Wednesday 31 August 2011

Travelling with under-12's and planning on hiring a car?

This is a sponsored post

If you read 'The Potty Diaries' regularly, you may have noticed that we move around a fair bit. Living in Moscow as we do, a trip to see family or friends back home always - but always - entails a flight, sometimes even two. Consequently, I've had a fair amount of experience in packing suitcases over the last couple of years, and the holy grail when I'm faced with an empty suitcase has become Travelling Light.

All very well, but the places that Husband and I call 'back home' - The Netherlands and the UK respectively - are not what you might call reliable on the weather front. This means that unless we want to spend time and money buying what we need on the spot for any unseasonably cold / hot / wet weather, we have to cater in advance for most eventualities.

So our clothes quota alone often fills our suitcases to overflowing, leaving no space for travelling essentials such as booster seats for the boys. And believe me, these are essentials. The traffic and the high incidence of accidents on the roads here mean that you do not want your children travelling in a taxi to the airport without one - but the chances of your taxi driver having one in his cab are about 1%. And the chances of his having two, non-existent. So we take our own as a rule, and stow them in a bag once we get to the airport before putting them into the hold with the rest of our luggage. On the plus side, this means that we also have them available for us to use when we reach the hire car at the other end of our flight and saves us the £6 - £8 per seat a day most rental car companies charge for the pleasure of using theirs. On the minus side, it means we have one less bag available for filling with life's little essentials (like Weetabix, golden syrup and, of course, Green & Black's chocolate) on the way home.

All of which is a rather long preamble to lead into the fact that when I saw the BubbleBum inflatable car seat reviewed on another blog (here), I didn't hesitate to throw myself on producer's mercy and ask to be one of their reviewers. I promised that if it performed as well for us as the promotional blurb promised I would write them a glowing review. It did, and so here it is:

The BubbleBum Booster Seat is ace. It saved us a whole car seat's worth of space in our suitcase (which was helpful after a summer spent stocking up on those essentials I mentioned earlier in the UK and the Netherlands), and despite my concerns that it would require a superhuman amount of puff, was incredibly easy to inflate and took less than a minute to be ready to use. The valve on the side that you twist open and closed worked perfectly, and when the seat is deflated can be shut to minimise the amount of space it takes up in your luggage.

Obviously it's not suitable for every-day use as a replacement for your normal car seat, but it's comfortable and sturdy enough for the kids to use on your holidays, or as an emergency seat to keep in the car for visiting children (it fits in the middle of the back seat of our car between our two normal booster seats, for example). So as a space and cost saving alternative to taking your own booster seats on holiday, or hiring them along with your rental car, the BubbleBum is a fantastic solution.

This was a sponsored post...

Tuesday 23 August 2011

School uniform, Moscow style

The Boys' school has just introduced a new dress code for it's students. Personally I'm not at all concerned about this; when we were still living in London Boy #1's school had possibly the most outrageous uniform in all central London, so really, the changes that have been instigated at the school here in Moscow are water off a duck's back.

Just to illustrate how bad his London get-up was, I was once having coffee with a fellow blogger and we were watching some children walk past from his then school. She was unaware that this was where he went. "Look at those poor little things, being made to wear that ridiculous outfit" she said. My answer? "Yes. Well... That's my son, the second from the back..." But I digress...

Back to the here and now, however. There are any number of parents at our Moscow school who are less sanguine about the new dress policy than Husband and I. Their issues range from the new uniform being hard to get hold of (true), to it's being pointless (who am I to question the administration?), to it's being a security risk as it makes the children identifiable as being from an international school when they are out and about. (Note, this uniform is so inoffensive that both my sons already had various items of it in their wardrobe, so I'm not sure that last holds water).

And then, of course, there are the 'only in Russia' concerns of some of the parents, some of which are directly related to the fact that many women here like to make the most of their femininity - and expect their daughters to do likewise. (And yes, I know that many women the world over like to do the same but ladies, we Brits are not only on a different page to our Russian counterparts on this matter, we are in a different book. As in, we are at the Magic Key learn-to-read stage, whilst they are somewhere around Tolstoy...)

Consequently, interpretations of the fairly basic school uniform for the girls can vary. Today I've seen custom-made pinafores, lace tights worn with pleated skirts, designer cardigans, cashmere sweaters, and sparkly shoes worn with knee-high socks.

And this afternoon, whilst chatting with a member of the school staff, I heard this apocryphal tale. At the end of last term, my acquaintance was manning an information desk designed to show parents what the new uniform looked like, and to give them contacts on where to obtain it. She was approached by a Russian mother who said, in high dudgeon, "I haff complaint to make about this uniform." Conscious that what came next could cover any number of problems, the teacher asked how she could help. "Vell. I haff complaint. My complaint is that this uniform is lesbian uniform!" And with that she stalked off.

