Tuesday 21 December 2010

Thank god for free wifi with your coffee...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 17 December 2010

Co-operation- and how it can work

Cooperative Membership Fund

This is a sponsored post...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperative Membership Fund

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

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Thursday 16 December 2010

Banya hats & letting it all hang out...

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

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

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

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

Lovely, isn't it?

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

Wednesday 15 December 2010

No time for Shrinking Violets...

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

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

Well, PM, life ain't like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday 13 December 2010

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

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

(It all depends on your point of view).

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

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

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

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

Oh boy. It wasn't pretty.

But then, a brainwave.

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

I held my breath.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 10 December 2010

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

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

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

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

Today's Top Pick from the Next Catalogue

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

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

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Boy #2's holiday...

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

Clothes will not, it seems, be required.

Oh, and as to where he's going?

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

That's my boy...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

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

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

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

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


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

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

... meeting up with old friends.

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

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

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

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

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

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

Monday 6 December 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

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

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

Friday 3 December 2010

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

...Proper mince pies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today's Top Pick from the Next Site

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

Thursday 2 December 2010

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

This is a sponsored post...

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday 1 December 2010

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

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

Don't go out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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