Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Canada Blog

I've decided to start a new "sub-blog" to deal with Canada-related posts, starting with our current trip to activate our visas. There is a link to it on the left of this blog, or click here.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

6 more sleeps - till our holiday!

Olga and I are still beavering away at work, but Lara finished school for the Christmas holidays today. My last work day should be tomorrow (fingers crossed) and Olga will finish on Friday. However, exciting thoughts about our holiday are creeping in, such as thinking about what to pack when the predicted temperature in Calgary on Christmas day is a low of -27 deg C and a high of -7. On a warmer note, I've just been looking at the brochure for the events running at the hotel where we're staying for three nights over New Year: Christmas & New Year activities.
I daren't think about any more parts of the holiday yet, it's distracting me from finishing work that needs doing first!
More posts about what the us and kids have been up to before we leave, I promise!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Happy 5th Birthday Lara

 It was Lara's 5th birthday today, and to celebrate she invited some friends to our house after school. We organised an Entertainer - "Dozy Dave" - and had the usual party food and cake afterwards. It went very well, so much so that Lara wants to book Dozy Dave for her next birthday, and is working on who she should invite.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

More about Lara - an Oscar, maybe?!

Lara's school nativity play will be Whoops a Daisy Angel; whether it's a coincidence or not, we haven't asked, but the kids will be performing it on Monday 10th December, Lara's 5th birthday, and she will be playing the lead character!
She's had to bring home a script, so we've been practising her 7 lines, although when I came over all Steven Speilberg last night and tried to go through some lines with her, Lara clearly knows them all already from rehearsals they are doing at school, and gave me the full-on Prima Donna, I-know-this-already, who-do-you-think-you-are? treatment.
Even before we knew she was going to have the main part in the play, we'd looked into what drama classes there were locally, as Olga had done drama when she was younger, and enjoyed it. So as a happy coincidence yesterday was Lara's first drama class, and she enjoyed so much that when asked if she would like to stay for another hour and do "musical theatre", she did that too!
I wasn't there, and parents weren't allowed in the room where the lessons were taking place, so we're relying on Lara telling us what she did, which she's reluctant to do, but she wants to go again, and it keeps her entertained for a couple of hours after school one day, so that's fine with us. She'll miss her next lessons because they'll fall on her birthday, but she will have been in a play that day anyway.

So, time to get down to Ladbrokes and put some money on a Winter Olympics Gold medal and an Oscar. But which one first?!

Lara & the 2022 Winter Olympics??

Lara is progressing steadily with her skiing, she passed Level 3 on Sunday, and starts Level 4 next Sunday.  It's at this level that things can start to get interesting, as she will be learning to turn - so far everything has been about controlling her speed and balance. She's not the fastest in her little group, but she rarely falls over and seems to be in control most of the time. The most important thing is she is still excited about going to lessons, and hopefully as she continues to improve and progress her desire to want to ski more and more will develop. A holiday in Canada in three weeks time can only help that, even if we don't go skiing ourselves we'll certainly go and visit some ski resorts.
Given that it's unlikely we'll be able to ski in Canada, we wanted to give Lara the chance to enjoy another Winter sport that will be easy to participate in, so she is also having ice skating lessons now! She started 3 weeks ago, with one-to-one lessons with an instructor called Kirsty at Altrincham Ice Rink. So far she's had two 30 minute lessons with Kirsty, and one session with Olga in between, just for fun. Much like the skiing, Lara seems to have really taken to it, and was all smiles during and after her first lesson, which was key to seeing if we booked any more lessons. It's all gone so well that she'll have 45 minute lessons from now on with Kirsty until we go on holiday, which should get her to a level where her and Olga can skate together while we're on holiday, which will be lovely.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Danny's Firsts: Antibiotics, Nursery Time and Teeth

Last week Danny had his first trip to the GP for an illness - he developed a high temperature, and was sick a couple of times, and whilst he showed no other symptons of being poorly, it was enough for the Doc to prescribe antibiotics. This started 3 days before he was due to have his first settling-in session at his new nursery, so we delayed that by 24 hours before we were sure he was on the mend. The antibiotics worked very quickly, bringing him back to his usual self within 48 hours.

