Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Photo Gallery: Bond

This post is for Wk 129 of The Photo Gallery (click here to see the other entries), and the theme this week is 'bond'.

When Husband and I decided to have two children, one of the main reasons in my mind was that I wanted siblings who would have the same bond my sister and I had; to be friends, as well as related by blood.

I think we managed it.

(This photo was taken 3 years ago but is as true a reflection of my sons' relationship now as it was then).

Monday 28 January 2013

Curing back pain, Russian-style

I'm not sure I've ever felt this glamorous.

I mentioned recently that I've started seeing a chiropractor here in Moscow for my back.  So far, so good - except for one thing.  He treats me in the clinic, yes - and that's fine.  But there's also another thing that I have to do to be cured, apparently.  It involves cling-film and a noxious-smelling oil. Like I said, it's glamorous.

What, you want details?  Well I believe the technical drawings for this procedure would include (Fig1); a woman smearing anti-inflammatory gel on her lower back, then (Fig 2) mixing a noxious smelling oil with water in a jar - kept handily in the bathroom for this very purpose - before soaking a disreputable-looking rag in it.  (Fig 3) depicts her wringing the soaked rag out in the sink, and in (Fig4) she's gagging slightly at the smell and balancing the fragrant material precariously across the gel smeared portion of her back.

(Fig 5) would show the same woman wrestling with a roll of cling-film (doesn't everyone keep a roll of the stuff in the bathroom for this sort of thing?  No - me neither, which is why (Fig 5.5) would show her rushing downstairs only in a bath robe, dripping yukkiness everywhere, to fetch it) and in (Fig 6) she's muttering to herself 'where is the fxxking end of this stuff?' before (Fig 7) tearing off a long piece and throwing it crossly in the bin because it got all wrinkled up and couldn't be used.

(Fig 8) would feature her wrapping the cling-film a couple of times around her midriff to keep said noxious rag firmly in place, and then (Fig 9) struggling to put a mess of stretchy crepe-bandage into a roll whilst the revolting smelling oil dripped out from  under the cling film around her middle.  (Fig 10) shows the embarrassingly long crepe bandage reaching only a few times around the woman's waist to hold the cling-film in place, and (Fig 11) the moment when she stabs herself in the finger with the special clips that cleverly hold stretchy crepe bandage exactly where it should once she is all trussed up (note- she has not the first idea of the correct name for said clips).

(Fig 12) shows the children hammering on the door to come in and use the bathroom only to (Fig 13) melt away with loud exclamations of disgust when confronted with noxious chemical smell as (Fig 14) the woman exits the bathroom to lie on the bed for 30 minutes whilst - according to the chiropractor - the medicine does it's work and helps to ease the inflammation around the affected area of her back.

(Fig 15) shows the same woman removing all the gubbins mentioned above and taking her second shower of the day to get rid of the stink.

And (Fig 16)?  Shows the woman laughing hysterically as the chiropractor earnestly tells her that to get the maximum impact from this treatment, she really should be doing it twice a day...

Wednesday 23 January 2013

The Photo Gallery; Adventure

This post is for Tara's Photo Gallery, and this week's prompt is 'Adventure'.  Click here for links to the other entries.

If you've visited The Potty Diaries before, you may know that I'm currently living in Moscow, Russia.  Life here can be seen as taxing, exhausting, and insular, if you're not careful.  It's easy to reach the stage where you close yourself off from the constant assault of 'Foreign' on your senses, choosing to stay home, venture out only when the cupboards are bare, and live from the beginning of one school term to the end of the next, buoyed up only by the prospect of leaving for your next trip 'home' the instant the school bell rings.

People do that, here.  For years sometimes.

Or, you can simply treat each day as an adventure.  Even when all you're doing is making a trip to the supermarket.

I've been wanting to take this particular photo for a while now.  Any ex or current Moscow residents reading this blog will probably recognise this spot; it's on the main road from Sheremetyevo Airport - for a long time, the only international airport for the city - into Moscow.  The soldier shown is in memorial of the soldiers of the 2nd World War (there is a female version on the opposite side of the road), and it's an iconic representation to many Muscovites of the pride they have in the sacrifice Russia's people made in fighting back the tide of Nazism.

To me, he and his female compatriot simply symbolise Moscow, and on a personal level - Adventure*.

