started charging us for time from the second he clocked in.

Picture the scene; it was a relatively mild late afternoon of only -4 degreesC. It had been snowing, but only a little, so whilst there was a light covering on the road, it wasn't enough to allow the sled to run freely with 2 tired boys on it. I had to choose. Knowing which was the more troublesome of my two sons, I put Boy #2 on it for the first 200 metres, and was planning on putting Boy #1 on it for the second.

Obviously, it was going to be disastrous whichever way I tried to play it. Obviously. And so it proved when I forcibly ejected Boy #2 from the seat of power as we passed the compound Christmas tree (the pre-agreed tipping point), and tried to replace him with an up-until-that-moment-whingeing-terribly Boy #1.

Boy #2 retaliated against his fall from grace by shouting even louder than his older brother had previously been doing ('anything you can do Bro, I can do better...'), and bodily hurling himself across the back of the sled (one of those picturesque wooden number on raised runners that actually works quite well), and holding for dear life as I tried to tug both him and his older brother along. Since their combined weight was around 50kg, the sled was having none of it and stuck fast on the meagre snow covering as I slipped and slid around, cursing somewhat, on the icy road.

Oh boy. It wasn't pretty.

But then, a brainwave.

"I tell you what, Boy #2. You come up front with me, stand inside the rope of the sled, and you can be Rudolph and help me pull Boy #1 along..."

I held my breath.

"Oh yes! Yes! YES MAMA! Quick, quick, let me come in!" And he shot around to the front of the sled in 2 seconds flat and ducked under what were now to be known as 'the reins'. But that's not all. We walked 10 meters before animal crazy Boy #1, reclining in splendour on the seat of power, spoke up.

"Can I be the reindeer, Boy #2? You be Father Christmas, and I'll be the reindeer."


And with much dashing, prancing, whinnying (because reindeers do that, you know), and 'Faster Donner! Faster Blixen!' and pretend whip cracks from the sled, we were home faster than you could say 'And when we get home Boys, let's make glittery paper snowflakes to hang in the window.'

Who would have thought the solution could be so simple? So I rest my case; either there IS a god (and he put that thought into my head), or I am a goddess.

And in honour of that second possibility, here is the last of the illustrations from Next's 12 Days of Christmas campaign (yes yes, I know it's the 13th today), and my final pick from their catalogue. Cue - appropriately - drumroll...

After this afternoon's brush with divinity, I decided to look for something suitably goddess-like - or at least, that might make me feel that way.

I think these might do it. On the other hand, I might instead end up with a muffin top, and get all hot and sweaty whilst I stick to the seats of a leather sofa, but a girl can dream, can't she?

This was a sponsored post - and if you click here you can still enter Next's Christmas Giveway where £1000's worth of prizes are being given away, wrapped, and delivered to you in time for December 25th...

Friday 10 December 2010

On the 10th Day of Christmas, this expat blogger is looking forward to:

Being able to read the ingredient labels at the supermarket. Or even, the product names, if I'm honest. Memorable purchase mistakes to-date have included:

  • Hair lightening cream for moisturiser (realised after the first smear that this was not going to deal with my dry skin - or indeed make any difference to my freshly shaved legs..)
  • Spicy tomato ketchup for normal (Boy #2 was NOT impressed)
  • Potato starch for corn flour (the former does not make good shortbread)
  • Tuna in oil for tuna in salt water (yeuch - Russian tinned tuna is not the best quality to start with, so throw in cup of oil as well and...)
  • Salted salmon steak for normal (just too horrible to even begin to describe. Christ knows how the Russians cook it, but there must be some secret way to use it or it wouldn't be everywhere masquerading as an edible foodstuff)
  • Russian hard cheese for non-Russian. (Because - and apologies to anyone who likes the local version here - Russian hard cheese is rubbish. Think; the blandest edam you ever tasted, take away the flavour, and bob's your uncle).
  • Sweetened fruit juice for non-sweetened (Kids on a sugar high just before bed, anyone?)

So yes, I am looking forward to being able to decipher packs without the help of the dictionary I invariably forget when going to the supermarket when I get back to London for the holidays...

Today's Top Pick from the Next Catalogue

(Thanks again Next, by the way, for the lovely illustrations, and this is why I'm including this). Now, who knew that the Next site sells electricals along with clothes, homeware, and shoes etc? Not me, that's for sure. So I took a quick look and bingo; In amongst the tv's, ipods, and camers etc, I came across this Ben 10 toy for Boy #1... I may even get my Christmas shopping sorted yet...

And click here for the chance to participate in Next's prize draw; they're giving away prizes each day, wrapped and delivered in time for Christmas...

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Boy #2's holiday...

Boy #2 has an imagined trip to go on at school today. He was asked to think about where he would like to go on holiday, pack a bag, and bring it in to talk about at circle time. So today, he arrived in the sub-zero temperatures with his blue Trunkie (he was very insistent that he be able to take the Trunkie) packed with a number of small toys (all, of course, forms of transport), a Mr Sloooooowwww Mr Man book, a pair of sunglasses, his swim shorts, a pair of armbands and his towelling cover up.

Clothes will not, it seems, be required.

Oh, and as to where he's going?

The South of France, obviously. ('No clothes, mama. It's very dry in France. Very dry...')

That's my boy...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Scrubadubdub - it's off to the Banya for you...

This morning I went to a Russian banya for the first time.

Sitting here now, I don't think I've ever felt cleaner. I also feel minus a layer of skin or two, but it'll grow back, won't it?

