December 22, 2012

Christmukah part 3 - Build-up to Christmas and Yon's eyes

You can feel the Christmas in the air.
The kids vacation started today, Hidai worked from home and have now started his vacation also, and my parents are on their way here, and I spent the whole day cleaning and getting the house ready. Very festive.
But really, all the beautiful lights are on, the iTunes is non-stop Christmas music (drives Hidai crazy listening to the same songs all the time), the gifts are all ready & wrapped (success!), and I have already made gingerbread (4 types, just because... Well just because), Yule-log type roulade, and some brownies (you know, just because it's yummy). Very festive.
We put the tree up on the 8th of December  Originally I wanted to put it up on the first, some of it was me not having patience to wait, and some of it was wanting to separate Christmas and Hannukah and give each of them the respect it deserves. Unfortunately We didn't get to it that weekend (we were too busy shopping for winter hats. God it was so cold that week), so we ended up doing it on the 8th, which was the first day of hannukah and while Ron and I were still a bit sick. Yon didn't really want to help so he just kept breaking all the candy-canes we bought to put on the tree, and then walked around the tree saying "Don't touch the Christmas" while, obviously, touching the baubles on the tree.
Truth is I envy the people with the "grown up" Christmas tree. You know, the ones that have a color co-ordinated tree, that goes with this year's fashionable color scheme. Our tree is a mis-matched mass of decorations that fill the tree in all kinds of baubles in different shapes. sizes. and colours. It's mostly because we bought what they sold at Morrison's in Gib, and also because we try to get a bauble on every branch... We did very well on that front :). This year we only added 4 new baubles to the tree and were really proud of ourselves.
We did buy outside lights for the first time, but because we were unsure how hard it will be to put them on the balcony, we bought the straight-forward ones, and just one type. Never fear, it is already on the shopping list for next year. More Lights!
We added to that some indoor lights for the kids room and for the kitchen (our room didn't get any decorations because it is going to host my parents who are still not that big on Christmas. We are hoping they will get into the Christmas spirit as soon as they land), some tinsel for the kitchen and the hall, and some "Merry Christmas" signs for the hall and the kids room. Also on the list for next year - wreath, which we didn't buy this year because we live in an apartment and not a house.
But by far, the biggest holiday perches is my baby tree! Hidai and Ron got it for me last week (true, I did have to use the subtle hint - When you go to get your hair cut, you better come back with a baby tree. But at least they did. And some chocolate. And a card), and we put baby baubles around it and some colourful lights and put it in the middle of the corridor so you go past it lots of times every day. So so cute! And also, it's a real tree, which I very much wanted, so now I am more convinced than ever - next year a real tree! (or maybe a pre-lit one. Those are also really cool. Decisions...)
baby tree and card
This year our favorite Christmas song is Walking in the Winter Wonderland, basically because Ron lernt it at choir and performed it twice - once at the Winter Fair in school, and once when they went carolling at N1 shopping center. We came to watch them sing, as it was a session for all schools in Islington, where each school sang 2 songs. Ron's school was one of the firsts to arrive and sing, which was a very very good thing since the whole thing took place outside and it was about 2 degrees Celsius that day. Not really the kind of weather you want to stand around in. Ron was half frozen I think, so he stood at the back and you couldn't really hear him. Also, I think even-though he wanted us to come watch him, he was a bit embarrassed by us (well, I guess it didn't help that Hidai re-arranged his coat and hat, and I called him Ronchuk in front of everyone), so his coping mechanism was to totally not acknowledge us. He refused to even look at us directly, let alone speak to us. We asked him when we got home if he was embarrassed or excited that we came, and he said equally both. Fine, than we will make more of an effort next time to embarrase him more.
Yon coped with the Christmas singing in the same way Ron used to (until this year, when he decided he wants to join the choir  and also announced that he is going to audition to next term school play...) - he cried, and then looked miserable for the whole time, not singing, not talking, and not communicating with anything or anyone. Although he did practice every day for his class's We Wish You A Merry Christmas, when the moment of truth came, he was quiet as a clam. First time in years when he spent half an hour without talking...
Add to that the fact that he still has an irrational fear of Santas, and what you get is kind of a less enthusiasm for Christmas. We are lucky he likes the trees, and the baubles, and singing the songs at home. And the Advent calendar (thanks to that we now know how many numbers he really know the little monster).
His fear of Santas did not go as far as not wanting to see the special message he got from Santa (PNP site. Genius!). We do it every year, and Ron was really looking forward to it, and both of them were so happy to get the "Nice" stamp...
We are also apparently trend-setters! I am guessing the only reason the kids got Christmas cards this year is they were the first ones to give cards in school. Is it not customary in the UK? It was in Gib. Everyone brought Christmas cards. Also, on the last day of term I sent gingerbread trees (with Ron) and comets (with Yon) for the kids, and gingerbread cupcakes with cookies & cream icing for the teachers. I was the only one to give them anything I think... Weird. We also gave cupcakes to the concierge team and cookies to the building's maintenance team because that is what we used to do in Gib and it felt right to continue.
That's it Christmas-wise I think. We are waiting for the last order from Ocado with the Christmas dinner food to arrive, as this year we are going to have a proper Christmas eve dinner, in which although no one tried to kill the Jews, but we will still eat!

On to the second main thing that we dealt with this week - Yon's eyes.
This is so much less fun than Christmas.
Yon has regular check-ups from the time he was 6 months old, glasses since he was 10 months old, and a very good attitude to all of this. His medical record include doctors in Gibraltar, Spain and Israel, and now that we are here we take him to Moorefilds Hospital to have his check-ups. Last time we were there was hard, and in the end our new doctor said that she thinks there is a different problem and that we should do some new test. Of course we said yes, and after some time and some phone-calls, we got an appointment for an EDD (I think. All those long English words, and all those initials...), and after that for our usual clinic. And on Tuesday we had to be at the hospital at 9 a.m, wich meant Ron had to go to school at 8am, to the "breakfast club" and since we were unsure how long it will all take, we asked Tyler's mum for help and Ron went with them after school.
Apparently EDD actually means you hook a 3 years old to a bunch of electrodes in different areas of his head (and then moves them to under his eyes!), and let him watch black and white squares flashing around on a TV set, and in between flash some light straight into his eyes in different speeds. For 2 hours.
Fun right?
It was so hard. You have no idea. We bribed him. We played "find the dancing Zebra" with him. We held him to the chair. We cried with him when he said "I don't like it!!!!" We promised him 10 times that it's over if he just do this thing or that thing (it was never over). It was HARD. He was so miserable when we finished... We took him out of the hospital for some chocolate muffin and juice, before we came back to the hospital for the "usual tests" where he has to say what he sees. He hates this test because, well, he doesn't see. You will never guess that he doesn't see something, that he has a problem, until you put him in that chair and ask him - what do you see? He doesn't. From there we went to wait for the doctor, and of course - we got a new doctor. Not new just to us, one that just started working in the clinic. I am very grateful Hidai was with me, because the minute she opened her mouth and said "oh, it's good that you came in now, this is the right time to start treating his squint" I wanted to just up and go. But Hidai always keeps his cool so he calmly asked her to get us in with our old doctor as she actually READ the file. She did, and we at least got the news from a doctor we trust. So Yon doesn't have a lazy eye, which is the biggest fear with kids that have a squint, and so we don't have to do patching anymore (he had to wear a patch over his good eye for a couple of hours everyday for a while). He would also always need his glasses because he is far-sighted (can't see up close) and because they "fix" the squint, we don't need to operate. All good things.
(how did Garry Barlow said on the X-Factor last year - there's always a BUT)
Yon has a genetic condition called Albinism, and basically means he is like an Albino, but only in his eyes, and hopefully not in a very severe way. The way she explained it, it's like if you are watching an old TV, so the pixels are not totally sharp, so you can't really see everything clearly. That is how he sees the world. As a result, now, he only sees around 70% of what he should, and because of the glasses this affects his up-close vision less, so he plays on the iPhone without a problem, but won't recognise people he knows from afar. She said it could get better if he learns to control it, and as the eyes develop, but it's not treatable and will never go away completely. In his condition now, if it doesn't get better, he will not get a driving license and he can have problems in school, etc.
We are now waiting for a specialist to explain it all again, and will give us all the statistics and formal numbers, but she verified it twice, and it explains so many things we noticed over the years, that we are pretty sure that's it.
What can I say? It was not the news we were hoping for. It is not good news. In fact is bad news. But at least now we have a full diagnosis and we know what's wrong. We also know that there is nothing we can do for him. The fact that he is the most beautiful, happy, funny child I know does not change the fact that he is suffering. It doesn't really matter that he doesn't know he is supposed to see better, it that he doesn't, that his life will always be harder, that he will always have to work harder, or compensate for it. As a parent you want to make sure life is as easy as possible for your child, and we failed. He is going to have to overcome this. By himself.
With Yon, we find most of the time we are watching him. We are not looking at him, we are watching. Ever since he was born, and more after we started treatments. Watching. is it better? Is it worse? Can we take a photo and he won't squint? etc. We are always watching. But now, every time I find myself watching it tags at my heart strings. Nothing you can do. 70%. Genetic disorder. Your fault. Your Genes. Nothing you can do. Poor poor Yon.
Children and health issues should never go hand in hand, but they so often do. We have yon's eyes, last year we had Ron's teeth. It is always a concern. Sure, no one's perfect, everyone has something. But why my kids?
My kids

