Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Curse of the Poltersock

My knitting is ganging up on me. 

I taught myself to knit while I was at university and I like to think I’m reasonably proficient. The boys have had plenty of jumpers to keep them warm over the years, many carefully kept and handed down. (Daniel is now far too cool for beautiful custom handknits. I try not to be offended.) 

Last January I was given vouchers for my local yarn shop and bought the wool and pattern for a jumper for myself. It was fairly quickly knit but then the warm weather started and the pieces were parked. I took it on holiday to the Lake District and spent some idyllic half hours sewing it up while the boys were elsewhere with DH. The final stitch went in just as we parked in Coniston and the new jumper made its debut on what would otherwise have been a rather chilly trip on the steam gondola. I was delighted and the knitting bug had well and truly got me again. I made DH take a picture of it and everything. 


Fast forward to early autumn and our 30 year old boiler went on the blink. The replacement part needed turned out to be unobtainable so we decided the time had come for a new one. The few weeks’ delay until work could start wasn’t going to be a problem - we had a working immersion heater, an electric shower, a kettle and a gas fire. 

Ah, did I say we had a gas fire? Yep, HAD. A week after the death knell sounded for the boiler, a routine service of our only heating source resulted in it being immediately capped off. Then the cold snap started. 

I did what any knitter would do; I took the boys to the yarn shop. The fact that I was highly unlikely (read: not a hope in hell) to complete three jumpers, even tank tops, in the couple of weeks until we had heating again was irrelevant; I have never yet met a knitter who didn’t hold a deep-seated belief in their own ability to bend time. 

Things were complicated further when I went down with flu. Not just a heavy cold, this was the real thing - bed-ridden for a week and a half and a good three weeks before I was fully recovered. I was so ill I could only knit for a few minutes at a time. (And yes, flu during a cold snap with no heating is exactly as much fun as it sounds.) Eventually, though, I managed to reach the sewing-up stage for Daniel’s and Ben’s tank tops. 

And there I stuck. Those two tank tops just needed making up and then the necks and sleeves finishing; a matter of a couple of hours at most for both. The problem was this: I have THREE children. If I finished TWO jumpers before even casting on the third...well, it doesn’t even bear thinking about. 

Eventually, I found my circular needles in the chaos left by the 8 days of plumbing work (involving several floors being taken up. I am unreasonably proud that I didn’t lose a single child into the floor cavity.) and cast on for the third tank top. But here is my problem:

I’m bored. 

There, I said it. Even though I made sure to use very different patterns and yarns, a tank top is a tank top. And this one is being extraordinarily unhelpful. I found the needles, cast on, put it in a nice bag to keep the pattern with it... and it is refusing to knit itself. Uncooperative, I call that. 

Which brings me to my (whisper it) other knitting

I have finally got into knitting socks. I have tried once or twice before but it never really grabbed my interest. There were some teeny-tiny ones for Adam when he was a newborn and the entire world seemed to have gone off warm baby socks. I even did a sock class at the local wool shop and got most of the way through a green sock before the thought of having to make another one gave me a case of Second Sock Syndrome so severe that I never finished the first. I remember musing that I should make a one-legged friend, until my brother pointed out that while that might be quicker, finding a one-legged friend would probably be more ethical. Did I mention that my brother is funny?

What probably compounded the problem was my lack of confidence (and skill) with double-pointed needles. Recently, though, I was doing something on dpns (a sleeve for a baby jumper, I think) and realised that I have somehow become comfortable with them. Then I went to a local yarn fair and a skein of very lovely sock yarn leaped out at me and grabbed my purse and did unspeakable things with my credit card. I decided to channel the energy of this brutal mugging into finally mastering the art of sock knitting. 

I found a pattern for a basic toe-up sock and belted one out in under a week. No problems, all straightforward. We shall call this one Sock A. It was a medium and fitted ok but felt a little big so I decided to try knitting the next one as a small to see if I preferred that. A couple of days later, I had a pair of socks! I wasn’t even bored yet, and I loved the yarn (Lilypond Yarns’ ‘Berry Farm’). It is subtle but beautiful, with soft blues and purples broken up with sudden flashes of deep amber. 

