Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Gallery; Wk 83

This post is for Week 83 of Tara's Gallery. Click here to see all the other photos...

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'My Kitchen'. We're currently living in rented accommodation here in Moscow, so I suppose that essentially my kitchen is not really 'my' kitchen. But, apart from the last two homes we lived in in the UK, we were always renting, and yet I always felt at home in my kitchen - wherever it was. Thinking about that, I realised that as with so many things in life, it's not the geographical location or the details of ownership that matter, but the things within it.

Pictured here, then, are what I would consider the essential ingredients (see what I did there? That's because I'm such an experienced blogger, that is...) for my kitchen.

Bought or made locally, in no particular order; salt and pepper, obviously, two types of olive oil (extra virgin and ordinary), balsamic vinegar (not only for making salad dressing but for adding to any tomato-based sauces, it really brings out their flavour), onion and garlic, a jar of the home-made apple chutney that no cheese sandwich is complete without (I admit it, I'm showing off here, but having made some for the first time this year I can't believe it's so easy and that I left it so long to get round to), and ginger and cinnamon. Well, you can't make muffins without them and there are almost always muffins of some kind in our house.

Then, there's my folder of recipes, mostly from the Sainsbury Magazine but also ripped out of any other publication featuring what I like to call food porn, which has moved around with me since 2000.

And finally, there's my Travelling Arsenal. These items have been all over the world with me, stowed in my hold luggage and meaning that whenever we arrived at our destination, be it Australia, Russia, the UK, Barbados, France, you name it, I was able to cook healthy meals for my family. They are: Marigold Vegetable Bouillon, a fan steamer, a Sabatier knife, and my trusty easy-to-use-I-would-hate-to-have-to-manage-without-it vegetable peeler.

With the exception of the vegetable bouillon, I know you can buy most of them anywhere in the world but I ask you; is running to the nearest cook store the first thing on your mind when you arrive somewhere on holiday?

What makes a kitchen for you?

Monday 28 November 2011

How do you know...

...when your child is living too secular a life?

I'm supposed to be a Roman Catholic. I have to admit though that, since living in Moscow, I have let my attendance at mass slide somewhat. It's not only because the nearest service in English is in the middle of town and conducted in a not particularly charismatic way; I also, like many Catholics I know, have 'issues' with various situations within the church recently, but I never planned that my concerns would impact on my sons being able to understand the faith they have been baptised into, or interfere with their making a fully informed choice for themselves on whether to embrace it or to look elsewhere in the future.

However, you can't drop your children into a foreign (literally) environment and expect them to absorb your religious education and beliefs by osmosis - as I am discovering. You have to work at it. And following a conversation I had with Boy #2 this weekend, I think I need to prioritise that.

We were discussing who in our family will have the next birthday. Boy #2 knew full well that his is the next birthday, but he just wanted further confirmation of that (when you're 5 going on 6, these things are important).

Me: "Well, yours is the next birthday, Boy #2."

Boy #2: "Yes, yes it is..."

Me (tongue in cheek): "Unless you count Jesus as being in our family, of course. If you do, then his is the next birthday."

Boy #2: "Is it? When?"

Me: "You know when it is! It's on December 25th."

Boy #2 gave a sharp intake of breath "Wow! That's amazing! Jesus's birthday is the same day as Christmas! How lucky is he?"

We got it sorted out, eventually. But I wonder how much actually went in, because the next day...

Boy #2: "You know how my birthday is quite close to Christmas?"

Me: "Yeeees."

Boy #2: "Well, if my birthday was on Christmas Day, and Jesus' birthday was on my birthday, then I would be God!"

Yep. Still a little work to do there, I think.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Love Train

Boy #2 has a new obsession. It is, of course, for a form of transport, and if you've acquainted yourself with his adventures on The Potty Diaries before, you won't be at all surprised to learn that it is for a train. But not just ANY train, oh no.

Boy #2's current object of desire is the mag-lev train.

Almost every waking hour is occupied with unending discussion on how it works, how fast it might go, how many passengers it carries, how it works, how fast it might go... Oh, am I repeating myself? Well, welcome to my life.

