Friday 31 May 2013

Life is too short to...*insert personal preference*

Not long ago I wrote here of how I had in a moment of madness, briefly considered making chicken stock.  Myself.  From scratch.  (I know.  I'm shuddering just thinking about it).  If you missed the post, don't worry; I came to my senses before stinking out the entire neighbourhood.

Then, this evening, as I was sweating in the kitchen trying to char, peel and de-seed not one, not two, but fifteen peppers, I was forced to accept what I had long suspected to be true.

Life is also too short to char, peel and de-seed peppers.  In fact, it's too short to char, peel and de-seed ONE pepper, let alone 15.

This got me thinking.  There are a number of culinary efforts which, at the ripe old age of 46 I have decided are not good for my mental health.  Life, it seems, it too short...

1. cook shellfish at home.  Not that I've ever tried to cook it myself, you understand, which in itself is crazy as we love the stuff here in Potski Mansions.  It's just that I know I would spend the entire time worrying about under-cooking it, over-cooking it, checking it hadn't gone off, making sure all the shells were open, and no doubt blaming every illness for a subsequent 3 months on 'it must have been that shellfish we ate way back when...'

2. make my own pastry.  Life is definitely too short to make pastry, although for some reason this fact periodically escapes my mind and in a moment of madness I think 'Oh!  I'll make a quiche!  That'll be nice!"  which it never is.  I curse and swear my way through the whole experience and then watch the result of all my efforts disappear in 10 minutes flat.  Invariably I end up telling myself I will never - NEVER - do this again  So I don't.  Until the next time.

3.  ... to make scones.  This one came to mind because for some reason I have promised to make 24 tomorrow, for a stall at a fair.  It's the rubbing in of the butter that is the problem, you see - I hate the texture and the feel of the flour under my finger-tips - and it's bad enough making 6 scones, let alone 4 times that amount.  And the worst thing is that this is a repeat of last year's effort when I also made 24 - and told myself I would never - NEVER - make the offer again.  So I didn't - until they asked me.

4. make French onion soup.  I love it - but am the only person in the family who will eat it and let me tell you, 3 or 4 days on the french onion soup (to eat it all up, waste-not-want-not and all that) is not a good plan, for me or, indeed, for anyone else living in the same house as me.

5. make Crostini and Pea & Parmesan dip.  I tried this once, and I think my subsequent scrawl in the margin of the cookbook by this recipe - 'Don't bother.  Sainsbury's version is far better' tells you just how impressed I was by the result.

6. make Baked Alaska.  Once upon a time a younger and more foolish PM decided baked Alaska would the be the perfect dessert for a dinner party.  All fell silent as she carried it into the dining room, a veritable feast for the eyes.  There was just one problem.  She had not taken it out of the freezer soon enough so was forced to borrow a pneumatic drill from the roadworks outside to serve dessert.  (Oh, alright - there was no pneumatic drill.  But I did crack a plate using a hammer to drive a knife into it.)

So come on, spill.  I've shown you mine. What is your culinary life too short for?

Sunday 26 May 2013

Parenting Dilemmas: When your children do something wrong - but you totally get why they did it.

Boy #2, now aged 7, had a friend of the same age over to play today.  All was going swimmingly, until Friend noticed two girls that he knows through the fence that runs along the back of our garden, playing on a trampoline.  Friend has a bit of an eye for the ladies.  Not in an inappropriate way, just in a 'I like to chat to girls' way.  The boy is going to be a smooooooth operator when he gets a few years older, I can tell you.

Anyhoo.  Friend decided that chatting with the girls was far more interesting than playing with Boy #2, and nothing that Boy #2 said - no offers of lego, no car games, no suggestions to go to the compound playground - could persuade him otherwise.

Boy #2 put up with this for a while.  But then, the injustice of the situation - as he saw it, you understand - got to him.

He waited until the grown-ups were safely out of sight, and then proceeded to cool the situation down.  By turning the garden hose on his friend.

Friend was soaked - right down to his underwear - and unsurprisingly, not impressed.  However, after a quick change of clothes (and shoes - Boy #2, when he gets an idea in his head, likes to do things properly), they made up and retired to the compound playground far away from distraction.  And girls.

