Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Did you know…?

...that ‘touch wood’ (or American ‘knock on wood’) comes from pantheistic religions where trees, rivers etc were supposedly inhabited by spirits or deities. To touch a tree was to seek the spirit's blessing and/or ward off its wrath.

Monday, 25 August 2014



‘I got you some cherries’ - he said when I called and caught him in Tesco’s in the middle of a weekly shop. I smiled and something so long forgotten that almost unfamiliar stirred up in my chest and a flurry of butterflies filled my stomach.

The weekend before I told him I liked cherries and that they reminded me of my childhood. What I didn’t say was that to me cherries smelt and tasted of sun, and innocence, and home, and mum…

When I was growing up in Ukraine there were two cherry trees in our back garden. Every spring they would explode into blossom filling the garden with the fresh, clean, flowery smell, the smell of spring. Within a couple of weeks the blossom would fade away making the way for new tiny cherries. They grew and before we knew it, these babies would ripen up under the hot Ukrainian sun giving the tree an injection of red.

This is where my brothers and I would appear. Like a little army of hungry invaders, who had never seen cherries in their lives, we would pillage the trees, plucking and eating the cherries straight from the low hanging branches. Hardly any of the cherries made it to the table for family consumption – the trees were bare within a matter of days after the three kids raid.

But by some miracle mum would always manage to salvage some of the cherries and those used to make it into varenyky, Ukrainian stuffed dumplings. They bear a slight resemblance to Cornish pasties, but only in their shape. The traditional varenyky in Ukraine would be stuffed with either mashed potatoes, or stewed cabbage, or sweetened cottage cheese. But every summer when the berries were in season we would stuff varenyky with cherries and/or strawberries.

The varenyky making process on 3 Tolstoy Street involved the whole family. Mum would make dough and cut it into shapes, my brothers and I would stuff the varenyky and dad was in charge of boiling them, tossing with butter and sprinkling them with sugar (if they were the sweet ones).

They of course had to be eaten straight away while fresh and hot. The big bowl full of varenyky would be placed in the middle of the table and five forks would reach into it.  I still remember the sweet smell, the sugary, buttery coating, the way they would explode in my mouth with hot sour berry juices.

My baby brother would lick the sweet butter coating and chew the crust until he had no choice but to bite into a varenyk and prepare himself for a sour berry explosion in his mouth. (Although the explosion not always happened in his mouth, and I can still see his cute little face covered in red berry juices).

Those were the years when the happy childhood memories were created. The memories of summer, sunshine and cherries; when I was carefree, didn’t have to work, pay the bills and could sleep for as long as I wanted. The magical years when mum was alive and healthy; the long hours spent in the kitchen where she taught me to cook and to bake; and told me fascinating stories about her childhood. I still remember the smell and the warmth of her rustic but very happy kitchen…

A few hours later I was sitting in the conservatory having dinner with my own new family that I was creating the happy memories with. We were talking about school grades, scooters, DeeQ’s new girlfriend and making plans for the weekend. As the evening was progressing, the grown-ups moved on to the second bottle of wine and the negotiations with Little Dude over eating all the vegetables. The usual after-dinner entertainment involved boys playing the music as loud as possible, singing along and dancing.

And as I looked at the boys, so happy and carefree, I couldn’t help but wonder, what memories would they take away from our family time? What smell or taste, or sound will bring them back to our family dinners?  

That evening we all shared the cherries; I don’t know whether it was the long forgotten taste of my childhood or Little Dude sitting on my lap, but as I reached to my neck and touched mum’s wedding ring that I wear on a chain as my lucky charm, I realised I was finally home. For the first time after leaving Ukraine I was home again.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Did you know?...

...that ‘to bark at the wrong tree’ (meaning to misunderstand something or to look for something in the wrong place) goes back to at least the early ish 19th century.

During hunting a dog would chase its prey up a tree. But the game would often escaped by leaping from one tree to another. The dog would stay at the bottom of the trunk and bark at the wrong tree.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Did you know?....

That the story of ‘let the cat out of the bag’ started centuries ago at the farmers markets in England. Buying a pig those days was quite a costly affair. A dishonest merchant would put a cat in the bag instead of the pig and the poor buyer wouldn’t find out until he got home and let the cat out of the bag

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Did you know?...

...how the word ‘loophole’ came about?

It all began in the late Middle Ages. A loop was a narrow window in a castle that an archer could shoot through, but so narrow that it made it almost impossible for his enemy to shoot back through. This became the loophole.