Then the trouble started. The new, smaller, sock (we shall call it Sock B) was perfect - so perfect that I knew the medium size would drive me nuts. And so I did the unspeakable and frogged the entire thing, intending to reknit it as a smaller sock. This clearly enraged the spirit of the spurned Sock A, which moved in to vent its wrath in a most poltergeist-like way. 

It may be simply that socks are inherently devious and like to go smoothly the first couple of times so they draw you in, before they ensnare you in a tangle of unturned heels and miscounted stitches from which you cannot escape because you have caught the sock bug and MUST KNIT ALL THE SOCKS. However, this felt like the malevolent hand of Poltersock A was behind it, wreaking its fury at being so heartlessly murdered. 

That heel, people, had to be knit no fewer than SEVEN times. Not only that, every time I had to rip it back I ended up needing to go right back to before the gussets. I was stuck in knitting purgatory, trapped in a loop of increases and decreases and frogging and picking up teeny-tiny stitches (and yes, I know about lifelines but it didn’t even occur to me to put one in, so powerful was the conviction that after two perfectly good socks the third could not be far away). At one point I even got halfway up the leg before I admitted that the messed-up heel stitch was not something I could live with after all. 

I considered putting the poltersock into time out to think about the benefits of reincarnation over languishing half-finished in a dark bag, but I Just. Couldn’t. Stop. And so I plodded on, knitting and tinking and knitting again until I finally reached some sort of Zen higher level and developed a deep, intuitive understanding of the construction of a toe-up heel that meant I could finally reason my way out of the cycle of failure. 

I finished the sock. It fits beautifully. I am slightly concerned about wearing it in case it is still bearing a grudge and decides to make me develop a limp or severe gout, but for now that is a moot point. Why? Because Sock B is now missing. 

It’s definitely a conspiracy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

An Epic Summer

We have had an amazing summer. For the first time that I can remember, it feels like we have really made the most of it, and the heatwave certainly helped! We are all tanned and rested and ready for the change in rhythm that Autumn brings. Here’s a marathon round-up of what we’ve been up to.


Shortly after my last post, Daniel completed Reading Eggs and we decided it was a good time to take a proper break from work. He was suitably proud of himself. 


Instead, we focused on enjoying the sunshine. We went canoeing every fortnight - or rather, Daniel and Adam did while Ben and I enjoyed a peaceful walk along the canal path and met them at the other end. They each formed a strong attachment to a different instructor and it was wonderful to see their confidence and independence. 


Daniel finally finished rebuilding my brother’s long-demolished Lego pirate ship. He started working on it in odd moments at my parents’ some time last winter so I calculate it has taken somewhere in the region of 7 months. Some weeks he would spend a whole hour-long session hunting for just one or two pieces in the boxes of assorted 30 year-old Lego. I always think we adults can learn a lot from watching a child’s enjoyment of the process no matter how long it takes to complete the task. 


Then we have done a lot of camping - enough to satisfy even me. There was our annual Jew Camp with other families from the local area. We did two nights this year rather than one so we were able to do both kiddush and havdalah in a barn, boat rides, a day on the beach, feeding farm animals, toasting marshmallows on the camp fire and generally enjoying ourselves. Daniel took himself off to a grassy slope and started riding his bike without stabilisers. 


We went with fellow home ed families to a little site not far from home that we discovered last year and spent that weekend sitting round the fire pit, looking at Saturn through the telescope, playing tennis and hanging out. 


In August we headed to the Lake District for our first real family holiday since Adam was a tiny baby (we have had some incredible trips to visit DH’s family in various exotic places but hadn’t been away by ourselves for a while). My family used to go to the Lakes every other year and it was very special to show the boys all the things we used to do (and a few we never did). Our pitch had a stream on one side and a steep road with almost no traffic on the other, so the boys were in heaven with bikes and dam-building. They were inducted into the art of washing up in order to earn holiday spending money (at Daddy’s exorbitant holiday rates) and were so keen they would have bankrupted us if we had stayed longer. 


