Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Outed! Expateek's fashion splash!

Everyone's Ok, in fact nobody's been writing, phoning, emailing, texting, to ask about my latest fashion tips. 

I know you're all thinking it, though. You're just dying of curiosity, and you can't bear to ask, because you don't want to appear too too eager. So I'll make it easy for you, because I am such a doll, and I don't want to hide my light under a bushel.

In case you forgot what we're talking about, here's a little reminder.

"Expateek! We know you don't actually shop at Etam, really. And we love the dress you were wearing up at the spooky hotel in Leicester! It's so fashion forward! It's all about polka dots! It's so brown! (Wait, how do we know that? The pix were in black and white. Ok, forget that.) But just tell us. Where on earth did you find it?"

"Was it from Harrod's? Or Bloomingdale's? Oasis? Or even Miss Sixty? Peek & Cloppenburg's? Where? Where? Where!!??!! Please tell us where, so we can go get one for ourselves! Not that we're copying you or anything, but that dress is just too cute for words! We'll call you first if we ever want to wear it out, to make sure we don't accidentally show up at the same event in the same frock. But pleeeeeease?"


Ok, no more begging. Expateek is going to give you a hint.

Turn on your TV, and tune into any channel that advertises for Sainsbury's. You will see the very dress splashed all over the screen, on the mum who's too busy to shop for clothes anywhere but in her local grocery store. Yup, that's me! (Or rather, the dress.)

Only twenty quid, just pick one up after the parsnip/root vegetable section and before the lager aisle.

Oh and it's stretchy too so you can grab some Peanut M&M's as well.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Romanian real estate

Mr D and I always like to look at real estate while traveling. We speculate about what it would be like to live in this town or that city, and how much it might cost, and whether anyone would come and visit us there, and so on. And then we just go to museums and walk all over God's green half-acre and forget about it the whole idea, until we go to the next place. It's a good thing we don't have any spare cash (too many kids at university!) or we'd own something or somethings all over the planet.

While in Bucharest, Romania, we happened across several properties that looked promising. I'm more of a city gal, so this is what I was planning on bidding on.

Notice that it's even for sale. With a sign in English.

Check out the cute upper floor solarium, perfect for receiving guests for late afternoon tea (or drinks after 5). Note the security gate and the lovely row of birch trees in the back courtyard. Disregard the Chinese dragon and the huge lighted advert case. I think it used to be a restaurant or a whorehouse.


Of course, after purchasing this property, there wouldn't be much money left over. But Mr D would still need a place to live, wouldn't he? Don't worry, I wouldn't leave him out of the picture, would I? No way. Especially since he's the one who earns all the dough. So I also thought about a place he might like to live.

He's the country mouse, so I found this one for him. It'll be pretty comfortable once he gets used to it. 

After all, as he is always telling me, he really doesn't need much room. Why, all he really needs is just one little suitcase! How conveniently he forgets the 20,000 pounds of stuff in the moving van: apparently all MY junk. Oh, to be so footloose and fancy-free. I envy him. 

No, I don't envy him. He's just delusional.

One more thing to note: this property even has its own power supply. Wow! Blow, wind, blow! 

Don't worry about him. Mr D's an engineer. I'm sure he can hook up to the internet somehow.

Friday, September 26, 2008

NOT about Poland. Again.

I realise this isn't about Poland at the moment. Bear with me. I'll be back in Warsaw on Sunday.

Today we're rippin' up the museum scene in Bucharest (i.e., we're going to museums here in Bucharest). 

Mr D almost got us kicked out of the National Museum of Romania this afternoon. Easily done by answering his mobile phone in the 19th century Romanian Paintings Room using his "outside voice." This is also known as his cell-phone voice; I'm really not sure he even needs a mobile phone since he is audible at least into the next country without it. 

Why not just shout, Dear? No one really minds. It's just an old museum, after all.

This morning I also went to the house of a friend of a friend of a friend here in Bucharest (hi Gail! hi Tricia! hi Susan!) Welcome to the small world of expateek, where everyone knows someone who knows someone else who actually used to live next door to the sister of someone who is now your/my next door neighbor. 

Or something. Someone/something in Singapore by way of Aberdeen on the way to Bucharest.

Or was it Nigeria? I forget. 

