Saturday 29 December 2012

What was YOUR favourite Christmas present?

Want to know what my best Christmas present this year was?  (Other than, of course, being in the same place as my husband for 2 continuous weeks, reconnecting with family and friends etc etc etc).

Prepare yourself for some serious hard-core glamour...

Well, bearing in mind it was -16degC when we left Moscow just over a week ago and I suffer badly from Reynaud's Syndrome, which leaves me with dead fingers if my hands get too cold (one of the perils of having poor circulation), I would have to say, these:

Other women may long for something small and sparkly in a leather-clad box on Christmas Day and I must admit, I would have been very happy with something like that.  (As it happens, I did also get a leather-clad box but mine was empty except for the two chocolates Husband had put into the travel jewellery case I had also requested).

But on balance, the gloves are my favourite present; it's pathetic how excited I am at the prospect of slipping a chemical heater into the special zipper compartment on the back of each glove and daring the Russian winter to do it's worst. There you are however; that's the rock & roll lifestyle I lead.

Gloves, chocolate, and a little portable luxury in the form of a leather travel jewellery box that fits neatly into my handbag.  Husband more than covered all the relevant bases.  I am a lucky woman.

So come on, spill: what was your favourite Christmas present?

  • This post was inspired by one from Expat Mum here, a fellow Brit living in a cold climate...
  • Not a sponsored post, btw...

Thursday 20 December 2012

I've caved.

It used to be so easy back in the day, commenting on other people's blogs.  You hit the comment button, wrote your message, and bob's your uncle, done and dusted.

Nowadays, it seems you have to jump through hoops to leave a message for the writer of a blog.  Captcha, disqus, comment moderation; wherever I look I see bloggers employing these methods to filter out the spam.    Of course, it was never something that I considered for my own blog, why would I?  The Potty Diaries was too small and insignificant to attract spam, no need for word verification here.

Oh, how little I knew.

About 3 months ago I picked up on a twitter comment where a contact of mine consoled another person that she too got spam in her inbox from blog accounts that she visited - and The Potty Diaries was one of those that she mentioned.  Apparently, even if they don't show in your 'published' comment box, spam comments are still active - and so can access the details of other people who leave comments on your posts.  Horrified, I investigated and did what I should probably have done significantly earlier; I checked my spam comment box.

For the love of mike. (Yes, we have been watching The Polar Express here.  More than once...)

There were THOUSANDS of the damn things in there.  It took what felt like days to delete them all, but I did it and sat back congratulating myself;  this was the accumulated debris of 5 1/2 years blogging activity, I thought, and I should easily be able to keep on top of it from now on.

*heavy sigh*

Not so much.  I've been getting between 50 and 100 comments a day automatically side-lined into the spam box, plus a good few sneaky ones that have made it past the filters and attached themselves to older posts so I don't spot them unless I go looking, and frankly?  I've had enough.  I have much better things to do with my time than run a 'spam search and destroy' mission every morning.  So I have two apologies to make.  Firstly, to anyone who received spam in their email box as a result of commenting on The Potty Diaries; I am sorry.  I'm trying to sort it and hope this now stops.

Secondly, I apologise to anyone who wants to comment on the blog from now on.  For lo, I have turned on the dread word verification tool and whilst I hope it will weed out those annoying comments about duvet coats, viagra, webmaster tools and weight-loss programs (not taking offence at that last one, not. AT. ALL), I also know it makes commenting here more complicated and I totally understand if you now choose not to bother.  (Although, I hope that you do).

I am trying to find a more commenter-friendly alternative, but in the short term I'm hoping this will stop the flood of nonsense on The Potty Diaries.

Or at the very least - the nonsense that I haven't actually written myself...

Monday 17 December 2012

'Surely we can do better than this?'*

You know, I try not to be contentious on this blog.  I try to keep my head below the parapet, for my family's sake, and mostly that's fine.

But the events last Friday in a small town in Conneticut, and the subsequent reactions of some have driven me to break that self-imposed rule today.  In an attempt to understand how it's come to this, I've been reading a great deal of what has been available online and whilst most of the articles are measured and respectful in their tone, the remarks in the comment boxes from people who are concerned that their precious 'right to bear arms' may be affected by this tragedy have been - well, not so much.

I know I speak as a non-US citizen and as someone who has never lived there.  It could be argued that I have no concept of being part of a society where it's normal to have instruments of death as part of the furniture in a home.  But that wasn't always the case in the UK, and I also speak as someone who's family has been directly touched by the horrific impact that guns can have on a life; my great uncle, aged only 17, shot himself in the face whilst cleaning a gun in the family home.  My grandmother, aged 12, was left to clear up the blood and the part of his eye that remained on the floor when he had been taken to hospital. He died two months later, after a great deal of pain and suffering. Such a waste.

So, you know what?  I think I'm allowed to comment on this.  I'm going to, anyway.

But I'll keep it short. So, for anyone out there who believes that the right to have a gun in their home is more important than one child's life - let alone 20, and the 6 heroic adults who died trying to protect them - I have this for you.

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison.

Those children had names.  Read that list, and then tell me you're not ready to give up your fxcking gun.

*President Obama in his speech at the vigil for the victims of the Newtown shootings.  You can read the full transcript here.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Just once...

... just ONCE, I would like to be able to go to the bathroom when my kids are in bed, and not have to flush the loo before I use it.

Is that asking too much?

I suspect that it is.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Let's pretend...

All over t'internet I keep on coming across posts about Christmas lists.  Lists of presents for your kids.  Lists for the men in your life.  Lists for your mother, father, brothers, sisters, children's teachers, nannies, household help.  Lists for organised shoppers, lists for last minute shoppers (sorry, folks; that one's not relevant yet as far as I'm concerned.  For me, last minute means Christmas Eve, not nearly 2 weeks in advance).  Lists for budget-buyers, lists for vegetarians, lists for carnivores.  You name it, out there in the ether right now, there is a list of potential Christmas gifts for that person.

But you know what I don't see so much of?

Lists of what we want.  And that's a shame, because if we can't shout loud and proud on our blogs what we would love to find in our Christmas stockings then where can we?

So I am dedicating this post to a list of things that in a perfect, un-credit-crunched, unlimited budget world, I would like to unwrap on Christmas morning.

I call it my 'Let's Pretend' list.

Obviously, I'm not going to get any of it.  Neither Husband nor I have played the lottery recently, for starters.    And I will be very happy with whatever I do unwrap (although if it's a recipe book there may be a bit of huffing and puffing).  But let's pretend, you and I, that we could go out and treat ourselves to our own Christmas presents without worrying too much about the price.

Here's what I would be tempted by...

Just about anything from EC One Jewellery (Clerkenwell and Nottinghill), but particularly the Sushilla rings and earrings.  I can only say one thing about the rough-cut gemstones she uses; yum.

Some pretty, totally non-practical clothing from Marilyn Moore on the Kings Road.  Dry clean only, preferably, and completely unsuitable for the school run in the Moscow dirt and cold weather.

Some flouncy girly china from PiP Studio at Selfridges.  No, I don't know when I would have the chance to use it either, but in the sea of boys and Ikea-ness that I currently live in, a few flowers and some pretty colours would make a nice change...

A really unpractical handbag from Smythson.  Something like this one would do it.  I wouldn't take it out, not in Moscow, where it would get mucky and dirty.  No, I would just sit and stroke it quietly.  Actually, scratch that - I would take it out of the house.  Why have these things, if not to use them?

A long shearling coat.  I live in Moscow, for goodness' sake; I've just entered my 4th winter here in the same  knee-length North Face quilted duvet coat I arrived in and that's fine, but in my less pc and chillier moments, I dream about something like this.  I have to be honest, even in my 'let's pretend' moments I wouldn't spend the sort of money you need for an Armani coat, but it's good to have a start point when dreaming, no?

So that's my list.  Extremely modest, I'm sure you'll agree.  What's on yours?

I would love it if you write your own list and link to it in the comments box below (because for some reason McLinky never works for me), but there are some ground rules here. 