Only in Moscow...

Friday 19 August 2011

Boy #2 offers a spoonful of sugar

It's fascinating to hear children's interpretations of objects we adults take for granted. Boy #2 illustrated that to me yesterday when he cheekily waved a spoon at me and offered it for use as 'half a boobie-putter'.

A 'boobie-putter'?

Perhaps you have to be a mother of boys to work out that he meant a bra.

Which is all well and good, and since I don't want to instill a sense of shame in talking about body parts in my sons (at home, at least - we've already had the conversation about what is and isn't appropriate on school premises), I thought it was funny.

What I didn't find so funny, however? The spoon he was offering me was teaspoon.

Monday 15 August 2011

Star Wars 3, Potski-style...

Boys #1 and #2 watched Star Wars 3 this afternoon. This was not their first viewing of the movie, but since we've been on the move and away from their dvd collection for the last 7 weeks, it was the first time they've seen it in a couple of months. As a result, the magic (or should I say, The Force) was strong with them after they had watched the galaxy's cutest babies being delivered to their foster parents at the end of the film, so I was not suprised to come across them shortly afterwards acting out their own version of not one but a number of scenes, all squashed into a 'best of' composite action sequence.

Boy #1 was the Hero, Boy #2 the Baddie. I'm not sure which Hero, or which Baddie - it's best not ask in these circumstances as you are then at risk of being set complicated Star Wars questions worthy of University Challenge - but Boy #1 was writhing on the floor as Boy #2 electrocuted him with his Evil Power. Cue the following conversation:

Boy #2 "And now, and now I 'lectrotute you. AHAHAHAHAHAAHA!"

Boy #1 : "And then, and then, I fight back. 'I have the high ground. Don't do it!'"

Boy #2: "And then I jump over your head!"

Boy #1: "But I slash at you with my light sabre and, and your cloak catches fire. But don't forget, when that happens you have to stop."

Boy #2: "Why?"

Boy #1: "Because when you catch fire, you have to stop, drop, and roll..."

Boy #2 commences stopping, dropping, and rolling.

Now, if only Anakin had known to stop, drop and roll in the event of his clothes catching fire, we might have been spared the Darth Vader years. You've got to love a modern primary school education...

I've been shortlisted for an award, by the way. The very kind judges at Gurgle have included The Potty Diaries as one of the 5 possibilities for 'Best Funny Mummy Blog'. If you have the chance and the inclination, click here and I'm not too cool to say that every vote for me would be appreciated....

Saturday 13 August 2011

Jamaica Ginger Cake, sticky toffee pudding, and Rusty Lee. What's not to like?

I love to bake, but my repertoire is limited to a few favourite recipes; chocolate cake, shortbread, vanilla sponge, and fairy cakes, and I don't often have the time to get round to making those. And shop-bought cakes, on the whole, are not great in Russia. They look purty, no doubt about that, but to my British tastebuds they are usually too sweet, too creamy, and just don't hit the spot. Add our family's nut issues to the mix, and unfortunately they aren't much of a fall-back for us in Moscow.

So when I was given the chance to write a sponsored post for McVities about their newly repackaged Jamaica Ginger Cake, it brought back a host of delicious memories and made me long for it to be available over here. Not only is it delicious to eat straight (or even - gasp - buttered), but I have been known to use it to make a cheat's sticky toffee pudding by simply slicing it up and pouring toffee sauce over the top before baking it in the oven...

Anyway, enough about my day dreams. Sigh. Visit the official Jamaica Ginger Cake Facebook page for the chance to enter a fabulous competition to win a 'dream holiday' and to see the fabulous Rusty Lee (remember her? More importantly, remember her wonderful laugh?) making delicious recipes with ginger cake. Or otherwise, just watch the clip below before adding the ingredients to make Rusty's truffles to your shopping list...

This was a sponsored post...

Friday 12 August 2011

Laying the table & cutting the cord.

Boy #1 came a step closer to growing up today. I'm torn on how it felt to watch him do it...

I introduced a star chart to the house recently, the aim being that if the Boys complete a certain number of the tasks listed on it each day - and record that fact by awarding themselves a star - they will qualify for their pocket money at the end of every week. To be honest, I thought it would be a good idea as much to act as a prompt for me to remember to give them their earnings (I believe I currently owe them around £10 each) as for them to remember to do the tasks in the first place.

We've had mixed results so far; Boy #2 is still having to be cajoled into clearing the table, for example, and needing rather more help to do it than I would like (one serviette on the kitchen worktop does not a cleared table make), but what the hell, he is only 5. He'll get there in the end. Boy #1 is a lot keener to increase his total of stars each day, and I imagine that's because he has a better grasp of the disposable income he can access than his younger brother does. However, he too has a very different view of what the various tasks listed actually entail than Husband and I do.

