Tuesday 27 September 2011

The best blog advice I have ever received is...

I'm feeling a little low on blogging inspiration right now, so BritMums Prompt of the Week was something of a godsend for me today. It's not that I have nothing to say, you understand; just that I have nothing I want to commit to the ether and - essentially - have it rattle around in cyberspace for eternity. Because, even if you post, and then think better of it and delete what you've written from your blog, it will always be out there - somewhere.

Having said that, thinking before you hit publish is not the best blogging advice I have ever received. It's not bad advice, you understand - (my personal approach is that if I'm writing something I think may be controversial I write it, save it, and re-read it the next day to see if it still holds true and if I am happy for it to be 'out there' for ever, then I publish it), but it's not the best advice I've ever read or been given on blogging.

No, the best bit of advice that I've ever been given about blogging is that the you shouldn't over-think. (Which, now I consider it, completely contradicts the paragraph above this but what the hell, it's my blog, if I want to be contrary I will). And by 'over-think' I mean, spend time fretting about writing the funniest post, the most popular post, the one that will get the most mentions on twitter, the most comments, the highest number of hits, the most links. If you start to worry about doing all of those things you are - or at least, I am - lost. You will lose your identity and spend all your time floundering around for the next hot issue to blog about, and will be at risk of losing any originality or individuality you have.

Sure, you should - or again, I do - ensure that when you post something, you are proud of it, if not in sentiment then at least of the way that you write it. But you shouldn't sit there in front of your keyboard worrying that what you write might not be good enough, might not be entertaining enough, and get yourself all tangled up in knots about that. That way lies bloggers block.

Which leads me onto the next snippet of the best advice I ever received, which is - to borrow a well-known advertising slogan - just do it. (Feel free to add expletive as required). What you need to do - if you want to be a blogger who enjoys what they're spending their time doing - is just write. Even when you think you have nothing to say, just log into your blog, click on 'new post' and write. You'll be amazed by how easily the words flow if you can just find that first sentence - even if it's nonsense.

And then, the third part of the best piece of advice I ever received about blogging. Say what you want to - and then stop.

So I will.

Friday 23 September 2011

And in other news...

...I've just had an email asking me if I am interested in buying accessories for my washing machine.

Excuse me? Accessories for my washing machine? Before I clicked on the link (for yes, I am that mug), I spent a happy few seconds imagining what they might be. Perhaps a jaunty little hat for those trips to the farmer's market? A natty pair of leather gloves for those chilly days, now that autumn is here? Or maybe an autumnally coloured scarf, for wear whilst out mushrooming in the forest?

No, of course, don't be potty, PM. Let's get real.

Perhaps, then, the term 'accessories' when matched with 'washing machine' could refer to some swanky go-faster stripes, colour-coordinated to match the granite work surface in your kitchen. For obviously, no washing machine that would need something as grand as an accessory could possibly be seen anywhere without a slab of granite or corian close to hand. Or actually, maybe the granite or corian IS the accessory, and this is the manufacturer's way of branching out into a new market-place? Or, perhaps it refers to some washing machine bling; a cheeky little swarovski crystal tattoo around the base of the door? (Don't laugh - I actually think Sub-zero have already done this with a fridge).

But no. 'Washing machine accessories' actually means 'detergent'. And, if you're going to push the boat out, it can also mean 'descaler'. Who knew?

Oh yes, and my older son just asked me if, when he's 12, I will let him watch that well-known movie 'Pirate Caravan'. I said yes, naturally. Well, a film about pirates on holiday in a 4 berth caravan, perhaps on the west coast of France, squabbling about who's turn it is to empty the waste container, who ate the last weetabix for breakfast, and who's responsible for their getting lost and ending up at a nuclear power station instead of at the unspoilt beach within easy reach of a local vineyard - what's not to like?

Seasonal changes; Autumn in Moscow (Part 1)

So, it's Autumn in Moscow. I know this for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it's tipping with rain outside and only 15degC. Mind you, this on it's own is not conclusive proof because I remember similar conditions 2 years ago in August when we visited with the Boys to convince them that this would be a wonderful place to live...

So supporting evidence is needed, and I present that as follows;

The mushroomers are out in force. Russians go crazy for mushrooms, it seems, and on any trip out of the city at this time of year you will pass a number of home-made stalls on the edge of the road with (usually) babushka's perching on upturned plastic crates, behind a plastic sheet on the ground covered with interesting looking fungi. I'm not a great mushroom lover myself (can't really be doing with the texture, I'm afraid), but Muscovites will happily load their car up with their family, some charcoal, some shashlik and some beer and trek out to the forest to make a day of their foraging expedition for nature's bounty. I'ld quite like to try it, actually - the trip out, that is - just as long as I don't have to eat the results.