Today the expression 'to find a loophole' simply means to find a forgotten condition in a law, 
agreement etc. that allows to interpret and  get around another condition(s)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Did you know?...

The expression 'cold shoulder' (meaning, to feel unwelcome) has got nothing to do with barging someone out of the way. In times gone by, an unwelcome visitor would have been given the cheapest and most common type of food: cold shoulder of mutton.

Monday, 18 August 2014

In the life of a new stepmum there are huge milestones that nobody ever talks about.  Nobody ever warned me that I would get a flutter of butterflies in my stomach the first time I heard ‘love you’ from the boys; that the most responsible I would ever feel  was when  entrusted to spend the night with them and get them to school on time. And nobody told me that attending a primary school leavers assembly play would make my mascara run like the Niagara Falls.
That Monday night as I walked into the school hall, I felt I had entered into the sanctuary of parenthood. There were parents, siblings and grandparents chatting away, discussing the ‘big’ schools their little darlings would go to, checking the cameras, and excitedly waiting for the play to start.
The performance began. And when my little Romeo appeared on the stage, I got that flutter again and out of the blue my eyes started welling up.
His performance was outstanding, he hit every single note and he sang like an angel.  My eyes were on him, I didn’t see any other kids. I kept catching his eye, smiling, giving him the thumbs up – anything I could do to let him know I was there.
My heart was swelling up with pride. The tears were stinging my eyes but I felt I had no right to shed them. I wasn’t there to send him to school for the first time, I hadn’t spent long hours doing homework with him.  And seeing him on stage felt almost unfair, someone else should’ve been here. This wasn’t my place.
As I looked around at all the mums openly wiping their eyes and loudly blowing their noses, I suddenly had a strange feeling I was living someone else’s life. I felt out of place in the hall full of ‘real’ parents whilst I wasn’t a ‘real’ mum; I hadn’t given birth to him and I wasn’t there for him through the school years. I stepped in when his real mummy was ripped away from him by a horrible illness.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, was I given the right role to play? Did somebody mix up the addresses and send me the wrong script?
After the play all the kids went to get changed and I stayed mingling with the parents. Even that felt wrong. Talking to mums about ‘how quickly they grow up’ I felt a lump in my throat. Because I didn’t know how quickly they grew up, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t a real mum.

Suddenly I wanted to leave, jump on the train and go far and fast. I could no longer bear the sight of ‘real’ parents, I felt like a fraud.

As I started saying my goodbyes I suddenly saw him. He was now changed into a pair of shorts that I’d hemmed for him and a t-shirt that we’d picked out together.

He beamed as he saw me, I could no longer hold my tears. I knelt in front of him and hugged him, freely shedding my happy tears and telling him how proud I was. I held him tight - for every tear he cried, for every big moment his mummy wasn’t there, for everything I couldn’t say to him. And he hugged me back.

As I finally broke the embrace and looked at him I realised that I got the right script after all, I was born to play that part.  I was where I should be – holding the little boy who needed me. For the first time the prefix ‘step’ in the world ‘stepmother’ got blurred.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Why was DeeQ crying?


Why Was DeeQ Crying?

I quietly opened the door to find them both cuddling on a single bed, my favourite boys in the world - a father and a son. But before I had a chance to make my presence known I heard a sob, a doleful sob that resonated in my heart.

DeeQ was crying whilst his daddy was comforting him. He was missing his mummy who passed away a couple of years ago. Only 20 minutes earlier DeeQ was laughing his head off.

It all started with us all arriving home late after a party. Instead of being a responsible adult and getting the boys into bed, for some reason (which is no other than an undisclosed amount of good old Sauvignon Blanc) I found myself in DeeQ’s bedroom laughing and making jokes with him and his little brother.

A few minutes later I was giggling and sliding down the stairs on my bottom making everybody laugh. All the boys quickly joined in, sliding down on their fronts scraping their arms and legs leaving them with painfully looking carpet burns. But in spite of self-inflicted injuries, we were laughing so hard that my stomach ached.

And now DeeQ was weeping uncontrollably, pressed against his dad’s chest. Something about sliding down the stairs triggered a memory that was long forgotten.

Hot silent tears were rolling down my cheeks too and my heart went out to the boy who became my family, who, by the twist of fate, became my stepson. My instinct was to move forward, get into bed with them to give him a cuddle, but I simply couldn’t move. I froze on the spot unable to even breathe, let alone move.

