Tuesday 30 March 2010

What a difference...

...2 days make.

Sunday morning.

We're on holiday - skiing - in France. We drop Boy #1 off at his first lesson at Ecole de Ski Francais, in the hope that he can learn just how much fun it is to encase your legs in what feels like cement, strap a couple of bendy boards to your feet, and go against all your natural instincts to take them straight off again, instead pushing yourself off down a slope of icy coldness to what seems like (the first time you do it) certain death.

The drop-off does not go well. There are tears, tantrums, and Husband and I are seriously questioning whether our older son will ever 'get' the fun (because obviously, that's what it is) in skiing.

Tuesday morning.

I join Boy #1 half way through his third lesson to supervise break-time whilst their teacher takes some of his other pupils back down the mountain to meet their parents. The daughter of the family we are on holiday with - and who is also joining Boy #1 in ski school - is adamant that she has had enough for the day and that she wants to go home too. Boy #1, on the other hand, decides that perhaps a little bit longer wouldn't hurt, and manages to persuade her otherwise.

I look on, amazed, as 15 minutes later the barely-shaving-yet 19 year old teacher takes them both up the moutain and skis down an intermediate track with them. Boy #1 is skiing without poles and putting in perfect turns as he goes down the slope behind him, making little jumps on command and snow-ploughing to a stop when required.

He's having the time of his life, and I'm not sure I've ever been prouder; not because he's doing so well (although he is), but because Boy #1 has overcome his perfectly natural and understandable lack of confidence in an alien environment, has felt the fear, and has done it anyway.

In the paradox that is motherhood, of course, this gives me mixed feelings. He's growing up. This is amazing, wonderful, and a joy to behold. And a little bit scary, too; every step he takes - with me cheering him on from the sidelines - makes his obvious needs for me less. So as he learns to let go, I have to learn to let go too...

Monday 29 March 2010

We're OK - you're OK...

I remember back in the 1980's and 1990's, living in London, that friends and family would call just to check I was OK whenever any kind of terrorist attack happened there. Never mind that - like Motherhood, the Final Frontier said in an e-mail she sent me this morning - I was living in a city of 8 million people and the chances of my being affected by any of them were extremely remote; people still felt the urge to check. I'm grateful that they took the time to reach out, really I am. I have to admit that I had forgotten all about that aspect of living in a temporarily besieged city when we heard this morning by e-mail of the attacks this morning on the Moscow Metro.

So apologies for my not having posted earlier to let anyone concerned know that not only we were not directly affected, but that we're not even in Russia this week (hence the radio silence on the blog). We're skiing, in France, thank god, far from terrorist bombs and the carnage that no doubt took place in those stations this morning.

More of our adventures on the slopes tomorrow, but in the meantime thanks again to everyone who has e-mailed and left a comment on my last post to check that we're OK; I really appreciate the sentiment that led you to get in touch.

Friday 26 March 2010

The Keys to My Heart...

Me: "So, do you know why I'm calling?"

Husband: "Ummm. No?"

Me: "I'm sitting outside the house, and - where is my door key? Is it still in your pocket?"

Husband: "No! Absolutely not!"

Me: "Well, I don't have it. Can you just check?"

Husband: "I gave it back to you."

Me: "When?"

Husband: "Before we left. You asked me for it, I went upstairs and called down that I found it."

Me: "I know. And then I called up that when you came out you should lock the door with it, and that I was going to put the boys in the car, start it and wait for you."

Husband: "No, that's not what happened. I gave you the key and then you said I should lock the door and I had to go upstairs and look for mine because I had given you yours and... I definitely gave it to you."

Me: "I don't remember that. Did that happen? Are you sure?"

Husband: "Yes, it happened!"

Me: "Well, I don't have my key, so can you just look in your coat pocket. Please?"

Silence for around 30 seconds. Then...

Husband: "I have your key."

Me (unable to keep this frankly unhelpful comment to myself): "You do know that the second part of that conversation took place entirely in your head, don't you?"

Note: I, of course, am a saint in human form and this conversation never takes place in reverse. Never, I tell you...

Thursday 25 March 2010

This is NOT a photo blog...