Our first stop on day 1 was Hawkshead, where my brother and I got our first walking boots aged 6 and 3. Adam still takes a slightly smaller size than I can find near us but I was fairly sure that if they had had tiny boots in 1989, when very few places had children’s sizes at all, they would still have something. Sure enough, both boys were swiftly kitted out and Daddy also succumbed, his old boots having bitten the dust a few weeks earlier. I have boot envy and resolve to do lots of walking to wear out my old ones quickly so I too can have lovely new boots. 


The weather was pretty wet for most of the week but the tent held up and we made the most of lots of trips. Hawkshead Grammar School is worth a visit, as is the Beatrix Potter house nearby. 


The steam gondola trip on Coniston was a real treat; there was a quiz for the boys to do, a friendly crew more than happy to show them the intricacies of the engine, and they even got a go at steering the boat and pulling the whistle! 


The commentary was interesting and told the story of Donald Campbell and the Bluebird in installments as we reached relevant points of the lake. That came in handy a few days later at the Lakeland Motor Museum, where they have a whole exhibition about the Campbells with replicas of the various Bluebird boats and cars. 


The Lake District Wildlife Park took up another day, despite sudden downpours, and the weather just about eased off for our visit to my great-aunt. She has entertaining small children down to a fine art - a trip on the Ratty (Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway), meeting at the other end for a superb picnic and a walk to the river for a paddle, then the return trip and back to her house for dinner. It is exactly what we used to do as children and has lost none of its shine. She also offered the services of her tumble dryer so we had dry towels for the first time all week. 


There was only one day where it poured impossibly heavily and we took refuge in the Armitt Museum in Ambleside. This was a gem of a find with Beatrix Potter’s incredible watercolours of funghi, and a whole section about Charlotte Mason, the great educational reformer whose ideas have inspired a whole home education philosophy that I’ve been interested in for quite a while. There was a corner for children to have a go at Charlotte Mason-style nature journaling and the boys spent ages there so we have started a journal at home - more on that in another post. 

Because of the weather we didn’t manage to get in any walking, much to my disappointment. On the last afternoon the rain lifted briefly and we grabbed the chance to get kitted up and head up the hill behind the campsite. Old Man of Coniston it certainly wasn’t - it took about 20 minutes to get to the top - but there were some satisfyingly scrambly bits, stone walls to peer over, a couple of stiles to navigate, plenty of sheep and a nice view over Windermere from the top where we shared some biscuits and then descended rapidly as we could see the rain clouds sweeping in again. 


All in all it was a very successful holiday and we think we might get into the habit of going back to the same area every other year just as my family used to. There is a lot to be said for staying in the UK and knowing the area you are visiting. 

We rounded off the summer with a final weekend camping in Tintagel with friends. It was one of those typically casual home ed things - we picked a weekend and a campsite (one that doesn’t take bookings) and all turned up at some point. Those of us there on the Saturday went to the island and explored the ruins, and on Sunday we hit the beach at Trebarwith. Everyone helped with everyone else’s tent and shared beer and tea, and the children ran in a pack, enjoyed the play area and befriended the site cat. 


So there you are - an epic blog post to round up an epic summer. We have settled in to work and are enjoying the change of rhythm that autumn brings. To be continued...

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Rooty-Tooty Devil’s Flutes

A couple of weeks ago I put the final nail in the coffin of my sanity. I started a recorder club. Not just Daniel, but two of his friends, accompanied by various younger siblings. 


Let me be clear: this is not learning to use electronic recording devices. We are talking about rooty-tooty devil’s flutes, the small plastic instruments of torture that have been the scourge of primary school parents for generations. 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit that I really like the recorder. Lots of people don’t realise that it is actually a ‘proper’ instrument but if you listen to Renaissance and Baroque music (think Bach, Telemann, Corelli) it features heavily. If you don’t believe me, go and YouTube it now! Or to save you the trouble, have a look here. You’re welcome. 