I knew what DeeQ was going through. The pain of losing his mummy mixed with unexpected memories he thought he long buried, was tough enough to swallow. But adding a twist of daddy moving on with someone else and a splash of a girl in the house who was not his mummy made it into one hell of a cocktail, especially for a boy on a verge of puberty.

My memory drifted to 2006, to many nights that I spent in my own single bed crying myself to sleep. When my mum died just a day before my birthday, four months before my wedding and my dad remarried within a matter of months, I was inconsolable too. 

The longer I stood there, the more I felt like an intruder witnessing a private moment of grief between a boy and his father. And for some reason I suddenly felt guilty, and not just for being there but for being alive. The boy was crying his heart out, missing his mummy terribly while I was there, healthy and alive, and not his mummy.

I silently shut the door - the third important man in my life, Little Dude, was calling me to say good night to him. He kissed me on the lips and said he loved me, our little bedtime routine, and then he kissed a photo of his mummy above his bed. Somehow in his little heart he found a place for both of us, his mummy and his stepmum.

As I got in bed by myself that night I couldn’t help but worry, would DeeQ ever be really ok with having a stepmum and not resenting the fact that his mummy was gone and I was there? He never said anything to me but I knew the ropes of losing a mum and dad moving on all too well.

Within seconds I fell asleep. That night I dreamt about DeeQ and his mummy, about my mum; the carousel of my memories tangled up with DeeQ’s stories – it was a night of broken sleep and raw emotions.

In the morning DeeQ told me he came looking for me much later that night, wanting a cuddle, only to find me asleep. I must’ve been doing something right, I thought, silently breathing a sigh of relief, as I a hugged my boy burying my face in his hair, hiding a smile.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Wardrobes Vs Relationships

Wardrobes Vs Relationships

There is virtually nothing in a girl’s life that can’t be solved by a bottle of wine or a shopping trip – both shared with a good girlfriend.

A few weeks ago on a rainy Saturday morning both, my girlfriend Lora and I, found ourselves in need of retail therapy. Me, because nothing fitted me anymore, and her, because of boyfriend troubles which meant she was after some shoes. You know, the ones, they cost half of your salary and say I-am-fabulous-and-he-is-an-idiot.

We arrived in the first shop and I picked up a few items in my usual size 12.  In the changing rooms, as I was trying everything on, Lora filled me in on the major argument she had with her boyfriend and presented her dilemma as to whether or not she should stay with him. But as big as her problem was, mine was no less important – nothing from my selection fitted me. The skirt was sitting on me like a hip scarf on a belly dancer casually dangling off my waist, and the trousers I could easily pull down without undoing the fly.

As I stood there half listening to Lora and half wondering why on earth nothing fitted me, it suddenly dawned on me – I’d lost some weight recently so why not try on size 10? Now, I have never been a size 10 before so the prospect of fitting into anything that says size 10 was actually giving me butterflies. I asked the shop assistant to get me my selection in size 10 and… everything fitted like a glove. On the way out I was so excited, I nearly kissed the helpful girl. She hated me – she was size 18.

Hours and many shops later we popped in to a little Italian for a spot of lunch. My shopping bags featured old faithful M&S, New Look and Next, while Lora was carrying bright pink House of Fraser bags with two precious pairs of full retail price LK Bennetts.

But no amount of designer shoes could make her feel better - she loved him but the arguments were becoming more and more frequent and the relationship was stumbling.

That weekend I did a serious wardrobe clear out. And as my no-longer-fits pile was growing I realised how attached I was to my old clothes and how sorry I was to see them go. I felt like I was losing a part of me with each item; and when I was done, the pile was enormous and my wardrobe virtually empty.

I couldn’t help but wonder, in relationships and wardrobes, why do we keep sizes that no longer fit us? Whether it is a baggy jumper or a dead relationship, why do we not leave it behind and go shopping for stuff that actually fits?

Lora popped in later that day and as I was putting my clothes into a black sack ready for a charity shop run, she asked - ‘Aren’t you going to store them somewhere? You know, in case you need them again…’

So I had a choice - to box everything up and store somewhere or get rid once and for all and cut all the connections with size 12. I chose the latter. Stupidly or bravely, I decided to move away from 12 and towards 10, no looking back, no safely net, no back up.

A pizza and 2 bottles of wine later Lora made up her mind to leave her boyfriend, kidnap the dog which they had a joint custody over, move back to Eastbourne and start all over again. Except I knew she wouldn’t do that.

That night as I was getting ready for bed I opened my wardrobe, and although it barely had any clothes in it, I felt happy. I didn’t have much but I had exactly what I needed and in the right size.

