Sunday 29 January 2012

Be afraid; children's birthday parties - Moscow Style

I've changed my mind. Not so long ago on this blog, I wrote that the point of disconnect between cultures is music. But I've been giving it some thought, and actually I think I have another contender. It's that old favorite: kids' birthday parties.

I suspect that wherever you go in the world, the goalposts for little Johnny's birthday party have moved somewhat over the last 30 years. Even in sleepy Britain, it's no longer enough to invite his best friends, play a game of pass the parcel or British bulldogs, serve up some cheese sandwiches with crisps, and dish out the chocolate cake after a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”. No, if you are foolish enough to offer up your home to the masses nowadays, in many parts of the world entertainers are standard, a glass of wine for any accompanying parents is expected, and party bags are non-negotiable. And don't even think about trying to get away with just putting some stickers and a piece of cake inside it, you cheapskate. Not unless you want to be unmasked as such by a pint-sized monster who rips the bag ungratefully out of your hand before commenting loudly on the contents.

But that, my friends, is nothing. That is plain vanilla. For now we are in Moscow, and you ain't seen nothin' yet...

Children's parties in this city are, to many non-residents, unbelievable. When I regale friends back in the UK with tales of 'Incredible Russian Children's Birthday Parties I Have Seen', invariably they don't believe me. Or, if they do believe me, I'm afraid it only goes to fuel the internationally held image of Russia as a country of extremes.

My back catalogue of recent party stories includes but is not limited to: those with added animal entertainment (not rabbits in hats and dogs jumping through hoops, but performing monkeys, look-but-don't-touch crocodiles and bears on bicycles; on one memorable occasion, Mummy Bear was even—heart-wrenchingly—accompanied by her cub); themed events that take all day with a 15-to-20-strong team of entertainers; 5-to-10-minute-long professional firework displays in honor of the birthday child; fully catered sit-down meals for both parents and children; sushi for the kids (in itself, not a bad idea, but I just can't get past the fact that we are many, many miles from the nearest sea); pink champagne for the parents; stunt policemen turning up complete with guns and handcuffs to arrest a wrongfully accused stunt Spiderman; 30-foot inflatable climbing walls in the back yard; and one borrowed anecdote from a friend who glanced into her neighbors' yard some time last year to see the 5-year-old birthday boy sitting resplendently in the seat of his present: a full-sized Hummer with a bow on top.

As an expat living here I couldn't hope to compete, and, indeed, I wouldn't want to. So our recent offering of a low-key party for one of my sons and his classmates consisting of snow games, pizza, chocolate cake and musical chairs was determinedly retro. The children all appeared to have a great time, and I even got a dose of exercise from jumping up and down directing musical statues. You might have almost thought we were back in 1970s Britain (except for the international backgrounds of the guests and the fact that the music was better, obviously), until one of the mums present mentioned that a couple of days previously one of her neighbors' children had had a party with not only all the requisite Moscow whistles and bells, but also the ultimate in animal entertainment.

They had a Siberian tiger, on a leash.

Ah, Moscow...

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

Friday 27 January 2012

Breakthrough Breast Cancer's 90 Bloggers campaign

Breast cancer has touched my family. My grandmother lost her mother and her sister to it, and had preventative surgery at a relatively young age to minimise the chances it might add her to it's tally. That's why this post is for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. It is part of Kate on Thin Ice's 90 Bloggers campaign, in which we've been asked to write 90 words about an important woman in our life. I can't single out just one; there are so many women who are important to me, so here 90 words on three of them, and some of the reasons why.

My mother, for her love and home-making skills, her enjoyment of having all her little chicks in one place, and her satisfaction in preparing - and seeing others enjoy - good food. My sister, for the fact that she makes me laugh like a drain, her feistiness, her lack of tolerance for crap, her determination, and her incredible ability to multi-task. My grandmother, 98 years old and still living on her own, who knows her own value, and who can still fire off a witty riposte when it's called for.

And that's your 90.

