Friday, 30 October 2009

Dear So and So: Bosnian Version Part VI

It's been a while since my last Dear So and So, but it is a miserable dank damp day outside and writing some always cheer me up. So, my pen is out, I have postcards with pretty pictures of Tuzla assembled and away we go.


Dear Outside Dog,

I have no idea where you go all day, but I'm always pleased to feel you curling around my legs at dinner time as I tend to worry that you have become today's road kill. Everyone else teases me for making you a hot water bottle every night to keep you warm, but I think you like it. You'll never be an inside dog, your stray mentality is too strongly entrenched, but I love having you around. Plus you are a much better guard dog than that great big wussy Golden Retriever that lives here all the time.

Yours, with an extra large piece of off-cut meat,
Fraught Mummy x


Dear Adam,

You are ever so clever for putting on your PJ's all by yourself. But was it totally necessary to announce straight afterwards that 'I don't need Mummy any more' . Daggers to the heart. Ice cold daggers.

Your suddenly panicking about my big growing up boy Mummy xxx


Dear PhD Supervisor,

I'm looking forward to you coming out to visit next week. Obviously I have been doing far too much blogging and not nearly enough work, but I'm hoping by dazzling you with Bosnia you might not notice. But, if you don't bring a box of tea bags with you, you do run a strong risk of being left to fend for yourself on a snowy mountainous road in the Republika Srpska. Just saying.

Your errant student,


Dear Bosnian Car Import authorities,

There is no other way to say this. I have said it to you many times. So here we go again. THE BRITISH CAR AUTHORITIES DON'T ISSUE CAR EXPORT CERTIFICATES. This doesn't change however much you ask me for it. We are only trying to temporarily import the car. You have got 6,000KM of my money held hostage until we re-export it. I have spent HOURS of my life hanging around several different customs offices trying to keep small children amused and out of trouble. Trust me, if we didn't HAVE to import the car, we wouldn't be. So give us the bloody Bosnian plates and I'll keep out of your hair until we leave the country.

Yours, seriously blowing a gasket and with a genuine worry for my blood pressure,


Dear Tuzla Police,

Given the difficulties we are having in trying to comply with your laws (see previous postcard) was it really necessary to order that the car is only able to drive within the confines of the city of Tuzla? We can't even go to visit some friends in the countryside 15 minutes drive away. How long is this going to go on for? I've got myself some serious cabin fever going on. Please can someone give us the goddamn bloody licence plates!

Yours, having taken to hissing at the police station every time we drive past,


Dear Market Stall holders,

I know that there are pumpkins here, because I can see them growing everywhere. I also know that most people only grow them to feed the pigs. But as it is very very nearly Halloween and I'd like to spend the afternoon carving pumpkins with the boys, could you please just find one or two to sell to us?

Yours, wanting to be all scary and spooky,


To all those PR people who write to me offering products to review,

It is always nice to receive an offer for something to review, and I always have a good look to see whether I want to do it. But, if I reply that I'm game, to then decide that you can't post the article to Bosnia is a bit poor. It shouldn't come as a total surprise that I'm based in Bosnia, did you look at the blog name before contacting me? And comments that you are worried about things getting lost in the post are such garbage - last time I looked it wasn't the Bosnian Postal system that was on strike.

Yours, confident that my postcards will reach you,


Dear smart Bosnian clothing stores in the centre of town,

How can you charge so much for your clothes? My eyes water every time I see your prices, they'd be expensive in the UK, let alone here. And your sales are rubbish. 10% simply doesn't constitute a sale. I'm looking for 50% at least.

Yours, still needing another jumper,


Dear cheaper Bosnian clothing stores,

You totally believe in pile em high and sell them cheap (or at least cheaper). But trying to find something that fits my children when I can't see my children as they have disappeared under the piles of strewn about clothing is very tricky.

Yours, unable to take the pressure of stopping the boys manically jumping on everything in your stores, FM


Dear Boys,

I've really been enjoying the last couple of days with you. The fighting doesn't seem as bad, the screaming and shrieking a bit less frequent and we've come up with some good games. My favourite has been wriggling around on the floor with straws in our mouths pretending to be divers. I'm starting to feel a bit less freaked about the long, cold, dark winter months ahead. You two, well you two are absolutely great.

Love you so much,
Mummy xxx


Want a go yourself? Head on over to Kat's 3 Bedroom Bungalow to add your name to the list. It's like therapy but better.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Happy Machines

The other weekend we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the company of a Happy Machine (a Bosnian still for making plum brandy for the uninitiated amongst you). It was rather late in the year as everyone felt a little guilty about making very strong alcohol during Ramadan, but no one seemed to be having too much guilt about drinking large quantities of the stuff immediately afterwards.

The men sat around stirring the plums, sterilizing the machine, bringing it all to the boil, watching it condense down, measuring the alcohol content with a whizzy little gadget that floats in the liquor and tasting it all to make sure it was all ok. We could see which the most important aspect of the process was judging by the amount of time spent tasting the output. The rest of us ate large quantities of food, the kids ran riot outside and life was good.

