Monday 31 May 2010

Don't pukh me...

'cause I'm close to the edge...

Looks like snow, doesn't it? Don't be fooled; it's +22degCelsius here. No, the white spots on that picture are the result of it's being пух season in Moscow. This transposes into the Latin alphabet roughly as pukh (the 'kh' pronounced as the 'ch' in 'loch'), and refers to the vast quantities of down that float through the air at this time of year. I spent a frustrating half hour this morning trying to photograph it, but the photo above was the best I could do, so instead I'll have to use words to describe this seeming summer snow that arrives like a blizzard in the city every May and June.

It's the fluff that female poplar trees give out when they're feeling frisky (never knew trees had 'needs', did you?), and it's a real problem here. What normally happens - what should happen - is that the female poplar tree, once it works out through some mysterious tree tomtom that the seeds it's released have been fertisilised will stop producing them, so in most places the pukh season is - whilst quite pretty - mercifully brief.

Except, in Moscow. Enter Stalin.

Having built his mega-city of Moscow, it appears that he became depressed by the preponderance of concrete and the lack of green, so he ordered a few - if you can call 400,000 a 'few' - poplar trees to break things up, lift the spirits and ease the soul a little. There was just one problem which no-one had the nerve to point out. No-one told him that trees come in male and female, or that the consequence of ordering only the female of the species was that they become increasingly frustrated and rather than stopping production in a few days, as would happen normally, put out vast quantities of pukh for a much longer period of time.

I'm incredibly lucky not to be an allergy sufferer (unlike many others who are currently beating a trail to their doctors and hospitals), because there literally is no escape from this stuff. It gets everywhere, creeping in through open doors and windows, drifting into corners, piling up in drifts against the pavements, and even - during dry weather - causing a fire hazard when a spark or lit cigarette butt (of which there are many in this country of devoted smokers) touch it, as it's highly flammable.

Click here for the full story if you're interested. Personally I just want this itchy annoying stuff to go away, especially since I lost my prized sunglasses today - which I was wearing to protect my contact lenses from constant attack by it. Well, actually as a result of my own forgetfulness and leaving the glasses on a restaurant table, but I wouldn't have needed to wear them in the first place if there had been no pukh in evidence, so in my mind, it's those frustrated poplar trees fault. They owe me a new pair of Maui Jims.

I mean, frustrated poplar trees? What next?

Sunday 30 May 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

So it's Sunday evening already. The Boys are in bed, the washing up is done (well, actually it's not, but for the purposes of this post let's pretend that there is a quietly efficient maid in the kitchen who has cleared all the debris of our dinner away... What? A woman can dream, can't she?), and the sun is still high in the sky in the way it usually is at 9.00pm in the Russian summer. Husband and I are sitting at our dining room table tapping away on our laptops, both hoping that the other is going to get up soon and do something about the afore-mentioned washing up.

No doubt I will cave first...

It must, then, be time for this week's recommended British Parent Blogger. Who is it? Aha - you picked up on that clue - my use of the world 'parent' rather than 'mummy'. This week's tip, Matt at Frazzled Daddy, writes of himself:

'My name is Matt and I'm a dad. I wanted to blog about how hapless we are as parents but how those moments of intense frustration or feelings of helplessness can be unbelievably, ball-bouncingly funny. My experience of being a parent is that your always a heartbeat away from utter calamity and therein lies the magic.'

He's just started writing posts that recreate food from his favourite childhood fiction (can I suggest you check out 'It's the Bear!' for a picnic that's hard to beat here, FD?), and even though he's 6 years younger than I am, his list of why he's feeling old sounds far too familiar...

For the British Mummy Blogger Ning, click here. (Note: It says 'Mummy', but as should be clear from today's post, Dads can be members too...

Friday 28 May 2010

'I said, "do you speaka my language?"...

... and he just smiled, and gave me a vegemite sandwich.'*

Sometimes that's how I feel here in Russia; totally clueless when it comes to the language. Unlike my polyglot husband who annoyingly speaks 6 languages - including Russian - well, I'm not gifted in this area, but I do like to at least make the effort in whatever country I'm visiting. So I am trying with the Russian. At least, I'm trying very hard during my two one-on-one lessons of one and half hours every week, but for the life of me, I just can't seem to find the time in between to do my homework.

It's shocking really; here I am, 43 years old, and still not getting round to learning my vocabulary. The next thing I'll be confessing to is a liking for beans on toast at midnight and that every 3 years I re-read Jilly Cooper's finest novels. (Actually, no, that's not me. Although a certain blogger related to me by blood did confess to that very thing this evening.)

I know I have improved since arriving here; I can now listen to the radio and understand, oh, one word in 30 rather than none at all, which I suppose is something. And I even had a conversation yesterday with a purely Russian-speaking nanny where I made the sort of 'la plume de ma tante' statement you read in a text book and assume is nonsense and never relevant in real life. Until, that is you actually find yourself needing to say 'the dog is watching television through the window.' (Don't ask). Being able to do that is nice of course, but is hardly going to help if I need to explain to the traffic police why I crossed the white line in the middle of the road or to ask the security guards on the compound gate to let a particular car in to deliver my British style sausages... (Watch this space for how that goes. The possibilities for confusion are endless...)