He has it all planned out. When he grows up, he will become a mag-lev train driver by day, a singer in a band by night, and after he has finished wowing the crowds at his gigs he will return to the mag-lev where he will sleep, because he is going to sleep on it, oh yes he is. He is not going to have a wife and family because, apart from the fact that girls insist on wearing lipstick on their wedding day (and he can't abide slidey lips), there will be no room for them in the sleeping compartment of the train.

When he learned recently that some good friends of ours are moving to Japan shortly (where one of the two commercially operated mag-lev's operates), his joy knew no bounds. We are going to visit this family, he decided, we are going to 'take a hotel' (his expression, not mine), and we are going to ride on that mag-lev train. Our conversations quickly evolved from general discussion about the train's advantages onto exactly when we were going to visit our friends in Tokyo to experience those advantages for ourselves.

If only he knew that not only were they going to be in Japan but that their mother is planning on using a train (not the mag-lev, thank heavens) to take the children to school every day, that would be the absolute end of any rational discussion about 'if' we visit, and his trunkie would be packed and ready to go before you could say 'magnetic levitation'.

Last night, I heard that our friends' planned move has been temporarily put on hold. It will still happen, just not straight away. And I am thanking god, not only that I get to spend a little longer with my friend, but that Boy#2 no longer has any immediate reason to force me to book flights to Japan...

Wednesday 23 November 2011

The Gallery: Week 82

This post is for Week 82 of Tara's Gallery: click here to see all the other entries...

The prompt for this week's Gallery is 'Something I am Proud Of'. Wow. Like everybody I'm sure, there are things in my life that I'm not proud of (the unpacked boxes from our move nearly one month ago, the fact that after nearly two years in Moscow my Russian is still - to use a technical term - 'crap', my procrastination when it comes to any and all things financial, etc etc), but over all, there's a lot in my life that I AM proud of. So, where to start?

It's lucky, in a way, that I don't post photographs of my family, because I am inordinately proud of my children. Not just of their amazing characters, their achievements, and their resilience but - if I'm honest - how goddam beautiful they are, too. They may be boys, but that doesn't stop complete strangers stopping me and telling me what good-looking sons I have. (It's all from my side of the family, obviously.) However, as I have frequently said, I don't post photos of The Boys here, so you're saved from those...

Instead, then, I'm going to show you some photos I've taken since I've been in Moscow. Not only am I proud of them simply as images, but I am proud of them for what they represent to me: living here, making it work, and not just making it work, but - if you'll pardon the expression - taking this experience and making it my bitch...

Monday 21 November 2011

The one where I get mistaken for security...

I think that perhaps I should be quite offended.

Today, I took a formal guided tour around The Moscow Kremlin for the first time. (I say 'The Moscow Kremlin' because most old Russian cities - and indeed, many cities outside Russia proper - have their own 'Kremlin', as the actual word means 'fortress'; not something you might be aware of if you've never visited here).

It was fascinating, and I'm very glad I did it. Shame it was ruddy freezing and that it's taken me nearly two years of living here to get round to it, but there you go...

Anyway. The moment that caused offence. To enter the Kremlin one has - of course - to go through a security gate manned by armed soldiers. You step through the metal detector, submit your bag for a cursory search and that's it, job done. At least - job done for the four ladies I was on the tour with.

However, after I had gone through the standard procedure, the soldier pulled me to one side and mumbled something in Russian. I couldn't hear it properly so asked him to repeat it - and then I still couldn't understand it. At this stage, he realised I spoke English and asked me very matter-of-factly if I had any guns in my bag.

Guns? In my bag?

Well, I laughed and said no, of course not. But when I discovered that none of my friends had been asked the same question (we were clearly part of the same group), it all became horribly clear.

The soldier thought I was their body-guard.

I guess you can't blame the poor man; two of my friends were tricked out in expensive fur coats, whilst the other two were looking significantly more designer-clad than dressed-for-warmth North-Face branded me, but still. A body guard? I mean, I knew my hat was bad, but really...