This brewing of the sljiva is an integral part of Bosnian culture (Muslims many of them may be, teetotal Muslims they are not). It is one of the autumnal rituals. The rumours that are running rife that the EU would ban the Happy Machines (bah humbug to the miserable fun stealing Brussels bureaucrats) are seriously testing Bosnians desire to join the Europe. I think most sane countries have banned the stills years ago, but this doesn't appear to deter the Bosnians. Apparently those who have emigrated to other European countries still manage to get their fix, just making sure the brewing happens indoors behind drawn curtains.

Dave loves this part of being in Bosnia. He looks forward to a Happy Machine afternoon, even though he doesn't really like the end result. I hadn't really paid much attention to this interest, right up the point I discovered him in the supermarket supposedly shopping for milk and cheese gazing covetously at and seriously considering buying a brand new still. A snip at only 2,400KM (1,200Euros).

Happily we remain Happy Machine-less after some fast talking on my part and a reality check on the state of our bank account on his. May we go to many more afternoons where the brandy is brewed, but I'm not Bosnian enough to want it happening in my garage.

If you've had enough sljiva and are feeling brave enough, then make straight for the brilliant Hot Cross Mum's Halloween Best of British Mummy Blogging Carnival

Monday, 26 October 2009

Bosnia, back in the spotlight.

Today is supposed to mark the start of the trial of Radovan Karadzic, accused of 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Undoubtedly there will be twists and turns, Karadzic will be playing the International Criminal Court for all he is worth. He is unlikely to turn up, will refuse to recognise the courts jurisdiction, will claim he hasn't had enough time to prepare his defence and will be doing all in his power to discredit the court and drag the trial out indeterminably.

I will write a post at some point talking about the trial and how people feel about it here. It is, as you can imagine, a contentious issue. Some people passionately feel that the trial is needed; to establish what happened, to create a legally recognised truth that can't be twisted by every side to suit its own agendas. Others feel that it is important that those responsible for creating the events of the 1992-95 conflict are held to account, made to take responsibility for their actions. On the other hand there are some who would rather that the events of the war were placed firmly in the past, and who wonder if whether another trial highlighting Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo serves to keep Bosnia firmly orientated towards its conflict years, preventing them from looking towards the future. Of course there are also those who vehemently protest against the proceedings, claiming them to be unfair and illegitimate.

But the start of the trial, coming as it does as the various political Bosnian leaders are trying (or not trying so much) to establish how the country can move forward out of the political molasses pit that they seem to have found themselves in, will put Bosnia back onto the global news agenda. Whilst most people here think that the articles in The Telegraph and Time Magazine claiming that Bosnia is once again on the brink of war, to be an exaggeration of the situation and a strategic move by the internatinal community to put pressure upon the Bosnian politicians, there is definitely a sense that this is a crucial moment in post war Bosnia. Suddenly people who usually ignore the political shenanigans are talking about it. There are rumours about some people rearming themselves (but then again, there are always rumours about people rearming themselves).

These next couple of months will be interesting times for Bosnia. And now I am starting to understand why it is that the Chinese saying 'may you live in interesting times' is understood to be a curse.

Friday, 23 October 2009

24 Hours: Tuzla

A new guide book for London is coming out in the next few weeks, showing ideas for stuff to do for each hour. Called 24 Hours: London - an insiders guide to London's Best Kept Secrets, the idea is that it will give you ideas for things to do at a given hour. So, 4pm tea at the Ritz, 10pm dancing stupidly outside a nightclub in South Kensington, 2am hunting for food down the Fulham Rd. That sort of thing.

The idea got picked up by Mike from Postcards Across the Pond, who wrote his own personal 24 hour guide for Horsham. Horsham wasn't quite as busy as London, but there was a lot to do if you are out and about in Horsham, as long as it involves pubs or parks.

So I thought I'd give this a go. Noone writes guide books for Tuzla. Even the official Bosnia guide book says, somewhat diplomatically, that this area isn't really set up for tourism. So, here we go, the 24 hour guide for Tuzla. (readers who know Tuzla, feel free to point out which amazing Tuzla experiences I've missed in the comments section)

5am: All quiet, except the yowling of the stray dogs. Stay in bed and put duvet over head to try and drown out the sound.

6am: At some point during this hour the early morning call to prayer will go off. People start to get up, but I advise remaining in bed with duvet over head.

7am: Everyone up and about and off to work. Many people haven't had any coffee yet, so strongly advise not making contact with anyone until they have had their caffeine hit.

8am: Office hours start at 8am. Things start to open. Pop into a bakers to pick up some pastries, chocolate and jam are widely available. The bread is also freshly baked and excellent.

9am: Venture out into town. Pop into a cafe to plan your day. Coffee, in the form of espresso will be available wherever you are. If you are feeling braver ask for a kafa domaci, which is like a Turkish coffee, complete with turbo fuelled sludge at the bottom. Drink it black and very sweet.

10am: Remember that you have some outstanding bureaucratic issues to deal with. You are in Bosnia after all and your stay is not complete if you do not do battle with bureaucracy somewhere. Find appropriate ministry and enter. Leave shortly afterwards as everyone is on a 'pauza' and having coffee.

11am: Head for a stroll in the centre of town. The new square, trg sloboda (Freedom Square) is a very pleasant place to sit by the fountain under the tree and watch the town pass by. If you are lucky you may see a wedding spilling out of the registry office, with all the brass bands, photo sessions and throwing of money before the drama moves on elsewhere. Then, move along past the cafes and down the pedestrainised Korzo.