... but apparantly, this - according to the birds and the locals - is what passes for early Spring in Moscow.


(And I know it's Spring because Dawn at Little Green Fingers said so...)

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Gallery #4: 'Me'

Tara's prompt for this week's Gallery is 'Me'. This is a tricky one as I have a standing agreement with my husband that I will not post photos of any of our faces, so I spent the last few days thinking of clever ways to photograph the' inner Potty Mummy' without actually showing what I look like. I hatched plans that included crumpled Green & Black's wrappers, books with bent spines, the computer, children's toys, and a Russian dictionary, but frankly since I'm not a professional photographer everything just came out looking like the contents of my handbag had been upended on a table, dust and all...

Instead, here is a photo of my right hand, which at a stretch could be said to representative of me; it's not the most beautiful you've ever seen ('builder's hands' run in our family), nor is it the ugliest (at least, I hope not), but it works.

I've used it to type more words than I care to think about, it's the hand with which I sign my name, the one I prefer when holding my children's hands, the one I use to wipe their noses and bottoms, which I use to support them when I'm pushing them along on bikes and scooters, and the one which I automatically use when presenting my credit card to pay for stuff.

It's the one I hold my passport in when we travel, which I use to key in my cashpoint number, and with which I scratch my head or rub my eyes when I'm perplexed.

It's the one I doodle with in boring meetings, and the one I use to tap along to music when I'm listening to Xfm and pretending to be down with the kids.

It's the one I use to dial my husband's mobile phone number when he's travelling and I've got the con at home, and the one I use to put on my make-up and fluff up my hair.

In short, it's an essential part of me.

(And I do hope other people's pictures are more interesting....)

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Making up ground...

I've always been a bit of a bookworm. Which is probably why, when I was informed that Boy #1 had fallen behind in his reading since he arrived at his new school, I took it as something of a challenge and decided to do my best to rectify the situation.

I know why this - his reading regression - has happened, of course. When we arrived here, my primary concern was that he settled in well; that he made new friends; that he felt relaxed, confident, and at ease in the different system he is now in. The last thing I wanted to do was to push him. It worked. He is now so at ease he has slipped back at least 6 months in his reading ability and when recently tested has come up at 'below grade' level.

Below grade?


MY son?How can this have happened? His reading was fine - better than fine - when we left London. But now, well it appears that repetition is the key, and we just haven't been doing that.

(As a side note, this is where my studying Russian is proving worth it's weight in gold; I can sympathise a lot more than I would otherwise have done with his struggles to understand and sound out words, because he sounds just like I do when doing my homework...)

So we've been spending a few minutes each day working on his reading, and in an effort to get him enthused about it, I've made sure to get him involved in the selection of the books that we get from the library so that he actually wants to do it.

This is all well and good, but it does mean that most of our reading matter is confined to one of three topics; animals, dinosaurs and superheroes.

And that in turn means that... well, see for yourself.

Me: "OK, let's start."

Boy #1: "I am Tri-cer-a-tops. I am a dinosaur and I am big and strong. I have three spiky horns on my head - oh, mama, look at that horn, it's really small, if he was attacked by a T-rex the top two would probably go in but the bottom one wouldn't, and do you think that would work, because t-rex's are really fierce and they attack without warning and - oh yes, the book.... and I have a bony frill on my neck. The bony frill was for protecting him, did you know that? And Triceratops would only eat plants but they could protect themselves yes they could and you know they were able to defend themselves against the meat eaters and..."

Me: "Shall we turn the page?"

Boy #1: "Yes. I look fierce but I am quite gentle. But not with scary dinosaurs he wasn't, was he? With scary dinosaurs, like the allosaurus or the t-rex they could defend themselves and look after their young and their eggs and...."

So. It's taking a while...

Sunday 21 March 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

So we're moving from last week's newest member of BMB to one of the more long-standing ones...

Do you ever get depressed? Not 'God, I'm so fed-up with my life, I want change, I used to be young and pert and look at me now, and there has to be more to existing than this constant round of laundry, washing up, school runs and clocking in and out of the office, and isn't it wine-o'clock yet?'

