Wednesday 9 December 2015

More Christmas fun and games...

'I can't go to my activity tonight, Mum.  My tummy hurts...'  This from Boy #2 who, bless him, was exhausted after an afternoon of PE and who understandably didn't relish the prospect of spending an hour racing around the gym doing a martial art.

I was tempted to let him stay home, but then remembered that we are paying for this activity via direct debit (so, the money leaves our account whether he attends the classes or not) and decided that with just one week left to go before the school holidays start, now was not the time to give up.  He's going to get 3 weeks off shortly anyway.  And we want him to learn about the importance of follow-through.  And commitment.  And all that good stuff.

So off we went. Walking through the dimly-lit car park outside the activity centre, he told me again that his tummy hurt.  Once we had ruled out this being a result of his drawstring trousers being tied too tightly (they were, but that was another drama), I asked him when the pain had started.  Before, or after dinner?

'After dinner', he answered firmly, wrongly scenting an opt out.

'Oh, don't worry then.  That's just the sprouts.  You'll be fine when you've had a bit of a run around...' Quietly, I resolved to make sure to sit as as far from the class as possible, for safety's sake.

'Sprouts?' His voice rose in consternation.  'We didn't have sprouts for dinner.  Did we?'

'Yes, we did, actually.'

'But I don't like sprouts!'

'Well, you ate them.'  He looked at me disbelievingly.  'What do you think the green stuff in the chicken stir-fry was?'

'Cabbage?'  I shook my head.  'Spinach?'  Again, no.  'Broccoli?'

'No.  Sprouts.  And you liked them, didn't you?'

He looked at me and turned away in disgust.  'I can't believe you got me to eat sprouts and didn't even tell me.'

I called after him as he entered the gym.  'It's nearly Christmas, Boy #2.  Of COURSE there are sprouts!  You might want to check your cereal bowl tomorrow morning, too.  Who knows where they'll pop up next...'


Thursday 3 December 2015

And you also know it's Christmas when...

... you find yourself eating a Bendicks chocolate mint at 10am because the friends who visited you at the weekend and brought it with them did not do their duty and finish off the box before they left.  Honestly.  Call yourself some of my best mates?

...after your previous post about having run out cinnamon, various friends and relations leave smug comments on your fb feed - or worse, leave links to recipes for cinnamon biscuits.  Oh yes, sis, I'm looking at you... (not a sponsored post, by the way).

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

(Gosh yes my sides are splitting...)

Tuesday 1 December 2015

You know it's Christmas when...

... you find yourself in front of the herbs and spices at the supermarket and realise that the gaping hole under the letter 'C' is where the cinnamon used to live.  It's moved out now, gone into hiding, probably until February.  If you haven't bought your cinnamon by now, you're toast.  Although not the cinnamon-flavoured version, obviously.

...  the £5 pack of smoked salmon in the chiller cabinet seems like a good idea to add to your trolley.  Not that it features on any list, or in any meal you've planned in the next week or so, of course.  It's just that, well, smoked salmon.  Christmas.  Can't have one without the other, surely?

... whilst you're at the till on the same supermarket visit you accidentally knock a packet of gift tags shaped like stars off a display fixture onto the floor.  You pick it up - and buy 3 sets.  Now THAT's what I call product placement.

... on the way home from school, your older son makes a passing remark about needing £2 tomorrow for 'Christmas Mufty Day'.  With a sinking heart, you ask for more details.  "You know, Mum.  When you get to wear your own clothes instead of uniform.  Except that they need to be Christmas clothes."  Which Christmas clothes exactly is he thinking of, you ask.  "Ummm...  the ones you're going to sort out for me?"  By tomorrow, obviously.

...  on your subsequent dash to the shops you not only find the perfect Christmas jumper for your older son at an affordable price, but you see one that takes your younger son's fancy, too.  Closing your mind to the certain fact that by 11am on Christmas morning the jingle bells on the latter will be driving you insane, you buy both.  Because, well, it's Christmas, innit?


Thursday 5 November 2015


I miss Moscow, no doubt about it, but there are so many things to love about living back in the UK and not least of them is how much more engaged my sons are with the world around them.

School helps with this and every week Boy #2's headmaster gives the children a summary during assembly of some of key events events happening worldwide.  Recent highlights include the Syrian refugee situation, and the scandal surrounding exhaust emissions from diesel cars,

Yesterday morning on the school run Boy #2 surprised me by mentioning the fact that one of this week's topics was the fact that the sea ice around Antarctica reached record levels during the last Antarctic winter.  He made no suggestion that this might mean global warming is less serious than many people previously thought, and we discussed the question of whether the gains in the amount of sea ice in the southern hemisphere would cancel out the losses in the Arctic.

On balance, we agreed, that was unlikely.

I did some research when I got home, and unsurprisingly it turns out my 9 year old son was more clued up on this than many of the people a good deal older than him who are spreading misinformation on this topic.

Not only does the increased level of southern sea ice in winter in no way equal the contraction of the Arctic ice cap, it is in fact a tangible sign of climate change.

Why am I posting on this?  Well, in my fb feed today there was a video from the United Nations Foundation (thanks Michelle Garret for the share) promoting #EarthToParis, a call for all of us to get involved in highlighting to our leaders that the time for action on global warming and climate change is not in 100 years time, or in 25 years time, or when a new government takes power after the next elections, but now.

Watch the video - and then, if you're not convinced, watch the one below that succinctly explains in only seven minutes why a few gains in sea ice on the southern ocean in no way counteract the damage that is being done elsewhere.

#EarthToParis; please pay attention and have the courage to make some hard choices.  If not for your own sake, then for your children's.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

The Six Stages of an Expat Move...

Our shipment arrived from Moscow just over a week ago.  We are slowly - oh-so-slowly - working our way through unpacking it, and it suddenly struck me yesterday that there is a definite process involved here; one which others who have moved home (and not just internationally) might recognise...

It's the morning that the movers are due to arrive. You have breakfast and look around your mostly empty house, contentedly imagining the warm and welcoming impression it will give once all your belongings have arrived and been unpacked.  Right on time the truck pulls up outside your house, and you watch with eager anticipation as the team throw open the doors.  'This shouldn't take too long to unload' you think to yourself.  'There aren't that many boxes...'

The move-in begins.  The team begin to shift box, after box, after box.  After box.  After box.  After box.

Stage 1: Shock

'Jesus.  How much stuff did we bring?  I thought we did a pretty good job of reducing it before we even packed it all up, but this?  This is going on for EVER.  And how on earth are they going to get that sofa up the stairs?'

Stage 2: Denial

'It's going to be fine.  Look, they got the sofa around the corner in the stairwell and yes, I know it's upended in the lounge at the moment but once we get all those boxes unpacked there'll be loads of room, and who needs to swing a cat, anyway?

Stage 3: Anger

'I mean, for chrissake, what was I THINKING?  This box, this one here, we didn't unpack the last time we moved.  Who takes a travel cot to a different country just in case someone with a baby comes to visit, and then brings it back still in same the wrapping it arrived in the first time around?  Who does that?   And what about the empty picture frames?  Who moves EMPTY PICTURE FRAMES?  Why didn't somebody stop me? And that sofa will fit in the corner, between the fire-place and the cupboard.  I took measurements, dammit.  It WILL.  It must.  Or so help me...'

Stage 4: Bargaining

'OK.  Now.  If I put that in there, and this in here, then maybe, just maybe, we can fit the extra china set at the bottom of...  No, that's not going to work.  So, if we move that cupboard over here, and then balance that chest on top of it, perhaps the sofa can go against that wall, and then we can block the wall cabinet with that chair... No, that's not going to work because then how will we get out of the room?'