So, here is my admission.  I was cross with Boy #2.  I made him apologise, not only to his friend but to his friend's mother, who had to deal with the soaked clothes and trainers (after I had put them in the washing machine on a spin cycle, they were so wet).  I listened to his explanation for doing it in the first place - that he thought it would be funny - and suggested that a) it wasn't, b) perhaps it had more to do with his not wanting his friend to ignore him than trying to be funny and c) if he wanted his friends to continue to come over to play, behaving like that was probably not in his own best interest, and finding alternative solutions - not involving freezing cold water - would be preferable.

I think my remarks registered.

But, in spite of all that, I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for his actions...

Is that wrong?

Friday 24 May 2013

Conversations with children; not for the faint-hearted

If anybody had told me about the conversations I would have with my children before I had children, I must admit that some of them might have made me pause - just for a moment - and ask whether or not joining the baby race was such a good idea.  Well - that, or I just flat out would never have believed them.  Edited highlights include (but are not limited to):

Conversations about lions and sharks and which would win in a fight (note; remarks regarding the incompatibility of these animals natural elements are usually ignored).

Conversations about dinosaurs and terror birds and which would win in a fight (note: thinking about raising the issues of these creatures hailing from different periods in pre-history?  I refer you to the lion and the shark conversation).

Conversations about whether it is possible to build a bespoke A380 airplane with a swimming pool and vegetable garden along-side.  Because why not, really?  All you need to do is include a mobile airbubble around the garden and bob's your uncle - freshly grown produce at 30,000 feet.

Conversations about why women (specifically, Mum), feels the need to lengthen her eyelashes with mascara everyday (I don't know, child!  I just do, OK?).

Conversations about funnel-web spiders and dung beetles.

Conversations about dandelion tap roots (which, I can tell you, I was pretty damn proud of myself for being on the ball enough to be able to discuss at 8.15am in the morning).

And of course my particular favourite; conversations about childbirth, and how it may be more painful for the baby than for the mother (note; this point of view is strictly that of my children, and without prejudice...).

But now, someone has come up with the perfect way to highlight the sort of ridiculous conversations parents have with their children every single day.  Matthew Clarke has - in a stroke of genius - transferred words that  have issued from his 2 year old daughters' mouth into that of a fully grown man.  The results are hilarious - and more than a little bit creepy.  I suggest that you don't show this clip to any parents-to-be that you know...

Wednesday 22 May 2013

On Funnel Web Spiders, Small Boys and Dung Beetles*

My sons crack me up.  This is a Good Thing, because a year of solo parenting 4-5  days a week is beginning to get to me, and my sense of humour is starting to wear thin.

When possible, I eat dinner with my children so that we can discuss their day.  Today's hot topic was what could only ever be a winner in terms of hilarity; Dung Beetles.  It all started innocently enough; Boy #2 is doing a school project on insects and arachnids, and his chosen creature for closer study is the infinitely cute and cuddly funnel web spider.

To quote a fellow blogger in her hilarious post today (thanks, Jennifer); of course it is.

Spiders are not my preferred creepy crawly, you see.  It took me until I was a grown up (aka; a parent) to be able to steel myself to collect one, ever so carefully, into a pint glass using a piece of paper to hold my nemesis safely inside until I could deposit it safely out of doors, as far away from the house as possible.  Oh, I do it without screaming (nowadays) but only because I'm trying to model 'don't be silly, it's just a spider, nothing to be scared of, nothing to see here' behaviour for my sons.  Amazingly this approach has paid dividends because now not only are they convinced I don't mind spiders, but Boy #1 is so laissez-faire about them that he will do the spider collecting for me.  I call this successful parenting - and a Result, with a capital 'R'...

Anyway, where was I?  Ah yes, funnel web spiders.  Which, by the way, as a spider that can leap a few feet, is not one I will be collecting in a pint glass with a piece of A4 paper over the top any time soon.  Especially since I am now in possession of additional information from my younger son about both their habits and the colour a 'victim' (his words, not mine) turns if they are bitten and not given the antidote pdq.**

So.  The funnel web spider conversation was freaking me out, to be honest; evasive action was required.  For some reason we turned the conversation to beetles.  Well - I turned the conversation to beetles.  And then his older brother moved it onto dung beetles (he's 9 - why was I thinking he would do anything else?), and so help me, I went for it.  Because I knew my audience, and what 7 year old boy would not be distracted from his fearless pursuit of knowledge about spiders by talking about a beetle that - essentially - collects poo for a livelihood?

Boy #2 was initially unimpressed.  "What's a dung beetle, Mum?"