No, we've all been there. What I'm talking about is real depression. Depression with a capital 'D'. You can't think straight, you can't move forward, you are mired in guilt, panic and white noise. Stasis is the name of your game. Putting on the wash is an achievement, paying the bills and making plans is inconceivable.

All your energies are taken up by simply just getting from one day to the next. You can't focus on anything other than how terrible you feel, you know you're worrying your nearest and dearest but you can't just 'snap out of it' (no matter how many times well-meaning people tell you to), and all that your awareness of their worry achieves is to make you feel even more powerless and to retreat further into your misery.

I've been part of the way there. My overriding impulse, a few years back, was to go into the cupboard off our kitchen, turn off the light, and sit there in darkness, all the better to block out the static and confusion. Thankfully, with understanding support and an excellent counsellor I was able to work my through it, but there are many for whom it's not that simple.

This week's British Mummy of the Week, Reluctant Memsahib, has a mother who is metaphorically trapped in her kitchen cupboard right now. RM writes of herself:

'That I am a third generation Celt in Africa, means I am a Memsahib, like it or not. I’d rather be mama or dada (sister) or – especially – simply addressed by name. None would bear bloody colonial connotation. But no, third generation and white, African logic (or quiet humour) dictates I am memsahib.'

She lives in Tanzania in a far-flung spot she calls The Outpost, and writes of her life balancing between that world, with her husband, and the one that most of us inhabit, which is where her children and family can be found. And she also writes beautifully, openly and movingly of dealing with Depression as an unwanted guest at her family's table.

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Saturday 20 March 2010

Small Triumphs

This morning, driving to the supermarket, I was listening to the radio, and in amongst the mix of Russian techno, Russian hip-hop and British and American 80's pop, the weather came on. Today's high will be +2 degC, and the low will be -4 degC.

This is significant for two reasons; firstly, the temperature is above freezing (in fact it's raining, something I've not seen here since we arrived). So the Russians and the birds might actually be right - Spring is finally here.

And the second reason?

The weather announcement was in Russian.

And I understood it.

You've come a long way, baby...*

*And apologies if that sounds smug but I need to mark positive progress somehow!

Thursday 18 March 2010

Driving me crazy...

The subject of Moscow traffic is looming large in my blog right now, I know. I apologise for that; after this post I promise to write about something else - until at least next Tuesday, anyway....

Years ago, back in the mid 1990's when Husband was living in Moscow the first time round, he used to regale me with tales of how crazy the roads could get over here.

I heard stories of taxi drivers reaching into their glove compartments and pulling out bottles of vodka which, rather than drinking, they would then - whilst driving, and through an open window - tip all over their windscreen to clear away the muck. (Why? Well, it was cheaper than screen wash and of course wouldn't freeze in the low temperatures.)

He talked about how, on a Friday afternoon before a bank holiday weekend, the roads out of town were so busy that on highways without a central reservation the outgoing traffic would simply encroach on the inbound side of the road until all 6 lanes were taken up by cars leaving Moscow.

He talked of corrupt traffic police who, having pulled you over on a technicality, would simply fine you whatever you had in your wallet, and he described the closure of entire motorways for VIP's to use on their way into work on a Monday morning from their out-of-town dachas.

Ridiculous stories, surely? Urban myths, obviously. Except, as I'm sure you've guessed, all as true as the fact that I still haven't shed that last half a stone of babyweight 4 years after Boy #2 arrived. Today, however, sitting in a queue for a traffic light, I experienced a new one. The light was taking a long time to change - far longer than it normally did. In fact, when I checked the time I realised I'd been sitting there for 15 minutes without moving. 'Great', I thought. 'The (expletive deleted) lights are broken.'

But a couple of minutes later, the steady stream of traffic crossing the lights in front of me made way as a cavalcade - complete with flashing blue lights at either end - sped through it. And 30 seconds after it had gone through, the lights changed to green.


I would hate to say that Russia is a country where traffic stops for you and lights change in your favour if you're important enough, but...

Wednesday 17 March 2010

The Gallery #3; Blue

When I saw Tara's prompt for this week's Gallery - colour - I knew immediately which photo I would post.