I went to bed feeling content and happy. As I was turning the lights off I texted my boyfriend good night. Lora called hers, apologised for the row and got back together with him.

Friday, 1 August 2014



There is that one dreaded appointment in a girl’s diary that makes her wince every time she thinks about it. ‘Is it that time already? Didn’t I just have it done?’ –  a heavy sigh at the prospect of the inevitable. Because as much as you would like to, you can’t postpone/cancel/pretend you don’t need it/acquire a magic power/cast a spell on it, and  have no choice but have a shower, get dressed and drag yourself  to that waxing appointment.

And it’s not just because waxing itself is rather an unpleasant procedure but because you are required to expose parts of your body that come under category ‘Restricted Personnel only’.

There is a saying in Russian ‘красота требует жертв’ which means beauty demands sacrifices.  And I couldn’t help but wonder if whoever said that actually meant that very experience of hair being mercilessly ripped off your body with melted wax, procedure bearing a faint resemblance to a medieval torture, in the name of the very beauty in question.

But although the experience in itself isn’t exactly what one would call relaxing, it really isn’t half bad. And with the right attitude and the right person you can be set free, from the unwanted hair that is. I remember my first waxing exodus with my current beauty therapist.

It was a cold November night. One of those nights when you yearn for layers and layers of jumpers, with the feet cosily wrapped in woolly granny socks, topped with a blanket while clutching a steaming cup of tea and munching on anything stodgy and with as many calories as possible, because who counts calories when it’s this cold?! That very night I arrived for my first waxing appointment.

After the pleasantries were over we went to her beauty parlour which was pleasantly warm, courtesy of a little portable heater in the corner. In fact, it was so balmy in there that I immediately forgot the cold outside and was more than happy to bare all.

When it comes to waxing etiquette and getting undressed , the biggest question a girl has to face in front of a new waxing beautician is knickers on or off. Up until that moment I have always kept my knickers on so when she casually dropped ‘Oh, just take them off, they will only be in the way’ I suddenly felt really shy. And I’m not a shy person, ask the girls in the gym!

‘I can do this’ – I thought. And with a light air of bravado I slipped off my little thong and climbed on the couch. I was now laying there wearing nothing but my top. There is something very unnatural about wearing your top but not your bottom. Even when getting dressed, I always put my knickers on first and only then, my bra. So to be on the couch wearing my top and nothing else below my waist felt very odd. 

And then she started waxing. I knew the drill here, I was an old waxing veteran – wax applied, then a strip, skin stretched, the strip ripped off and voila – a bit of my body hair free for 4 to 6 weeks.  She kept chatting to me while meticulously applying-stretching-and--ripping which put me at ease and I stopped feeling conscious about the lack of underwear and complete exposure of my lady parts to absolute stranger.

And as I became almost-comfortable, out of nowhere came something that took the whole experience to a completely new level - ‘It’s not a very good light here, let me get the lamp’. The use of lamp was a completely new and a tad alien experience to me;  a) I felt shy and the last thing I wanted was more light on my ‘keep out’ area, b)I didn’t think the light was that bad c) did I mention I felt shy?

The lamp was living in the opposite corner from the heater and looked like a love child between spaceship and a medical theatre – steel, slick and ever so slightly scary. I don’t know whether it was the lamp itself or the idea of its intentions but I suddenly felt nervous and uncomfortable; however I had no choice but to trust my beautician.

A couple of minutes later I was laying there:  no knickers, with my legs in the air and what felt like the Sun itself shining brightly at my area 51 and my new beautician bent over that very area, like a surgeon, waxing and tweezing with scientific precision. I think it is safe to say that up until that moment I had never ever felt so exposed in my entire life. Or ever since for that matter.

The thing is it strangely felt ok, and I think it was a combination of factors - of the girl not pausing for a breath and talking like there is no tomorrow whilst going about it in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it almost felt normal to be laying on a stranger’s couch with no underwear and with my  legs in the air.

Before I knew it I was done - de-haired, moisturised and feeling pretty-damn-good. And the feeling of being exposed, uncomfortable and almost-humiliated melted away like yesterday’s snow when she gave me a hug as I was leaving, wishing me a good week with the next appointment in 4 weeks time safely in our diaries.

On the way home I realised that I had just had the best waxing experience of my life and had discovered the holy grail of hair removal having met the Waxsiah herself. That night I got saved. From the unwanted hair. And it really wasn’t half bad.