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October 21, 2014

The Challah Experiment

One of the things that frustrate me to no end is that my boys do not like baking. I mean they will eat cake, especially if said cake has any form of chocolate in it, and they will criticise the cake and the baker as if they are tiny Paul Hollywoods gone rogue, but they don't like the actual baking. Everywhere I look there are people whose kids absolutely adore helping them in the kitchen, people who regard baking with kids as a half-term activity, people who invent recipes with their kids. Baking, all the parenting sites say, is a great way to connect with your children. In theory at least. Apparently my kids didn't read those sites as their reaction when I even start saying "do you want to help me...." is to run away screaming. No, they would not like to help me. They would rather do anything else. They would rather tidy up their room, do the laundry, read a book, everything but bake.

For someone whose life revolves around baking, that is quite frustrating. And embarrassing. Of course I know why they don't like baking (and mainly baking with me), it is a lethal combination of Yon's fear of getting dirty, Ron's inability to accept deviations from the written recipes and my need for perfection. Add to that the fact that we constantly quarrel for control, and the only recipe you get is for disaster.
But I couldn't let it go because baking is such an important part of life -  it is the perfect combination between science and art, it is a place to work on so many of their issues and it's a great way for them to impress girls in the future.
And even that is not why I decided to bake with them.
It was because I found it inconceivable that they don't know how to bake a Challah. We Jewish people take our Fridays very seriously, and a big part of a Friday is the special-family-evening-meal, which the Challah is a big part of. For Jewish people braiding a Challah is basic, it is something you learn in nursery, when every Friday the nursery teacher makes the dough and all the kids braid their own little challahs. Well, at least that is how it was in the olden days. Ron never baked a Challah in his Israeli kindergarten days, but hey, why should I let reality interfere with my nostalgia and the fear that I am raising the boys to have no roots and no connection to their traditions?
You could argue that there are more important traditions the boys are missing out on, and you could definitely argue that teaching two baking-haters the secret of a good Challah isn't going to make them like their religion and roots more. But it was Friday, and I am not really good at listening, so Challah baking it was.
I've decided to go the extra mile (I don't do simple) and found a recipe that doesn't need eggs so I could divide everything to three and have them not only braid the Challah but make the whole thing themselves, because it will be more fun (?!) and it will let them experience for themselves the magic of baking. You know, that moment when your gooey blob becomes dough. I did not account for the fear of dirt, or the whining, or the constant comparisons.
I have to give it to them, though, they did try. They enjoyed helping me measure the materials (after I explained to Ron that we will not be following the recipe exactly), Ron did rather well with kneading (though Yon didn't touch it and Hidai did that part for him), we all had the "ahhhh moment" when the blob became dough, they understood the basic of braiding (surprisingly enough Yon more than Ron) and we only had one incident involving tears.
But without a doubt the best part was the decorating. In a brave and tradition-shattering move, I've decided to forgo the classic Challah decoration - sesame, poppy, or almonds - and go for the kids friendly - chocolate chips, candied nuts, and pearl sugar. Best decision of the day, and the only part I can say without hesitation both of them loved.
That and seeing their creations come out of the oven.
A few months ago I wrote a post about how life is like baking, about how sometimes you need something to remind you of who you are. Me, I could always find myself in baking.
My boys, though they did enjoy themselves and proudly showed everyone their baking-creations, grow up in a different world, with a different sense of self and different things to ground them. Traditions are a funny things, they are very easy to create and very hard to force. I can't make my kids  bake with me every Friday because this is the tradition I imagine I would like to have, or because it will ease my guilt. Though my Challah experiment was a success (or so Hidai informed me. I finished it with a headache and no ability to think straight) I have to let them grow up in the here and now, and enjoy the traditions we create together.
And honestly, once was enough.