"Well, it's a small beetle.  It lives in Africa."  I could see my younger son's attention beginning to wander.  "Is it poisonous?"  "No, it's not poisonous."  "Can it jump?  Does it LEAP, out of woodpiles, at people and...other victims?"  "No, it doesn't leap or jump." I was losing him, I could tell.

But Boy #1 came to the rescue.  "But it collects dung, Boy #2.  DUNG!"

There was a blank look from his younger brother.  "Dung?  What's 'dung'?"

I bit the bullet.  "Poo.  It collects poo."

A moment of silence.  Then:  "Poo?  It collects POO? WHY?"

Boy #1 stepped in (since, frankly, I wasn't sure).  "To eat.  And to lay it's eggs in."

Another moment of silence, whilst Boy #2's eyebrows climbed up into his hairline.  Then; "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Ah, the old craptastic trail.  It never fails to entertain...

*  Well - all the SEO advice says to title your post descriptively...
**Blue, if you were wondering.  You're welcome.

Friday 17 May 2013

Mothers; Know your limits...

I love to cook for my kids.  It's part of my internal template of 'being a good mother'; scratch cook where I can, and always have home-made cookies or cake in a tupperware container on the counter-top.  What can I say?  I blame my own mother for being the ultimate domestic goddess.  Well, that and the fact that living with two children with allergies means that many pre-made and processed foods are - literally - off the menu.

So, in a moment of madness, I actually kept the chicken carcass from yesterday's (shop-bought) roast chicken, thinking, 'Ooh - I can make stock with that!  We can have chicken noodle soup, and... chicken noodle soup, and... some other stuff I can't think of right now.'  Then, I realised I couldn't remember how to make chicken stock, so looked up a recipe.

I reached the part where it said 'simmer the bones over a low heat for up to 3 hours' and was suddenly assaulted by the memory of the smell of our kitchen 9 years ago, when I was making chicken stock whilst weaning Boy #1 and following the lovely Annabel Karmel's advice to the letter.  Most of her recipes were wonderful.  Chicken stock, however, proved a bridge too far.  The house stank, I stank, the streets outside were tumble-weed central. I swear the whole neighbourhood was on lock-down because of that ruddy stock.

You know what?  I think I forgot that very simple recipe - the chicken bones, cold water, a few veg, a bit of salt & pepper - for good reason.

I will do many things for my children, but it seems that here is one that I won't.  Life is too short to make my own chicken stock.

And I never much liked chicken noodle soup, anyway...

What is your parenting limit?

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Onwards and Upwards

I've struggled a bit so far this year.

The Russian Winter seemed longer than ever before, mainly because it WAS longer; it started in October and left it's white dandruff on the ground until mid-April.  (And yes, that, right there - that use of the word 'dandruff' for what I would formerly have called 'snow'-  is a pretty good representation of my disillusionment with a season that in previous years I was enchanted by).  The days seemed darker and shorter, and the evenings longer and lonelier than in the previous years we've spent here.  Again, there is good reason for that; the powers that be insisted on continuing their practice of ignoring Summertime - meaning that the sun didn't rise here until nearly 10am in December and we were 4 hours ahead of the UK between October and March rather than 3 - and Husband spent most of the working week abroad.  He has done since last summer, actually.

Throw in what seemed like perpetually grey weather, a bad back that prevented me from doing the one thing that took me into the great outdoors in previous winters - cross country skiing -and being hit by flu, colds, and children's ailments, and the time between January and May has dragged somewhat.  'Swimming through treacle' is a more than apt expression for how I've felt, if I'm honest.

I've been questioning what I'm for.

A close relative, not so long ago, struggled to come up with anything positive to say about my role in life, and whilst I know that that is because they don't see my day-to-day slog but rather the end result - a family that is happy, nurtured, and wearing clean underwear - it stung.  A lot.  I know that I work hard - but not much of what I do is visible to those who live so far away.  And yes, of course I can hold up my hand and shout 'Look! Look at all the stuff I do, the writing, the blogging, the copy editing, the novel!' but all that's still just so much... fluff... to that person, and frankly, I don't want to.  Why should I?  I don't ask them to justify their career choices or to give me a line by line account of their working day, of the meetings they have, the invoices that result, the bottom line profits which their efforts increase.