12pm: Attempt to complete bureaucratic procedure. Everyone now having lunch. Go to the market instead and browse all sorts of things from mobile phone covers to jeans to fruit and honey.

1pm: Lunch. Should the weather be agreeable do find a restaurant which allows you to sit outside. The restaurant Krcma, near Trg Sloboda is a great place. Cheap and quick, but serves good food whilst sitting outside on wooden benches. It is all pedestrianised to small children can run rampant outside without causing too much trouble. Although do try to prevent them running into the nearby mosque (which is beautiful) as this is not a good thing.

2pm: Head out to the park Slana Banja on the north side of town. The new playground is now open, but muddy. The park itself has some great views over the town as well as some good clay tennis courts.

3pm: Wander down to the Pannonika Lakes (newly built salt water lakes) for a swim. If you are here during winter these will be shut, but they may have erected an ice skating rink and trampolines instead.

4pm: Head up to the park of Ilincica up on the hills to the south of the city. Here the woods have a certain mystical quality to them, but beware the epic amounts of rubbish that blight this beautiful place.

5pm: It has been at least 3 hours since you had coffee. How are you still standing? Find a cafe, any cafe and reinject yourself with caffiene. A good one to go to is the one by the pedestrian bridge over the river/sludge fest ditch which also serves good cakes.

6pm: Take a pause. Everyone else will be.

7pm: Get ready to go out. The look in this town is all about glamour. Your heels must be high, your hair sorted, your make-up on (and boys, you need to look good too).

8pm: Join the crowds strolling along the Korzo. Stop off at a cafe there for a pre-dinner drink and watch and be watched.

9pm: Decide what sort of food you are after. If it is traditional Bosnian then I'd recommend the Biblioteka restaurant otherwise think pizza and join the debate on whether it is Heartland or Dalma who make the best pizzas in town.

10pm: Head down to see if they have any live music in the Salt Square and linger. Lingering is a national pastime. Don't be afraid to nurse a drink for hours.

11pm: Head to the cafes just off the Korzo or to Cafe Sydney near the National Theatre. Alternatively buy yourself something to drink and join the youth of the city by the Jala (river/sludge fest mentioned earlier).

12am: Wonder where to go next. Walk around a lot trying to get in contact with other people in Tuzla. Eventually decide to go to The Underground. It will be packed, loud and the music a mix of Bosnian and English language covers. There will be lots of cigarette smoking. There will be lots of beer. There will be lots of singing along badly to the music. It's fun. Recommended.

1am: Try out Jazz for a smaller, more intimate venue, which is also in a cellar, with live (usually acoustic) music, chain smokers and lots of beer.

2am: This is Tuzla, everything shuts now unless you know someone who knows someone.

3am: Head home. Watch Turbo folk on TV and drink beer and plum brandy.

4am: You are still awake? How? More Turbofolk, beer and sljiva. Now go to sleep. You have more coffee to drink tomorrow.

Anyone else fancy giving it their hometown a 24 Guide makeover? Take up the meme, and make sure you let Marsha (the author of the original book) know as she is putting together a list of these guides.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Car Karma

This morning, pre coffee (which may have been a key factor) I loaded the boys into the car to take them to nursery, reversed out of the drive and straight into a passing van.

The van driver (fortunately ever such a nice man) got out and inspected the impact. Not much damage done, a good old fashioned scrape down the side of the van and a right old prang to our bumper. We looked at each other and agreed it wasn't worth getting the police involved. This was a good thing, getting the police involved is a long and painful process that usually entails paying money somewhere. Van man called his boss who appeared shortly. We all looked. Stood around. Stroked our chins and sucked our teeth. The car repair place just up the road appeared. More standing around, more stroking of chins.

Then an offer. For friendship. 50 Euros and, as they say here, to je to (that is that).

Done. Handed over the cash and all off we all went on our merry way, me slightly feeling that I got off lightly.

Dave's take on the whole scenario was an example of how to receive the news that your wife has pranged the car.

He reminded me of the time when an American soldier in SFOR (the previous peace keeping force in Bosnia) driving that huge truck rolled back and hit the front of the Clio (our previous car when we were last living in Bosnia; its smallness indicating it was from the pre-children era). He gave us 100 Euro for the dent in the bonnet. We, not being in the least bit car proud, never got round to fixing it and the dent remained until we sold the car a couple of years later.

'So' said Dave 'the way I see it is that we are still 50 Euros up on the car karma front'.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Is everything falling apart?

Enough already. I've been reading some of what the commentators have to say about Bosnia following the Daily Telegraph's article saying that Bosnia 'on brink of new civil war'. It seems that everyone is saying that Bosnia is about to fall apart. As I type there are big high level talks going on in Sarajevo where very important people are trying to get the politicians to agree to some small constitutional reforms. These are apparently not going very well (Bosnia's crucial talks hit a snag) and the only thing that everyone agrees on is that they are not going to adopt the reforms that are being suggested. Good to know it is possible to have everyone agreeing on something. The Bosnian Muslim leaders are predicting a return to violence within the year if things continue as they are. The Foreign Affairs magazine agrees, with headlines that proclaiming The Death of Dayton (the peace agreement that ended the conflict in 1995).

