Monday 28 February 2011

Tales from the slopes (in which I over-share about facial hair)

Six words from my beloved guaranteed to send me to the nearest beauty counter in search of cosmetic assistance:

'You've got snow on your moustache.'

For goodness' sake. That has to be one of the last things one needs to hear when trying to ski through a snow-storm, surely? For whilst, on the one hand, it is most certainly something one would prefer to know about (and which perhaps explains some of the strange looks I had been getting from skiers around me), it is rather off-putting to be trying to stay upright on skis with some semblance of expertise - in itself is something of a lost cause in my case - whilst simultaneously trying to surreptitiously keep one's upper lip clear of the biggest snow flakes I had ever seen.

I don't know who I thought I was kidding with the 'surreptitious' bit though. There's nothing surreptitious about wobbling precariously down a slope whilst raising your right hand - incidentally waving a 3 foot long bright blue ski pole in a sort of semaphore styley- and sweeping it across your face every 30 seconds or so. Why so frequently? Well, I'm amongst friends here (glances nervously from side to side) I hope, so I have to admit that I had rather forgotten to tend to those pesky rather-darker-than-they-should-be hairs under my nose in the weeks running up to our ski holiday. Normally I would have been fine - wax those little blighters out of existence the moment they appear is my usual modus operandi - but for some reason the hairs that had recently come through were quite light, not very noticeable, and so I had forgotten all about them.

All very well, and probably much better for one's skin, until the damn things turned in to some kind of sink tidy for snow.

And of course the kicker was that until the flakes started to melt - which they weren't about to do in -8degC or whatever it was - I didn't even know that they were there, what with their sitting very slightly above the skin. Instead, until Husband took pity on me and shared the dreadful news, I skied merrily and messily through said snow storm, congratulating myself on staying upright and wondering if - perhaps - I had finally acquired enough technique to attract the somewhat surprised attention of other skiers. All the time with my own white beer-foam-accessorised top lip - but without, sadly, the beer.

I've said it before and no doubt will again. My life? So glamorous, it hurts.

Always check, check, and check again...

...or in other words, don't get blindly on ski lift without checking where it goes first.

We just got back from our week skiing and bless me father, for I have sinned.

I took my seven and five year old sons down a red run.

What the ?

As you can tell, we've come a long way baby from the post I wrote about trying to get Boy #2 to master a 'pizza slice' on the slopes; God help me, he can do 'chips' as well now (which for the uninitiated means pointing your skis straight down the slope). And luckily, I had re-found my skiing mojo after the lesson from a friend that I mentioned in the same post. However, that still doesn't excuse our adventure (I'm calling it an 'adventure', but I'm guessing you'll understand by that I mean 'incredibly stupid escapade') on Saturday afternoon, when the Potty Family got on the wrong ski lift and ended up at the top of Mount Death.

I can only count my blessings that a) the weather was fabulous, meaning we could actually see the slope properly b) there was plenty of recently fallen soft snow to act as a landing pad (not that it proved necessary), c) Husband was with us and able to carry Boy #2 down the one part of the slope that proved too much for him and d) we were also with a good friend and her 5 year old son, and who - also being a very good skier - with her matter-of-fact demeanour and calm resolution not to be phased by the situation, helped me to keep my cool and to ski Boy #1 down whilst Husband dealt with Boy #2.

With the exception of the carrying incident the Boys were admirably relaxed about their 'adventure' (see? That word again), to the extent that I am now seriously considering not ever taking them skiing again because give it two years and there will be no stopping them. I'll be reduced to being the anxious mum wringing my hands at the bottom of the double black diamond slopes as they whoop their way carelessly down them, no doubt.

I should also say that the resort we were staying in was rather namby-pamby with their classifications of degrees of difficulty; most of the red slopes would have been labelled blue in France, for example.

But enough excuses, because despite the fact that we actually had fun whilst doing this, Christ, I never want to do that again.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Pride, falls, and snow in your face

Well, that'll learn me.

Not long ago I wrote a post where I mentioned that I felt I had - after 15-odd years of throwing myself down the side of a mountain - at least partially mastered the art of downhill skiing.

Pride comes before a fall, however, (or in my case, any number of them), and it seems that between now and 4 weeks ago I lost all memories of how to ski in anything other than a style which could most aptly be described as 'headless chicken'.

