Tuesday 28 February 2012

Ear, ear...

Woe is me, for Boy #2 has an ear infection, and for the last couple of days the Potski household's mornings have started in crisis.

Anyone who's children have never suffered from such ailments (i.e. me, before last weekend) may have no idea of the fun and games involved in pinning a reluctant 6 year old to the bed whilst administering ear drops first thing in the morning. I don't blame him for the fuss - the thought of someone putting drops into my ears and telling me to 'lie still and just relax' whilst this was happening sets my teeth on edge - but it can put rather a downer on one's day.

And that's just for me. No wonder the patient is a little tetchy as a result.

So I need a little cheering up, which is why I'm posting the picture below. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what is considered attractive headgear for tourists to buy, by the side of the Georgian Military Road, on the way to the ski resort we visited last week.

I'm not sure what this says about Georgia's impression of foreigners. I suspect that I shouldn't dwell on that too much. But in hindsight, if Boy #2 had been wearing one of these babies, perhaps our days would be starting a little more smoothly right now...

Sunday 26 February 2012

And the answer - if you're remotely interested - is...

...not Switzerland, Bulgaria (although not a bad guess), Bosnia, Macedonia, Monte Negro, Slovenia or Serbia.

No, the city pictured in this post was Tblisi (pronounced 'Bilisi' by the locals, apparently), the ski resort was Gudauri and the country as a whole? Georgia.

And somewhere between leaving on holiday a week ago and getting home this evening I seem to have acquired a spare tire made exclusively of Khachapuri...

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Gallery; Landscapes

This post is a disgracefully late entry for Week 92 of Tara's Gallery - click here to see all the other fabulous entries.

Given that this week's prompt is 'Landscapes', and bearing in mind where I am this week, even though I'm 24 hours late on posting I couldn't possibly miss out on entering the Gallery.

No prizes for guessing for how the Potski family are spending our days - but I wonder, will you be able to work out where we're doing it?

Oh, OK. You want clues. Here they are;

  • You don't need a visa if you're an EU citizen...
  • ...but this country is not in the EU.
  • The food is DELICIOUS.
  • The locals are mostly hospitable.
  • There are borders you don't want to cross.
  • They produce their own wines, some of which are pretty good (and some of which - well, let's not go there).
  • And obviously, you can ski. In fact, whilst it's not the most challenging area I've ever skied in, it more than makes up for that with some of the best snow and the shortest lift lines I've ever seen. And it's at an impressive height (the resort itself starts at 2200m), and has some of the quietest runs I've ever been on in my 18 years of skiing. (Mind you, it also has some of the craziest skiers. But then you can't have everything).

And that's it. So, where am I?

Friday 17 February 2012

Parenting Challenge #987; getting the kids in the fresh air when baby, it's cold outside...

Sponsored post

Having foolishly wished for snow to lift the interminable greyness towards the end of last year, I am now rather regretting my foolhardiness in longing for the white stuff. Obviously, there are things about it I like, but there are also plenty that I’m not so keen on. Dirty slush, for one. Nincompoop drivers, for another. And the fact that it becomes even more difficult than usual to get my sons to play outside.

Don’t get me wrong; at school they have outdoor playtimes no matter WHAT the weather, but by the time they get home and even at the weekends, their interest in playing outside seems to have waned a little. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re not that interested even at the best of times, but now - when the snow lies thick on the ground - rounding them up, into their snow kit, and out of the back door for some healthy outside time is like herding cats.

I can’t blame my sons mind you; snow is cold, and it can be wet, and living in Moscow we do get a little bored of it, but they can’t spend the whole of January, February and March skulking inside. I’ve been casting about for ways to get them out of the house then, so when I was contacted by Tiger Sheds with some suggestions of outside games to play at this time year, I welcomed the additional input.