"Pink Ribbon Bingo have pledged to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer all year round with 15% of the gross revenue accrued through online play on the site being donated to the charity. Visitors also have the opportunity to donate a percentage of their winnings directly to the charity. Along with the fundraising element, Pink Ribbon Bingo and The Daily Mail online will be helping the charity to raise awareness by promoting their vital health messages such as TLC (Touch, Look, Check)."

Thursday 26 January 2012

Are you having nightmares with your child's bedtime?

Boy #2 is going through 'a phase'. At least, I hope it's a phase. Please god, let it be a phase. Oh, right - you want to know what it is. Nothing unusual for a 6 year old, I suspect; he doesn't want to go to sleep - in his own bed. He's convinced that he has bad dreams every night and that sleeping in his own bed is the cause.

Heaven knows, I should be sympathetic to this. I am not the most peaceful of sleepers, as Husband will tell you. I've improved over the years, mind you, from the time that my then-roommate at university woke up (on the night of the Great Gale of 1987 - yes, I AM that old) to see me sit bolt upright in bed and scream my head off before collapsing like a dead person again until morning. In my defence, all hell was breaking loose outside and everything bar 10 ton trucks was flying past our window, but still, she never forgave me for the shock.


Boy #2. He claims to have nightmares, and that may well be true. However, a) I haven't noticed them, and b) I think - although perhaps this is the scary 'you're-not-sick-you-just-haven't-been-outside-enough' school of mothering that is my default modus operandi coming through - that if he is having bad dreams, they are probably unrelated to the bed he's in. Call me old-fashioned. Certainly I don't believe they will be sorted by a bed-swap with his brother, as he claims, and so for the last couple of weeks what has, in my 8 years of being a parent to-date, been a relatively calm bedtime (if you discount the 3 days of controlled crying hell with Boy #1 nearly eight years ago, an exercise that worked but which I have felt guilty about ever since) has become, instead, a battlefield.

There has been shouting (hardly any of it from me, I must add), jack-in-the-box impressions, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and repeated suggestions that I put myself in his shoes (bed at 8pm in the evening, someone else to get my clothes ready for me for the morning and to do the dishes from dinner? Yes, please).

This evening then, I decided to try another tack and as I tucked him in, announced that I would take a quick nap on his bunk next to him. Boy #2 was delighted. "DAAHling!" he said (I am not kidding, he really said it - just in that way, too). "DAAAHling! You will stay here all night. I guarantee it."

Well, obviously that was not my plan. So I announced that I was going to snore - and not just any snore, oh no, but in a Papa-styley. I commenced my best Husband-patented snore, all but lifting the roof off in what I thought was a very passable imitation of my beloved.

There was a moment's horrified silence.

Then; "DAAAHling! Are you feeling quite alright? Are you hurt?"

Needless to say, when I got out of bed a couple of minutes later, he didn't even whimper.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

The Gallery; My Photography Resolution

This post is for Week 88 of Tara's Gallery. Click here to see all the other great entries...

When I saw the prompt for this week's Gallery, I have to admit that I struggled a little. Of course I have 'photography resolutions' (that's the prompt, by the way). Getting better at it, would be a good start, as would actually attending a proper course (not without it's logistical issues, that one; living in Russia and not speaking 'technical Russian' would make it a little tricky to do in Moscow). But thinking about it more deeply, there is one resolution that, on reflection, wins out for 2012.

Print. It. Out.

After all, what's the point of taking photo's you love, if all they do is sit in a file somewhere and you never see them?

Monday 23 January 2012

Just a small request...

In the last seven days I have...

  • Unwittingly started a revolution in food safety procedures at our school's cafeteria. This was a direct result of giving one of my children a chocolate chip cookie purchased from there only to discover - via a race to the medical office where they hold our anti-histmanines and a thankfully still un-used eip-pen - that the chocolate chips were, in fact nuts. (The helpful member of staff responsible for making the cookies in the cafeteria kitchen decided to substitute the chocolate chips they had run out of with nuts - without actually telling anyone.)
  • Collected the same child, on a different day, from school, to be warned by his teacher that she thought he was a little 'under the weather'. We got home, where he proceeded throw up spectacularly all over the kitchen floor. This did not phase me however, since I was just thanking my lucky stars that we had got out of the car 4 minutes earlier and he had taken his snow suit off 2 minutes earlier. Let's see; sick on the lino, or all over the inside of the car, my son, and his brother? Call me glass half-full, but I know which I prefer...
  • Rushed to hospital with the other child (have you noticed how they hate to be upstaged by their siblings?) after he had a major collision while sledging on an ice run and needed 5 stitches just above one eye.