So here are some learnings from my trip this morning...
  • Swimsuits are not required. Nerves of steel, a devil-may care attitude, and previous form as a hockey player used to nakedness in an all-female changing room are good substitutes if you have them. Otherwise, just grin and bare it (boom boom).
  • A fading mark from your g-string bikini suntan is acceptable, however (note: this badge of honour is unrelated to size of the woman concerned).
  • Take your own towel. In fact, bring two. Especially bearing in mind my previous comment about swimsuits not being required. You have to sit somewhere in the sauna, and I didn't notice the attendant sluicing down the wooden steps after each new shift of customers came in... (Plus, that bright red spot on your buttocks from sitting on a too-hot step is not attractive, really).
  • Listen out for the warning call that they are about to lock the door of the sauna from the inside. (yes, you can get out). If you don't then race into the industrial-sized facility and secure a spot you will end up having to wait another half hour to do so. And if you don't get there early enough you will end up having to sit next to the furnace (ow), or on the step below a lady with - how can I put this - rather less inhibitions than you. Should that happen, do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around to glance behind you.
  • Make sure you have your own very attractive felt flower pot hat to wear whilst in the sauna to protect your hair from the heat. (These can be purchased in a range of fetching pastel colours and with appliqued motifs from the check-in desk at the entrance). I know, it's counter-intuitive to sit there naked in god knows how many degrees whilst wearing a hat - and obviously, it looks hilarious - but trust me, it works. I still have hair.
  • Said hat also gives you some degree of protection when the sauna attendant (invariably rather impressively muscled in the upper arm region for reasons which shall become apparent by the end of this post) flicks water over the assembled masses inside. Well, I say water; it also contains some kind of pine-scented herbal brew that helps to 'cleanse', but which also stings like crxp when you misunderstand her instruction to close your eyes just before she throws the mixture about in a manner worthy of the pope at high mass.
  • Try not to sit too close to the sauna attendant, both for the reason mentioned above but also because, when she whirls a damp towel around to move the hot air around the room (hence the upper arms worthy of Madonna), that thing goes at quite a pace.
  • When one of the friends you are with dares you to stand under the cold water splash situated outside of the sauna, just say no. That's all. If you do take her up on her dare, however, make sure you have firm hold of her wrist so she can't step away as she pulls the cord...
  • When another friend suggests it would be a good idea to have a body scrub, and you decide 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and go for it, do try not to act all surprised when you realise that the lady giving you the all-over scrub will also be unclad (see how I'm trying to avoid using the 'n' word here?). Apart, of course, from her gloves, which feel as if they're made from a slightly less abrasive version of wire wool - but only slightly.
  • And when she walks towards you holding a hose trickling warm water, keep calm. It's not what you think... (unless you're thinking soap doesn't work without water. In that case, you're spot on).
  • Do not laugh as she scrubs your feet and your toes tickle - remember, you still have to roll over so she can do your front. All of it. (Like I said - never been so clean).
  • And finally, do not speculate with the friend lying on the next table who is also having a scrub about just how unlikely the 'naked client, naked scrubber' situation would be to happen back home. The ensuing giggles are not dignified. Although, of course, neither is lying starkers on a table whilst being scrubbed all over by a naked woman wearing gloves made of wire wool.


This post has been nominated as 'Funniest Post' on the BMB Brilliance In Blogging Awards. If you like it, I would very much appreciate your vote; click here to register it. Thankyou!

On the 4th Day of Christmas, this expat blogger is looking forward to...

... meeting up with old friends.

Post 4 from the Next Christmas campaign (click here to go to the post where I explain what that is), and my wish today is for some unhurried time with my girlfriends over the holidays. This has probably been prompted by the weekend I just spent back in the UK without my family at a christening, when I suddenly realised that my oldest girl friends, a gang of 5 who have been close since university, and who have been meeting regularly for the last twenty-mumble years, are shortly to be scattered again. Obviously, this is partly my fault (although Moscow is a suburb of London, surely?), but over the last 4 days two of them announced they too are leaving London, one for the north of England and the other for the far east. (Some people just have to go one better, don't they?).

I know it was foolish to think so, but I kind of imagined when I moved over here that nothing would really change back home, and that when we do return I would just be able to fit seamlessly back in to my old life.

Silly me. My life has moved on, why shouldn't everyone else's?

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

I'm going to pretend that money is no object here (it is, obviously, since I'm writing this post), and think about what I would buy for these 4 long-standing girlfriends if I had a few hundred pounds to spare. I think it would be this - or something like it. Plus one for myself, obviously. Well, you can't expect others to wear what you wouldn't yourself, surely?

Plus, PLUS, click here to enter Next's fabulous Christmas Giveaway. (Today's object of desire is an Ipod Touch and accessories worth over £300...)

Monday 6 December 2010

On the 3rd Day of Christmas, this expat blogger is looking forward to..

... a heart attack on a plate, aka 'Christmas Lunch'.

Continuing my theme using the twelve illustrations for each verse of the carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' kindly sent to me by Next , here's another item on my check-list of what I'm looking forward to once I get home for the holidays....

I mean, obviously Christmas lunch had to be on this list, right? Right? (Especially when using the illustration above). It's the biggest meal of the year, both physically and metaphorically. And this morning, when I sat down with my Russian teacher and she asked me to describe in Russian what a typical English Christmas lunch consists of, the realisation of the former - of how much we actually put away on this day of days - came home to me quite strongly.

Thank god I hadn't even considered mentioning the smoked salmon starter that has - at least in our house - become a tradition in addition to everything else, and instead kicked off with a description of the main event; The Turkey. Accompanied, obviously, by roast potatoes, roasted onions, stuffing, carrots, creamed parsnips, broccoli (I know, it should be brussels sprouts but the only way I can eat them is in soup), and cranberry and horseradish sauces (don't come here trying to sell bread sauce; my only question there is why?). At this point, she assumed that was it, meal over.

So when I launched into a description of Christmas Pudding with brandy butter or cream it seemed churlish to mention the pavlova's or Christmas Pudding ice cream that have been known to also make an appearance, for seconds. And when I then said that dessert was followed by cheese, her eyes widened to the extent that I couldn't possibly mention the Quality Street or chocolate truffles that follow with coffee.

What, of course, I wasn't able to convey in my extremely paltry Russian (and let me make it clear, I did not have the vocabulary to communicate this all on my own, there was a lot of help from my teacher) was how, with the chance to sit down and enjoy the company of your nearest and dearest. this meal is so much more than an opportunity for excessive consumption. Or at least, it should be.

But as I don't think any nation has the exclusive on that element of celebratory meals, I imagine that all that - all the really important stuff, the emotions that count, the chance to reaffirm family ties, and the opportunity to remember you're part of a family - didn't need saying in any language, either in English or Russian.

Thank god - we'ld still be sitting there now if I'd tried that...

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

Today's post got me thinking about the Christmas lunch table. Most people, I know, like to make a special effort for this one, and I wanted to see if there was anything Next had to offer that would help make that happen. Guess what? I think this table runner - if I was cooking Christmas lunch in my own home, which sadly (ha!) I'm not - would do the job nicely... And, if you ever wondered where I sit on the silver vs gold theme for Christmas decorations debate (and I'm sure my position on this vital question is top of mind for most people), this will answer that question for you...

This was a sponsored post...(in case you hadn't guessed)

Friday 3 December 2010

On the 2nd Day of Christmas, this expat is looking forward to:

...Proper mince pies.

For those of you not aware of what I'm up to here, Next have very kindly sent me twelve beautiful illustrations for each verse of the carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', and to use them wisely I've decided to write about what I, as an expat due to be back in the UK for the holidays, am most looking forward to when I get there.

Which brings me to proper mince pies. I don't care if they're home-made or shop-bought (although obviously - OBVIOUSLY - my mother's are the most delicious in the world), just as long as they are deep-filled, full of delicious spicy mincemeat and, in an ideal world, topped with icing sugar. AND cream. Or brandy butter. If I must. (Well, it would be rude not to, don't you think?)