But anyway. This was to help do some baking for Susan's 40th wedding anniversary party. You go, girlfriend! Way to stick with a "man plan"!

No idea why I was allowed to touch anything in the kitchen as I am a rubbish, high-anxiety baker who can't make any kind of sauce without creating lumps in it. Gah.

But mainly, we want to say.....

Happy Anniversary to Susan! And many, many more....

(Top secret carrot cake recipe, I think.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

OMG. I have ... ellipsis syndrome!

Darnit! Just when I thought I was all better....

I was reading something about writing a couple of days ago, and I began thinking that I really ought to do a better job of editing my work. I had been so pleased with myself because I managed to eliminate about 99% of the ellipses [...] in my essays when I put them onto the blog. 

Those ellipses do sort of smack one in the face upon re-reading. (If by "one", one means "you", with the "you" actually being "me". If you know what I mean. I think.)

(Get me an EDITOR, stat!)

But then this article was going on and on about how the words "actually", "really", "you", "so", "because", "very", and a few other words were just really like totally overused. I figure, if I cut out all of those, then my blog is only about two pages long. Oops! Damn.

So anyway. (Hey, that one wasn't listed!) (The "anyway" part... unfortunately, "so" was....) (Oops! More ellipses... God! This is awful! I have to get a grip!)

Forget all of that. Let's talk about Romania. 

Let me tell you what I've learned so far.

Apparently every single person who still knows how to sew clothing has moved to Romania. And they have brought every single fabric store and every single button shop along with them. Which might explain why you can't find a fabric shop in Warsaw to save your life (truthfully, I haven't tried that hard, but whatever.) 

The end result is that you can't move two feet down any street without peering into yet another fabric shop. Then there's a whole street of wedding gown dressmaking shops, which didn't move me emotionally since I bought my wedding dress on sale for $75.00. Never mind that it wasn't what I had in mind and it wasn't especially flattering. The important thing is, it was cheap. Like me. Oh hang on, I didn't really mean that.

I was going to pull an "Annette"* today. This is where you just pull the covers up over your head and loll about until noon, order room service, and don't do anything at all cultural or edifying for the whole day. Nothing intellectual at all. Reading is only allowed at the bare minimum -- Jilly Cooper novels or similar fare. Nothing in French. No Polish grammar review. No. Nothing. Maybe go to the gym about three if you feel like it. 

Here's Annette. 

She's lots of fun. She's allowed to exhibit this kind of travel behaviour because she used to be a Playboy bunny. Bunnies can do whatever they feel like. Right? Right!

I think I'll probably go look at the gym about three o'clock. Then we'll see.

However Mr D, cleverly I thought, didn't make me my Novotel instant coffee this morning, which I believed to be a sly ploy on his part to force me to get out of bed. 

After finally making my own coffee and getting dressed and putting on makeup and eyeliner (long process with no magnifying mirror. I probably look like Amy Winehouse right now. Yuck.) I thought, "Oh, I'll do a little shopping." 

I walked to the big shopping mall in downtown Bucharest, which looks promisingly massive from the outside but is actually the most bizarre bazaar I've yet seen. It was a strange mixture of old and new, of stalls and shops, of brand-name clothing and stuff your Romanian grandmother might have made for you when you were about fifteen years old. If you had a Romanian grandmother. I tried to get excited about all of it, but failed, so I walked home to the hotel. (What is it saying, when I refer to a hotel as "home"??)

I went to the hotel gym and in fact worked out for 40 minutes, which counts as major self-improvement since I've mostly been sitting around surfing the internet lately. And exercising my phalanges

Doesn't that sound exotic? Ooooh, I love it when I speak Latin. (I mean Greek!) Latin is so.... sexy.

Ok, not really, but Mr D took Latin for two years in high school and I'm trying to make him feel better since he totally overdid it last night and is suffering today. Which explains him lying face down on the hotel bed, in the dark, at the lunch break.

You know those corporate dudes. Total party animals!

Clearly, this is also why he failed to make my coffee this morning. And that's 50 points off on the PBMPI scale. 

Poor baby. He's down: -48.5 (PBMPI). And he feels like cr*p. 

Bummer. Maybe he can try harder tomorrow.