The recipe I used is (link is to the Hebrew original) -
1 kg flour (I used strong white)
2 Spoons of dried yeast
150 gr caster sugar (the recipe itself says less. A lot less, but I like it sweet)
3/4 cup oil
2 glasses of lukewarm water
1Spoon salt
Put everything together (I like to put it all except salt, knead a little and then add the salt) knead well for about 10 minutes until you get a nice, soft, non-sticky dough (we did it by hand, but obviously you can use a machine), oil it well and let it prove until it double it size (around 1-2 hours). Then deflate it, knead for a little and start making rolls.
Put the rolls very speciously on a baking tray lined with baking-paper, and prove for about 30 minutes. After the second proving, heat the oven to 180 degrees and beat one egg. Brush the egg on the rolls and throw on the toppings.
Bake for about 25 minutes until they are golden brown and when you tap on the bottom (caution - it's hot) you hear a hollow sound.
Let it cool, because you never eat bread straight out of the oven.




October 17, 2014

How we crashed a (pretend) plane

You know how sometimes you find yourself in a situation you are not completely sure how you managed to land yourself into? Well, that is NOT what happened to me. I know exactly how I got there. I thought it will be fun. Because, apparently somewhere along the way I've lost a few of my marbles, and did not put together "cable car" and "fear of heights".
And because it was sunny and warm and we decided we have to "live life to the fullest" and "try everything London has to offer" and such things.
And because it was Saturday and to be good parents you have to spend time with your kids on Saturdays creating memories (apparently letting them play on the iPad all day does not create memories).
So off we went to the Emirates Aviation Experience and Cable Car.
Unfortunately by the time I was standing on the sunny Greenwich sidewalk looking up at the cable cars gliding merrily on what (from down below) looked to be as thick as a sewing thread and it finally dawned on me that not only do I not like heights very much I also hate not being in control and firmly on land, it was too late to back down.
By then Yon had already gone through the whole crying-because-he-wanted-to-do-something-else routine, and Ron has gone through the whole I-am-afraid-of-things-randomely routine (he doesn't have a real fear of heights, he just likes to adapt his fears to fit the occasion) and because we firmly believe in the never-back-down parenting method - which means if started something (an argument, a war or a fun activity) we will win it at all costs. Otherwise the kids will win. And they already control too much of the house as it is - we simply had to go on.
So on we went, with a "it's going to be fun" face on the outside and a "who the hell wanted to do that?!" shivers on the inside.
The view from down below
We decided to go do the Aviation Experience part first, because it held the best part of the day - flight simulator. It costs 45 pounds for 30 minutes, which is a lot. A lot. And it is only for kids over 9 (because younger kids just can't reach the pedals). But since it was supposed to be really awesome we decided to give it a go. As it happened you can buy one ticket for 45 pounds and use it for up to 4 people and that way each gets a turn flying an airplane, which makes the whole thing a little more reasonably priced (but honestly since when we were there we were the only ones actually using the simulators, and there were 6 of them, I think they could lower the price a bit).
Getting in to the simulator
Yon (who does't reach the pedals and so couldn't be a real pilot) was in charge of releasing the wheels, and the rest of us listened intently to the very long explanation about all the gears and bars and pedals before we took our turns trying to not crash.
Poor Ron crashed us right into the Duty Free building, while I managed to land on the wrong runway and Hidai, who managed to avoid both misfortunes, was crowned "best pilot of the day".


Trying to fly an airplane. Not as easy as you'd think
It is a very cute building to walk around even if you don't want to do the simulation (though it was hilarious) and you have a virtual cockpit where you can get your photo taken (though I would recommend taking it yourself. We are still waiting for the one they took) and a lego model of a plain engine and a very funny video showing the flight from your suitcase's point of view.
Lego model
What happens to your suitcase when you fly 
Kids
By the time we finished all that there was a queue for the cable-car, a long one, but it moved fairly quickly - even Yon didn't complain much (which is how we measure queues these days). And after we found the elevator (not easy, and no way Yon could handle all the stairs) and got up to the cable car platform we found ourselves in another queue! Sometimes I wonder if these places think waiting in the queue is considered part of the fun...
Geting in to the cable car
Getting into the moving cable-car was (more than) a little scary and when the doors closed I have to admit I was extremely nervous, ok, I was having a slight panic attack which I think I hid very well, especially because Ron was having one of his own.
Do you think he's enjoying himself?
Look at me hiding my panic attack
It is a long ride, much longer than the one I remembered in Israel or in Gibraltar, and as we took the round trip without leaving the cable car it looked like it took forever.
The good news - nobody threw up, the view is amazing and I took about a million photos, and it was a lot less bumpier than I thought. Oh, and it didn't fall.
The view
And that is how we got to crash an airplane, not fall from a bubble in the sky and learn a valuable lesson - people with control issues and fear of height should not go on cable cars. And if they do, they shouldn't look down (trust me on that one. Down is a long way when you are up there).
But sometimes, when you find yourself asking "how the f*&^ck did I get here???" You end up doing something amazing, and what the hell, you even make some memories.