So, if anyone up there is listening, can we have a slightly calmer week this time around, please?

Friday 20 January 2012

Aim High, Or: How Trying to Impress Your Children Can Alter Your Behaviour...

The snow has finally arrived here in Moscow. We've been back from our Christmas break now for just over two weeks, and ten days ago what seemed like a never-ending cycle of snow-thaw misery broke, the temperature dropped below freezing, and the white stuff came to stay until - probably - April.

This can be a pain obviously, but in a city that is geared up for this type of bad weather (official sources claim there are 10,000 people working on keeping Moscow moving), it's not as bad as you might think. It is at least brighter out there, even on these dark mornings, and - hurrah - we get to cross country ski.

Don't get me wrong; cross country skiing is no picnic, it's hard work. But you're exercising outside rather than in, usually in beautiful surroundings, and quite often in sunshine bright enough to need sunglasses, so I love it - up to a point.

And that point? To be honest - as a non-natural sportsperson better acquainted with the sofa and a book than fresh air - I'm pretty rubbish at it. But after a successful initial foray into the woods last weekend with Husband and the Boys (all of us on skis - it never ceases to amaze me that two boys who complain about walking from the house to the car will happily cross country ski for an hour or more), I felt pretty good about my prospects when I agreed to repeat the experience with a couple of friends yesterday. One of them, I knew from last year, was pretty experienced, but the other assured me that she had only done this a couple of times before and was still pretty much a novice - so I thought I would be OK.

Ha! Ha! And thrice, HA!

I knew I was out of my depth when the supposedly inexperienced friend bounced into her skis as I struggled with my new bindings and quickly instructed me on how to put them on properly, before she skate-skied off into the distance like a professional.


As Husband pointed out later, this friend is from Canada where cross country skiing is a little more common than in the wilds of Gloucestershire (where I grew up), and at one time was a national competition-level skater. What the hell did I expect?

In any case it was clear after I returned home yesterday, after more falls than I could count, that I need help. So last night, Boy #1 - also keen to tune up his cross country ski-skills - and I turned to the oracle YouTube in search of instruction. (What? If you can learn how to fillet a fish, put up a garden trampoline, and make a pinata on YouTube, why not pick up some tips on skiing?). Anyway, we found a whole host of clips offering helpful hints, and watched one of them.

Now, here's where this rambling post gets to the point of the title.

Boy #1 and I watched, with me laughing hollowly from time to time as I ruefully rubbed my bruised behind, while the presenter of the video showed us various techniques to improve our 'classic diagonal' ski style. Towards the end of it, the hints became a little more advanced, and the last couple of clips showed a man skiing at pace down a hill and round a corner both at the same time. I regarded this through narrowed eyes, wondering if I would ever manage to come down a hill without taking my skis off half way down the slope in disgust at my repeated tumbles.

Boy #1, however, is ever the optimist when it comes to my abilities. As the skier came pegging it down the hill, he turned to me and said authoritatively "That's you, in three weeks Mum." And as the guy went at speed around a corner, he looked at me, winked, and said "And that's you in four..."

Right. I'm off now to practise my cross country skiing. There's an 8 year old Boy out there with high expectations to impress...

By the way, I'm looking for ideas on how to celebrate my forthcoming 1,000th post on The Potty Diaries. Thoughts?

Thursday 19 January 2012

1000 Posts Ho!

No, the title of this post is not some pathetic attempt to get down with the street speak, bro'. It's to do with the fact that, according to my dashboard, this is the 986th post that I've written for The Potty Diaries. (Admittedly, not all of them are still up there and indeed some aren't up there yet, but I'm going with the dashboard counter on this one because, well, it's my blog and I can)

Nitpicking over numbers aside, who would have thought I had that much to say?