Stage 5: Grieving

'I can't believe it.  I worked so hard to get all that stuff ready to be moved, made so many trips to the recycling bank, delivered so many toys and so many of the kids clothes to the charity shop and for what?  That sofa - my favourite sofa, that I love so much - still won't fit in the sitting room...'

Stage 6: Acceptance

'There's nothing else for it.  The sofa is going to have to go.  Where's that number for the British Heart Foundation?

'Hello, is that the British Heart Foundation?  Do you still recycle sofas?  Great, I have one that I bought all the way back from XXX with me, it was especially made for us and we love it.... Wait.  What do you mean, you won't take it because it doesn't have a kitemark?'

(With apologies to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who formulated the original theory of The Six Stages of Grief, an invaluable aid to those who are going through the grieving process)

Sunday 11 October 2015

Lost in Translation

Spending a few years abroad as a family when your children are young can have many benefits, not least the fact that it opens their eyes on interacting with people from different cultures.  Children are chameleons, let's face it, and if exposed young enough can slip easily from one set of social norms to another without blinking an eye.

This is mostly a good thing, and even when it might not be, you often you don't even notice they are doing it until it's pointed out by helpful family and friends when you return home for visits.  Examples of this might be American accents (the result of attending a school with a high proportion of American students or teachers), or taking their shoes off the moment they walk into someone's home (it's the height of rudeness in Russia to leave your shoes on in a house).

Some of the habits they adapt might rankle a little.  The accent, I have to admit, is one of those.  My kids are British, not American - I would probably prefer them to sound more like me although as long as they're polite, courteous, confident and well-informed I'll go with whatever is on offer.  Another one I wasn't keen on - and I know this is going to sound ridiculous - is the Russian way of singing 'Happy Birthday', which is as follows:

Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday dear whomever...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you!
(Cha - cha - cha)

The 'cha - cha - cha' is spoken, in case you hadn't picked up on that.  And I'm sorry, but for the love of god, why?  Every time, it drove me crazy...  But I digress; I was talking about some of the ways your kids are affected by living away from their home country.  Which not so neatly leads me into this conversation I had with my older son this morning, when it became clear that some things I had taken for granted about the English language were not, actually, immediately clear to my kids...

Me:  "They had snow in Moscow this morning, apparently."  (True fact, btw)

Boy #1: "Really?  I hope we get lots of snow here this winter - enough to go all the way over the door."

Me:  "I think that's unlikely, I'm afraid.  England doesn't get much snow, especially not where we live.  And to be honest, I sort of hope we don't, they're not really equipped for it here."

Boy #1:  "But they must be!  What about in the hills?"

Me:  "Well - they're not that high.  And it's very damp and not that cold, so there isn't a lot of snow."

Boy #1:  "What about the panninis, though?  They must have snow."

Me:  "The what?"

Boy #1:  "The panninis.  You know.  And scaffolding pike.  There must be snow up there..."


Me: "Do you mean The Pennines, Boy #1?  And Scafell Pike?"

Boy #1:  "Yes!  The Panninis!  That's what I meant!"

So now, the Pennines are the Panninis*.  Just in case you didn't know.

*with apologies to any readers based in the North of England

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Maturing with Age

So here's a thing; I was reading the comments on a post written by a bloggy mate (one of those who I count as a real friend, even though we never got it together to meet up in Real Life), and she and some other longstanding bloggers (who fall into the same category) were discussing whether or not to have a fortieth birthday party.

I remember that discussion, in our house.  It was getting on for 9 years ago, mind you, but feels as if it were yesterday.  Now, Husband and I love to entertain.  We have form in this area and have thrown some epic parties, if I do say so myself.  But this time, I wasn't sure; to party for my 40th, or not?

So I considered it.  I agonised over it.  Then I fretted some more and finally I decided; no, I was definitely not going to throw a party to celebrate my fortieth birthday.  I mean, forty is - well, FORTY, right?  Nothing to see here, look away from the forty year old woman.  Move along, please.  She's just going to retire into a corner, bemoan her loss of youth, and quietly sink a bottle of her favourite red and hope nobody notices...

But then, I met up with one my best friends.  She asked me about the forthcoming Big Birthday, and how I was going to mark it.  On hearing that I thought I might just let it pass, she said something that stuck with me.

"But you have so much to celebrate!"


She was right, of course, and suddenly I could see that.  What the hell was I thinking?  Forty was - well, just forty.  Was I never going to celebrate my birthday again?  Because every number after that was going to have a 4 in front of it - until it had a 5, then a 6 and - oh, you get the picture.  Was I not allowed to go for it simply because I wasn't in my thirties any more?


Fuck that.

So I bounced home and informed Husband that my plans had changed and we ended up having a party which I have to say was one of our best ever.  (Until our next best ever, but that's a different blog post).

So what I would say to my blog buddies unsure about whether or not to mark their fortieth birthday with some kind of a celebration, be it tea and cake with your family, a drunken evening with your bezzies down the pub, or something grander, is this: screw any codswallop about getting older being something you should sweep under the carpet.

We should forget any of the restrictions we might feel are being imposed on us by Society simply because we aren't in our twenties or thirties any more; if we want to we should party, ladies, whilst we still can.  Mark this birthday, celebrate it - and then do the same with the next milestone.  And the one after that, and the one after that.  I'm certainly going to...

(This is where my Husband shakes his head sadly and starts worrying about my plans for my fiftieth sometime in the next couple of years.  Don't worry darling.  It will only be a little celebration.  Just like the last one...)

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Take it to the Judge

At breakfast this morning, Boy #1 and I became entangled in an 'I said, you said' moment.  You know the ones; where you absolutely, categorically, positively know what you heard your child say, and where they absolutely, categorically, positively know that they said something different.

This morning's contretemps involved numbers (when doesn't it?).

I knew I had heard Boy #1 say '530'.  He knew he had said '540'.  This bounced back and forth for a couple of minutes, neither of us willing to concede that the other was right.

Finally, Boy #1 decided it was time to bring in an adjudicator and appealed to his brother for help.

"Boy #2, what do you think?  Who's right?"

Boy #2 tuned back in to the conversation (spreading jam on toasted muffin* is a serious business and not to be taken lightly) and considered the matter for a moment as he took his first bite.

Boy #1 was impatient to be proved correct.  "Boy #2, who is it?  Who's right?"

His brother sighed, and in a tone of voice that clearly asked how we could ever think otherwise, replied.  "That's obvious.  I am."

*That's English Muffin, for those thinking of the other kind.

Monday 21 September 2015

Here be dragons...

'Summer is coming' said Husband, sitting back with a contented smile as he watched Daenerys Targaryen lead her freed Unsullied army out of Astapor after they had killed their former masters, and her dragon had burned Kraznys to a crisp.

(He and I are only now getting around to watching Season 3 of 'Game of Thrones', and this comment was made as the credits rolled on Episode 4).

I looked at him in disbelief before remembering that he has never read any of the books.  Poor soul, he's never even heard of 'The Red Wedding'.

'Summer is coming?' I repeated, deciding to go easy on him.  'Darling, the book in which summer is coming hasn't been written yet...'

Apologies to any readers who have no idea what on earth I'm talking about...

Monday 14 September 2015

More things I have learned since moving back to the UK -

or, if you wanted to use another title:

'Oh Shit, Did I Just Hear That Door Slam Behind Me?'