In the spirit of intrepid expat-ness, I tried to make them here, but unfortunately they came in under the bracket 'sorry excuse for a proper mince pie'. This was last weekend; I had made them to take to my first ever Thanksgiving Lunch.

'Bring something festive from your country of origin' the invitation said. I didn't think a plate of tinsel would do it, so found some mincemeat (purloined from a generous neighbour) and for the first time in my life, made sweet pastry. They tasted - all right. If a little dry.

But I shouldn't have bothered. After the fact, I remembered past experience of having to educate friends of different nationalities that the 'mincemeat' in mince pies doesn't actually contain any meat. (Or at least, it hasn't done for a couple of hundred years). We arrived at the party, along with 12 mince pies that could have done with a slightly less dry pastry. And back home we came again, with 11 of them. Not a single person there - other than me, who took pity on the plate of pies sitting forlornly on the table surrounded by empty dishes - could bring themselves to try something that was supposed to be sweet with the name 'mince' in the title.

But yet, everyone else there was happy to eat pumpkin, in a pie. And I stand by my mince pies in light of that, when I compare them to the pumpkin pie which was served. I tried some. It was OK. Not great. Not earth shaking. Just - all right. Actually, I'm told it was pretty good pumpkin pie as pumpkin pies go, it's just that, well. Pumpkin? As a pudding?

On the plus side, I was able to say hand on heart to my hostess that it was the best pumpkin pie I had ever tasted.

What I left out was that it was also the only pumpkin pie I had ever tasted...

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

This was a toughie - but only because my chosen area of interest for today, boots suitable for the Moscow winter, was mainly sold out. Living in the UK, as probably most readers of this blog do, I imagine that most people don't need to factor temps of -25degC and below along with the ability to deal with the chemicals etc that get thrown on the roads and pavements here into your choice of shoe; in which case, click here and enjoy!

Thursday 2 December 2010

On the first day of Christmas I suffered a crushing blow to my self esteem....

This is a sponsored post...

I would like to thank Next for inviting me to take part in their '12 Days of Christmas' campaign, not only because they've sent some very fetching pictures to illustrate each day, but also because they prompted one of those classic mothering moments that you treasure and hold close to your heart...

Inspired by their timely reminder of this traditional carol I was moved to sing the song to my younger son who happened to be off sick from school on Tuesday. He appeared to be quite taken with it - initially. I have to admit that the hand movements on 'FIVE. GOLD. RIIIIIIINGS' might have added to the entertainment factor somewhat, but what the hell, you have to start putting your Christmas list out there sometime, right?

However, as I reached '7 swans-a-swimming' and he began to realise that I really WAS going to sing 12 verses of this song, his eyes started to glaze over. I drew breath for '8 - um - maids a milking', and he decided enough was enough. "Stop singing now mummy. You're distracting me." "Distracting you from what?" "From being sick. And you're hurting my ears."


Now, the communication from Next not only encompassed the offer to use their charming illustrations, but also to incorporate them over 12 posts. I've decided to do that by telling you what, as an expat, I am looking forward to most when I get back to the UK for the holidays.

So, on the first day of Christmas, this expat mum is desperate to walk along The Kings Road in Chelsea, looking at the decorated Christmas shops, stopping along the way for a skinny hot chocolate, breathing in crisp winter air (air that hopefully will be somewhat warmer than the crisp winter air of -19degC currently on offer here), and returning home laden with presents that have to be squirrelled away from curious eyes and prying fingers until the 25th December.

Oh, and if I send you over to the Next website to take a look at their products, I get additional brownie points if you visit, so I will also recommend something for you to take a look at there as part of these posts too...

Today's pick- in light of yesterday's post about dressing for the weather - is this boys' hat; it would perfectly replace Boy #2's similar one which, after I wrote yesterday's post, I realised was straining at the seams with his growing head... (Bad mummy)

Wednesday 1 December 2010

My Top 10 tips for surving the cold snap...

I hate to be cold. Hate it hate it hate it. (Which I appreciate is rather ironic given my favourite type of holiday - skiing - and my current place of residence). So I do feel sympathetic to all the Brits who are currently going through a highly unseasonal cold snap, and just thought I would I would do a quick post on how to deal with it, based on my experience of -25degC and below in Moscow...

Don't go out.

Oh, right. You want more serious stuff? Right.

1. Invest in snow trousers for your kids. These should be worn over their normal trousers for extra warmth (I know that sounds obvious but wasn't to me until we got here), and if possible they should be padded all the way down. Oh, and a pair with reinforced knees and bums are even better (Helly Hansen do great ones - and no, this is NOT a sponsored post!), as in the absence of a sledge, kids will just skid along on whatever comes to hand - like those brand new snow pants you just bought them.

2. Invest in proper hats - for your kids and for you. Since the kids don't need to look cool, particularly, the ones with ear flaps that fasten under the chin are best, whereas for you whatever does the job without totally ruining your day due to the need carry rollers, hair product and spend an extra 10 minutes in the loo repairing the damage whenever you get where you're going is always the best choice. Oh, and don't worry about looking like a prat. It's a hat. You probably will. But then so will everyone else, and at least you'll be warm...

3. Gloves. Thick ones. None of that fine leather stuff that shows off the perfect bone structure of your wrist (especially if you're anything like me with Reynaud's Syndrome and end up with dead people's hands when you get too cold). No, you need proper thermal ski gloves - you won't regret it.

4. Layers. Thermal tops are gifts of the gods - and Uniqlo do a great and inexpensive range. Wear a black one with a funky top over it and you could even look like you mean to dress that way...

5. Snow boots. For your kids (sorry, but wellies just don't cut it), and for you. Go on; embrace the yetty in yourself. Nothing (apart from cold hands) is worse than cold feet. Except that little bit of snow down the back of your neck from a snow ball, obviously. And if you're going somewhere where you need to look smart, make like the Russians and start using indoor and outdoor shoes, swapping them over when you get safely to your destination.

6. Limit your time outside. I know this sounds obvious, but on a bright cold day it can be tempting to just get out into it, and up to -10degC or so that's fine. Anything over that though and more than half an hour can send your kids into shock...

7. Watch out for white patches on your children's face. Hats don't normally cover everything up and frostbite does still happen, especially on cheeks and noses. Don't panic, it's treatable, but don't invite it either.

8. Don't expect to get anywhere fast. Even if you're walking, it can take longer than usual, and if you're driving, once you've factored in extra time for defrosting the car and allowing for accidents on the road on the way, well, it's anyone's guess when you'll get there. Take a chill pill (ha!) and relax. Oh, and go to the loo before you leave...

9. And whilst we're talking about the car, if you are parked on the flat, don't pull the handbrake all the way up. In extreme temperatures, they can freeze into place if you do - which can be rather inconvenient.