Friday 18 November 2011

Self-publicity, Kindle, blogging, and other embarrassments

Sitting at the Boys' school yesterday, fruitlessly trying to sell tickets for a forthcoming event (yes, I AM that masochist you see sitting in the hallway with a fixed grin and an empty cash-box in front of them), I was chatting with a friend. "Do you still blog?" she asked - more to fill the time than anything else, I suspect. "Yes, I do, actually." "And how's it going?" "Well enough. It keeps me busy, what with my normal blog (The Potty Diaries) and the blog I have over at The Moscow Times."

Mention any newspaper and it seems to pique people's interest. Suddenly, blogging is less of a self-indulgent solitary pleasure and seems more glamorous, for some reason. (For me, too, if I'm honest).

"Really? Do you blog over at The Moscow Times? I was just on their site yesterday - funny, I didn't see you on it."

"Well, I don't blog as myself. Obviously. I use a pen name."

She looked at me suspiciously. "Well, I did see a blog on there by a mum in Moscow, but it wasn't you."

"It was, actually." (I was fairly certain on this point, having just checked the Times blog roll that morning).

"No, no. She had another name. I can't quite remember it now..."

"It was me, really. I use the name Clare Taylor on there."

"Was that it...? She wrote a post about politeness, or something. And having been in London this weekend. Oh my god - you were in London this weekend! It WAS you! I can see it now..."

It's interesting, being caught up in a situation like that. Within my circle of friends in Moscow, I don't hugely publicise the fact that I blog here at The Potty Diaries, but I'm happy to mention what I do for The Moscow Times, since what I write there is even less reflective of our family life than what I write here. Since I've never been very good at self-pr, however, I don't even mention that very often.

If someone asks me what I do with my time (other than being a mum - which as we all know leaves us with endless hours in which we do nothing but sit around chatting, drinking coffee and eating chocolate, with the odd flower-arranging class thrown in for good measure) my answer usually involves mumbled references to blogs, writing for other sites, proof-reading, writing for myself and sometimes - sometimes - The Moscow Times.

But, having been inspired by Emily over at More Than Just a Mother to sell this blog on Kindle (it will be an interesting experiment, if not anything else), I need to start publicising that fact. Imagine, then, the following paragraph as being written through metaphorical gritted teeth;

I've just put my blog up for sale on Kindle. I know that if you read it here, the chances of your wanting to pay the princely sum of £0.99 a month to do so on your Kindle reader are slim - and I wouldn't expect, or indeed want, any different. However, if you are inclined to at least take a look, I would be very appreciative of some positive review comments on Amazon.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it PM?

*PM pulls her head out of her hands and, blushing furiously, slinks out of the door...*

Thursday 17 November 2011

Show me your caption...

Tara over at Sticky Fingers is running a fabulous competition right now, to win a Tassimo hot chocolate maker.* Despite the fact that I'm not in the UK right now I have entered, and - what? I live in Moscow and if there's any place in the world where you need - that's right, NEED - hot chocolate, it's right here, right now and that gadget is mine I tell you mine! And - breathe...

Aaaand - I'm back in the room.

Anyway, I entered the competition. To do so, you need to leave a comment on the post telling Tara what you would write on your ideal mug, and the winner will be drawn at random from all the entries received. Some of the captions, let me tell you, are hilarious, and so what I would like to know is; if you could write anything you wanted on your very own bespoke coffee / tea / hot chocolate mug, what would it be?

This was my entry, by the way:

Yes, I DO know everything.

Now go back and flush.

So come on, spill (not literally, of course. Hot chocolate is terribly sticky); what would you write?

*I suspect that this machine also makes other brews, but let's be honest, it's the hot chocolate that is the main event as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Gallery: 11.11.11

This post is for Wk 82 of Tara's Gallery - click here to see all the other great entries... (And if you don't check in there regularly, please take the time to read her posts on her recent visit to Indonesia with Unicef - they will open your eyes)

This week's theme for The Gallery was to record what we were doing on 11.11.11. Now, today I'm sitting in Moscow, it's -4degC, and it's trying (rather pathetically, if I'm honest) to snow. But last Friday, I was - well, no prizes for guessing where.

God, I love London.

I enjoy living in Moscow, don't get me wrong, but London? London is home. And no matter where else I live in the world, I suspect that it always will be.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Service with a smile...

