Friday, 18 December 2009

Things I have said to my children: The snowtime edition

It's still snowing here. I hear that it is snowing in England too. With luck, not too many of you will have to repeat what I found myself saying earlier:

- Look at all that snow boys! Lets go outside and play!
- Want to build a snowman?
- Yes we can throw snowballs.
- No, I prefer it if you don't put snow down my trousers.
- Before we go out everyone has to do a wee.
- Because once we have your waterproofs on it is very difficult to get them off. Much better to do a wee now and then we don't have to worry about it.
- Why are you saving your wee up?
- Because you want to make pretty patterns in the snow with it.
- Ok. Right. I think it is probably better if we do wees now. What happens if we were playing where you did a wee?
- Yees, we would be playing in yellow snow. That isn't a good thing darling. We don't like yellow snow.
- Are you SURE you don't want to do a wee?
- Ok, fleeces on.
- Luke - can you hear me? Come and put your fleece on!
- Luke! Stop taking the Christmas tree decorations off the tree and come and put your fleece on.
- What do you mean you don't want to go outside. Look at all that snow! It's brilliant playing outside in the snow.
- I know we played in the snow yesterday.
- And the day before.
- But it was great. We loved it.
- You're bored of playing in the snow?
- You know that it hardly ever snows in England. Think of all those English children who'd love to come and play in the snow right now. (realise at this point I am starting to sound like someone wittering on about starving children in Africa, with Bosnians the over privileged snow wasters and the Brits the snow starved charity cases - decide not to pursue this tactic any further)
- We are going to go outside.
- Luke, STOP pulling the lights off the tree.
- Where's your fleece gone Adam?
- Adam?
- Is that my bra you've got on your head?
- No, we can't pretend to be aliens and caterpillars. We are GOING OUTSIDE TO PLAY IN THE SNOW
- LUKE! Have you just fed one of the Christmas decorations to the dog?
- Ok, you have your fleeces on. Now lets put on our trousers.
- Luke, stop hitting Adam please.
- Oh just put your trousers on - both of you.
- Adam, don't hit Luke.
- Boots.
- Stop chasing each other, stop screeching, stop laughing at me and once I've put something on you DON'T TAKE IT OFF.
- You have to wear gloves. Your hands will freeze otherwise and they are best put on before your coat so that they keep you nice and warm. (oh sweet jesus, I have had enough of this. Shall I just let them go out without gloves and freeze their little paws off?)
- Who's just walked through the house with muddy boots?
- No, you are right, I did tell you to keep your boots on but I didn't tell you to go and get your Tractor Jigsaw.
- The Tractor Jigsaw is not going outside.
- Hats!
- Because it is -5C out there and you will freeze.
- I'm hot too. That is because we are still (bloody well) inside. If we ever manage to get out of the (f*cking) door then we'll be the right (f*cking) temperature. (deep intake of breath, forced smile and slightly weird manic staring eyes)
- We are going outside because playing in snow IS FUN (said through gritted teeth and with clenched fists)
- No we are not going to go to the Yellow House Pizza Place.
- Because we are going to play outside in the snow and because the roads are ice rinks and all the cars are slipping around all over the place and I don't want to drive ANYWHERE.
- Daddy wouldn't drive either.
- Ok, everyone ready? Phew it is hot in here with all our winter stuff on, lets get outside and play in that snow! (hmmm that wasn't great, but it is better than last year when Luke was still in nappies and he'd always do a poo just when we were ready to go out.)
- What do you mean to you want to do a poo?
- Um, no I'm not bashing my head against a wall. I'm just resting it a little.
- Have you been in the laundry basket?
- No we are not playing caterpillars and aliens with the one nice bra I own. Because we are not. Because it is mine and the one of the only things left that is sacred from the Before Boys era - only apparently no longer sacred - relegated to being a caterpillar head.
- Why have you taken your boots off?
- ARRGHGHGHGHGHHHHHHHHHHHHH Some one come and rescue me! I'm losing my mind - it is a form of Chinese water torture but worse because I have to keep on trying to be nice.
- That's a record boys. Only one hour from deciding to go outside to actually making out the door. (note to self: The boys do not understand sarcasm. It may make you feel better but it isn't big or clever. Grow up, act your age and rise above it.)
- See! It is such fun outside. Aren't we having a nice time.
- You've had enough of playing in the snow already? No, I do believe that you have to stay outside for at least as long as it took us to get ready to go out.
- Yes I like the summer too. Only a couple of months to go now.
- I can't wait either.

