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...