*Annette [both the concept and the actualisation of the same] is copyrighted, registered, and trademarked, and may not be used in whole or in part by other parties not party to the "party agreements" with the original party-er... which would be Annette, after all. Party girl extraordinaire! Where's the white wine?? Ohhh, those bunnies!

Bag 0' Spiders, from Romania


You could be forgiven if you thought there might be lightly toasted spider exoskeletons inside, if and when you chose to crack open the small pod-shaped thingys in this photograph.

But you would be wrong!

Because you mentally added an extra letter, in your mad enthusiasm to get to the point.

It's "ARACHIDI", you fool, not "ARACHNIDI"! Big, big difference here in Romania, and don't you forget it. Jeez, learn to read!

Mister Nut (the manufacturer) and Mona Lott have warned you. 

And if you don't know "arachnid" is Greek for "spider", then I just feel sorry for you. 

But you're already probably pretty good at Romanian. You just don't know it yet.

For example, you can read this, can't you?

Sure you can.

It means, don't block the damn entrance. Easy.

Or this.

Umm. Maybe not.

Mona Lott... what a MOANER!

That's my new name. Mona. Lott. Because I moan. A lot. Mr D thought it up just today after I told him I was rating him using the new Points-Based Measuring-of-Performance Indicator (PBMPI) that I've just developed, and that he got only got 1.5 for his early morning joshing around. 

Grumpy, I guess. (Me...) The instant Novotel hotel coffee he fixed for me kind of half got me into the right frame of mind again. Kind of.

When he inquired about my new rating system he said, "Do I get to start at zero?"

Me: "Of course!"

Him: "Perfect. That's all I can ask for. I was worried I was already in the hole."

Damn. I should have thought of that. Could have started him at -500. Never mind. 

Anyway, now I'm gonna moan some more.

Because I'm miserable.

You know that crummy feeling you get when you discover that you're not the only one that's (pick one): bought the dress in the front window of Etam; created a Facebook account; started a flippin' blog, or -- let's face it -- breathed today....?

I missed the boat/train/plane, and not by just 3 minutes, like the other morning in Wokingham, but by a couple of goddamn years.

I'll blame it on being out of the country (which country were we talking about?) and not watching the news, and not keeping up with trends, and just being a generally self-absorbed techno-phobic mentally-challenged expatriate mother-of-four, among other things.

So how come nobody told me about blogs, fer Pete's sake? Until like last week? And that there's 80 billion of them and most of them were started about 4 months ago? No, scratch that. Four years ago. Jeez Louise. I feel like a fool! Blogs about this, blogs about that... I should have realised that more than twelve people were blogging when I saw a couple of articles in the New York Times

But no. I thought it was just me, and maybe like six or perhaps seven other brilliant chicks also writing. 

This is that same crazy feeling I get whenever I travel, taking the cab ride to the airport. I see all the homes and apartments and businesses and offices and people and everything along the whole ride to the airport... and think, "My God, look how many people there are! All doing stuff! Living in houses! Driving! Working in offices! Heavens! I'm actually NOT the center of the universe!"

How in the world did that happen? I'm shattered. Just shattered.

Time for a shot of Żubrówka to kill the pain. It's the only way forward in middle-to-eastern Europe.

(Take no notice of the fact that this bottle is empty. It's an old photograph. Really!)

Mr. D? Loves flying? Not so much....

Because sadly, once we landed in Bucharest, his ink pen exploded all over his trousers. He has just had the worst luck lately with pens!

He is a very very clever man, however. Knows how to save the big bucks. Here's how it's done.

While we were flapping around in Duty-Free in Warsaw, I tried on a couple of perfumes.

"Whaddya think of this?" I asked.

"Hmmmm. Smells like Off! bug spray to me."

It was Chanel No. 5. (Actually, it really does smell like Off!  He's right. Great marketing plan by Off! manufacturers; not so hot for Chanel, though.)

So apparently, he's not only deaf, but he can't smell either. So how's he going to find me in the dark?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Eight layers of clouds

Yup, we flew up through at least 8 layers of clouds yesterday morning, as we left Warsaw. 

And here's the narrative play-by-play...

Clouds are so deceptive and mysterious. From the ground, it's just a solid mass of low grey sky-stuff. Just one flat woolly blanket of gloomy weather.