1.  This present must be for you and you alone.  No sneaking a luxury holiday for all the family.  A luxury spa break in Thailand with the girls might pass muster, but nothing less.

2.  Cash does not count.  Otherwise, as we all know, it will disappear into the black hole that is the house-hold budget we're all juggling at the moment...

Otherwise, go for it.

And may I just say, this was NOT a sponsored post.  I should be so lucky...

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Are you getting enough?

(This is a sponsored post).

Well, ARE you?  I have to say I’m definitely not.  Maybe it’s something to do with the time of year – a busy social calendar, dark mornings, early sunsets – but it seems to me that the entire Potski Familiski could with getting a bit more sleep at the moment. (Oh, sorry – did you think I was referring to something else?).

Both the Boys seem pale and wan at the moment and are never awake for more than 10 minutes after lights out.  They don’t wake before 7am – at the earliest – and they go to bed at around 8pm.  So that’s more or less 11 hours solid sleep every night – and yet I still fret that they could do with more.  I don’t know how the locals here do it, I really don’t.

We run a pretty tight ship on the bed-time front: the Boys usually get in the bath at around 7.30pm and at around 8pm I’m reminding them to brush their teeth and use the loo before they climb into bed.  Here’s a question; at what age does the necessity to issue such reminders stop, I wonder? I should probably just leave them to it but since the alternative is my younger son waking around 10.30pm and shouting ‘I need the LOO!” at the top of his voice, waking his brother in the process and occasionally resulting in the need for a wipe of the bathroom floor when his aim is off, I’m not prepared to forego it just yet...

I suspect that Russian friends regard me as a bit of a control freak on the subject of bedtimes, as their children seem not to go to bed before 10pm and still have to get up for a school day starting before 8.30.  I know that this is because otherwise many Russian children would not see very much of their parents, and I admire the commitment to spending family time together that this shows, but I’m not sure I would be prepared to sacrifice my peaceful evenings and my sons’ well-being (not in that order, obviously...) for the sake of it.

And when I do finally crawl into bed myself – invariably later than I should due to the siren call of the internet / the next episode of Downton Abbey or Homelands or whichever box-set I’m watching at the time / hanging up the laundry / tidying away the nest of shoes that seems to breed by the back door whenever my back is turned, you can bet that I won’t manage to drop off straight away.  Amazingly, it’s not about the bed – although I’m told that for many people it can be.  I was looking at this sleep study here (this is a sponsored post, after all), and it appears I’m in good company in finding other reasons for my wakefulness; lots of us lie there worrying or wondering about our lives before managing to switch off our brains, it seems.

But whilst it’s good to know that I’m not alone in struggling to fall asleep, that doesn’t really help me in my battle to beat the clock.  And by that, I mean the pressure to drop off before my husband climbs into bed himself.  If I don’t, then I have to face the real impediment to managing it which is, I’m afraid to say, the freight train snores coming from the other side of the bed...

This post is sponsored by Silent Night, but all words and opinions are my own... 

Monday 10 December 2012

So it turns out I'm not the only writer in this family...

My sister-in-law gave birth to a baby boy this morning.  We are all thoroughly delighted for my brother and his wife (who, by the way, looked like a supermodel in the photo taken moments after the birth which my brother sent me) and right at this moment in time I have to admit that Moscow seems even farther from the UK than usual.

The Boys are equally delighted, and this evening when Boy #1 came to do his homework, which included free writing for 20 minutes, there was only one topic he was interested in. Here is what he wrote;

"I have a new baby cousin today.  His name is James John xxxxx.  He was born 1 minute after 7am.  James weighs 3.2kilos.  He was a good size for a two weeks early baby.  James got a nickname, that was xxxxx.  I do not expect him to play football straight away.  He is very cute.  He only see's black and white things.  James has to crawl on his legs and hands because he is very young. I think he is going to be very smart. My uncle and aunt were very happy but also a little shocked. I think that xxxxx is going to let his beard, when he gets one, grow as thick as his dads. I can't wait to go there at Christmas. Maybe he will have the same colour hairs as his father."

Welcome to the world, James!

Friday 7 December 2012

'A writer writes'* - apparently...

For the last 15 months or so, *lowers voice to a whisper as PM is well aware that there is nothing unique in a blogger making the following announcement* I have been writing a novel.  I'm not going to lie to you; it's been stop/start.  I haven't really concentrated on it, not at all.  Real Life has insisted on getting in the way, dammit.  I would have a couple of weeks when I powered through a couple of chapters, followed by months of inactivity when it gathered metaphorical dust in a metaphorical filing drawer, waiting to be noticed and added to.

I wasn't really bothered by this as I figured I had plenty of time.  I would get round to it - eventually.  But time moves on, and so do our lives.  It's become clear to me that it may be now or never on the novel-writing front (and no, this does not mean we have imminent plans to move back to the UK - just  that - well, who knows what's around the corner?).  Something had to change, I decided.  So this is what I posted on fb last Sunday:

'This week I am going to write 10,000 words. (I'm hoping that by making such a public declaration of intent, I will be too embarrassed NOT to do it...).

Oh. And not on the blog, twitter or fb, by the way. (For a change).'

And in the last 5 days, I did it.  I wrote 10,000 words.  Nobody is more amazed than I am at the fact that I actually managed it.  But you know what has amazed me even more than the fact that somehow I was able to carve out the time and find the impetus to do it?

How much better I feel for having achieved this.  What I've written may well be rubbish.  It may never see the light of day.  But I'm about half way through what could feasibly considered a decent length novel, and it feels good.  I may even repeat the experience again next week...

*Billy Crystal in 'Throw Momma from the Train'.  Yes, I'm showing my age.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The Gallery Wk 125: Colour

This post is for Wk 125 of Tara's Gallery (click here to see the other great entries), and the prompt this week is 'Colour'.

A couple of weeks back I was given the opportunity to exhibit some of my photographs at a small event in my neighbourhood.  I was nervous - putting yourself and your interpretation of images out there for criticism is never easy - but went ahead with it and to my amazement, even made some sales.  Most of those photographs I've already posted on this blog at some point, so won't repeat them again here - despite the fact that they perfectly fit with today's prompt.  But there was one lady who wanted a photograph that I didn't have, of a specific building in downtown Moscow to give to some friends.

I promised her I would do what I could to get the right image and a few days later travelled into town on a bitterly cold grey November day to give it a go.  The light was terrible.  The cold was so raw that there was practically nobody around as I walked across Ploschad Revolutsi (Revolutionary Square) to the Bolshoi - the building she was hoping I could photograph for her.  My hands were freezing; I had forgotten to bring glove warmers, so within 5 minutes of starting to take photographs my Reynaud's Syndrome had kicked in and my fingers resembled a dead person's.  (Don't worry - that's not the photograph I'm going to show you).  But I took as many photographs as I could before my camera battery went on strike from the cold*,  and hoped for the best.

I wasn't totally happy with the results and went back a few days later when the sun WAS shining to retake some of the shots.  But guess what?  My customer preferred one of the photographs from the grey and overcast day.  And here's why...

* Another lesson learned is that camera batteries go flat very quickly in the cold.  My thanks to Heather at Not From Lapland, my guru on all things cold-weather related, who has told me that the answer is to keep a spare battery cosily tucked into your bra for this very situation.  Who knew?

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The one where my kids ask me if I believe in Santa...

A couple of evenings back, whilst eating dinner with Boys #1 and #2...

Boy #1: "Mum. Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Oh. My. God.

This is it.  This is the moment when all the carefully constructed lies come crashing down around my ears.  

I should clarify here; I am just about positive that if we lived in the UK, Boy #1 - now aged 9 - would no way believe in the Big Man. But we don't live in the UK.  And it's a well known truth in the expat community that children who live this protected, cossetted existence, often believe in Santa for longer than they do back home.  My son, sensitive, thoughtful and wanting to take things on face value, is one of those.