However, it turns out that I do (and from potty training, to school-blues, to expat highs and lows, it's not over yet), so I have a couple of questions for any regular (or even non-regular) readers out there:

Based on my current rate of posts (about 3 per week), I will hit Post 1000 before the end of February. Should I mark this in some way, or should I just let it slide past unnoticed in a 'oh, this old thing? It's been sitting at the back of the cupboard for years, dahling, years' kind of a way?

And if do mark it, any ideas on how? Should I blog on a particular subject? Should I offer some kind of freebie*? Perhaps I should even come up with a loyalty badge for people who comment on the 1000th post - maybe reading something like;

"I've been reading The Potty Diaries for years, and all she ever gave me was this rubbish badge"

(Actually, I quite like that last idea. Except that no-one will want it except perhaps my sis and that would be too crushing, so...)

Anyway. Feedback?

*Any pr's who still read The Potty Diaries, feel free to chime in now with great offers of free holidays, designer goods or indeed a free box of chocolate for one lucky reader.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Would you like cheese with that? Or; Russian Radio's love of Golden Oldies...

Music is, it seems, the point of disconnect for many cultures.

Once upon a time, I lived in London. My musical frame of reference has been shaped by radio stations playing indie, R&B, rhythm-driven, pop, rock, jazz, acid jazz, Brit-pop, metal, alternative, punk, dance, and electronic heaven. But "you never know what you've got 'till it's gone," as countless cheesy tunes tell us.

Now I live in Moscow, and lord do I see what I had in London. You see, as I freely admit, my Russian is not great, and consequently, my musical options when I switch on the car radio are somewhat limited. It's not that I don't enjoy listening to Russian music, you understand. It's just that I don't want to hear it all the time. My tolerance levels for gravel-voiced men singing either to acoustic guitars or to a background of heavy rock in a language I can't understand so well tend to wane after a while, and so my radio stations of choice here tend to be those that play more international music. The international music that is mostly played here? Well, more often than not, it's unadulterated cheese.

Golden oldies from the last three decades eddy around me in the car as I nose my way through rush-hour traffic. I've heard more 1980s "classics" since living in Moscow than I heard in the previous 20 years. Mike Oldfield, anyone? Or a spot of Aha? Perhaps, just to shake it up a little, some 1990s Duran Duran? Admittedly, the DJs are not prejudiced against any given nationalities in their love of all types of musical cheese. You can start your journey listening to some classic English cheddar, followed by a ripe Camembert, then move on to a tasty piece of Dutch Gouda, and round it off with a nice piece of plastic Kraft from the US — all within the space of around 10 minutes, if the radio presenter is in a hurry, which, it seems, they often are. (Listen to a song all the way through to the end? What kind of foreign craziness is that?)

All this musical cheese fondue does have a point, however. And I'm not talking about the wonderful aptness of being driven through a snow storm along Leningradsky Prospekt by a mad taxi driver to a backing track of Boney-M singing "Ra-Ra-Rasputin" — though that has to go down as one of my all-time classic Moscow moments. No, the point — for me, at least — is that it's almost impossible to get road rage while singing along to "Take On Me" or swooning to Sade's "Your Love is King", no matter how close to your wing-mirror the dolt of a driver on your right gets as he edges into your lane on the way to work.

1980s and 90s music: Prozac for the masses. You heard it here first.

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

Monday 16 January 2012

Teaching your child to lose

We all want our child to be one of life's winners, don't we?

We encourage them to do their best, try harder, put just that little bit more effort in. Not for ourselves, oh no, of course not - perish the thought. I mean, obviously it's nice to watch little Amy / Jimmy standing on the podium to receieve their medal, but it's all about them, isn't it? Isn't it? Yes, of course it is (and for the times it isn't, well, I'll write another post), and we push our children for their own sakes, because we want them to get the best that they can out of their lives. The best results. The best opportunities. Even - ultimately - the best jobs.