Husband took it 2 1/2 years ago when we were on holiday somewhere exotic (can you tell it was pre-credit crunch?). We have a framed print of this photo on the window in our sitting room - somewhat ironic as it's backdrop at the moment is a snowy landscape comparable to Narnia...

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday 16 March 2010

He's got wheels...

Boy #2 has inherited a bike from our one of our neighbours. It's a little creaky, a little stiff, and at no point has both stabilisers touching the ground at the same time, but he loves it with a passion. The moment it arrived he wanted to try it out; never mind that it was 6.00pm, minus 5degC and getting darker by the minute; he was determined to get on it and make tracks. Once he did, I was treated to a running commentary on how cool he looked, how blue and yellow (the livery of the bike) are his favourite colours, and how he was such a big boy when he was riding it.

In the two days since he has climbed onto it first thing in the morning and doggedly pedalled through the snow (with a little help from mama who, I don't mind telling you, is getting a more than slightly achey back as a result) along the roads in our compound to the gate nearest Boy #1's school for drop-off and pick-up.

Boy #1 has also been lent a bike until his own turns up from London (which I am assured should be very soon), but is nowhere near as enthusiastic about using it. This may be because it is, in fact slightly too small for him, or - as he has informed me - that stabilisers are for babies and once his own bike arrives he wants them taken off. Or it may be that cycling across ice and snow looks like rather too much hard work for a 6 year old with nothing to prove, when he can scuff along dragging on my arm instead (did I mention already that my back is aching?).

In any case, it's Boy#2 who is cutting a dash through the compound on two wheels, not looking where he is going and assuring me in a matter-of-fact tone that 'it's alright mama, it's alright...' when he ends up lying in the snow as a result. Thank heavens for padded teflon-coated snow gear, is all I can say...

Once we reach the edge of the compound he unwillingly leaves the bike safely at the gatehouse, and we walk the last few yards to drop Boy #1 off at class. Then a few minutes later, it's back up the hill for the bike's proud owner to reclaim it for the trip home.

After he's struggled on to the slightly-too-high saddle, I push him up the slight incline, asking every now and again if perhaps, 'Boy #2, you could actually pedal...', and suggesting that if he wants to stay upright it might be a good idea to stay on the tarmac rather than to tangle with the gravel path along the edges.

And I watch his determined, proud little face, so grown up and yet still so much my little boy, and I know.

I am blessed.

Monday 15 March 2010

Conversations with my Russian Teacher: #1

Outwardly Russian women and Western European women are much the same. Perhaps the former are a little more glitzy in their fashion choices, and less conflicted about the issue of wearing fur, but other than that the format of their lives is not so different. Generally they are faced with juggling work, family, love, ambition, etc in much the same way as you might expect of women elsewhere.

Under the surface, however, expectations and Russian society norms are - for many women - slightly further back along the scale of feminist evolution than you might expect...

It's Monday morning a couple of weeks ago. Ludmilla, my Russian teacher, is explaining to me that in Russian nouns have different genders (dammit). Luckily - at least at the level at which I'm learning - there are various rules to help you work out which words are masculine, feminine and neuter. (Oh, you didn't think it was going to be as easy as just the two genders, did you Potty Mummy? Poor deluded soul...)

So, the gender of most words can be worked out fairy easily; it simply depends on how the word ends. There are some, however, that are irregular; they defy all the rules, and are feminine, masculine or neuter simply because they are...

Ludmilla was trying to give me some handy hints to use when trying to remember which gender these irregular nouns should be when not being massacred by an ignorant Brit (bear with me please; this does get more interesting...)

Ludmilla: "So, bed and door are feminine. Even though their endings look like they could be masculine."

Me: "OK...."

Ludmilla: "The way I illustrate it is like this. The woman makes the bed - so it's feminine..."

Me: "Right." (I let this pass - much as I would like to disagree, in our house it is me who makes the bed 90% of the time).

Ludmilla: "And, the woman opens the door to her husband when he gets home from work, so that's feminine too."

I look at her blankly.

Ludmilla: "You don't open the door to your husband?"

Me: "Well, in England, traditionally men are supposed to hold open doors for women, so..."