The supermarkets are full of empty jars and lids. This is not only for the home-prepared stewed fruit, jams and vegetables from the garden at the family dacha which are brought back into the city in triumph, crammed into the back of the car, as the weather turns colder. The jars are also used to store the mushrooms mentioned above, which are often preserved salted. Note: if you are not keen on mushroom's texture in the first place it ranks somewhere in the 7th circle of culinary hell when you are presented proudly with a dish of salted mushrooms prepared to an old family recipe by your host, and which you really feel you must try or cause offence.

*shudders theatrically*

The traffic gets significantly worse. This morning it was an 8-lane day as I joined the highway. 8 lanes where 3 are marked, that is. Gosh, I just can't wait for the first snow in a few weeks time when no-one has their winter tyres on yet and things get even jollier...

The new parents at the school start to lose the 'rabbit in the headlights' look that they had in the first few weeks of term when they would arrive to drop their children off, having battled the traffic all the way across town** and made the mistake of thinking that they were driving in an environment where 'normal' traffic rules apply. They don't. Luckily it only takes 4 weeks to get used to that, and in any case most of these expats rarely sit behind the wheel of a car, letting their driver take the strain...

And finally, I know it is Autumn because I have already seen Russian children dressed up in snowpants and hats. In September. At 15 degC. I mean, I know it pays to be prepared, but...

** This is invariably the result of allowing their working partner / working partner's HR department to choose their accommodation on an earlier - solo - visit to Moscow, when proximity to the office was ranked more highly than proximity to the children's school. Which is all very well until you realise that whilst one member of the family only has a ten minute commute, everyone else is sitting in the car for around 3 hours a day...

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Spreading the love - one jam at a time

I've blogged before about driving in Moscow. So far, so good on that one, but I know I'm just on borrowed time before the first accident / stoppage by the traffic police / running out of petrol in heavy traffic situation.

I'm trying to be optimistic, however, which is why - (oh no, I hear you thinking, she's not going to... is she?) - I'm going to suggest you take a look at what I've posted over at my other blog at The Moscow Times (yes, Expat Mum, I only ruddy am...) where I've been waxing lyrical about spreading the love on the highways of the city, and about how it might - just might - be starting to pay off...

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Help wanted...

I should be proof-reading, tidying up, checking what we're going to have for dinner tonight, or editing photographs, but I'm not. This post has been metaphorically burning a hole in my pocket since Friday, and until I write it I can't properly focus on anything else.

This is Sergey*.

I met him and his mother when I was at a riding centre for the disabled in Moscow. He has, amongst other things; cerebral palsy, bilateral spastic diplegia, and a very rare chromosomal disease. It's the last that is the real problem and as a result of it, he's slowly fading away. There seems to be no help available to him here in Russia, and his mother is desperate. Desperate enough to approach a complete stranger with no medical knowledge or expertise, who doesn't even speak the same language, to ask if there is any way I could help. She wasn't looking for money (specifically), but instead for any information she can find on where to turn for assistance in treating Sergey's condition outside Russia.

Since I had a Russian friend me with me, we were able to exchange email addresses and she has sent me a translation of his medical diagnosis.

Now. I know that there are millions upon millions of children out there who need help. I know that Sergey is just one amongst them, and that they should all have a shot. I'm told by others who are more experienced than I am at dealing with charities that it's possible to tie yourself up in knots over one child, when in fact you should keep the bigger picture in mind.

I know all that.

But I've met this little boy, and his mother. I've seen first-hand his condition and smiled with him as he was helped to ride a pony and undergo therapy which - whilst it can't cure his condition - can at least ease some of the symptoms. And I can't forget the quiet desperation in his mother's voice as she repeated for what must be the thousandth time the details of his diagnosis to yet another complete stranger who might - somehow - be able to help.

So I'm trying, via friends in the medical profession back home, to see if there is anyone I can put her in touch with, and since I have this blog, I'm trying here too.

Please, if you know of anyone who may have contacts in the area of treating chromosomal diseases, ask them to get in touch with me via the email listed on the 'contact me' page of this blog and once I've checked out their credentials I will forward them Sergey's translated diagnosis and put them in touch with his mother.

Thanks for reading.

*Not his real name

Monday 19 September 2011

Sign Away Meningitis

Meningitis Awareness Week starts in the UK tomorrow.

The Meningitis Research Foundation is calling on the British government to pursue the widest and earliest possible implementation of vaccines to prevent the diseases of meningitis and septicaemia. You can help; take a couple of minutes to watch this video if you can, or just click here to go straight through and sign the petition.