In the part of England that we've moved to, recycling is a civic necessity.  Not only glass and tins need to be recycled, but so does paper, plastic, card and most crucially for this story, food.  Any left-over food goes not into the normal rubbish bin but into a special plastic box supplied by the council and is collected weekly to be recycled.  Just think of it.  A whole week for your unwanted food to ferment and rot in a box by the door.  It's not pretty - and a great incentive to make sure that there is as little waste as possible.  Unfortunately it doesn't matter how hard you try, there are always things that don't make it back onto the table and need to go into the Bin of Shame.

Which is where this story starts.

When we moved into our rented house back in the UK a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of opening one of the two food recycling bins left behind by the previous occupants of the property. I should like to stress here that there are especially designed liners to put into these bins, ones that bio-degrade and can be disposed of with the food inside them.

Turns out the previous tenants didn't use them.

Jesus.  Gagging, I hosed out as much of the residual mulch as was possible (desperately trying not to dwell on the fact that there had also been a big dog living in the property which would account for some of the appearance of what I had briefly seen) and resolved never - NEVER - to open the second box.

Except, today, for various shameful reasons associated with needing to throw away more food than could be recycled in one bin, I had to use the second box.  And guess what?  Same revolting contents, so same necessity to deal with them.  Steeling myself, I girded my loins (for which read; found my sturdiest pair of boots), and stepped out of the back door to access the hose and the drain once more.

And then, dear reader, just as I thought 'I probably should put that lock on the latch' the door slammed shut behind me, leaving me trapped in our walled back garden; no key to get back into the house, and no key to get out of the garden door into the lane behind.  I knew that our neighbours on both sides of us are away, so even if I did manage to scale the wall I wouldn't be any better off.

I knew where my mobile phone was, of course; I could see it, through the window, on the kitchen table.  And even if it had been stuffed in my jeans pocket, I wouldn't have been able to call Husband for help as he is out of the country until the end of the week.  There was my family, who don't live that far away and do have a key but of course even if I had access to a phone - which I didn't - I can't remember their numbers off-hand.

To cap it all, the basement door at the front of the house was wide open (which was what had caused the draft that had slammed the back door behind me).  This might have been a help if I had heard anyone walking past in the lane out the back, but not only was it quiet as the grave out there, I wasn't sure I fancied the thought of hailing a passing stranger - sight unseen on the other side of the wall - and asking them to walk down the road, round the corner, and back again to our front basement to then walk through our house to let me back into my own home.

Tick, tick, tick, went the clock, counting down the minutes until I was due to pick the children up from school. (Or rather, I assume that it did, since I wasn't wearing my watch - currently in for a service - and didn't have my phone to check the time).   And since they've been at their new school only a week and we don't really know many people here yet, there was no support structure in place in the form of some helpful friend to scoop them up if I didn't make it to the school gate in time to collect them.

Standing trapped in the back garden and realising that the alternative response was to burst into tears, I began to laugh, and thought to myself 'Could this GET any worse?'

Silly me.  Of course it could.  Because it's been a little bit rainy here in my part of England today. (Please note; when I write 'a little bit' I am relying on you to pick up on the heavy irony implied.  Monsoon-like would be a better, if less British, description of today's weather.)

So of course that's exactly what it did; it started to rain again.

Now obviously I am not still locked in the back garden, since I'm sitting here writing this post; I did make it back inside.  And I didn't have to accost any strangers through a crack in our garden gate, or scale any walls to get out - although I must admit to climbing up on a raised flower bed to consider the prospects for a soft landing on the other side of the boundary (not good, I have to report).

I have - thank heavens - made it back inside.  And I'm not going to tell you exactly how I did make my Houdini-like escape, other than to say that the gentleman from the rental company who told me that the property was absolutely secure on the ground level had overlooked one very important entry-point (which I have now made safe).  Yes, there were spider webs involved.  Yes, there was an undignified climb and a bit of a scramble.  That's all I'm going to say on how I got in.

But in the spirit of silver linings, what have I learned from this jolly experience?

1.  Never create more food waste than will fit in one recycling bin.

2.  Always put the door on the latch.

3.  Always take an umbrella with you when you go into the back garden.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Things I have learned since moving back to the UK...

  • Never underestimate the value of a good airing cupboard in England's damp and humid climate.  It's price is beyond rubies.  (A 2- step drying process, friends; it's where it's at...).
  • Never underestimate the value of a humid climate.  Sod the fact that clothes left on an airer for 24 hours still feel just a little bit damp; on the plus side, that just-moisturised feeling on your skin really CAN last all day... (silver linings - also where it's at).
  • Never forget to count your blessings about the fact that your hair does not suffer from frizz in said humid climate...
  • Never over-estimate the generosity of your new landlady.  Because who needs more than one smoke alarm in a property, anyway?
  • Never underestimate the lengths said landlady will go to avoid using the word 'damp' when referring to the mysterious patches of moisture appearing on the walls at the bottom of the stairs.  'Hydroscopic moisture' is the correct terminology nowadays.  Apparently.
  • Never discount the sheer pleasure that comes from walking into your local supermarket / clothes store / hardware shop / you name it, and having a conversation in which you can easily be understood.
  • Never forget to remind your children that they can now be understood by everyone around them, and especially by the person they have just loudly labelled as 'very short'...

Thursday 20 August 2015

Dear Six-Years-Ago Me...

Dear Six-Years-Ago Me,

I've been unpacking this week; unpacking all the stuff that you put into storage when you left for Russia six years ago. It's been an interesting couple of days and I have a couple of questions for you because for the life of me, I'm not sure what you were thinking on a couple of points...

1.  I just un-boxed the china that we were given for our wedding and which we used maybe 3 or 4 times before we left London back in 2010.  Now, dear Six-Years-Ago Me, I know you weren't responsible for this; it was Fourteen-Years-Ago Me who made this screw-up when compiling that wedding gift list, but you're closer to her chronologically speaking and your memory might be in better shape than mine, so I wonder if you can tell me; you don't drink coffee.  I don't drink coffee.  And Fourteen-Years-Ago-Me didn't drink coffee, either.  So why, in god's name, are there not one, not two, but TWELVE coffee cups and saucers in your wedding service?  Only four tea-cups and saucers, but TWELVE coffee cups.  For goodness' sake, Nespresso machines had only just been invented back then!

WTF were you thinking?

2.  Don't take this the wrong way, Six-Years-Ago Me, but I'm not very impressed with your standards of cleanliness. I mean, it's one thing to live with an accumulation of crumbs at the bottom of the toaster and a kettle that hasn't been de-scaled since heaven knows when, but it's quite another to pack them away into deep storage, only to have to clean them when you take them out.  Husband thinks I'm being too hard on you; it was a stressful situation (we were moving to Russia, I suppose), and you did have a 3 year old and a 6 year old to tend to after all.  Still.  Could Do Better, I'm afraid...

3.  And whilst I'm at it, where did you put the cutlery, Six-Ago-Me?  And the day to day china?  Because all the packing boxes are now empty and I have still to come across them.  Don't get me wrong, it's very nice to eat my breakfast cereal from a Royal Doulton bowl but given my butter-finger proclivities it's only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down (quite literally) and I would much prefer that in that case, it's Ikea's finest in smithereens on the kitchen floor.  So please, where on earth did you (or the packers?) put it all?

4.  But I don't want to end on a negative note, Six-Years-Ago Me, so I just wanted to tell you one last thing; I found that series of pieces that you wrote for that estate agent's magazine when you were living in London.  You know, the ones about being a West London mum...  You were pretty funny, Six-Years-Ago Me.  Respect.  How on earth did you find the headspace?  What's that?  The time I spend cleaning and tidying is the time you spent being creative?  