Of course, a beautifully played wooden Baroque recorder is a rather different beastie to the overblown screech whistle most of us are familiar with. But as a beginner instrument, I honestly think it takes some beating. Actually getting a sound out of it to start with is pretty easy so there is an instant result for a small child, and then they can focus on learning fingering and notation and so on. Learning a simple instrument is a good vehicle for tackling early theory (e.g. reading music), which is then transferrable to any other instrument, and many of the techniques used on the recorder are integral to at least the rest of the woodwind and some brass. 

And then, let’s face it, a recorder is the cockroach of the music world - widely detested, largely misunderstood, and absolutely indestructible. No matter how exuberant or heedless the child, or how many ‘accidents’ long-suffering family members are driven to engineer, it is virtually impossible to damage a recorder. How you feel about this will depend on your perspective but I like that it can be left around for the kids to pick up and have a go at frequent intervals rather than having to schedule formal practice sessions. It is also helpful not having to worry that the baby will get his hands (and mouth) on them. 

The only similarly robust instrument I can think of is the piano, which has the downside of being a very lonely experience at the beginner stage. Recorders can be played in groups - although whether they SHOULD is a point heavily contested by attendees of primary school concerts. 

So a few weeks ago I mentioned to the boys that I was thinking of trying them with the recorder (mostly Daniel, of course, but Adam always wants to join in). They weren’t quite sure what I meant so I fetched an innocuous-looking brown box from their shelves. I don’t think they had even noticed it before, sitting innocently under other things on one of the higher shelves. With the air of a conjuror, I opened the box to reveal a whole collection of recorders, tin whistles, and other tooty-blowy things. 

As an aside, because it’s my blog and I can digress if I want to, we also discovered an ancient artifact from my childhood: a battered and tarnished brass car horn with its rubber bulb gone. This came from the Beaulieu Motor Museum at some point in my dim and distant past, and was used to let us know dinner was ready (to save my mum bellowing across two acres of garden and the large field next door). When the bulb expired we took it off and just blew the thing instead, which produced a noice similar to the mating call of a large tanker. Needless to say, the boys were delighted with it and were most disappointed that I limited their time with it lest our garden should be invaded by a fleet of amorous container ships. We may live further inland than I grew up but we’re still not that far from the coast. Also, I like our neighbours and would quite like to maintain our good relationship. 

Back to the recorders. 

We invited a couple of friends to come and learn with us, did a bit of investigation into books and chose Recorder From the Beginning. I also got a couple of grade books for myself to remind me, since I don’t think I had played for about 20 years, and invested in a reasonably decent recorder for myself, the boys having commandeered the Aulos descants that belonged to me and my brother. This is what our sitting room looked like - three adults, three 5/6 year olds, four 2/3 year olds (one was borrowed), and two 6 month olds. 


I will leave you to imagine the noise. But after 20-30 minutes we had actually managed to cover the concept of tonguing (the older three are particularly good at this), how to play a B, where it lives on the stave, and they had all managed to make up a funny phrase and play it (i.e. play different rhythms). Not bad going! Then we sent them off to play, hid the recorders, and drank lots of coffee. 

Session two, over a fortnight later, revealed that all three older children still remembered how to play the B, what it was called, and where it lived on the stave! I was mightily impressed. We have now introduced A, looked at where that lives, and learned to recognise/say/play quaver and crotchet rhythms using the words ‘window’ and ‘door’. Don’t ask, it works. They’ll probably still be using those words when they take Music degrees. 

In the process of trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about, I have got myself completely hooked. Originally I am a violinist but I barely ever play these days because there is never enough time to get it out, and you can’t just drop it onto a table and leave it while you go and sort out World War 3 or a screaming baby. 