10. And last but not least, learn to make hot chocolate. Fast.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Come buzz with me...

Find out more on ebuzzing.co.uk

This is a Sponsored Post

You may have noticed, I've started to do a few more sponsored posts recently. I held out against this for a long time, and that wasn't hard, what with the plethora of offers to review the latest online war game and more recently the chance to take my dog to a red-carpet event for pets (note to any pr's reading this, I don't own a dog, never have done, have never claimed to, and much as I like them, am not likely to change that situation anytime soon...).

However, every now and again a product or opportunity pops into my inbox that is not only relevant, but is worth sharing, as when ebuzzing got in touch with me a couple of months back.

What's ebuzzing? In their own words, they are 'part of the Wikio Group and allow you to display videos and publish articles about brands that you like, when you want, whilst earning.'

Essentially it works as follows; a blogger registers to become part of their network (at ebuzzing.co.uk), and whenever a relevant opportunity comes up, they are notified by e-mail to go and take a look at the campaign. There's no pressure to participate, but if you like the look of it you can apply to write a sponsored post using information supplied along with anything else you can find out about the brand. You are of course paid for this service (average fees to-date for a 250 word article, in my experience, are between £30 and £40), and all ebuzzing posts are clearly signposted as 'sponsored'. Essentially ebuzzing rely on the blogger themselves to write about the product rather than simply regurgitating press releases sent out to a random selection of email addresses.

Now this post is the result of one of those opportunities - you may have worked that out for yourself by now - and in addition to spreading the word about how the system works, I was asked to come up with a brand that I would like to work with, to imagine my perfect e-buzzing campaign.

I don't think it will surprise anyone who knows about my addiction to chocolate that the first company to come to mind was Green & Blacks. There's a brand I can really get behind. Not only was it originally set up in a way that provided small cocoa growers with a sustainable form of fair-trade income (although I have to admit I'm a bit hazy on how that works now it's owned by Cadbury's, who bought it in 2005), but it makes a range of amazing products for the mass market - products that I happen to love. The opportunity to write about how buying something so delicious would simultaneously benefit families living in less advantaged parts of the world (assuming that's still the case) would be what you might call a win/win situation...

Find out more on ebuzzing.co.uk

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Sunday 28 November 2010

How far will you go to maintain the Christmas magic?

You might have noticed: it's nearly December. Pre-Christmas excitement is building here at Potski Mansions, and I'm just waiting for the first request to watch The Polar Express on dvd.

The Boys love it so much that they would watch it every week of the year given half a chance, so a couple of years back I embargo'd this one and now they can only watch it during Advent. I mean, I like the movie myself, sure, but there are only so many 4 year-old impromptu imitations of Tom Hanks performing 'Hot! Hot! Hot Chocolate!' that a woman can take - especially in June...

In any case, I was wondering; have you told your children there's no Santa yet? Even if they're teenagers, I'm betting that you haven't; most kids work it out for themselves sometime before they leave home, and no parent wants to be the one to burst the bubble of the true believer in Father Christmas.

Not, that is, unless you are the husband of a friend of mine who decided when his son reached 8 years old that enough was enough, and that he wasn't going to have a son who was the only boy in the class who still believed. So he took matters into his own hands and told him that Santa didn't exist. He subsequently became persona-non-grata in the neighbourhood where, it turned out, all the children did still buy into the myth; or rather, they did until my friend's son shared his new information with them. There were a lot of sobbing children - and unhappy parents - in town that Christmas, I'm told...

Here in the Potski Familiski, however, we don't only have the Father Christmas myth to tend to. For let it never be said that we forget that whilst they may have been born and brought up (until last January, anyway) in jolly old Blighty, Boys #1 and #2 are, in fact, half Dutch. (Or at least, we don't ignore it all the time.) And at this time of the year, that means only one thing to two small boys; a double whammy on the present front. For not only are they meticulously planning their Christmas lists for the 25th December, there is - deep joy - another gifting opportunity happening before that.

Oh yes, jongens: The Sint is on his way.

The Daddy of our benevolent Father Christmas, Sinter Klaas, hits town for his big engagement on December 5th. Admittedly, by 'town' I mostly mean 'anywhere in The Netherlands', but he has also been known to visit Dutch outposts across the globe to spread the good news and deliver presents and pepernoten* to the faithful. Such as, anywhere we happen to be. Now, I'm not going to go into great detail on the traditions and background to this festival (I've already done that here if you're interested), but there is an intrinsic part of it which, for children, is almost as important as the actual presents, and that is the visit of Zwarte Piet.

Piet (or rather, the Piets - plural) are Sinter Klaas's helpers. In actual fact, I suppose they are also his spies, for they arrive on the scene 3 or 4 weeks before December 5th and their job - in addition to running the Sint's errands and carrying presents etc - is to keep an eye on children and work out who's been naughty, and who's been nice, so the big man can decide who gets presents and who doesn't. One of the ways that they do that is to visit children's homes when everyone in it is asleep once or twice in the run-up to the big day, to check that their toys are tidy and they have been doing their chores etc. It's a great way to get stuff put away before bedtime, I can tell you.

Of course, this is a reciprocal arrangement. The children, expecting these visits, will leave out a note asking for their preferred gift from Sinter Klaas and obviously a shoe (because, why not?) in which they will leave the note and a carrot for the Sint's white horse. (Not sure why the carrot, since the Sint is not actually present on this visit but it doesn't do to ask too many questions, I find...). Assuming the kids have fulfilled their side of the bargain, Zwarte Piet will leave them some sweets and pepernoten.

So far, so good. But Piet can be a mischevious little bugger. So when he visits, he doesn't just take the letters, leave the sweets, and head out. No, he likes to leave his mark, so he mixes it up a bit. He puts things where they shouldn't be, tables on chairs, cushions on the floor, toys upside down in piles etc etc, and throws the sweets and biscuits all over the floor (this bit is particularly troubling if you have a rodent problem as of course you know they're all waiting for Piet's visits in just as excited a frame of mind as the kids...). Then, when your children get up in the morning, they're not quite speechless with excitement, and in addition to dealing with the sugar high before breakfast from all the goodies they gobbled up before you stagger out of bed, you also have to re-tidy the house that you so carefully (and quietly) messed up the night before.

Which in itself, is fine. I'm happy to do that - wait until my bedtime and throw a few sweets around, mess the place up, return the carrot to the vegetable basket and so on - to maintain the magic for my kids. But I do find it all a little galling when, after a busy day of play-dates, I confront my older son about the mess in the sitting room and am told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't him who made it, honest guv. The person who scattered the lego behind the sofa, the trains across the floor, and pulled the books off the shelves was - of course - Zwarte Piet.

Because, what am I going to say in reply? 'I know it wasn't, you little monster, because actually, I am Zwarte Piet and I didn't make that mess?'