October 13, 2014

Learning to ride a Bicycle

Days like today, when it's been raining for hours nonstop, Hidai is travelling, and the universe keeps sending me negative emails, these days are the best time to find a positive thought and hold on to it. Well, actually these are the days to get into bed with a (very) big box of chocolate (or cookies. Or cake) and turn on the TV. But seeing how Hidai is travelling and someone will have to go out in the rain and get the kids home, thinking positive thoughts will have to do for now.
Since I'm fresh out of positivity right now, I've decided to write about the big project we had this summer - We decided to teach Yon how to ride a bicycle.
Riding a bike is such a small thing, it shouldn't warrant a post I guess, but with Yon it is so much more - it is (warning! Schmaltzy comment ahead) one small proof that he could do whatever he sets his mind to. Yes, it is a small leap from riding a bike to ruling the world!
Up until now Yon has never shown any interest in being anywhere but standing firmly on ground (or at least if he is on a scooter, having someone else pull him along), and with his Ocular Albinism and Aspergers we accepted the fact that he will not be able to learn how to ride a bicycle (or a scooter, or a skateboard, etc), but his Reception teacher told us at the end of last year that he really likes the tricycles at school. It took him all year (apparently. We knew nothing about it) to master it, but he did, and he rode around the schoolyard freely.
Our first reaction, naturally, was doubt (okay, we didn't believe a word she was saying), so we politely asked her if we could get a demonstration of Yon on the tricycle, and since she is a very nice person (who also knows that we will just keep asking) she let Yon show us how wrong we were.
It was amazing, seeing him race around the playground, not hitting anything, making all the turn, stopping on the correct spot. But more than that it was amazing seeing his enjoyment.
The next week we bought him his first real bicycle - red ones with flames painted on them - and decided to teach him how to ride.
Hidai assembling the bicycle
How do you teach a child with about 40% vision to ride a bicycle? Well, you make sure there are not a lot of people around... To be honest we did it the way we taught Ron how to ride - we bought him slightly small bicycle so he will feel more secure (and so he won't have too much speed) and started him off with training-wheels and about 30 minutes of "bicycle-time" every day for 10 weeks in our communal area (that is big, flat, and doesn't have lots of people walking around).
It took him a few days to catch the whole mechanic of the thing - starting, paddling, turning and stopping - but after that he was free as a bird, riding around without a care in the world.
Yon has no sense of fear, or that he has to look where he is going, so he rides like he walks - talking nonstop and without looking anywhere near where he is going, which for the rest of the world could be a little heart-attack inducing, but for him is perfectly natural.
We did try to let him ride on the street a couple of time, but Hidai had to run next to him the whole time and ward off unsuspecting soon to be bicycle accident casualties. So we got back to communal-area riding.
After about three weeks we decided it was time to take his training wheels off, and though it may seem like it was an easy and logical decision, we were petrified, and worried, and not at all sure Yon will be able to learn how to ride a bicycle without the training wheels. Balance is not his strong suit.
I won't lie, it wasn't easy. Poor Hidai had to run with him, providing balance, for about two weeks, until Yon finally got it. I suspect some of it was due to the fact that we find it so hard to let go, and that Yon enjoyed having Hidai run after him.
Teaching Yon how to ride a bike gave us a rare insight to his vision. With Yon you'd never guess that his vision is as bad as it is. He never falls or bumps or asks about things he doesn't see well. He has managed to teach himself so many techniques of dealing with the world, that you really believe he sees everything, even when you know he doesn't. The only time we see how much he doesn't see is when we take him to the hospital. He can't fake his way through an eye-test.
Then and when he rides his bike. When we took away his training wheels, turning and going through the big metal gates we have around the building became impossible for him. He just couldn't see or even estimate how wide his turn should be or the width of the gate opening. We practiced for weeks, going through the gates in and out, turning again and again, so he should learn how to "feel" the turn.