None of this makes for good reading. But as I read it, I can't help but feel that I am reading about somewhere else. It just doesn't seem quite possible that this country that is on the brink of collapse is the same country as the one that I am living in. People are going about the day to day life without too much worry. They are used to the posturing of politicians and the international community and see it as being another episode of political bang drumming and chest beating, making themselves look strong and powerful, particularly against the bullying of the international community. There isn't any talk of people stock piling goods (which did happen when Kosovo declared independence as people genuinely were worried about what the effects would be here). In fact, no one seems to be paying that much attention to the politicians at all.

Day to day life is carrying on. People are still tending their gardens, going out for a drink in cafes, buying music and listening to concerts, watching the football, doing all that, well, normal stuff. Stuff that everyone in Europe does. They moan about the economy (which is a mess) and the bureaucracy (don't start me on it) and talk about how cold it is for the time of year. It just doesn't feel like a country on the verge of conflict. I agree with the one positive article that I have seen about Bosnia from the European Stability Initiative, who point out that whilst Bosnia is a long way from perfect it has made enormous strides over the last couple of months. It seems that this wave of pessimism about Bosnia is becoming self perpetuating.

I can't see how Bosnia will return to war. There is no appetite for it all amongst the general population, who fully know how damaging it can be. I can't see how Serbia or Croatia would have the inclination to back it. That is not to say that there won't be violence, I think a flare up somewhere is a possibility, but to spread to full on conflict, I really don't think it will happen.

But I am reminded of a coffee I had not so long ago with a man who had recently returned to his home close to the Serbian border. We were sitting by the Drina river, enjoying a long afternoons sunset, with people swimming and canoeing beside us and fisherman just a little further upstream. It was pleasant, warm and the atmosphere was happy. He was talking about the war in 1992. 'You have no idea.' he said 'One day we were sitting here with our neighbours, drinking coffee just like we are today. The next day we were at war. We had no idea it was coming.'

Monday, 19 October 2009

Things I have said to my husband*

The scene: Domestic bliss. I've just started cooking dinner, just popped down to the shops to pick up some onions and veg and am cutting chicken. The boys and their Daddy are upstairs splashing around in the bath. All is well with the world on a Sunday evening.

Cut to squawks and screams from upstairs. Mainly from the adult.

- everything alright darling?
- I can't hear you!
- No I can't come upstairs, I'm in the middle of cooking.
- Luke's done a poo?
- In the bath?
- what do you expect me to do about it? I'm in the middle of cooking.
- can't you just clean it up?
- are the boys out of the bath?
- yes, well done for wiping his bottom.
- it's still floating in the bath?
- ok, I didn't need to know that it was a sinker and not a floater.
- is it in one piece?
- what do you mean you want me to clean it up. I'm in the middle of cooking and I've got chicken all over my hands.
- why can't you clean it up?
- what's it worth?
- yes you can finish the cooking.
- and do the washing up.
- for a week.
- what do you mean you don't know how to clean up the poo?
- get a plastic bag and some bathroom cleaner.
- could you make more of a song and dance out of it?
- alright! I can't stand it any longer. I'll do it.
- yes you should put the boys pjs on. I'm in the bathroom cleaning up poo.
- and give them their milk.
- ok, everything is clean.
- yes I did scrub the bath.
- what do you mean the flannel was in the water?
- the toys were in the water too?
- why didn't you mention this before I came downstairs and started cooking again?
- washing up for a week.
- seriously.

*with thanks to Millenium Housewife, who pioneered the 'things I said to...' genre

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wooden Weddings

Today is our wedding anniversary. Five years ago today (five years! already?) we stood up in front of friends and family and promised to love and honour each other for as long as we both shall live. Then we popped round the corner to the village hall and had a really cracking party, with lots of food (cottage pie and blackberry & apple crumble), plenty of drink and some really fabulously terrible dancing.

It was a classic English wedding. The weather was dreadful but it didn't matter. The traffic had grid locked and half the guests didn't make it to the church on time. There were scenes of people, in full wedding gear, sprinting down the road from the nearest tube station, a good 2 miles away. Others had to get changed in the graveyard, ducking behind the largest tombstone they could find. One American visitor at her first English wedding having surveyed the mayhem was heard to comment, 'this is brilliant, totally out of Four Weddings and a Funeral' and then proceeded to wander around looking for Hugh Grant for the rest of the evening. My brothers sang our first song (Van Morrison's Crazy Love for those interested) and they totally rocked. I was newly pregnant, but no one knew. No one that is except for the people Dave had gone out with 2 nights earlier and had told by mistake after a beer too many. We danced and danced, and laughed and ate and drank and my hair completely collapsed from its original elegance, but I couldn't have given a hoot. I was getting married to the love of my life (cliche, but true) and I could not have been happier.