It turns out, however, that 3 years of music at university and a brief foray into the clarinet during A Levels (I was working on Grade 8 when I gave up) is a pretty solid foundation for relearning the recorder after a couple of decades. Having said that, it must have been pretty firmly embedded somewhere in my memory because it was the only instrument I played until I was 10 and I seem to remember I was a constant member of my school recorder club from around 6 until I left primary school. Even after I left my recorder teacher persuaded me to go to a couple of adult recorder groups (no, take your minds out of the gutter!), which I really enjoyed. One of them is still running, I have discovered, and I am planning to go after the summer. In the meantime, to keep me busy, I am working on some Grade 5 exam pieces. The descant syllabus only goes up to Grade 5 so I think I might take that next term before I crack out my old treble recorder and continue torturing the family in a lower key. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Finding our New Normal

Since we got back from Israel, our home ed has shifted once again. This is something every home educator - and every parent - will recognise. You get into a rhythm that works and then BAM! someone has a massive developmental leap and/or hormone surge and you have to flail about until you find the new normal. We have managed to avoid too much flailing this time, thanks to it all coinciding with our trip away, thus giving us time away from the old routine (I use that word in its loosest possible sense) and space to observe, discuss and plan ready for our return. 


Reading Eggs and Maths Seeds have stayed. These make my life a huge amount easier so I am extremely grateful that Daniel loves them! For those not in the know, they are online programmes that take the child from the very beginning in reading and maths through to the standard levels for age 7 (RE) and age 9 (MS). There is a follow-on programme, Reading Eggspress, for reading at 7+. Each lesson takes somewhere around half an hour and uses games and animated characters to teach the material. Each game has to be passed before you can move on to the next one, and at the end of each ‘map’ (10 lessons in RE, 5 in MS), there is a quiz that must be passed before you can go on to the next one. You earn ‘eggs’ for each game that can be spent in the online shop to buy virtual furniture etc for a house with a little character, though Daniel has largely lost interest in that side of it (he was a bit obsessed for a while but calmed down when we introduced the rule that he could only go to the shop at the end of each map). As an added bonus, the programme sends me regular emails with a progress report so I have a record of what he has done and when; he doesn’t see these, nor the ‘estimated reading age’, but they are interesting for me to see and could be useful if our education provision were ever questioned. 

Anyway... after starting Reading Eggs at the end of last August, he is now on the final map and busy planning what we will do to celebrate finishing it. He will have a go at reading most things now, though has yet to tackle a whole book, but that will come. Maths Seeds he started in January and is now somewhere around the middle of Year 1. He is still finding it quite easy and often decides to do two lessons in a day so by September I expect he will have ‘caught up’ with where he would be if he were in school. I am impressed with how solid his grasp of basic number concepts is and love how excited he is by manipulating numbers just for the sake of it, not just in a practical context. Practical maths is obviously important (he is starting to tell the time and recognise coins, for example) but I also want him to appreciate the beauty of numbers in pure maths, and I am glad to see this programme encouraging that. 

So now to the new things. After years of fiercely resisting any kind of writing or even drawing, Daniel has suddenly started drawing, colouring, and even giving writing a go. At first it was just in birthday cards but gradually it has increased until he was happy to accept my suggestion that we look at how to write each letter correctly (his upside-down e’s were frustrating him). I gave him a choice of using the old write-and-wipe books or worksheets and he chose worksheets, so I have downloaded a free set and he is cheerfully working his way through the alphabet. 

Then there is Hebrew, with the Z’man Likro textbook I have used with many of my Bar Mitzvah students. He already knew the alphabet thanks to a story book we got him in the US 18 months ago, and now he is making great progress putting the letters together with the nekudot (vowels) and learning some very basic vocabulary. 

For the last year or so, Daniel has been desperate to learn Italian. We’re not entirely sure what inspired this interest (possibly a combination of Peppa Pig and the Go Jetters) but he has been impressively insistant about it. We briefly found a class that he loved, but it stopped for lack of numbers. An attempt to set up a home ed class with the same teacher failed for the same reason (we might try again in September). In the meantime, therefore, we are going to have a go at ten minutes each day of the Duolingo app. 