So.  What to tell him?  And before I share my reply, please take into account the following:

1.  My younger son - Boy #2 - was also sitting trustingly at the table, agog, and waiting for my answer..

2.  Both Boys were - in addition to eagerly anticipating Christmas - very much looking forward to a visit from The Sint on December 5th.  
3.  Deny Santa Claus, and the whole edifice - Sinta Klaas, the Tooth Fairy, elves, peace on earth - it all comes crashing down.
4.  Deny Santa Claus and there is a good chance that what I wrote about here - when a friend's husband became persona non grata in his neighbourhood for spilling the beans on the Santa Myth to his 8 year old son - would happen to me.

It was, in parenting terms, one of those 'life flashing before your eyes' moments.  I tried to buy myself time by asking why he would ask this question (friends at school had prompted him to), and what he thought (why yes Mum, of course I believe*), but we both knew I was putting off answering him.  So finally, I screwed my courage up and answered him fully and frankly.

"Well.  I believe in the Spirit of Christmas.  And isn't Santa Claus the embodiment** of that?"

Alright - I fudged it.  But he and his brother seemed satisfied with that answer, so come on: how would you have answered?

*What self-respecting child would answer otherwise given that replying in the negative might mean no fully stuffed stocking on Christmas morning?

** Yes, I admit it.  I was banking on the fact that 'embodiment' was not a term either of my sons would have come across before, so they wouldn't be able to tell just how much I was fudging the issue...

Friday 30 November 2012

Need to raise your spirits today?

I came across this video on Facebook courtesy of Expat Mum.  I don't know what to say about it, other than that it will at the very least make you smile, and - be warned - may even bring a tear to your eye.  Technology sure can be a wonderful thing.

Happy Friday!

Thursday 29 November 2012

It's snow joke...

It's snowing.  As in, properly snowing.  This is unusual so early in the season; normally we don't see a fall this heavy until around Christmas and possibly not until January, but this year it appears Dyed Moroz (Father Frost) has come early and gone more than a little overboard with his white special effects.

At this moment in time we've gone past this morning's annoying little crystals which swirled around stinging cheeks, and moved onto the pretty, fluffy type of flake that falls picturesquely from the sky before joining zillions of others on the ground.

It looks very picture-postcard like, a good preparation for the festive season.  I should find my camera and get busy.  But you know what?

I am not impressed.

On the one hand I want to wrap up warm and never go out again, and on the other - I want to wrap up warm and never go out again.  Oh, OK.  I'll get over my temporary mood (which may, I'll concede, be more than slightly hormonal), and no doubt by next week I will have unearthed my cross country skis, re-mastered the Moscow Shuffle*, and rediscovered my usual state of very British awe at how Russia's climate refuses to be ignored, but in the meantime I am somewhat melancholy over the fact that I may not see grass again until next  Spring.

Which is - in case you're interested and before you mock my dramatics - due sometime around mid-April.

To cap it all, I will need to pick the boys up from school on foot this evening because the snow ploughs are not keeping up with the weather and the roads are not really safe to drive on, so will no doubt end up pulling the pair of them up the hill on the sledge behind me. (This was quite good fun when we arrived here 3 years ago and they were 4 & 6, but a little more challenging now they're 6 and 9).  On the plus side, however, I'm sure that by that time my inner Mummy Pollyanna will have resurfaced and I'll be making the best of it for their sakes,

It will probably sound something like this:  "What do you mean, it's cold and it's wet?  Come on!  It's snowing!  It's beautiful!"

Yes.  That should do it.

PM squares her shoulders and sets off into the blizzard** on the school run.

*the art of walking on icy uncleared pavements / sidewalks without going head over heels.
** 'Blizzard' may be a slight exaggeration, for effect...

Monday 26 November 2012

'The chicken & the egg', or 'The Day I Realised Creating Driving Law is Like Parenting'

Hallelujah! Rejoice, brothers and sisters, for this morning what is nominally 5 marked lanes where we join the highway on the journey to drop Husband at the nearest Metro station became not 6, not 7, not 8, but - count 'em - 9 lanes of tailgate to bumper traffic.  I think - I think - that is a record.  I'm used to counting Sixes and Sevens and, on occasion, Eights, but today was the first time in 3 years that I've seen a Nine.

The only silver lining was that for once Husband was driving, thank the lord.  This in itself is unusual on a weekday and has been so for most of our sojourn here.  It's not that he can't drive, or doesn't like to; more that invariably I am dropping him somewhere so it makes sense for him to be able to hop out of the passenger seat quickly.  Given, you know, the traffic (did I mention that already?) and everything...

Being driven by Husband through the morning rush hour was an interesting experience.  I wouldn't say I manage to achieve a zen-like state of calm when behind the wheel these days, but petty annoyances like a big 4x4 edging in in front of me, the truck and mini-van collided in the centre lane forcing the traffic to execute complicated balletic manouevres around it, or the predatory militsia lying in wait at the edge of the road for the unwary driver moving into the bus lane too early, all of these things are now simple facts of life for me.  You just have to suck it up if you want to sit behind the wheel in Moscow and let it all wash over you.  Put some easy-listening fm on the radio and simply get on with it.

Husband, however, has not had quite such a long apprenticeship as a rush-hour driver in this city. (Why would he, when muggins here will do it for the price of having the car all day?)  So as you can imagine, his running commentary on the state of the road was a little less relaxed that mine normally is.  It was after his rantings (and no, I don't think that is too strong a word) on the matter of yet another lane being created out of nowhere by chancing-it drivers that I suggested perhaps he didn't drive enough here.  It was also when I commented that the road system in Russia is very much a chicken and egg situation.

What did I mean by that?  Well, there are various draconian rules and regulations here such as those about not turning left, not crossing an unbroken white line unless you want a fine, not crossing an unbroken double white line on pain of death, or not overtaking on a bridge or in a tunnel (no matter that they may be 6 lanes wide).   After much study time spent in jams pondering this situation it recently occurred to me that this authoritarian approach is counter productive.  The Russian driver is, you see, famously resourceful and will find any way they can to speed their journey up.  Like, for example, the creation of additional lanes on the highway.  Or the not infrequent sight of a car reversing down the hard shoulder of a motorway because it has missed the turn-off.  Or even better, reversing back onto the motorway because it's taken too early a turn-off.  None of these things are actually illegal - unless they cause an accident, of course - so they are 'respectable' driving tactics in some people's minds.

But it seems to me that the road chaos is the result of an impasse.  It's a bit like being a parent, really; if you assume your child is untrustworthy and will behave badly unless you rule them with a rod of iron, chances are that the moment they are let off the leash, that's exactly what they'll do.  So it is with the roads in Moscow: the authorities have imposed a set of rules that assume the average driver is an idiot and unable to think for themselves.  But because the law assumes the average driver is an idiot, and that an individual is unable to make a rational decision about whether it is safe to overtake or turn left etc,  guess what some people behave like the first opportunity they get?*

* Of course this theory does not in any way take into account what is often a lower value placed on human life (widely recognised as an issue for some here) or what is currently still a high number of incidents of DUI, but it's my blog and I'll deal with those issues another time...

Friday 23 November 2012

Thursday 22 November 2012

When someone else says it all for you...

Parenting posts.  What's the point, really, when there are videos like this one that already say it all?

(Full disclosure - I happened across this on Facebook today after it was shared by @LauraAWNTYM and @CafeBebe  Thankyou ladies, for brightening a grey November day).

Tuesday 20 November 2012

A sobering realisation that living in Russia can be a bit like visiting a wedding fair...

How do you know you when you have been living in Russia too long?

Well.  If you had a white wedding, you may have visited a wedding fair during the planning process.  Remember that? Go on, you can do it; reach back into the farthest vestiges of your memory and try to recall those halcyon days pre-children when finding the perfect name cards for the table, or the exact shade of cream for your invitations was important to you.  (OK, it didn't happen to me either but I'm sure there were plenty of things that would seem insignificant to me now which at the time I got married assumed a wholly disproportionate level of importance.  But those are subjects for another post...)