Five years on here we are. 2 children, one dog and in Bosnia. We're so lucky. I'm as in love with Dave today as I was when we got married. He is my partner in life and adventures, and we have so much that we still want to do together. I still fancy him as much as I ever did and he still makes me laugh. Obviously, as with all married couples, we have our ups and downs. He is lucky that I find cold hands in bed funny and he could try to learn that there is no magic fairy that puts dirty clothes into the laundry basket. I could try to remember that he isn't my own personal on call IT helpdesk. That sort of thing. But in the big things, the things that actually matter we support each other. We have worked out how to sit down and talk to each other about problems that have arisen, the little scraps and scrapes ironing themselves out that way. Most importantly, we've got two lovely happy little boys and we feel that we are really enjoying our lives, doing what we want to do, trying out what we want to try and just giving things a go and seeing where they lead us. If the two boys learn one thing from us, I hope that it is that.

Bosnia is a special place for us. Just a few months after we started going out, I needed to come to Bosnia to do some research for a Masters Thesis. Almost flippantly (but secretly hopefully) I asked Dave if he wanted to come too. He handed in the notice on his apartment the very next day. The rest, as they say, is history. Six months later we got engaged in Sarajevo at an old Turkish fort which sits above the city, overlooking the valley in which Sarajevo is situated.

Still, I can't believe it has been five years since we got married. I looked it up and it is our Wood Anniversary today. Wish I could say that I've been whittling something special over the last few months, but blatantly I haven't. Wonder if a cardboard castle would count? We've arranged to go out tonight and we may not be able to resist the urge to celebrate in the traditional Bosnian fashion; putting white ribbons on the car, hanging flags out of the windows and driving round town beeping our horn. Where's that English flag gone?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Here Comes Winter. Bring It ON!

It is officially the end of summer. The end of warm weather and playing outside all afternoon. The end of laundry drying in an hour (and there's barely any laundry anyway, a couple of shorts and the odd t-shirt). It is the start of the mud fest, both in and outside the house. It is the start of needing to find shoes, socks, jumpers, coats, hats, scarves and gloves and get them onto 2 small wriggly boys every single time we go outside. It is the start of Everest style piles of additional laundry which takes weeks to dry. It is the start of very dry chapped hands which no amount of hand cream can sort out. It is the start of indoor play, day in, day out.

I'm not pleased about winter.

It has arrived in a classically Bosnian style. On Friday we were frolicking around outside in shorts and t-shirts, temperatures were 30C (86F), way hotter than an English summer, and we thought about having a barbeque outside. Yesterday Sarajevo got snowed in, cutting off roads, electricity and phonelines. They had forecast the same for us, it has mercifully not appeared just yet, but it is cold enough for it. This sudden and dramatic fall in temperature is not unusual here. No wonder everyone gets sick.

Oh yes, winter has arrived.

But this year, we are ready for whatever winter wants to throw at us:

Winter tyres on the car? Check.

Snow Chains in the car? Check.

Emergency provisions - chocolate, crisps (I like to feed them healthy stuff), the odd packet of dried fruit in case we get caught in a snow storm and can't get out. Check.

Rugs, Blankets, extra jumpers and warm clothes in the back, again just in case we get caught in an unexpected blizzard? Check.

Radiators in the house all checked for faults? Check.

Municipality Heating on? Check - oh, yes, check, check, check - came on on Tuesday. I nearly cried with delight, we were going to be in for a chilly few days if they hadn't got it all sorted in time.

Plans for indoor activities? Check - although will probably only last for a week then we'll have to fly by the seat of our pants until we all get into the groove of indoor play. I'm still working out how I'm going to burn off the excess energy of two small boys in order to proceed with all the planned indoor activities, but I'm sure we'll work it out eventually.

Plans for outdoor activities? Check - the sledge is in the garage ready to go. Outdoor activities with snow not a problem, it is the piss awful filthy days when it is about 3C, raining, no sign of snow and noone in their right mind will think about venturing outside that are the problem.

Boots that are waterproof and can be worn in snow? Check - the obtaining of said boots deserves a post all of its own, but the end result is a check with two frazzled parents still in shock from the experience.

Summer Clothes packed away (bye bye small boy Crocs, I shall miss you, you are a lot easier than shoes, socks and boots). Check.

Winter Clothes unpacked? Check. How is it possible for the jumpers take up that much room in a cupboard?

Stockpiled Calpol/Calprufen? Check - not needed yet, but surely only a matter of time.

Extra brooms to give the boys to help brush up the mud bought into the house by boots and filthy muddy dog? Check.

Ok winter. Bring it on.

A HUGE thank you to those who identified the random fruit given to us by the dear old biddy down the road, for a quince it was. And we made jam. And the jam? It is GOOOOOOD. I'm so excited as I've never made jam before. Anyone else finding themselves with a bit of left over quince should try this recipe for quince jam which was incredibly easy (a necessity for me, I'm no cook) and produces amazing jam.

Also, the Best of British Parent Bloggers Carnival is up over at Family Friendly Working, so get a cup of tea and settle in for more tales from the parenting front line.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Learning to draw

The boys seem to be pretty settled at their nursery now. They trot in no problems and seem to have quite a good time. Certainly they both enjoy the social aspect of nursery and playing with other kids.

I have no idea what they do there every day. I know the basic structure of the morning. Arrival is followed by 'morning meeting' where they do something educational, then a bit of play and lunch and I pick them up shortly after lunch has finished. All well and good then.

What happens in the 'morning meeting' I have no idea. From what I can tell, the children sit in a circle and the teacher teaches them something. It often seems to involve the teacher with lengths of coloured thread and hoops. It seems to me to be quite a formal way of teaching these nursery kids, but this is the way it is done here.