So on Thursday last week he had his first settling-in session, an hour with Olga in the baby room with him, and he was a little clingy, which was to be expected. On Friday he had an hour in the room whilst Olga and I filled in a multitude of forms in another room, and he was fine then, and even had some tea and half a pot of yoghurt. This didn't work out quite as hoped, two hours later, back at home, he was covered in a rash. It didn't seem to bother him at all, so we decided to just monitor it, but by Saturday afternoon it seemed to be getting worse, and a blister had formed on his lower back, so Olga called NHS Direct. They reassured us that it didn't sound like it required any emergency treatment, that it was most likely a reaction to the yoghurt, or possibly it was chicken pox! Now we're a few days past that, it's not developed into chicken pox, and it's receded on its own, so we'll assume it was the yoghurt, so we'll keep him off that for a few more months.
On Monday we left him at nursery for an hour, and he was fine, so on Tuesday Lara came with us to drop him off in the morning, before school:

He could have stayed all day there, but we thought half a day would be best, so after his post-lunch nap Olga brought him home. Today he stayed until 4pm, and only slept for 15 minutes during the day, which is a lot less than he would normally have. It didn't appear to affect him, he was happy all day, and just had a 30 minute power-nap once he got home. We'll see what time he wakes up in the morning though!

His other news is his two lower front teeth have arrived!


I've worked out how to add a twitter feed to this blog now, so this should allow me to post smaller but more up-to-date news and photos.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Lara's Skiing Progresses

Today was Lara's second of three Stage Two lessons, and they progressed farther up the beginner's slope, making it as far as three-quarters of the way to the top. The kids are supposed to be trying to achieve and maintain a good snowplough, and most of the time Lara succeeded, but not always, but I think that's about par for the course. She ought be to be going from the top of the beginner's slope next week, and assuming she survives that, without falling all the time, and is able to hold a decent snowplough, she should be OK to start Stage Three the week after. Those three lessons are still on the beginner's slope, but if she passes that stage, then Stage Four starts to introduce them to the main slope, and when she reaches that point, I might just explode with pride!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Smiley Kids

 Just a quick post to show off some photos we took of the kids this week. Lara wanted to see if her and Danil could fit in her carrier, and Olga bought Danil his suit for our Winter holidays, which is 12-18 month size and he pretty much fits it well now at 7 1/2 months....
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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Holiday Plan #2 - France

We've not got one holiday out of the way before we go and book another!

Since the skiing has been going so well, we really wanted to have a trip to Europe this winter, as much so Olga could enjoy the scenery as so we could try out our skiing skills on some proper slopes. I'd hoped we be able to tag along with my sister's annual family ski trip, and she must have read my mind, as she suggested exactly that a couple of weeks ago.

So, we're all off to Put St Vincent in France, close to the border with Italy, during the Easter school holidays in late March. Lara will be in ski school with her cousin Elizabeth, and there is a creche for Danny, so the grown ups can have some quality time on the piste. Yes, I said piste.

The holiday company is called Snowbizz, a family run English enterprise, and it's totally geared towards English families, which takes the stress off us having to sort out childcare in a foreign country. We'll be staying in an apartment block which is advertised as "ski-in, ski-out", which removes another hassle of long walks or buses to and from the lifts. It's the block to the left of this photograph:

We'll be flying to Turin from Manchester, and Catherine, Nick and the kids will be driving. With another special guest - our mum is coming too! Not to ski (famous last words!) but to enjoy the sights and fresh mountain air, and maybe the odd glass of vin chaud :-)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Busy Saturdays