Ludmilla: "Yes, yes I know. But at the end of the day when he comes home. You don't open the door up for him?"

Me: "Are you crazy? He can open it himself!"

Ludmilla looks at me. I look at her. And based on that, and on a previous conversation we had about stay at home mothers working, she now think that I am a militant feminist. Whenever we discuss doors and beds in our Russian lessons, she raises her hand and makes a fist in a sort of Wolfie Smith 'power to the people'-type salute...

Note: I do think of myself of a feminist. But surely expecting my husband to open the front door himself at the end of the day can't be classified as militant?

Sunday 14 March 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Happy Mother's Day one and all... I hope you're having a good one, and are being plied by your nearest and dearest with breakfast in bed, hot and cold running newspapers, refreshments and flowers on tap, and lunch out somewhere suitably lovely.

Obviously, none of that has happened here.

But my day so far has featured a walk through a snowy wood in sunshine bright enough to require sunglasses, thrills and spills on the sledging hill, and an eyeful courtesy of a (quite fit looking) gentleman who chose the moment we stopped to investigate the swimming hole in the local frozen lake to strip off completely and have a quick dip.

So I guess today hasn't been all bad...

This week's British Mummy Blogger of the week just happens to be - at the time of writing this post - BMB's most recent member. Fiona Strachan writes of herself that she is blogging about adoption, attachment, parenting & family life, and that:

I blog about experiences of adoption from my perspective as an adoptive parent - a bit of personal stuff and some handy hints type stuff.

Fiona Strachan's blog is a window onto a world that many of us on BMB have no experience of. As she writes in her most recent post, although she may not have been a mum to her children from birth, she is 'Mum in all the important day to day ways that matter now.'

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Thursday 11 March 2010

A sort of form-less rant...

So much to write about, so little energy...

I should be sitting learning verbs and ordinals for my Russian lesson tomorrow (and no, before Wednesday this week I didn't know that 'ordinals' is the collective noun used to refer to 'first, second, third, fourth' etc etc either. What it is to have a private UK education, eh?). But sod that. Instead, I'm going to blog about the grist that keeps the mill of expat life in Moscow - and, I know, in a lot of places elsewhere - moving round. You guessed it. The Cleaning Lady.

I've written about my relationships with cleaners before, and to be honest for all my good intentions to be more business like and less appeasing once I arrived here, I find myself unable to do it.

I think the problem is, I ask questions about their lives. And now I know too much about them.

The cleaners in our little expat corner of Moscow are, by and large, Philippino. And they are, sometimes, taken for granted and advantage of. These are women who have travelled thousands of miles from their homes to the frozen north for the opportunity to earn enough money to support their families back home, to send their children to school, to pay for those children's university educations, to build a house for them and their parents to retire to. In short, to find some way to make a better life.

It's a simple equation, you might think. Come to Russia (or England, or the US, or the Middle East, or the Far East or really, practically anywhere), and spend a few years working your socks off to accumulate enough cash to take home and meet whichever goal it is you've set yourself. But it comes at a very high price.

Most of these women are not spring chickens. Despite their often youthful looks, many of them are early to mid-thirties and have left young families behind them to be cared for by their grandparents. It's often 2 years or more between visits home, and I've met some Philippinos who have children as young as 4 and 5 years old waiting for them. They work seven days a week - if they can - and all the hours god sends, all the better to earn money to pay off the comparatively high price they've paid to get here, and to save enough to go home sooner. In order to keep their costs down they often live 4 or 5 to a room, and spend very little money on themselves.

In addition to the job of cleaning and nannying (which in itself can be hard manual labour), and which many of them are over qualified for, having previously worked at completely different jobs back home before being seduced by the lure of quick, but definitely not easy money, they are subjected to various forms of harassment. To start with, the local population are sometimes not what you might call welcoming; Muscovites are not particularly open to those of ethnicities different to their own (recent studies have found that up to 60% of Africans living in the city have been subjected to racist attacks, for example).