Finally, it felt like time to introduce some sort of music education. That deserves a post of its own. 

We don’t do all these things every day, of course - we are far too busy living life and enjoying all the activities summer offers. Perhaps 3-4 days most weeks we are doing at least some, aiming for a balance over the space of each week. Daniel seems much more settled and happy, and he and Adam fight much less, when he has had some time and space doing work. 

Of course, Adam is now asking to do ‘work’ too, so our new normal is about to change again to accommodate that, but for Daniel we seem to have found what works. For now, anyway!



Thursday, June 07, 2018

Hummus and Hypercausts

We have just (well, a couple of weeks ago) come back from Israel after a whirlwind 11 days visiting family and being as touristy as we could manage. DH has a lot of relatives in Israel and we have gone several times but not for the last four years, so Daniel was the only one of the kids to have been before (just before he turned 2). 


Long flights with three small children is never going to be relaxing but we all managed pretty well. For a start, we flew from the tiny airport 15 minutes from home, changing planes in Paris. And when I say tiny, I mean about 200 yards from the taxi drop-off to the check-in desk, and the same distance again to the gate. I swear there were more staff than passengers! Coming back, we had a very early start but less than an hour after landing we were home and lunch was cooking, which was utter bliss. Well worth the long layover on the way out and not-quite-long-enough transfer time on the way back. 

First stop, after a day settling in, was the Persian synagogue. It is beautiful... and Orthodox. Which means that I (and all the other women) was upstairs in a gallery, taking no active part in the service, and I had all three kids with me. I didn’t even bother picking up a prayerbook. Keeping two active small boys and a 5 month-old baby quiet, reasonably still, and gainfully occupied for a couple of hours requires a superhuman level of multitasking which definitely does not leave room for following the service with more than half a braincell. Other kids there run in and out of the men’s section and play in the hall but Daniel was too shy and Ben too small. Adam did go and sit with DH and his dad for a bit, and I had an arsenal of peggies and matching cards, story cubes and picture books. Even so, I spent my entire time shushing them... until another toddler suddenly acquired a whistle, which no one rushed to remove from her, at which point I figured I wasn’t doing as badly as I had thought. I even got an approving smile and pat on the shoulder from the Rabbi’s wife, who rules the ladies’ gallery with an iron hand, AND when she came over at the end of the service to find out who I was and where I came from I actually managed to conduct the entire conversation IN HEBREW! This was the first time I’ve had enough Hebrew to cope with a whole (basic) conversation. It was gratifying to know that the intensive study I had done in the couple of weeks before we went had been worth it (I didn’t reach my goal of finishing the Teach Yourself book but managed 10 chapters out of 18). 

Shabbat over, it was time to get out and about. Coming from a part of the UK that is flooded with tourists (known locally as ‘grockles’), I have spent years battling a deep-seated aversion to appearing at all grockly when we go anywhere, but I seem to have finally conquered it and we embraced our grockleness and grockled as hard as we could. 

The excavations at Caesarea were amazing and Daniel was hugely excited by the archaeology. I have always wondered if I was flogging my own interest in history a bit hard for him but here I was just following him around from one place to the next as he enthused about the tiered seating at the side of the arena, mosaics, baths, and hypercaust systems. That made my heart happy. 


In Haifa we visited the incredibly beautiful Bahá’i gardens (the bottom bit, not the near-vertical 45-minute walk down from the very top of Mount Carmel) at the boys’ request, after they saw a picture in one of their books about Israel. We have friends who are Bahá’i and recently went to a Persian New Year celebration with their community, so that tied in nicely. Then off we went to Akko, at a family member’s recommendation, and spent an afternoon exploring the old Crusader citadel. We will definitely be going back on future visits, maybe with an overnight stay to fit more in, but this time we were concentrating on enjoying just a few things rather than packing in so much that everyone was exhausted. Oh, and halva ice cream is a thing. A thing I need more often in my life, so I must try to find a recipe, since travelling all the way to Akko isn’t really very practical on a regular basis. If you do happen to be in Akko, however, go to Endomela on HaHaganah Street. You won’t regret it. 


