Sunday, August 16, 2015

Upgrading from Harrods to Ikea

This post about hand-me-down furniture is one of the most popular posts I've ever published and I didn't even write it myself. It fits in with my snobbish notions of interior design having once read that the aristocracy don't buy furniture, they inherit it.

Harrods, London 1974
Today marks the end of an era as I sold my dining room table after 20 years. It wasn't a new table when I acquired it. It came from my friends N and T when they upgraded. Her mother bought it for them in a Harrods sale when they got married 41 years ago and it came with them when they moved to Jerusalem.

I always got a kick out of the fact that the table came from Harrods. I usually buy a pencil in Harrods just to get the bag. However, the truth is that it fit better in my old apartment which had a wider and longer dining area. This apartment really needs a different shape table. With the arrival of Ikea in Israel, a new table has been on my wish list for a couple of years now. Can you call it upgrading from Harrods to Ikea? I think you can.

The table has gone to a young couple of newlyweds who are looking forward to entertaining family and friends on shabbat and festivals. I hope they enjoy 20 years of great meals and wonderful company around the table just as N & T did , and then I did. And then they can pass it on.

Meanwhile I haven't actually got the money to buy the new table yet so I'm using this vintage Ikea kitchen table that I was given by friends when they moved to a smaller apartment in Jerusalem. It also came with them from England where it had been the table in their morning room in Liverpool since some time in the 1990s. The first Ikea shop in the UK opened in Warrington in 1987. They tell me that the table was bought from Ikea in Warrington a few years later.

Vintage Ikea, Warrington 1990s
I'm in no hurry to purchase a new table. I'm enjoying the space and the lighter atmosphere of the white table. Did I tell you that I'm a bit obsessed with the Tiny House movement and Minimalism? I watch TEDx talks about less being more and I'm fascinated by people who can fit everything they own into two boxes. Whilst I still want a separate living room and a bedroom for each of us (no climbing up ladders to a loft space) and a fully plumbed shower room and toilet is essential, I find myself looking around to see what else I can sell or give away.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

First Grade Was Magic!

This was a very apprehensive pupil about to go to First Grade on September 1st 2014.

And this was the final Day of First Grade on June 30th 2015.

First Grade is magic. I remember the opening ceremony (Israelis have ceremonies for everything) and thinking that the Second Graders looked so much older than the new First Graders who still looked like they were in Kindergarten. One of the mothers with older children told me that this year is the biggest jump in development from small children to schoolchildren.

She was so right. Suddenly they have to deal with a timetable, lessons which run according to schedule and not according to what they feel like doing, homework, sitting and completeing work, and interacting with children in the school, up to 12 year olds in Sixth Grade.

And that's just the mechanics. In First Grade they learn to read and write (in Hebrew). They learn real Maths. They learn Science and Geography, Art, Music, Personal Development and Life Skills. They learn English As A Second Language (we knew all the English already but it brought our report card average up significantly) and Jewish Studies about the Jewish calendar and stories from the Torah (Old Testament). There was Physical Education and Dance, there were trips and hikes. There was a lot about Israel, especially the songs and all about Jerusalem. In the afternoon programme there was cookery.

At home we had play dates, we practiced reading English, DD rode her bike, I read chapter books to her (in English), we went to bed far too late, we argued and negotiated, we ate too much junk, but we always did the homework on time. DD spent far too much time on the tablet (but not more than I spent on my laptop and we don't have tv),  Next year we will try harder.

Last August I bought 10 t-shirts with the school badge transfer in the largest size that didn't look ridiculous thinking they might last two or three years. LOL, as soon as the Summer School is over most of them are going in the bin and we'll start again. (We'll get the cheapest ones costing under 3GBP.) I didn't bargain for ketchup at lunch, chocolate cake when a child has a birthday, paint and clay in art, and an irresistable desire to chew the collar when you're a bit overwhelmed in school.

We love DD's teacher, Meirav and we are delighted that she'll be going up to Second Grade with the same class.

I learned loads too. My Hebrew improved as I had to read the daily emails from Meirav with the homework and other notices. (Interesting that DD has learned she doesn't have to pay attention to instructions at school for homework and future events, what to bring, etc... as she knows there'll be an email.)

I learned that Pesach (Passover) is celebrated for only 7 days and not 8 - who knew? We only found out when DD got it wrong on her worksheet. (FYI Pesach is celebrated for 8 days outside Israel and only for 7 days in Israel. Of course I knew this but we are always in London for Pesach so it's not what we do and I forgot.)