* Because let me tell you, it felt pretty adventurous lowering the window in -15degC so I could take the photo whilst negotiating heavy traffic...

Monday 21 January 2013

I am a Moscow winter driver - hear me roar...

We've had a lot of snow in Moscow recently.  And by 'a lot of snow', I don't mean a paltry few centimeters.  I mean a LOT of snow.  This weekend alone, there was a record snow fall of 63cm (that's more than 2 feet in old money).  Don't believe me?  Look; even the Beeb are writing about it (so of course, it must be true).

The strange thing is, whilst I've noticed that it's been a bit a painful on the roads, and certainly more slippery than usual to get up the hill out of our little corner of snowy paradise, I would not for a moment have thought it was that much.

Could it be that after 3 years here I have... assimilated?

Yes, this morning on my drive to the nearest metro station, I did think that there was a lot of snow still on the road considering we were in rush-hour on a Monday morning, which is normally the time when the snow ploughs would have ensured that if at all possible, the highways were clear.  And yes, when I reached the station and had to park more or less in a snow drift, I did wonder just what was going on.  And admittedly, when I couldn't find a spot in the school car park when I went to pick the Boys up this afternoon, I did think it was really quite busy, and how inconvenient it was that so many parking spots were unavailable because they were filled with 4 metre high piles of snow that the street cleaners had put there in desperation because the usual snow clearing trucks unaccountably hadn't turned up.

And finally, it did cross my mind once the Boys and I had climbed back into the car that perhaps it might have been simpler to walk as the chances we might get stranded there - if the car got bogged down as I executed a 3 point turn on an un-cleared single lane track - were higher than I was comfortable with.

But I never for a moment really doubted my ability to get the car turned around in piles of 2ft high snow, saying to the Boys as I completed the manouever successfully; "I am a GODDESS!"

Unsurprisingly, my sons did not concur, pointing out that a) goddesses don't drive cars and b) if they did, they could just magic themselves out of tricky snow/car-related situations and c) I wasn't wearing a toga*.

But anyway.  63cm of snow in one weekend.  And I drove through it, successfully.  Yes, I AM patting myself on the back; I think I deserve to after spending the first 25 years of my driving life in a country where the snow usually falls only once or twice a year and may only hang around for a day or so when it does arrive. You're welcome to drive on over and disagree with my awarding myself plaudits if you want, of course.  Pack a thermos flask of tea and a couple of blankets** though - those roads are a bit tricky...

* Although I'm sure I could really rock the toga look, a sheet and snow boots never seemed to me to be the obvious sartorial choice for the school run on a -12degC day.  Or, indeed, on any day.

** Yes of course I had those with me in the car. I am always that prepared. Cough.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Don't judge a book by it's reputation

I've been struggling with a bad back for the last few weeks; it wasn't only chilblains* that the Potski family pickd up during our holiday in the UK.  Foolishly, I also tried to pick up a much-too-heavy suitcase, first thing in the morning, whilst staying in cold damp house - with predictable results for someone with a weak back, and who should know better.  Consequently since we got back to Moscow, I've been trying to locate a chiropractor who speaks English and who I actually trust not to do me more harm than good.  Thankfully, yesterday morning I found one.

Part of the chiropractic consultation process with Boris (yes, his real name) involved me getting some x-rays taken.  Not, unfortunately in the clinic where he runs his practice, but in a Russian hospital one metro stop away.  Having x-rays taken is, in itself, a usual part of the process with a new chiropractor, but I must admit that the prospect of going to a Russian hospital to do so daunted me a little.  Expats, you see, tend to go to expat hospitals in Moscow.  Not only because it's more likely that you'll find someone who speaks your language, but because - by reputation, anyway - Russian hospitals are a little... basic.  Boris however gave me assurances that whilst somewhat Soviet in style, the hospital he was sending me to had the latest equipment, so after he made a quick phone call to arrange it I gathered my stuff - and my prejudices - and set off through the driving snow.

After my visit to the hospital, my prejudices stand corrected.  Once I had used my appalling Russian to negotiate my way past the aged-retainer security guard on the front gate (mainly by waving my map at him and waiting until he was distracted by the much easier option of dealing with a delivery driver who he could actually communicate with, rather than this awkward expat with her nursery-level Russian), it was plain sailing, and the little of the hospital that I actually saw was on a par with most UK ones. I would even dare to say that it appeared cleaner than many.