This helplessness in reading and speaking Russian is having one beneficial side-effect, however. It means that I have been an awful lot more sympathetic to my older son's initial struggles with reading. Where previously I might have become frustrated at his inability to sound out words that seem so obvious to me, now - as someone who is struggling to read cyrillic at anything more than a slow crawl - I find myself much more understanding than I might otherwise have been. For example. This:

поттй муммй

reads 'Potty Mummy'. Not as a direct translation, you understand, just as the transposition of letters from one alphabet to another. Of course I have moved on from that point, but it's very confusing when you pronounce a 'B' as a 'V', a 'P' as an 'R', an 'X' as 'CH' (as in the end of 'loch'), and 'H' as 'N'. And those are just some of the letters that look similar; I won't bore you with the list of those that look like nursery school doodles (or is that just my handwriting?). And honestly; 33 letters in an alphabet? Is that really necessary?

So I'm a bit crap at Russian, to be honest. This is of course not helped by the fact that I am fast discovering - as we move further into the study of this language - that my school education was sorely lacking in the basics. Either that, or I've lost everything I ever knew on how to parse a sentence. (I prefer to blame my O-level English teacher for failing to give me the knowledge in the first place than to admit the latter). And when my teacher Ludmilla starts to explain how to use words correctly based on genetive, accusitive and dative cases, well, I'm afraid that my brain starts - ever so quietly - to steam. 'Can-not-compute' it tells me. 'Too-much-information. Need-diet-coke-now...'

This leaves me in an interesting position. Do I admit to her that not only does she need to teach me the fundamentals of Russian, but she needs to give me a refresher course in the English language too? Or do I just quietly go on line, order myself a text book, and add to the list of things that I never get round to doing as 'Basic English Grammar for Idiots and Women with Post Baby-Brain' sits next to my Russian notes, gathering dust reproachfully until I take it back to England with me and give it the church bazaar, still in it's wrapper?

Vegemite sandwich, anyone?

*Men at Work - in case you were wondering.

Guest Blog Day - Raid the Fridge!

I'm taking part in Little Mummy's Guest Post Day today, so you won't find me here, but wittering on about the contents of my fridge here instead, where Mummy Mishaps has been kind enough to lend me her blog. Back shortly, and in the meantime, enjoy a post from a completely different blogger!

Ok, so I am ‘babysitting’ Potty Mummy’s blog for the time it takes you to read this post!! We have agreed to swap posts as part of Little Mummy’s Guest Post Day! Despite not knowing you, I will be telling you all about the contents of my fridge – yikes! Shame this was not done at the start of the week when it was full of really healthy stuff J

Anyway, before I begin sharing my fridge secrets with you, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a 30 something first time Mummy to a 10 ½ month old baby boy and since having him I am a full time stay at home kinda girl now. I live in North Devon and am really enjoying my new role. I have only been blogging since April, but have already met some wonderful fellow bloggers, and am really enjoying writing my posts and sharing them. My blog name is Mummy Mishaps – so called because I am a tad clumsy and usually end up doing stupid things due to my forgetful and baby brained ways (well, got to use that as an excuse while I can!).

So, if you are ready then I will start my Guest Day Post.

Now my fridge actually looks quite tidy – I would like to point out that this was not done for the purpose of this post, I actually cleared it out last weekend so that was good timing! Now the fridge is split now in to 2 key areas – Burton’s food and food for me and his Daddy. Burton’s food is usually found on the 3rd shelf down and in the vegetable drawer, afterall, he has the healthiest diet of the three of us! So on his shelf you will find yoghurts, babybel cheese and homemade meals (in this case a bowl of beef casserole and some rice pudding).

The rest of the fridge is full of what we adults eat and considering it is almost the end of the week it is still looking quite full. Normally by now it would be looking a bit sorry for itself, which would create complaints by the OH as to why are we out of such and such. To which I reply “because the on line shop is not due until the weekend”. However, I am pleased that for once that is not the case otherwise this would be a VERY short post. So here is a list of what my fridge contains (in no particular order):

Main Body

3 types of butter – unsalted (for Burton), Clover & I Can’t Believe
Mature Cheddar
Red Leicester Cheese
Strawberry Jam
Tomato Puree
Garlic Puree
Organic Yoghurts
Rolo Desserts
An opened jar of roasted peppers
Branston Pickle
Minced Beef
Gammon Joint
Turkey slices


Heinz tomato ketchup (my fridge will not accept any other brand of ketchup!)
Salad Cream
M & S salad dressings – honey & mustard and scillian lemon (yeah I know – showing off here!)
Semi skimmed milk and gold top milk

Vegetable Drawer:

Half a sweet potato
Cherry tomatoes
Half a banana

Chilled Drawer:

Apple juice
White wine

I wonder what the contents of my fridge say about me and my family….hmmmm? What do you think? Probably similar to a lot of you I would imagine. I would like to add that normally there would be more vegetables in our vegetable drawer, but being almost end of the week I have run out and need to replenish it (remember – on line shop due at the weekend!). I tend to make our family meals from scratch, and it is important to me to use the best ingredients wherever possible especially for Burton.

So there you have it! I hope you have enjoyed this ‘cool’ (ahem!) post and if you would like to check out my blog you can find me at :

Thank you to Potty Mummy for allowing me on to her blog, and thank you for taking the time to read this 

Wednesday 26 May 2010

This might smart a bit...

Where do you draw The Line?

For me, it's putting the laundry away. And sewing on buttons. For one of my friends, it's tending to their swimming pool (give her a break, she lives in a very warm climate), and for another, it's stepping over used boxers on her way to the bathroom in the morning. For you, it could be picking up the change, receipts and crumpled tissues left on the hall table, putting the dirty coffee cups in the sitting room into the dishwasher, or moving the shoes littering the hall floor into the cloakroom.