But he did get it, and as silly as it sounds, it was one of my proudest moments as a parent seeing him ride his little red bike all on his own.

June 24, 2014

Sunday Bus Surprise

Last weekend I went to Britmum's Live, which is the biggest Mummy-Blogger convention in the UK (though now they also have food, style and dads. So maybe they should find a different description), which was what I intended to write about originally, and was also what I had plan on my "living life to the fullest" agenda. 
But since I had issues with the event, and not all of them were about the lack of cake (but seriously - not enough cakes is just... Mean), and since Sunday was one of those gorgeous sunny days you just know are too good to be true (and sure enough it did rain on Monday), we decided to forsake the original plan of staying at home lazying around, and started looking for something fun to do with the kids. Contrary to popular opinion, London isn't a very child friendly city, and it is not very easy to find something new to do with children in London every weekend, and if you want it to be cheap (or free, but nothing in London is ever free), it becomes almost impossible.
But this week we were lucky and it only took us less than an hour to find an adventure - the Bus Cavalcade on Regent Street. As it turns out, this is the year of the bus (seriously) and they have decided to close down Regent Street to traffic and put about 50 buses ranging in age around it for people to appreciate how far buses have come.
Year of the bus
We found it through Londonist, which is the best website I know to what's going on in London if you are a "young professional", or as we call them - children over the age of 25. We didn't find out about it through the TFL, who sends me five emails a week about the state of Hammersmith Station (don't care, not even close to here) or the Transport Museum, who sends me an email every time there is an open day at one of their garages. No, amazingly enough none of them thought that it was a good idea to advertise their own cavalcade.
Though the chronological order of the buses was intended for people to start walking from Piccadilly, we decided to go the other way - from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus because chronological order or not, as far as I'm concerned there is one simple rule to walking outside - going down the hill is better than climbing up. So we went back in time, but we did it while rolling gently down Regent Street. 
Our first bus - in the future
Last bus - a carriage from 1829
So what do you do in a bus cavalcade?

First of all, you get a map, or five, because maps are an all important tool when you want to know where you are going, or when you want to distract an annoyed (or annoying) child. 


Then you stop for a snack, because the map thing didn't work.
Then you shout "go stand by that red bus" and see them look at you in confusion (we didn't really do that one, we told them the number of the bus we wanted to take a photo of). It is a known thing, after all, that photos of buses are boring and annoying. But photos of buses with kids next to them? Now that is interesting. I took over 250 photos on Sunday. Of buses with kids.


Then you let them drive the bus. Because they really really wanted to, and not at all because you want to drive the bus. Hmmm.


You make them do weird facial expressions and activities, so you can take even more photos (and embarrass them. After all, that is what parents are for).

Then you send them up and down the bus, because it is important to let kids enjoy themselves and experience the world through play. Not at all because you hope they get tired enough when you get home they'll forget you promised them a game of Snakes & Ladders.
Then you regret everything you just did because the "I'm hungry", "I'm tired" and "I want to go home" whining marathon begins.
That is when Pret and lunch came to our rescue, and we used this lunch to let Ron go buy his sandwich by himself (picking, paying and eating all by himself). In a busy Pret in the middle of Regent street, I am not sure who was more nervous about that (Hidai. Hidai was).
After lunch (a short affair, about thirty minutes for eating a sandwich) you have another short grace period in which you could do all of the above steps again...
And if you are lucky you'd get a not-so-grumpy-family-photo
And a selfie
And even a nice sibling one


Then you quickly try and take a photo of a bus stop made out of lego, because it's just so cute.


It took us four hours to go through Regent street, and for the first time ever we did it without buying anything (it did help that the queue in front of the gift shop was huge and that we flatly refused going in to Hamley's).
And yes, they did forget about the Snakes & Ladders. 
We watched Men In Black instead.