Which is where my statement about growing up comes in. This morning at breakfast, Husband was explaining to Boy #1 that 'laying the table' doesn't only mean fetching your own place mat, spoon, and glass to the table, but that it also covers doing the same thing for everyone else in the family. (Note; the fetching and carrying distance involved is approximately 2 metres...). Boy #1 was aghast. Laying the table - for everyone? Every day? That wasn't at all what he signed up to when he, his brother and I sat down to agree the list of tasks on the star chart...

In the past, when confronted with such an unpalatable fact as this, there would have been moaning and complaining aplenty. A bit of wailing, possibly. A lot of noise, definitely. This time, though, he simply went very quiet whilst processing this information. He stared into the middle distance. He teared up, a little. And then, as I watched, he tried to smile it away.

We spotted it, of course. Husband gave him a hug, and tried to explain that laying the table wasn't the prison sentence it seemed to him at that moment in time. We told him that we were proud of the fact that he was trying to be grown up about it.

But I watched him trying to moderate his emotions, to act in a grown-up way, to do what he knew was the reasonable thing, and I'm not ashamed to say that the sight of my seven year old son doing this made me want to cry, too.

I'm not sure why. Maybe because I know that it's just the start of a lifetime of biting his tongue, of holding back. I'm not saying that's always - or even usually - a bad thing, mind you. God help us if we all gave in to our emotions and stamped our feet and shouted 'but it's not fair!' every time things didn't work out as we wanted. It's just that, well, he's my son. And I love him, and want to protect him. And perhaps, watching him struggle to control himself and retain his equilibrium when faced with this realisation - even though it was something so trivial - gave me a brief foretaste of how it's going to feel to have to watch him do the same thing as he deals with the - I hope, not too frequent - disappointments that life will throw at him as a matter of course.

He's nearly 8 years old. I have to step back and let him learn to take the rough with the smooth; I can't always make it better for him. But it's going to be very hard to resist the impulse to wrap him up in cotton wool whenever clouds loom on his horizon.

It's said that this parenting lark doesn't get any easier as your kids get older. I think I'm beginning to get a faint understanding of what that actually means...

Sunday 7 August 2011

Bikini summer - against all expectations

What does it take to get a mid-40's woman back in a bikini for the first time in 10-plus years?

News flash; it is not, as one might think, losing a stone since last summer. I tried that; it turned out that losing weight through controlled eating is one thing, but toning up your bod is something else entirely. As I looked at myself in the mirror, it became clear that a bikini-fit body (in my humble opinion) requires exercise as well as turning down that danish pastry, dammit. (Or surgery I suppose, but I don't have access to Ms Moore's contacts or funds, sadly). Who knew?

Well, I did, actually; it's just that I buried my head in the sand and hoped that this inconvenient truth didn't apply to me. Turned out, it did (even Moscow's most flattering mirror, a pulled-in tummy and squinting at my reflection couldn't hide that fact), so pre-holiday, I sadly put my bikini away in the cupboard yet again and packed my safe and trusty one-piece instead.

And yet, here I am, on holiday, sporting a bikini.

It turns out that it's not the body in the bikini that is important; it is the country that the body is in. And Croatia, where we're currently soaking up the sun for a few days, is utterly - UTTERLY - the land of the 2-piece. To the extent that if a reasonably modest woman turns up on the beach in her 'shape-wear' one-piece she will look like a freak.

Add to that the fact there are plenty of other people on the beach who seem far less concerned about body issues than I do (even though they might have reason to be more so), and that in fact it's actually too hot for a one piece, and my only course of action was to retire to the beach-side market to source an emergency bikini. I managed that - it's amazing what desperation will do for a person's body image - and bravely wore it onto the beach whilst hoping to high heaven that a) I wouldn't scare the - metaphorical - horses and b) that it wouldn't fall apart the moment I hit the water with Boys #1 and #2 (not, for any new readers here, a euphamism for certain parts of my anatomy but simply the way I refer to my sons on this blog. Although, now I think about it...).

And you know what? Nobody noticed, or cared. There was no horrified intake of breath from the entire beach, no blasting of whistles as the body-police raced out with tent-sized kaftans to cover my embarrassment, no clicking of cameras to document the event. There was, in fact, far less interest than there would have been if I had put on the one-piece from John Lewis which I had originally intended to wear.

Mind you, whether said bikini will ever see the light of day anywhere else is doubtful, unless I can bring myself to do those sit-ups and abdominal crunches before next holiday. And the chances of that are so slim that I suspect I should just dump it at the airport as we leave...