Perhaps it's because on this trip I have been preoccupied with encouraging Boy #2 to master the 'pizza slice' (aka 'snow plough stop' to anyone over the age of 6), and jollying him along when he tells me he hates skiing, hates Austria, hates his teacher, and hates me for leaving him there. Only to have a great time the moment my back is turned, obviously (I know this to be the case because I have taken to skulking behind other parents like a mad woman, using them as human shields between him and I so that he thinks I've gone when in fact I'm keeping a weather eye...)

Or perhaps it's because I have a bit of mental block about skiing in Austria based on a spectacularly unsuccessful trip here a few years back where the pistes where poorly groomed and I tangled more than once with an inexpert snow-boarder. Which is ridiculous, because my skiing has improved since then and the resort where I'm staying has some of the widest, most forgiving runs I've ever seen, and plenty of fresh snow on which to turn and - of course - fall.

Whatever the reason, however, things haven't been going so well for me on the slopes and I think that the following exchange between Husband and I yesterday probably illustrates how frustrated I was feeling about the whole thing.

I had just fallen over. Again.

Husband: "Come on, cheer up. It's funny really. You've got to laugh!"

I grimaced and muttered, but didn't say much. If, however, marital harmony were less important to me I suspect that I might have said the following:

"No, actually, I don't. I'm 44 years old and after 15 years at the this game, I still don't know how to fucking ski. My 7 year old son can now ski faster than me, and even my 5 year old son has less fear of falling than me. Tell me, what - exactly - is funny about that?"

Lucky I'm not single, or I think I might have to take 'GSOH' off my list of personal traits...

Note: Since that exchange a friend who is both a spectacularly good skier and spectacularly patient and who just happens to be staying in the same resort took me under his wing and reminded me of all things I've learned - and forgotten - in various ski classes over the years. Things are now much better. And there are unsubstantiated rumours that I may even be recovering my sense of humour.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Togetherness - apart

It's Week 46 of Tara's Gallery, and this week's theme is 'Togetherness'...

Life can be a bit shit sometimes - yes, even here, in expat heaven. Luckily, for me at least, there are compensations, like the wonderful birthday lunch that a friend hosted for me in her home yesterday where I was totally bowled over by the warmth and generosity I felt from people who in real terms I've known for only a relatively short time. It seems to me that one of the benefits of growing older is that we all become better at making worthwhile friendships. I'm not sure why that is; perhaps we take less notice of the book cover and more notice of what lies inside. Or maybe we waste less time judging and more time just enjoying each other's company.

Well, whatever it is, I have to say that it certainly makes turning thirty-fourteen a whole lot easier. Thankyou, ladies. You brighten my life.

As did a visit by my sister this weekend just passed. Growing up we had a love/hate relationship. It wasn't until I left home that we became real friends rather than simply blood relations, and now she's my best friend, the one to whom I can tell all, and the one with whom I can spend five minutes on a skype call cracking up at our attempts to mimic those cctv camera shots of a bobsleigh team going round a corner at high speed. (Well, sis was doing the hard work actually, in her husband's bright red ski-helmet with her face pressed right up close to the webcam. Lord, the things you can find funny at the end of a long day...).

Anyway, I'm not going to show you that shot, but one of the pair of us looking glamourous in the snow (ha!) as we stood in front of the massed tanks, planes, and guns of the Red Army Museum here in Moscow on Sunday. Yep, we really know how to show our visitors a good time...

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Sibling rivalry...

Do you treat all your children the same way?

Well, do you?

We try to. I think we succeed most of the time, but I have to admit that sometimes it's difficult. Like in the matter of discipline, for example. Threaten Boy #1 with withdrawal of tv-watching priviliges, or no dvd's for the rest of the week, and he normally crumbles. Threaten his brother with the same, and he runs off laughing; the only way we can exert any control over him is to use the Naughty Chair - and even that isn't always successful.

And then there is the matter of birthday parties. Autumn-born Boy #1 has had one every single birthday for the last 5 years. His winter-born brother, however, has been less fortunate. Mind you, what would no doubt be dragged out at every opportunity as a stick to beat us with by his older brother doesn't seem to bother him particularly; as long we make a big fuss of him (allowing his classic 2nd child 'look at me!' tendencies to be indulged to the hilt) and give him plenty of chocolate cake and train, plane and automobile toys, we seem to be getting away with it.