We got a proper report card with grades and comments. She excelled in Learning Skills, Social Skills, English, Music, Art, and Dance. We're ok in Physical Education (for now :~) ). I know we have to practise Language Skills as they are in our second language. I was surprised that we didn't do better in Maths but I suspect some of that is due to not understanding the instructions. Nevertheless we will practise maths over the summer too. We got a row of 'sufficient' for Science. They say 'sufficient' but they mean 'not really sufficient' or 'just sufficient to pass but no more.' Again this is a lot to do with a lack of self confidence in answering the questions in case she gets it wrong.

Finally, DD has not taken part in any of the ceremonies or performances so far excpet to be in the chorus. Last week she told me, "Mummy I know all the parts for the groups in the performance so I could have performed." When I asked her why she didn't volunteer to be in it she said, "I didn't realize it would be so easy to learn." And yesterday she said, "sometimes in Science I knew all the answers but I didn't say in case I was wrong. And when they said the answers I was RIGHT!" I think we may be about to win another battle. But we have the whole of Second Grade to conquer that one.

Goodbye First Grade. It's been a blast and you were magic! 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reasons 2B Cheerful 123

Somewhere in the Blogosphere there's a weekly weekend linky called "Reasons To Be Cheerful 123." It's being hosted by Ojo's World atm. I always read some of the others so I don't know why I've never done one myself before now.  Here are my reasons.

Whilst clearing out a kitchen cupboard that I've not seen the back of for some years - I kid you not, I found 4 pairs of non-latex washing up gloves. I've been looking for these for ages and not seen them anywhere. I keep forgetting to buy them when we're in England and forgetting to ask friends to bring me some when they visit. For ages now I've just not been using gloves and my hands are not thanking me. Neither are my finger nails.

In a massive coincidence, two mothers of boys I teach gave me an end of year present of a manicure. Is that timely or what? So now I have to wait about 10 days for my shortest broken nail to grow to a repsectable length to justify using the manicure and I'm set for an elegant summer.

I'm famous. Well a bit famous in my little corner of the world at least. A mother of one of DD's school friends told me she was on a flight to Italy a few weeks ago and she sat next to a woman who is a single mother. My name came up, or at least I was referred to by description (I have no idea how it happened actually) and the woman exclaimed, "I read her blog! Do you know her?"

My friend said she felt quite important as she answered, "yes, our children are in school together." LOL, so I've ordered 500 photographs which I will autograph and hand round before everyone goes flying off for the summer. ;~)

Another friend with grown up children called me last week. Her student son has gone away for six months so she got to do a thorough clean out of his bedroom. In a drawer she found two child's multiple-entry tickets to our local swimming pool, valid until October 2015. We have 10 visits for which I only have to pay for me and not both of us.

4 (You're not resticted to 3)
I have lodgers for five weeks starting on Sunday (hence the cleaning out of the kitchen cupboards so I can give the lodger some space for her food). This Summer is looking less like bankruptcy by the minute.

It really is THE SUMMER!!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Blessing Opens A Pandora's Box

A piece of parchment paper came home from school with a note asking me to write a blessing for my daughter for her Torah (Bible) Party. My first thought for a blessing was: hamotse lechem min ha'aretz. That's a joke, it's the blessing we say before eating bread.

The problem was that I missed the meeting where most of the parents wrote their blessings and handed them in straight away. I didn't know if it was to be stuck into a Bible to be presented to the children, made into a bookmark, or displayed on the wall. I didn't know which way round the parchment should go (portrait or landscape) so I wrote my piece twice - once on each side in the two different layouts.

Actually that was wasn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem was what to write. I wanted something meaningful and to do with the Torah. Maybe a quote from it or an inspiring quote about how the Torah can be your guide for life, etc... And, of course I was going to write in Hebrew as DD's schooling is in Hebrew and it's the Torah, for Goodness sakes. Of course it should be in Hebrew.

As DD had handed me this thing just as Shabbat came in, it was too late to have the discussion about what to write on facebook. I looked for some quotes online but, funnily enough, they are all written in the masculine form. Well I object to that.

I didn't just object, but it brought up a whole load of memories of being denied the chance to read from the Torah on my Bat Mitzva like the boys get to do on their Bar Mitzva. Of being relegated to the Ladies' Gallery in the synagogue where we were not a part of the service at all. I used to sing as loudly as possibly to make myself heard but no one really cared.

On my Bat Mitzva, a joint ceremony of seven girls on a Sunday afternoon, we weren't even allowed to stand on the raised platform from where the Torah is read. We had to stop on the second step. We were allowed to read some psalms in Hebrew and the prayer for the Royal Family and another prayer for the State of Israel in English. We were not permitted to utter any words of Torah in Hebrew or English.