I don't think so.

Not this year, anyway.

*Pepernoten are small brown round biscuits about the same diameter as 1p or 1€c coin, that disconcertingly resemble animal droppings, but which - thankfully - taste better than they look.

Friday 26 November 2010

Hungry? I doubt it.

I was a guest at Boy #1's school assembly this morning. This sort of thing is always going to be impressive for parents of children who apparently do 'nothing' at school all day, who 'didn't learn anything', and who didn't play 'with anyone, Mama...' Today's assembly was no different. My older son, the one who doesn't learn anything, took part in a short play in which the only language spoken was Russian. But still - he doesn't actually learn anything at school, obviously.

The assembly however was not all about Boy #1 (amazingly). Each year that attended made a short presentation, sang a song, or did a play, and what really impressed me was a presentation the 5th graders did on their recent Hunger Banquet. Not having children of the right age (in this school that's 10 and 11 years old), I hadn't come across the concept of a Hunger Banquet before, and I have to say that I thought it was an amazing way to let our children - the children of the lands of plenty - understand some of the imbalance in the world.

It may be that this is an established tradition in your children's school, in which case I apologise for telling you things you already know, but if you haven't heard of such a thing, here is how a Hunger Banquet works...

The children are told not to bring any snacks or packed lunch into school with them on the chosen day. They eat nothing before lunchtime, at which point they are randomly given a ticket, which will be one of 3 colours. At our school, they were blue, white and red (Russian national flag colours, appropriately). 15% of the total tickets were blue, 35% were red, and 50% were white. The children then went to the relevantly coloured food counter; here's what happened next.

  • The 15% with blue tickets were given chicken wings, fries, nachos and ice cream for their lunch. They were also allowed to go up for seconds.
  • The 35% with red tickets were given a smaller serving, of rice and vegetables for their lunch, and no seconds.
  • The 50% with white tickets were given a very small cup of water and a small cup of rice each, and of course, no seconds. If they wanted more water, they had to leave the dining hall and walk down the corridor with their small cup, which they could refill once.

I don't know about you, but this seems to me a very powerful way of communicating to tweenagers the imbalances of food supply in our world today - and the presentation that some of them subsequently made to the rest of the school underscored that...

Click here if you're interested in finding out more about hosting a Hunger Banquet. (Oh, and no children were harmed in the presentation of this concept; the kids without the blue tickets were given a snack once they got back to their classrooms...)

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Dreeeeaam, dream dream dream....

'Imagine you won £40,000', Paypal said.  Imagine what you could do with it.  And then write about it.

How hard could that be? Well, harder than you might imagine, but here goes anyway.

Imagine; 40 grand, in your hand...   Paypal are billing it as a year's salary; all you have to do to enter is to buy something using Paypal and every single time you do so you're given a new entry to their weekly draw.

(Click here to get the details, and click here to see the t's and c's...)

So I started to think what I might buy with an extra £40,000.  Sadly, that wouldn't do the biggies, like putting the kids through university (well, it might one of them, but it's highly unlikely both of them by the time 12 years or so have passed given recent developments), or paying off the mortgage (some hope), but it could certainly make life more comfortable for a while.  I mean, I could blow it all in splurges on holidays, a new car,  flights back to the UK, a couple of mini-breaks, and perhaps some subtle plastic surgery or dental work (what? What?  I'm surrounded by perky Americans who make my smile feel just a little outshone and my chest, well...)

But back in the real world I think my sensible head would take over and I would end up using it to pay for stuff we actually need.  Well, when I say that, I mean stuff we need that I could buy from online retails who take Paypal.   It would probably get spent on computers for the kids, a new camera, purchases on i-tunes and other such 'essentials'. 

The good news of course is that the number of retailers accepting Paypal is increasing.  Which also means that I might also get to fritter some of it away on stuff for my own personal Christmas list, a work in progress but which is already taking shape...  First indications are that it may include, the new Issey Miyake perfume (which I've heard shouldn't work, but does) and a new toothbrush from Boots, a new necklace, a new dress, & a pair of jeans from Miss Sixty 

Watch this space for updates - especially if you happen to be my Husband...

This, in case you hadn't worked it out by now, was both a sponsored post  and a first attempt at steering my Husband - if he reads this - in the right direction for this year's presents.  Wish me luck...

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The Gallery Wk 36: Black & White

OK, I'm late with this - but better late than never, which is where I've been on the last few of Tara's Gallery prompts.

This week she's requested that our photo's be themed 'Black & White', and whilst I would love to be able to use a suitably moody shot I'd taken in black and white, I'm not that organised, and in fact, I don't think it's necessary when I have the one below. Admittedly, the photo I've chosen to use here has already appeared once on this blog - only a couple of days back, in fact - but I think it works. The colours are - more or less - black and white, but the black and white of nature at this time of year rather than the black or white of a photograph...

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Computers and the Family Revolution

This is a sponsored post...

I remember when my dad got his first computer, a North Star Horizon. It was not a family computer, oh no. Back in the dark ages you see (somewhere around 1981-ish, even before the ZX Spectrum appeared on the scene if you are antiquated enough to remember those), computers were not for families. Computers were serious things. They were techy. You had to be a bit of a nerd to 'get' them. The were ugly boxes with integrated floppy disk-drives (if you were lucky) that were noisy, cumbersome, took up entire desks, and dominated the room. Looking too long at it's flashing green cursor could give you a migraine.

And if you wanted to ask it to do anything much more complicated than to play Star Trek (Battle Ships without the sound-effects) or to produce a biorhythm for you (don't ask), you had to know how to talk to it. You had to speak it's language, which at the time was Basic, a fiendish combination of 0's and 1's that sent any sane person over the edge - especially if that sane person was a 14 year old girl who's grasp of numbers was shaky at best.

So I and the North Star Horizon computer didn't spend very much time together, if I'm honest. I glared at it from the other side of the room and gave it as wide a berth as I possibly could. In fact, it wasn't until the early 90's that I really got up close and personal with a computer, and even then the thought that one of them would ever be anything more than something to record profit and loss on, or to word process documents, was about as likely as Patrick Swayze ever saying 'No-one puts Potty in the corner...' (Like the cultural reference? If not, I'm guessing you're WAY too young to understand this post).

Nowadays of course, things have changed - big time. Imagine your daily family life now without access to a computer. The very fact that you're reading this suggests to me that thought is probably inconceivable. We use them to organise our music, to watch tv and movies, and catch up on what we missed when we were out living our lives. We use them to edit movies, to upload them to the internet, and see how complete strangers across the world rate those movies. We use them to make telephone calls, to pay bills, to share news or simply to keep in touch with - or tabs on - friends and family across the world..

