Friday, 29 May 2009

New York, New York!

Apologies for the bloggy silence from this Brit who is not currently in Bosnia but instead living the high life in New York City. The catalyst for the trip was a very old school friend’s wedding and Dave and I have found ourselves living the New York dream in East Village whilst the boys exhaust their grandparents back in the UK. We’ve been making the most of childfree time with long lazy brunches in quirky cafes, late night cocktail drinking in stylish bars and I’ve even managed to get Dave into a shop or two. Tuzla seems a long way away.

Whilst missing the boys, it also has to be said that we have enjoyed the chance to spend some time together, just the two of us, remembering what we were like Before Kids. The ability to shamble around without too much thought, just seeing where the day took us is something we haven’t indulged in for a long while, and it is fun. We had the time and space to enjoy each other’s company, with not a ‘Muuummmmmmyyyyyyyy!’ in earshot. It was like getting together all over again.

The fun and games is coming to an end soon. We’re now back in England and will take on the trip home which includes 2 flights, one 3 hour bus ride carrying at least 4 large bags, 4 bits of handluggage, a lap top, 2 car seats and 2 bored toddlers at the weekend. We’ll need a holiday by the time we get back.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Books books books: A brief review of Instructions Not Included by Charlotte Moerman

English language books are hard to come by in Tuzla. English language books that I want to read are even harder. So when Virgin Books sent me a book to read in return for a post about what I thought of it, there was no way I was going to say no. Some weeks later, the Bosnian postal system taking its time on delivering the parcel, the book arrived: Instructions not included by Charlotte Moerman, tales from the frontline of bringing up three boys.

It took me a while to start the book, primarily because Adam fell in love with the cover, a cartoon depiction of life with three boys in which the eldest is shooting a water pistol at one of his brothers. 'Look Mummy' said Adam with delight, 'that's me!' and promptly took the book to bed with him gazing in awe at his new water pistol toting hero. So, Ms. Moerman, I hold you directly responsible for the drenching of my kitchen the next day.

Once I had finally wrested the book away from his sticky little hands, I stuck them all into bed, barricaded the bathroom door and ran a very deep very hot bath. Interrupted only to be given a glass of chilled white wine by Dave, and then again slightly later to have the glass replenished, I started the book.

Oh my goodness, I laughed. I knew that I was going to enjoy it as soon as I read the lines 'hell after all hath no fury than a mummy whose laboriously made fish pie has been rejected'. This, I thought, is a woman who feels the pain. I have been there. I have lost the plot over some untasted macaroni cheese. This Charlotte Moerman she knows what she is talking about.

Charlotte writes The Buggy Blogs and I'm not sure if the book was a tying together of her best and favourite posts or written from scratch. Sometimes it is a bit jumpy, moving between different times in a way that occasionally I found difficult to follow. She is also writing for other Mummies. If you didn't have children and weren't in the zone of reading Julia Donaldson books ad nauseam, then some of her writing would be pretty difficult to follow. But if you are, you will recognise it immediately and it will bring a wry smile to your face.

I did enjoy it though. Very easy to dip in and out of, it is still living in the bathroom and I find myself going back to reread bits of it that made me laugh. I had been thinking about giving my copy away, but changed my mind. It's too good and too worth a reread in the future.

Another Book Review: The Wedding Party by Sophie King

Not content with one book to review, I've actually been sent another. The Wedding Party by Sophie King is not so Mummy orientated, more of a good chick flick kind of read. Brilliant, I thought to myself, I have two weddings to go to in May, this will be the perfect book to get me into the wedding groove and I can read it during the train rides around Britain when the various grandparents are looking after the boys which means I'll be able to read it in peace.

I have to say that chick flicks are not my natural choice of book. Generally, if I have the time to read I prefer to read something a little more substantial. So when I saw the cover of the book my heart sank. Call me shallow for judging a book by its cover, but I just couldn't generate any enthusiasm for a book bathed in baby pink fairy cakes.