Anyway, imagine yourself entering this long-ago wedding fair.  Everywhere you look there is an explosion of white tulle, glitter, fluff, dresses, flowers.  As you walk into the hall your eye is caught by a wedding dress stand, and you walk nonchalantly over, hopeful that you will find the dress of your dreams just waiting for you to discover it.  Doesn't happen, of course. In fact it SO doesn't happen that as you thank the proprietor of the stand and walk away, you have to work hard to stop your lip curling in horror at how over the top the dresses are.  "Who wears these things?" you wonder as you set off to tour the rest of the exhibition, confident that somewhere you will find something that is more 'you'.

2 or 3 hours later, exhausted, clutching a bag full of pamphlets, samples, business cards and ideas - but still with no idea of what on earth you are going to wear for your Big Day - you return to the entrance of the hall. The first stand that you visited catches your eye.  You wander over and take another look at the dresses that you so readily dismissed earlier in the day.  As the stand owner - who has seen it all before and knows that excessive exposure to wedding madness is enough to break even the most understated bride -  watches indulgently, it turns out your parameters of tasteful have moved somewhat over the last couple of hours. Actually, you think, this dress isn't so bad.  And neither is that one.  And that one - if you lost the lace train, could actually work...

So - how does this equate to living in Russia?

Today I was at a Christmas Fair.  I remember first visiting this same event a couple of years back; everything seemed so blingtastic, so unnecessarily shiny, so excessively gold, just so damned... over the top.

But on this visit, nearly 3 years into our stay here?  I actually heard myself saying to one of the vendors "Do you have something like this - but with a few more sparkles?"

To quote Jean Luc Picard*, I have assimilated.

*Star Trek, The Borg.  Tut.

Sunday 18 November 2012

#DearPR; why I don't run guest posts

These are some lines that feature in 8 out of 10 emails I write to pr agencies who have approached me regarding promotional activity on The Potty Diaries:

'... I don't run guest posts on the blog as I write all the content myself.  However I have attached a copy of my rate card so you can take a look at the other promotional opportunities that are available.'

This is what I respond when asked if a 3rd party (agency or potential client) can put their content - with no input from me - on my blog.  Why?  Well, until today, other than the fact that I have plenty of my own ideas and don't need someone else to supply them for me thankyou very much, I didn't really know.  I did wonder if I was being over protective about the blog and perhaps a little bit bloody-minded, but whatever my subconscious reasoning, it just felt like the right answer to give.  Now, however, I think I've got to the bottom of my intransigence on this matter.

Mooching about the internet this evening I came across a guest post on a blog I read often enough to have it listed on my sidebar.  I love this blog; the writer is funny and engaging and perhaps because she is at a totally different life stage to me, I really enjoy reading her take on things.  This evening, when I clicked on the link to her latest post and saw it was a 3rd party piece for a company I have used myself in the past I was interested.

But it left me cold.  It took me a couple of minutes to work out why, before I realised that when reading a blog - unlike when I'm reading a magazine - I want to hear the point of view of the owner of the blog, not to read some anodyne piece that I would be more likely to find in an ed/advertorial in a glossy or a Sunday supplement.  I mean, if I want magazine-style writing, I can reach for a magazine, right? So it was helpful to have this realisation, and in the wake of it I'll now feel more self-assured when I continue to use the lines above in the future.  And at least now, I'll understand why I write them.

But that's just my point of view.  If you have a blog, and / or enjoy reading other people's, what is yours?

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Giving your child the words

I am not qualified to write this post.

And yet, as the mother of two sons that I want to keep confident, safe, and above all happy, who is better qualified?

I visited the UK with Boy #1 last weekend.  We had a helter-skelter trip, rushing here there and everywhere, with very few moments of calm apart from some time in a hire car whilst I drove the two of us to visit friends a couple of hours out of London.

We listened to the radio, and unless you are living in splendid isolation with no connection to media of any kind, you will not be surprised to learn that in amongst the music, the news updates on every single station were mainly concerned with the recent unearthing of Jimmy Saville's activities.

This is current news - this is dreadful, awful, stomach churning, disgraceful and current news - so why shouldn't it be reported, even on Radio One?

I can't write here, or indeed anywhere, of the horror I feel on behalf of the children who suffered at the hands of those who exploited them, other than to say that I hope their stories - and their bravery in coming forward to face their persecutors - are not lost in the maelstrom of accusation and counter-accusation on how the stories have been reported.

Instead, this post is about is how I dealt with a question from the back seat of the car as we drove around the M25 on Saturday morning.

"What's 'child abuse', Mum?"

Surely a question that you hope never to hear from your child.  And yet, almost above all other questions, the one that deserves to be answered.  And answered in such a way that your child is left with a clear understanding of the boundaries, what constitutes crossing them, how it is never - NEVER - OK for that to happen, and what to do if it does.

So rather than ducking the question, changing the subject, switching the channel, we spoke about it.

I told Boy #1 that child abuse is when a grown-up treats a child in a way in which they should never be treated.  Once we had got past his obvious rejoinder of  "What, you mean when a grown-up bosses a child about and tells them what to do?" I explained how it meant an invasion of personal space (I was slightly more explicit than that but I'm not going to go into detail here since - as I've mentioned before - there are some unpleasant people out there who's google searches I do not want The Potty Diaries to appear on), that being told to invade other people's personal space could be just as bad, and that should either of those things happen - or even be hinted at - he must tell his father or I immediately.

We spoke about it in a no-nonsense, matter of fact, non-gratuitous and calm way.  There were no hysterics, no embarrassed silences.  Boy #1 took the information on board, filed it away, and we moved on to talking about something else.

Since that time, I have also spoken to Boy #2 in the same way, and watched him similarly file the information away and move seamlessly on to which piece was missing from the lego kit in front of him on the kitchen table.

Do I wish we had never had to have those conversations?  Of course.  Am I sorry that we did?  Absolutely not.  I don't feel that the information I have given them has compromised my sons' innocence or their future memories of childhood simply by the fact of their possessing it.  On the contrary; I feel I have helped both boys to protect those very things.  I strongly believe that those who prey on children rely on those same children's parents never having had this conversation with them, and indeed that they rely on both parents and children not having the ability - the words - to do so.  I also believe that a happy, confident child who is fully aware of what is Not OK - and that they can talk to their parents about it should they encounter such a thing - is less likely to fall prey to predators.

There is no fail-safe system, I know that.  I can't wrap my children up in bubble-wrap and protect them, much as I may want to.  But I can give them the tools to manage in today's world.  I can give them the words.

BritMums - Leading the Conversation

Tuesday 13 November 2012

The Christmas Jumper's revenge...

Men. I just don't understand them.

Well, that's a given, I suppose, but specifically in this instance, I don't understand what has happened to men.  In the UK.

Reading The Sunday Times Style section this weekend, I came across a piece which focused on what the staff in the editorial team were wearing, and one of them (a man, just in case you hadn't worked it out already) was wearing what my mother calls a 'jumper' and what I, living in Expat World, call a 'sweater'* which featured a rather loud white on red pattern. Now, I know that a man who writes for the fashion section of a newspaper is not necessarily a barometer of what's hot in the UK now but he could be seen as perhaps a forecast for future trends.  And having read this piece it has become apparent that I am so far out of touch with the way things are going in the UK, fashion-wise, that I might as well be living on Mars.

Don't get me wrong; I like a bit of knitwear (living in Moscow, I'd better).  And I see no reason why men shouldn't spend as much or as little on whatever they think looks good, clothes-wise.  But this looked like what students refer to as 'a Christmas jumper' - that is, something you are given by your mother or grandmother or Auntie Flo during the festive season, and which you wear due to a sense of loyalty /out of love for them, rather than because it's particularly tasteful.  Because they're not, you see.  Tasteful.  Christmas jumpers are - by law - in-your-face-over-the-top-completely-too-much-activity-for-one-person-to-sport-on-a-piece-of-knitwear items of clothing.  Think Colin Firth as Mark Darcy the first time you see him in 'Bridget Jones' and you'll get what I'm talking about.


Sweet, I thought.  This fashionist type person (do you call a male fashion editor 'fashionista' or 'fashionist'?  Answers in the comment box, please...) was clearly wearing last year's pressie from Auntie Flo.  But no.  The jumper / sweater featured was not your average C&A acrylic number, or even a lovingly created custom made one using Pattern #375 from 'Best Knits'.  It was brand new.  It was designer (Philip Lim 3.1, if you must know).  And it cost £349.