All of the games Tiger Sheds suggested are old favourites but I have to admit, not necessarily ones I would have thought about reminding the boys of in cold weather. There was ‘Red Rover’ (where children form two opposing lines, link arms, and shout for a child from the opposite team to try and break through their line), ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’, (also known as ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’), and ‘Stuck in the Mud’ (like tag but for two teams, and where a tagged child has to stand on the spot until a fellow team member slides between their legs to release them back into the game) which for some reason seems like it would be even more fun played in a foot of snow than it would normally.

The other tip Tiger Sheds have is to make hot chocolate and to take it out to the garden shed so the children have somewhere sheltered to drink it. Now, you may scoff at this as being a way of bringing their product – garden sheds – into the frame but it has one major advantage; it does avoid the problem of getting children to break off their outside play to come inside for a warming drink with all the accompanying removal of clothes that ensues. Have you ever done this and then tried to persuade them to put all their now cold and damp outdoor gear on again to go back outside for some more fresh air and fun?

With tv, ds’s and a warm bedroom with endless den-building possibilities calling, any sensible parent knows that just isn’t going to happen...

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The Greatest Photo I Never Took, #1079

I bet this happens to everyone. You see something, for just a moment, and then a few seconds later - when it's gone - think "Damn! I should have got my camera out! WHY didn't I get my camera out?" Assuming you're not engaged in an activity that would make it dangerous for you to stop and make it happen, there's no excuse really; it's not as if most of us don't have the ability, what with mobile phones now doubling up as cameras.

I'm not sure there are really 1,079 shots that I've missed. I suspect it's far more, if I'm honest, but only a couple spring to mind right now. The first was of the top of one of Moscow's Seven Sisters buildings rising through the clouds on a particularly beautiful morning. I knew I should take that photo, but I was driving at 60km an hour on a 3 lane highway with no hard shoulder at the busiest time of day, so have had to make do with keeping that one as a mental snapshot. But oh, what a beautiful photograph it would have made.

The second - the one that prompted this post - was something I saw on Saturday. It was cold, about minus 18degC, and we were sitting in heavy traffic (yes, I know, cold and traffic; recurrent themes on this blog), driving along Leningradskoe Shosse. I glanced out of the car and saw 2 workmen taking 5 minutes by the side of the road. One of them was holding a pipe upright at right angles to the ground; it ended in a jet of flame at about shoulder level. The other was passing his bare hands through the flame, to warm them up. I reached for my handbag to pull out my phone, but the traffic had started to move again, and they were gone.

So desperately crazy. So bloody cold. So extremely Moscow.

Definitely one of the greatest photos I never took. What was yours?

Monday 13 February 2012

Buns of Jello and other benefits of Cross Country Skiing

I am Knackered. (Note the capital 'K'. That means I'm really knackered, honest.)

This may be because it is ruddy cold here right now - those on the Twitter-verse will perhaps have picked up on my pathetic bleats about it's being -30.7degC here this morning - or because both my Boys were at separate sleepovers on Saturday night. This meant that a) they were exhausted yesterday and getting them out of bed on time for school this morning was even more of a challenge than usual and b) Husband and I - perhaps - drank a little more than we should have on Saturday night to celebrate our temporary freedom from parenting duties, so I'm not quite as refreshed as I should be after the weekend...

Whatever, I have given myself permission to recycle a post of mine from my other blog over at the Moscow Times (Diaries of a Moscow Mum) rather than expend energy trying to write a new post here. (Long term readers may also recognise this as a post that originally appeared here last year. Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle, is what I say to them...)

So you've finally become what you can proudly refer to as 'an adequate downhill skier'. Sure, it's taken you 16 years of bruises, strains, aching muscles, embarrassing falls on the flat, freakouts on gentle slopes, temper tantrums with your husband when the easy blue he suggested suddenly became an icy red, and one or two tangles with snow-boarders, but after many years of effort you now feel reasonably confident with a couple of bendy boards strapped to your feet.

