Monday 29 April 2013

Just. Plain. Wrong...

When your male neighbour, who walks their dog past your house everyday, asks at a crowded social event "So, have you hung curtains upstairs yet?"

When you get back from your your holiday to find that your cleaner, searching for something to do, has tidied up your children's clothes drawers and managed to mix up all their clothes in the process.

When you get back from holiday to find that your cleaner has also tidied up your drawers.

Including THAT drawer.

When said cleaner - who admits to another income stream as a masseuse and who once turned up to clean a friends' house missing her front teeth, which she said she had lost in a work-related accident - offers to give you a massage when you're suffering from the 'flu.

And it's only a couple of weeks after she cleaned out THAT drawer.

Small boys, in tights.  I mean, in deepest winter, maybe, but at the end of April?  Come on, Russians.  It was +14degC and bright sunshine out there today...

Wednesday 24 April 2013

A Parenting Purple Patch

I feel as if Husband and I have hit a sweet-spot in The Boys' development.  We are having a moment of calm, in parenting terms.  We're through the nappy years, through the toddler and pre-school years, through the trauma of the first years of school.  Our sons are working hard, playing hard, developing well.  They are healthy, open, affectionate, and - mostly - still listen to us.

It can't last.

There are so many reasons why I blog.  To give myself a mental workout - can I still string two words together?  To stay sane - if I put it down on metaphorical paper, maybe I can organise my thoughts and convince myself that no, I am not crazy...  To reach out - surely, it's not just me?  To pass the time - because oh, I have SO much of that...  And to record moments of life; the good, the bad, the ugly and downright ruddy hilarious.

This is one of those posts.

Being a parent it's easy to get bogged down by the details of everyday life.  What kit do the kids need for school today?  Did I ever get round to washing their swim towels after last Tuesday's session?  Should we take the car or cycle this morning - is it going to rain by this afternoon? Have I got enough bread in the house to make lunch for them tomorrow?  Do they even need lunch tomorrow or is it one of the days they get to eat in the school cafeteria? And so on.  From the moment they arrive in this world - tiny, shouting, blood-smeared and demanding your attention - raising a child, whilst rewarding, fogs your focus.  The volume levels may alter but the end result for parents can be constant static and white noise.

That white noise - it can be very distracting.  You become so busy dealing with it all that you forget to celebrate the good stuff, the moments that remind you it is all worthwhile, that you are living this life for a reason and that two very large parts of that reason are standing right in front of you.

Where to start on how wonderful my sons are at this moment in time, at 9 and 7 years old?  I almost don't dare.  I don't want to jinx it, you see.  I don't want to look back on this post in the future when the world is collapsing around my ears - as no doubt it will when they hit adolescence, if not before - and think 'Ah.  That's where it all started to go wrong.  When you wrote about your love for them, and brought the wrath of the gods down on you for being too proud of them.'

Because I AM proud of them.  I am.  They are not the product of mine or Husbands' endeavours, they are not our projects, they are not mini-me's who's successes or failures are something to be trotted out to friends and family in 'didn't I do well as a parent?' anecdotes and point-scoring exercises.  They are individuals in their own right, with their own personalities, likes and dislikes, passions, faults, moans and gripes, talents and friendships.

They are funny, loving, infuriating, smart, cheeky, affectionate, frustrating, hardworking, tenacious, clumsy, loyal, adventurous, forgiving, ambitious, intrepid, and grounded.

They are loved beyond their understanding.

And they are amazing.

I've been nominated for a BritMums 'Brilliance in Blogging' award in the 'Writing' category.  Click here to see the full short list - and on the badge below to vote.  For me please, if you're feeling moved to do so...


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Just when you think it's all gone quiet, the BiB awards come along and...

...something like this happens.


I've been shortlisted for a BritMums Brilliance in Blogging award (click for a link to see the full shortlists for all categories).

Along with 15 other blogs, The Potty Diaries has been included in the shortlist for the 'Writer' award.  I was already delighted to be included - and then I read the details on the category, as follows (lifted straight from the BritMums site):

'Most blogs have writing at their core. But some blogs feature writing that makes it hard to stop reading. Whether a blog reads like a compelling bestseller or gorgeous poetry, this award celebrates the words on the page.'