PM x

Monday 27 July 2015

On living with Boys...

At the lunch table today I was not really concentrating on what Boys #1 and #2 were talking about, when suddenly:

Boy #1:  "No, I didn't do that.  I fighted."

Boy #2:  "Fighted?  What are you talking about?  You mean 'fought'.  'Fighted' is something a Boove would say.  Your grammar is as bad a Boove's!"

Boy #1:  "Yes, of course.  I was trying to sound like a Boove."  (He so wasn't). 

Me (not really having paid much attention up until this point):  "Hang on - what did you say, Boy #2?  Did you say Boy #1 sounded like a boob?"

Both Boys fell about laughing.

Boy #2:  "No, mum.  I said Boove.  Like in 'Home'.  Not boooooooob."  He paused for a moment, considering.  "Although, boobs have terrible grammar too.  All they do is sit there and look at you."

Me (what?):  "What?"  (We're not overly modest in our family but, apart from mine from time to time, when had he actually seen that many boobs?  And I didn't really want to think too much about the 'sitting there and looking at you' comment - that's the stuff nightmares are made of and which helps therapists pay their bills...)  "Which boobs are you talking about?"

Boy #1:  "You know, Mum.  The ones we saw in the shopping centre this morning."

I blinked.  Boobs?  In the shopping centre?  Again, what?

Me:  "Where was I when you saw this?"

Boy #2:  "Looking for shower gel, I think."

Suddenly it clicked.  They were talking about a large ad for Agent Provocateur perfume on the front window of a beauty store I was visiting.  But whilst it was a provocative image (the clue's in the brand name, I guess), I didn't remember any actual breasts on display, and I certainly hadn't paid much attention to it.  Then again, I wasn't an 11 or a 9 year old boy...

Me:  "Oh, ok.  But it was no big deal - she was wearing underwear."

Boy #1:  "Yes, but you could see the edges of - them..."

Me:  "Well, fair enough.  But it didn't really show her Booves.  I mean boobs.  Did it?"

Boys #1 and #2:  "Hahahahahahahaha!  You called them Booves! You meant boobs! Booves, not boobs!  Hahahahahaha!"

Reader, it definitely was not my slightly hysterical laughter that echoed theirs as I considered the imminent onset of my sons' adolescence and all the joy that it will bring...

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Pre-move prep

We are now 5 weeks into the Boys' summer holidays.  Yes.  You read that right. Five weeks.  And bearing in mind that we are moving from the US school year to the UK school year, we still have six weeks more to go before they re-enter the bosom of educational establishments.

So, that's 11 weeks.  Eleven weeks.

You know, until I just checked the details for this post, for some reason I had myself convinced that their summer holiday was only 9 weeks.  Self-delusion is a wonderful thing.

Anyhow, the Boys and I have been keeping ourselves busy, not least going through cupboards of crap and getting rid of as much as we can before we leave Russia (it's one thing to ask yourself why you keep all this stuff you don't need, quite another to pay to transport from Moscow to the UK).  Now, I thought I had done this job already, a couple of months back.  "Do it before the kids break up from school,"  I thought to myself.  "Get it done whilst you have the time."  So I did.

But we've been away for a week and on our return I thought I would double check there was no more chaff to be sorted from the wheat before the movers arrive to pack it up and ship it to the UK.

Guess what?  Turns out that our house elves - like Nature - abhor a vacuum.  Cupboards that I could have sworn I had sorted out last time around now need sorting out again.

*looks hard at her husband*.

*runs out to buy more bin liners*.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Market tips from a nine year old.

It was raining for much of today, so in an attempt to delay the dreadful moment when I had to give in to Boy#2's demands that I sit down and play Monopoly with him (he loves it, I hate it - mostly because my children show no mercy and bankrupt me every time), I took the boys to a local shopping mall this afternoon.

Officially we were there to visit the supermarket for a light top-up shop before we head off for a week's holiday in a few days.  Unofficially we were - in my children's minds, anyway - there to put a dent in their ruble-based savings as they took the chance to visit the local Lego and Detsky Mir (Children's World) outlets.

The boys had visited both stores before - but rarely to spend their own hard cash.  It was interesting to watch them walk around the Lego store and realise the cost of the toys that they normally take for granted.  I didn't get involved in their choices, just stood back and let them get on with it under the eagle eye of a shop attendant who was clearly having too quiet an afternoon.

They wandered around for about ten minutes, Boy #2 becoming increasingly disconsolate as he realised that most of the Lego kits he wanted were at least twice the amount of money that he had to spend.  His mutterings became gradually louder until Boy #1, older, wiser, and less surprised by the negative difference between his disposable income and his toy-based aspirations, asked his younger brother what the problem was.

"It's all so expensive!" Boy #2 protested.  "When did it all get so expensive?"

"I know" answered Boy #1 resignedly.  "You're right.  There's not really anything worth having that we can afford here."

Boy #2 sighed heavily.  "Yep.  That's what happens in a Bull Market, I suppose."

I blinked.  What?

We left the Lego store shortly afterwards for Detsky Mir, where both boys found something that they wanted and could afford, and after they had made their purchases I asked Boy #2 if he knew what a Bull Market actually was.

"Yes, of course.  A Bull Market is when stock prices are rising.  And when stock prices are falling, it's a Bear Market.  So, it's a Bear Market for flat peaches at the moment, because they're not very expensive (even though they are very yummy and will probably get more expensive when people realise that), but it's a Bull Market for Lego."

"And where did you find out about this, Boy #2?"

"My 'Ask Me Anything' book, Mum.  Obviously."

So there you have it; buy flat peaches, sell Lego.  And read 'Ask Me Anything' when you have a spare moment.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Remembering why I blog - the moving diary

It's been quiet on this blog for a couple of weeks now.

It's not that there's nothing happening; there's plenty going on in our lives.  We're preparing for an international move, the Boys have just finished at the only school either of them can remember, and we're ticking off items on our 'Say Goodbye To Moscow' bucket list.  We need to find a base in our new home-town, set everything up for a smooth arrival there, and re-establish some dormant relationships in the UK.

Having said all that, it feels like the calm before the storm.

Practically, I know that isn't the case.  We've had an emotional few weeks - months, really, if I think about it - as we've gone through the mill of taking the decision to leave Russia, identifying where where we want to live back in the UK, applied for school places for the kids, been accepted (thank heavens), and dealt with the slowly dawning reality of what it will actually mean to leave the supportive community in a challenging environment that we've been living in for the last six years.  More recently there have been tears as my children have said farewell to good friends and I've held my nerve to assure them that yes, they WILL make new ones, it may just take a little time.  And of course Husband and I have attended a host of leaving parties, both for ourselves and for other people we know who are leaving Moscow.

Since the the school bell rang for the last time two weeks ago I've continued to sell / recycle / donate or just plain throw out the stuff we've acquired during our stay here and don't plan to move back with us.  In addition, there's been the small matter of housing, buying new uniforms for the children, and making a flying visit back to Blighty for them to attend New Starter events at their new schools to deal with.

We're back in Moscow now for a couple of week's hiatus before the we move out of our house here.  I feel as if I should be tidying - I KNOW I should be tidying - but actually there doesn't seem to be much left to tidy.  I've been through the kitchen cupboards, I've given away the clothes the kids and I no longer wear, I've got rid of a load of paperwork.  The only 'big' job now outstanding is to go through the Boys toys, but that can wait a couple of weeks longer.