You can do it. Not elegantly, perhaps. Certainly not stylishly. And with precious little technique, it has to be said. But for what seems like the first time in all those years, you finally feel when skiing downhill that amazingly, you are no longer the worst skier in the group. Not even the second worst.

What better time, then, to take on a new challenge? Like, say, cross country skiing? I mean, you live in Moscow, where cross country skiing is the outside exercise of choice for many during the long winter. (Well, that and skating, but you aren't quite crazy enough to try that one; there's throwing yourself down a mountain at high speed and then there's stepping onto a frozen lake with a couple of razors beneath your feet and trying to survive the experience without any broken bones. No, I'll leave that to my kids, thanks very much...)

So you go out, buy what I can only describe as the most subterranean of bargain basement kit (as your Dutch - for which read 'careful with money' - Husband points out; there's no point spending too much cash on this just in case you don't enjoy it), and head off into the nearby forest with some girlfriends to work up a sweat and take in the sunshine on this frosty -10degC day, where you discover the following:

  • · You still know how to fall on the flat.
  • · There is still no way on earth to do that stylishly.
  • · This cross-country ski lark is bloody hard work (although if I keep it up I fully expect to have buns of steel by the end of February, based on the amount of pain my muscles are in today)
  • · It's just as possible to end up on top of a frozen lake - albeit covered with snow - when you're skiing as skating.
  • · Serious Russian cross country skiers get quite cross if they find their way blocked by a group of chattering women stopped to admire the naked - yes, NAKED - 50 year old lady taking a dip in the ice hole at the edge of said frozen lake (Jesus, just ski around us - there's a whole lake to use, for goodness’ sake!).
  • · There is a one-way system on the lake. A ONE WAY SYSTEM, you stupid foreign woman...
  • And yes, last but not least; you are once again the worst skier in the group.

(As I said to the friends I was out with; it's so nice to find a sport at which I'm a natural after all these years....)

Friday 10 February 2012

Do you bubble-wrap your children?

Well, do you?

I'm asking because, whilst I try not to, sometimes I wonder if I should. A couple of weekends ago Boy #1 had a nasty accident on a sledging hill. He was knocked into the path of an oncoming sledge and ended up with a deep cut that needed 5 stitches, just above one eye. And when I say 'just above one eye' I mean, just above one eye. As it was, he's just been left with a scar and a story and no lasting damage, but a centimeter further south and he might have lost his eye. It doesn't bear thinking about.

But that's just it.

Should I think about it?

Accidents like this happen to kids all the time. They're part of growing up, those broken bones and scars, aren't they? And yet, if the worst had happened, how could I live with myself that I hadn't made him wear some kind of a helmet?

It seems molly-coddling in the extreme of course, to suggest that an 8 year old boy should wear a helmet when he goes sledging, and yet it was icy - which I knew - and we live in Russia where emergency care, whilst excellent in this instance, is not as easily obtainable as back in the UK - which I also knew. So was I being neglectful by allowing him to be out there without wearing a helmet which, for all I know, may have made no difference in this instance?

Or was I simply allowing him to be an 8 year old boy and do the things that 8 year boys do, picking up the injuries that 8 year old boys acquire in the process?

In my saner moments, I know it's the latter. But sometimes, I still wonder; should I bubble wrap my children?

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Black-out curtains, shutters, and other necessities for sleep-full nights...

This is a sponsored post.

It’s dark here right now. That’s probably because I’m writing this piece at 10.30pm, but it would be almost equally dark if I were writing it at 8.45am, since sunrise isn’t until 9.15 in the morning at the moment. But it isn’t always like that in Moscow. Come summer time, the sun rises early, and doesn’t set until 10.16pm. Long summer evenings stretch out for what seems like an eternity, and there’s nothing like the blinding sun at 5.00am to make sure you greet the day bright and early.

That’s all very well for me and Husband; we’re grown ups; we’re supposed to be able to handle minor inconveniences like that (apparently). The Boys, however, are a different matter.