We take off in the jet. The view of the rapidly receding landscape -- airplanes and buses and roadways and air traffic control tower -- is suddenly obliterated by thick cotton fluff outside the window.

Then suddenly we're up and above that soft loose grey layer. I can see yet another ceiling of clouds overhead. Once through that, the air seems lighter, but there's still no sun to be seen. Three more repetitions of the same, in short order, with cloud layers of varying textures and densities. Lots of swirling, whirling white.

Especially because this photo is totally out of focus.

Now there's another flat ceiling of clouds much higher above, but after piercing through that, it becomes clear that it wasn't flat at all. Instead it's huge piles and hillocks and heaps of cloud, which we're flying up and through and between. I can now see for miles and miles and miles, and other far-away planes look like mere specks amongst the beautiful masses of white. 

But there's still another layer of cloud far above. This could be the last level? Through that one, up and up, and above that? It's simply wispy mare's tails.

I love to fly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This is the way we wash our clothes....

....if we're having a bad day.

Poor Mr. D! Here he just went and suggested the "Mr D metering device", so we could take a poll on his popularity and his overall suitability in the good husband/bad husband standings. And now look what's happened!

He accidently ran his good writing pen through the washing machine with all his work shirts. Blue ink spots everywhere. Tragic. It wouldn't be so awful, except that, like most men, he also doesn't like to shop. At all. So replacing them is only one of several simply horrible options. Not to mention the cost of doing so.  

I feel very sad for him.

Luckily for me, I'd had the good sense to procrastinate about unpacking my suitcase yesterday. And then I slept in this morning, so none of my laundry was in that batch. Phew! 

See? Real rewards abound for those who are slow and lazy!

Fortunately, I'm a whiz at stain removal. To be fair, he did come in to Google for inkstain answers, but I'm the one who found the hairspray in the drawer upstairs. I got him going with that stuff, and ... well, at least some of the stains are history. 

Time, and another go in the washing machine, will tell.

The hideous aftermath of the ink-pen apocalypse. Notice hairspray instructions in Polish. 

I can see you out there....

Wow, those "Hitchcock" hotel photos started creeping ME out. And I published 'em. I need to get a new post up here, and fast!

I'm back in Warsaw for a minute or two, enjoying what feels like late autumn. We've turned on the heat. (Well, Mr. D actually did it. I profess to not know how.) I'm wearing my fleecey little (truthfully, huge) Finnish slippers and thinking about having a fire in the fireplace. (Mr. D can do that too, after he does the washing and the ironing. He has a lot of work to do today!)

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about how to improve this blog. Mr. D came up with a great idea, which I'll go into in a minute, but if you have suggestions, feel free to comment. I love getting feedback and I never pout if it's criticism. 

Almost never.

So hello to readers out there in Independence OR, Broomfield CO, Manchester UK, Gdynia PL, Halifax, Krakow, Waynesboro and Charlestown MA. Post a comment and let me know what you think.

And what is the Husband's suggestion? He proposes we have a "Mr. D meter", where blog readers can rate him on a scale from "butthead" (his word, not mine) to "brilliant". Then we publish graphs and statistics, and apply Six Sigma principles and do Power Point presentations and apply for copyright and license the intellectual property and develop a franchise and make a YouTube video and ... you get the idea.

I'm not so sure. 

Because then this blog might become "all about him". 

When of course it's supposed to be all about ME!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hitchcock films. Sheesh, again??

Nothing seemed amiss when I checked into the hotel in Leicester. Okay, it was never going to be the Old Winter Palace in Luxor, or the Sofitel El Gezirah in Cairo, not for £56 a night.

"Just one night?"

"Yes, please."

"Okay, luv, here's the key. Room 21. Breakfast's from 7 to 9. Room's up two flights of stairs."

I took the key and started toward the stairs.

It all looked rather dilapidated and everything was a little worn at the edges, but for £56, I wasn't going to complain too much.

And then I saw the sign...

It seemed rather ominous. That and the fact that everything was suddenly only in black and white. 

I looked up. Well, just a suitcase and my laptop bag. It wouldn't be too bad.

Made it to the first floor. One more flight of stairs...

Yes, and Room 21. And .... the "Honeymoon Suite".  All just one more flight up.