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December 19, 2012

Christmukah part 2 - How Christmukah came to be

The truth is in real life I don't need to justify Christmukah anymore, but this is a new blog with new readers, and maybe it's not justifying but explaining. I was debating with myself for a week now if it's necessary or not to explain here why and how we decided to celebrate Christmas (and basically every other non-Jewish holiday. But Christmas is by far the biggest of them all).
This will be our 4th Christmas since we left Israel. The first one was 3 days after we arrived to Gibraltar so we don't really count that one, but the year after (Christmas 2010) we decided to celebrate Christmas like everyone - tree, stocking, milk & cookies for Santa, and lots and lots of presents.
That year I felt I had to justify our decision. Not even explain but justify. We got a lot of negative feedback for our decision from almost everyone we know, and I am guessing that some of the people never understood our reasons and still don't. 3 Christmases later, we really don't care anymore. For us, our decision worked great, and we feel that we made the right choices for our family.
I really am not trying to say it's the only choice  or even that it is objectively the best. Just that with our way of life, it was the best choice for our family.
So to be able to write this post and explain the why and how, I had to go back 3 Christmases, to the time just before Christmas 2010, and see what I wrote then. It took me a while but I found it, and since I think this decisions belong to that time in our life, I decided to just copy-paste what I wrote then (well obviously I had to translate it to English, but I kept everything else).
So this is me, December 2010:

This is a complicated subject, because even though I can say that I want to try and explain the way we relate to holidays, in reality the holidays are just one point out of a whole of Jewish identity, family identity, and the gaps between children and parents.
First of all I would like to say I know it's hard to understand it from Israel. I know, and I am not taking offense or feeling other negative feelings for those who does not agree with our decision  We couldn't understand it when we were living in Israel, and in fact last year we landed in Gib 3 days before Christmas and we were fine with not celebrating it. In fact we couldn't even imagine celebrating it at all. But a year has gone by, and things change.
Living outside your birth country intensify, I think, the gaps between children and parents. Why? Because when you raise your children in the same place you grew up they learn the same stories and songs that you learnt, have the same holiday traditions, and when they go to school they learn the same things we did, in much the same way. When you live someplace else, the kids speak a different language, learn different material in school, read different stories and sing different songs, they celebrate other holidays. They grow up in a "different world", and the we have less and less matching points with them, until it reaches the point that, if we are not careful, we will have none. This is, to us, the toughest problem to tackle inside the family. Every family deals with it, and to each their own way. Some of the people deny the problem. You can do that as long as the kids are young and you have more control on what they see / hear / talk / experience and such (for me it's up to age 4 and the beginning of school). Others deny the fact that they in fact live outside of Israel. They forbid English in the house, go to Israel whenever there is a holiday here, do not interact with people outside the Israeli community, teach the kids all the Israeli history when they are 5 and basically isolate the kids. Others yet go the religious route and choose to get closer to the Religious Jews, send the kids to the Jewish school, celebrate only Jewish religious holidays, and basically live inside a closed Jewish community. And the last part has older kids, who go to a public school, has local friends  and they can no longer ignore the fact that they live here, and that here you celebrate Christmas. Or Easter. And when you are the only Jewish child in your year or in the school, and everyone goes caroling, is it fair to take your child out of the performance?
I can remind people that the Israeli community in Gib is quite small, that there are about 5 kids Ron's age or up, and that the only Jewish option is a strict religious one we are not about to participate in. 
I can also remind people that most (if not all) the holidays derive from Pagan traditions that came before Judaism or Christianity,and that most of them are agriculture related. And that Hannukah, like Christmas derive from the winter celebrations that symbolizes the days getting longer and the end of winter. 
In the end I can also say that although for Jewish people everyone has to have a religious affiliation, and so most of the world is Christian, the reality is that a lot of the people in Europe (don't know about the US) do not define themselves through religion. They are not "Christians" but "Gibralterians" or "British" or whatever. And they all celebrate Christmas with a tree and all the trimmings.
And every word is true. But irrelevant. We are not religious people. We've never been. We didn't even celebrate most holidays before Ron was three or four. Needless to say we didn't celebrate any of them "the correct way".
And although I don't like the way the holidays are taught in Israel I can still appreciate the significance of it in Israel. Here? Here I want Ron and Yon to learn about tolerance and patience, about the ability to believe in whatever you want, about being nice and polite to everyone (including non-Jewish people). And no, I dot want them to know they are "different" or "special". I have no idea how many of people living in Gib are Christians, Protestants, Hindu, Muslims or Jewish. And I want Ron and Yon to know that it doesn't matter (I know some thinks it makes my naive. So be it). 
So we decided to emphasize these things - that Hannukah is about freedom of belief, and that is why we are not putting a Hannukah Bush in the house. It's a beautiful holiday that does not need to be "Christmatize", which is exactly what a Hannukah Bush is - a way to do Christmas without admitting that is what you are doing. Hannukah and a bush have nothing in common. And that Christmas is, for some the birth og Jesus, and for us - lights, tree, and presents :)
And all of this doesn't change what I wrote at the beginning - the holiday are just one tiny thing we have to deal with. It continues with questions regarding language - what do we speak at home, and outside, do we explain school things in Hebrew or English? How we preserve the Hebrew and let the English grow? Do we read to them in English or Hebrew? Do we watch DVDs in Hebrew or English? Does it matter if it's Ron or Yon? etc. And we see more and more of those questions with every day...
The kids won't be Israelis. There is nothing we could do about it even if we wanted. Their Hebrew isn't perfect. They don't have Israeli history. They grew up someplace else. Even if we do go back it won't erase all the years outside of Israel. It won't make them Israelis, anymore than leaving Israel makes us Gibralterians. 
And that brings us back to the original problem - we have to find a way to bridge the gaps. To create traditions that will keep them connected to us and vice-versa. So we celebrate Christmukah. We put up a tree, decorate it with the kids, bake cookies with them, open presents from under the tree with the kids. Light the candles with the kids, sing the songs with them, and eat some doughnuts. Because after all, all holidays are really about one thing - family.

Getting back to December 2012, for us, it was the right decision. It was and still is the right way of doing things. We have our small traditions that we love and that gives us the feel of a family. And by now we take them for granted. We have to find our way in so many areas everyday that in this we prefer to embrace where we live and our choices and not fight with it.
Truth is, everyone here assumes that you celebrate Christmas, most people don't know we are Jewish (and even after they know, they still assume that), Ron wanted to be in the choir and do some caroling, and we embrace the whole Christmukah things wholeheartedly.
And if Robert Zimmerman (you know - Bob Dylan) can release a Christmas album, the least we can do is enjoy it!