I also have no idea how often the boys do things like painting, messy play, building blocks and all those things that I thought nurseries did. Every time I ask Adam what he did today he says 'nothing'. Now this might mean nothing, or it might mean 'nothing that I want to tell you about, but we did go to the park and I did play with Armin and Amar and I have paint on my jumper so I obviously did something'.

For a little while I used to ask Adam what the other children did which elicited more information. I don't know if that meant that he didn't join in with the activities that the other kids were doing, or that question jogged his memory in ways that the more straightforward 'what did you do' does.

I've asked the nursery staff, and even been in with a translator just to make sure that I fully understood the conversation. I still don't have much of a clue what they do in 'morning meeting' or during the rest of their time there. They say that he is an active part of the class, is well liked and talks with other children but not with the adults (normal apparently for those children learning to speak another language in somewhere like a nursery). Whether this is true or not I have no idea.

Either way, both boys leave nursery like a cork out of a champagne bottle. I suspect that they have spent so long being good, sitting quietly and behaving themselves that when I pick them up they are ready for some serious running around screaming at the top of their voices outside action. Usually this is exactly what we do. I try to run them into the ground.

However, I have noticed that there is little interest from either boy in sitting down and doing crafty type stuff. This hasn't really bothered me much up until now. Boys will be boys, they have been inside all morning and I need to give them a good bit of fresh air. Suddenly however, I am very aware that were we in England Adam would be at school. All the other kids are learning stuff and I need to start thinking about what I can do to make sure that Adam fits in easily to school when we return to England.

So we've been trying out some drawing. Not for us the pretty pictures of people smiling. Oh no. We were stuck in the snail phase for months. One big twirl and then 'finished Mummy!' and off to cause chaos somewhere else. More than one colour was an absolute No No. Entreaties to 'draw Adam at the park' or 'draw the knight fighting the dragon' were ignored as another snail swirl appeared. Recently we moved from the snail phase to the monster phase, which basically looked like the pictures he was drawing when he was about 18 months, but with more colours. I've tried not to worry about it too much, smiled, posted the drawings on the fridge with pride and played the waiting game.

On Friday we sat down to draw some cards for a few birthdays that are coming up. 'Lets draw a picture of Grandma' I said, out of habit more than expectation.

'Ok!' said Adam. He thought for a bit. Then he said 'I'm going to draw a picture of Mummy and Daddy'.

'That would be lovely' I said, but didn't hold out much hope. He's started out this way before, and Mummy inevitably turns into a fire breathing monster. I try not to read anything into this.

But blow me down with a feather. My little boy who has previously not drawn anything that ever looked like anything that one might recognise produced this!

A picture of Mummy and Daddy holding hands. Daddy has the big head and Mummy has the long legs (my boy, you can draw me anytime you like if you think my legs look like that!). Ok, so we might be lacking in bodies, but look at those smiles! To say I was thrilled is an understatment. I was heart stoppingly, dance on the spot, want to kiss the nearest passer-by, delighted. I'm going to frame it and put it by my desk. Just to look at it makes me grin like a looney.

All that time he was working out how to do it, and then when he was ready, he just went straight ahead and drew it.

I reckon he'll be ok when he gets back to England, so I'm going to stop worrying and get on with enjoying.

As it happens Tara at Sticky Fingers has also just published a post about her 4 year old daughters picture of her and invited comments and started a meme to get other Mummy portraits up. If anyone else wants to join in then feel free.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Dear So and So: Bosnian Version, Part V

It's a Friday. The boys are at nursery. The dog is outside. The house is quiet. All is well with the world. So, happily ensconced in my temporary haven, I feel equipped to start my series of postcards directed at those who've caught my attention over the past couple of weeks.


Dear Bosnian Drivers,

I'm pretty sure that driving on the pavement is not a part of your Driving Test or condoned by your authorities. Just wondering why you are all such fans of it.

Yours, forever surprised to come across an Audi coming towards us at speed with all four wheels on the pavement,
Fraught Mummy


Dear Weather,

Got to say, you've been amazing this last week. The car told me that the temperature was 32C yesterday. It has been rather blissful. I'm just wondering how exactly is it possible that we can be having this balmy, blissful weather and yet still be having a forecast of snow for next week?

Yours, in for a bit of a shock if the forecasts are accurate,

PS - got to ask, does this have anything to do with the fact that I packed away all our summer clothes last week and we are now all sweltering in thick winter ones?


Dear Nursery,

I want to support you in every way you can. You do an amazing job with very little resources. However, when you ask me to contribute 12KM towards buying a TV and DVD player, I'm just not sure I can help. I think nursery should be for play and activities and don't want my boys watching TV there. They do enough of that at home (ah-hem).

So, I am sorry. Is there anything different I can donate the money towards instead?


Dear boys,

We made a great castle didn't we? I was ever so proud of it. Such a shame that it had to be thrown around within 5 minutes of us finishing it, and now I have to spend most of my mornings fixing it. Lets try to be a bit more careful with it in the future. Please?

Your not very crafty but trying hard mother.