Here's the thing though, and it's an old chestnut but for all that, it's true; for every winner, there has to be a loser. In fact if we're honest about it, there have to be a whole host of losers. And unless they are a prodigy of some kind, at some point in time, your child - statistically - will be one of them.

This issue is top of mind for me because at the weekend Boy #2 had his birthday party. We try to keep things as simple as possible for these events; no entertainer, just us, some other parents willing to get down and dirty with the kids (or in this case, cold and icy for the snowman building competition), hot chocolate, pizza and birthday cake. Oh, and party games.

These party games were pretty simple; musical chairs, musical statues, pass the parcel and of course, that stalwart 'calm everybody down' standby: Sleeping Lions. (I tried to call it 'dead lions', which is how I remember it from my childhood but apparently that's not on for today's little eco-warriers). These party games were fun - and they were also revealing. Whilst many of the children at the party were perfectly able to keep the whole thing in perspective and simply enjoy the fun, some previously sunny little souls, when told that they hadn't won the game, promptly burst into tears and were inconsolable.

And yes, I know that they're 6. And that they will learn. But the experience highlighted to me that at a time when the importance of competitive sport is being down-played in many schools (football matches with no recorded score, anybody?), we may be failing to equip our children with the very important life-skill of how to lose gracefully. Because surely, if we avoid all the situations where our child is potentially a non-winner, a - say it - loser, we are not helping them in the long run.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that we all become Competitive Dad (see the clip below if you have no idea what I'm talking about) and take every opportunity to get one up on our kids in the name of educating them in Real Life. I do think though that as parents we should spend some time helping our children understand that whilst winning can be important, it isn't everything.

Children need to understand that losing a game does not mean becoming a Loser in life. Once the scrabble and ludo are put away, once the Wii has powered down, and once the mud has dried on their trainers, it's over, finished. It's one moment in time. Now, on to the next adventure.

(And then, maybe, children's birthday parties will be a little less of a minefield...)

What do you think?

Friday 13 January 2012

I am SO easy to please...

What does it take to almost reduce a grown woman to tears in the middle of a hypermarket on a cold and dreary day in Moscow?

Not much.

Just this, actually.

I like cheese, almost as much as chocolate. If I had to choose between the two I think the only reason chocolate would win out is because, not having a refrigerated handbag, cheese doesn't provide such an ever-accessible treat. Mind you, thinking about it, that might be a reason for me to prefer it; it's less accessible, not such an instantly obtainable cheap date.

Sadly for me, Moscow doesn't really cater for my tastes in either cheese or chocolate, although it fares a little better for the former than the latter. You can get decent cheese here - mostly of the continental European kind - more easily than you can get decent chocolate. Unfortunately, what I hadn't yet come across was affordable decent cheddar. And, being a West Country girl, 'decent' means just that, not the plastic blocks masquerading as cheddar that were available in some supermarkets. Frankly, I would rather eat my (home-made) chutney on dry toast than waste it on the rubbish чеддер that is normally available.

So today, when I saw this beauty* smiling up at me from the cheese fixture at Auchan, I cracked a huge smile - and bought two packs. It would have been more - if those weren't the last.

Husband will be delighted. Not because he loves cheddar as much as I do (as a Dutchman his heart will always belong to Old Amsterdam), but because, if this proves a reliable supply, he won't have to keep lugging blocks of the stuff back with him on business trips. Little does he realise that that simply means there will now be more room for him to bring back the essentials to feed my other 'ch' addiction...

* Other cheddars are available. I even prefer some of them to Cathedral City, actually, but since this is the one that has made itself available to me in this decent-cheddar-less desert, this is the one I've bought...

Wednesday 11 January 2012

The Gallery; Week 86

This post is for Tara's Gallery; click here to see all the other entries...

Tara's prompt for this week was 'phone photo'. So here's one of mine, taken on my Nokia N8-00 (thank you again, lovely people at Nokia) this morning, not far from our house.

Altogether now; 'walking in a winter-wonderland...'

On being kept in the dark...

Last year, the powers that be in Russian government decided that Daylight Saving Time was for wimps. (Well, I think they actually said it was because it was old-fashioned and unnecessary, but let's not split hairs). They took the unilateral decision that we in Russia would not be putting our clocks back at the end of October, and this post was the result...