Interesting place to spend one's honeymoon, no? In Leicester, no less. Ah well, it takes all sorts, I suppose.

So one more flight of stairs. My breath was coming in gasps now. Partly due to the effort, partly due to the fright I was giving myself, hearing that mysterious music playing in my head.

Down a narrow hallway, to the room. Room 21. I went inside and turned on the light.

I turned toward the mirror, and....

Oh my god! My God!
Oh Nooooooooooo..........!!!!!

The shock! The horror! This is where I'll be sleeping tonight! 

Shall I ring for room service?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beauty. I love it!

Wow. What a lot of news. Last kid off to college on Saturday. The same clever daughter who also passed her driving test earlier the same week. I kissed her g'bye this morning, dusted my hands off, dropped Mr. D off at the golf course with his suitcase and a plane ticket, and then I hopped into my car for a hell-bent-for-leather ride from Edinburgh to Leicester.

It's not a straight shot, but no road trip ever is on this lovely green isle.

I tore cross-country from Edinburgh toward Lanark, eventually joined the A74 to Carlisle, and enjoyed the scenery from then on.

Every time I think I've seen it all, and that I'm bored with it all, and that no one has anything new to show me... well then I go round some corner and my eyes pop wide open all over again. You know how you see those old etchings of Scottish landscapes, with wide flat shimmering rivers curving away across meadowed valleys?

You think, "Ach, whatever! Just another old trite aquatint. Bo-ring....."

But then you come round a curve in your smart little red Peugeot (still missing a hubcap) and there it is, that very river, and you know it's just stuffed full of salmon, because there's that stereotypical fisherman standing at the bend of the river in his waders, with the water riffling past him in those shallows.

Man, what could be more beautiful?

Maybe the Lake District?

Velvety green fields and huge, tall, round-topped velour hills, with every shepherd's plot crossed and crossed again by hand-built gray stone walls. The fields seem designed to slope up and away from you, as if God had shaped the land so that as you sped by, you could count each and every sheep or cow dotted across the landscape.

Don't mind me. I do take pictures while I'm driving. I'm sure it's against the law, but they haven't legislated it yet, so bear with me.

But the last moment of beauty.... Well!

I hope you're sitting down.

My friend Annette has informed me that this landscape icon was a true thing of beauty in its time... the place to be, and be seen. And indeed, it still cuts an arresting silhouette as you fly by on the M74 past Morecambe and Lancaster.

But hold your breath, now, because you are about to see and experience a 60's/70's moment...

Tell me it's not the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Okay, so we are at last here in Edinburgh, taking Miss T to uni. She's all gung-ho and everything, and we moved her into her residence halls and bought her groceries and blah blah blah. The usual "moving in" experience.

This afternoon, we thought we'd climb up the huge hill/mountain directly behind her rooms. (The University of Edinburgh is nothing if not scenic!)

We climbed...

and climbed more....

paused to catch our breath, almost at the top...

And when we approached the very pinnacle, we heard "Nie! Nie! Przepraszam!" in that newly familiar language.... Polish.

And here at the very top of the mountain are a bunch of Polish boyos, havin' a beer!

I was going to ask them to take the bag of empties off the monument so my photo would look nicer, but couldn't figure out how to phrase it.

Meanwhile, back down at our hotel, the two reception girls are from Jo'burg South Africa, and Poland, respectively.

The world just gets smaller and smaller every day.

The Firth of Forth lies beyond our group of jovial drinkers. And it didn't rain at all, despite the gloomy clouds.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How to stay warm in England

This method works really well, especially for expatriate South Africans who just cannot get adequately warmed up in cold and drizzly old England.

You run the dishwasher.

When the drying cycle is completely finished, you quickly open the door and bend down to get the full effect of the hot blast of steam coming off the dishes.

Then you collapse in a fit of giggles.

This is Elna, my fav expat huisvrou/boermeisie, who lives in Bracknell and misses Pretoria a lot.

No more "Driving Miss Daisy"

Miss T passed her UK driving exam the other day, and now has a full driving license. Who knew this day would arrive so soon? She even succeeded on her first attempt. Amazing, as the UK has a 42% pass rate for first time test-takers. Of course, she won't be doing too much driving in the coming year, as she's off to university this weekend, and freshers aren't allowed to have cars. Good thing too, as I think the insurance costs might just break us!