The following day we spent on the beach in Herzliya Pituach, and I rediscovered some things I had forgotten about it: 

1. The sea is warm. I had forgotten this was possible. Even Ben enjoyed going in. 

2. There are sparrows everywhere but not a single seagull (widely reviled in our part of the world for their tendency to steal food out of people’s hands). This I could live with. 

3. Very pretty orange shells. The kids collected loads, which we then left in a cafe later in the day. Boo. 

Another day, we pootled over to Beit Shemesh to see the stalactites in the Avshalom Caves. Note to self for next time: The English tours are at 11am and would avoid the ear-splitting chaos of endless Israeli school groups. Still, much oohing and ahhing. Then a fantastic evening with DH’s cousins, who have produced several more kids of their own since we last saw them. Adam bonded with the smaller ones over mud pies in the park, while Daniel regaled an adult cousin at great length with tales of dissecting a squid at the aquarium a few weeks before, and his birthday party at the Lego shop. 

Next stop, Jerusalem, with an overnight stay in a very nice hotel, courtesy of my father-in-law. We spent a day at the Israel Museum seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and other cool things, and then the next day exploring the Old City and visiting the Western Wall. Daniel and Adam went to the men’s side with DH and got to roll a Torah scroll. Ben and I on the (much smaller) women’s side... got to walk up to the wall. Being Friday afternoon, it was quite quiet, but as always I was acutely aware that blokes have a much better deal there. It is a special place with a wonderful atmosphere but the stranglehold of the Orthodox authorities makes it far less inspiring for me than it could be. The shuk was as fascinating as ever and Daniel chose a new menorah and Adam a new kippah. 


The trip ended with a massive party for all the extended family members, with lots of time in the swimming pool. I tried out my Hebrew, then retreated to hide behind their (invariably superb) English, and enjoyed a brief foray into French with an elderly relative who went to an ‘Alliance’ school in Iran 60-odd years ago. If Wikipedia serves me correctly, these were French-speaking Jewish elementary schools set up across the Middle East. It was the best language we had in common so we each dredged up as much as we could from the depths of our memories, knocked off the rust and had an extremely ungrammatical but lovely conversation. My grandmother (a French teacher) would have been proud. 

So that’s about it. The kids enjoyed the apartment complex swimming pool; Adam’s record was 5 hours in one day, Ben’s was an hour and a half. It was fairly cold water but he must have realised that it was the most comfortable he would be all day. The heat was exhausting at times but no one burned (apart from me and DH a bit at the beach - nothing awful). The kids coped extremely well with all the changes and strange people, though the Israeli tendency to fondly ruffle the hair of any passing child horrified Daniel to the depths of his very English don’t-touch-me soul. Story cubes were a great icebreaker for him. We even survived the airport security, including the passport control lady who told us absolutely seriously that we should change our surname so she would know we’re definitely Jewish. 

As usual, I am determined to keep up with my Hebrew and be fluent by the time we next go. We’ll see! I do love visiting Israel - archaeology everywhere, being in a place where Judaism is the norm (from a mezuzah on every door to kosher cafes and restaurants everywhere), the food (I am a certified falafel addict), Israelis’ love for kids (only surpassed by the Italians’), wonderful family and more. Obviously the place has its problematic elements but I am so glad we get to go at least every few years. 

Having said that, it was lovely to get back to manageable temperatures and plenty of green! 

Monday, April 30, 2018

One of those days!

It’s been one of those days. It started (rather earlier than I would have liked) with the discovery that Adam had wet the bed. Our bed. On the side without the waterproof mat. 