I’ve always considered myself blessed in that my sons are not early risers. Not for me those exhausted conversations at the school gate about Junior rising at stupid o'clock; historically, I’ve been lucky, and from an early age the Boys have slept through the night.

Or rather, they did sleep through. Until we arrived in Moscow, that is.

Here however, the sun rises at 4.44am in June and, by a not-so-happy coincidence, theirs is the first window that it’s rays hit. Soon after we arrived, I realised that blackout curtains were called for if I hoped to maintain any normal kind of sleeping pattern in the summer months, but it turns out that they are not the total solution I had imagined they would be. Light creeps in around the edges and over the top of the curtain rail; no matter how thick the actual curtain, it’s still lighter than is ideal in their bedroom.

It’s also noisier than I might like; we might send our children to bed at 8.00pm, but it’s light until 10.30 and not everyone else follows suit. You can hear other kids rampaging through the compound well after the Boys have been tucked up in bed (these children clearly need less sleep than my sons), giving my two yet another reason to shout crossly down the stairs about how bossy I am and how I’m ruining their lives. (OK, not the latter, not yet, but it’s just a matter of time, I know).

As we’re in a rented property, and building renovations are not a possibility, there’s not much I can do about this. But when I was contacted recently by Shutters Direct about the products that they offer, I have to admit that my interest was aroused. Apparently, not only do their interior shutters control the light, but they help to block out the noise as well, and also provide a safer alternative to blinds, since trailing cords are not ideal when you have young children about.

Sadly I don’t think Shutters Direct have an outlet in downtown Moscow just yet, so we’re continuing with our regime of blackout curtains for the time being to help combat the light pollution in the Boys’ room. As for the noise, well we’ll just have to put up with it, since I doubt that a stern word with our neighbours about suitable bedtimes for their children will make a blind bit of difference. They already think that I am beyond cruel to send my sons to bed when it’s still light in the summer.

It looks as if I may yet be one of those exhausted mothers at the school gates, after all...

Monday 6 February 2012

My best tip for keeping your feet warm in cold weather

Can the title of a blog post get any more glamorous than that? Still, I'm all about giving back, so here goes...

I understand it's a little chilly back in Blighty right now.

Obviously 'chilly' is a relative term; to me, 'chilly' was last week's temperature in Moscow - between -16degC and -22degC in daytime - so today's high here of -9degC seemed positively tropical. So much so in fact, that I chose to let Boy #2 play outside for the 20 minutes we had free after he'd finished school today. And no, I wasn't standing inside watching him - I was out there too, quite happily. Ah, how things have changed...

But this was not meant to be a 'you don't know when you've got it good' post aimed at all the people in the UK complaining about the cold weather; I'm the first to admit that 0degC in wintry grey and humid England is just as bad if not worse as -8degC and blazing sunshine in dry-aired Moscow. (No, I didn't believe that until I experienced it for myself, either, but it's true).

Rather, this post is to share with you the best tip I have for keeping your feet warm in cold weather if, like me, you have the circulation of a 100 year old radiator.

It's quite simple, really. Not attractive, necessarily, but simple.

Woollen. Knee. Length. Socks.

Forget your 2 pairs of thermal ankle length numbers; they will give you sod-all protection against the cold. You know why? Because when your feet get cold, it's not because your feet get cold; it's because your calves are cold. And once your calves get cold and the veins in them start to constrict, that cuts off circulation to your feet and hey presto, you have blocks of ice on the end of your legs. A decent pair of knee length warm socks will - in my experience - sort this problem out for you, and as long as you are wearing a decent pair of boots or shoes, your toes will be as warm as toast.

And that's it. Like I said; simple.

Trust me - I live in Moscow...

Saturday 4 February 2012

Pragmatism, Russian style

There are demonstrations scheduled in the middle of Moscow today. They are to protest against the alleged ballot fixing of the state parliament elections held at the end of last year and to demand greater political freedom. Before Christmas, there were also demonstrations for the same reasons, which largely took place peacefully (despite what you may have read in the media elsewhere).