Tell me it's not just me. I surely can't be alone in thinking that the abolition of daylight savings time here in Russia is simply not working.

My husband says it is - just me. He thinks I'm being ridiculous when I mutter and grumble about it being dark outside as we eat breakfast, as we drop the kids into school in the morning, as I drive him to the station and as I battle the traffic on the highway — all, seemingly, in the dead of night. I need to get with the program, bite the bullet, just ruddy well get on with it and stop complaining.

I never thought I would care, to be honest. I mean, winter is winter, right? It's supposed to be dark and gloomy, for goodness' sake. But when I caught myself writing a note to Mr. Medvedev as I waited for the sun to peep over the horizon somewhere around 9:50 a.m. this morning, I decided that my husband is right. I do need to get over it.

I mean, does it really matter if the centers of business in Europe and the United States are now one hour further behind us and, in the case of London, now don't start work until just about the time we in Moscow are deciding which filling to have in our sandwich? I suppose not.

Does it matter that the extra hour of darkness make what is already a challenging commute even more "entertaining" and more likely to result in "little" accidents? Not if you have a driver, I guess.

Does it really matter that most people outside Russia are unaware that the time here has not changed here and so merrily go on their way scheduling telephone meetings for what they think is one time, but which is, in fact, another? Only if you do business internationally and you actually want to be available to take the call, I suppose.

And don't get me started about every electronic source of time outside of Russia — and, I suspect, many of those inside Russia — having updated incorrectly to the time that the computers think it should be rather than the time it actually is, leaving many people — oh, OK, just me again, probably — unsure of whether their on-screen clocks are referring to Russian time as it is now, or as it would have been this time last year. For example, that automated e-mail from the airline informing you of your arrival time: Should it read 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.?

But no. Obviously none of this is important, and we'll get used to it all eventually, I guess. Until the end of March, anyway, when the rest of the world puts their clocks forward and the confusion starts all over again.

Oh goody.

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

Monday 9 January 2012

Jumping on that old Bandwagon; An open letter to PR's

If you're a blogger, do you sometimes hate opening your blog-related inbox? Mine is full-full-full of emails from people who think that, just because I write a blog, I am waiting with bated breath for content ideas to drop into my lap from people who clearly have not read anything I've ever written other than the title of 'The Potty Diaries' (and nor indeed have they picked up on the fact that - to-date - I write all it's content MYSELF).

Normally I just hit delete and forget them. Sometimes I'm inspired to write a witty and concise (ha!) 140 character 'Dear PR' tweet to get the frustration out of my system, but mostly I move on. However, Tim at 'Bringing Up Charlie' has just posted 'an open letter to PR's everywhere' (click for the link) which is crammed full of useful advice for any PR looking to interact with bloggers. I agree with every single thing he has written and have just one addition to make.

Please, dear PR, check the location of the blogger you are writing to before hitting 'send' on your message.

For the last 2 years I have been living in Moscow. That's Moscow, Russia. I don't hide this fact; it's clearly signposted at the top of the sidebar on the right hand side of the page. Under 'About Me', see it? Right under my blog name. This, I hate to say, does limit my availability to attend events rather more than living in Central London did.

Now. There are times when I am willing to make the trek from Moscow to London to attend your seminar / be at your press briefing / experience your no-doubt wonderful product in person but if I'm honest, they are few and far between and usually involve decent financial recompense or happen to coincide with a pre-planned trip. It's one thing to hope a blogger is happy to stump up the tube, bus or rail fair to be at your event, quite another to expect me to come up with the average cost of £300 for a flight. And of course there is the small matter of childcare for me to sort out for the time that I'm away from home; I do write a parenting blog after all (isn't that why you have me on your list in the first place?) and whilst getting cover to look after my kids for a few days is possible - anything's possible - that is not necessarily the case at the drop of a hat, and it had better be worth my while*.