Three hundred and forty-nine pounds?




*When I eventually move back to the UK I will revert to calling them 'jumpers' again, but following an interesting misunderstanding a couple of years back shortly after arriving in Moscow when I was bemoaning to a friend from the US that my jumpers hadn't arrived - and she thought I was talking about all-in-one baby gro type things rather than the warm and cosy knitwear I was waiting for - I decided to temporarily switch to American English on this one.  Well, wouldn't you?

Friday 9 November 2012

Famous last words

The things I do for my blog.

Edited highlights to-date include jumping into a frozen lake, skiing on a frozen lake, admitting that my husband has pointed out the fact that I require depilatory products for my face (whilst surrounded by snow at the time), allowing myself to be pummelled by a bare lady wearing only a pair of flip-flops and some exfoliating gloves (her, not me) and, oh yes, moving to Russia.

Well, that last one wasn't really for my blog but I did do it in the full expectation that mucho blog-fodder would result - which I think you will agree, given the posts I've just listed, is a gamble that has more than paid off.

Something I did not do for my blog however, and a post I hoped never to write, is the one where I detail running the gauntlet of a certain nation's border guards with a visa for my son which we had been wrongly advised would be adequate when, according to them, it was anything but.

And yet here it is, anyway.

Some sweary phone calls to my husband (sorry about that, darling), one missed flight, a night in the world's most expensive cheap airport hotel, a very early start, a flight in which my exhausted son refused to sleep but instead preferred to watch nonsense (which, to cap it all, consisted of a rubbish movie that he had in fact already seen) on the inflight entertainment system, an overly chatty London taxi driver who proved impervious to hints about the fact that both my son and I had been up since 1.00 am local time and preferred instead to regale us with details of parking restrictions at Heathrow airport, an exhausted trek into town, some incorrect paperwork, some more incorrect paperwork, various technical glitches, and a couple more sweary phone calls later I can, however, tell you that I sent the following text to Husband this afternoon:

'Hallelujah!  I have Boy's visa.  Am heading back to your mum's to lie in a darkened room to de-stress in peace & quiet.  With wine.'

I am NEVER doing this again.

Until the next time, I suppose.

Monday 5 November 2012

The one where it turns out I'm not so brave, after all...

I try to be a relaxed parent when it comes to matters of health for my sons, really I do.  Nobody wants to be that mother who flinches every time her child sniffs, or wraps them up in cotton wool every time they set foot outside the front door in case they encounter a normal childhood illness.  I believe whole-heartedly in letting your child's body develop without undue interference from antibiotics unless they're absolutely necessary*.

But once the Fear has had you in it's grasp, it never really lets go.

I still remember it all; the gut-wrenching dread that stalks your every waking moment when you have a seriously ill baby.  The feeling of helplessness as your 6 day-old child is prodded and poked, pricked and injected.  The constant watch to make sure that his Moro Reflex** doesn't knock the canula out, resulting in yet more harrowing attempts to insert a new one into his tiny arm.  The crushing, awful powerlessness of not being able to pick up my crying baby because doing so might interfere with the effect the lights are having on his bilirubin levels.

I remember the guilt; did I cause this?  Was it because I wasn't very good at breastfeeding?  Would he not have developed jaundice if I had had more milk?  Was the way the Scalded Skin Syndrome took such a fearsome hold a result of his lowered immune system because of the jaundice?  Did he catch the SSS when that none-too-clean looking orderly gave him a bath in the hospital when he was less than a day old and I could barely move from the bed due to the emergency c-section?  Should I have followed my instincts and grabbed him from her arms, ordered her away from the bed and refused to let go of him until, exhausted from lack of sleep on the too-noisy ward, we left 24 hours later?

Nearly seven years on those questions and many others from that time still haunt me.  Most of them I can discount in daylight hours when I am feeling relatively sensible. But one that won't go away and which I repeatedly ask myself (just like, I am sure, many expat parents living far from their comfort zone), is this:

How would I cope if an accident or a serious illness happened to my children here, now, in Moscow?

The answer is, I truly don't know.  Certainly there would be support structures I could call on; a Husband who speaks excellent Russian and who knows the right people to go to, or if he were travelling, friends who speak far better Russian than I do and who I know would go through hell and high water on my children's behalf.  Recent experiences within our social circle of excellent levels of care in both Russian and expat hospitals comfort me to some extent.  But say what you will about the UK NHS; it is still light years ahead of what the average Russian can expect to encounter in their nearest hospital.  And who knows, in an emergency,where you will end up?  It might well be the all mod-cons expat hospital in the centre of town.  But on the other hand, it might not.

So on evenings like tonight, when one son has a nasty cough and the other is complaining of stomach pain, I am rather more attentive than perhaps I might be if we were still living in London.  Logically I know that Boy #1's stomach pain is not possible appendicitis, but instead the result of too many sit-ups at his Taekwondo class this evening (stomach muscles are not our family's strong point; if I manage 10 I'm a mess and according to him, they did 200...), and that Boy #2 is not developing pneumonia but has just picked up one of the many colds doing the rounds at school at the moment.  Logically, I know both those things.

But logic doesn't stop me wanting to move my duvet to the floor of their bedroom tonight.

Turns out that the Fear - it never leaves you.

*although long term readers will know that I am fierce in my support of treating eczema proactively to prevent it developing into a long term issue or something more serious.

**also called the Startle Reflex

Saturday 3 November 2012


Tonight, at bed time...

Boy #1, sitting on my lap: "Come over here, Boy #2.  I want a Family hug."

Boy #2 from his position lying studying the latest Lego catalogue on the floor of their bedroom (some things never change): "It can't be a Family hug."

Me: "No, you're right."

Boy #2:  "Because Papa is not here.  But I will come over for a Group hug..."

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Be careful what you wish for - weather-wise, at least...

For the last couple of weeks, as the daytime temperature in Moscow has vacillated somewhere between 6 and 12 degreesC and the final few leaves have clung stubbornly to the trees, I've been thinking about writing a post entitled 'Winter? Bring it on...' or some other such nonsense.

It was going to be all about how I don't particularly enjoy Autumn and Spring here in Moscow.  Sure, the beginning of the former and the end of the latter are pretty and have their own charm, but on the whole the trees are bare, the grass is beginning to thin out showing the bare earth beneath, and everything is just so unremittingly... dreary.  Plus, there are those difficult wardrobe choices.  Heavy sweaters, or layers?  Duvet coat to roast in, or sassy jacket to shiver in?  Hell, you never even know which shoes to wear - boots, which will feel so heavy by the end of the day but keep out the rain, or late summer sneakers, which aren't quite so full-on but will result in cold feet? - or indeed what the changeable weather is going to bring.  No, I thought to myself, once Winter properly bites, life is much simpler; it's cold, get on with it.

Well, Winter has bitten - at least by British standards.  We had proper snow - about 15cm of it - on the car when we woke up on Sunday morning, followed by freezing rain throughout the day (such lovely conditions in which to see Red Square, as we did with some friends who are visiting us at the moment), and since then the temperature has hovered around 0degC.  We have unearthed the boys' snow pants; found, lost, and found again their hats, gloves and scarves; and I'm sitting here looking out of the window as a mixture of hail, snow and sleet falls on the crusting of ice on the roads and pavements.

And as it's not even November yet, this is the warmest it's likely to get until some time next April.  In fact, before too long, 0degC is going to seem like some impossibly tropical temperature as we shiver down in the minus teens and below.

Bring on Winter?  What the hell was I thinking?

Monday 29 October 2012

Apologies for absence...

Notice how the frequency of my posts has fallen over the last few days?

It's the result of a perfect storm of visitors and school half term.

See you soon...

PM x

Friday 26 October 2012

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

So I've committed to showing some of my photos at a very low key art fair in a couple of weeks time.  You know - the type where people might actually pay money to buy pictures that I've taken.  I must be bonkers, putting myself on the line like this but I suppose it's one way of keeping myself entertained...