Added to that there is a certain level of constant exploitation of vulnerable groups by more powerful ones. Just this week I was told that many of the cleaners in our area were late because they were being targeted by the police who had staked out the building a lot of them live in as they left for work. Understandably, a large number of them decided to wait it out avoid confrontation, by not leaving for work until the police had found something more worthwhile to do.

In addition, once they do make it to work, some of these women are treated less than well by their employers. It's a story from a different country but a friend recently told me how, when he was working in the Middle East, he was berated by a client who informed him that all the expats were ruining the market in Philippino cleaners for the locals. When my friend asked why, the answer he was given? Because the expats let their cleaners / maids out. Onto the streets. Where all they are going to do is spend all their money and get pregnant.

Unbelievable, right?

Sadly, not. And there are people everywhere who think this way. Some friends of mine who have been in Moscow for a while now decided a couple of years back to host an annual Christmas lunch in their home for the Phillippino community; a sort of a 'thankyou' for all the hard work and support they give (over and above financial rewards, obviously). It's a great success; they have a lot - a LOT - of guests that day. And yet there are people (employers) who don't get it. One half of the couple who hosts this lunch, not so long ago, was told by an acquaintance of a crazy family who - get this! - invites loads of Philippino's into their house at Christmas and feeds them! Waits on them, in fact! No, really! Who would do such a thing?

Ahem, said our friend. That would be me. (End of conversation).

I could go on. But I won't, because for every story of bad treatment and lack of courtesy there are many examples of these ladies being treated with respect and being made to feel part of the family. And even more importantly, most of them appear to eventually reach their goal and accumulate enough cash to go home.

I really hope and pray that it's worth it.

Note: in the interests of full disclosure; yes, we do have a Philippino cleaner working for us. Because, just like back home, not many locals want to do such a job - and neither do I...

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Somewhere between 30 and 50...

- or countless, depending on how you look at it. And no, I'm not talking about my age; I'm participating in Tara's Gallery again.

I took this photo on Sunday, mainly because I've been amazed by the size of the snowflakes here. Having grown up in the UK the only snowflakes I normally see are wet and soppy just-about-to-melt affairs. In Russia, however, sometimes they're so large you can actually see their shape with the naked eye, so I thought I'ld photograh a few to record that.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Baby steps

If you've been following our adventures in Moscow, you may have picked up on the fact that I'm trying to learn enough Russian to get by. Quite what 'getting by' actually means is up for debate, of course; does it mean being able to say 'good morning' to the lady at the supermarket check-out? To walk into the farmer's market and request 3 teaspoonful's of mace and a couple of nutmegs? To be able to order 500 Rubles-worth of petrol at the gas station, perhaps? Or to tell the babushka elbowing you from behind to back off and that personal space might not be important to her but it is to you?

Well, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll even get off the starting blocks on anything except the good mornings and the good afternoons. This is me trying to recap some of my homework before my next Russian lesson tomorrow. Admittedly, I was pushing my luck; the Boys and I had just finished dinner so they were still at the table with me as I was leafing through my index cards showing useful words...

Me: "Monday: Понедельник. Tuesday: Вторник."

Boy #2: "Mama! Mama! Can you wipe my thumb?"

Me: "Ummm - yes. Come here. What is it - oh, don't tell me. Now, Tuesday: Вторник..."

Boy #1: "How do you spell my name in Russian, mama? How?"

Me: "Well, it doesn't look the same but it sounds it..." (I translate it. Much hilarity follows at the ridiculous Cyrillic alphabet, most of which I'm inclined to agree with - I mean 33 letters? Far too many of which sound different depending on whether they are preceded by a vowel, a consonent or are stressed? I'll give them 'stressed' for Pete' sake...)

Me: "OK. Tuesday: Вторник. Wednesday: Среда. Thursday: Четверг..."

Boy #2: Mama! Mama! (Climbs up behind me on my chair, puts his hands over my eyes, ruffles my hair, generally does an impression of a limpet). What am I?

Me: "I don't know, Boy #2. Nothing I can say out loud. Can you just get down for a moment so I can concentrate on this please?" (I unceremoniously dump him off the chair and try to continue. My index cards get knocked on the floor in the ensuing scuffle. I pick them up and find I am now looking at the number section rather than days of the week. Oh well... Numbers it is, then...)