But I know why this is getting to me, really.  My inner Judge - the woman who measures herself on results, profits and let's face it, bottom-line contributions, and who I thought I had sent packing after two years of counselling when I stopped working outside the home turns out, 5 years on, to have just been on a long sabbatical.  She's got in touch again, high-heels, working wardrobe and all, and is texting and emailing my subconscious.

'How's that blogging thing going?' she asks  (I can almost imagine her making those really annoying apostrophe signs in the air when she says the word; 'blogging').  'Making any money from it yet?  Are you making a difference? No?  Never mind...  What about the copy-editing?  Getting anywhere with that?  Oh well, bits and pieces are fine, aren't they...?  And there's always the novel.  Isn't there?'  Well, yes, I reply.  Except, I've reached a place that I'm reliably informed many writers do when, approximately 2/3 of the way through their book they get the wobbles, look at what they've written and think 'Well, this is just so much shit...'

But.  Summer is here.  The days are longer, the sun is (mostly) shining, the school run is now by bike rather than huddled in the car, shivering in snow pants and layers of duvet coats, and the summer holidays are on the horizon. It's hard to stay depressed when the sun blazes down and there's a nightingale singing it's heart out in the back garden.

And as far as the book is concerned, I have a plan.  It may be shit, but bearing in mind my subconscious is untrustworthy enough to resurrect the Judge - a part of my personality I thought I had moved on from - I think I will ignore what it's telling me, get some objective advice from others, and just get on with finishing the novel.

So.  Onwards and upwards it is...

Monday 13 May 2013

BritMums Live! Hello...

Nearly 6 months ago I told Husband that come hell or high water, I was going to BritMums Live! this year.  I've been to two out of the three conferences that they've held so far and I can't tell you how miserable I felt in June 2012 watching all the buzz about it beforehand and knowing that I wouldn't be there.

Well, guess what?  It's coming up in less than 6 weeks time.  How did that happen? All of a sudden I need to start thinking about logistics and - gulp - planning what to wear.  Obviously, the first - who will collect the Boys from school, will my Husband even be in the country to do so, how can I ensure the washing machine doesn't languish completely unloved and unused for the entire 4 days of my absence, etc - is the most important piece of the puzzle.  That second thing - the what to wear thing - that I mentioned? I was just joking.  Not worried about it - AT ALL.  (Or rather, I'm not if my attempt to shift a couple of kilos that have magically appeared since the end of last year works, anyway.  Come on, 6 weeks.  Shouldn't be that hard, should it?  In fact, I probably only need to start next week.  Someone has to shift that chocolate stockpile in the cupboard before I begin - it might as well be me...)

Anyway, here's my BritMums Live! hello  (Check here to join the linky yourself).  Just in case, you know, you want to say hi at the event...

Name: Clare  (not my real name - so don't be surprised if you have to use it twice.  And no, don't ask me why I started this anonymity lark, I've forgotten, it was so long ago...)
BlogThe Potty Diaries
Twitter ID@thepottydiaries

Height: 5ft 7
Hair: Short-ish brown.  Never as flippy-out at the bottom as I would like.
Eyes: Brown
Is this your first blogging conference?  No, my 3rd
Are you attending both days?  Try and stop me.
What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2013?  Catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and being able to do so without worrying about rushing off to release the babysitter.  And maybe even having a drink or two...
What are you wearing?  Ask me closer to the time - no idea right now.  
What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2013?  I really want to make use of the fantastic opportunities to focus on writing.  (Currently my first attempt at a novel,  'The Great Work' - not it's real title - is taking up a lot of my time)
Tell us one thing about you that not everyone knows:  I recently turned down the opportunity to live in a Mediterranean country.  And - bonus fact - I just discovered that I can't spell Mediterranean without using spell check.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Making the best of it...

Welcome to Snot Central.

The Boys and I are all recovering from fierce colds - again.

It drains you of enthusiasm, having a cold.  It particularly drains you of enthusiasm when one son appears in your bedroom at 3am crying from head pain due to backed up catarrh in his sinuses.  Throw a Husband travelling out of the country into the mix, along with wide-scale closures of the roads into the centre of Moscow (ruling out an easy drive to the only English-speaking clinic that you know will be open on what is actually a bank holiday) so that the tanks and hgv's showing off military hardware have an easy run for their parade down to and through Red Square, and you have a rather less cheerful Victory Day - today's holiday - than might otherwise have been the case in Potski Mansions.