And it's quiet - oh, so quiet.  The communities we normally socialise with - Russian and expat - have mostly packed their bags and flown, either to their dacha, home country, or somewhere else for a few weeks or for good, depending on their plans.  The Boys are in day camp, and Husband is travelling for business.  I feel as if I should be making the most of my time, doing, I don't know, something, but instead feel as if I'm stuck, dealing with the small tasks of running our day-to-day lives but unable to settle down and get my teeth into the big ones, like starting to actually write the next book that I've tentatively planned out, for example.  Or to  make initial approaches to a host of agents that I've never met, no doubt waiting with bated breath to hear about my last one.

Apologies for what may seem like nothing post, but it helps, to sit here and blog; it reminds me why I started doing this back in 2007.  What can seem at the time like a total lack of progress, whether it's the frustration of potty training a small child, dealing with the 'hurry up and wait' timetable of looking after two young children, or the ups and downs and sometimes what seemed like the interminable 'on and on-ness'* of being the main carer at home, my blog helps me take stock and realise that yes, I am moving forward.

And I can see that actually, this is not the calm before the storm.  Having written all this down, I've realised that actually, I'm right in the centre of it.  The eye of the hurricane.

* an expression borrowed from my good friend Jennifer, who blogs here and here.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

The greatest show on earth. Or in this part of town, anyway...

It can seem like a bit of a circus here in expat land as the end of the school year approaches.  Every weekend features at least one leaving party, there are weekday lunches where women who have become as close as sisters over the previous 10 months bid each other a tearful farewell in the summer sunshine, and children write their bucket lists of what they want to do for one last time before they leave their current country of residence for another.

Expat wives - usually the main carers at home, whether you like to hear that or not - continue the normal routines that hold their family together, but also spend a lot of time rushing headlong from one engagement to the next, trying to remember which leaving gift they have contributed to and whether the accompanying card has been signed, all the while trying to work out who - now that their best friends are leaving town - they are going to put down as a local emergency contact for the school in the case that they can't be reached if their children are in an accident.

It's one of 'those' years here in our Moscow expat community.  One of those particularly crazy years when it seems that 50% of the expat population are leaving after the school bell rings for the last time in the next week or so.  Leaving, and not coming back.  I'm sure that it isn't the case; there are probably no more people leaving this year than in any other, it's just that being in our 6th year now we know more of those leaving than we ever did before.

And of course this time, we are one of that number ourselves.

I remember that the summer after we arrived in Moscow it felt like one of 'those' years then, too.  Not that it affected me particularly; at that stage I'd only been living here 6 months and the frenzy of leaving parties, gift-giving and tears on the last day of term seemed - if I'm brutally honest - a tad over the top.  (I'm British after all.  We don't like to wear our hearts on our sleeves as a rule.  But expat life might have cured me of that, a bit...)

The second summer after we arrived, however, we went to leaving parties that hurt.  Good friends I'd made in the previous 18 months left Russia, and as I comforted my children as they said goodbye to their besties and then watched as they went on the hunt for new ones at the beginning of the next school year, I understood first-hand how it felt to lose the support structure you'd so carefully created for yourself.  I finally got what the fuss was about.  Then, the year after, I understood it again.  And then the year after that, and the year after that, too.

It wears you down, after a while, all that emotion.  So we're bowing out, for a while at least, and heading back to the UK.  This year we threw our own leaving party and booked our own movers.

I suspect that I will be one of 'those' mothers reaching for the tissues at the school's Closing Ceremony as I seek out my boys in the mass of faces and wonder where the last 6 years have gone.  It's a powder keg, that event, and nothing that I ever experienced in our UK educational system prepared me for it; a more heady cocktail of emotions than the one created in the school gym on that day is hard to find.  60-plus flags - one for every nation with pupils currently in attendance - are carried into the hall by the oldest child of that nationality, with each of them announced to the cheers of over 1400 children aged between 4 and 18.

There are songs, speeches, performances, more speeches, and then the school's director invites 3 or 4 families who have contributed to the school community to ring the final bell of the school year.  Following that the flags are walked out to yet more applause as children embrace each other in the full knowledge that they might not see their friends again for a very long while, if ever, and parents ask themselves for the 100th time what they're doing, putting their kids through this.  Then we all wipe our eyes, pull ourselves together and head home.

And suddenly, that's it; show's over, school's out, and the circus leaves town.

And so do we.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Un-seasonal musings from Boys #1 and #2

At dinner this evening:

Boy #1:  "Do you think the Easter Bunny is real, Boy #2?"

Boy #2 narrows his eyes.  "Well.  I think that he is in certain parts of the world, but I think that here in Russia people put their own eggs out."

I look hard at Boy #1.  If his brother still believes, let the myth continue for a little longer, I think.  But there's no need to worry - Boy #1 agrees with his younger sibling.

Boy #1:  "And the Tooth Fairy?"

Boy #2:  "Oh, the Tooth Fairy is DEFINITELY real.  But I was talking to J (one of his best mates) the other day, and apparently, in Belgium, the Tooth Fairy is not a fairy but a little mouse with wings that wears a tutu and leaves sparkles behind it..."

There is a pause, whilst they both consider this and I puzzle over the fact that up until this conversation started I would have bet good money that there was no way my older son still believed the 50 rubles he gets per tooth comes from a winged sprite.  Then...

Boy #2: " ... but that is clearly ridiculous!  Imagine if the Tooth Fairies had a party, and the Belgian tooth fairy couldn't come, one of them would have to dress up as a mouse and throw glitter around!!"

Both Boys fall about laughing at the thought of a fairy dressed as a mouse.  Because, a group of fairies having a party is one thing, but a mouse with wings dressed in a skirt pushes the limits of credulity even for them.

Boy #1:  "Yes, that is ridiculous!"

Boy #2:  "But - what about Father Christmas?  Does he exist?  I think if you asked a teenager they might believe in him 20%, and my friend L in class says she doesn't; she's almost sure that it's her parents who leave the presents out.  Almost..."

I keep schtum at this point.  Best not say anything; after all, they are 9 and 11 years old - surely they can work out for themselves the likelihood of the Big Man being reality?

Boy #1, with an air of great sincerity:  "No, she's wrong.  Father Christmas definitely exists.  When we were at Gran & Grandad's last Christmas I hunted all over the house on Christmas Eve.  I looked EVERYWHERE, and I couldn't find a single present.  Not ONE!  And yet, on Christmas morning, there they were."

Me (somewhat amazed):  "I didn't know you did that, Boy #1!"

Boy #1:  "Well, I did.  But I was very quiet about it.  And I didn't find anything."

Boy #2 nods thoughtfully: "I thought so.  Yes, that proves it.  Father Christmas does exist.  Good. 100% it is, then."

Wednesday 20 May 2015

The Photo Gallery 231: Landscape

This post is for Wk 231 of Tara's Photo Gallery over at Sticky Fingers (click here to see the other entries).  The prompt this week is 'Landscape'.

At the beginning of last year, we were lucky enough to visit New Zealand; what a magnificent place.

I've been fortunate in my life and have travelled through all sorts of interesting landscapes, but I have to say that New Zealand currently holds top billing for me - and here are a couple of examples why...

Lake Gunn, Fiordland National Park, South Island

Mitre Peak at Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island

The view from Te Mata Peak, North Island

The mountains behind Kaikoura, South Island

A geyser pool at Rotorua, North Island (and no - those are not my children swimming in it...)