We don't seem to have much "down time" at the moment, there always seems to be something to do. After bringing the last of our stuff up from High Wycombe over two weeks ago, we've hardly touched those boxes. Whilst work is keeping us nicely busy in the week, we're making sure we go skiing at least twice a week in the evenings, and then there's Saturdays... so far October's Saturdays have been hectic to say the least. Lara has had her Stage 1 skiing lessons for starters, which she has passed (all six children passed, so long as they can stand up on their skis, they pass this level; it's Level 2 when they can be failed, they need to maintain a proper snowplough...), then we had our trip to Wycombe. The Saturday after that Olga and I took the dogs to a dog trainer for some one-on-two coaching to see if we can't improve their behaviour around other dogs. They weren't completely useless, and gave us some hope that one day we'll be able to let them off in a park, they can go and play with other dogs, and come back when we call them. The weather that day was lovely, and on the spur of the moment I decided to whisk the family off to Blackpool to see the illuminations. It's only a 45 minute drive away, we did all the important things - we saw the Tower, some trams, we went onto the beach (we didn't paddle, the tide was way out), Lara soaked herself in pools, I took some photos, Lara had a ride on a donkey called Paddy (£2.50 for anyone wondering what the going rate is for a donkey ride on Blackpool beach is these days), we had fish and chips in a cafe, Lara had an ice-cream despite the rapidly-lowering temperatures, I got fleeced in an amusment arcade trying to grab Lara a new cuddly toy, we got fed up of the crowds on the prom on a Saturday evening and we came home. In a way I'm glad Olga saw it on a Saturday evening, just as the stag parties and hen do's were getting started, it made me glad I never took her there for a romantic weekend, it's just not that kind of place. Anyway, we came away with some nice photos:

Then this last Saturday, after Lara's skiing, it was a quick trip into Manchester's Trafford Centre, my first visit to this huge shopping centre. We set a personal best, being in and out in under 30 minutes, with only a random pair of jeans for me, and our new camera, which was the whole point of going in in the first place. My old DSLR is on its way out, giving me errors when I really need it to work; I've had it for almost 10 years, so it's done a great job, but it's been replaced by a "bridge camera" - not an SLR as such, but more than a compact camera. It's a Sony DSC-HX200V, and it's brilliant. I can take 3D photos, it has GPS logging, and can even take photos automatically when it detects a smile (a normal smile or a BIG smile, I can set its smile-sensitivity!). Anyway, I'll not go on about it, but the photos below are taken with it. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, dashing out of the Trafford Centre before we bought anything else. Then it was straight onto Chester, where there is a sports clothing shop that had a ski jacket we wanted Olga to try on. Plus I wanted to see what Chester city centre was like, and it's lovely. Then back to Bury, for a bit more shopping (still can't find Olga the perfect ski jacket) before heading in Bury in the evening for the annual "Festival of Light" show. We didn't know what to expect, but it was busy. Some fairground rides, some market stalls, firebreathers, fire throwers, plenty of Romanians hawking battery-operated torch toys for the kids (yes, Lara got one, it was impossible to say no).
So far we have no plans for this Saturday. We've booked Lara's Stage 2 skiing lessons for Sunday mornings now, so we can have the odd night out on Friday without having to get up at 7am on Saturday! We're up early tomorrow morning to try out "pre-work skiing". The slope opens at 7.30am on Wednesdays, so we're going over there to see what it's like to ski when the snow is fresh...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Holiday Plan #1 - Canada