What am I talking about?

I'm talking about the line that many of us draw in the sand where we say; that's It. That's the one thing I choose not to do for my husband/partner, because if I do that one thing - more than any other - I will know that once and for all I have given up the fight to treat you as a grown man, and have instead accepted that I have an extra child to care for.

It's insidious, isn't it? For many of us, it seems that one minute we are tripping along in a partnership of equals, where domestic tasks, whether they be household, financial, planning or child-care related are shared, and the next... Well, the next, we look at the minutae of our daily lives and realise that somewhere along the way something has gone wrong.

Somewhere along the line our generous offers to take up the slack when our partners seem particularly stressed, busy, or are simply too exhausted to function properly have become our expected roles. And without really registering it, we have become the constant care-giver, the person responsible for deciding what is to go on the table when, what the programme for the weekend might be, what colour the kitchen should be and - almost worst of all - the go-to person when a cursory man-look doesn't reveal the location of the remote control (where you left it, darling), the matches (by the candle-stick, sweetheart), or the napkin drawer (where it's been since we moved into this house 12 years ago, dear).

This, by the way, is not something peculiar to either stay at home or working mums. I see it happening everywhere, whether the mum is home full time, whether she works part-time,or whether her more than full-time outside the home job is far more demanding and exhausting than her husband's.

I'm surrounded, both here in Moscow and back in the UK, by bright, sensational, ambitious women who assumed when they settled down with the grown-up man of their choice that he would remain that way - a grown up - and who, swept up in the day to day havoc of family life turn around one day to be blindsided by the realisation that this is not the case.

And I don't know what the answer is.

I only know it makes me mad as hell.

So I will continue to leave my husband's clean laundry in a heap at the foot of our bed, boxers unfolded, socks not sorted, and shirts not hung up, in a gesture that feels childish and not at all graceful, but which helps me to maintain my sanity. Because that is where I have chosen to draw my Line.

Where's yours?

Note: This is a post that is less a reflection of my home life than what I see going on around me. And the anger may possibly be because I'm partway through an excellent book called 'The Price of Motherhood' recommended by Noble Savage and am feeling particularly sensitive to such issues, or simply because it's rained cats and dogs all day today... Whatever the reason though, surely this is still not an acceptable state of affairs?

The Gallery; Friendship

Tara's prompt for this week's Gallery was Friendship. This presented me with a problem - although not the one you might imagine. I have loads of pictures of my friends. Hundreds. Thousands, probably. It's just that when I started looking for them I realised that since the arrival of my sons, most photographic impulses have been limited to documenting them. And the photographs before? Well, all pre-digital, I'm afraid. And whilst we did pack a load of stuff to bring to Russia with us at the beginning of the year, unfortunately photo albums were not amongst them.

So just as I learned something from participating in last week's Gallery - namely, what's the point of being camera-shy, I'm part of this family and should be proud of showing that off - I've learned something from this weeks'. That is; it's time to start taking photos of my friends again, because they're definitely worth it.

In the meantime though, this is a photograph that Husband took when on holiday with a group of his university friends a couple of years back. It's a long story, but every 5 years or so those that can all get together and go away for a week (it's called a Lustrom - or something), without the distraction of wives, girlfriends or children, and re-establish the bonds they formed over 20 years ago.

Yep. Makes me mad with jealousy too. Can you imagine co-ordinating 15 girlfriends and persuading them they are able to leave their families for a week of fun and frolics somewhere gorgeous without a hefty proportion of them pulling out at the last minute due to an excess of guilt, other commitments or childcare issues? Probably not... And then, can you imagine managing to persuade those that DID make it to don skin-tight lycra and go out cycling for the day?

Me neither.

Monday 24 May 2010

Trade Fair

Boy #1 had a playdate (I know, I know, I hate the expression too but it does do what it says on the tin...) this afternoon. I'm not sure what he and his classmate have in common other than a shared obsession with Bakugan (see photo above - taken by Boy #1 - if you have no idea what these are), but their friendship works, so when he asked if he could have Friend S over today I agreed.

I had envisaged an couple of hours of loud voices (theirs, not mine), making - and tidying away - sandwiches, clearing up spilt drinks, and watching the two of them and Boy #2 chasing each other around the place.

What I hadn't envisaged was becoming Police Officer Mummy.

Unfortunately this is not the reference to a cops and robbers game that it might first appear. To put the following in context, as a relatively new arrival to Russia, a lot of Boy #1's toys are still not readily available here, and as such are objects of desire for other children.

So Police Officer Mummy is more of a reference to overhearing Friend S demanding that Boy #1 give him (not share, lend or trade) one of his treasured Ben 10 figurines. I hung back for a few minutes until it became clear that my son, whilst unwilling to part with his toy, was wilting under the onslaught of insistent demands, and then jumped in. I pointed out that this toy had been a birthday present to Boy #1 from his younger brother. I then pointed out that it was OK for Friend S to ask to borrow it, and that it was OK for him to ask to play with it whilst visiting. It was even OK for him to ask if Boy #1 wanted to trade his desirable figurine for something in Friend S's possession. But just asking for it?

I'm ashamed to admit that my inner Oldest Child -the one with issues about ownership -couldn't allow it.

Well, whatever my reasoning, Boy #1 looked very relieved, and Friend S backed off. He didn't really want it, he said.

But 5 minutes later I overheard him saying to Boy #1 "Come and hide under the stairs with me. There's something I want to talk to you about and I don't want your mum to hear..."