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December 17, 2012

Christmukah Part 1 - Hannukah

Apparently you can write Hannukah in English in like 5 different ways, so I never know what way is the correct way. I also heard it called The Jewish Christmas, which I found really funny. I go with Hannukah just because :).
Just in case you don't know, Hannukah is NOT a big deal in Israel. Well that's not really true, because you have the doughnuts. And who doesn't like doughnuts? also you have the Latkes. And chocolate coins. But if you don't have kids, Hannukah is not a big holiday. It's not even a proper bank holiday. In fact if you do have kids, it's even kind of an annoying holiday - lots of hannukah parties at nursery and school's off for 8 days.
But when you live outside of Israel it is considered the biggest of all Jewish holidays, and usually the only one non-Jewish people recognise, because of its closeness to Christmas. Like all Jewish holidays this one also moves around every year (I explained this one in my Rosh Hashana post), but it's always somewhere around December.
Personally I adore Hanunkah  It's been one of my favourite holidays for years, ever since we had Ron. I love the food, the songs, the whole lighting of the candles. I try and make the effort to do it correctly every year. In fact Hidai and I have our Menorah that goes back to when we moved in together.
That being said, I don't like the way the story is taught to kids. Like most Jewish holiday it can be summarised in - someone tried to kill the Jews and they failed. Lets Eat. I know I am saying that a lot, but seriously, it's taking this great holiday that talks about freedom, and light, and hope, and has roots in the pegan beliefs that precede Judaism, and all the connections to Christmas, and just throws them away for the All Israeli Way of - it's good to die for our country.
If you really want the story of Hannukah, there is a very short version here. You can find much much longer versions, like this one, but why would you want to?
So this year, because Ron is 7 (and a half like he likes reminding me. Every day.), I told him the story properly, making sure he knows it's been a long long time since it happened (and yes, after we had to go check on Google who it was that tried to kill the Jews this time), and making sure he understands the meaning of Hannukah as we want it to pass - the general messages of freedom of beliefs, courge to fight for what is right, and hope. Sometimes it's easier being outside of Israel. No one will tell him anything different than what we explain. At least not until he is old enough to understand the insanity that is the Jewish holidays.
Yon, as usual, enjoyed the music. His preferred song was the blessing of the candles.
I am slightly ashamed to say we did not resist the doughnuts urge, and ate our first doughnuts before Hannukah. We bought some jam doughnuts at Sainsbury's that were actually quite good (not really real doughnuts, and the filling wasn't strawberries or Nutella, but still...).

Also, you can't have a holiday without the necessary visit to Golders Green, to buy overpriced holiday knickknacks. I bought some very glitter-filled menorah and dreidel hanging things, and some holiday napkins (I find you can't really have a proper holiday without the appropriate napkins), ans table confetti (which we didn't use). Because the kids are older now, I decided they should each get a menorah of their own, that comes together with a dreidel, a box of candles, a sack of chocolate coins and Hannukah shaped shortbread cookies. Well, obviously I was there, so I bought some can't-live-without-necessities. Like Humus.
Hannukah booty 
There were so many other knickknacks at Kosher Kingdom, it was crazy. Next year I am for sure buying the Latkes domino game :). And the Yiddish Hannukah songs CD that was playing. And some of the 8 presents for 8 days ideas they had. It is crazy because it's just done so that Jewish kids won't feel deprived that they don't have Christmas. Oh and don't get me started on the Hannukah bush.
One of the four Hannukah things stands at Kosher Kingdom
So, 8 days of Hannukah, what did we do?
On the first day, Ron and I were still not healthy so we cancelled the big Hannukah celebration with the family and just lit the candles at home, with some music and store bought doughnuts.
First candle
On the second day we went to Jo & Adrie for afternoon tea and carrot cakes, so we did the whole candles thing pretty late when we got home. 
3rd day was uninteresting, as it was Monday, also known as Ron's football day and getting home really late day.
4th day was Latkes day! Latkes are, for lack of a better english explanation, some kind of potato deep fried pancake. Yummy (even if it did not sound yummy from that description, trust me - it is. Especially when you eat it with soured cream or apple sauce). I make latkes once a year, because, well first of all I hate frying things (especially in winter. Not so fun opening all windows at around 2 degrees Celsius), and second of all - if you tried making latkes you know the whole process is kind of disgusting with the whole squeezing the grated potatoes and all. But they are a Hannukah tradition (and yummy), so once a year it is.
Very yummy.
5th day was sweet cheese pancakes and home-made easy doughnuts day. You have to have proper Israeli cheese for both (though I did read in one of my beloved food blogs that you can substitute Israeli soft cheese with Greek yogurt. It really does tastes kind of the same) so I bought lots of cheese and hid it all in the back of the fridge so no one would eat it, and then I had to use it, and while I was making the cheese pancakes I just figured why not fry it all in one go? So I did. Kids and Hidai had a blast. I, on the other hand, ate about 1 doughnut and 2 cheese pancakes. Can't eat fried food... 
It tastes better than it looks
6th day was leftovers day. What can I say - There are always too many...
7th day was mini doughnuts day, but unfortunately they were the kind that looks better than it tastes. I prefer the other kind...
8th day was the day I was planning on making real last day doughnuts, but Hidai put a stop to all the frying madness and also I was again not feeling well, so no real doughnuts this year :(.

It's not a big secret that I had a few concerns with Hannukah this year. Actually I was dreading it a bit, because Hannukah is more enjoyable in a big celebration, with friends and family, and we did not have that this year. I was afraid it will feel lonely and sad, that the kids won't get in the spirit, that it will stretch forever and we won't enjoy it as much as we usually do. And while it is true that we spent most of the holiday just the four of us, it was a very good holiday with lots of fried food and we are now once again very very fat and happy :) 
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December 13, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog, and also it's Christmukah!

I haven't been here for a while. Some of it is because I am spending this past few weeks half-healthy, or on the verge of yet another illness if you prefer. Some of it was because I was so so busy with organising Christmikah, which always starts with "what's the problem?" and turns in to a military operation filled with excel spreadsheets and wrapping papers.
But mostly it was not being sure if I wanted to come back. I felt the Blog lost its way a bit, or maybe it was me, I am not really sure... But anyway I needed some time to think about the purpose of it all. When we first moved out of Israel, we were still a part. A part of other people lives, people who we left behind and who cared about us. I had a small closed Hebrew Blog that was intended just for those people, to make sure that they will stay a part of our life. Also, I am very bad at keeping in touch. So so very bad. And I am no good in conversations, so the Blog is my way of never having to talk about myself. But the years went by and people moved on. It's a fact of life I guess. But we are not a part anymore. We haven't been to Israel much these last 3 years, and bit by bit our life has changed so much that we couldn't stay a part. As I am writing this while listening to my Xmax playlist, I feel free to say that our life today has no resemblance to our life 3 years ago when we left Israel. It is also changing from the life we had in Gibralter, as every place is different. So the people who I wanted to read stopped reading the Blog, and I lost my one last connection to them. I know not everyone thinks a Blog is a personal way of staying in touch, and it can't be directed to them if it public. But it is. When I write I have these images of people sitting around my table (not crazy. Really. Promise), and knowing they are not reading it made me feel... Forgotten I guess. So what's the point? it's so hard trying to put our lives on a piece of paper, to find the right words, to open up our inner family-life, our dilemmas and hurts, to know that it's out there in the open (and in English). And in the end, that nobody cares.
I know I am writing about how hard life is at the moment. I know that does not make for very fun reading. I guess why would anyone want to read about how hard it is for us in London? I get it. I totally do. So I guess it is mostly my fault. I can say that the 5 months we've been here went by with the blink of an eye (which is true), that Hidai is very happy in his new job (also true), and that the kids are doing GREAT in school (again, true). But it would be only half the story, and for me, without the interesting parts, without the parts that makes life what they are. And yes, right now, since we've only been here 5 months, life is still an adjustment. We are still finding our way. And to me, writing about all these struggles is more real than just saying, yea everything's great here's a photo of Covent Garden.
In the end of the day though, I can't make anyone read. I can't make anyone care. And I can't make anyone understand what it's like moving countries with two kids. But here I am, writing again. Why? First of all, because I prefer to repress everything I just wrote and keep on believing that everyone's reading me, and second because apparently some people are reading me, most of them from the UK, and since I know about 3 people here, I have to assume some people find me interesting :).