This post first appeared over at my other blog, 'Diaries of a Moscow Mum' on The Moscow Times website

I spent the last four days in London, without my family. This was an interesting experience because not having the children to entertain and wrangle freed my attention sufficiently to notice a few things that I wouldn't normally remark upon. Perhaps it's because I used to be too close to the city — it was my benchmark of "normal" — whereas now, nearly two years after leaving, my expectations and measures of "normal" have changed.

Once upon a time, for example, I would not have been at all surprised by courtesy as a part of everyday life. On this visit, however, I was impressed to see how many people were polite to each other. And I'm not just talking about the service culture being a little more established over there than it is here, no, this is politeness as a two-way street. Not only were cashiers, servers, waiters and suchlike helpful and polite to their customers, but — get this — their customers were polite back!

No grunting, no muttering, no avoidance of eye-contact, no shouting across restaurants waving your hand in the air for service. Instead, people were politely chatting at tills, exchanging pleasantries (invariably about the weather; the British do run true to type on this one), and even smiling at each other.

There could be any number of reasons for this difference in day-to-day life between what I experience here in Moscow and what I saw in London. It could be that I just happened to strike lucky while visiting the latter. Certainly, if you speak to a Londoner, they will say that it is a very unfriendly place to live these days and remark on how standards have dropped. It could be that that people are simply glad to either have a job selling products or the money to spend on them given the economic gloom in the country. Or, it could be that my benchmark for common courtesy has been significantly lowered by my time here.

At the risk of offending a city of 16 million people, I suspect that it is the last of those.

I understand that Moscow is a hard place to live. Money is tight everywhere, the traffic is terrible, the weather is often inhospitable. Families live in close quarters, competition is fierce, you never know what's coming tomorrow. The world is a frightening place, and it's tempting to batten down the hatches and simply conserve the energy it takes to engage socially with another human being at the supermarket, the petrol station, or the cafe, and save it for the fight.

I also know that many people believe there have been great strides in recent years, and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly the goods and services you can access here nowadays are not so different from those "back home." But a decent service culture is only a part of the puzzle and is unlikely to be achieved without some positive feedback from those on the receiving end.

Moscow is a great and exciting city, as I'm constantly telling those who've never visited. But from my limited viewpoint, I would venture to say that life could be so much easier if we were all a little nicer to each other.

It's all very well to expect service with a smile. But you can expect it all you like; you won't see anywhere near as much of it if you aren't prepared to give one in return.

Monday 14 November 2011

How you know you've lost the edge...

How do you know you've lost that sartorial edge?

Obviously, this post is not about me. I am, of course, a mere whippersnapper of coughcoughmumblemumble, only buying my clothes from Top Shop, Miss Sixty and other places that cater to the stick thin and trend-led such as myself.

Pause whilst PM picks herself up from the floor, laughing hysterically, and pops upstairs to change her sensible M&S underwear. Pelvic floors ain't what they used to be...

So, how do you know when following fashion is no longer your top priority?

When you show your best girlfriends the new pair of highly desirable boots you picked up on the Kings Road, with patent leather and everything, and the aspect of them that everyone agrees is amazing?

"Look at that! That's fantastic! Do you know how difficult it is to find a pair of nice-looking boots with a decent tread on them?"

We are becoming our mothers.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Netmums Blog of the Week? Why, I don't mind if I do, thankyou very much!

May I point your attention in this direction? Having uploaded my blog to Netmums some time back, I promptly forgot all about it, so being singled out as Blog of the Week was a doubly nice surprise when I found out about it this evening.

Thankyou, Netmums!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Things that make you go; hmmmm....

An acquaintance of mine was talking recently about how, having written his Christmas list at the end of September, her son announced last week that it was now out of date and he had changed everything on it. Everything. Which, if you are as poorly organised as I am, not doing your present shopping until a week before the big day, would be no biggie, but this lady is slightly better sorted than me.

So much better sorted, in fact, that the September list presents have already been purchased and are awaiting collection at various relatives houses.

You will be pleased to know, Reader, that I did not revel in this proof that my slightly haphazard approach to the Big C is a good thing. No sirree. Not in the slightest. But that was mainly because I was too busy trying to keep my face expression-free as she continued with the story to tell me how she was now frantically trying to buy everything on the new list.