Dear Bosnian Entrepreneurs,

I'm pretty sure that there are already enough hairdressers, cafes and Driving Schools in Tuzla. Can I suggest if you want to start a new business you come up with one that doesn't have quite so much competition. An indoor playcentre or children's centre would be one idea, particularly with winter rapidly approaching. Or how about a cinema? I'd use them. A lot. Go on, someone must want to do it!

Yours, starting to worry about what I am going to do this winter when the weather gets bad,


Dear Outside Dog,

Chewing up The Economist was unforgivable. Chewing up The Economist with the Technology Quarterly supplement nearly made Dave spontaneously combust. You are on thin ice. Bear this in mind.

Yours with nothing to read in the bath,


Dear Bosnian authorities,

You need to sort the stray dog situation out. Not only do we have Outside Dog setting up camp, but now there is a puppy that wants to join her. I really don't want any more dogs, but can't turf them out onto the street again either. Surely you can get a programme of registration and sterilisation sorted, which will truly benefit the town.

Yours, wanting to remain a one dog owner,

PS - sorting out the stray dog situation does not mean sending the hunters in either. At best that is a short term solution.


Dear Bosnians,

This weather has been amazing hasn't it? We've enjoyed heading out for some impromptu picnics as well. The difference is, we pick our rubbish at the end and put it into the bins that are provided. You have an amazing countryside, which you are ruining by chucking the trash onto it. It isn't difficult to throw it in the bin, if you ever want tourists to start spending their hard earned cash in this country then you need to start doing it now.

Yours, fed up with picking my way over last weeks picnics,


Dear lady who lives down the road,

Thanks ever so much for your gift of the big yellow fruit that looks like an enormous pear but is hard. I have no idea what it is. How do I go about making it edible?



Dear Random Imam,

I know my boys make a lot of noise and don't listen very often. But they are boys and that is what having a garden is for. Standing on the steps outside the mosque over the road and miming at me to smack them isn't really terribly helpful.

Yours, knowing there's some cultural differences that I ain't that keen to try and bridge,


Dear Tuzla authorities,

Your new square is really great. You've really done a good job there. We are looking forward to more afternoons spent lolling around the fountain and sitting on the benches under the trees. I have to point out though that to say this square will become one of the most visited in Europe is ambitious. There is a fair amount of competition out there and I'm not sure people will visit Tuzla solely to see the square. It isn't that exciting.

Did I say that I love the benches around the tree trunks?


Dear Municipality Heating,

I know the weather has been amazing this last week. But as soon as the sun goes down it gets pretty cold. We've been sitting around covered in blankets all evening. They are forecasting snow next week. Please, please, please can we have the heating on, and then we can choose whether to have the heating on or off.


PS - I know I'm being a big old wuss here. Noone else seems to think it is that chilly.


Dear Boys,

We did have a fab afternoon yesterday, didn't we? I have no idea why it all worked and everyone had such a great time when we didn't really do anything different to normal. But I loved it. You were both great.

Lots and lots of love,
Mummy xxxxx


Have a go yourself. Head on over to Kat's at 3 Bedroom Bungalow in Crazy Town and sign up with all the other Dear So and So fans. And do try it, it is surprisingly therapeutic.

Or you can head over to Have A Lovely Time, who have very kindly let me write some top tips for visiting countries like Bosnia with kids.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A countryside afternoon

An afternoon out of town for the Brit family. Jess needed her annual jabs so we headed on out to the vet that we like to use, who is about 15 minutes drive out of town.

I like this vet. He is no nonsense and funny. The clinic is a wooden building, with a terraced area equipped with table, chairs and space for that all important coffee. Weather permitting consultations are conducted outside, over said coffee, or occasionally a small shot of some homemade plum brandy (sljivavica). Jess, used to the cooing of our soft English vet, finds the Bosnian one a bit rough and ready. He doesn't waste any time, uses muzzles and additional muscle if needed and gets on with it. A consultation never takes more than 5 minutes, with an extra 15 tagged on for coffee.

Jabs received, Pet Passport completed with appropriate stickers and stamps (we do have to get Jess back to England at some point so it is extremely important that everything is well documented) and coffee drunk, we were done.

Everyone was busy out in the countryside. There is a limited amount of time to get ready for winter, so the fields were a flurry of people finishing harvesting their produce, cutting up wood, finishing all the jobs that need to be done whilst the weather is holding. We wandered along to visit a friend, who was in the thick of the autumnal jobs.

The boys were thrilled. Axes for chopping wood! Small puppies to pick up and play with! Plants to be dug up! Pigs to be fed! Chickens to be chased! Apples to be harvested! We are talking true small boy heaven here. They got to work, they got dirty and they had a terrific time.

I had noticed that since we got back from holiday last week, there just haven't been as many people around as there were during the summer. But as most Bosnians who live outside of towns live on small holdings and many of the townie apartment dwellers also have country houses, I've realised that they are busy preparing for winter. The men are chopping wood to heat the houses through winter and making sure all those outside jobs have been completed, the women are bottling, pickling and preserving the mountains of fruit and vegetables that have been grown.