The past 3 weeks has been packed with activities and illnesses, with all of us (including Hidai, who is making me explain that he was not really sick. Just a tiny tiny bit) suffering from the unfamiliar viruses that are running around. We seem to catch every single one of them. Fun times.
Ron had an assembly at school, or "Show and Tell" as they call it here. It was a 20 minutes show about ancient Egypt, and he delivered his 2 lines superbly. He was so nervous and excited before, we were afraid he is going to faint on stage... He also had his first parents-teacher meeting, to which his very young (and adorable) teacher wore a suit :). He is a great teacher, and he is getting Ron to do things we would have never guessed are possible (like painting. Or writing stories), and he sat with us with his infinite patience and explained everything, answered all our questions, and put our minds at ease. I don't like writing about Ron at school, it seems wrong somehow, so I will just say that he is doing great, and that the fact that he chose the school when we got here gave him a sense of control that he needed, and that he made the right choice. The school is exactly what he needs.
Both kids made their Christmas cards to give out in class. It's not a big deal except for the fact that they were the only ones who did it. We did ask before and Tyler's mum said that it is done, but apparently not really. Ron didn't care, and this year he made an extra effort and wrote each kid a special personal note. They also had a Winter Fair at school, to which we donated all the toys they don't want anymore (always have a spring cleaning before Christmas or you will not have any room for those massive amounts of new toys...) and were able to not replace them with new ones... Ron preformed with the choir, and Yon got to see his first Santa for the year. Unfortunately he is still very much afraid of all Santas so this will also be his last Santa for the year. Luckily it was his nursery teacher (yes, both kids have male teachers, both of them young and adorable), so after he took off the beard and revealed himself we got Yon to sit beside him. Ron was super excited because he had a chance to meet Yon's teacher... He knew from the start it wasn't "the real Santa"...
Because of all the illness, especially the main chef's (that's me!), we had a very light Hannukah this year, with Sainsbury's doughnuts and no guests... We were supposed to have a family gathering for the first candle but since Ron chose the day before to catch my stomach bug and puked his way through school, we postponed to next year. It was kind of hard on us, first of all because I love love love holidays (one of the reasons we adopt every stray holiday we see), second because I love December holidays (Hannukah, Christmas and our anniversary. What is there not to love?!), and third because we miss the friends we left in Gibraltar and who made last year's December fantastic. We don't have it here, because building new relationships is a tough, time consuming, trial and error process, that I don't think we were aware how much we didn't want to go through again... Sometimes I think moving for the second time is like having a second child - what you miss most are the things you worked the hardest to achieve and that have no shortcuts for the second time around. Like friendships. Anyway, back to Hannukah, I did go up to Golders Green to buy some decorations, candles and dreidels, and we light the candles each night. Hearing Yon bless the candles is the funniest thing ever. Like in any other song, he makes up half the words and there is always a Zebra somewhere in the middle...
Yesterday I was feeling like a normal healthy person, so I made Latkes (which Ron loves and Yon ate because we told him it's like mashed potatoes...) and today they got the easy and fast version of home-made doughnuts. I still have to make one batch of real doughnuts, because it's not really Hannukah otherwise...
Christmas tree is up! We put it up last weekend, and this year we also have lights on the balcony, and lights on the kids' window, and lots of indoor decorations! I love it! The house looks so festive with all the Christmukah decorations. Ron helped a lot with putting all the decorations on the tree, Hidai is in charge of lights, and Yon was in charge of destroying each and every one of the candy-canes. Also he likes going around touching the tree. Not sure why. I really wanted a real tree this year, mainly because there are so many of them going around, and it is so cool! But the boys out-ruled me because of the dirt. It didn't matter how many subtle hints I threw around, i did not even get my mini-tree (another hint...). I did get a vague "next year" promise. Yeah right.
We also have a giant tree in the middle of the garden, filled with lights, that just makes me smile every day. I absolutely love Christmas. Not the religious Christmas. Like I don't celebrate the Israeli Hannukah. I love my meaning of these holidays. The meaning I teach my kids - of miracles, and hope, and light. That the tiniest light can chase away darkness. That miracles are possible. That we are free to choose what we want to believe in. That life is light and laughter.

Next week is the beginning of Christmas vacation, and my parents are coming for 2 weeks.
It is also our anniversaries week - it will be 12 years that Hidai and I are together, 9 Years that we are married and 3 years since we left Israel.
So yeah, it is true that not everything is how I hoped it would, and that we are still adjusting, but hey (and I feel I am entitled to finish with a sappy note) look how far we've come my baby  

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November 25, 2012

Baking bits

I want to bake. I am at this very moment looking for an excuse to bake: it's Sunday - lets bake, we have guests this afternoon - lets bake, it's eleven in the morning - lets bake, and my favorite - we have carrot juice - lets bake. It's my favorite because it works with everything - we have yeast that need using, we have 3 egg whites etc. You get my point. Also it usually works because Hidai hates throwing food or portions of food or things that could be turned into food. So he usually joins me in the "yes of course we have to bake" mantra and then I feel all justified.
But today the Hidai is strong. He does not give in to anything. There are 14 more days to Hannuka. 14 more days to get skinny and then get eating.
So I am going to write about baking instead of actually doing any (I am going to sneak in a carrot cake with chocolate chips because it's called a ginger cake with freckles. And who can say no to that?!).
In the last month or so I discovered the apparently very big differences between Israeli baking and British one. It is the first time I have British baking books. I bought the British Bake Off books and read them cover to cover, and wes frankly amazed how different is everything. I guess it's a taste thing, but it's really weird to me.
First of all, the british books, they don't think it's important to put a photo of every recipe. Why? Looking at the photos is half the fun (and also the ability to see if what you got in the end resembles what you should have baked...). But I think my biggest grievance with this books is - everything needs double (or triple) the amount of sugar they write. Seriously people - it's CAKE. it's supposed to be SWEET. Not semi-sweet, almost sweet or nearly sweet.
If that's not enough, I went for the French recipes. Not sure why. I blame it on the Bake Off. It made me want to try things. Shame on them. I tried three recipes for Brioche breads, 2 for Macaroons, 2 for Croissants, and after that I broke down. I needed some good old-fashioned cake / cookies baking.
So, you know, obviously that's what I did :).
My conclusion from all this French-British-Israeli baking was, naturally, that I need a French baking book, so all I want for Christmas is Eric Lanlard's book Home Bake (hint, hint).
Not perfect Croissants
Other, less significant, conclusions include -
Stop watching baking shows, reading baking blogs and buying baking books. They make you crazy.
There are not enough people in Hidai's work that are willing to eat cakes.
Baking doesn't make you fat. Eating makes you fat.
The temperature outside right now is ideal for slow-proving dough (just like the fridge...)
Sticky buns are to die for.
Macaroons are no fun at all to make (very fun to eat though).
I did not master the Croissants making process yet.
Brioche is yummy (especially if you feel it with cinnamon & sugar, or with creme patisserie & Nutella).
I don't really like vanilla cakes.
Perfect macarrones 
Jokes aside, I find it hard to bake British style. I changed every recipe I tried (except the sticky buns, but I now have a better idea for the sticky part with maple syrup and things. Never mind), to make it more what I'm used to - add more sugar, cream the cake mixture differently so it's more airy, different proving times, etc.
Also, as a not really related side-note, I really find it hard to get used to the whole it's more important how it looks than how it taste sub-culture that's going strong here right now. I get the whole creating something  and the art portion of baking. But in the end it's cake. It's supposed to look good but taste heavenly. And that whole trend is what makes it really hard to get good quality ingredients. Like fresh yeasts. Do you know how hard it is to find yeast?! ridiculous.
Sticky bun (I know my food photography needs improvements. Trust me, it was delicious)
Have to say, this whole writing about baking and trying to remember everything I baked over the last month or two really made me hungry and now I want to bake even then before, so I will leave you all to ponder the difference between British and Israeli baking, and go bake me some cake!