Just 19 years ago, Mr. D and I were plotting out financial scenarios involving the additional cost of sending a potential fourth child to college. A nice bar graph kind of thing, with bars for 2002-2006, 2004-2008, 2006-2010, and then 2008-2012. Kid 1, Kid 2, Kid 3 ... and now maybe Kid 4. We ran the numbers all kinds of ways, factoring in different amounts of money saved per year, and costs of college, and so on.

None of it made any sense. And in spite of that we went ahead and had that fourth kid anyway. Why not, after all? Life is short and children are wonderful.

And what a joy Miss T's been. She's beautiful and clever and grown up now, almost, and today's the day we drop her off for her first day of school at University of Edinburgh.

Who knew this day would arrive so soon?

I'm feeling more than a little bit welled-up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Unusual Olympic Sports

First, here's a photo of the All-Human Equestrian Event at the Bosman home.

My friend Janice was asking me what sport I'd take up if I were going to really seriously try for an Olympic medal.

You know. Seriously. As one does when one is still in the prime of one's life.

(Hold the laughter, thanks.)

"Rowing? You did that at university. Or perhaps swimming? You have swimmer's shoulders -- bet you'd be good at that!" I shrugged my shoulders. Janice and I had just completed a highly competitive afternoon of bowling at the lanes in Brighton, and our sporting souls were utterly stoked for even more sport, even after a full afternoon of crashing pins and careening bowling balls.

Janice, raking slender fingers through her short red hair, reckoned she'd take up fencing. All that nimble footwork and the clash of metal on metal! The swish of the rapier through the air! The swirling green cloak and the fine brown leather boots and gloves.

(Hang on, wrong century. Back up.)

So anyway, what would my sport be?

I would have to say.....

"Olympic-standard serial marathon Visiting!"

This involves taking airplane flights to wherever, and moving in with selected friends for periods of three days up to several months. (The last three years have given me a lot of practice at this noble enterprise.) I do visit friends at short notice, and for any length of time. Three days here, 6 days there, a week and a half on occasion. I try to be a pleasant guest, and haven't been kicked out of anyplace yet. At least, not that I noticed.

And so here, right now, is a huge thank you to all the friends who've put me up over the last few years. I owe a LOT of people. Big time.

A big shout out to Mary O, Ronalee, Kris J, Martha, Elna and Nollie, Emma H, Sooz and Don L, Sandie B, Mom & Dad, Fiona M, and most recently Janice.

You may have been a part of helping make my Olympic medal hopes and dreams come true!

Monday, September 1, 2008

29 years, but who's counting?

If there's one thing Mr. D always gets, it's gold stars for discipline and consistency.

Hardly ever forgets a birthday or an anniversary, and always draws his own cards. His artistic style hasn't changed much over the years, but that's one of the more endearing things about him. He goes crazy and mixes it up sometimes -- adds a butterfly or two, or deletes a bird. But in his pictures, the golden yellow sun is always shining, and the clouds always have silver linings.

And yes, 29 years. We have had a few ... moments ... shall we say, where things looked like they were all going to go horribly wrong. Luckily for me, Mr. D just ignores my whining and moaning, and everything irons itself out in the end. Another benefit in having a disciplined and consistent husband: he's in it for the long haul. The little day to day stuff just doesn't seem to faze him.

The other good quality he has? Apparently he's about 90% deaf! What more could a girl want? Works for both of us. I complain, he carries on in blissful tranquility.

Ahhh. The joys of marriage!

Got wood?

There's definitely a chill in the air. It's only September 1st, but you can sense the change of season already. The light slants in the windows at a longer and longer angle in the morning. The branches of the neighbor's apple tree hang heavy with fruit. Bees find their way indoors and bump feebly against the glass trying to escape, but eventually give up and expire silently on the sill.

And everyone's preparing for winter. Out in Eastern Poland, every house and farm had wood stores like these. Sends a little shiver down the spine already, doesn't it?

Or perhaps the opposite: it evokes an image of a blazing hearth, snow piled high outside, slippers warming by the wood stove, and hot drinking chocolate waiting to be sipped.

Ah winter! Bring it on.