Enjoy the snow, you Brits.

(with thanks to Millenium Housewife who invented the Things I have said genre and writes them so much better than I ever could!)


Spare us a thought this weekend. We're off on our Christmas trip which involves an estimated 15 hour drive (in good conditions) through 6 countries. Current forecast: Snow. If it takes us less than 3 days to get there I'll be amazed. But we are passing through countries with good food on the way so we may get diverted to stuff our faces with all the things we can't get here.

Anyway, I probably won't be doing much on the blogging front until after New Years, so have a good one, all of you and try to stay sane. x

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A post in which it is obvious that I am English

Guess what?

(I'll have you know that these photos were taken at about 11am. It was snowing and really was that dark, has been like this for days. Continued snowing for quite a while as well. Above is the garden. Below, the view from the front door - when I say we live next to a mosque, you can see that we really do live right next door to a mosque... and have grown to love the call to prayer, even at 5am!)

IT SNOWED! And not a light namby pamby dusting of snow either. There's a good foot and a half on the ground and that was from one day of snowing. The forecast for today: Heavy snow. Tomorrow? Heavy snow. Friday? Heavy Snow. That's a whole lot of snow coming our way.
Being British and therefore not used to snow, I find this fantastically exciting. It looks so pretty! It is proper white fluffy snow, a powder dream for a skier and a snow ball dream for small boys. Although getting ready to go out is a real palaver, what with waterproof trousers, hats, scarves, gloves, snow boots and all, the boys want to spend all afternoon outdoors. So it is snowmen, sledging, snow balls and glowing red cheeks for us all the way. When they tire of that there is always a path that needs clearing or snow to be swept off the car, activities that could have been invented especially for small boys. And there I was thinking what was I going to do with them all winter.
The Bosnians are not so keen on the snow. They walk around huddled darkly in their coats, hands thrust deep into their pockets, muttering 'zima' (winter) and tsking. They know that snow is a total nightmare in reality. The roads are treacherous, the walkways become ice rinks and it is going to get COLD (max temp forecast for Friday, a balmy -6C). Their kids love it as much as mine do, there were a whole load of them going to nursery on sledges this morning, but the adults know that snow looks pretty for about a whole day before it just becomes a wet, cold misery.
They know how to deal with it though. There may have been 2 foot or so of snow, but all the buses were out this morning (as opposed to London's efforts in the snow fall last year), every single car has got winter tyres on (by law) and Tuzla, being the city built on salt mines, is never ever going to run out of grit to salt the roads with.
No doubt, by the end of the week when we are totally snowed in and the boys are bored of being wet and cold, I'll be fed up with it too. But right now, I'm loving it for being so pretty, so Christmassy, so indisputably winter.
(ps sorry about the lack of gaps between paragraphs, Blogger being a pain and not letting me do it and I've got bored of trying to make it...)

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Dog's Life

During the war here many people couldn't manage to feed their dogs so had to set them free to fend for themselves. This combined with a patchy government strategy for dealing with dogs means that there are a lot of strays around here. Really a lot.

For the past couple of months we've been sort of looking after one of them. Or, more accurately, she sort of attached herself to us, and we couldn't resist her. It's difficult to say what sort of dog she was, bit of German Shepherd certainly, but finer featured and not as big. Either way, she was a real gem of a dog. Calm, even tempered and ever so sweet she played hard with Jess and was calm with the boys. We wormed, ticked and flea-ed her, fed her some proper food and she began to shine. If we went to the shops she would come too, just touching our hands with her nose to let us know that she was there, then she'd wait patiently outside the shop for us to come out before trotting back proudly and beautifully to heel.