I mean, surely a quiet word with her son about how Santa already put the order in with the elves for the previous list - or at least some of it - wouldn't have gone amiss? Just because they ask for it, should kids automatically get it?

I've already written - here - about my approach to presents for the Boys. (Basically, whatever they want as long it comes in lots of pieces that can be wrapped separately for maximum gift-wrap-rippage opportunities, and as long the total budget comes in at less than £70- £100). But how far would you go to accommodate your children's Christmas wishes?

Monday 7 November 2011

In which PM shows how good a student of Russian she is...

The eagle-eyed reader may have spotted a reference in one of last week's posts to the fact that we moved house recently. Not far - 200m, to be precise - but it is a different house, it did require a total boxing up of all our possessions (so they could rattle precariously from one side of the compound to the other on the back of a flatbed truck), and, of course, now that we're in, it also requires a number of visits from The Workmen.

Because, you see, we are not allowed to do anything to our house ourselves.
A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And 'anything' not only includes sorting out shower curtains and putting up shelves; even knocking in picture hooks and changing lightbulbs would put us in breech of contract.


I've been through this before of course, when we first moved here, so you would think I would be prepared for it all, but honestly? Not so much. My Russian, I'm afraid to admit, has not improved that much since the last time - nearly two years ago - that we moved into a house. I'm handier with a dictionary now than I was then, but otherwise... And the workmen's attitude to me has similarly not improved. I thought I was imagining it, but was lucky enough to be visited by an English Russian-speaking neighbour during one of their recent sessions here. "It's shocking how they shout at you just because you don't understand them so well" she said before she left. Which, now I come to think of it, is probably how English workmen treat Russians in the UK, so I guess there's some cosmic payback going on here.

In any case, I was going to treat you to another of my interpretations of what the Russian Workmen might be talking about in an alternate reality, but realised that I actually I've already done that, so instead I am going to cheat and reproduce what I wrote about this in February 2010...

It's just before 9.00am and the kitchen is currently full of Russian workmen, replacing our new - and broken - washing machine with an old - unbroken - one. Lots of instructions are being bandied backwards and forwards, one of the guys has his head under the kitchen sink and is making a muffled commentary from there, and every now and then there is a worrying silence, punctuated only by the wheezing sighs of habitual smokers. As I type, the dishwasher has been pulled out (please god, no! Don't take the dishwasher!) and the tumble dryer is being balanced precariously on top of it.

Frankly it's the sort of thing which, if I owned any of the appliances they are currently messing about with would give me kittens, but since I don't, I'm just enjoying the show.

The thing is, in my non-Russian speaking bubble, right now I have no idea what's going on. For all I know, the conversation could be as follows:

Young Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Come on guys. I know it's early but we need to get this sorted out."

Workman #1: "That's easy for you to say. You haven't got at dishwasher balancing on your head. What did the stupid cow do to break the washing machine anyway?"

Workman #2: "God knows. These westerners and their crazy wash-every-day ideas. Every one knows you don't need clean clothes every day. No wonder the damn thing's broken "

Silence, broken only by panting and puffing...

Workman #3 (head under the sink): "Would it be out of the question to light up a quick fag, do you think?"

Workman #4: "Better not. You know how arsy they get about that type of thing. Not a decent ashtray in the place as far as I can see. Somebody pass me the monkey wrench?"

Workman #2 "What am I, your servant? Get it yourself, Comrade!"

Workman 4: "Comrade? That's behind us now. I don't need to answer to you, commissar."

Mild-Mannered Foreman: "Hey! Hey! Stop with the political discussions and eyeing up the chocolate biscuits and pass him the monkey wrench for pete's sake. We're all new Russians now. Right. One, two, three, lift..."

Workman #1: "Watch out for the laminate flooring! It's brand new! We didn't take up the perfectly decent parquet for you to scratch Ikea's finest laminate that we replaced it with."

Silence and more wheezing...

Workman 3: "OK. One previously perfect Samsung out - one slightly ropy Ariston alternative in. Give it a wipe down with your handkerchief, comrade, and let's be off."