Gulp.  Someone, somewhere, thinks this about my blog.

Jesus.  I'm a little bit emotional, to tell the truth.

Consider yourselves warned; I have had enough of self-deprecation and modesty and tomorrow I will probably be asking for your vote.  But today?  Today, I am just having a bit of a moment.

That brightness you can see over in the eastern sky?  It's the reflection of my grin.

Monday 22 April 2013

All growed up? When Blogging Reality Bites

So, this blog's Tots 100 stats have plummeted this month.  I mean, seriously dropped.  We're talking Cyprus style bank account levels of a hair cut on my numbers.

A bit of background; for reasons I could never understand, since October last year until last month, The Potty Diaries was bouncing around in the high numbers between, #9 and #14 on the Tots 100.  Pretty cool, huh?  Not bad, if I do say so myself.

This month, though? The Potty Diaries is on at #65. That's a drop of 55 places. Fifty five.  Places.  (I'm wondering if this may qualify me as this month's biggest loser but am too embarrassed to check that fact*.)  Hmmm.   I thought I would be more upset.  Obviously, when I first saw it, I did experience a pang of disappointment.  It may even have resulted in the temporary removal of the Tots 100 ranking badge from my blog, if I'm honest. 

But then my sense of humour / proportion / perspective picked itself up from where it had tripped over a crack in the pavement, brushed the grit from it's knees, straightened it's jacket and got real (and in the process put the badge back on the site).  I mean, I knew that once the numbers of hits per site were included in the metrics there was no way this blog could compete with the heavy hitters back in the UK.  I wasn't delighted by the prospect of a fall, but I knew it was coming, and now that it's happened I find that actually I don't mind (too much).  

Certainly, it's been great over the last few months to get interesting approaches from pr agencies etc on the back of good performances in the ranking tables but let's be honest; how many of them can I actually take up, living in Moscow?  On top of which it's not as if I don't have enough to do besides blogging - and not spending time fretting about maintaining my ranking through frequency of posting etc will only help to free me up for other projects, like getting the second half of that book written.

So actually, this fall is - amazingly - fine with me.  Well - better than fine; it doesn't bother me.  It is what it is.

Could it be that I am - finally - growing up?

*Please; do not take it upon yourself to check that fact and report back in the comments box.  I may be growing up - but not that much...

Friday 19 April 2013

Things Boy #2 has seen whilst travelling in Greece...

Following on from yesterday's post, I thought I would share one of Boy #2's diary entries for earlier this week with you...


 I went to Greece. in the morning I saw an ant in the bath.


wen I was in the bath I saw red ants

So that's it, Greece.  A 7 year old's take on one of the oldest civilisations on earth reduced to an encounter with an insect...

Please note: All spelling and punctuation is diarist's own.

More may follow.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Things I've learned whilst travelling in Greece this week...

I've never seen sea as blue.

It may be Greece, but that beautiful blue sea is too cold to swim in, in April.

What your children will remember about a stay in a swanky hotel is not the ridiculously huge marble bath they swam in, or the wonderful sea views they could look at whilst they did so, but the single ant they encountered whilst in it.

Said Ant is what will make it into their holiday diaries; not the classical ruins, the amazing hospitality, the wonderful seafood, but the ruddy Ant.

The food is delicious.

The food is not low-fat.

Vegetables?  What are these 'vegetables' you speak of?

Your sons will love the fact that vegetables are in scarce evidence and paint you as the World's Worst Mum when you announce that there will be no pasta or burgers arriving at the table until the plate of grilled veggies in front of them has been consumed.

Some hotels still have the nerve to charge for in-room wi-fi access (hence the lack of posts this week).

When being shown around a city by a local, it always helps to be ridiculously specific about your preferred hit-list of tourist sites.  Otherwise you will find at the end of the day that you may have visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens, you may have had lunch in a restaurant with stunning views of the Acropolis, you may have been in a horse-drawn carriage trip along-side the Acropolis, and you may have walked through a market with the Acropolis as the backdrop, but you will not - despite having repeatedly mentioned your long-lived ambition to visit the Acropolis, since having been a small girl in fact - have actually visited the Acropolis itself.

Friday 12 April 2013

Plagiarism - pure and simple...