She won our confidence over time and I began to trust her. She was allowed to come inside the house in the evenings, but still slept outside. A couple of times we asked if she wanted to get in the car to come for a walk with us, but she didn't fancy that idea much, preferring to do her own thing during the day.

She could get in and out of the garden at will and settled into a routine of heading off to do whatever it is that dogs do in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. Occasionally I'd come across her on the other side of town (having crossed at least 2 major roads to get there). She'd come over to say hello, but again wouldn't want a lift in the car so we'd go our separate ways and she'd come back later that day in time for supper. We tried to block the escape route up, but she would just take it down again, not really wanting to be totally domesticated just yet. In many ways she was living the doggy dream, a house when she wanted it, but also the freedom to do whatever she wanted when she wanted it.

We asked around a bit and the slightly mad, dog obsessed bloke over the road (he of the tendency to put raw bones down the back of his trousers) knew some of her history. He remembered her litter, estimating that she was about 15 months old and had spent her life on the streets. No one owned her or was responsible for her, but he had christened her Belle, so Belle she remained.

We began to talk seriously about whether we were going to adopt her or not. Taking her back to Britain would be no mean feat, Jess is fully PETS passported up, but to get a stray dog onto the scheme would cost a fair bit of money and take a lot of time. We'd have to do things like Fed-Ex blood samples to the UK, that type of thing. But Dave went out one evening with both dogs, neither on the lead, and one stayed to heel the entire way whilst the other expensive pedigree dog that has had years of training had to be hauled out of the neighbours bins at least twice. We weren't sure about having 2 largish dogs in the house, but she was winning us over.

We haven't seen her for over a week now. This is very unusual, she was always one to be back in time for supper. The weather is cold and snowing, she would be looking for some warmth if she could. Maybe she'll turn up one evening looking for a treat, but I doubt it. She may have been hit by a car, the hunters that are occasionally employed to curtail the stray population may have got her. Possibly she found another family to take her in, maybe she just decided to hang out in a pack rather than with some humans. We don't know what has happened to her, probably never will.

I do miss her. Belle. I hope that you'll be back soon, tonight maybe? I desperately hope so, but deep down I doubt it; I think if you could have come back, you'd have been back by now. I hope you are warm and safe somewhere. But most of all I hope you enjoyed your time with us, I hope we made a difference to you. We will never forget you.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Kitchen Blues

There are many things that I will miss about Bosnia when we go, but one of the things that will not have me all dewy eyed with nostalgia will be our kitchen. Words cannot describe how much I hate our kitchen. Sometimes I go to bed cursing it.

I am of course massively spoilt. The kitchen is actually pretty big. There is a fridge the size of a small bathroom (thinking about it, I will miss the fridge. It is nice to have a big fridge). But, in common with a lot of Bosnian kitchens, there is no workspace. You think I'm exaggerating? Have a look at this. This is our entire kitchen and if I was any good at computers I'd draw you a nice arrow pointing out the vodka addled plums by the knives which have just been extracted from the plum vodka and ask for any ideas what to do with them. I digress, but any good ideas welcome in the comment box.

Things to note.

1. Look at the amount of workspace we have. Trust me, it is not very much.

2. There is no dishwasher. This fact in itself doesn't bother me any more. I'm so used to washing up that I actually am not even particularly bothered about having one any more. What does bother me is that there is nowhere to put the stuff that needs to be washed up. I mean obviously it goes in the sink, but once that is full it has to go on the (already tiny) workspace.

3. Hobs are electric. I hate electric hobs. Partly because I am a cook cook cook cookability kind of girl and love my gas hobs for the instant changes in heat, and partly because once you have used a hob it is on and HOT for quite a long time. You can't put pans on it. So you have to put them on the (really pretty tiny now as it is also covered with washing up) workspace.

4. I spend a lot of time whilst I am cooking dancing around with hot pots, sharp knives and muttering/growling that there is nowhere to put them down ANYWHERE! This isn't good for my sanity and doesn't make cooking an enjoyable experience.

5. I'm going to gloss over how close the electric points are to the sink (isn't this illegal and wildly dangerous?), how the drainage board plughole is actually blocked and therefore the water has nowhere to drain to and how the sink doesn't quite fit and therefore water spills everywhere whilst doing said washing up as, well, it is just me being narky and may be due to the fact that I went to bed last night still whinging over the kitchen.