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November 24, 2012

Almost Thanksgiving

Ron doesn't believe in magic anymore. Hidai said it's magic that we got him to believe this far. I just don't get it. How can you not believe in magic? I told him, everyone needs a bit of magic in their lives. But nothing. Fairies aren't real because it's absurd that people can fly,  Harry Potter is just an actor, and he doesn't need money so no teeth fairy anymore. No witches and no wizards also. He said 'oh, fine' to Santa and the Easter Bunny because they bring him things, but it was quite clear he doesn't believe in them too. How is he related to me?
I still have Yon. Maybe he will believe. One more chance to fix this serious error we made in educating the young.
All this discussion came about because we were walking home from the doctor's office (Ron got the last of his vaccinations. That's it for the next 10 years. Thank god), and we saw a house with a Christmas tree full of lights and decorations. So I told them about one of our neighbours who already had her tree up on November 20th, because she said her life is need of some fairy lights. Truth be told, I am totally ready for some fairy lights and a Christmas tree, maybe some Christmas songs, and definitely some Christmas treats. There is just something so... I don't know... Happy, or maybe hopeful in Christmas, Hannuka and all the festive season.
Halloween is officially the beginning of the festive season, and we did try to have a good Halloween this year, so we found ourselves organising a mini Halloween party downstairs in the common area for the kids - we couldn't decide if we want to take the kids treat-or-tricking or not, so we asked if we could do it in the complex, and ended up with organising something for parents and kids who wanted to come. We actually had around 9 parents and their kids (a huge turn-out for this building apparently). The kids had fun and that's what important, but I found myself missing our lovely Treat-orTricking in Gib with Laura & Mick.

Unfortunately there is a very big gap between Halloween and Christmas, and add to that the fact that we are not so festive at the moment. It's mostly the whole keeping a diet thing. Not baking is not festive. We find ourselves walking around the house mumbling "we want doughnuts... We want chocolate... Why is there no cake in THIS HOUSE!!!!"
15 more days to Hannuka, and believe me I am counting each and every hour until it's officially doughnuts, latkes and candles time.

So today in order to introduce some festive feeling we made our vegetables in an "American Thanksgiving" style. I made mashed-potatoes (everyones favourite), maple-glazed sweet potatoes, sweet cooked carrot (not really American but it seemed fitting), mushroom pie (with diet fitting filo pastry but still), steamed vegetables, and of course - pumpkin pie, and some mixed fruits crumble. My aim was to use all the veg and fruits I had in the house. Mission accomplished. It took me around 5 hours to cook and clean-up, and it took them around 15 minutes to eat.
I had my Thanksgiving.

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November 20, 2012

Lemon Tree

A couple of weeks ago I started writing this post about what happened in our lives over the half-term and Halloween and how everything is going kinda fine.
And then something weird happened - in about three days it became really really clear that everything is a lot of things, but fine is definitely NOT one of them.
You know the whole "when life gives you lemons...", "everything's for the best", "what doesn't kill you..." and the classic "you only gets trials you are strong enough to triumph" and all that cr^&%$p? I know them all by heart. They are what I teach the kids, what I tell myself when things are not going as planned and all. I found myself saying them a lot last year. And more than that, I believe in them. But fuck it, sometimes it seems like life are just out to throw more and more crap at you, and every time you feel you conquered the hurdles and are finally moving forward, Bam. You get a fresh batch.
The last year wasn't easy on us. In fact, to tell the truth, it was hard as hell. It left us with so many scars. Licking so many wounds, financial ones and emotional ones. Some years are like that, but London was supposed to be our healing place. It was (and still is) supposed to give us the peace and quite we so need right now, to be a happy place for the kids, a place for growth. But starting over is always so hard, and starting with so much baggage is bound to be even harder. The thing is, knowing it's going to be hard and actually dealing with the hardship are two very different things, and they intensify by the layers of anxieties, uncertainties and fears we managed to accumulate over the last year.
So it seems that that though we knew everything will take time and won't go smoothly, it's harder and more difficult than we thought.

This time it started with a back pain. Which led to me being bed-ridden for almost a week (unprecedented), and to Hidai working from home and being in-charge of kids and all. And then the minute I could finally move again without the horrible pain and the even more horrible side effect of the pain-killers, Yon got the flu. It's such a small thing - flu, and Yon had it lightly and for only about 24 hours, but it started a chain of events, with Ron being the second to be ill. Ron never ever gets sick. He has Hidai's immune system, and he hasn't been really sick for years. He usually miss up to 1 day of school for being sick... He did not take well to being sick and wanted to go to school, so he was miserable at home and tended to not say when he was feeling worse because he was afraid we won't let him go to school, and because he was really sick we had to keep Yon at home also because there was no one to pick him up from school. Ron was on-off from school for a week, until he finally felt better on Sunday (day before yesterday). Kids being sick automatically leads to me being sick, so that happened from around Wednesday, and then unexpectedly (never ever happens) Hidai caught it too (mildly but still) which did not help the mood or the getting back to normal thing.
And then, because he was considered healthy enough, Yon got a vaccination shot (2 actually) to get him up to date on his vaccination. Of course he had a fever that night. We still have to go through the same thing with Ron this week, because he is missing one shot. One of the perks of moving countries - the vaccinations are ALWAYS different.

If that's not enough, because of course it's not, it never is, we gained weight. Somehow in the midst of all the baking craze and sickness, we gained about 2 kg each (4.5 pounds) and more important than that, we got used to eating such crazy amounts of sweets and baked goods that did not bode well with the fact that December (also known as the eating month) is upon us. So Weight Watchers here we come! (well, actually it's just me. Hidai doesn't have to do anything to lose weight. Nobody loves him) We started the new regim a week and 2 days ago (but who's counting?), and it's been, as usual, hell on earth. Don't get me wrong, Weight Watchers works, if you eat according to the points system you lose weight and still enjoy eating moderate (okay small) portions of everything (except veg and fruit. you find yourself eating unmoderated quantities of those). I know, because I've been there, and it did work, and really, it's not the food, or the unimaginable amounts of fruit & veg. I'm fine with all of those. Don't care. I am a vegetarian, and I actually don't really eat a lot anyway. But the sweets. and the Chocolate. And the baking. It's killing me. I am addicted to the chocolate and sugar. Believe me, I'm not using that word lightly. I am addicted. nowadays they are responsible for around 75% of my daily nutrition, and like all junkies, I need increasing amounts of them to get my fix. So I need the diet mostly to get back to being able to eat one cube of chocolate, or 13 M&M's a day, as opposed to the whole damm pack. And that is why the first week is also, for me, the week with nothing sweet and especially chocolate. I actually always try to go for 2 weeks, but never succeed. It is a week of withdrawal, and I actually get the headaches, dizziness, nausea and depression associated with it. This week started better, but I am still not where I want to be in terms of chocolate-craving.

Then the war in Israel started, and sent us in to a constant state of worry. And dragged up some memories we would have preferred to keep buried from our last war and our way of life in Israel. It's crazy what you take with you from a childhood like ours. Things and ways of life that we considered as normal, are in fact not considered normal anywhere else in the world... I have no intention to write my political views or what I think of this latest war. It doesn't really matter and anyway I don't believe I have a right to express any opinion. I don't live in Israel anymore (wars being a big part of the reason why), and as someone who chose not to live there I am not entitled to an opinion that sends other people to die (being that in the war or in the constant firing from Gaza). I don't think I'm entitled to an opinion about anything that goes on in Israel. I find it infuriating when people, from the comfort of their New York home, tell the whole world what they think should be done, and as it usually fight, send other people and other people's kids to die so they could keep on working in the New York Hi-Tech industry. I do think I can have my memories about living in Israel and my personal opinion about life as I remember them there. Nothing new though (and no. We are not going to vote these coming elections. For the same reasons). It's just that damn worry. And the news. It only takes a minute to make you a news junky again, reading, watching, listening to everything you can get your hands on. And then we had to explain it to Ron, about wars, and missiles, and the Arab-Jew situation. He is so removed from it all, he doesn't remember wars, or the sirens, he doesn't have the fear, or the knowledge a boy his age has in Israel about the situation there. I deferred the question to hidai who explained about Israel being a coveted place, Jewish and Palestinians not sharing and the lack of a grown-up to take charge of the situation. And then we had to assure him nobody we know died. And that the muslim kids in his class are not related to any of this. And then we sent him to school hoping we were right... Not our proudest moment as parents.