Looking back on it now I'm angry in a way it didn't even occur to me to be angry back then. I accepted it all and more. But with my adult head on now, they spoilt it for me. Later when I actually read more of the Torah, with a more feminist head, I felt alienated from this history of the men of Israel.

So what do I tell my daughter? How can I tell her to love the Torah when I don't love it. When I don't think it's very relevant to her as a girl. Yes I know it holds the fundamental laws on which western civilization is based, and therefore it's not unimportant. I agree with don't kill, don't steal, don't covert, honour your parents, etc... Being kind to strangers, turning the other cheek, giving charity, and feeding your animals before you feed yourself are all hugely good and wise ways to conduct yourself. But what about the narrative. The story. Where are the women in all this roaming around the desert?

I could pull up my big girl's knickers and let it go. I could justify it as being true to history. The Bible stories are about an era when women did stay in the tent and were owned by their husbands. The problem is that we look to this book as a guidebook for life. And the commentaries throughout the ages were written by men, perpetuating the whole women as chattels issue.

I took advice from friends at lunch. They told me to forget trying to find a quote from the Torah, there's nothing in there for girls. They suggested a quote from English literature or poetry. Something personal. So this is what I wrote:

To Adiele Hanna Luisa Selby (My Adieli-Weli-Wooshwoosh) 

"Everyone has good news inside her, The good news is that you don't know how great you can be." - Anne Frank

God bless you and make you a good big girl

"You see I love you more each day. Today more than yeterday and less than tomorrow." - Rosamonde Gerard. 

I have no idea what anyone else wrote. Possibly I wrote too much, They might not like it that I wrote in English. Oh well, this is my blessing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Anti-Vaxxers Shocked And Devastated

Spain has its first case of diphtheria in 28 years.  A six year old boy in Catalan has come down with this potentially fatal desease after his parents chose not to vaccinate him or his sister.

The article states that the family is devastated. Obviously. Who would not be devastated with their son in intensive care with a potentially fatal desease.

They also feel tricked as they claim they were not properly informed. I'm assuming that this is not a family of rural peasants with limited understanding of the modern world. Uneducated simple folk are much more likely to do as the doctor tells them and take the vaccinations. So how could it be that they were not as informed as the rest of us, unless they chose not to be.

We were all worried about the MMR and autism connection scare. Those docmentaries were very convincing. And even after the connections were debunked by scientific research, what about the conspiracy theories that said the pharmacutical companies paid to skew or cover up the real results?

I, like every other parent I know, took to the internest and read everything I could about the value of vaccinations, the risks of not being vaccinated versus the risks of the vaccinations themselves. In the end there was no contest. The miniscule risk of an allergic or otherwise bad reaction to the vaccinations against the possible devastating effects of having the actual deseases was a no brainer.

I don't doubt those poor parents who witnessed the onset of autism the day after giving their child the MMR. I personally believe that either the signs were already there and they had not picked up on them yet or maybe the trauma of the vaccination triggered a still latent condition that was going to manifest itself anyway in the near future.

There does seem to be a recognised phenomenon of vaccine induced autism which is different from classic autism, which is still devastaing and life changing. However, 'recognised' means that the courts recognised that the vaccine brought on the condition and made the drug company pay out. It does not mean that it's been scientifically proven. The alternative to taking this risk is a return to the polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, ridden days of previous centuries.

And the parents I find most irrisponsible and deluded are the ones who don't vaccine thinking they are safe because the rest of us have. Not only do they endanger their own child's life but also endanger babies below the vaccination age, old people and those with compromised immune systems. All it takes is one intrepid traveller to have picked up something from a remote corner of the undeveloped world and to return with an album full of photos and, for example, diphtheria,

The health authorities are helping the parents in Spain, who have now had their younger daughter vaccinated, to rid themselves of their feelings of guilt. Why? Feel guilty. I hope your son makes a full recovery and let this be a lesson to everyone.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

An Adoption Tme Bomb?

I'm hard on the Daily Mail Online. It irritates me that they don't proofread properly, that half baked articles with no real information get passed for publication, that they write sensational half-truth headlines to get you to click (because a click is a hit for the adveertising statistics), and stories that are not stories but just the disgruntled having a whinge in public.

And yet there are times when they use their massive readership and advertising revenue to good use. Times when they grab hold of a story and won't let go until justice is done. And times when they go over and beyond the call of a newspaper to try and help the wheels of justice but sadly can only go as far as the law will allow.

I concede that I'm willing to overlook the shoddy reporting and lack of proofreading on some articles for the flip side, when they intervene and get some customer service where it's due. When they publicize a major injustice and sudenly the company involved apologizes and pays out. When they expose corruption in high places. All this I appreciate.