And that's even before we think about how they are used in a classic 'work' environment, and how we use them to organise schedules, keep track of appointments, manage our finances, pay bills, and remind ourselves of all the things we have on our to-do-list in our notebooks and never got round to because we simply flipped over the page to write the next list and forgot to check back that we'd finished the previous one. (Or maybe that last one is just me...)

And, of course, not forgetting how we use computers to blog...

You would think, in fact, that we might have reached something of a plateau on how computers fit into our family lives. But of course, then why would I be writing this post? (And 'for the money!' is not the correct answer here)

No, I'm writing this post as a trip down memory lane and because if I was planning on buying a new desktop computer anytime soon I have to admit that this one would be quite high on my list of possibilities.

The new All-In-One desktop from Dell has - and I quote - ' high-definition widescreen display, internet connectivity capability (Wi-Fi), DVD drive, and the ability to connect to TV tuners, cable and satellite boxes and gaming consoles through an HDMI port.'

It appears to have similar touch-screen function to that of an i-pad or i-phone - check the youtube Video to see what I mean - which allows you to use your fingers to draw, colour or leave sticky-notes on the screen (great - somewhere other than the fridge door to remember to check). And on top of that, it's not the bulky desktop design that we're used to, but fits neatly into a corner with a stowable keyboard. And due to it's 23" screen and the fact that it looks so good, it could even make respectable-sized alternative to a standard tv.

Which only goes to show how far we've come from the ugly plastic box that was off-limits to the family, and which used to sit on my dad's desk and torment me with it's flashing green cursor...

Further information can be found here

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Monday 22 November 2010

Festive Cheer in Box...

It's not at all difficult...

To get that festive feeling...

When you look outside your window...

And see this:

Which is why I don't feel at all premature in reviewing a new dvd that's just been released: 'Nativity!'.

Living as I do in an expat environment where it's not the done thing to refer to Christmas - 'Happy Holidays!' is the greeting we're supposed to use - can I just say how nice it was to sit down and watch a movie which is unashamedly British in it's approach to this? Based on the competition between two schools to produce the best Nativity performance and gain a 5 star rating from the local rag's critic, it has all the required elements for festive viewing.

There were children dressed as angels, Wise Men dressed as Elvis (which took me back to a certain Christmas performance Boy #1 gave a couple of years back), animals behaving badly, a batty headmistress, a kooky class assistant and - of course - a curmudgeonly school teacher (played by Martin Freeman, complete with the requisite cardigan) who starts out Scrooge-like in his approach to Christmas and ends up feeling the spirit of the season on a grand scale.

This is a great 'run-up to Christmas' Saturday afternoon movie, although perhaps not for young children if you're at all concerned by the prospect of a primary school field trip to the local maternity ward. And I think the hilariously bad-taste decision by Jason Watkin's competitive private school drama school teacher's decision to shock his way to a 5 star rating by producing a show called 'Herod', might go somewhat over youngster's heads...

Overall though, I really enjoyed the movie, and without running too much of a chance of spoiling the plot, I think I can share that there is a happy ending and that you would have to be pretty Scrooge-like yourself not to enjoy the Christmas shenanigens even slightly...

Note: I wasn't paid for this post but I did receive a free copy of the dvd...

Tales from the Craft Fair

So this weekend it was finally the school Craft Fair - something I helped to organise and which we've been working on since May. This sounds like a humble event but is in fact anything but; 400+ children descent upon the school on a Saturday to participate in making crafts like tree decorations, kites, sun catchers and similar. Let me tell you, there was a LOT of glitter involved. A lot. I'm hoping to get the last of it out of my hair by Christmas.

Overall the event went very well, lots of satisfied customers, lots of happy parents that they've been able to get their kids to spend a rainy morning doing something other than playing on the Wii or watching tv. However, there are always a few rotten apples in the barrel - although I'm not speaking of any of the children...

Tale 1

Following suggestions that in previous years there hadn't been anything sufficiently challenging for the 9 and 10 year old girls to do (I hate to say 'girls', but there really weren't many boys of that age there), we made sure there were a couple of crafts specifically for them. One of them was to stitch various forms of decoration onto a canvas tote bag. (Can you see where this one is going yet?). The decorations included ribbons, felt shapes, jewels and - crucially - a large box of funky coloured buttons.

Halfway through the morning, the mum looking after the table found me and asked for help, unsure of how to handle a situation that had arisen. One of the mums - at least I assume she was a mum although there was no child to be seen - had stationed herself at the end of the table (the one clearly signposted '4th and 5th graders ONLY') and was fashioning her own tote bag and crucially, had made a little pile of all the best buttons and was growling at any child who dared approach them. We had the following conversation;

Me: "So, are you enjoying yourself?"

Her: "What? Oh, yes yes..."

Me: "It's just that these crafts are meant to be for the children..."

Her: "Yes, I know that. I'm making this with my son."

Me: "Right. And he is...?"

Her: "Over there. On the kite table."

Me: "But not here? Although it's his craft?"

Her: "Well, I asked him to. But he didn't want to. So I'm making it on his behalf."

Tale 2

A little boy of around 6 years old reported himself lost, so one of my colleagues on the organising team for the event walked around with him for 15 minutes before finding his mum. On seeing her - standing at the craft table where you could stick sea-shells around wooden photo frames and then, of course, finish them off with glitter - he promptly burst into tears and ran over for comfort, which she duly gave. Before continuing with what she had been doing, which was sweeping her pre-selected pile of all the best shells on the table into her handbag to take home with her...

It's never the kids, is it?

Friday 19 November 2010

Note to self #167

1. Whilst out shopping in your local mall do not wander into the newly opened Lego store to check out a particular object of desire for your son. (You don't have your children with you, for chrissake. Why on earth would you go into a toy shop?)

2. If, however, you do find yourself in this situation, do not pick up a copy of the latest catalogue.

3. Especially, do not leave said catalogue sitting on the front seat of your car.

4. Where it can be found by your children when you pick them up from school...

5. Or you will find that it will be studied, pored over and salivated on by both sons (even the older one who you didn't think was really into all that stuff), enabling them to extend their Christmas lists and even provide an object of desire to replace this in your younger son's affections. (Airplanes are yesterday's toy, apparently. The cool kids now want red trains).

6. But most importantly, should all of the above happen, ensure that said devilish book / innocuous catalogue is stored somewhere in plain sight so that when Boy #2 wakes up at some ungodly hour, weeping and wailing when it is not immediately to hand (sorry dear neighbour for what must have been a very rude awakening this morning), you are spared a 15 minute search for it in the pre-school run madness.

7. And which may result in mother-driven-to-the-limit outbursts that almost - but not quite - require the replacement of yet another bathroom step...

Monday 15 November 2010

Question: how do you discipline your children?

Always assuming, that is, that you live in the real world where - shudder - sometimes children don't always do what they are told and even, sometimes, are wilfully naughty...