As part of our Permanent Residency visa process, we must activate our visas before May 31st 2013, although we don't have to actually move by then. We're going to activate them by going on holiday to Canada over Christmas and New Year - we're now constrained by Lara's school holidays. After much agonising over different itineries and timings, and whether to use a travel agent or not, we've decided to book it all ourselves, and we're flying out on Christmas Day! Besides having the cheapest flights around that period, we also hope the aeroplanes themselves will be less busy, given the plan includes a 10-hour flight and a 5 year old and a 9-month old (by then) might kick up a fuss en-route.
The schedule is an morning flight from Manchester to Amsterdam (avoiding Santa's sleigh if he's late heading back to the North Pole), a 90 minute break there, then a 10-hour flight to Vancouver, where we will have to complete the immigration / visa activation process during a 2 hour 20 minute stopover, then a 1 hr 15min flight to Calgary. We've booked a hotel near the airport for two nights, so we should arrive there about 8pm on Christmas Day night, in time to watch the Canadian equivalent of the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special, before spending Boxing Day splashing around in the hotel's water park (indoor!).
We've not yet decided exactly how we'll handle the whole travelling-on-Christmas-Morning-instead-of-opening-presents thing with Lara. We think the only way to do it is to bring Christmas Day forward by 24 hours, after making special arrangements with Father Christmas. We can still have the whole turkey dinner thing on Christmas Eve, and Lara can open her big presents then, and I dare say there might be a little one left over for her to open on Christmas Morning, probably 2 minutes before our taxi arrives to take us to the airport. I hope the KLM staff will be all Christmassy, it might make for a more enjoyable flight for Lara. I expect the in-flight meal will be turkey.  I'm sure the Queen's Speech must be broadcast to the Commonwealth, and I'll have to catch a re-run of it, as 8pm in Calgary will be 3am Boxing Day at home.

View Canada Holiday in a larger map
After Calgary we drive to Canmore, pausing to have a look around Cochrane on the way. Both of these places are towns we're considering to live in once we make "the move".
We're going to stay for three nights in Canmore; we'll drive up to Banff for a day, and spend the rest of the time trying to get a "feel" for the town.

It'll be 30th December when we leave there, and we head to a lodge hotel pretty much in the middle of nowhere for the next three nights - the Delta Lodge Hotel in Kananaskis. This was the first hotel we found when we started thinking about a Canadian holiday, as it has a really good, family-orientated New Year's package, with a slap-up dinner on New Year's Eve and a brunch on New Year's Day. They arrange lots of things to do for the kids, and it's right next to the ski park developed for the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, if we feel like hitting the slopes for a few hours. We can only do that one at a time though, so the other one looks after the kids, so we're not planning on doing much skiing, if any. There is sledging, ice skating, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing (with the kids in a pull-along trailer behind Olga - well, she's the expert!) to try out as well. This is the lodge in Winter:

 Though this photo gives a better impression of it's seclusion:

We leave there on the 2nd January and drive back to Calgary, hopefully to do some shopping. We'll stay one night in another hotel near the airport, then we fly home on Thursday 3rd, from Calgary to Amsterdam then Manchester, arriving back at lunchtime on Friday 4th. This gives Lara the weekend to recover from any jetlag before starting back at school on the Monday.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The girls' skiing lessons

Lara had her first proper skiing lesson last Saturday morning, she says she enjoyed it, and wants to do it again, which is about as much as we can ask for. She's starting at Level 1, she has three lessons at this level, then moves onto Level 2, and so on. I've booked her place on the Level 2 course today, so I hope she continues to enjoy it!
Olga is making great progress with her lessons, in fact she'll be having her final lesson - Level 9 - this coming Sunday. Here she is making the most of a quiet piste on a midweek evening when she was between levels 6 and 7:

And on that note, it's gone midnight now and my alarm is going off at 7am (on a Saturday morning) so we can get our snow angel to her next lesson. It'll all be worth it........