Then on Friday we ran out of money. I guess it's not as bad as it sounds now, but for around 24 hours from midday Friday it was. We had some unpleasant inconsistency with this month paycheque that we were not expecting and did not catch until it was too late and the guy from Sainsbury called to say that the card is refused. Fun times. It's fine now (how is it fine? I don't know. It's just is), we took the money from the last of our dwindling reserves, and sat down for a serious "this is our budget. let's stick to it" conversation. It did not go well. Budgets sucks. There. I said it. nobody likes to live according to a tight budget. And before Christmas. Sucks.
It's not that we weren't aware of our whole situation. We knew very well we will need time to recover from last year and all it entailed, and the move here (so so so expansive to start anew. Just the restocking of the kitchen is a small fortune). But we were intending to start on January. not to ruin Hannuka and Christmas, which we won't be able to save all of now. Sucks. So we went for a second budget conversation, which went better, downloaded an app (Toshl) for budget control, managed to save some of Christmas (not Hannuka though...), made some cuts, and started a new budgety year a month and a half in advance. Like I said - sucks.
And then we had to explain some of it to Ron, who apparently hears everything and assign the meanings for himself. We explained about the mistake at work, and that we needed to find a solution and that we got upset, but that of course we found one, everything is fine, and he doesn't need to worry. Not a great moment. And of course he does worry.

Which led us to Monday, where the cleaning lady who was supposed to come for the last time came late, left early and cleaned worse than Yon, Ron was very distracted in Football and cried twice, the grocery shopping I re-ordered again did not arrive (not really clear as to why), Hidai had to stay late at work, and then we got a note saying there is a package/letter waiting at the concierge. The kids refused to go with me, so I decided not to fight them but in my mind, and in accordance with the way things are going I just knew it was a formal letter revoking our right to live in the UK.
Hidai picked it up at 10 p.m when he got home.
It was the movie Narnia I ordered for Ron for Christmas.

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November 4, 2012

Jews at 10

I am actually waiting for Jews at 10 to start, and am feeling only slightly ashamed for it :).
I have to say I sometimes find it surprising just how Jewish we are. I mean, obviously we are Israelis, and Jewish, and it's important to us, but usually when we think of ourselves it will be as Israelis, but not as Jews. You don't really think of the meaning of the Jewishism (I know it's not an actual word), and the difference between Jewish and other people. I was shocked at how many times I found myself nodding while watching the show, and how many times I said "wow. So that's a Jewish thing?". But Seriously, I had no idea that British people don't take Friday night dinner as a serious family meal. They go to the pub. And all those mummy issues. They are NOT only Jewish. Are they? and the constant critique of everything? Jewish? Really?
So yea, I have to admit I enjoy the show immensely, and am waiting for the last episode today about Jewish food.
One of the things I like the most is the fact that the show touches issues that for us as Jews who chose to live outside of Israel are important and relevant (even though, unlike many of the participants in the show, we are by no mean strict Jews, and the fact that we are somehow ended up organising a Halloween party tomorrow can attest to that).
The thing is, keeping a Jewish or an Israeli way of life and traditions outside of Israel is hard. It takes a lot of work, and some hard life choices that frankly we always said we won't make. I guess the thing is you have to move a bit more to the extreme in order to get what you take for granted in Israel. And as much as it was hard in Gibraltar, it just got harder with the move to London, mainly I think because of our decision not to live in a Jewish or Israeli community, together with the fact that the kids are getting older, the fact that the English and the British education system are becoming more prominent in our house, and the sad sad fact that local holidays (and no, not Christian, just local) are so much more... Well, fun.
When we moved to London our aim was to live somewhat in the north (as it is a known fact that the more Jewish areas in London are to the north), with an easy access to synagogues and Jewish facilities (like a Sunday school or shops) if we want, but without the suffocating feeling of living in an Israeli / Jewish community. What we ended up with is living somewhat up north, but by no means in a close proximity to Israeli / Jewish facilities. The fact of the matter is, in Ron's school he is the only Jewish child (I don't know about Yon's nursery. It's just that the head teacher told us about the school), and although I am quite sure we are not the only Jews in our neighbourhood, we have yet to hear Hebrew anywhere here. It's mostly fine with us, as it was after all our choice, but sometimes it's just weird. What is even weirder is that you get so used to the non-Hebrew state of things, that it takes your brain a minute to register the Hebrew when you hear it, and then you just can't tune it out like you can with the English. Last time we were in Israel it took us a few days to get used to it and stop listening in on everyone's conversations...
So we try to find our way to raise Jewish children in a non Jewish society. We are well aware that the kids will not be Israelis since they were so very young when we left, and I guess you are where you grow up, but we would like to keep the Jewish pride alive and well. To give them some sort of roots, of connection to their tradition, and maybe more than that - to us. This is our tradition, our history, our way of looking at the world. And we want them to have some of it.
But be that as it may, Judaism does not make it easy on you. Now I know I am an overprotective parent. Truly, I am aware of that. But I still don't like telling my kids about wars, death, Hitler, you know everyday life in Israel. And I know all the reasoning behind all the holidays, and I grew up like that and turned out fine (mostly), but even when I did live in Israel I found it a terrible decision. I am not ashamed to say I want my kids to stay kids. For as long as they can. To believe in good and in fairy tales for as long as they can. Before the reality of grown-ups destroys every shred of that belief. Combine that with the fact that I cannot, for the life of me, understand how I am supposed to say to a child that goes to school with so many kids from different countries - we hate all X nation because they tried to kill us, and we celebrate this holiday because Y nation didn't succeed in killing us, and so on and so forth. I don't really see it as a point of pride that most of our holidays are war related. That's why we try and soften the stories or make our own holiday explanations. It's nearly impossible in Passover but works fine with all other holidays with the kids. With the grown-ups we usually go for the (apparently very acceptable) explanation of "someone tried to kill the Jews. Didn't succeed, let's eat".
Because the food, the food is great. And I know I'm biased but it's true. The fact is, when we go to Israel we usually spend ALL of our time eating, when my parents visits us they bring food with them, and once a month we go to Golders Green to buy Israeli food.
The first time I went to Golders I was shocked. I was used to the two very small and not very well stocked shops in Gibraltar, I was not expecting to walk into a bizarre combination between an Israeli and a British street, filled with bakeries, religious Jews, Israelis, and supermarkets filled with Israeli food. I can't help it, my first reaction was checking that I know where the bus-stop is. That I have an escape route. I don't do that anymore, but that is just because I know where it is... Once you are inside Kosher Kingdom though, if you ignore all the Jewish pressure outside, it's like a heaven filled with all your favorite I-am-at-home food, at an almost reasonable prices. And we buy (that's why it's a once-a-month thing). How can you not? We missed the food so much when we were in Gibraltar (though I do have to say the Gibraltarian stores did improve over time), and though we did get used to the British food, there are things that just don't have a proper replacement. Like Hoummus. Or pitta bread. Or Cottage cheese. These things you can't even make at home. I mean of course you can, but the whole point is getting the authentic store-bought taste.
I have been to Golders four times by now, and even signed up for a loyalty card for Kosher Kingdom, but I still don't feel at home there. Truth be told, I don't feel particularly at home anywhere anymore, it is a price we pay for our way of life, the not belonging to anywhere or any place. I think that's why people live near others from the same place, keep or buy a house in the country they came from, and talk about going back all the time. We have none of those things. We don't have a house in Israel anymore, or plans to go back. We don't live in a Jewish or Israeli community. We don't even know if London (or the UK) is our last stop (probably not). Where does it leaves us? with trying to establish our own traditions. I think this is why it's so important to us that the kids will have some of our culture, so we try to merge our culture with theirs. That is why we insist on keeping the Friday night dinner (another great show by the way) tradition, including baking the Challa and lighting the candles, why we celebrate every holiday (okay, almost every holiday, but definitely more than we did when we were in Israel), and do it correctly (more or less), while adding the local holidays for the kids.
Identity is a weird thing, we don't even realise at first how much of it is related to where we come from, where we live. Somewhere along the way and the moves I guess we lost parts of ours, and as the kids grow up their identity is connected to a different culture, a different place. So we adjust, we try and build new parts, find new things to belong to, and fill the gaps that are developing between us and the kids.