I could go on, but I think you may have got the picture by now...

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Wednesday 13 May 2015

The Photo Gallery 230: Animals

This post is for Week 230 of The Photo Gallery over at Sticky Fingers blog (click here to see the other photos participating).  This week's theme is Animals...

You might have noticed that we're leaving Russia - for the foreseeable future - in the next few months.  Moscow is, of course, putting on a spectacular show for us now that we've decided to up sticks; the weather is warm, the trees are all in blossom, and we are surrounded in our suburban neighbourhood by the type of greenness that you normally only find when you stick a filter on your camera.  The city is not making it easy to leave it whole-hearted.

However, instead of showing you photos of birds and ducks frolicking in springtime I thought that I would - for once - play to the gallery (ha!  See what I did there?), and have trawled through my files to show you some photos I've taken of animals in the Moscow winter.

This was taken from our dining room window one March.  It's a Waxwing, by the way.  Don't you love his Elvis quiff?

This was taken on the walk to pick the Boys up from school in February - the tuftiest-eared squirrel I ever saw.

And this was also taken in February, on the canal behind the Boy's school.  You can see the hole the fish were caught in, on the bottom right.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Tuesday 12 May 2015

I can't bear to part with...

In preparation for our impending move back to the UK, I am slowly forcing myself to go through all the cupboards so that we only take with us what we actually want and need when we arrive.

This follows what I can only describe as our rather chaotic exit from the UK over 5 years earlier, when I wrote this post following the foolishness of having left Husband in charge of the packers whilst I ferried the Boys from one set of grandparents to another whilst we moved out of our London flat.  My favourite excerpt from that post is this:

'2.  Packing enough bed linen for 4 double beds and 2 singles - twice over - is a somewhat pointless exercise when you are currently living in what is basically a 2 bedroom cottage.

3. Likewise towels. What were you expecting PM, to be training as the local midwife?'

So this time around, I'm trying to be ruthless.  It's tricky.  I'm not good at throwing stuff away.  I mean, who knows, we might need that weird shaped  metal... thingy when we get back to England.  Or the broken Dyson hand-held vacuum.  There will always be a use for that, surely? Tell you what; let's just charge it up and see if there's been some terrible mistake and it does actually work?  (It doesn't).  Or that collection of instructions on how to put together the ikea shelving units that we plan to donate to charity before we leave here - surely they might come in handy?

You can see what I'm up against.

But I'm trying my best, which is why this morning I went through the Boys' clothes for the third time in 3 months and still managed to find 2 large bagfuls that no longer fit them and which I probably could have got rid of last time but which for some unaccountable reason, I missed.  Probably because I was too busy cooing over the clothes that I REALLY can't bring myself to get rid of and which I have stored in a special hamper to take back to England and pull out in 5 years time to marvel at. What's in the hamper?

Well.  I was hoping you would ask that (if only so I could write it down here to remind myself of the reasons why I kept this motley collection)...

  • A collection of hats (sun, baseball, and cold weather hats) - were my sons' heads EVER that small?
  • A collection of long-sleeved t-shirts that have featured in photos of both boys over the years (my favourite, for obvious reasons, must be the Trans-Siberian Express one from Gap, although the fleecy polar bear one and the bright blue rhino one tie for a close second)
  • The kilt that Boy #1 wore for his kindergarten extravaganza back in London (as featured in this memorable post, here)
  • A swiss prehisto t-shirt featuring dinosaurs in cow print, and a bright striped short-sleeved t-shirt (retained for the same reasons I held on to the long-sleeved ones)
  • Boy #1's first school jumper (No idea why that one made the cut other than perhaps to remind me of what a god-awful colour it was)
  • A smart dress shirt in a gorgeous pale blue and cream print that both Boys wore about, oh, twice, but which again I have strong memories of and so can't part with.
  • A teeny-tiny pair of socks and a cuddly pram blanket that did service for both Boys #1 and #2 (no explanation needed).

What items of your children's clothing can't you bring yourself to part with?

Wednesday 6 May 2015

The Photo Gallery 229: One Day in May

This post is for Week 229 of Tara Cain's Photo Gallery over at the Sticky Fingers blog.  Today's title is 'One Day in May'.

If you have any association with Russia you will know that May is all about Victory Day.  This year, since it's the 70 year anniversary of the end of World War II (or, as it's known here, The Great Patriotic War), the authorities are pulling out all the stops.  The main roads into town are flanked by flags, all municipal vehicles are sporting them, and right-thinking patriotic citizens have their cars and/or collars adorned by black and orange ribbons.

(More of why on my next post.  I originally put the explanations in here but it overwhelmed the photos, so decided my thoughts on this celebration deserve their own airing...)

In the meantime, here some photos of what Moscow has looked like / will look like on Saturday, pulled from my files and which I've taken over the last 5 years here.

2010 - our first year as family in Russia

2012 - the year I discovered the superjet graveyard just down the road (now replaced by a shopping centre.  I preferred it before, frankly).

2013 -  we couldn't go to the celebrations, so petrol-head Boy #2 was forced to watch the planes from the back lot.

2014 - the wild dog who'd lost her way stole the show for me...

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Proof that these apples haven't fallen far from the tree

Long-term readers of The Potty Diaries may have noticed that from time to time a post from my sis pops up in here.  (She's very funny - more than I am - in case you've missed those).  Well, also from time to time, my father sends me a missive - and the one below was too good to languish unused in my inbox.

Entirely co-incidentally, just as I am working my way through our cupboards here to prepare for our move back to the UK, my parents are having a proper clear-out of their kitchen cupboards.  This is my father's commentary on what they found lurking within...

Hi Clare,

My, you should be really proud of us. Just cleared out the food cupboards, most notably the herbs, spices, oils, vinegars and other hard-to-get comestibles. We are left with roughly 10%, which are within 'best by', and a further 5% that smell-alright-and-therefore-probably-are-alright, mostly antiseptic-based food colourings. 

And the awards?

For the Longest Past its 'Best By' date:  A large sachet of Japanese, oyster-based fish sauce, purchased in Aspen Colorado, marked ‘Use By January 2002’.

The Most Tedious Piece of Food Recycling in 2015: A jar of Tate and Lyle Black Treacle c. 2008. Recognised for blocking up the kitchen waste pipe for 37 minutes until cleared by a stiff dose of Whiting's 'Big Biffa' waste clearer.

The Recyclable Most Determined to Leave its Mark: 100gms of Sharwood's turmeric powder which, despite the efforts of the household, and Wells' team of First Responders, managed to despoil the boot of its owners' Seat Ibiza motor car, her spouse's foul-weather upper body protective, and the glass recycling bin in the Tesco car park.

The Recyclable that Most Brutally Brought Tears of Nostalgia to the Eyes of the Recyclers: 50gms of Madagascan Vanilla Essence c. 2009; recognised for its incomparable contribution to the culinary excellence of the local area by infusing six years of festive panna cotta desserts for the poor and needy of the village.

And the Lifetime Achievement Award goes to: 500 gms of Malaccun cloves, sourced before modern records (and ‘best by’ dates) began, but believed by experts from the V&A to have been distributed by Nurdin and Peacock’s Cash and Carry Warehouse, Wadden Way, Cheltenham in the late 20th century. Probably predates the Japanese rubbish mentioned earlier. Best guess? 1975 when the memsahib started baking flans for the company canteen.

No prizes for guessing which cupboard I'm clearing in the next 24 hours...

Friday 1 May 2015

I'm British - allegedly...