The book itself, when I finally started reading it, was perfectly enjoyable. Well written, it had quite a few very funny lines and some nicely observed comments on familial relationships. but, I did find the constant coincidences in the plot line annoying and couldn't believe in quite a few of the characters at all. The timeline of the story also didn't quite hang together which irritated me in the same way that a hang nail does.

I would have very much enjoyed reading the book as a series of short stories or magazine articles, but in a novel form it was too long for me. If I enjoyed the genre more, I would probably have really enjoyed the story but as it was I was pleased to arrive at the Oxfordshire station that signalled the end of my journey and the start of a real life wedding party.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

supermarket short-circuit

I'd been putting it off for a while, but last week bravely took the decision to venture (with the boys) into a supermarket. Not just any supermarket, but a Tesco Extra supermarket*. Tesco Extra is a new feature to my life. I hadn't appreciated quite just how large they are. Nor how many things that you haven't come to buy you have to pass until you get to what you want to buy.

Aisles and aisles of children's toys later (and having frisked the children to make sure they had put everything that they had picked off the shelves back onto the shelves) we were hunting down some cheese. We had found the appropriate aisle easily enough and everyone was looking for the cheese. We had even found the cheddar cheese fairly easily, although I was getting a bit dazed by the vastness of the cheese section. The problems started as I tried to find some plain old medium cheddar cheese in a normal sized packet. Super healthy living never seen an ounce of fat cheese, no problem. Vegan cheese, check. Organic cheese, check. Vegan organic cheese no problem. Super matured cheese, yup. Cheese with bits of fruit in, I could have bought you that. In fact, I was more likely to be able to buy oak casket matured, cranberry infused, maple syrup drizzled cheese that could dance a waltz and remember your mother in laws birthday than I was to find a normal size block of medium cheddar cheese.

I couldn't take it. The longer it took to find the cheese the more stressed I got and I could feel the circuits in my brain fusing. I simply couldn't cope with the array of choice available to me. Rather than being liberating, the ability to choose exactly what I wanted, I found it stressful. If there is an ability to choose exactly what you want then you need to work out what exactly that is. And then you have to find it. I think I'll be sticking to the smaller supermarkets for a bit.

*the urge to write 'not just any supermarket but an M&S supermarket' was almost uncontrollable. I'm still humming the jingle.


Totally forgot to mention earlier because I have the brain the size of a pea with holes in - the latest Best of British Mummy Bloggers Carnival is ready to go and has been for a while now... Those fancying more tales of nappies, poo and feeding times at the zoo with children should head on over to Being a Mummy for entertainment.

Monday, 11 May 2009

food, glorious food

When I was in Bosnia thinking about coming back to the UK, I spent most of my time thinking about what I was going to eat. In general the food in Bosnia is good and usually uses fresh locally sourced ingredients. The cuisine consists of predominantly stews, pies and pizza, with fantastically good ice cream making an appearance in the summer.

But, being British, I'm used to a much wider range of choice. Our history has meant that alongside our own domestic cuisine, we are able to commonly eat Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Indian and Thai food, with Jamaican, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and any other country you care to name also available if you look a little harder. In Bosnia, I found myself missing the variety of tastes and flavours.

Since I got back I haven't stopped eating. Combined with a couple of weddings and an inability to say no to a good glass of champagne, it doesn't feel as if I have stopped drinking either. The end result, I'm feeling very bloated and like I have been celebrating Christmas at the wrong time of year. I'll be rolling back to Bosnia many kilos heavier and in need of a diet.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Of Bosnians and the US Army

Unexpected news today from the home (ie Bosnian) front. Dave called to say that a great friend of ours is off to Afghanistan to work for the US Army. He leaves on Saturday so we won't get a chance to say good bye before he goes. We will all miss him, especially the boys, who loved the fact that he never got tired of throwing them up into the air.