I have no songs or words of wisdom with which to end this post. Every Israeli family we ever met outside of Israel struggled with these questions and difficulties. There are moments with the kids (different for everyone) that breaks your heart, that you feel like you are losing them to a different world. It was never a conscious price we chose to pay. But it is a price we pay anyway.

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October 30, 2012

Grandparents in London

My boys are watching yet another football match (it really sometimes seems like the football matches never end... If it is not this league it's the other one, if it is not a live one it is a recorded one, or a show about one). Whatever. I closed myself in the room with my ever-trusty Mac, and am trying to finish closing my gaps. It's not only here that I have huge gaps to close - I managed to open gaps everywhere it seems, and now that I decided to close all of them it sometimes feel like an impossible mission.
Hence the Sunday writing...

My parents arrived for a 2 weeks first visit just after Rosh Hashana. It was not their first visit to London of course. As my brother lives here they have been here many times over the years. It was also not their first time visiting us since we've left Israel of course. We try and go for 3-4 times a year. It was not even the first time they visited us here, since they came with us from Israel for our first 2 weeks in July. It was, however, their first visit since we officially moved here - their first time in our new place, after we've established a routine of sorts.
We knew it was going to be hard. It was harder.
Visits are so important, and on so many levels. First of all, and most importantly, I miss my parents very much. Talking on Skype is not the same as sitting for a chat, or drinking coffee, or going shopping together. It is a million times better then not having Skype, or not being able to call when you want, but it is still not the same as face to face on the same time-zone. The second thing is that it is so much better for the kids to get some grandparents time - who else will spoil them shamelessly, try to feed them all the time, and let them get away with murder? :)
But beside that, the visits are the only way anyone can really understand how we live here. We had the same thing in Gibraltar, you can't really get a lot of the finer points of our lives from a Mediterranean away. Wherever you go in the world the rhythm of life is different, in a way I think that is so hard to grasp from afar. It is the same for us whenever we visit Israel, we are amazed at all the little things we forgot or don't understand anymore.
For us here I guess the meaning is understanding how you can live well inside London without actually ever getting to LONDON. It's not that we don't live somewhere you can get (quite easily) to wherever you want / need. It's that, well, who has the time to? Yon goes to nursery for 3 hours a day. After you take the kids to school and Hidai to the bus in the morning, it's already 9:15. You have to be back at nursery at 12:00. It takes at least 30 minutes each direction wherever you want to go. So more often than not - you just don't go anywhere. There is nothing NOTHING more depressing than getting to Oxford st. and having 1 hour to spend there before you have to rush back so Yon's nice teacher can go eat lunch and the mean receptionist won't scold you.
But when you come to London you want to see LONDON, go shopping, eat out, go to a show, tour all the main attractions (it's fun no matter how many times you've been there). You don't really want to be stuck close to home because Yon goes to nursery for 3 hours. So it's a battle between wanting to spend time with us and doing everything together like we did in Gibraltar, and between wanting to enjoy London as one should when visiting it. Add to that the fact that there are 2 kids to visit and not only one, the fact that each and everyone of us likes different things and want to go to different places, a weather that is colder than what Israelis are used to in September (or at all), and obligations towards the grandkids in Israel, and a terrible toothache for almost the whole visit (for 1 grandparent, and "just for a few days" for the other one), and what you get is a right big mess.
And a lot of unhappy people.
So another change has to happen in life, and again adaptation is called for, so after we realised everything I wrote in the paragraph above, that was what we tried to do.

We took grandparents to Upper st. to get the feeling of being in London (and because Yon was showing withdrawal symptoms after not having Starbucks Chocolate Muffin for quite some time now) and do some minor shopping, before heading back home to have Uri & Ev for afternoon coffee.

 On their first Sunday I got everyone tickets to the first Cake & Bake show, and was super excited about it, both because it was supposed to give me a chance to find some baking supplies and ideas that are hard to find here (like, apparently - fresh yeast. That being said, after a very very long search it turned out that a) the health shop near my house sells them, b) kosher Kingdom sometimes have them, c) Ocado started a new Scandinavian range that for some unknown reason includes yeast), and also it's a chance for me to give my parents a glimpse in to my life and what I do. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned. It was the first cake & bake show, and even though we went on the second day, the entry queues were still very un-necessary long (the tickets were sold-out in advance. they should have adjusted the security and the facility accordingly, but didn't), so it took us a while to actually get in. When we did get inside we discovered that things were not going to improve. Long queues to get anywhere, not enough people who can actually help you find what you want, stalls standing too close to each other so you can't pass, no water points anywhere (water fountains, bottles water machines. Whatever), 3 coffee shops with stale food, long queues and outrageous prices and too-small sitting areas, and not one of the stalls offering tastings. I mean seriously? who puts on a cakes / cookies/ cupcakes/ chocolate/ bread stall and does not offer tastings? As a principal, I don't buy at places who are too cheap to offer tastings, so we didn't. Also, for some reason the organisers apparently believe that the only thing people bake is cupcakes, plain ones at that, so they could decorate them elaborately afterward. That is the only explanation to the sad sad fact that there were almost no stands offering non-cupcake-decoration items. So there you have it. All in all, not a success. They did apologise for some of it later on Facebook (though not on the official newsletter they send out), but it was too little too late. For our family it didn't matter - grandparents hated every minute of being there, and after around 3 stalls and 45 minutes in the queue to the coffee place, we sat on the floor and decided to part ways. kids and grandparents went back home (which as the day went, shouldn't surprise you didn't go all too well in itself and the rain didn't help...). We did get a chance to meet Paul Hollywood (the judge from the Great British Bake Off, that Ron & I watch religiously) and buy some sugar paste before they left. Afterwards Hidai & I wondered around the whole place, but because cupcake-decorating is not a very big deal in our house, it was less fruitful than I hoped.
Meeting Paul hollywood (highlight of the day)
Eating on the floor (low point of the day)
On Monday grandparents went out for a day of shopping and an evening with Uri & Ev, and Tuesday was Yon's eye test so they went for a morning of shopping and were with Ron in the afternoon (unfortunately it was the only time he had a bad experience in the after school club, which led to some comments which led to a raw about our parenting choices / skills. It was sorted the next day as I went straight to the head-teacher to find out what's going on).
At least Wednesday showed an improvement, when Ron (who used this opportunity to explain to his Jewish head teacher that he is celebrating Yom Kippur with his grandparents. To my non Jewish readers - Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and atonement...), Hidai, and grandparents (after a visit to the dentist here) went to watch the Arsenal match in the Emirates stadium. It was grandparents first time in a football match, and after we made sure they dressed properly, and after they climbed what looked like a thousand stairs to their seats, and after they survived the first half which was quite boring, they had a chance to see Arsenal win 6:1, and meet Uri who also came to watch the match (but through ha work thing, so separately). They had a great time, it is such a huge experience to walk with all  the rea&white dressed people on the streets before the match, and of course watching the match itself (I really can't describe it more because I remain the only one in the family who wasn't in a match...). Anyway grandparents came back total fans, and now they want an Arsenal shirt for Christmas and a match in every visit :)
Outside the stadium
Thursday was breakfast at Ottolenghi day. We had some recommendations and decided to check it out. What can I say? WOW. Everyone of those recommendations was right. The first difference I can see between places run by Israelis is that they are brighter and the walls are whiter than in British places. For me, it makes the place feels cleaner. The second is that the coffee is usually better. We drank good coffee, and ate French toast from brioche, and 2 bread selections with gorgeous breads and even better spreads. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I am just waiting for when I can have a morning alone with Hidai to go back there. After that it was almost time to go back since Yon, you know, finishes at 12:00...