Question; what would you have done at this stage? Would you have walked away and let your son get on with it, working out how to fight his own battles, and probably losing custody of one of his beloved Ben 10 figurines in the process?

Or, would you have called out from the kitchen "You know, when I hear someone saying that 'I don't want your mum to hear' about something, I immediately start to wonder what that something might be..."

There was no loan or trade. Boy #1 was happily playing with said figurine this evening. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about which of the two routes above I took, but I wonder, what would you have done?

Sunday 23 May 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

Sunday morning. In reality, it's actually afternoon where I am now, but the time clock on my laptop actually tells me it's only 9.22am, since in an effort to feel connected to my former life, I've left it's default time setting as GMT... (I know, that doesn't exactly show commitment to our Russia adventure. So sue me...)

I'm all about the zeigeist, me (oh yes, I have my car radio - in the UK - tuned to Xfm, I amtotally down with the cool kids), so I thought I'ld fill you in a new type of Blogger event in town. In case you hadn't noticed, it's the photo based carnival. The one that I've been participating in is the brainchild of Tara over at Sticky Fingers; each week she suggests a theme, and each week those participating post a photograph that fits and some words to go with it.

What's that got to do with British Mummy Blogger of the Week, I hear you ask? Well, this is a great way to discover writers who's blogs I haven't happened across yet (or recently). This week's theme - self portrait - was a tough one for many (if, unlike me, you didn't take the easy option of simply pointing your camera at the mirror), and resulted in some amazing posts. One that particularly stood out for me was this one, written by Audrey Horne of the blog 'My Mummy wrote this for me'. Her 'about me' blurb on BMB says:

'I'm a happily co-habiting mother of one five year old son, indie-type, NHS librarian living in the wilds of West Yorkshire. I've recently recovered from breast cancer and am now hopefully getting back to normal life.'

I particularly recommend you check out her post on being beaten in the downhill race whilst masquerading as Blaze, an attractive purple fox... Whilst I would love to say that in the same circumstances I would be the epitome of a good natured loser, I have to admit that there may well be a good reason why we don't yet have a Wii...

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

Friday 21 May 2010

Expat Fantasy Shopping List...

Before I start with this, let me get one thing straight; being in Moscow is not - for the Potski family at least - in any way a 'hardship posting'. We chose to move here and our lives, whilst significantly different from back in London, and whilst including more than the occasional curve-ball thrown our way, are good, to the extent that recently when discussing how long we should stay I surprised myself with the length of time I was willing to consider.

So this is not a 'railing at circumstance, oh poor Expat me post'. It's more of a gentle sigh about how accustomed to easy shopping I had become back in the UK. I know, it's all about sustainability and buying what is local, but there's only so many times you can roast beetroot and hunt for another recipe for red cabbage, so here, for your delectation is my Expat Fantasy Supermarket Shopping List.

Golden syrup/black treacle. Even though it's warmed up substantially here (i.e approx 50degC temp difference from the beginning of the year), for some reason I find myself yearning to make gingerbread, proper sticky stuff, and funnily enough these are two refined sugars that the Russians don't seem to buy into...

Weetabix. You can get this here but even I balked at paying £6.00 for a box of 24. This means that any and all visitors from the UK to the Potski household will be expected to stump up - at the very least - a packet of 48 to gain admittance.

Cornflour. They may have it here but not being very good at much more than asking for 500R worth of petrol, how on earth would I know? (Update; since writing this post I found it - hurrah! To anyone wondering why there was woman doing a victory dance in the aisles of Auchan Hypermarket in Moscow last weekend - that was me).

Vanilla Essence. This gold-dust is mentioned in hushed voices by expats throughout the city in the same tone one might use to discuss a sighting of some rare bird or a shy celebrity. Not that there are so many of those - shy ones - here.

Baking powder. At a recent fair coming for the school, Brits were asked if they could bake some scones for UK stand, but, said the ad in the newsletter 'don't worry - we will provide the baking powder!' (The exclamation point was theirs, not mine...)

Decent inexpensive wine. We don't go to the most expensive restaurants (although neither do we go to the cheapest), and yet so far I've not seen a bottle of even a house white or red on the menu for less than £60. And you can't get around that by importing it - there's a tax on that. Note to visitors - in addition to the Weetabix, you will also be expected to provide 2 bottles of wine (your maximum allowance) from duty free. An £8 Rioja will do - and we'll reimburse you in vodka...

Drinkable milk. How can an entire nation manage on the rubbish white stuff you can buy here? It goes off in two days and tastes sour from the moment you open it. There is one brand that is fine - from Finland - but supplies are erratic, to the extent that whenever an Expat is shopping and chances upon it they feel compelled to bulk-buy and fill up their freezer for whenever stocks are low. (This may seem silly but try getting two boys to eat their breakfast on a school day when they won't touch the milk and you'll get my point.)

Organic / free-range produce. I used to buy both, regularly. Now, that's an impossible dream, and I find it best not to think about the provenance of the chicken that we buy. Suffice it to say, I doubt they were happy birds.

Sausages. I dream about Mr Lidgate's cumberlands and chipolatas. How sad is that?

Cheddar. Oh my god, proper cheddar cheese...

And now I think I'd better stop. But if you are, or have been, an expat, tell me: what's on your fantasy shopping list?

Thursday 20 May 2010

Conversations with Boy #1.

Boy #1: "I don't have any girlfriends, mama."

Me: " Really?" (I know this is not true. But I wait for whatever is coming next...)

Boy #1: "Well, I do. I did have two. But now I only have one."