Interesting how having that kind of deadline can focus the mind on just how few images you actually have in your portfolio - so yesterday I went out and took some more.  I still don't have enough - but it's a start.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Thoughts running through my head...

... on discovering a grey hair in one eyebrow this morning.

  • Is that what I think it is?
  • What the...?
  • No, I mean, what the...?
  • You have got to be kidding.
  • Where did that come from?  It wasn't there yesterday - was it?  Or has it been there all week, all grey and wiry in plain view and - oh, the horror - everyone else has noticed but nobody has wanted to tell me?
  • I'm too young for this shxt.
  • Should I pull it out? *Reaches for the tweezers*
  • Should I leave it?  *Puts the tweezers back down*
  • Blink.  Breathe.  Take another look.
  • Shxt.  It's still there.
  • I'm going to pull it out.
  • No, wait!  If I pull it out, will 2 grow back in it's place? 
  • I don't care.  If I leave it, it will just get longer and longer and take over my face.
  • OK, I know that doesn't happen with my other eyebrow hairs but this is new, this is alien.  I have no idea how this blighter might behave.
  • I'm going to pull it out.
  • But - is that sensible?
  • I mean, am I going to pull out all the other grey / white hairs as they appear?  Because if I do, eventually I will be left with no eyebrows at all...
*Pause for reflection*.
  • Get a grip, woman.  It's one eyebrow hair.  
  • I could dye it...
  • No, don't be ridiculous.  Dye all my eyebrows for the sake of one grey hair?  I don't dye the hair on my head and there is a lot more than one grey hair in there...
  • Yes, but this is different. Somehow.
  • Pull it, pull it, pull it!
  • There.  Doesn't that feel better?
  • Stop checking, woman!  It's gone.  The sneaky little...

Tell me, blogosphere - at what stage should I give up the fight?  And how do you deal with this particular indignity of aging?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Reality checks...

I'm sitting here listening to Lily Allen sing 'Oh my God I can't believe it... I've never been this far away from home' and sympathising.

For various reasons, I'm feeling quite a long way from home myself right now.

Russia is a capricious host; most of the time I feel reasonably assimilated but now and again, just when I've dropped my guard, she throws in a curve ball to remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore*.

This morning, for example, I was driving on a busy road and - ironically - just congratulating myself on how well I was negotiating the famously aggressive traffic, when some (expletive deleted) in a shiny black merc swerved out from behind me into the lane I was pulling into, missing me by centimetres.  He then pulled the same trick on two cars in front of me before repeating the process back across the highway as he drove into the bus lane to disappear into the distance with, thank god, no harm done.

I dearly hope that he was also accompanied by sound of shutters clicking on some of the newly installed Moscow bus lane cameras that should charge him 3000r (approx $100 or £60) a pop for the pleasure of using the traffic-free lane, but something tells me that that sort of money won't mean too much for this driver. Such is life in this city.

I've also been struggling recently with another reality check that often slaps me in the face when I'm not expecting it; the casual racism displayed by far too many of Moscows' residents, many of them highly educated and who should ruddy well know better. This is top of mind after a couple of incidents over the weekend, hence this outburst.  I should probably keep it to myself but after all, this is my blog and I need to say this somewhere: how the hell, Russia, do you ever expect to be treated they way you want to be by countries in Western Europe when you persist in treating people of any colour except white as somehow 'less', and as objects of suspicion if not outright derision?  Sometimes, living in this country is like watching a playback of some of the worst parts of 1970's Britain.

There is racism everywhere to varying degrees, I know that, and the racism here is based on the fear and ignorance of a previously mainly homogonous society adapting to a more global outlook, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable.  It's manifestations and the stupidity it is based upon, along with those who exploit that, makes me angry.  Actually, it makes me spitting mad, whilst of course the people who are on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour are far more dignified about it than I am, rising above it and simply getting on with their lives.

*Obviously a reference to Dorothy's words to Toto on her arrival in Oz.  But you knew that...

Thursday 11 October 2012

When your children still think you can do ANYTHING...

The Boys' school has a used book fair on at the moment.  The basic premise is that the children comb through the shelves to find books they don't want anymore, and take them into school where they exchange  them for 'book bucks', which they can then swap for - you guessed it - more books.

So - an opportunity to rid ourselves of books that are too young a reader-age, and to get new books more appropriate to the Boys into the bargain?  Fantastic.

Obviously, we forgot all about it.

This necessitated a last minute rifle through the shelves and some hard decisions about which titles we loved too much to give away, even if they were way too young for the Boys these days.  At the final count we managed a total of 20 books to swap - many of which, it has to be said, had been acquired at previous book fairs and which I was only too happy to see go (Transformers or Pokemon, anyone?).

The Boys were delighted; this gave each of them a total of 10 book bucks to spend.  The only problem was that, having left it to the last minute, a lot of the best books had already gone and so the selection to choose from was somewhat thinner than they might have liked.  This meant that when he had chosen the books he wanted, Boy #2 still had one book buck left over.  He decided that rather than saving it for the next fair, he would - dear heart - spend it on me.

This is why, when I collected him from school the day before yesterday, he made me a gift of this book.

I like to think of it as evidence of his lofty ambition for me.

Monday 8 October 2012

Competitive sport is important. But let's keep a sense of proportion, please...

My sons have been playing in a competitive football league for the last couple of months, Boy#2 for the first time in his life like most of  his team-mates.

The nearly-over season hasn't been a complete washout - but neither has it been what you might called an unqualified success.  If you count 'success' as actually winning games, that is...  However it has been fun, and not just for the Boys, as it gives parents the chance to catch up on the sidelines.

There's no such thing as a 'drop your kids at the match and pop off to do a couple of errands' opportunity here in Moscow, mainly because even if you were able to tear yourself from your little cherub's side, the ground is so far from home - and the traffic so unpredictable - that if you tried to go anywhere else during the hour the children have on-pitch, you would actually end up collecting them as darkness fell at least 5 hours later.  Not really worth it if even if you do have a hard-core caffeine habit and are desperate for a coffee in Starbucks half a mile down the road; the chances are too great your caffeine hit will result in being caught in the mother of all jams on your way back.

So, the parents usually stay and shout their support to the 6 and 7 year olds buzzing around the pitch like a swarm of bees, and it has to be said that some nationalities of parent are more vociferous and aggressive in this than others.  Yes, American and French expat dads - I'm looking at you.  Listening to many of them, you would think that their children were trying out for some top-flight football academy rather than simply enjoying a run around on a Saturday morning.  Having said that, I'm afraid that even we more retiring nations can give our noisier peers a run for their money on occasion.  I give you Exhibit A.

Yesterday morning, I was standing with a couple of other mothers from the British Isles watching our sons losing their match.  Again.  We were of course trying to lift their spirits, shouting support (I do recall at one moment suggesting to Boy#2 that he face the ball rather than chatting to a fellow player - that's what we're working with in the Potski Family, I'm afraid).  The son of one of the women I was standing with was in goal, so we had stationed ourselves near the posts to gee him up - which seemed like an excellent idea at the time.

Until the moment when the ball careered across the pitch towards the little boy - and the goal.  At which point, his excited mum, somewhat carried away by the moment and desperate to save him from the ignominy of letting in another goal, ran onto the pitch and - well, sort of helped the ball on it's way, off the pitch.  By, um, kicking it.


To say she was embarrassed when she realised what she'd done is an understatement.  To say that the other mum & I nearly wet ourselves laughing is another.  But you know what topped off the whole experience for me? The look on the faces of the group of dads supporting the opposing team when they realised that they couldn't actually make that much of a fuss about it without appearing to be complete plonkers; not only were their team already winning handsomely but we were, after all, watching a game for 6 and 7 year old children...

Friday 5 October 2012

Security guards, talons, and a Boy's imagination

If your children attend at an expat school in Russia, there are certain things that one needs to take as a given.  The mix of nationalities, for one.  The yearly changeover of students and staff (between 20% and 30% move on at the end of every year), for another.  And the ever-present Oxrana (pronounced ochrana - with 'ch' as in 'loch' and which means 'security guards').