So for example, inviting me to a premiere 36 hours before it's due to happen is unlikely to get a positive response (note: I'm not taking umbrage with the short notice; if I were living in London I would no doubt be delighted). Likewise, tempting me to the launch of your new skin care range** on the promise of a visit to a swanky retail location and some free cleanser probably isn't going to cut it, either...

You might think that by writing this I'm potentially cutting off interesting contacts from PR agencies. But you know what? Given that the overall likelihood a PR person is actually reading this post*** is not great, I'll take my chances.

* What is 'worth my while' however is something I am willing to discuss.

**This does not refer to a specific event. The product type has been changed to protect the innocent...

*** If, however, you work do for a PR agency and have taken the trouble to read this far, please get in touch - you already seem like someone I would like to work with...

Saturday 7 January 2012

Help wanted for sufferers of Childhood Cancers

Just over a year ago, a good friend of mine received the shocking news that her daughter has cancer.

After a year of treatment, things are going as well as could be expected, and today, she sent out the email below:

Hi, you are being sent this email because you have very kindly shown your concern for A's condition. So far the chemo seems to be working for her and she is doing well. There is however still a while to go.

Many of you have been kind enough to ask if there's anything at all you can do to help? (thank u ;-). And yes - there is!

While the drugs seem to be working for A, this is not true for others we know. Two young kids we know have died ( - one buried today & sadly, there will probably be more). I can only imagine what their parents are going through.

If that's not hard enough to swallow, imagine if it was YOUR child who had this life threatening disease & you knew there was a potential cure to save your child, only it's not available in the UK (and this is the case for some cancers). Also, the money spent on finding a cure for childhood cancers is miniscule compared with that invested on most other cancers.

So how you can help? We have started a petition that demands that ALL kids with cancer in UK should get vital treatment & be given the chance to live. We need to get 100,000 signatures supporting our appeal before we can present it to the government:

I am not asking for your money, just your voice to show you care. It takes one minute to sign, I promise.

And if you're still reading this - thanks! And I'll get off my soap box now.
Go to this link to add your signature;
Thanks for your support

I don't want to be mawkish but if tugging at your heart strings is what it takes to get you to click through, I will. At the start of this new year, take a look around you at you own children, thank your own good fortune that you haven't had to write the email above, and please, click on the link.


Friday 6 January 2012

In the stratosphere and Ikea, no-one can hear you scream

I'm torn. Which is the better way to start a new year? Is it:

1. Flying home from London to Moscow via a one hour stop-over in Zurich, convinced that the total saving of, oh, about £150, is completely worth it because, what's an extra hour or two on your journey when you have two sons who absolutely love flying? Until, that is...

...the plane for the first leg of your journey leaves 20 minutes late, cutting your 1 hr window to change planes to 40 minutes in an unknown airport where you don't know how long the disembarking / changing gates / re-scanning bags / resubmitting passports for visa checking / embarking process takes...
.... and your husband notices in an annoyingly relaxed fashion just after you have boarded the first of your two flights that he only has baggage tags for 3 of the 4 bags you checked in (WTF?)...
...and your younger son proceeds uncharacteristically to throw up on not one but both of the flights you take.


2. Spending a grey and drizzly Russian Bank Holiday afternoon in Ikea with most of the population of Moscow, all of whom seem to be there with their extended families on a lovely day out, as you stagger around with jetlag and (look away now, any gentlemen reading this) period pains, trying to hold an intelligent conversation with your husband about bathroom cabinets and frying pan lids. Although not in the same section of the store, obviously.

Hmmm. The jury's out on this one, I think.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

These are not resolutions. No way, no how. These are instead declarations of intent for the forthcoming year...

In 2012, I will:

Keep my family close, no matter how far away.
Know what's important, and if necessary, fight for it.
Have the courage of my convictions.
Trust my gut instinct - it's right more often than I'm tempted to give it credit for.
Be healthy.
Be happy.
Have decent chocolate to hand. A little of the good stuff is usually better than a lot of the rubbish alternative (this last applies as much to wine as it does to chocolate, by the way).
Remember that life is too short to make your own mayonnaise.
Not eat if I'm not hungry.

(The author reserves the right to change the order of this list depending on the time of the month and prevailing weather conditions).