Me: "How come?"

Boy #1: "Well, H and Z were my girlfriends. But now I only have H. Not Z."

Me: "OK. What happened?"

Boy #1: "I had to cancel Z. She shouted at me, because I didn't believe she was a vampire."

Me: "Right. Well, does she know she's been cancelled?"

Boy #1: "Oh no. I didn't tell her. I don't want to hurt her feelings."

I mutter something non-committal. Whilst I don't want him to get into the habit of not being open and honest with his friends, he is only 6, after all. And frankly? If there were a list of people not to upset, a Kindergarten-age vampire has to be pretty high up there...

Wednesday 19 May 2010

The Gallery, Week 12

OK, I know I said I would never do this (sorry Husband if you're reading but since my photo has already been out there in Red Magazine, I think not taking part in Tara's Gallery this week would be rather like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted...), but here I am. This is me, this morning.

I experimented with a few ways to take a self portrait without actually showing my face; I began with a blurred reflection in a window, and moved on to a shadow silhouette, but both of those seemed to give too many opportunities for people to draw their own conclusions about how I might view myself as both an expat and a trailing spouse. And since, by and large, that is not at all representative of my self-image, I decided to go instead for an image partially obscured by the flash.

Everything has a subtext of course, and now I come to think of it, this photo could also be said to have one; behind the bright light of the life I'm currently experiencing, it's just the same old me, in need of a haircut and wearing a blue t-shirt, a watch, and a smile.

Or, you could forget all that subtext crap and just see me, with a camera.


(Oh, and my light tan? All from the Moscow sunshine. Who would have thought it?)

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Summer time - and the living is easy...

Summer has arrived in Moscow and to all intents and purposes, it's a different city. Despite the preponderance of imposing architecture (I always think of the Russian capital as a city built to intimidate visitors; it's built on a colossal scale), this is a town - in the centre, at least - with a lot of open space. Unfortunately for 6 months of the year that open space is either covered in white stuff or is simply earth sparsely populated with grass and a few dead leaves.

In the last 6 weeks however, Nature has been getting busy and where once there was mostly brown, now there is an intensely vibrant green. It's incredible how a little dappled sunshine, some warmth (the temperature here has been between + 18degC and + 28degC for the last couple of weeks), and a light summer breeze can lift the spirits.

All over Moscow a plethora of pavement cafes are emerging, the dress code is becoming... interesting (city shorts on men, and sheer blouses without bras on the ladies, anyone?), and the weekend traffic is worsening as vast numbers of Muscovites down tools and head out of the city to their summer dachas. Looking out into our compound I can see children staying out later, adults promenading, and bbq's being lit (although of course that may be as much for the protective properties of smoke against mosquitoes as for the opportunities to eat burnt hamburger).

My parents came to visit us last week, and what with the onset of summer, the fact that city was wearing it's best bib and tucker for the Victory Day celebrations, and the wealth of culturally interesting stuff to do here, I think they are wondering if we are ever coming home.

Even the birds are a delight; my father - a bit of a twitcher - was able to record a wonderful recording of a nightingale song near our house. I've been trying all evening to work out how to upload it so you can hear it; no luck so far but if anyone has any suggestions on how to do so they would be much appreciated!

Of course, we are coming home - eventually. They might have forgotten the 4+ months of sub-zero temperatures, and the lock on our front door freezing on the inside in January - but I haven't...

Monday 17 May 2010

Yesterday's definition of 'Idiocy'..

... is deciding, whilst making a relish for a bbq, to check that the chilli peppers you're using are not as bland as they look by touching your hand to your mouth after chopping them up.

And yesterday's definition of 'Relief' is discovering that the myth about a drink of milk helping to remove chilli-oil from your tongue does actually have some basis in fact, after all.

Whilst today's definition of 'Disbelief' is the discovery that your Husband has taken your lap-top charger away to London with him for the week. (Cue 'The Scream' face as you contemplate a week on your own with the kids in Moscow without blogging, e-mail, internet and - for fuck's sake - Skype. Apologies for the cursing by the way, but really - no access to any of the above would make any expat blogger use a few choice expletives, I promise...).

(And today's definition of 'A Reprieve - for Him' is the discovery that if you cannibalise one of his redundant lap-tops you are able to replace the missing part with no harm done. But sssh - we're not going to share that with him yet. Are we?)

Sunday 16 May 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

So I checked in on the British Mummy Bloggers Ning today to have a trawl through some new members (oh yes, it's me, that visitor from Russia who appears on your stats page every now and again), and happened to glance at the number of members.


One thousand, three hundred and eight.

That's pretty impressive for a network that started with 5 members just over a couple of years back. (Susanna, I bow down before you). And there are some amazing writers in that number - so many in fact that my consumption of rubbish paperbacks has declined by about 90% since I started reading them all. Lots of them are recent additions to the Ning, but some are not, and it occurred to me that things have changed since I started blogging. I mean, when I first dipped my toe in the water, it was easy to find people to follow; you just simply checked the blogroll of other bloggers, and zero'ed in on those listed that you liked.

Nowadays though, with the vast numbers of us putting our thoughts out there, it's not that simple, so I thought that this week I would highlight one of my long-term favourites who I personally think is fantastic, but who some more recently active bloggers might not yet have picked up on.

(Of course, that's just my personal opinion - that she's fantastic - but then, isn't this post always?)