Sure, the uniforms of the nurses and doctors were perhaps more relaxed than those back home, and money changed hands for the xrays, but it was less than you might think, and certainly a great deal less than I would have paid at one of the expat hospitals here.  Other than that I could have been back in London.  Except, let me think - I had the x-rays taken yesterday morning.  I would not have been surprised to get the actual photographs in my hands later that afternoon, or perhaps - bearing in mind it was a Friday - sometime early next week.

In this case, however?  I left the hospital 15 minutes after putting my top back on - with the x-rays in my bag.

*Chilblains (click here for a link to explain what they are if you're lucky enough never to have had them) are something Boy #1 and I both suffer from, though not - interestingly - in Russia. 3 years of living for 5 months of year at sub zero temperatures, and no chilblains.  But 2 weeks of staying in UK houses in the winter?  Guess what Boy #1 came back to Russia with...

Wednesday 16 January 2013

The Photo Gallery: New

This post is for Week 126 of Tara's Photo Gallery, and the theme today is 'New'.  Click here to see the other entries.

I'm not going to lie to you.  One of the best things about visiting the UK at Christmas (or indeed, the UK at any time of year) are the shopping opportunities.  Brand names and products that would cost a fortune here are often more affordable back home even if you buy them in big city stores, and if your parents happen to live close to an outlet village, as mine do, the savings are definitely worth making.

Since we arrived in Russia, every year I've treated myself to at least one pair of new boots.  We spend at least 5 months of the year trekking through snow and slush, you see - so the foot wear you might be able to get away with back home simply doesn't cut it here. Those cute kitten heels?  Useless.  The funky bowling shoes from Camper?  Forget it.  The stilettos that magically make you lose ten pounds and smooth out all the lumps on your butt?  In your dreams.  (Unless you're a Russian woman of course; they apparently have special classes in how to glide in sky high heels across any surface before they leave kindergarten).  The problem, of course, is finding something that does the job - that is, keeps your feet warm & dry, has no heel and a decent tread to cope with the icy pavements - but which also doesn't look as if you're off to a building site*.

Back in 2011, I found the perfect pair in the outlet village close to my parents, brought them in brown and whilst I didn't wear them to death, they were a stalwart standby.  They held up well, so when I saw the same pair this year - in black, and at an ever better price - I decided to invest in them.  I'm delighted with them.  But there's just one problem.  It doesn't do to get too attached to your pristine outerwear in Moscow because this city is filthy in the winter.  No matter how much you brush and clean your boots, they are usually  covered with dirt again within 5 metres of leaving the house.

For example.

I've had these for less than 18 days.  Do they still look 'new' to you?

Me neither.

*Not a bad look in itself, but not to be used every day...

Tuesday 15 January 2013

You never forget your first time...

A good friend of mine is hurting.  She arrived in Moscow only a few months ago, a first time expat, and fit right in.  She is outgoing, bright, fun to be around.  She's an asset to any group, ready to get her hands dirty, and a joiner.  Not surprisingly, those of us who have been here a little longer found her a breath of fresh air and sucked her right in - and she loved it, throwing herself into expat life with vigour and making new friends in the way that some expats do; whole-heartedly.

She made one new friend in particular, a 'newbie' (her phrase, not mine) much like herself, and they clicked.  They set themselves the goal of making the most of their time here and experienced Moscow to the full, getting under the skin of the city, travelling by metro and joining groups, not allowing themselves to be phased by anything (or not for long, anyway), because they were together, and stronger for it.

And now, in the expat way of things, my friend's buddy has been whisked away to another continent out of the blue.  Contracts change, agreements alter, everything is fluid in the bubble that we inhabit as expats.  You can't count on anyone being here next month let alone next term or next year.  It's part of what keeps this community vibrant and moving, but it's also something that - when you first experience it - knocks the breath from you with the loss that you feel once that person has moved on.