Friday was the real low point of the visit, with a very serious talk about all the different expectations all of us had from this visit. It was good to clear the air and we could change the second week of the visit a little at least...
So on Saturday we went for a walk around Piccadilly circus. My aim was the Fortnum & Masons first because they had an Autumn thing going on, and second because it is supposed to be a great place to visit. It is. For us, however, it did not go so well, and some people in our party did not enjoy it so much, which led to being there a very short time before heading to Pret to eat some sandwiches. Anyway I do recommend a visit, and am planning to go back near Christmas. Afterwards we went by the Rainforest Cafe and the M&M's world shop (a slight improvement in the day, but not by much)
The Rainforest Cafe
All of us and an m&m
before heading back home to eat home-made brioche flower shaped buns and salty treats (high point of the day).
High point
Sunday I think was the highlight of the visit for grandparents - we took them to Golders Green to do some grocery shopping. For some unknown reason, grandparents found it to be lovely and enjoyed it immensely, while we (as usual) were just happy that there is bus to take us back home. We did some shopping at Kosher Kingdom and Carmelli ( I try to get there once a month to get some Israeli imported foods. It is oh so expensive but for us, totally worth it) and enjoyed the whole "the same as in Israel" feeling, while at least having the chance to show the kids what a sukkah is and explain about Sukkot (we do try and celebrate most of the Jewish holidays. Our rule is simple - if the holiday does not have some kind of food associated with it, it is not worth celebrating. Unfortunatly for Sukkot it falls down in this category. And also, you need an outdoor space to build a Sukkah, which we don't have).
Kosher kingdom purchases 
On our way home we stopped at Peacocks to but the kids some Wellies and rain-coats, as it became abundantly clear that a) it rains in London, and b) Yon adores puddle splashing... They had a chance to wear it the very next day, which is also known as "The Monday of Horror" for the fact that we managed to get lost on our way to Ron's football club practice thanks to some miscommunications, the fact that there are 2 bridges in Finsbury park area, and my not checking the map. We got to the practice after a whooping 45 minutes of walking in all the wrong directions possible, and without any will to live (to add insult to injury it turned out to be so so so easy to get there from the school...).
It took a while, but things (me) calmed down after a while (meaning, Hidai apologising), and we moved on to Tuesday, also known as Family Gathering Day, in which we had everyone (Uri, Ev, Jo, Adrie and the kids) over for dinner. It was a small, simple thing, that just needed 2 days of menue planning, 3 stores shopping and one whole day of cooking, and only included 4 kinds of biscuits, 2 salads, burekas, potato filled pastry, mushroom filled cups, sweet rolls, and cake-pops for dessert. There is really no need for me to say it again, right? you already know there wasn't enough food :)
everyone had a great time and it was a really lovely evening (even though Uri & Ev were about an hour late), and since there wasn't enough food, we only had leftovers for one day...
Some of the food (the main course)
Thursday morning we went for breakfast at Gail's, which we found to be less nice than Ottolenghi, but closer to Hidai's work. They do have the most amazing chocolate cookies (pricy as hell, but totally worth it) so if you are around, go buy them.

After that  the weather took a turn for the worse side and it became cold and windy, which automatically sent grandparents to 2 days of shopping for winter clothes (if you consider what I have from Gibraltar as Autumn clothes at best, grandparents came from Israel with, lets face it, London Summer clothes)...
On their last day here, we decided to go out in in the morning instead of moping around the house all day, and we went to Covent Garden and around for a stroll. It went surprisingly well (if you consider all the other outings this past 2 weeks) and we managed to finish the visit on a high note, and they still want to come back for Christmas :)

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October 28, 2012

On Autumn and Connections

I seriously can't believe it's the end of October already. Time is such a funny thing isn't it? On the one hand it tends to fly away (especially when you have lots to do, 3 hours a day to accomplish everything you need and a tendency to watch TV instead of work), while on the other hand it takes its time... 
It is our first Autumn here in London (and yes I know it's also Fall, but Autumn sounds so much more romantic don't you think?), and it is nothing like we have ever experienced anywhere else, and everything like you imagine a proper Autumn should be - cold, rainy, and filled with orange-red leaves everywhere. I love it (well, when I am inside the house I do). I fill the house with Autumn appropriate music, eat soup for lunch, and wear all my winter clothes (when winter hits I will need actual winter clothes. Everything I have is Autumn fitting at best).
Kids at the park
One of the main things in Gibraltar we could never get used to is that there are no trees. I mean obviously there is the Rock itself, which has foliage and stuff, but there are no parks, it is not a green place. It is a blue place as it sits just on the Mediterranean and our flat was on the edge of one of the harbours. Don't get me wrong, it was the most beautiful view in the world, and there is nothing like getting a giant tourists cruise-ship just outside your window, but I missed the green and I adore the fact that we now have green everywhere - grass, trees, leaves, parks...
It makes for a great change. 
Though tomorrow things are supposed to get rougher and this is the last above 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) day we will get for a while, so they already shut down the bubbles and lights in our gardens until spring (weird that when they built it they didn't think about the fact that this is London, and the winter here is in a water freezing temperature...), and on Sunday it's the end of Summer Time so it will start getting dark around 5 already. Another change. 
Life is all about that though, don't you think? changes are everywhere and all the time. Maybe not exactly changes, but adaptations. For me at least it seems that it never stays the same. It is never quiet. And when it does, we move :)
For years now Hidai and I have our mutual agreement that the only constant in our life is the being of our family (no more changes there thank you very much). Everything else is under constant movement. 
And it's not just the big things, it can be the way we dress, because they dress differently here - all with the short skirts and tight jeans and knee high boots, and Hidai now has to dress properly for work (not a full suit but close enough), or the holidays we celebrate nowadays, or the fact that the kid's accent is moving more toward the English one I guess, so it's the little things, the ones you don't even notice at first that change. 
One of the changes that happened over the years since we left Israel is realising the importance of connections. Don't get me wrong, we are still unfriendly as ever :) but keeping that in mind, we try harder (again, as all is relative in life, that should probably say relatively harder), or at the very least we acknowledge the fact that we should try harder, because if you don't create your own connections than you sit alone when there is a holiday, or you have no-one to ask if you have some silly questions, and basically you are in charge of not being alone/lonely. I guess It would have been easier if we chose to live in an Israeli or a Jewish community, and I guess that is why most people do, but we chose not to. 
So we are left with the building complex, that does not have a lot of people with kids Ron's age, mostly "young professionals" who leads a life that is so un-similar to ours or parents with their first baby/toddler that keep looking at me funny when they see how I treat Yon's falling down performances (seriously that kid deserves an Oscar or a Brit award for the way he does melodrama-in-the-street), that you just have to patronise and say "fine. You just wait and see", and the nursery/school, in which we have yet to find like-minded souls or people willing to talk to us (hopefully Tyler's mum). 
And so we arrive to family issues, and the fact that Uri & Ev live in London does helps with the holidays (or most of them anyway), but it does not change the fact that their lives are totally different and separate from ours. 
So basically the only people we know in London who lives near us, have kids in similar ages, and are nice (a bonus point), are Jo & Adrie. That's why we totally used the family connection we have through Ev and declared them family :). We had one dinner at their place, 2 dinners at our place (holiday dinners no less), 2 park outing, 2 chance park meetings, one restaurant dinner, one birthday party invite (only Hidai went since that was the week I was ill), and one coffee and play date this past Sunday. (No it is not weird or anything that everything we do is written in the calendar). It feels so good to have people we like to hang out with, that it actually made me realise how much we came to take that for granted in Gibraltar. It did take us a while, but after we found our small but loved group of friends, losing all of them when we moved here was so much harder than we anticipated, and Jo & Adrie are making this loss and loneliness a little bit easier for us. 

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