Perhaps most importantly though, everyone has been making sljivavica and handing it out to all and sundry. Hence the stacks of bottles at the vet, who boasts that people always give him their best bottles. We left the vet with a bottle of our own. Not being such a fan of the drink we'll use it for getting the ticks off the dog. Shhh, don't tell anyone. We might live in Bosnia, we might have Bosnian residency visas in our passports, but we'll never be true Bosnians.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A touch of parental jealousy

My two boys, as regular readers will know, are very much boys. They love to run, shout, climb, jump, shoot, wrestle, fight, bundle, cars and trains. They spend quite a lot of their time trying to work out how to shoot web out of their wrists in the mode of Spiderman and smashing their wrists in an attempt to turn into aliens, a la Ben Ten. They like nothing better than prodding sticks into holes to see what comes out, building bridges out of old planks and racing their cars down the incline and peeing into holes they have dug to make urine based mud pies. I'm loving that last game, it is really making my day - ah-hem. They are boisterous, loud and energetic. They aren't such fans of sitting down quietly and colouring in (although they occasionally surprise me).

By the end of the day, I'm absolutely exhausted. I've run about, been climbed on and had to chase errant children down. I've spent 95% of my time trying to stop someone getting hurt or separating warring toddlers. Most of the time I'm shouting 'NO!' 'Stop doing that, you will hurt yourself/your brother' 'I'm NOT a climbing frame' and other such helpful stuff. It does always seem quite negative, but I haven't quite worked out how to stop them running across the road by shouting something positive at them. Of course, the more tired I get, the less energy I have to come up with positive ways of distracting them from whatever they shouldn't be doing and the more I start shouting. I'm not proud of it, I'd rather not do it but I do.

Then, just when the whole situation is approaching total melt down, Daddy gets back home. The boys are thrilled. They rush over and leap into his arms. He, of the tired from a day at the office but not tired in the physical sense tired, then throws the boys up in the air, chases them down roaring like a dragon, bundles, wrestles and does all that sort of manly play. All the sort of the play that I either hate (I was never one for a big bundle) or haven't got the energy for.

The boys love it. They absolutely love it. Daddy coming home is one of the highlights of their day. And I have to admit that recently I've been struck down with a touch of jealousy. Mean Old Mummy is the one who says No. Mean Old Mummy is the one who doesn't allow things and applies discipline. That is not to say that Dave doesn't do it, but as I'm the one at home with them most of the time, I do the bulk of it. Then, of course, when Dave gets back, they are so thrilled that they behave far better than they were just 5 minutes earlier so less discipline is needed. Mean Old Mummy is grumpy, tired and bereft of ideas of more fun things to do, having exhausted all great plans earlier on in the week. Mean Old Mummy has also got to cook, get the laundry sorted, do the washing up, put things away, occasionally run some form of cleaning product over the house, yadda yadda yadda. Mean Old Mummy shouts and is just not much fun.

Now, I know that men and women interact with children differently, and that both ways of doing things are important for children to develop. I know that I offer a much calmer more realistic environment in which they can have their down time, calm time, gentle time which they need as much as they need their energetic Daddy time. I know that Dave couldn't keep up that level of energy all day (let alone all day every day) and that if he was at home with the kids and I was the one coming back from the office then the boys would be as excited to see me as they are to see Dave. But that doesn't stop me being jealous. Not all the time, I do often look on with a big old smile and think to myself how great it is that the boys have such a fantastic relationship with their Dad. But sometimes, just sometimes, I am.

Obviously I just need to grow up, put aside the tragic desire to be the popular one, and learn to appreciate that what I add to the mix is important, valuable and needed. I need to recognise that in as much as children, especially boys, gain much from their play with their Daddy, they also gain much from the way Mummy (even a Mean Old one like me) interacts with them too. And I do know that, truely I do. But just occasionally I forget it, just a little.

Friday, 2 October 2009

A little on the chilly side

One of the great things about living in Tuzla during the winter is muncipal heating. They (the great they, don't know who they are but I love them) take the hot water from the cooling towers of one of the factories on the outskirts of town and pump it around the city. It works brilliantly, our heaters are always toasty warm and when the Russians turn off the gas pipeline to Europe as happened last January, it means that we don't lose our heating. Unlike Sarajevo, so that is one plus point for Tuzla then.

There is only a teeny tiny little problem. They (the great they, they are my friends, I love them, I hope they read my blog and take notice of what I am saying) don't turn on the heating until the middle of October. If it gets cold before then, you have to, well, tough it out.

Now, I'm not saying it is cold now - in fact it was a very pleasant 28C yesterday which is warmer than most of Britain for most of the summer. But, it is starting to get chillier. And temperatures in Bosnia often drop about 20C overnight. Today the estimated maximum is 20C. I don't know what the actual temperature is but it feels quite a bit colder than that as I've had to find jumpers, woolly socks and am drinking tea by the vat.

Two weeks to go until the heating gets turned on. Until then, here's to wearing scarves inside and hoping for the warmer autumnal weather to come back. Unless they are reading that is.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

A new use for the Naughty Step

A new use for the Naughty Step:

1. Loud burp by Mummy.

2. Chorus of 'Mummy! On the Step!' from the boys

3. Mummy retreats onto the step (with a cup of tea) for 10 minutes of peace, quiet and relaxation (sadly the full 37 minutes that my age merits is not an option). The boys sit wide eyed, thrilled with the egalitarian nature of the household where everyone has to go on the step for bad behaviour.

It is what they call a Win Win situation.