Danil-tishooooo! Bless you

Olga picked up a nasty cold last weekend, either when we went out for her birthday meal in Manchester with Lucy and Sergei, orwhen we went down to High Wycombe so Lara could go to her best friend Zoe's 5th birthday party, and we could catch up with Zoe's parents, and clear out the last of our stuff from storage. It was great to see Lara and Zoe play together, and they were inseparable all afternoon, but they managed to say goodbye to each other without any tears or tantrums. Hopefully it'll not be too long before they see each other again.
It was only a matter of time before Danny caught it too, but getting to 7 months without a cold is pretty good, but it is also a reflection on how we don't socialise with Danny as much as we did with Lara. She was forever being taken to the pub, but we don't do that with Danny, and Luda is doing such a great job of looking after him during the day that we don't want to change much, but she stays at home with him most of the time. He starts nursery 4 days a week in a month's time, so between now and then we'll get my mum more involved in looking after him, to get him used to her - she'll be looking after him on Mondays once Luda goes home in November - but also so he goes to busy places and gets used to strangers being around, complete with their germs.
His transition onto more solid food is going well, he's eating every two hours, and Luda has a good system going, with Olga just topping him up when he needs it. He's had a couple of disturbed nights this week due to his cold, but nothing too outrageous.
He's still extremely smiley, he sits up perfectly well now, he's starting to roll over on his own, and there's the faintest sign that he wants to crawl.

Bear Grylls? Eat your heart out

Olga got me a great birthday present: a weekend bushcraft course in Oxfordshire! Building my own shelter, sleeping in the forest, preparing my own food, which meant turning a wood pigeon inside out on my first night, before gutting and filleting a trout for lunch on Saturday, and skinning and chopping up a rabbit for dinner. There were classes on foraging for food, firelighting, knife safety, shelter building, trapping and water purification.
There were 15 blokes and 1 one woman on this course, and we were blessed with perfect late summer weathe, and I even survived a Friday AND Saturday night without a beer...

 Where I slept on the first night - we built our shelters on Saturday morning

 My shelter takes shape

 Cooking our gutted and filleted trout. I even practised my skills on trout from the fish market when I got home!

 Lead instructor Martyn shows us how to deal with a rabbit. I brought the feet from my rabbit home as good luck charms for Olga

The instructors and some of the customers on the Sunday morning

The idea behind it was that when we move to Canada, I would like us to be able to go out and do the whole "wilderness camping" thing, and this showed me that I could gut a fish, skin a rabbit and get the meat from a wood pigeon, amongst all the other great things we learnt. I might never need to do it again, but if I'm ever in a situation where I need to, now I know I can.

Plenty to catch up on...

Well, another 3 weeks or more slip by without a post, so there's a lot to catch up on. We're just finding that weeks are sliding past without us really noticing - before we know it, it's Friday again. Sometimes that's a good thing, but not when you'd like to blog about what you've been up to that week.
So it's easier to search years from now, I'll do a few shorter posts rather than one long one. We are finding this very useful for checking up on when Lara reached milestones as she grew up, so we can compare to Danny. Apparently she got her first teeth showing through at 8 months; Danny is 7 months tomorrow and no sign yet. Any excuse to put a photo of him up! We staged this one to compare with one I took of Lara when she was about the same age:
 (sorry that Danny one is all wierd looking, my phone wouldn't take a normal photo!)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Our New Hobby - Skiing

The move to Manchester has put us within a 20 minute drive of the Chill Factor-e (the "e" should be pronounced as if it were a "y"!) indoor skiing centre.  Given our move to Canada, and our hope to be within an hour's drive of some nice skiing in the Rockies, west of Calgary, we thought we should use this handy coincidence to get everyone up to the same standard of skiing. Chill Factor-e helped us decide this by having some very good offers on in September, like half-price lesson courses.
My skiing is OK, after three or four holidays between the ages of 13 and 25, and I just needed a refresher lesson (Chill Factor-e called it a "What Level Am I?" lesson) to find out that I was around their level 9, and considered "Advanced".
Olga has done a lot of cross country skiing in Russia, but no downhill skiing, and of course neither has Lara. So they had their own "taster" lessons, and from there Olga had a beginners lesson, then a whole day of beginners lessons, which took her from Level 1 to Level 3. Over this last weekend, she had two half-day "Improver" lessons, which took her through Levels 4, 5 and 6. She is already booked in for the "Development" lessons for Levels 7, 8 and 9, starting at the end of September.
I felt it would be helpful for me to have some lessons, so I came along with Olga last weekend and did the 2 half-day Development lessons while she was on her Improvers course.
We're really enjoying it, we're addicted! We went on our own last night, after the kids had gone to bed, and I wish I had my camera handy at the end, as Olga was the last one off the piste, snowploughing elegantly and in perfect control with the whole slope to herself.
Lara really enjoyed her taster lesson, so we've booked her into their "Kids Ski Academy", which gives her one 50 minute lesson a week. We book them three weeks at a time, and she starts her own Level 1 course at the start of October. The postman should be bringing her new skisuit tomorrow!
Here she is just before her taster lesson, and a short video of her in action (you will need to maximise the video and replay it a couple of times to enjoy it properly):