So this week's recommendation is that you check out Milla at Country Lite. She writes of her blog that it is mainly:

'Being the kind and wise thoughts of one who lives overlooking a field but within ten minutes of Waitrose, featuring E, T12 and F10 and far too much of a ghastly bag of fur called Lolly.'

Check out her accounts of dealing with blown fuse in her car if you have a moment and have been practising your pelvic floor exercises so are not too worried about laughing really hard. (Please note: she doesn't post as much as I might like. And yes, Milla, that is a hint.)

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

Friday 14 May 2010

Scooby Dooby Doooo... What the hell were you on about?

Were you a Scooby Doo fan as a child? I have to come clean and say that I wasn't, particularly. Scooby and Shaggy just seemed clueless, Velma reminded me a bit too much of myself, and as for Fred and Daphne's sickly relationship, well, that one went right over my head. (Although even then I knew that purple outfits and red hair were not an automatic match...).

The Boys, however, are not concerned with any of that boring back-story or plot stuff. All they're interested in are the chases, the jokes, and the fact that Shaggy and Scoob always get their man in then end. This is why, when I was offered the chance for them to review the latest DVD - 'Scooby Doo - Abracadabra-Doo' - I said yes.

Normally, when we get a review copy of something in this house, I make sure to sit and watch it with the Boys (the first time, anyway). As a result, I have sat through both 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' (more times than I care to admit as the mother of boys) AND 'High School Musical 3'for my sins, so I figured that even though Scooby Doo is from a different film house (Warner Bros instead of Disney), I have more than paid my dues. God forgive me, I let the Boys watch this one in another room whilst I did important internet 'stuff' (aka; reading other people's blogs when I should have been catching up on correspondance etc) next door.

This is long-winded way of admitting that I can't tell you much about this epic movie, other than that the Boys LOVED it. And in case you never cracked on to the basic Scooby Doo plot line of 'Gang happen across weird mystery. Gang investigate. Gang discover and unmask the monster / ghost who is in fact a disgruntled employee of the person who owns the haunted house', here is Boy #1's summary of Scooby Doo - Abracadabra Doo. Make of it what you will...

"There was a big bird, a lion bird. Someone controlled it - it was a big giant puppet. Then everyone came and everyone ran, and they catched a little girl that was Velma's sister, and then at the end they did a big show. Then Daphne came up and Velma's sister arrested her to make her do magic and make her a lion, and then she appeared next to Fred, like magic.

"No wait, the lion/eagle caught the little girl that was Velma's sister. Then - this is so funny - Shaggy came with Scooby, and guess what Shaggy was,? A knight! With... and then, and then, and then, I don't remember."

And would you like to see it again some time?


I'm bored. What do we do now?"

Note - this was last Saturday. Since then they've watched it again - twice. I think, Mr Warner Bros, that this one does the job...

Wednesday 12 May 2010

The Gallery; Men

This week's Gallery over at Tara's place nearly got away from me - which is ironic, because as soon as I saw this photo (taken by my Husband last Sunday) I knew it was The One.

Remember those tv pictures of Brezhnev, Gorbachov and the like taking the salute in Red Square years ago? Well, Victory Day in Russia is still a very Big Deal, and what you see above is proof of that. The guys in the photo above have just participated in this year's parade and are heading back to their start point along Tverskaya, one of Moscow's main roads, and are surrounded by flag-waving cheering crowds.

There's a strong possibility that the guys in this tank are conscripts, since Russia still has mandatory national service for men (unless you can 'persuade' the authorities otherwise, which apparently nearly 90% of the population are able to do), and I can't help but feel glad for them that they had this opportunity to get a bit of fun out of what I'm told (by Russians) is one of the most hellish years a man can have in his life...

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Boy #2 does it again

I've started 3 posts this morning and have not finished any of them - all because when I started writing I realised I had more to say on each subject that I have time right now to write. Instead, I leave you with this...

We're on a boat trip up the Moscow River. (It's one of the things you only ever get round to when you have visitors - in this case, my parents). The vessel is perfectly sea-worthy but has definitely seen better days. No matter; Boy #2 is delighted to simply be on the water. An hour into our trip, however, the excitement starts to wane, just as a very swanky boat from the Radisson Hotel glides by, all glass-encased luxury and futuristic lines.

Boy #2 watches it float past, his expression unreadable. Then, he turns to me and, deadpan, utters the immortal line;

"I think we're on the wrong boat, mama."

A truer word...

Saturday 8 May 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

I'm posting this week's BMB of the Week early as tomorrow it's Victory Day here in Russia, and we're going out to see the celebrations and join in the fun. Which you should, of course, expect to hear all about on this blog next week...

I've been clothes shopping today, for the first time in Moscow. This is not as simple an exercise as it sounds - stick a premium of at least 50% and more often 100% on a lot of brands you recognise from back home - but I managed to buy 3 tops and (thank GOD) some new shoes. Thank GOD on the shoes, because I left all my summer ones in London and as it warms up the appeal of putting on winter boots for yet another day has begun to pall somewhat.

Also, the option of wearing some pretty sandals or sneakers has vastly opened up the chances of my wearing some of my summer clothes (the ones I remembered to pack, anyway). Again, jeans are all very well but it's 25degC here today (bet you never thought you would read that from a blogger in Moscow), and since our house doesn't have airco, well, it's best for everyone that I dress a little more coolly...

On top of which, anything which means I can minimise my time spent in shops is a good thing, not only because it's so galling being faced with the requirement to spend $100 to buy a pair of sandals from Zara or similar. It's also because, like this week's recommended British Mummy Blogger, I hate changing rooms with a passion.