For all it is unexpected, it is by no means unusual to find the Bosnians (particularly the Bosnian Muslims and those around Tuzla) working for the American army in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army was in Bosnia for a good 10 years after the Bosnian war and many Bosnians earned a healthy wage working for them. This is especially true around Tuzla. The Americans operated out of an enormous base near Tuzla known as Eagle Base which is most famous for being where Hillary Clinton didn't get shot at in 1996 but is also where you could get issued with US Army camouflage prayer mats (I'm not joking, we have two). When the Americans left, many highly qualified English speaking Bosnians were left without work.

With wars on two further fronts opening up, the Americans began to hire the Bosnians to work in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. For the Bosnians it is dangerous work but they are well paid for it. For the Americans, well a cynic might say that Bosnian casualties wouldn't show up on an American casualty list. Plus the Bosnians are used to the Americans, how they operate and have learnt to speak good English. Anyhow, lots of people went. In Lukovac, a town of some 40,000 down the road from Tuzla, they estimate that 1 in 4 households has sent someone to Iraq. My mind can't fully get around that statistic. Bosnia aren't at war in Iraq.

In the meantime, we just wish Amel luck, courage and look forward to seeing him safely back home in Tuzla in 6 months time. May he stay safe.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Bosnian escapades without the kids

It feels odd to be writing a blog about being Brits in Bosnia when I am tucked up against the wind and the rain by the beach hut in the not-quite-so-sunny Isle of Wight. Bosnia seems like a long long way away.

Dave on the other hand is still there and has been making the most of the childfree time to do all the things that we find difficult to do with the boys in tow. Mainly he has been discovering the mountains near Zlaca, about 40 minutes from Tuzla on the way to Sarajevo. Dusting off the old hiking boots he went on a day long trek through the trees and up the mountains. There he found mountain huts where trekkers can stay and some of the most spectacular scenery he has ever seen, and he is a fairly well travelled boy. On our last phone call he said that as he got to the top and found himself looking down through the valley, it took his breath away. Or, as he lives in the smog of Tuzla, it filled his lungs with fresh mountain air which made him feel a bit heady.

Bosnia is an unbelievably beautiful country. And for those with the taste for it some mountainous adventures, be it on foot, by bike or through rafting some spectacular rivers Bosnia remains one of the last great undiscovered areas of Europe. The best known company for this type of holiday in Bosnia is probably Green Visions and a look through their brochure gives an idea of the beauty of this country. Sadly for us, we really need the boys to be a few years older to be contemplating one of their trips but we have one in mind for the future. Just hope they like the outdoor life...

Sunday, 3 May 2009

An English Summer

On our short trip back, I'm finding that I've become more English than ever in my time in Bosnia. We've spent our afternoons eating fish and chips watching the village cricket match on the green. We've gone to the beach in the Isle of Wight and played french cricket, built sandcastles and eaten ice cream caked in sand. At the end of the afternoon, just as the sun was radiating its most golden light across the sea we sat in front of the beach hut, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake. I've even thought about a little dip, but the sea looks a little too grey for my liking. We've paddled, we've poked around rock pools with a shrimping net. We went to back to our home city and watched the trains fly past, fed the ducks and had a terrific time in the playground. We've seen a few old friends and I was surprised and a little relieved to watch the boys play with their old friends as if they had never been away.

Combined with having the most lovely time has been the most beautiful weather possible. Gentle sunshine, hot but not unbearably so, a feeling of freshness echoed by the vibrant greens of the trees and spring flowers.

We miss Dave though. He must be in Bosnia for a further 2 weeks before he too can sample fish and chips and talk about cricket with someone apart from me (and my knowledge is pretty limited). We enjoy ourselves, but the boys ask after him all the time and I would love to have him here with us. I could talk to him about how wonderful our home country is when I have the outsiders rose tinted glasses on. By the time he gets here, I'll be moaning about the traffic, price of petrol and the economy like everyone else.