We certainly didn't manage to make good our plan to go downtown to watch the parade on Tverskaya, much to Boy #2's disappointment.

But - this being Russia - Putin's brag-fest wasn't only visible on the ground.  All this plane obsessed boy - the one not suffering from head pains due to his cold - had to do...

was to go outside, and look up...

Tuesday 7 May 2013

'No Big Important Truth to Share'

You think you have nothing to say.  You think that you're all blogged out.  You wonder if you'll ever hit 'publish' again - and then you stumble across a post like this, from Tanis Miller, where she perfectly expresses how wrung out on the writing front I have felt for the last week or so.

'I have no big important truth to share' she writes.  God, I remember the early days of my blog when I had big important truths to share.  When my observations on the world - or at least, my observations on MY world - were fighting for space on the keyboard, when I always had something to say and was full of confidence that someone out there would find it interesting.  It was finding the time to write the posts down that was the problem, back then.

Nowadays with both my sons in school all day, I have the time - ostensibly, at least.  But all of a sudden the sense of urgency has departed, and I seem to have less to say.  Why is that?  Perhaps it's because the helter-skelter topsy-turvy ride that is being the parent of babies and pre-schoolers is behind me now.  Perhaps it's because I'm guarding my children's future memories more closely.  It could be that I'm guarding my own privacy more carefully these days - which is ironic, because actually there are more people out there who can now put a face to the name 'Potty Mummy' than there ever have been before.

Then of course, I could blame Kindle - for sucking up my evenings and making great books so ridiculously easily available, or The Great Work (aka my novel) which is taking up more of my time and headspace than it has ever done.  Frankly by the time I hit my traditional blogging sweetspot (after 9.30pm when the Boys are in bed, the washing up is sorted and the house is tidy), the absolute last thing I want to do is sit down at the laptop and start being witty / creative / outraged / wise / whimsical / probably none of the above when I've already written, re-read, edited and questioned the value of a thousand words plucked from thin air earlier in the afternoon.

But here I am, blogging anyway.  Because, who says blogging has to be about big important truths all the time?  Sometimes it's just about reminding yourself that you have a life away from the daily grind, as I did today when I ventured into downtown Moscow to take photos of preparations for Victory Day, of Muscovites enjoying the long-overdue sunshine, and of landmarks showing themselves to their best advantage in the hard-edged Russian summer sun.

A big important truth - and I do have some, fighting to be released into the ether once I figure out how best to share them - is great, from time to time.  But so, sometimes, is just blogging for the sake of feeling the words flow.

Or not.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Snapshot; If you're of a nervous, tree-loving disposition...

... look away, now.

This is not a beautiful photograph.  It is not even a very good photograph; it was snapped from the window of a moving car on my mobile phone last weekend, when we traveled outside Moscow for 24 hours or so.  I've cropped it, messed about with it, changed the brightness and contrast a little.  It still looks awful - mainly because it is.

Russia is home to part of the largest forest in the world, did you know that?  The Taiga (fans of David Attenborough will know this already) girdles much of the northern hemisphere and in Russia it stretches across 8 time zones, from Karelia in the west to the Pacific ocean in the east.  It's made up of spruce, birch, pine and larch trees, and it's vast.  Forget the Amazon rainforest - THIS is where you'll find the real lungs of the world.  If you watch tv in Russia many of the local programmes seem to consist of cops and robbers endlessly hunting each other through interminable stretches of forest and there's a reason for that; much of the countryside outside the cities is swallowed up by trees, far more so than in tamed and manicured western Europe. I feel sorry for the producers of these tv programmes - there simply aren't that many alternatives to the quiet gloom of the woods to film in.

Because there's so much of it, many of the locals appear to treat the forest with contempt.  Whilst most Russians purport to love nature, there's no getting away from the fact that on our trips outside Moscow we've grown used to seeing clearings filled with rubbish, and picnic tables surrounded by debris such as empty beer cans, plastic bags and god knows what else.  But this weekend, we saw something else. We were struck dumb by what I could only describe as the wanton destruction of huge areas of the forest.  Acres on acres of land appeared to have been clear-cut, the timber piled up in heaps like giant matchsticks.

There may well be some kind of plan in place that I know nothing about.  I really hope that there is.  But right now, thinking back on the devastation we saw, I am mainly reminded of what my younger son said as we drove past these mutliple wastelands.

"I think these were battlefields, mummy."