My sister, the ex-blogger formerly known as 'Footballer's Knees', posted this on her fb page yesterday.  I thought it worth reproducing here as it's so funny.  And sorry sis for not asking your permission but it is 5am your time and I figured that a) you wouldn't mind my using it and b) bearing in mind we are using the same airline ourselves today - on the newly introduced route to London from Moscow, which frankly is going to be a VERY interesting experience - it was relevant...

"Day trip to Newcastle today. Where to start? To rant or to rave? I could rave about the great Easyjet service, the dulcet tones of Paul McGann's recorded voice used for the flight safety notice (the words, 'Brace! Brace!' have new meaning for me), the way the staff of the exec lounge found my passport and delivered it to me at the gate, the fact that I was first off the plane. Didn't you know that it's a race from the plane steps to the airport arrivals exit? I'm not that fast but I beat the short fat-bottomed man in pin stripes and the woman with leopard print stilettos and bad hair extensions. 

Or, I could rant. Oh about so, so many things. Or rather, people. 

The loud and whey-faced people in the security queues who gave the Departure lounge the air of Appleby Horse Fair. Or the horse faced bint with the Accessory Child who held up the whole queue of passengers behind her whilst she placed her many bags in the overhead locker. Without apologising. And then held up the man who wanted to sit in the seat next to her whilst she searched in the locker again to find her phone, idle through her texts, perhaps check FB before she switched her phone off. And then delayed the actual take-off when she got the flight attendant to pull her bag out again to pass her Accessory Child something (I hoped it was some sort of tranquilliser, but alas, not). 

I was open mouthed with indignation at this point - that someone could so blatantly break the Gentle Passenger's Code of Conduct and I looked around to see if anyone was sharing that indignation but it appears that the Code is in my head as everyone else seemed unaware of the heinous crime being committed in seat 23A.

I'm now home in bed, ready for my 5.45 start tomorrow. Night night all!"

Hmmm.  Today could be very interesting.  And maybe I will break the habit of the last few years, and  actually listen to the safety announcement...

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Exciting scientific news from Moscow!

After extensive testing in your correspondent's Moscow home, the results are now in.

There is no sound - not the ringing of a doorbell, the increasingly infuriated calls from a mother, the demands from a brother, the smashing of plates or glass, or the turning on of the televison or X-box - that penetrates a child's closed bedroom door and results in their speedy appearance downstairs in the kitchen quite as successfully as the noise of freshly-baked cookies being peeled off baking paper.

So now you know.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Organic growth...

When we arrived in Moscow over three years ago, doing the weekly shop was a little different to what I had been used to in central London.  Gone were the weekly deliveries of seasonal locally* grown organic vegetables, the free-range eggs in the supermarket along with organic & free range dairy, meat and poultry, and sustainably fished & line-caught fresh seafood.

Instead, I found myself searching for a new bare minimum of what I considered to constitute healthy eating; apples that hadn't been tossed into the display basket by shop workers for whom the concept of unbruised fruit was as yet unknown, wholemeal bread that wasn't so preserved it lasted two years, any wholegrain pasta (there are whole supermarket aisles devoted to pasta here, with perhaps two product facings of  the wholegrain version), poultry that wasn't pumped full of water, minced meat that didn't give half a pan full of grease when cooked, and fish that looked and smelt as if it had been caught within the last couple of days rather than two weeks ago, frozen, refrozen and thawed to be sold as 'fresh'.

Of course, there were and are high-end retailers that could deliver all of the above, but at an exorbitant price - and we operate on a tight budget.  Consequently it took a while before I reached the stage where I felt comfortable on where to find the right goods (usually in a number of different stores to make up a shopping basket that back home would have been available in a one-stop shop) at the right price - and crucially, where they would actually be in stock when I wanted them.

Three years on, and things are slowly starting to change.  Wholemeal pasta is still something of a rarity, but decent bread is a lot more readily available, and the basic levels of produce in many stores has improved markedly.  Hell, you can even buy Cathedral City cheddar now in Auchan (I blogged about the red letter day when I found it instore, here - sad sap that I am...).  But what you have not been able to reliably buy is locally farmed organic & free range produce.