Thursday 15 September 2011

Third Culture Kids - and what it can mean.

I was at a talk today about Third Culture Kids. For those of you who have never heard the term before, here's a brief explanation:

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

I have to admit to being just a little sceptical about the TCK phenomenon. Surely, we're all Third Culture Kids to a certain extent these days? Most people I know back in London are not living in their town of origin, and a large minority are not even in their country of origin. Life moves so fast these days, and technology has developed at such a rate, that our lives today don't just bear little relation to our parent's at the same age, but have few similarities to that of our own whilst we were growing up, or even 15 years ago.

Having said that, the longer I live in this expat environment, the more I start to see that there is merit in coining a term for the ever-increasing numbers of children who live away from their parent's culture and who experience repeated moves from nation to nation before they even leave the parental home for university. One of the statements I heard today that pulled at the heartstrings was that these 'global nomads' experience more loss and separation (from friends, family, and cultural touch-points) before they're 18 than most people do in their entire lives.

I've seen for myself, twice now, the turnover of families at the end of every school year. The 30% exodus from school as soon as the final term bell rings leaves gaping holes in the lives of those left behind, not only for the children but for their parents too. It's one thing to be the leaver, moving onwards and upwards to new experiences - no matter how unsure you might be about it, no matter how much grief you may have for what you've left behind, it's still exciting and engaging - but it's quite another to be a 10 year old child returning to school knowing that the chances are you're going to have find a new best friend, a new mentor, a new favourite teacher, because all of those you spent time with last year have moved on.

We live in an increasingly mobile world, of course we do, so most of us have to deal with this from time to time, expat or not. But it seems to me - from the sidelines, since I don't really see myself as what I jokingly call 'a serial expat' - that this must be an incredibly hard thing to do time after time after time. Because that's what these families do, many of them every 2 - 3 years. And the children often think of themselves as belonging everywhere - and nowhere.

There are positives, obviously. Third culture kids often grow up extremely sociable. They know how to handle themselves in almost any given situation. They are open to new experiences, thrive on change, are often able to speak multiple languages, and are devoted World Citizens, appreciating and tolerating cultures different to their own in a way it's more difficult to do if you've spent your whole live living next to your grandparents. TCK's have seen some of the best and the worst that the world has to offer, and have opinions on both.

TCK's make friends easily, too, although interestingly once they move 'back home' or attempt to put down roots in an environment that is more settled than the expat one which they've known, this can prove challenging in itself. Why? Well, one of the ways that they make friends easily is to skip the 'getting to know you' stages that most people take for granted. They reveal more about themselves, more quickly, than less-transient people are used to. Between TCK's this is a useful time-saving exercise and helps them learn quickly if the person they're sharing information with is one they something in common with. With those who aren't used to moving around so much however, this can backfire and to them - used to a slower pace of friendship - a TCK can come across as being 'intense', 'full-on' or just plain 'weird'.

Now, as I said earlier, I don't see myself as a serial expat. If anything, I feel as if I'm just taking a sabbatical from my life in London, that's it's always there for me, and that one day the Potski family will be able to drop seamlessly back into the world where we left off. But deep down I know that's impossible. Nothing stands still - for anyone - and even if we went 'home' tomorrow I would be 2 years older and changed by the experiences we've had in Russia. Some of them for the good, some of them not, but I am undoubtedly changed, and perhaps I won't fit back in as seamlessly as I might like.

Much like a Third Culture Kid, now I come to think of it.

Update: I just had to include this fantastic excerpt from one of the comments on this post, from MsCaroline who writes a wonderful blog over at AsiaVu. (Read her post on foot care - it's hilarious). I'll let her have the last word, since she actually is a Third Culture Kid herself:

'I read this book ('When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit') when I was 9 or 10, and this quote has always resonated with me as a TCK. Anna and her family are refugees from Hitler, and have escaped first to Switzerland, then to France, and eventually to England. Anna asks her father, "Do you think we'll ever really belong anywhere?"
“I suppose not,” said Papa. “Not the way people belong who have lived in one place all their lives. But we’ll belong a little in lots of places, and I think that may be just as good.”

Tuesday 13 September 2011

If I could start my blog over I would...

(Thankyou to the BritMums site for this prompt, by the way - click here to see how a bunch of other bloggers have used it)

If I could start my blog over, I would;

... remain totally anonymous. (Not to other bloggers, pr's or advertisers, obviously. That would be silly). Then I could rant and rage to my heart's content about various people and places without fearing of upsetting anyone. Of course, in reality this is practically impossible, but it's nice to dream.