Me: "Eighteen: восемнадцат. Nineteen: девятнадцать. Twenty: двадцать."

Boy #1: "Mama, what did this fish pie cost in Rubles?"

Me: "Oh, well, the fish cost... "

Boy #2: "I need the LOO! I need it now! Mama, can you come and wipe my bottom? Can you? Can you turn the light on?" (He waddles off towards the bathroom, trousers and pants already round his ankles in readiness, and trips over a power ranger abandoned in the hall)

Boy #1: "How much did you say, Mama?"

Me: "I can't remember. I can't remember anything at all, actually. (Heavy sigh). Sod it. Who'ld like some chocolate ice-cream?"

And just in case you're wondering, 'chocolate ice-cream' is 'Шоколадное мороженое' in Russian. Thank god for Google translate; at least I'll be able to make myself understood about the important stuff...

Sunday 7 March 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Not so long ago I met my new neighbour. She's mid-50's, Russian, and speaks a little English. Not a lot of English, it's true, but certainly more than I speak Russian. She is hoping that with me next door her command of English might improve, and that we can spend some time together occasionally so we can both work on our language skills.

This is fine. This is good, I tell her, I would love to do that. She gets very excited by that prospect, and starts planning a trip out. But not just any trip out. No, this is a trip to the 7th circle of hell for your average repressed English woman. Because apparently, her work has use of one of the finest banya's in town - and I now have a standing invitation to join her and her work colleagues to go and sweat in a steamy room, drinking tea, and beating myself with a bunch of birch twigs before jumping into an ice cold bath any second or fourth Wednesday of the month that I feel like it.

Starkers. Obviously. Funnily enough, I haven't booked it in yet. (I know, I know I should. In my own words, 'it's an adventure!' and all that. But there are limits to my adventuresome-ness, and I'm afraid that you can take the girl out of the convent...)

Sitting naked in a room of complete strangers chatting to each other in a different language, letting it all hang out, and periodically batting myself with a bunch of twigs? That's a situation that that this week's British Mummy Blogger of the Week - braver than me, it goes without saying - has personal experience of. Heather at Notes from Lapland writes (and vlogs) about life with her family in the far north and says of herself:

'My name is Heather, stay at home mum to The Girl (born 2006) and The Boy (born 2008), writer and poop scooper extraordinaire. Originally from Rochdale, Lancashire (UK) I now live 50kms outside Kuusamo, in northern Finland. I'll let you into a little secret. I don't really live in Lapland. I live about 20kms south of it, but Notes From Nearly Lapland didn't have quite the same ring to it, some how. Besides which, what's 20kms between friends, right?'

For the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too).

Thursday 4 March 2010

Why? Just... Why?

You can't get proper sausages in Moscow. Not British sausages, at any rate. I know it's not just in Russia that this is the case since I'm not alone in this particular expat lament: I have a girlfriend who left the UK for the US a few years ago and who comes back with her family every summer, not only to reconnect with her roots and family, but at least in part to gorge on home-grown sausages.

And frankly, who wouldn't? They're all the things one shouldn't eat; fatty, full of god-knows-what, cholesterol-raising little bites of heaven. And for some crazy reason, they don't seem to be available over here.

Oh, there is talk of sausages, yes. But they're either frankfurters or salami-type creations, not crispy-on-the-outside-melting-on-the-inside-deliciousness occasions of culinary sin like they are back home. And whilst I would hate to give you the wrong impression of our usually healthy diet consisting only of processed food and convenience snacks (who, me?) I do believe in moderation in all things so in the UK, once every few weeks, sausages would show up on the menu at Restaurant Potty.

Since we've been in Moscow, however? Just the once. Let me tell you why.

In the absence of our beloved British sausages I decided to give frankfurters a try. Well, the Boys had eaten them at a friend's in the UK, and from what I could see they were quite easy to cook. Just grill or boil them, right? Not ever having cooked them at home I had no experience here so it was by pure chance that I decided to go with the boiling approach rather than grilling them. If I had done the latter I think the first time I would have realised they were encased in a coat you are supposed to remove before eating would have been when the hot plastic hit the roof of my mouth (or, even worse, the Boys'). Don't panic though - for the speed readers amongst you who didn't follow that sentence completely, I did not grill them. No, I boiled them, and luckily spotted - and removed - their plastic jackets (which I'm afraid to say reminded me unfortunately of - well - you know) before the sausages made it onto a serving plate.