My get-up-and-go was definitely elsewhere this morning so we were running late to get to music class. In my hurry, I forgot that the parking app likes to make absolutely positively completely sure that you definitely want to pay for parking and missed the umpteenth ‘confirm’ button, resulting in a bright yellow ticket on my windscreen when we got back. 

We arrived home to find a ‘we tried to collect’ note from the courier company who delivered a completely mashed piece of furniture to us several weeks ago and have so far failed to turn up to get it on multiple occasions. Apparently the voicemail and email we sent on Friday within 10 minutes of their message telling us they’d be here today weren’t enough to get across that I wouldn’t be home. Next time I might try a ouija board. 

Next I checked my email and picked up a reply from the gardening glove company that supplies the local gardening centre. I wanted to know why their leather gauntlet gloves only come in a size so massive that I might as well wear boxing gloves for all the good I can do in them. I received a very polite response informing me that the gauntlets only come in large (er, that’s why I was asking...) and recommending instead the flimsy beflowered ladies’ gloves that reach no further than my wrist. Well, that’s me told. I shall go and do a little light weeding and potting while the men in my life gird their Y-chromosomes and venture forth into the testosterone-fuelled battle against the brambles. When I have finished I shall take up my embroidery until it is time to prepare cold beer and a hearty meal ready for their victorious return. Alternatively, I may temporarily suppress my indignation and pay two and a half times the price for the rival company’s smaller-sized gauntlet gloves and then go and vent my unladylike rage on the prickles. After I have finished my tapestry fire screen. 

To cap it all, as I set about preparing three different lunches while muttering darkly about misogyny in the cabbage patches of Great Britain, I managed to burn my own food just enough to make it unpalatable but not quite sufficiently to justify throwing it out and starting again. I finally sat down, with a grumpy wriggly baby whose mission in life at that moment was to knock my food onto the floor, to discover that my much-needed and lovingly made coffee was now lukewarm and had a skin on top. Blech. 

So there you go. Admittedly the afternoon was less full of catastrophic and infuriating happenings but it has still been a day I am happy to see the back of. 

Time for a cuppa, methinks. 

Thursday, April 05, 2018

A Passover Journey

Of all the Jewish festivals, Passover is definitely my favourite. There’s a great story with plenty of audience participation, edible props, bonkers traditions and a lot of singing - what’s not to love? 

This year we decided to get hands-on with the story and talked about what we would take with us on the kind of journey the Israelites made into the desert. 


Food and water came up first, and cups for getting more water from streams. Daniel considered string would be pretty useful, while Adam fancied tools (he got a toolkit for his 3rd birthday recently). After some debate, we concluded that a Swiss Army knife would do as most other tools could be replaced by rocks of various kinds along the way. Matches would help with fire for warmth and cooking (some conversation about alternative methods such as flint and steel, or rubbing two sticks together), while a picnic blanket would provide something to sit on, sleep under and shelter in. Finally, a first aid kit seemed sensible. 

Then we made our own matzah, following the tradition of allowing no more than 18 minutes to elapse between the water hitting the flour and the dough going into the oven, to ensure that no leavening could take place. While it was in the oven, we read the story again, packed everything into our rucksacks, and put on our walking boots. Adam, who had grasped that the desert is hot, sensibly insisted on his sun hat too. 

As soon as the matzah was ready, off we went! 

Our trek took us up the road to the park, followed at one point by some rather noisy Alsations (we decided they were the Egyptian army), whom we escaped by crossing the road (or Red Sea, depending on how you wanted to look at it). There we settled down to a brief and slightly chilly picnic of matzah, hummus and charoset. 


The original plan was to continue to the Promised Land (cafe up the road) for the fabled milk and honey (hot chocolate) but we ran out of time so headed for home, talking about modern-day refugees on the way. 

I can see this activity growing with us and becoming a family Passover tradition, maybe a proper hike in years to come, and hopefully inspiring conversations about refugees that lead into positive action like our amazing friends here

The matzah wasn’t bad, either!