Workman 2: "Let's see how long it takes the Western Imperialists idiots to break this one with their compulsive washing habits... We do know she doesn't understand us, I take it?"

Saturday 5 November 2011

Sky High and a sponsored post...

This is a sponsored post.

The Boys (and their father) are watching Sky High. Well, it's the end of half term and they've been so well-behaved that... Oh, alright, I admit. We all love a bit of cheese from time to time; so sue me.

Rather than bore you with details of the fiendishly complicated plot unfolding on screen (although I have to say I did quite like the comment I just overheard about one superstrong hero vs a technical superstar; "Yet he'll be the one on cereal boxes. Show me the justice in that..."), may I direct your attention to Feather & Black's website, where right now there is a sale going on?

I have to say that whilst I personally have not bought any of their childrens bedroom furniture to date (Feather & Black are sadly short of retail outlets in Moscow at present), the boys were lucky enough to be sent a pair of their Jaws pyjamas each last summer and despite the dropping temperatures (it's due to hit a low of -7 degC here tonight), these are still firm favourites. That may of course have something to do with the fact that Boy #2 is going through a growth spurt and whilst he's grown up, he hasn't grown out; rather the opposite, in fact. As a result all of his other pj's are now too loose in the waist, leading to some interesting builder's bottom situations at the breakfast table...

Whatever the reason though, the quality of these pj's is good enough that I will be taking advantage of the F&B sale myself when I visit the UK next weekend.

This may have been a sponsored post but I was serious about the sale and taking advantage of it...

Friday 4 November 2011

Greater love hath no mother...

...for her children than to stay in the kitchen cutting up pizza for them whilst the volleyball scene from Top Gun is on...

What's your idea of a 'supreme sacrifice' for your kids?

Oh, and whilst we're at it, I've been blogging over at The Moscow Times again. Click here if you want to read the pearls of wisdom I could have shared - but didn't - with some new arrivals recently...

Thursday 3 November 2011

Staycationing is the new Expat black...

It's half term here in our corner of Expatville and unlike most of our peers, we did not head for the hills the moment the school bell rang last Friday afternoon. We stayed put, brave and trusty souls that we are and have been forging our way through the wasteland that is Moscow without school, scheduled activities or - crucially -playdates.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's been brilliant. We have got up late, hung out, unpacked boxes (for yes, Potski-watchers, we have moved house), and generally had a really really relaxing week. When I think of the alternative - packing suitcases, rushing for the airport, flights, picking up hire cars and moving from pillar to post for 6 days - I am so happy we have just stayed put.

And the best thing?

The Boys are loving it. Sure, there have been a few utterances of 'I'm bored!' but judicious application of board games, stories, football, monster sessions in the playground (guess who was the monster...) and yes, the odd session of playing on ds's and watching dvd's (don't judge me - there's only so much roaring and racing around that a monster-mother can do) has soon sorted that. It's been a fantastic example of how children really don't need their time scheduled to the nth degree, and how well they can react to needing to entertain themselves.

Obviously I'm not intending that we should never go on holiday ever again. But on Monday, when my sons return to school rested, delighted to be back with their friends and ready for the second half of the term, and are surrounded by jetlagged and exhausted children who have spent the last week racing around the globe, I have to admit that I won't be sorry we stayed put this time around...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Gallery: the letter 'T'

This post is for Week 80 of Tara's Gallery (click here to see all the other entries), and the prompt is the letter 'T'. Not having a 'tache easily to hand as Tara does I've had to reach somewhat more for a suitable photo, and my offering is nowhere near as entertaining as hers, but here goes.

I took this photo on Sunday afternoon. It's from the bridge between Bolotny Island (where the old Red October chocolate factory used to be) and Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and it shows a beautiful sunny afternoon, the newly built cathedral (an exact copy of the one in the same spot that was knocked down by the communists 80 years ago), one of Stalin's Seven Sisters (the tall building in the background), and in the far far distance the soaring sky-scrapers of Moscow City (the Russian equivalent - sort of - of Canary Wharf).

And where does the letter 'T' come into all this? The buildings, the sunshine, our being in this city in the first place; whether we like it or not, they're all Transient. Or Temporary. You choose; either will do...