Sure, you can - and will - keep in touch, by email, by skype, on holidays.  The good friends that you make will probably continue to be a part of your life.  But they won't be there with you, giggling at the extreme bad temper of the babushkas shouting at you for letting your child outside without a hat on a +18degC April day in the sunshine.  They won't be there to nod knowingly and say "T-I-R"* as you recount your latest experience in the supermarket when you tried to pack your own shopping and the woman on the till ignored you and stowed all your purchases into flimsy plastic 'packyets' that will split the moment a third can of coke is added to it.  They won't be there to hold your hand when the intensity of life here gets that bit too much.

I was a first-time expat when I arrived in Moscow, and clearly remember the first time this happened to me.

I wish I could tell my friend that it gets easier, that you learn to be a little more restrained in the amount you give your friendships, that you start to lean more heavily on your nuclear family because they are the ones that you can be sure will still be there with you when the new school year starts.

But I still view the end of each school year - and the good-bye's that they bring - with trepidation and an anticipation of forthcoming regret that people who have been a part of my day-to-day life and local support structure will no longer be around the corner.  It's the flip side of being an expat, you see.  These people with interesting lives, entertaining points of view, and engaging stories?  They didn't get that way by staying put.  They don't consciously look to leave (my friend's friend certainly wasn't expecting to), but more often than not, they do.

So, what to do?  Close yourself off?  Not bother to go out and find new playmates once your old ones have left town?  Withdraw to your sofa and stick to the same old routine - school, shops, supermarket, holidays back 'home' in the summer, repeat to fade - for fear of having to go through the process of making new friends year in, year out? It's certainly tempting.

Or, do you get out of the house, put yourself out there, and start over?

I know my friend will do the latter.  But I also know how much it hurts to say good-bye, that first time.

*'T-I-R' = This is Russia.  In case you were wondering.

Friday 11 January 2013

The Best Laid Plans - & #SnapHappyBritMums

Yesterday, Husband and I decided to expose the Boys to a little local culture.  We drove approx 50km to the beautiful monastery at Istra - built in the 17th century by a Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch who decided to prove to the world that the New Jerusalem was in Russia - to take a look for ourselves.  Click here for Wikipedia's entry on it.  

It's a shame that we didn't - check out Wikipedia, that is - because instead of beautiful architecture, this is what was waiting for us when we arrived there in -12degC with two small boys who were moaning and bewailing the fact that they had to set foot outside the nice warm interior of the car.

Yes.  The entire building was wrapped in cardboard for renovation.  There is a lot that is worth seeing in this country - but at present, this building doesn't fall into that category...

On the plus side, however, I did also get to take this photo,which I thought worked for today's #SnapHappyBritMums theme of 'Winter'.

So it wasn't all bad...

BritMums - Leading the Conversation

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Boy #2 turns 7, & New Years Resolutions

Upstairs, folding laundry.  Suddenly, from downstairs there was a cry;

Boy #2:  "How do I turn it off?"

Me: "How do you turn what off?"

A moment's silence, then;

Boy #2:  "I can't turn it off!"

Me:  "You can't turn what off?"

Boy #2:  "I'm pressing the button but it just comes back on..."

My normal reaction at this point would be to go downstairs and sort the problem out, but since one of my few New Year's Resolutions this year is to do less for my children (as in, foster their independence), I forced myself to stay put.

Me:  "If you need me, come upstairs.  You know where I am."

Boy #2:  "But - but - how do I turn it OFF?"

Now I was starting to get concerned.  What was going on down there?  Still, we're only 9 days into the New Year and I had made that resolution, so...

Me:  "What are you talking about?  What are you trying to turn off?"

Boy #2:  "Oh.  It's off*.  Thanks, Mama."


Happy 7th Birthday, Boy #2.  I love you whole-heartedly - and Life would be a lot less interesting without you to keep me on my toes...

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

* I later discovered that Boy #2 was talking about the XBox handset which he was using to pretend to control his brother (at that moment in time, a robot) and which he had inadvertently switched on.  Because that's what you do with your Christmas presents, apparently - use them for something entirely different to the function the were designed for.  This, I believe, is the 7 year old equivalent to playing with the cardboard box rather than the toy that arrived in it...

Monday 7 January 2013

Three years ago today...

... the Potski family arrived in Moscow.

Not for a long weekend.  Not for a week.  Not for 'a look-see'.  But to live.  At the time, we thought we might only be here for a few months, so brought very little with us.  (Well, when I say 'very little', I mean 4 enormous hold-baggage suitcases and around 54* items of hand luggage.  A lot for a holiday, certainly - but not when you're planning on making your home somewhere).