Here are some photos from last Sunday, when Olga was on her Improvers course and I was on the Development course.
Olga dispenses good advice to her fellow learners
Olga knows she needs two poles! This was taken before she set off down the hill on a one-pole exercise.
Chris: All the gear and almost no idea.
We'll be going there at least twice a week we hope for the rest of this month, so Olga can get the most benefit from her Development course, after which we should be at similar abilities and the skiing just gets even more fun. Then comes the joy of watching Lara learn too!

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Half a birthday and a First Day at School

Today was a big day for the kids. Danny is 6 months old today, and here he is trying to escape from his ring:

He's a big old lad, and 2 weeks ago we started weaning him on to baby rice & porridge, and since then we've introduced jar food too. He's still on mother's milk too, but his reliance on that is diminishing. He's sleeping well, or at least he has been until last weekend, when he started a trend of waking up at 5am rather than 6.30am. It's most likely something in his feeding, so hopefully he'll go back to giving us a solid 12 hours once he's on bigger portions of food.
He's a very happy chappy, only skriking (I can say that now I live back in Bury) when's he's properly hungry, and even then his cries are a little muted rather than ear-splitting.
We've got a nursery place sorted for him, starting in mid-November, for four days a week, and he'll bond with Grandma on the other day. Baba Luda returns to Russia at the end of November for a well-earned break!

Then there's Lara. Today was Day #1 at Springside Primary School, about a 10 minute walk away. She has been getting very excited about this, all the more so since we bought her the school uniform 2 weeks ago. She couldn't wait to put it on this morning, and we took the obligatory photographs (and one video!):

The school is having some remedial work done at the moment, but Lara's classroom is brand new, so we're not complaining about a little bit of disruption outside, when her room has all the latest facilities. It would have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall there today, but we had to do with Lara's rather breathless account of what she'd done when we went to collect her at 3.30pm. She'd baked some fairy cakes for us, she had two friends (one boy and two girls, apparently, leading to a recount on the number of friends), and from her description we think she had a chicken burger, beans and chips for lunch, with vanilla ice cream for dessert. I suspect Jamie Oliver will be straight round once he reads this post. I do suspect the chances of her having free-range chicken breast (skin off) with organic vegetables and a low fat mousse for dessert are pretty low, but hey, it's what I had at school and I stayed skinny and healthy (until I got a proper job, that is).
We're deploying bedtime rules for the first time, having been pretty laissez-faire about it until now. She is to be in bed, ready to go to sleep, by 8pm on a school night, and at the weekend, we'll just play it by ear. It takes me ages to bath her, wash her hair, dry it and brush it, and after starting the bath at 7pm tonight, it was still 8.15pm before I left her reading a story (a made up one, she can't ready yet!) to one of her cuddlies.
She was asking if she could go to school again tomorrow, so I guess that means today was a success, but to be honest, we always thought it would be. She's been at full-time nursery since she was 9 months old, so she's used to the routine, and really it was only a case of how long would it take her to settle in.
About 15 minutes, by all accounts...