No one knows how many people will turn up today; the largest demonstration in December attracted between 30,000 and 80,000 people depending on which stats you believe. The key difference today though is the temperature. At the end of last year, winter had yet to kick in and it was still - mainly - above freezing. Today, however, it's around -19degC, and let me tell you, no matter how strong your feeling of outrage, you do not want to stand still for more than a few minutes outside when it's this cold.

Having said that, it is still likely that there will be thousands of people who want to make their voices heard, so there will be a substantial police presence in the centre of the city today.

Here's where the pragmatism comes in. In a radio interview this week, a high ranking police official was asked how they planned to handle the demonstration, and answered as follows (please note; I have paraphrased since I don't have a direct translation):

"If there are 10,000 of them, we'll arrest them all. If there are 50,000, we'll do nothing. And if there are 100,000? We'll join them."

Appalling as that statement might appear, you've got to love the pragmatism...

Thursday 2 February 2012

Luxury Problem #78: Making and keeping friends as an Expat

We've been in Moscow over two years now. I can hardly believe it, to be honest; it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. I wouldn't change having had this experience for anything. As you get older it can become harder to shake things up a bit, to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to experience a grittier reality than you've become used to now that you have a mortgage, the kids are settled into school, and you're surrounded by people you've known for a while.

Moving somewhere like Russia provides a 'grittier reality' in spades.

This is, I tell myself frequently, a Good Thing. Life here is just so damned entertaining. From the jams, to the bureaucracy, to the queues (or rather, the lack of them), to the glorious winter days and the long summer evenings, to the black-humoured locals and the host of oh-so-foreign experiences hanging like ripe fruit waiting to be picked whenever you can pull yourself out of the daily routine, it's rarely boring.

But there's always a price to pay, and part of this is turnover. Turnover of people, that is. I remember when I arrived, I heard new acquaintances say that whilst they loved being in Moscow, they were ready to move on/go home. From my perspective, flushed with the novelty of living in an interesting town surrounded by interesting people, their lives seemed full and exciting. They and their families were happy, and they were reaping the rewards of their expat life-style. Why on earth, I wondered, would they want to leave?

But then they did, by which time they had become good friends - and I began to understand. It can be lonely being an expat in this town. The majority of foreigners move on within 2 - 4 years, and whilst there are the stayers, even they - unless married to a Russian - are unlikely to stay forever. Hell, I don't want to stay forever, why should they?

I learned recently that yet another good friend may be leaving this summer (in addition to those that I already knew of). For some reason this new news is hitting me hard. Of course we'll stay in touch. No doubt we will even meet up from time to time, on holiday or short trips. But they won't be here, going through the daily ups and downs of life in the same place at the same time, and I'll feel the lack of them.

I will, of course, pick myself up, meet new friends, have new shared experiences. But a little of the shine wears off each time I print out yet another photo for a friend who's leaving and I contemplate rejoining the expat dance, putting myself out there and building new connections in the full knowledge that at some point - probably before too long - I will have do the whole thing all over again.

It's a luxury problem, I know, and it's all about me*. But that knowledge doesn't make this aspect of my 'entertaining' life any more welcome...

* But then this is a blog post for goodness' sake - what did you expect?

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Flowers, made of frost. No - really.

Well, what do you know? It turns out that there are some things I will not do for this blog. Namely, going cross country skiing when the thermometer reads -24degC (that's -11degF) in order to take a photograph of myself with frost-covered hair to put up on here.

How do I know you get frost on your hair at this temperature, you may ask? Well, I went skiing on Tuesday at a tropical -20degC (-4degF) when I didn't think of taking a photo of how I'm going to look when I'm old and grey until after I had already reached home and thawed myself out.

But what I did take a photo of, was this. Frost flowers blooming on the surface of the same hole in the ice I jumped into last March, when it was an altogether balmier -8degC.

How lucky am I, that I get the opportunities to take this sort of photo?