Do you always carry your threats through? Or do you find yourself taking the line of least resistance, bleating hopelessly from the sofa 'don't do that little Johnny - cats don't like being carried around by their tails, he'll - oh, yes, well that wasalways going to happen wasn't it?'

Probably, if you're anything like me, you'll do a little of both, and more often than not which it is will depend on how much time you have to spare. For example, the naughty chair? All very well, but first thing in the morning on a school day I don't have 4 or 7 minutes spare to put the offending Boy on it; we're usually late already, so punishing the fact that my 10th request to put shoes and coats on has been ignored again is counterproductive. So the naughty chair tends to be a measure for the weekends, or after school (although obviously my sons are such little angels I never have to use it. Well, not for Boy #1, anyway).

The naughty shelf - the indefinite removal of a favoured toy / book etc to somewhere out of reach - gets pressed into service occasionally. Especially when we're in a rush. The only problem with that one is that whatever gets put up there usually gets forgotten about, as with a magnetic fishing rod stuffed on the top of my wardrobe when I had been hit in the face with it once too often by an over-enthusiastic child using it as a light sabre. It was banished in June, and rescued in September...

Then of course, there is the with-holding of pocket money. That worked for a while, but Husband and I are so rubbish about remembering to give it out that I think my children are under the impression it comes so seldom in any case that there's no point expecting to add it to their stash. Right now I think that I owe them each about 6 weeks, and since I don't have so much cash to hand it will probably be at least 7 before I'm in a position to remedy that...

Recently, with an increasing focus on Christmas (see this post), we've been using the 'If you don't behave Santa won't bring you your favourite presents' line, but Boy #1 is - I suspect - already doubting his existence, and Boy #2 doesn't really believe we'll carry it through. Or, he bucks up his ideas for all of 5 minutes before continuing with whatever he was doing before mum or dad inconveniently intervened.

So, in the absence of the ultimate Bad Thing - corporal punishment - what do you do? And I am of course assuming you will have given me credit and assumed that I have already exhausted the 'reasonable approach' method - talking it through, explaining why whatever it is they're up to is not acceptable / a good idea etc - before reverting to other forms of discipline.

Because, I'm looking for ideas here. Especially after yesterday evening when I was faced with a 4 year old who was blatantly laughing in my face at my increasingly annoyed requests he get. Undressed. And. Get. Into. The. Bath. Now. So I decided to carry through on the threat I had made 5 minutes earlier, and simply dumped him in there fully clothed.

It did have the desired effect - to shock him into getting undressed as quickly as possible - but unless I'm prepared to do an extra load of laundry every evening, it's not really a sustainable form of discipline. And of course, not every 'disagreement' we have involves a bathtub full of warm water...

Any ideas?

(Oh yes, and sadly not giving him a bath wasn't an option...)

Thursday 11 November 2010

Big Train Love and Boy' #2's Burgeoning Christmas List

This afternoon Boy #1 and I arrived to collect Boy #2 from his once a week post-school Dutch class. Bearing in mind that all three of us are still recovering from our late arrival back in Russia on Monday night after a busy half term, and that the Boys' body clocks have been thrown completely off by the 3 hour time difference, I wasn't at all surprised to find that Boy #2 had nodded off in the book corner whilst playing with cars. And bless his Dutch teacher, she had let him.

We gently woke him up and he did that unbearably cute thing of looking around all wide-eyed in surprise (was I asleep Mama? No, of course not...), before walking over to the door of the classroom to pick his stuff up before we headed home.

I went to help him on with his jacket, and suddenly encountered an unfamiliar, squarish lump under the sleeve of his sweatshirt. It was so well hidden in fact that if I hadn't been assisting a tired sleepy boy to find his coat sleeve, he just might have gotten away with it.

"What's that?"

"Ssssshhhhh Mama" he whispered, sotto voce. I can't believe it, but he really thought I was going to buy into this heist... "Don't tell anyone. They'll see..."

See what? Well, I pulled a green wooden double decker Brio train - belonging to the school - from his sweatshirt sleeve. This boy loves trains, you see, with a passion. Well, he loves all forms of transport if I'm honest. Prior to this attempt at The Great Train Robbery (see what I did there? Huh? Huh?) his most recent object of desire has been a red Lego plane (and - obviously - the accompanying Lego airport) that he spotted in a catalogue he found in the back of one of his brother's birthday presents (also Lego). He wants this plane. He NEEDS this plane. His life is not complete without this plane. It looms large in his legend and is mentioned whenever possible. He's developed quite a sales patter actually; Husband reported the following conversation:

Boy #2: "So Santa's going to bring me a red Lego airplane. This one." (He points firmly at the relevant page in the brochure,which rarely leaves his side)

Husband: "Really?"

Boy #2: "Yes, yes he is. Because he knows, you see, that I don't have one."

Husband: "Well, you do actually. A Lego airplane and a Playmobil one."

Boy #2: "Yes. I do. But this one, this one is red. And he knows I don't have a red one."

Husband: "OKaaaay."

Boy #2: "Plus, plus, this one comes with it's own airport. So I can fill it up with petrol and everything..."

So Santa, baby, can you put one under the tree for Boy #2? Although Christ knows how we're going to fit that in our luggage on our way back from the UK after Christmas...

Wednesday 10 November 2010


Sometimes I get tired of being the voice of reason. Sometimes I look around me at others throwing their toys out of their playpen, both in the real and the virtual world, and I think, 'God yes, I know just what you mean. That is unreasonable behaviour, I'm not going to stand for it either and in fact I'm going to be pretty unreasonable myself until you damn well sit up and take notice.'

Sometimes I want to scream from the top of the house 'What about me? Sod your problems! Doesn't anyone want to hear what I think about this?'

Sometimes putting on a sensible happy voice, having a positive outlook, just stinks. Sometimes I want to hide under the duvet and, like my youngest son, refuse to come out until I know for certain that something good is happening today, that it doesn't involve a schedule, and that if I want to stay in my dressing gown until bedtime and play with my trains, I can.

Sometimes being the invisible woman at parties get right up my nose. Sometimes dealing with strangers' judgements of my life choices, of my current status as a stay at home mum drives me insane. Sometimes I hate myself for justifying those choices and qualifying them with 'but I also write / consult / do marketing projects'. Sometimes I just want what I say and who I am right here, right now, to be enough - for them, and me.

Sometimes being the one who has to think about the laundry, the shopping, making the school lunches and a million other domestic details is just too bloody boring for words. Sometimes all I want to do is put on a pair of killer heels, designer jeans and a cute jacket, go to a wine bar with my girlfriends and get pissed on white wine for the afternoon, before carrying on into the evening. Sometimes I want to behave disgracefully, giggle uproariously, tip the beer-goggle-attractive waiter handsomely, before going out to a night club eventually rolling home at 3am.