Oh sure, you can buy a limited amount of what is supposedly organic & free-range, but I'm afraid to say that I have become extremely cynical on these matters since living here.  Russian farmers are as quick as the next nationality to see the opportunities for increased margins on food labelled as organic, but unlike farms in western Europe they are not subject to the intense study of their land and methods that The Soil Association and similar subject organic farmers to, because there quite simply isn't a similar organisation here.

However, the wind is finally changing.  Today, I found organic milk in a mainstream supermarket I trust (the taste test as to whether it's up to the boys' standards happens tomorrow), and yesterday I went to visit LavkaLavka where Jennifer Eremeeva of The Moscovore blog was running a cooking session on the supergrain Quinoa.  I learned how to make quinoa delicious (no mean feat) and  liked everything I learned about LavkaLavka; the environment, the cafe, the staff, the produce available for purchase at prices that were less steep than I'd feared, and the attitude to sourcing sustainably produced locally farmed product.

Now.  If only I could persuade them to start stocking wholegrain pasta...

* When I say 'locally grown* I mean not airfreighted and from within a few hundred miles, obviously.  Come on - we lived in the UK and woman cannot live on carrots, potatoes & swedes alone ALL winter...

Friday 5 April 2013

Do you give good blog?

Well, do you?

A friend recently gave a blogging workshop for people new to this strange online world, and it got me thinking; what makes a good blog?

The thing about blogging is that so much lies in the perspective of the reader.  The young unattached 20-something, not yet a a parent, is unlikely to want to read about the ins and outs of potty training a recalcitrant 2 year old - no matter how funny they are to the writer.  Likewise, the lost-in-the-baby-fog first time mother is probably not going to want to spend too much time being reminded how much her life has changed by reading a style blog devoted to the most beautiful shoes spotted on the high street this week by the urban cool hunter.  (Although - it is nice to dream, occasionally...). The yoga teacher looking to spread her ideas on alternative therapies is unlikely to want to read blogs on the most recent new technologies available in the world of mobile communication.

So it's impossible to say that one blog is better than another because thankfully there are so many different niches to be filled.  This is one of the reasons that the internet, with it's zillions of voices all shouting to be heard, can be such an entertaining place to wander.

But.  I've been blogging for nearly 6 years now (so I wasn't an early adopter, but have been on the blogging scene a while), and in that time not only have I written over 1200 posts on this site alone, but I've read countless more - and there are a few things I've noticed that make me more likely to add one address to my blogroll and to click away quickly from others.  I figured I would share what these are.  They are entirely subjective, of course, and there are no hard and fast rules that govern which sites I do and don't visit.  These are just my thoughts on some of the aspects of 'giving good blog' which you can take or leave as you like...

Background and font colour: there is very little more likely to make me click away when I visit a blog I haven't seen before than light text on a dark or lurid background.  White text on bright pink, for example, or pale yellow on black.  If it's too harsh on the eye, no matter how good the content is, it's a no-go for me.

Font size and style:  When I started blogging I used a stupidly small font. (Look back through the archives to 2007 if you want to know what I mean).  Because of course I wasn't actually typing in that sized font, I never realised there was a problem until a commenter very tactfully mentioned it. So make sure your font size and style is legible.

Paragraphs: use them, please.  A block of text that fills the screen is again not conducive to me reading to the end of a post.  Life's complicated enough without battling through an intimidatingly long paragraph.

Post length:  I used to write lengthy posts.  Partly that may have been because I had more to say than I do now (having already blogged most of the angst out of my system), and partly it could have been due to over-excitement  (as in 'Oh my god!  On my blog, I get to run through a train of thought from beginning to end without being interrupted!').  Whatever, I've said before on here that a good piece of advice on blogging is to say what you want to, then stop - and I stand by that. Posts of 1500 words or more may not be the best way to entice your readers to continue all the way to the end.

Don't feed the trolls.  There will always - ALWAYS - be people out there who find happiness in making others miserable.  I'm not talking about the commenters who disagree with what you may have written and who express their point of view clearly, politely and cogently; I'm talking about those who leave inflammatory and hurtful remarks in the comment box just to get a rise out of you.  Ignore them if you can, delete them if you want; just don't reply to them, because that - engagement on your part - is what they want and crave, and will just keep them coming back for more in a vicious circle of comment and counter-comment.  Walk away, people; there's nothing to see here...