Not long after we arrived, it became clear that a few months wouldn't do it.  There was too much to see, to do, and experience to even consider climbing back on the plane only 6 months later, so we decided we would stay a total of 18 months and threw ourselves into making lives here in Russia.  We succeeded - to the extent that when our 18 month window was drawing to a close, we decided it wouldn't be nearly enough.  Another year, then.  That would take us to 2 1/2 years; surely a respectable amount of time to spend anywhere that you don't plan on being your long-term home?

Guess what?  2 1/2 years is a respectable amount of time to spend somewhere.  But so, we decided, was 3 1/2 years.  So last May we paid the Boys' school fees for another year.  That would would take us up to summer 2013 - enough for any family who knows that at some point they will return to the UK schooling system.

And now it's January 2013.  Decision time - do we stay yet another year? - is hurtling towards us at breakneck speed - again.  Has anything changed?  Well, no and yes.  We are still enjoying living here, and in many ways life in Moscow is significantly easier now than it was back in January 2010, both on a general and a personal basis.  3 years on, I know how things work, I understand some of the language (although making myself understood in return still escapes me), and I have made friends I can count on - and who I hope count on me - on in times of need. I have developed business contacts, I've discovered skills I didn't know I had, and to top it all off, Husband is enjoying his work and the Boys are happy and settled.

But on the other hand, we moved here to spend time together as a family and since August Husband has been travelling more often than he's been at home; for the last 4 months I've been solo-parenting Monday-Friday.  Not an easy thing to do week in, week out when you're 1500 miles from your family support network.  Also, time is marching on; if my sons are to return to UK schools the sooner they do that, the better.  And finally, there are the not-so-small matters of missing our families and important events in their lives, and of me working outside the home.  Yes, I could work here, but it would involve compromises I'm not ready to make just yet. And it's an undeniable fact that whilst it would still be a juggling act, returning to formal employment in the UK unencumbered by the need for working visas etc would be a lot simpler than it would be here.

So the decision to stay or go is less straightforward this year - for me, at least - than it was for the previous three...

* '54' may be a slight exaggeration...

Thursday 3 January 2013

On conspicuous consumption and turning into your parents

Husband and I are in London - without the kids - for a couple of 'days off' before we fly back to Moscow as a family.  I love London.  It's home (I believe I may have said that on here before...) and I hope that once we've finished our time in Russia, we return to it, but I must say that the extreme levels of conspicuous consumption that I see all around are slightly worrying.

The number of people who assumed that we were heading back here for the sales to buy more 'stuff' before we go back home surprised me;  for a start, we have two young sons who have just spent Christmas with their extended families.  How much more 'stuff' does one family need than the amount we already have to cram into our luggage allowance? (Admittedly, Husband and I are responsible for the purchase of much of the 'stuff', but I still reserve the right to mutter to myself about plastic crap when we try to pack it all away in a few days time.  It's my right as a mother, surely?)

And whilst we're on the subject of consumption, we went to the cinema last night, to see 'Skyfall'.  We don't tend to go to the movies in Russia - in fact, apart from the odd time that I take the Boys over the summer break, we don't really go at all, and certainly not just the two of us; by the time you factor in getting to and from the cinema, childcare, and then the cost of getting the babysitter home again, we might as well go out for dinner, so it's been a while since we did this.  We enjoyed the film (although Husband did wonder where all the blondes in James Bond films have disappeared to recently - to which I responded that there was only one blond who mattered and he was in the title role), but the experience left me with this question:

When did I turn into my parents?

It wasn't the sex, the violence, or the occasional bad language that makes me ask this (in fact, now I come to think of it, there was very little of two out of three of those - comparatively speaking).  It wasn't even the girl seated behind us, clearly on a first date, who was loudly sharing WAY more than was probably wise with a potential boyfriend (Mystery, ladies - where's the Mystery?).   No, what causes me to ask this question is my reaction to the constant - incessant - crunching and munching going on around me.  Sitting in that cinema was like being in the middle of a field, surrounded by cows chewing their cud.

Now, I've lived outside the UK for 3 years now, so I suppose I might have missed it.  When was the law stating that no movie experience is complete without a family-sized bucket of popcorn on your lap actually passed?