... choose a different platform from the beginning. Blogger has done me proud, but it is limited and when I cast an envious glance over other peoples' sites, I do wonder why I didn't do a little more investigating before hitting 'publish' that first time.

.... never have used that teeny tiny font which for some reason I did for the first year or so, until a very kind commenter was brave enough to request I take it up a size

... have asked Liz at Violet Posy to give the blog a make-over a whole lot earlier than I actually did.

... be more organised about keeping track of pr approaches, who paid for what and who I should be invoicing for continued space on the side bar etc. I mean, I love spreadsheets! Why didn't I just set one up to track it all?

... archive more often. The shock of Blogger's tantrum a few months back suddenly made me realise that I could have lost everything. And at 915 posts and counting, that's a lot of work to potentially say goodbye to.

But the biggest thing of all?

... I would have sat down and seriously thought through the potential embarrassment of having to stand up in a roomful of professional people and say, with a relatively straight face; "Hi. I'm Potty Mummy."

What on earth was I thinking?

Sunday 11 September 2011

Reflections on Boy #1's 8th Birthday Party...

1. Always take your own advice on the subject of chocolate and go for quality over quantity. Otherwise you will find yourself at 10.00pm the night before the party (during your last-minute birthday cake-baking rush) looking sadly at what should be a 'glossily combined' bowl of chocolate, condensed milk, sugar and butter and decided that based on the greying glutinous gloop in the bowl in front of you, yes, it is necessary to go out to the 24 hr supermarket to buy the expensive chocolate you were too mean to buy just a few hours earlier...

2. Just because it didn't rain last year's birthday party treasure hunt, that doesn't mean it won't rain on this year's birthday party treasure hunt. Prepare for a soaking. Dig out the wellies. Abandon any hope of looking stylish. Take heart; the designer-clad Russian mummies probably won't hang around to get the heels of their stillettos caught in the mud during mad dashes across the grass to run relays or arm-wrestle security guards in any case, so frankly, what does it matter if your wellington boots are Homebase specials rather than Hunter trendies?

3. Remember; if the cleaner you paid to come in and help out at last year's party was a disaster then, needing constant supervision and showing no more initiative than a sulky 13 year old girl, the chances are that nothing will have changed over the last 12 months.

4. You can never have too much pizza for kid's birthday parties. Think of a number, and double it. Then add on 10.

5. Don't waste too much time peeling carrots and slicing peppers etc: vegetable sticks really are there just for decorative purposes and to save face in the Healthy Eating stakes. (FFS - it's a party. Do you really expect them to eat raw broccoli?)

6. Never - but NEVER - leave your 2 beautiful Smartie-decorated chocolate ganache-clad birthday cakes (you know; the ones you were up until midnight the night before making) out in the kitchen with your cleaner there unsupervised. Otherwise, when you ask her to turn on the oven and put the pizza in you will only have yourself to blame when you just happen to go into the kitchen 5 minutes later to find she has put the fully-iced cakes in the oven instead of the pizza.

7. Should the unthinkable (as detailed above) happen, however, hold your nerve. Once you have whipped the cakes out of the oven, stuck them in the fridge to re-set the ganache, and have recovered from the shock with a medicinal glass of white wine or two, you may just find that slightly molten smarties actually taste quite nice on top of warm chocolate cake. And of course this is the perfect moment to thank your lucky stars that the birthday candles weren't already in place.

And finally...

8. There will always be one child who, on seeing the Ben 10 jigsaw and Milky Way bar you have prepared as a going home present, will say "I don't need the jigsaw, thanks. I'll just take the chocolate."

Friday 9 September 2011

So, you think you know everything...

"How do you know that?" Boy #1 asked me when I pointed out that he hadn't made his bed today and reminded him that if he wanted a star for his chart, he should go and sort it.

"Because I am the Mummy. And I know everything" I replied.


"But how do you know that?" Boy #1 asked again during a conversation about ancient Egypt, sarcophogi and canopic jars.

"Because, I learned it at school. And of course, because I am the Mummy. So I know everything about Ancient Egypt..."


"But how do you know that 23 is 'greater than' 18? How?" during his maths homework.

"Because it just is - here's a number line to show you, and 'greater than' means 'more than' or, 'a bigger number than'. And, of course..."

"...because you are the Mummy. And you know everything."

"That's right, my child. You are finally getting it."

But Boy #1 had had enough. "You don't! You don't know everything! Who was it, in Star Wars Episode 2, who had their head severed off in the arena?"

"Ummm.... Count Dooku?"

"No! You see, you DON'T know everything. Ha! It was Boba Fett!"