However, I think there is a bit of a tricky one coming our way very soon. Last year, when we took the boys skiing, we promised Boy #1 a Nintendo DS if he tried his hardest and learned to ski by the end of the week. He duly delivered and, a few weeks later, so did we. Boy #2, languishing in ESF nursery slope hell, was bored out of his mind and ran no more risk of qualifying for the same prize as his brother than I did of skiing with style and elegance.

But a year has passed. He's 12 months bigger and more co-ordinated. We've even managed to fit in a couple of pre-ski holiday lessons over at a nearby snow dome centre (for yes, believe it or not, even in Russia, land of what currently feels like perpetual winter, there are places where you can pay to slide down a snow-covered slope indoors all year round with 2 boards strapped to your feet). (Writing that sentence has made even me stop and query the intelligence of this past-time, by the way...)

So it may well be that come the end of half term, Boy #2 also qualifies for his own DS. And leaving alone the fact that he's a year younger than Boy #1 was when he got his, so I'm a year less comfortable with him having access to one, I can see a whole world of pain in wait if he exhibits the same single-mindedness about beating his brother in the gaming world as he seems to do in many other areas. (And let's not even get started on what kind of hell will break loose once they are skiing on the same slopes - although I'm hoping that's still a year or so away. Please god.)

The one thing I'm drawing comfort from in this is that neither Boy - yet - reads this blog, so they won't find out that there is now a Nintendo 3D (for which you don't even need a pair of those attractive spectacles) available should they care to look at the video in the sidebar on the right...

Note: this was - sort of - a sponsored post. But only a bit. I would have blogged about equality between brothers in any case, honest guv...

Friday 11 February 2011

Spring is in the air...

.. apparently.

Not here, it ain't; this was a photo I took 2 days ago and since then, it's only got colder.

Today I helped out at Boy #2's skating lesson and was relieved to learn that the -15degC we experienced on the ice today was almost the coldest the kids were expected to be out in; at -20degC the lesson would have been cancelled... Well, that's alright then.

However, even grumpy old me has to admit that the days are getting longer (I could even see far enough outside my window at 7.50am this morning to realise that I would have to go out and defrost the car a good ten minutes before we got into it because - yet again - the windows had frozen up on the inside), so to acknowledge that, I'm taking part in the BMB February Blog Hop.


Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Gallery; 24 Hours in GT's life...

The prompt for Tara's Gallery this week is '24 hours'. Not wanting to bore you with details of snow, snow, and more snow (which is what we've had here in the last 24 hours), I decided instead to show you 24 hours in the life of somebody else.

Apologies in advance for any offence I cause by using Lego stereotypes...

Hi! My name's GT, and I'm a lifeguard in Moss-cow, Russia!

I'm not originally from here, you understand; there isn't much call for red swimsuit-wearing lifeguards in this part of the world. I arrived on a witness protection scheme carrying only my floatation device and wearing my uniform...

.... after tangling with the wrong guy out on Malibu. He kept trying to get me to run off with him and his marraccas and start a family. I mean, I like Latin Amerian music as much as the next girl, don't get me wrong, but the constant shaking? Drove me crazy, so I told him to beat it, at which point he started to threaten me with the castanets and it all began to get a little ugly. That's when Mitch - my boss - decided it might be better for me to lie low for a little while...

Anyhoo, that's how I ended up here, where the powers that be decided I couldn't get into any more trouble. My days here are pretty samey, really. I hang out with the guys *...

and sometimes I meet up with my ski buddy. He's always trying to persuade me to try snowboarding but I have to tell him, in this costume? Think of the snow burn on my butt if I fell over...

I guess I'm a bit of a celebrity round about. It's lucky that the local branch of the witness protection scheme hired Igor, my body guard; he soon sees off any troublesome attention...

What else? Oh yes, sometimes I meet up with my handler. He's a bit of a dish to be honest, or at least I imagine he would be if he ever took his helmet off...

And sometimes I just take time out with a cup of coffee and think about the good times on Malibu beach..

So, that's my day! How about yours?

* Author's note: The use of alien lego figurines to represent 'the guys' in no way reflects the author's opinion of the quality of men in the general locality...

Sunday 6 February 2011

It wasn't like that when I was a girl...

Lordy, the times they are a-changing.