Sometimes I want to be able to get an unsuitable manicure in a colour that I know will show the tiniest chip and not care about it because, what the hell, I have time; I can get it redone again whenever I choose if that happens.

Sometimes I want to go out with my Husband and not have to get home in time to let the babysitter go at a reasonable hour. I want to walk hand in hand, snog on romantic embankments and unsuitable tube stations, spend wild weekends, and just enjoy being us without any of the white noise, distraction and flashes of 'how the fuck did I get here?' that come with being a grown-up leading a grown-up life.

Sometimes I want to walk into a clothes shop and not take two sizes into the changing room; the one that I managed to fit into for a week last year after a bout of food poisoning and the (larger) one that I will actually be able to zip up now.

Sometimes I want to read glossy magazines without paying particular attention to the features on ageing and how to non-surgically remedy crows-feet and frown lines. Sometimes I want to go to the hair-dressers and not see the grey hairs sprinkled amongst the brown on my shoulders.

Sometimes I don't want the best reflection of myself that I see all day to be the one in the mirror just before I put my contact lenses in.

Sometimes, the passage of time just pisses me off.

But then...

Then I stand up and walk away from laptop. I take a deep breath. I walk upstairs and look in at two perfectly-formed heads asleep on their pillows. I look at the life that my Husband and I have made together. And whilst it would be trite - and untrue - to say that the sight of them makes everything alright all the time, I know that if I had the chance to swap - them or him - for what once was, I wouldn't consider it even for a heartbeat.

(Although a decent manicure would be quite welcome - my nails are shocking...)

This has been a rare candid post from Potty Mummy. Normal shallow service to be resumed shortly.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

I've booked...

We're back in Moscow after our week in the UK. I have a million loads of laundry to do, a fridge to stock, bags to unpack, and a pile of mail (both real and virtual) to open. What to do first? Well, isn't it obvious? I'm going to ignore all of that and write a blog post.

It's quite grey and gloomy here. Not cold, particularly; it's about 10 degC today, so yahboo sucks to all those who's first question on learning of where we live is 'isn't it freezing over there?' (Mind you I think I'll be less smug about the answer if you ask me the same thing come the end of the month). And it's good to be home.

Not so good though that I'm not looking ahead to next year; specifically to Saturday 25th June and the Cybermummy conference. I've made a leap of faith and have booked an early bird ticket -having enjoyed the last one so much I didn't want to miss out on the chance to do so again next time - but it did occur to me that there may be some people out there who didn't go to in July and are unsure what to expect if they go to the next one. And it would be a real shame if, because of that, they don't go; one of the fantastic things about mummy blogging is that there is a constant stream of new recruits as new parents come online in search of support / entertainment / ratification / escape / camaraderie and find it all of those and more through blogs.

This, then, is a post I wrote a few days after the first Cybermummy conference; as ever it's highly subjective as all it will give you is my personal point of view of the day. Then again, isn't all blogging essentially about an individual's point of view? In any case, maybe it will help encourage anyone unsure of what to expect from the next conference to make their own leap of faith and come along too...

July 6th, 2010

At the parent's in law, still in London. The sounds of 'Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang' drift out from the sitting room where the boys are spending a glorious morning ensconced in front of the box... (don't judge me; it's week 3 of the school holidays. WEEK 3! And it's only July 6th!) Every now and again Boy #1 bursts out into the dining room where I'm tapping away on the lap top to ask pertinent questions like 'It's the same man in this as in Mary Poppins. Does that mean that Bert has two jobs?' and to exclaim 'No! No!' when the pirates sail over the horizon. I'm currently on standby for when the odious Child Catcher appears since I have no doubt my presence will be required to ward off his advances...

It's all a very long way from Saturday when I joined 200 other delegates at the Cybermummy event in Earl's Court.

Nixdminx summed up the day pretty well for me in a post yesterday when she asked the question 'Cybermummy or Womanhood?' So many different women, so many different lifestyles, but all part of this phenomen and all giving a voice to their experiences of being a woman and a mother.

Before I started blogging I have to admit that I thought of bloggers as people who sought solace and companionship in cyberspace because they couldn't find it in the real world. Bloggers, I thought, probably didn't wash very much. The curtains on their homes were usually shut. They played fantasy games on the internet, and ate a lot of take-aways. They certainly didn't do the laundry, the school run, hold down a job,or juggle a family's schedule. Then - almost by mistake and entirely thanks to Pig in the Kitchen - I became a blogger myself, and suddenly the preconceptions that I had previously had became those of others about me, others who knew nothing about this new and vibrant world that I had stumbled into.

To start with, I didn't really tell anyone about my on-line life. I was worried what they might think of me (given my own previous prejudices, for example), I was worried that they might - the horror! - read what I wrote. But over time, I gained confidence and started to share with close friends what I was doing. I even told my Husband the address after a close friend of his took the trouble to find the blog on google (never forget; you might think your blog is anonymous but if it contains even a kernel of truth about your life, you're not. Bear that in mind when you hit publish...).

And then I took the final leap into linking my real-life with my on-line life; I met another blogger.

As I stood and waited for her to arrive I have to admit that I did wonder what the hell I was doing. One of the issues that seems to come up time and again for bloggers is the hypocrisy of repeatedly warning your older children about 'the weirdo's on the internet' and the absolute no-go of ever meeting them in person - and then going to do exactly that yourself. What if she turned out to be some sort of psycopath who bore no resemblance to the warm and witty person I knew online? What if she turned out to be some kind of internet stalker? What if this meeting turned into a special feature in The Daily Mail, a tale of horror, the apparently sympathetic tone of the article heavily underscored with the unspoken suggestion that 'she should have known better; no good can ever come from the interweb?'

Of course, that's not how it turned it out at all. Frog in the Field and I had a great time; so great in fact that when she roped me in to a special screening for mummy bloggers of 'Chuggington' a few weeks later I didn't hesitate to say yes. And that's where I met 'A Modern Mother', and Jo Beaufoix amongst others. A couple of weeks later when the former asked us to be part of a new ning she was setting up, instead of replying 'what on earth is a ning?' I answered yes, and that's how I ended up in Earl's Court on Saturday, surrounded by yet more warm and witty people who I had also met on the internet.

It was wonderful. For a start, everybody there had washed. There were no drawn curtains, no take-away cartons (at least, not during the day. I can't speak for later after a few glasses of wine had been consumed, obviously...) And I can't sum up my feelings about the day better than to quote something from an e-mail that a good friend of mine - who, whilst I had never met her in person before Saturday most definitely fits that description - sent afterwards, and which I think applies to just about everyone I spoke to at Cybermummy;

'I loved meeting you. You are so very YOU!'