I thought that the Boys didn't really pay much attention to the security guys; sure, they are always there at the boundaries, demanding to see our passes, opening the gates and barriers and waving us through, but overall they are an affable team, especially if you take the time to smile and wish them good morning and good afternoon when you see them.  You would be surprised how many parents don't - but that's a subject for another post...

Yesterday, however, changed that.  It was an inset day so there was no school, but there was an after-school activity the Boys were attending which meant we needed to enter the premises at around 6pm.

As we reached the main gate, one of the Oxrana approached the car.  The premises were closed today, he said unsmilingly.  No entry.  Ah, but I countered.  We have Taekwondo to go to - at which point he happily waved us through.

Boy #2 was amazed.  "He KNOWS about Taekwondo?  How does he know about Taekwondo?"

Before I could answer, his brother jumped in.  "The security guys know everything.  They know all.  They are constantly watching, constantly circling, like hawks, above us."

There was a moments silence.  The Boy #1 concluded; "At night, when they sleep, they dream of being hawks, and they sharpen their talons in the darkness..."

It appears I'm not the only one in the family with an imagination.  And I will make doubly sure I continue to say good morning to them from now on...

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Blogging; What's changed in 5 years?

The lovely Iota over at 'The Iota Quota' wrote last week about the changes she's seen in blogging over the five years she's been doing it and invited some 'bloggers who've been around a while' to share their thoughts on this one.

That's nice, I thought.  Until I realised I was on the list.  'Been around a while'? How very dare you, Iota;  I am but a spring chicken.  Surely I only started blogging in the last year or so?  Except... I was definitely blogging before we came to Russia, and that's nearly 3 years ago.  And I was blogging before Boy #1 started school - and that's 4 years ago.  And in fact, I was blogging when Boy #2 hit 18 months old which is - oh, dammit.  More than 5 years ago.

OK, you've got me.  I am an old, venerable, and be-whiskered blogger.  Pass me the tweezers, somebody, but in the meantime, what's changed in 5 years?  I'm guessing you're not going to just accept it if I write: 'What Iota said'?  (Because honestly, she covers more or less everything I would have written, it's just that she puts it better.)  Let's see...

You'll have to bear with me - because I'm so old and be-whiskered, my memory is not what it used to be...

Posts have got shorter, I think.  I'm not sure if we've got better at saying what we want to and then stopping (one of the best pieces of advice I've ever read about writing), or if instead that those of us who have been doing this for a while have worked through our issues (on our blogs, obviously) and now find our urge to share less compelling.  Or maybe it's just that I self-edit on the blogs I read; there are so many more out there than there than there used to be (look at that - I just seamlessly segued into my next point - that's because I'm such an experienced blogger, donchaknow...) that if I'm to have any hope of keeping up with them all I have to select them carefully.

There seem to be less 'car-crash' blogs out there.  By which I mean, blogs that contain such dreadful situations for the writer that you can't bear to look away.  Whilst this may also be down to that pesky self-editing on my reader list, I actually think that some of the people who did this now use Twitter and FaceBook etc to share their pain, and the others - well, they worked it through on their blog.  (I always say that blogging is the cheapest form of therapy I ever found).  But perhaps it's also that people are getting wise to the fact that once they put something 'out there' on the internet, like it or not it's there for good - so they decide not to publish.

Which leads me onto the fact that there appear to be fewer 'anonymous' blogs out there.  Once upon a time we (and I include myself in this) naively believed such a thing was really possible.  As if.  Nowadays though, I think many of us have faced up to the fact that if you blog more than once a twice, you are probably going to have to 'fess up to it for a number of reasons, such as;

  • People want to know just what it is you're up to when you spend all your time tip-tapping away on the lap-top. 
  • They now know about blogs (it's no longer seen as the underground activity of choice for nerds who never go out - no, really, it isn't!) so if they get the merest hint that you have one, they want to know all about it
  • If you refuse to tell them which yours is, they have also become more savvy on google to find you, blast it.
  • Blogging can lead to proper, paid employment.  Even - gasp - outside the home, with coffee breaks and everything, so it's no longer uncool to include it on your cv.
  • It can lead to fun opportunities and to great friendships (mind you, that hasn't changed - it was always that way)
  • If you've been doing it for a while you develop a sense of pride in your accomplishments, and if you're a normal human being and not a saint the urge to shout 'Look what I did!'- especially when you reach some significant number like, say, 1000 posts (cough) - can become overwhelming.  Blogging becomes not just something you have to admit to, but something that that you want to talk about.

I could go on but obviously, being so venerable and everything I have lost my train of thought.  Also, I realise that to carry on any longer totally negates my point about posts nowadays being short, so I will take that piece of advice I mentioned earlier and now that I've said what I wanted to, I will stop.

Monday 1 October 2012

On looking forward...

I think I saw my future today.  Well, one possible version of it, at any rate.

At the consulate this morning to collect some documents, I was in line behind a young couple with a little boy of only a few weeks old.  The father was British, the mother was Russian, and they were there to apply for a passport for their baby.  When they reached the head of the very short line, the mother went to sit down and feed the baby, whilst the father had the following exchange with the lady on the desk.

"I'm here to apply for a passport for my son."  There was an expectant pause.  Which went on.  And on.  Finally, the clerk asked for the paperwork, at which point the father stood there a little longer before fishing it out of a plastic bag and handing it over.  From then on, all went smoothly.

I'm not quite sure what the (probably sleep-deprived and no doubt exhausted) new father had been expecting to happen on making his initial announcement, but remembering something of the extraordinary sense of pride a first-time parent feels in their offspring, I suspect he was waiting for the clerk to offer him her most heart-felt congratulations on the safe arrival of his no doubt brilliant child.  Perhaps, even, the popping of champagne corks and party poppers wouldn't be out of the question?

Needless to say, it was not forthcoming.  This lady probably deals with 5 - 10 such applications a day and was unimpressed.

You may be wondering why I think this little exchange could be a snapshot of my future.  Well, it's not - not directly.  But as I sat there watching this couple going through a key rite of passage for their baby son, it suddenly occurred to me that somewhere, probably back in the UK, there is a grandmother for whom this morning's events will be hugely important.  That this little boy getting a passport will mean she gets to see more of him growing up.  That she probably feels she's missing so much of his growing up already, and that when her son makes a call to her at some point over the next few days and tells her the passport application is in process, a heavy weight will lift from her shoulders and she'll start to make plans for their visit 'home'.

Last summer a good friend mentioned to me in passing that she wants to be back in her country of origin before her children are teenagers.  She feels that getting them back 'home' at that age is her best defence against her sons and daughters marrying people who will pull them not just one or two hours away from the family home, but a four or five hour flight away.  She wants the opportunity to be a part of her children's lives as they raise their own families, in the far off distant future.

This hadn't occurred to me before, but what she said stayed with me.  And when I saw a young family this morning who may or may not choose to make their home in Russia rather than back in the UK, it occurred to me that in years to come I might be that woman with sons who have married far from home, waiting for confirmation from them that being a part of my grandchildren's lives just got a little easier.

It sent something of cold chill through me, I have to admit.

Friday 28 September 2012

Life, Laundry

It's a wonderful thing, this expat lifestyle. It causes you to cross paths with people from so many different backgrounds and cultures in a way that you might never have done if you'd stayed put in your country of origin.

After a while, you notice certain similarities in lifestyle and expectations between different nationalities and begin to understand some of the reasons behind them. The French, for example, really do eat a more civilized diet than some of the rest of us. The Italians really do have a flair for interior design. And the North Americans often have a way of doing barbecues that those of us who grew up in slightly rainier climates can only look upon and marvel.

Now, I like to believe that family life in Western Europe is equipped with the majority of the modern conveniences a 21st-century family would need, from Wi-Fi in every room through increasingly huge fridge-freezers to 200 channels on the TV (very few of which carry much worth watching). And Moscow life, in most expat homes, is much the same. Sure, there may be a higher level of dirt to clean up (inescapable when there are power stations inside the city and so many cars on the roads), and it may take longer to get things done simply because this is such an enormous city, but overall the home-based domestic burden is not so dissimilar here to the one I coped with back in London.

