Remembering why I blog - the moving diary

>> Wednesday, 1 July 2015

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.


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

>> Wednesday, 10 June 2015

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.


Un-seasonal musings from Boys #1 and #2

>> Tuesday, 2 June 2015

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."


The Photo Gallery 231: Landscape

>> Wednesday, 20 May 2015

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


The Photo Gallery 230: Animals

>> Wednesday, 13 May 2015

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


I can't bear to part with...

>> Tuesday, 12 May 2015

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?


The Photo Gallery 229: One Day in May

>> Wednesday, 6 May 2015

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


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