Henrietta Pretty of From Marketing To Milk writes of herself:

'One day i woke up and Mrs Digital Marketing Manager had somehow become Mrs “no my son can’t swim yet, and i’m not sending him to french lessons with Daphne”. I decided to write this blog to chart my journey from successful career girl to stay at home mum, with a little bit of what i think about stuff along the way.'

Take a look at her musings on changing rooms and how the ageing process affects everyone but us - we like to think - and enjoy.

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

Friday 7 May 2010

The Grumps...

My parents arrive for their visit to Moscow today. There have been flurries of e-mails and telephone calls, threats from my father to wear a novelty lobster baseball cap when walking through customs, and panics from my mother that they would be stopped and the Weetabix she's bringing in for her beloved grandsons confiscated.

I've just had a phone call from Husband to tell me that 'the package is in transit' and that they are all on their way here now from the airport. Hold on to your hats, it's going to be interesting cramming 4 adults and 2 children into a house with only 2 proper bedrooms and one loo (but two bathrooms - those crazy Russian architects!). I may not be posting much for the next few days, so I'm taking the opportunity now to break the habit of the last few months and do a meme as requested by my good friend (and the first blogger I ever met in person), Frog in the Field.

She has asked me to write a list of 7 things that make me grumpy, because, and I quote have 'lots to grumble about in Moscow, I'm sure...'

Frog, this came at a very good time. Although interestingly I don't think my grumps will all be about Moscow - but let's start typing and find out...

1. Fussy tenants. We've just let out our flat, and they specifically asked us to put in a sofa as they don't have any furniture in the UK right now. We did. They moved in this week. And have asked us to take out the sofa as they don't like it. (What the hell were they expecting? B&B Italia, for a rented flat? I think not. We have to live with Ikea, so can they...)

2. Fussy tenants. We've just let our flat (did I mention that already?), and I got a note from our 'account handler' at the estate agents who shall not be named, saying the new tenants don't like how stained our granite work surface is and would we consider replacing it. Would we WHAT? When they saw the flat it was empty - they signed on for the worksurface, stains and all. Suck it up, baby.

3. Pathetic tenants. Apparently a light bulb has gone in the sitting room. Can we send in a handyman to replace it? (I'm not going to tell you my response to this one. But are they Russians, or something?)

4. Shoddy Estate Agent Account handlers (see, Frog, told you there might not be much Russian about this list...). I've asked 3 times for our final meter readings. Today I have resorted to telling her that if she doesn't supply them I will be forced to use the ones I took when we left the flat in January, and since I'm sure there has been fair amount of electricity and gas burned since then (we had to leave the heating on for viewings etc), that wouldn't really be fair to the new tenants. (She of course doesn't need to know that I have no idea where those readings are right now...)

5. OK, here's a Russian one. The bloody weather. All this cloud seeding is one thing, but as I have since been told (and am now experiencing), the beautiful weather it results in is swiftly followed by cold, clammy rainy weather. I knew no good could come of tampering with nature...

6. Other parents. Well, specifically other parents at PTO meetings who insist on using valuable air time (don't they know I have a very important rant to write on my blog?) to follow their own agenda and talk about how 'special' their own child is. Does anyone realise, for example, that poor 6 year old junior, speaking 4 languages as she does, never gets the chance to practice them at school, and couldn't the teachers making class selections for next year make sure she gets the chance to be in a class with other children who DO speak those languages? (I refrained from pointing out that the parents of the other children concerned might have a problem about their child being encouraged to speak a language other than English when they are paying vast sums of money for them to go to - and be taught in - an ENGLISH SPEAKING SCHOOL).

7. Oh. And last, but not least; my washing machine is shrinking all my clothes. Either that or I'm putting on weight - and there is nothing guaranteed to make me grumpier than that...

I'm supposed to tag 7 people, but my parents are getting ever-closer and I still have toys to tidy away so I'm afraid Frog that I'm just going to say to whoever fancies this one: go for it. Let your grumpy self go free...

Thursday 6 May 2010

The Long and Short of it...

Me: "So, how about wearing shorts today? It's lovely and warm..."

Boy #2: "Weeeeeellll... Can I see them?"

I show him a pair of navy blue knee-length Gap shorts inherited from his older brother. (Thank god for shorts, by the way; at least they can't go at the knees). He looks at them critically; it's the first time they've seen the light of day this year and after a winter in snowsuits and thick trousers, they're probably not something he remembers.

Boy #2: "OK.

I help him put them on. He stands up as I do up the button, and glances down, then lets out an almighty wail.

Me: "What? What's the matter Boy #2? Use your words, what's the matter?"

Boy #2: "But... But... But..."

Me: "What?"

Boy #2: "But... what about the REST of my legs?"

Needless to say, he's wearing trousers today...

Wednesday 5 May 2010

The Gallery #10: Beauty and the Beast

Week 10 of Tara's Gallery and the prompt for today was to paint a picture of the world we live in. I've titled this post 'Beauty and the Beast', so let's get the bad stuff out of the way first and start with... cue 'Jaws' type music... The Beast.

Doesn't look very beastly, does it? Just some yellow paint or pollen on the ground. Of course, this being Moscow, that's not what it is at all. What you see before you is the remains of the most recent 'cloud seeding' episode over the skies of the city. Husband used to tell me when he lived here in the mid-90's that before major celebrations the City would send planes up to shovel various substances into the cloud to disperse the rain and ensure fine weather for important events. Like, for example the forthcoming 65th Anniversary Celebrations of Victory Day in The Great Patriotic War (World War II, to you and I - more of which another time). I didn't really believe him. It sounds like something out of science fiction, right?