Firstly, I read this post by Lindsay Ferrier on 'bare-floor' teens that showed me just how behind the curve I really am (note; whilst the post itself is illuminating, it's the comments box that you especially need to check out). And then yesterday we had a new arrival Chez Potty.

This is GT. She arrived via a partybag (well, of course she did; she's a party kind of girl) in a Lego Minifigures pack.

Since she's arrived she's made my older son cry (because she wasn't a cowboy), made my younger son giggle (because she's wearing lipstick & has boobies - nothing wrong with his powers of observation then - although I knew that already...), and made my Husband and I suspect that someone on the Lego design team is having one hell of a laugh right now. (Seriously, I used to work with toy designers; I know their sense of humour first-hand).

She's also caused me to check out the cast list of Baywatch on Wikipedia (neither Husband nor I could remember Pamela Anderson's character's name, which was CJ in case you were wondering), and to need to explain to my sons that the red thing she's carrying is a flotation device whilst simultaneously withholding the fact that the original woman on which this doll was modelled had no need of such things since she had two inbuilt flotation devices all of her very own...

And to ask the question; am I imagining this, or is she REALLY wearing a swimsuit with a thong?

See what I mean?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Shape: The Gallery

I love the summer. Contrary to my expectations, Moscow in the summer is a very green city. Sure, it has it's dustbowls and waste-lands of unfortunate soviet-style architecture, but there are also plenty of parks, and in between the buildings, shaded playgrounds and walks for the locals to make the most of when the weather is warm enough.

However, it's in the winter, when the leaves have been stripped from the trees that you can see their true shape. (See what I did there?) And this photo was taken in the woods near our home where I will shortly be slipping and sliding along on my cross country skis, trying to get into shape...

OK -I know it's a tenuous link for this week's theme of 'Shape' at Tara's Gallery, but I like the photo. Live with it...

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Buns of Steel and other benefits of Cross Country Skiing

So you've finally become what you can proudly refer to as 'an adequate downhill skier'. Sure, it's taken you 16 years of bruises, strains, aching muscles, embarrassing falls on the flat, freakouts on gentle slopes, temper tantrums with your beloved when the easy blue he suggested suddenly became an icy red, and one or two tangles with snow-boarders (remember that one who jumped onto the run and hit you with so much force that you both flew up into the air and you - ha ha! - landed heavily on top of him?), but after the weekend before last skiing with your girlfriends, you now feel reasonably confident with a couple of bendy boards strapped to your feet.

You can do it. Not elegantly, perhaps. Certainly not stylishly. And with precious little technique, it has to be said. But for what seems like the first time in all those years, you had a seminal moment when you realised that amazingly, you weren't the worst skier in the group. Not even the second worst.

What better time, then, to take on a new challenge? Like, say, cross country skiing? I mean, you live in Moscow, where cross country skiing is the outside exercise of choice for many during the long winter. (Well, that and skating, but you aren't quite crazy enough to try that one; there's throwing yourself down a mountain at high speed and then there's stepping onto a frozen lake with a couple of razors beneath your feet and trying to survive the experience without any broken bones. No, I'll leave that to my kids, thanks very much...)

So you go out, buy what I can only describe as the most subterranean of bargain basement kit (as your Dutch - for which read 'careful with money' - Husband points out; just in case you don't enjoy it there's not point spending too much cash on this), and head off into the nearby forest with some girlfriends to work up a sweat and take in the sunshine on this frosty -10degC day, where you discover the following:

You still know how to fall on the flat.
You still don't know how to do that stylishly.
This cross-country ski lark is bloody hard work (although if I keep it up I fully expect to have buns of steel by the end of February, based on the amount of pain my muscles are in today)
It's just as possible to end up on top of a frozen lake - albeit covered with snow - when you're skiing as skating.
Serious Russian cross country skiers get quite cross if they find their way blocked by a group of chattering women stopped to admire the naked - yes, NAKED - 50 year old lady taking a dip in the ice hole at the edge of said frozen lake (jesus, just ski around us - there's a whole lake to use, for chrissake!).
There is a one-way system on the lake. A ONE WAY SYSTEM, you stupid foreign woman...

And yes, last but not least; you are once again the worst skier in the group.

(As I said to the friends I was out with; it's so nice to find a sport at which I'm a natural after all these years....)