Living outside your country of origin for more than a short while is a useful exercise inasmuch as it allows you to re-evaluate exactly what it is about 'home' that matters.

A case in point; last Thursday, Boy #2's piano teacher - a Russian - asked me excitedly if I knew if it had been born yet.

I beg your pardon?

I genuinely had no clue what she was talking about.

We don't have cable, you see.  And whilst I follow the news from home, read the newspapers online, listen to the radio etc, it seems I filter a lot more than I realised.  I only click on items that I have any real interest in.  Like, politics.  Social commentary.  Lifestyle.  Entertainment.  Education.  World events.

Not, it seems, what is happening in the UK's royal family - who I had completely forgotten are expecting a new addition some time soon.


And the funny thing is, I have no beef with the Windsors.  I'm not in favour of the UK becoming a republic, and I think our monarchy works; it fulfils a parliamentary purpose, they (mostly) work hard, and in general are an attribute that I'm perfectly happy to support through the civil list.

But I don't actually care about their personal lives, so much.  I wish them well, of course.  I hope that everything goes smoothly for Kate and William with the birth of the new baby.  But it doesn't occupy my mind (or didn't, until I started to write this post) to the extent that non-British people I encounter seem to be occupied by this.  It never ceases to amaze me how fascinated some of them are by our Royal Family, to be honest.

So I wonder: there's the world media's representation of what's going on back home, and then there's Real Life.  I know that of course there are royalist die-hards camped out by the hospital where the new baby is due to be born, but is the Royal Baby something that is top of mind for those of you reading this from within the UK?

(And is it unrealistic of me to say that I really hope that it isn't?)

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Out of the mouths of babes (or 9 year old boys)

Breakfast is important, I think.  Especially since Boys #1 and #2 are so skinny that if the wind blows too hard I worry they might fall over.  So we try to eat a decent amount every morning, and one of my go-to energy boosters is porridge.  Only one problem; Boy #2 recently announced that he didn't like it any more - not even with maple syrup on the top.

Thins morning, then, I thought we would try things the Russian way by putting a teaspoon full of raspberry jam on the top of his porridge.

Jam is a Russian cure-all.  Want a sweet taste with your (black) tea?  Help yourself to a little dish of jam from the bowl in the middle of the table and use a teaspoon to feed yourself little bites in between sips of tea.  Feeling fluey or have a cold coming on?  Jam will definitely help.  Want to boost your intake of Vitamin C?  Yes, jam is just the ticket.  You get the picture...

I have to be honest, I didn't hold out much hope that jam would sort Boy #2's porridge-avoidance, but with Weetabix and toast on standby, it was worth a try.

He stirred it in and cautiously took a mouthful.

Boy #2:  "Mmmmmmmmm.  That's delicious!  I love it!  I'm going to eat the whole bowl!'

I smiled quietly to myself as I chatted with Boy #1 about his busy schedule and sorted out various things around the kitchen.  Job done.  Then...

Boy #2:  "It tastes just like raspberry pie!"

Me - blinking.  What?:  "But, hang on - you don't like raspberry pie..."

Boy #2:  "That's your raspberry pie, Mum.  Gran's raspberry pie, I like - and that's what this tastes like.  Mmmmmm...."

Oh.  Right.  That put me in my place, then.

Sunday 26 April 2015

Carry on Regardless

Sometimes, I wonder if pushing kids to try things they don't want to do is a pointless task, and more trouble than it's worth.  But then something like this happens...

With only a couple of months left before we leave Russia for the foreseeable future, we're trying to cross a few items off our bucket list.  One of the things we've wanted to do for a while was to take the Boys to a classical concert at the recently renovated Great Hall at the Moscow Conservatory, because, well, whilst it might not seem like the obvious entertainment choice for two very normal 9 and 11 year old boys, it's an experience they may well remember for the rest of their lives - if we could just get the event right.

Yesterday Husband spotted that Andrei Pisarev was due to perform various piano pieces by Chopin that evening so at the last minute we decided to go for it.  We sorted the tickets and excitedly announced to Boys #1 and #2 what the evening's program would be.

Oh good grief.

The problem with raising two children to have independent thought and ideas, it seems, is that some of their thoughts and ideas are completely independent of your own.  And one of those ideas, in this case, was that going to a classical concert is akin to having your teeth pulled without an anaesthetic.

This is not the first time I've made this observation on raising individuals, but I was forcefully reminded it of it yesterday.  As the wails and yells rose up from the back seat of the car, you would have thought that instead of the opportunity to sit and listen to a world-class performance of beautiful music in a hall with some of the best accoustics in the world, we were telling our children of our plans to make them clean out a septic tank with their toothbrushes before spending the night in it wrapped up in jute sacks.

Which, to be honest, was something I was prepared to consider as my younger son went into a Force 6 tantrum and kicked the back of my car seat to demonstrate his unhappiness with our plan.  Frankly I was considering suggesting to Husband that we call the whole thing off.  Maybe it would just be simpler to stay home in front of the box...

So, did we go?

Of course we did.  Husband is made of sterner stuff - or at least, is more stubborn - than I am, and rapidly came up with a plan to stop the rot.  There may have been just a little bit of a carrot dangled to get them there.

OK - we took them to Macdonalds first.

But from that point on, they were a credit to us.  Boy #2 in particular was entranced, clapping like a mad thing the moment the performer finished each piece (and, once, when he hadn't), and excitedly joining in with the applause at the end when the audience was - oh so politely, this was a Russian concert audience, after all - angling for an encore.  (They were SO polite, we got two.  Result).

As we left, Boy #2 asked me what I thought of it.  "I thought it was wonderful," I said honestly.  "Me too," he said earnestly.  "And you know Mum, it was so different to be there and to see it and hear it at the same time.  Because when you listen on the radio, really, it's just, so much... pfffff."

And there, with a huge smile on his face, an expressive wave of his hand and a vowel-less word, my younger son perfectly expressed why sometimes, as a parent, you do know best - and have to carry on regardless...

Friday 24 April 2015

The ingredients for my perfect tea-break...

Warning: this post does not feature proper tea.  Or milk.  Or a china cup.  Or a digestive biscuit.

(I'm not going to be allowed back into the UK, am I?)

Hot water, camomile tea, and a Dutch stroopwaffel perched on top until the syrup in the middle of it heats up to the point that it reaches just the right consistency of gooey.

Oh, and a pretty insulated cup given me by a good friend, that keeps my tea hot for as long it takes me to drink it.


What are the ingredients for your perfect tea break?


I do drink 'proper' tea - but not often (the caffeine upsets my stomach).  And decent digestive biscuits are hard to come by here; the ones produced outside the UK, whilst they might bear the McVities name, do not match up to what you can get back home.  Trust me on that; I speak as someone who has conducted an extensive series of taste tests...

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Crossing The Rubicon

The Potski Family have crossed The Rubicon.

The Rubicon, in case you didn't know (I didn't know in detail before I started writing this post - isn't the internet a wonderful thing?), was the river that Julius Caesar's army crossed in 49 BC in an act of insurrection against the Roman state preceding his eventual assumption of power, and was where he supposedly uttered the words 'The die has been cast' (according to Suetonius).

Well.  That seems a bit dramatic for what we've done; there has been no insurrection, we are not acting against the state, and the only place our words on this event are being recorded are here on this blog, but still; we have crossed a point of no return in our family's journey.

We are heading back to the UK.

And our particular Rubicon - at this point - was not re-registering Boys #1 and #2 for the next academic year of school here in Russia.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but places at the school they currently attend are as common as hen's teeth; for every child who leaves there are many lined up to step into their spot, so it's not a reversible decision - but we've made it.