Wrong. They do do it. And whilst it doesn't seem to have any environmentalists up in arms right now, personally I can't believe that shovelling concrete dust, dry ice and and various other chemicals (which are apparently a closely guarded secret) into rain clouds can be such a good thing, either for the fabric of the city or the people living in it. Of course, I wouldn't want to rain on anyone's Parade - pun intended, obviously - but I can't shake the feeling I should be running around in a biblical styley shouting 'Doomed! We're all doomed! No good can come of this!' every time I notice the stuff on my car... (Click here if you want to find out more about this...)

And now, since this is the Gallery and you really came here looking for pretty pictures, here's some Beauty; a shot of the view this morning from the back of our house. Please note - this is not our garden...

Tuesday 4 May 2010


Starter for Ten...

If you are a supplier of a service that might require your customers to hold whilst waiting for one of your operators to become free, and if you decide to put - for a change - mildly acceptable music on for said customer to listen during this period, do you really think that breaking into the tune Every. 5. Seconds. to announce 'Thankyou for holding; one our operators will be with you shortly' is really necessary?

Don't you think that we might know we are holding? And don't you think that we might have a longer memory than a goldfish and have remembered from the first time time you said it that you really are trying to deal with our call as soon as possible? Or do you worry that if we don't hear whichever of your employees has won the 'most acceptable telephone voice' competition constantly reassuring us of your continued interest in us, that we might assume that everyone is off at the coffee machine swapping tales of yesterday's Krazy Kwizz Nite down at the Bull and Bush instead of dealing with our calls?

(Oh yes, I worked in a call centre as a student - I know what goes on...)

Just wondering, anyway...

Monday 3 May 2010

T. I. R.

When we first moved to Moscow I met a lovely lady who's favourite phrase is 'This is Russia'. (TIR, for short). She uses it whenever confronted by a situation that falls so far outside our normal home life expectations that really, one has to ask oneself how the hell one got into it. I've had a number of those moments since arriving here; the heating, the driving, and the weather are just three examples.

But you begin to suspect your home is indeed far far away when you pop over to a neighbour's for an informal lunch and the lovely couple and their children who join you, and for whom you've cooked your best Deep Filled Meringue with Berries, turn out to be an Ambassador and his family. Long term readers; please be advised that I managed to avoid liberally peppering the lunchtime conversation with that famous Ferrero Rocher catch-phrase. Actually, I think I deserve a medal for that since the temptation was almost overwhelming when he proceeded after pudding, very tunefully and charmingly, to serenade us with lullabies from his home country, shortly before which our host had brought out a copy of his (as in, the Ambassador's) latest volume of extremely good poetry to be signed by the author...

But that's not all that happened this bank holiday weekend to emphasise the fact that I'm not in Kansas anymore. Lunch was followed the same day by a girl's night out where - this being Russia - taxis were not required (since most people are far more sensible than I am, and use a driver to chauffeur them around), there was bear - BEAR - on the menu, it was cheaper for the seven of us to drink cocktails than to order a bottle of wine (mmm - yummy mojitos....), and our table was visited by someone wearing what must have been the hottest and sweatiest grisly bear costume around. (And did I mention the children's party where the entertainment consisted of live animals featuring a monkey, parrots, a crocodile for chrissakes, and not one but two - real - bears? All of which are apparently considered suitable guests for a child's 6th birthday celebration).

Then - because yes, it goes on - I collected Boy #1 from another party yesterday afternoon where my outfit of tunic and jeans - perfectly acceptable clothing when you consider the former was by a (minor) designer and the latter were clean - let the British side down markedly when faced with the much-further-upmarket Russian mums attending. The birthday child's mum, for example, was sporting a turquoise and blue halter-neck maxi-dress with a plunging neckline, accessorised with an artfully tousled blonde mane, a truly splendid cleavage, and a lacy g-string displayed to maximum effect through the clinging material of her dress.

The sad thing is that I didn't even manage to get the name of her stylist because she, her husband and their friends disappeared half an hour before the scheduled end of the party without saying goodbye, leaving the clutch of children and a few less fashionable guests (like myself) watching cartoons and in the charge of the nanny and the housekeeper.

Oh well. This Is Russia, I guess...

Sunday 2 May 2010

British Mummy Blogger of the Week

It's Sunday night, and I'm sitting here watching and listening to the most monumental thunderstorm here in Moscow. It's at times like these as I bustle round the house unplugging computers and telephones that I realise how 'middle-age' is no longer a far off event that might happen to me some time in the future, but a real-time, in your face car-crash that can't be avoided any more. Of course, it's not as if I don't have this realisation every day during that first horrific look in the mirror every morning after I put my contact lenses in but before I have the chance to apply any mascara, but I can usually lose that thought in amongst the sandwich-making, boy-wrangling, traffic-negotiating fun that happens shortly afterwards.
(Note to self; ignore thunderstorms in future.)

This week's British Mummy Blogger, Hari Vaudrey of Thankyou for the Days, writes of herself:

I'm a hypnotherapist and I have three children, 7, 4 and 2. I live in a village in Oxon, UK. I spent many years travelling before I settled down and got divorced... I'm looking for a pyramid selling scheme where I'm at the top. So send me a tenner and forward this to all of your friends.

I recommend you take a look; if nothing else you may, like me, find a couple more uses for baking soda that you didn't know of and which your middle-aged brain might decide to file away for future use...

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