So, obviously, although I'd have you believe that the kitchen looks like the above photo all the time, the reality is more like the picture below:

I'm so glad we are not ever going to have to attempt to cook a Christmas dinner on it. It is one of the world's great mysteries how Bosnian women manage to produce epic feasts at the drop of a hat and still have an immaculately clean kitchen at the end of it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Missing those Christmas tunes

I've had Christmases abroad but until we moved to Bosnia I had never spent a Christmas in a country which doesn't really celebrate Christmas*. Christmas Day is a normal working day here and I am finding it odd. I hadn't realised how ingrained into my psyche Christmas is and to be somewhere where Christmas doesn't really feature is unsettling. There aren't really any cheesy Christmas movies on TV. That special sort of Christmas smell, the gingery, cinammony, fir tree smell is lacking. I'm missing Christmas carols - hell, I'm even missing Slade and Band Aid.

I'm finding this most difficult around the boys. We may live in Bosnia, but they are English and Christmas is a huge part of their culture. They need to grow up learning about the nativity, getting excited about presents, enjoying the build up, the parties, the preparation and the anticipation of it all. There are no Christmas activities at their nursery, no nativity play, no shepherd's in tea towels, no Mary forgetting her lines and dropping Baby Jesus.

So we're trying to do it alone. They have advent calenders which are eagerly opened every morning. We put up a tree at the weekend, complete with decorated baubles and gaudy lights (note to self: never, ever trust the husband to buy the Christmas lights again - he may have had instructions for simple white ones that don't do all that flashing, but he disregarded it completely and with an evident enjoyment, before conceding somewhat later that night that all the flashing is giving him a headache). We're on a baking binge to try and get that special Christmas smell going throughout the house; this afternoons efforts will be gingerbread men, (but without the golden syrup, hoping honey will prove to be an adequate substitute). Tinsel is all over the place. I've got the radio tuned in to British radio stations to get carols and Christmas songs into their consciousness. We talk a bit about Baby Jesus's birthday, but to be honest they are more interested in Father Christmas.

We had Christmas in Bosnia last year, and loved it, but this year we are driving to Switzerland for the festive season. I'm very much looking forward to it. We will be seeing lots of family, eating food that we don't normally have access to and most importantly for me, having a whole country also engaging in Christmas festivities. I'm quite tired of doing all the Christmas atmosphere myself.

Having been the outsider for a few years, the one trying to celebrate a festival which no one else is really, I have far more empathy for those who are also find themselves in a minority. It is often wonderful, and the experience that we are having of living in a different culture are always fascinating, but sometimes, it is nice to be in sync with the rest of the country.

*this being Bosnia, obviously it is complicated. The Catholic Bosnian Croats celebrate Christmas, but they are concentrated in the south and west of the country. Tuzla is in the Northeast and although there are a some Croats here, it is predominantly Muslim and Serb. The Muslims celebrated Bajram earlier this month, and the Serbs follow the Orthodox calender, celebrating Christmas on January 7th. It isn't totally unChristmassy here; there are Christmas decorations around, the local supermarket Bingo has some really beautiful wooden ones that I am tempted to buy up for keepsakes and there are lights up in the streets but the sense of momentum towards Christmas so obvious in the UK is absent.


Obviously being in Bosnia we are also missing the panto season. Oh yes we are! This sadly means that we can't sign up for the Great Panto Review 2009 to help raise funds for NACCPO - the National Alliance of Childhood Cancer Parents Organisations who work to support children and young adults with cancer. But I would recommend anyone in the UK to check out the reviews, think about going to see one, and to donate if they can to this small organisation that is entirely dependent upon funds that they raise for its work.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Cards

Last year I couldn't find any Christmas cards anywhere, so we made the lot. Or rather, given that my boys were more into throwing the paint, I made the lot pretending that they were helping, whilst they ran around demolishing the play room. I remember the afternoon well, it wasn't one of my most enjoyable.