I have mixed feelings about moving back, to be honest.  On the one hand, we're not a family of serial expats; we haven't spent 20 years trekking around the globe, and it was always likely that after Moscow we would be returning to the UK, so it's not exactly a shock that we're doing this.  We still have a home there, along with family and friends who have been very understanding about our itinerant lifestyle during visits over the last 5 years or so, and it will be wonderful to be closer to all of them.  It will also be fantastic to be able to comprehend what's being said around me rather than just catching a few words in each exchange and hoping that where I miss the meaning, my general smiling and nodding will get me through without causing too much offence.

And then there's the fact that we are very much looking forward to the Boys being in UK schools (more on that another time), and giving them the chance to see the country as more than just a holiday destination.  They will be able to be more independent as they get older, in a way that expat kids in Moscow just can't be.  Children here often live in a bubble, and whilst they have incredible experiences and see wonderful places, the opportunities to do mundane things like get Saturday jobs or paper rounds just don't happen.  And I very much hope that they will no longer have to say goodbye to 30% of their classmates every July, when that year's rotation happens and families move to their next posting on the opposite side of the world.

That last one's a bugger.  I will not be sorry to leave it behind.

But on the other hand, we've had an amazing time here.  We've had some life-changing experiences and met some truly adventurous and outstanding people and made what I hope will be lifelong friends.  Living in Moscow has changed us for the better; it's made us less insular, less inclined to take one viewpoint and stick to it and more likely to look for the other side of the story.  It's made me both value the differences between people and also to understand that whatever you see on the surface, we mostly want the same thing; for our kids to be happy and healthy.

When we took the final decision to move here, back in 2009, Husband gave me the chance at the last minute to change my mind.  We could stay put, he said.  Or, we could move Russia.  Neither was the easy option; he was travelling to Moscow each and every week and was only back at weekends, so Monday - Friday the Boys and I were on our own.  On the opposite side of the scale there was, well, Russia, and all the challenges that living there would involve.

Having fretted about what we were planning, and having been second-guessing myself in the run-up to that conversation I was surprised by how easy it was to make the choice.  Because how many people in their early 40's get the chance to pro-actively make the decision to really shake things up?

So we chose to throw the deck in the air and make the move, and whilst it was tricky to begin with, 5 years down the line I think it was the best thing we could have done.

Here's to shaking things up.  May we all have the courage to cross our Rubicon from time to time, whatever it might be.

(But I would highly recommend that if you do, you ensure you will have access to wine.  And chocolate.)

Monday 6 April 2015

I can resist anything... except temptation

No, really.

And that is why, finding myself halfway through a family pack of Cadbury's mini eggs that I had lovingly bought back from the UK a few weeks ago, only to discover on Easter Sunday that neither of my sons liked them, I did the most sensible thing for someone who has my woefully low ability to resist temptation.

I went and put them in the bin.

And just to make sure I didn't go back and salvage the pack when the munchies struck later, I didn't just drop the bag in. I up-ended it and tipped those little morsels of candied heaven into the bin and watched them disappeared from sight.

As I did so, I paused to consider that not only were they rattling down between empty milk cartons, cereal packs, used tea bags, and vegetable peelings, but that they would also encounter the half eaten pieces of cake that I had subjected to the same treatment yesterday.

Know what I want to be when I grow up?

Able to resist temptation...

Friday 20 March 2015

'Tales from the Land of the Lost... Property' continued...

You know how sometimes bloggers use a little poetic licence when writing their posts?  I have to admit that the post I wrote yesterday - about Boy #2 losing his coat - was actually about an incident that happened the day before.  So sue me.

What I'm writing about now, though, happened this morning - honest, guv.

So, in an effort to communicate to Boy #2 how much of a pain in the backside losing his coat is, I have made him come with me to the Lost & Found cupboards at school 3 times since he mislaid it.  We went there yesterday morning.  We went there yesterday afternoon.  And we went there again this morning.

No sign of it - the coat is still lost in the space-time continuum.  But I figured that if nothing else, as a result of the hassle of going backwards and forwards to L&F, he would take better care of his belongings from now on.

This morning, however, after another fruitless expedition to the cupboards, I walked him to his class.  We were almost at the door, when THIS happened.

Me: "Have a good day darling.  See you later..."

Boy #2: "Bye Mum!"

Me (with a sinking feeling):  "Wait.  Where are your hat and gloves?"

Boy #2 looked at me with a dismayed expression.  "Um.  I left them at the Lost & Found?"

Well.  That lesson in taking responsibility for his possessions really worked, then...

Thursday 19 March 2015

Gaaaaah! or, 'Tales from the Land of the Lost... Property'

The scene; this morning, Potski Mansions.  It's 8.05am.  The boys and I need to leave for school in three minutes.  I'm standing by the back door doing my usual normal morning routine to get them out of the house (that resembles nothing so much as herding cats), when it happens.

Me:  "Boy #2 - where's your coat?"

Boy #2:  "My what?"

Me:  "Your coat."

Boy #2:  "Oh, that.  I don't need it."

Me:  "What do you mean, you don't need it?  We live in Russia, for Pete's sake!  It's only March - it could still be -15degC outside!"

Boy #2 looks at me despairingly, and opens the back door, gesturing at the scene outside.  "Mum.  The sun is shining.  The snow is practically gone."

I splutter, realising that it's finally happened - I have become a Russian babushka - and that if I'm not careful I will start shouting at families who's children are not wearing snow suits to the park in May.  "Yes, but...  But... it's March!"

Boy #1:  "He's right - it's +5degC out there.  Practically tropical - I might leave my coat at home, too..."

Me (feeling very much as if the situation is slipping away from me).  "Hang on a moment.  Boy #1, you don't have to WEAR your coat, but you do have to take it to school.  Boy #2, you too."

Boy #2:  "Ah."

Me (sinking feeling):  "Ah, what?"

Boy #2:  "It's not here."

Me:  "Not here?  Where is it, then?"

Boy #2:  "At... school?"

Me:  "Where at school?"

Boy #2:  "I don't exactly know..."

Reader, I am not proud of the explosion that followed.  Or of the harrumphing and general bad behaviour as I drove the boys to school (the gentle and of course highly fulfilling amble filled with parental/son bonding that I had previously envisaged - prior to 'Coat-Gate' - having been cancelled out by the time this conversation took).

In my defence, the thought of replacing Boy #2's perfectly OK winter jacket at this stage in the game - when there are only a few weeks left when he will actually need it - was not an appealing one.  Neither was the thought of ferreting through the school's Narnia-sized Lost & Found cupboards every day for the next 2 weeks whilst Boy #2's coat works it's way there through the ether from wherever he left it.  I mean, what HAPPENS to the kids' missing stuff in the interim period?  Is there a kind of 'Room of Requirement' that is full of coats, hats, gloves, shoes, water bottles, lunch boxes and suchlike, where this stuff languishes until some evil house-elf decides that the parents have been tortured enough, and OK, joke's over, you can have this crap back now?  Is there?  IS THERE?

(Can you tell I've given this possibility some thought?)

Anyway.  Back on Planet 'Well, It's Just A Coat, After All', we reached the school.  I parked the car and noted that amazingly we were still there 5 minutes early.

Me:  "OK, Boy #2 - you can come with me to the Lost and Found section and look for your coat."

Boy #2:  "Fine, Mum. And whilst we're at it, can we see if the water bottle I left somewhere yesterday is there, too?"