But no, it's not the plastic coating that inspired the title of this post. That comes from the moment I cut the frankfurters open before giving them to the Boys, just to check that eyes and teeth weren't too much in evidence. (What? What do you think goes into these things?). And, no, I didn't find any visible identifiable remains. But what I did find was mayonnaise.

Inside the frankfurter. Speckled through it, actually, like little lumps of fat.

I dry-heaved - and you have my permission to do the same.

(In fact, you'll be in good company if you do, as if Footballer's Knees is reading this I know she will already have done so because she did exactly that when I told her this sorry tale at our family lunch last weekend).

This being zero-hour, however, and having no other dinner options for Boys #1 and #2, I'm ashamed to say that I did serve these abominations up - de-jacketed, obviously - along with steamed veggies and baked potatoes.

And in the usual way of things, these frankfurters being hideously 'wrong' and just about as revolting a thing as I have ever cooked, the Boys loved them.

What it is to have a discerning audience, eh?

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The Gallery

I'm taking part in Tara at Sticky Finger's photo Gallery and the prompt for this week is 'Beauty'.

I've been lucky enough to visit some beautiful places and have even - occasionally - remembered to take my camera out of my bag to record them. The picture above was taken from a water plane over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and I think it fits this week's theme perfectly.

One of these days I may even get around to printing it out so that I can look at it in the depths of our Russian winter and remind myself of a time when I was warm!

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Hitting The Wall

I wrote this post yesterday and considered not using it today as things now seem much brighter. However, I decided to as; a) waste not want not, and b) I want this blog to record the low points of our time in Russia as well as the skating and the snow scenes...

So all the books and websites on becoming an expat tell me that I will probably hit 'the wall' around 3 months in to our relocation to Moscow. 'The Wall' that is, as in wondering what the hell I'm doing here, despairing at the fact that I am, and desperately wanting to go home.

Well, I do hate to be late for things. And since we have now been here for just under 9 weeks (I know, because I just counted back in my diary), I thought I might as well get the whole 'wall' thing over and done with at around 2pm this afternoon.

Today was never going to be a good day.

It's our first day back in Russia after a week spent at home catching up with friends and family in temperatures of over -15degC, and our next scheduled trip to do so isn't before July. (JULY!) Add to that the fact that the Potski family was tired after a 12 hour journey yesterday combined with 3 hour time difference (it doesn't seem much, but you try telling that to two small boys who's body clocks are telling them when you wake them in the dark for school that it's only 4am), that the Monday morning traffic was particularly bad today after a short week last week for the Muscovites, that the car was running out of petrol (again), and the cow on the sat nav was sulking and had stopped talking to me.

Then there was an accident I couldn't navigate around (because there is literally no other road out of little haven in Moscow) that put me an hour behind schedule on my run to pick-up Boy #2 from nursery, and the minor issue that my mobile was running out of juice (one place you really don't want to be is on the road in Moscow without access to a phone in the case of a delay, incident with the traffic police or the possibility of speaking to your son's nursery to inform that you're going to be seriously late). Toss in a little detour through Moscow's hellish one-way systems as a result of trying to be clever and then taking the wrong turn, adding yet more time onto your journey, and what do you get?

Me, whimpering on the side of the road, and unsure if I was ever going to be able to get my car out of the snow-drift I was forced to park in. (Because even Moscow's admirably efficient street-cleaning team haven't been able to completely remove the evidence of the 60cm of snow that fell in one day whilst we were away last week). I couldn't even call anyone with the last sparks of power in my mobile (other than poor Husband who had already had born the brunt of it) because I was scared that if I opened my mouth to speak all that would come out would be a long wail along the lines 'I want to go hoooommmmeeeee!'


Tomorrow is another day.

All together now, repeat after me; This is An Adventure!