Punctuation marks, in particular: !!!!! Free yourself from the tyranny of the multiple exclamation mark.  I bet there is nothing you can write that doesn't sound just as interesting or entertaining with only 1 exclamation mark as it does with 2 or 3.

And finally, ignore everything I've just written above if it interferes with what you have to say.  There are no hard and fast rules about blogging; the main thing is to sit down and write that post in the first place. Don't give a damn about what others - like me, what do I know? - think of your blog.  If you like what you've written, then the chances are someone else will, too.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

I'ld rather be writing...

I want to be writing, but I can't.  Not because I have writers block, but because I have a sick child at home and there are few things more guaranteed to distract from any creative process than sitting worrying about your son's high temperature.  Or running upstairs repeatedly to check said high temperature.  Or dealing with repeated requests for water / a toy / a dvd / repeat to fade...

Right now I'm recovering from the latest battle to get Boy #2 to take the nurofen that he hates the taste of but which he needs to bring those numbers down.  It wasn't pretty, I can tell you.  Promises were made - and ignored.  Physical coercion may have been employed.  Threats were certainly utilised.  In a way it's lucky Boy #2 is feeling so ill; he wasn't sharp enough to work out that my bundling him into the car to take him to a hospital where they would intravenously give him the drugs - if he didn't take it in liquid form himself here at home - was an impossibility bearing in mind that Husband has taken the car to work with him today.  Oh, the lies we tell our children...

So, anyway, I have had to put 'The Great Work' to one side for the moment, which is why this post is about writing rather than actually getting on and doing it.

I'm a little over half way through TGW at the moment.  It's taken a while to get this far, but I've made significant progress in the last couple of months and am hopeful that - children's illness aside - I may manage to finish the bones of it before the summer break, but this had presented me with a dilemma; do I ask someone to read it, now, for useful feedback - or do I continue to keep it to myself until I've completed it? I guess writers vary in their approach to this matter, but since this is the first time I've been through this process I've no previous experience to go on.

I can see why I would ask for feedback; it's hard to exist in a bell jar, and an unbiased opinion on what I've written and the direction the story is taking would certainly be helpful.  On the other hand - is there really any such thing as 'an unbiased opinion'?  Whatever we read, we bring our own baggage and experiences to the process - which is why one person can love a book that leaves another cold.  And whilst I do have some idea of how my story will end, it's still a fragile enough structure in my mind to give me pause before I set it up on a wall to be knocked down.

Decisions, decisions...

Monday 1 April 2013

Poo-lympics. You heard it here first

Boy #2 has found a Union Jack flag left over from our trip to London during last summer's Olympic festivities, and is rushing around the house reliving last Augusts' past glories.

We are still stuck in the tail-end of Winter here (no, Russians, I am not listening to your bleats that we have reached spring.  Is there snow on the ground?  Yes.  About a foot of it? Yes.  Was there a blizzard this morning?  Yes.  Well then.  I rest my case...), but in spite of that Boy #2 is currently obsessed with the summer Olympics.  So you find me in the middle of a conversation about when the next Olympics will be, where they are happening RIGHT NOW (repeated assurances that they only happen once every 4 years for about 2 weeks are falling on deaf ears, since he believes that if there is an Olympic torch somewhere, well then that means there must be an Olympic Games, right?  RIGHT, MAMA?), and how we are going to get there. So he can wave his flag, obviously.

The news that we have over 3 years to wait - and that when they do happen, they won't be in London - was not welcome, I have to tell you. It was, if anything, greeted with outrage. The Olympics - not in London!  What kind of craziness is this?

Boy #1, whilst very much able to understand the 4 year hiatus between Games, has decided to jump on board and is now lobbying for a torch shaped like a parrot in honour of the Brazil connection.  He knows very well that to make such suggestions is simply adding fuel to the flames of Boy 's current pet topic, but is merciless in this matter, to the extent that he is now suggesting various toilet-humour themed additions to the sports we can expect to see in Rio 2016.

So here I am, stranded in Narnia, waiting for spring, desperately trying not to laugh too loudly at my older son's outrageous suggestions for poo-related olympic sports, and ducking as my younger son waves a Union Jack in my face.

I shouldn't think life gets much more glamorous than this, does it?