Anyway, I painstakingly crafted about 70 cards, wrote proper messages in them (not just a simple Dear x Happy Christmas Love Brit x but a proper message with news and everything) and spent a small fortune at the post office sending them all off (whilst the boys were taking years off my life by once again demolishing the cardboard cutout displays which is their favourite post office activity).

How many cards were sent to us last year? Four. (You know who you are, and can I just say I love you for it. Thank you! Thank you!)

So this year I've gone on strike. I'm not doing Christmas cards. At least I'm not doing Christmas cards for my usual recipients. This year, the boys and I are going to join the Amnesty International Greeting Cards Campaign and make some cards to send to a few people who have suffered from human rights abuses and who might appreciate a message of support. People for whom a handwritten, personal card means a lot.

So apologies people normally on my Christmas card list. I do wish you a very Happy Christmas and a very exciting, rewarding and enjoyable 2010, and I'll be in touch with you to say that. But this year our Christmas card efforts are going to go to those who will really appreciate it.

Anyone can join in the Amnesty Greeting Cards Campaign. They have listed 32 stories of people around the world who they are highlighting, (four of which have been specifically chosen as part of their youth campaign for children aged 8 and up). These are people who they feel will particularly appreciate personal messages of support. So if you have a spare card, think about sending one too. It will be very much valued and appreciated.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Dear So and So: Bosnian Version Part VII

It's Friday. Time for that moment to write some postcards to the people I have something to say to, and as it has been a while I have a lot to say. Right, who is first in the firing line?


Dear Jessie,

Although the weather has been filthy these past few weeks, it has been a joy to take you for walks. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no picnickers or people enjoying a quiet lunch in the parks, which means that you can't disappear for hours on end only to be found harassing some poor woman who is frightened of dogs. You would have a lot more fun walks off the lead if you would only learn that picnics are for people and not for dogs.

Your ever watchful owner,
Fraught Mummy


Dear Bosnian VAT authorities,

Has it ever occurred to you that for a company attempting to sell products outside of Bosnia, the requirement to obtain passport numbers or notarised copies of the investiture documents kills potential sales stone dead. Can you give us one good reason for having to have it? On the off chance you are actually thinking about why companies don't want to invest in Bosnia, I'd recommend starting with this little piece of needless bureaucracy.

Yours, not sad to be leaving the red tape,


Dear Bosnian Nursery,

I know that we are not really in a Christmas celebrating area, so I'm not expecting Christmassy type things to happen. But if you are going to have a Father Christmas come and visit the kids and hand out toys, doesn't it make sense to have him come before Christmas?

Yours, a little confused,


Dear Boys,

Given that you are the running, jumping, shouting, wrestling, thumping variety of boy, it did bring a tear to my eye to overhear you telling the other that you loved them. Then to see a voluntary hug nearly had me howling. I don't know if you have decided moments like these are all the more special for their rarity, but my goodness me it was a special one for me.

yours with an extra special hug and kiss from your Mummy,
Mummy xxxx

PS - particularly nice touch to do it as several Bosnian Grannies were walking past, who all smiled approvingly and gave me the rarely obtained look of what lovely children you have. I did like that. x


Dear Bosnians in the post office

OK people. I know I am British and therefore am born knowing how to queue, but seriously, have you not learnt this skill yet at all? Do you realise how difficult it is for me to stop 2 boys from dismantling the cardboard cut out display whilst running laps of the post office and causing the security guard to threaten to throw us out again, let alone fight for my spot in the queue? If my attention is diverted for one second from elbowing my place to the front it shouldn't mean that I have to get sent to the back of the milling crowd again. Bosnian Grannies, may I take this moment to say - you are the worst offenders!

Yours, tutting in a way that only a British person can,


Dear Luke,

To wake up at 5.30am, see you with your pyjamas round your ankles, bottom bared, and hear those fateful words 'I did a wee all by myseff' was alarming. To realise that you meant in the loo was thrilling. You are a little superstar.

Lots of Love and hugs
Your ever so proud Mummy

PS - the period from 5.30am to 7am when you systematically stuck your fingers in my ears and nose, singing and whacking me over the head with a water bottle was not quite so thrilling. The next stage is obviously doing a wee all by yourself and then going back to your own bed for more sleep.