Dammit. Apparently I don't know everything. I'm going to have to find another tag-line

Thursday 8 September 2011

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The Gallery, Wk 73; Shoes

This post is for week 73 of The Gallery - click here to see all the other entries, and this week's theme is 'Shoes'.

When I saw this prompt, my first thought was to put up a post about walking in another man's - or woman's - shoes. I do have a picture that fits, but then I changed my mind, mainly because I recently bought myself some new shoes in the sales back in the UK, and well, if a girl can't show off her new shoes on her blog, where can she?

I love shoes. Or rather, I love the idea of shoes; I don't actually possess that many pairs because I'm not good at shopping. That being said, some of the most expensive items in my wardrobe are for my feet. The ones below aren't in that category, however, but I love them all the same, mainly because I'm a closet bling worshipper. I don't have much shiny-shiny stuff, I'm not that confident, but I do like to look at it on others. And every now and again, I buy an item that allows me to include something burnished and/or metallic in what I'm wearing, without sending me over the edge into fantastic Beyonce-ness.

These shoes, ladies, are my Autumn homage to a very understated bling-tastic look. I wear them with skinny jeans and in my misguided 44 year old mind, the colour on it's own lifts what I'm wearing from dowdy school-run mum to someone who might, once upon a time, have been a bit funky.

They're not that comfortable, mind you. But I suspect that excessive wear will soon sort that out...

Monday 5 September 2011

Note to self #168

It's a good idea to check that the new tracksuit bottoms you have bought for your older son fit before the day he actually needs to wear them to school.

Otherwise you will find yourself - having discovered at 7.45am (on a morning when you are flying solo in the child-care department) that despite being marked 'Age 6 - 8' they are too big for his skinny frame and refuse to stay up even with a t-shirt tucked inside the waist-band - frantically searching for a needle & thread to take them in.

Too skinny at 8 for size 6 - 8 tracksuit bottoms? He clearly gets his body-type from his father, is all I can say.

Friday 2 September 2011

5 year old boys, PMT, and self doubt; a dangerous cocktail

Five year old boys and PMT do not mix well.

That is my considered opinion after a morning when I raised my voice more often than I should have during breakfast, harrassed beyond the end of my already hormonally-challenged temper by constant requests to read him his train-tastic railway magazine (Boy #2 is a train spotter extraordinaire in the making) and his tantrums over his too-sloppy weetabix, his too-sloppy cornflakes, and his napkin - which he refuses to tuck into his waist-band - falling repeatedly onto the floor.

So, whilst sorting the Boys' breakfasts, their lunch boxes, the pack of chopped vegetables that Boy #1 needed to take into class for a project today, getting them to brush their teeth, put their shoes on and check that they had all the various kit they needed for their day, I shouted. Loudly. There may have been swearing in there, too. There was certainly a great deal of hissiness and general crossness on my part, and if I'm honest, a remark that I may well go back to work and leave Boy #2 with a nanny if he continued to behave like this every morning. Which was not a helpful thing to say, since if it comes to that, it will be nothing to do with his behaviour and everything to do with financial realities and / or my trying to re-establish myself as an employable human being.

And it's too close to being a real possibility for me to allow him to think of having a nanny as a punishment.

In the heat of the moment I'm falling into the trap, I think, of imagining that what I say to him won't be remembered in years to come and yet, he's 5, for goodness' sake. He already remembers events that happened last year and the year before. Hell, he remembers that the blasted train magazine he was leafing through this morning was a present from his cousin last February. I can no longer rely on the fact that he is too little to process and store away things that are said and done; he isn't.

It's just unfortunate that his end-of-week tiredness, his kicking against the restraints of going back to school after a summer of doing what he likes, when he likes, collide with what seems to be an increasingly fierce PMT as I get older.

I need to take a step back in those situations. I need to take a deep breath. Is it really worth getting wound up over too-sloppy weetabix, for example? Why not bite my tongue, simply throw it away and start again? Because it's one of those battles that really, really aren't worth fighting, and in any case, desperate to get him to eat something, anything for breakfast before a long school day, that's what I did this morning. Crossly, yes. Muttering about over-priviledged little pashas and starving children in Africa, yes, but eventually, that's what I did; throw it away and start again.

Writing this down here, it's glaringly obvious that in situations like this, I need to aim for the high ground. I am the parent; I am the grown up. I am the one who should be able to keep their temper. Perhaps I need my own star chart here? Awarding myself points for fulfilling the promise 'I will keep my temper when Boy #2 is having one of those mornings'? It's certainly worth thinking about.

In the meantime, I'm off to make the vanilla cake that I promised him when I dropped him unwillingly off at school this morning. Well. Given the circumstances - and the time of the month - I think it will make both of us feel better...