Take the laundry, for example. "Back home" we have what I would call perfectly acceptably sized washers and driers, and the same is true here. Or at least, they seem so, to those of us who have never lived in the U.S.

But North Americans seem to have something of an obsession with the laundry facilities here in Moscow. New arrivals — if the subject comes up — express disbelief at the size of the drums in washing machines and tumble dryers that are standard in Moscow homes, complaining that they have to do the laundry every day just to keep up with their family's demands.

I was always confused by this particular complaint because, well, yeah. That's what you do — what you have to do — with two or more children, isn't it? It was only when a (non-North American) friend told me of her experiences in the U.S. this summer, when she came face-to-face with the laundry facilities in some average American homes, that it finally started to make sense to me. These machines, she tells me, are so big that most families can do an entire week's coloured wash in one go. So big, in fact, that her 6-year-old son could fit inside. (Don't try this at home, folks.)

Which, I have to admit, does rather put the daily juggling act that those of us living in Moscow need to do with our whites, coloureds and darks, into perspective.

OK, North American brethren. Finally, I get it. You are officially allowed to be flummoxed by the laundry situation.

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

Wednesday 26 September 2012

This post is probably only of interest if you blog... if you don't, and are still reading, don't say I didn't warn you.

It's over.  That children's story competition I entered, I mean.  Needless to say, I didn't win, and that's fine; I enjoyed writing the story and learned a lot about how to use Facebook in the voting process (in itself, not before time, I might add), so it definitely wasn't a wasted experience.  I certainly don't expect to win any competition that I enter; to do so would be nice, but there are plenty of writers out there who are far more creative and imaginative than I am.  I know that, and am OK with it.

However, I learned something else apart from how to use another type of social media as a result of this particular competition, which is that in future I won't be entering any contest in which the winner is decided not on the merit of the entry, but on number of 'likes' their entry gains on Facebook.  In hindsight, I should have spotted from the start that this was not a good fit for me; I don't 'work' Facebook the way some people do, never have and probably never will (although after this I do now see the benefits of it in a way I didn't before), so going into battle with only 50 or so followers for my (assumed) name was probably never going to be a success.

This type of mechanic is always going to be more of a beauty contest than about which was the better story.  That is not, of course, to say that the story which won was not better than mine; it's all subjective.  I prefer the story I wrote, of course I do, but the winning entry is very different to mine and if the decision had been made by a panel of judges, they may well have reached the same verdict that the voters on Facebook did.

However, the fact remains that it was not an objective group of people reaching the decision on which was the best story so much as individual bloggers mustering support through their readers, family and friends and asking them to visit the relevant page and hit the 'like' button.  And then how motivated their supporters were to do that.   And then, about the entrants tweeting, posting, and re-tweeting pleas for support until we (or at least, I) felt sick of the whole process and painfully aware of how this type of mechanic cynically exploits our individual will to win to drive traffic to the relevant site, whilst simultaneously spreading the name of the competition sponsor across the web.

You may wonder if this post is the result of sour grapes on my part.  Would I be writing this if I had won the £500 prize?  Honestly?  Probably not.  But I do think that the ultimate outcome - that I won't be entering any more competitions which select winners based on the number of Facebook 'likes' received  - would be the same.

I suppose that ultimately I'm writing this for two reasons, the first of which is to suggest to PR agencies that they may pull writers in once to do this, but are unlikely to get the same people interested in doing it a second time.

But mainly, I think I'm writing this to share my experiences and to open the debate for bloggers as to whether this type of subjective popularity contest is really an effective use of their time and creativity.  Because I know I've got better things to do than post and tweet 'Vote for Me!' - and I'm pretty sure that you have better things to do than to read those posts and tweets...

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box), please...

Monday 24 September 2012

Our schedule? Over-extended? How very dare you...

I just took my sons for their first Tae Kwon Do session.  I've been putting it off for the last year because it's relatively late in the evening and I didn't want to push it with Boy #2 needing to be in bed at a reasonable hour, but for one reason and another we decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot today.

I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again; I do not come from a sporty family.  It's not that we didn't like sport when I was growing up - it's just that, well as a family, we weren't very good at it.  I believe the technical term is, in  fact, 'a bit crap'.  Sure, I tried.  I dabbled with judo, with badminton, with swimming, and even, in my twenties & early thirties, field hockey, but of them all only the hockey stuck and even then I just bounced along at the bottom of the club where I played.  Whenever a new less talented team was introduced, that was where you would find me, running up the sidelines, more often than not off-side, and always on the right as I was incapable of hitting the ball anywhere other than to the left of me.

Admittedly, I ski, and love it. I don't do it particularly well, but I do it.  Although I think you only have to read this post here to get a pretty fair sense of the level to which I'm capable of cutting a dash on the slopes.

Based on all that, you would think the prospects for any kind of sporting fixture, let alone Tae Kwon Do making itself a regular part of our already too-busy schedule would be slim.

But no.

Boy #2 (the child I was expecting to find it too hard / boring / too much running / not featuring any public transport opportunities) loved it, and Boy #1 - although initially a little less fulsome about the experience - has also expressed an interest.  (I discovered his lack of enthusiasm had more to do with not being able to instantly wear one of the cool white outfits - which you earn the right to wear over a few weeks - than it did with not actually enjoying himself.  It's all about the accessories...)

This is fine, indeed I'm delighted as it is excellent fitness and extremely disciplined, except for one thing; it appears I have become that thing I said I would never be, the mother who's children have scheduled activities every day after school.  Between them after school the Boys cover off, in no particular order; lego club, maths club, art club, piano lessons, guitar lessons, Dutch school, football, swim team and now Tae Kwon Do.  Oh, and homework - which really should be at the head of the list.

They're six and nine years old.  Whatever happened to just coming home from school and simply messing about until tea time?

Wednesday 19 September 2012

I'm proud - but not THAT proud...

This is a hard post for me to write but you know what?  I'm just going to come right out and say it.

Please vote for me in the Feather & Black children's story competition.

Not because I'm asking you to, not because you think The Potty Diaries logo is pretty, not because you've met me at a blog conference.  Please vote for me, because I really believe I have written the best of the entries (currently numbering a grand total of 3) that are linked to on the Feather & Black Facebook page.

What I'm asking is that you go here, check the three stories out (all linked to in different posts on the F&B facebook page which can make it complicated to find them, I'm afraid), and if you think mine is the best, click the 'like' button underneath the screen shot of The Potty Diaries.

I'm not saying this lightly.  I think I have a fairly good sense of my own self worth and my abilities.  There are times when I have specifically not canvased votes for things that I've been entered into, as here, when I really did not believe I was the best candidate for the prize, and said so.

But this time?  This time, I've taken a good look at the competition and think I should be in with a real chance.  So please, if you have a moment, compare the stories and if you agree with me that mine is the best, 'like' it.  Or, you know, if you don't, vote for another one instead.

Why am I coming right out and saying this?  Because whilst I am sure that if I don't win this competition, it will be on the basis of merit (as in - the other bloggers' ability to spin a good yarn), I will kick myself if it's for other reasons, like the fact another blogger has a wider circle of Facebook friends and is better at self-pr than I am, and I just didn't go for it enough because I was feeling shy and retiring.

Oh, and did I mention that aside from the self-ratification of having a winning story to my name, the prize is £500?  Worth stepping out of the shadows for, pushing my natural reticence aside, and banging a drum about, I would say.

At the risk of repeating myself once too often, click here for the Feather & Black facebook page to see all the stories*.  Then vote for the story you like best by going to the bottom of the screen shot of the respective blog (on the same Facebook page) and clicking 'like'.  It's worth knowing that if you click 'like' anywhere else on the page other than in the box linking to the story you choose, your vote will not count.  I know, it's complicated...

Thankyou for reading.  Now I'm going to go and say penance for the sin of self-publicity...

* You can also read my entry by simply clicking here , and can follow the links from the bottom of that page to see the other stories and to vote on facebook.