Dear Bosnian Authorities,

We are going home in April. Can you not just extend the visas, car import licence, right to work etc. for 2 months rather than force us to go through the whole rigmarole all over again? Come on, have some pity here! Please? Ok, how about just the car import licence? Just thinking about starting the assault on all the bureaucracy again makes me want to cry.

A big GRRRRR directed at you all,


Dear Tuzla,

Your new playground is great. Really it is a playground to be proud of (and my goodness me did you need a playground here!). But, did you talk to any Mums before building it? It's just that to reach a lot of the equipment you have to go off the paths, and at this time of year that means heading through Somme-like mud, the kind that doubles the size of your shoes in under one minute. This then gets all over the playground equipment. Any mother in Tuzla could have told you this will happen.

Yours, grumpily that having finally got a playground to go to, it is only occasionally usable this time of year,


Dear Outside dog,

I have no idea where you go all day. But I did spot you on the other side of town yesterday when I nearly ran you over as you ran out into the traffic. Do be careful.

Yours, ever worrying that you will not be coming back this evening,


Dear Dave,

It was a cold. I had the same lurgy. It wasn't that bad. Seriously.

Your loving but rolling her eyes at the heavens wife,
FM xx


Dear tenants of our English house,

I'm not going to write much as you never know who might be reading. But just to say you signed the contract. You must have known you were planning to move out earlier than expected.

Yours, not wanting to be a real pain, but really asking us to not mind if you don't pay a couple of months rental is rather hopeful,


Dear English School and County Council,

You have been legends in your own time. Thank you for agreeing to take us on, thank you for finding us a place and thank you for not minding too much all the too-ing and fro-ing. I promise to not cause any problems again. Well for at least a couple of months.

Thank you thank you,


Dear Bosnia,

You know we love you, particularly your people who have just got the best sense of humour and can make me laugh and laugh. But right now, what with the weather, the red tape and all, we are feeling a bit ground down. Can we have a couple of days that remind us how much fun it can be here?

FM x


I feel better already. Anyone else wanting to join in can - just remember to head over to see Kat at 3 Bedroom Bungalow and sign up.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

It's a small small world

So, it turns out that in the office next to Dave's works a guy that I once knew at University. Last time we had a conversation was probably somewhere around 1994. Bearing in mind that Bosnia is hardly the worlds most visited destination and Tuzla doesn't top the list of most visited towns in Bosnia, you can understand our surprise at seeing each other. Just goes to show the world can be a very small place indeed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


One of my least favourite things about some Bosnian parents is their propensity to think that teaching their children to swear is funny. Now, I'm no angel on the swearing front, I try to contain my expletives to 'oh blast' or 'ffffffffiddle dee dee!' and similar, but occasionally the ability to stop my mouth moving before the words come out goes missing. I do try hard not to swear in front of my children as I do not think children swearing is in the slightest way funny, cute or amusing.

Most of the time the Bosnian children swearing doesn't really impact me. I mean I can swear a bit in Bosnian, but most of the insults just form a part of the series of sounds that I don't understand. But when Adam comes back from nursery and suddenly yells at Luke 'eat my pooo-see', I suddenly have a problem on my hands.

Luckily for me (and much like Nappy Valley Girl's boys) he is in a real toilet humour phase so has developed this particular insult to be 'eat my poo'. I'm less fussed about this, it is something he could have come up with on his own and as we have discovered that the only way to get him to eat Spag Bol is to tell him that it is made up of worms covered with worm poo, I can see why he is thinking the way he is. I've had a few conversations with him about not saying nasty things to other people, but keen to not draw attention to this particular phrase I'm ignoring it completely and hoping it will soon be forgotten.

I am interested to know though what others have done to stop their children from swearing, and also from any Bosnians who might be able to clarify whether I'm right in thinking that some people think it is funny to teach children to swear and whether they also like to teach them to swear in English.

And a late shout out for people wanting to check the latest British Mummy Bloggers Carnival - it went up last week over at A Mother's Ramblings, if you haven't already been over there, then skip over to check out the stories from the parenting front line.