Today I read the story of Nicky and Mark Webster whose three young children were taken away by social services and put up for adoption because the middle child had some bone fractures that could not be explained. They took the toddler to the hospital, did nothing wrong and everything right, there was no other evidence of anything amiss with their two other children aged 4 and 1. The children were taken and adopted even though the judge (in the secret court) said there was reasonable doubt and no abuse had been seen by anyone or proved. They rejected the plea that the children be adopted within the family.

Three years later they had to fight to keep their new baby and the DM stepped in to pay for first class lawyers and get some justice. They got some justice. "Some." The evidence showed that due to a milk allergy their GP had advised them to give their middle child soy milk instead of dairy. He had been suffering from scurvy as a result of vitamin C and calcium deficiency. There was no abuse, They had followed instructions and loved their kids is all.

Nicky and Mark won the right to keep the baby Brandon and they went on to have another daughter, Both children are well looked after and loved. However the judge said that as the three older children had been with their adoptive family(s) for three years it would be too disruptive for them to be returned to their real parents.

I think the judge was wrong. Three years is a long time in the life of a child but for the girl who was wrenched from her mother's arms on her fifth birthday, she'd had more of her life in her real home. And three years is not a long time in a lifespan of 80 odd years. During the war there were many children who were sent away for three years and then returned.

Howver, it's what has happened since that makes me think those adoptive parents are sitting on a time bomb. One that is due to go off in about three years when the daughter, who is now 15, turns 18. The real parents were supposed to get an update letter and photos every year but this stopped when they went to court over the new baby. The grandparents were supposed to get regular visits but this was stopped. The adoptive parents had to know the whole story. They had to know how the real parents were found to be good parents and had done nothing wrong. And yet they went along with stopping all contact. The children will know this in the future. I'd be surprised if the 15yo daughter has not seen the article in the DM or been told about it.

You cannot go against the courts but you can deprive your children of the truth. Of their truth. You can make a bad situation worse by continuing the suffering and the secrecy. A compromise could have been found whereby the real parents had visitation on some level and communication was kept intact. They chose not to and I think they might come to regret it in the very near future. There are no secure secrets in this age of instant worldwide media.

Me, I dissolve into tears every time I think of that 5yo screaming to her mummy, "Mummy why can't I come home with you? Is it because I was naughty?"

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Book And A Cup

Jerusalem people will know that I'm referring to the iconic bookshop Sefer VeSefel (A Book And A Cup), a second-hand English bookshop in the heart of downtown Jerusalem.

I'm not sure when it opened but it was here when I came in 1988. For over a quarter of a century Sefer VeSefel has been one of the famous places for Anglos to book themselves out (well you know what I mean) whether they be students, gap year participants, new immigrants, or veterans. And I've been all of these in my time. We all have Sefer VeSefel books in our bookcases.

Sefer VeSefel
The book part is obvious but what of the sefel (cup)? It was once a bookshop-cafe. Years ahead of its time. Decades before every trendy bookshop had an in-house coffee shop, we would go to Sefer VeSefel for a cup of tea, a pastry, and a good read. Of all the famous hang-outs of our youth, Sefer VeSefel is perhaps the only one that has stayed constant and survived. Except that at some point the cup of tea part stopped.

Everyone knew Uri Rucham the resident book mavin and confidente. So it was an enormous surprise to read that not only is Uri retiring but that good friends of mine, going back 25 years, have bought the bookshop. (I don't want to brag but the owners of Sefer VeSefel are old friends of mine...)

Zia and Michael Rose are the new proprietors. I went in today to visit and of course to buy some books. I cannot describe the excitement of seeing my friend owning the shop. It's like if one of your friends owned the cafe in 'Friends' and you were one of the friends.

I'd brought in three books from my shelves to exchange. I say 'exchange' as they don't buy your books but rather give you credit towards a book purchase. If you bring in enough books you could in theory do a straight exchange with no money involved. In practice this is impossible for any real book lover.

I took in three books and I left with five books (although two of them were from the bargain boxes outside). It was sort of my housewarming gift to buy a few extra - I won't always buy five books. My three books would have been an exchange for one new book if I added a few shekels.

Here's today's bounty - the five and the four
As I was choosing which books to take in, not an easy task after I'd decluttered my bookshelves for the Yedidya Bazaar in March, I decided that I'm going to read all my books again and only keep those that I absolutely love. The rest can go to to Sefer VeSefel in an ongoing downsizing exercise whereby every three books out equals one book in. This could take a few years.

Meanwhile, as I approached my building on the way home, I found a pile of books sitting on the wall outside. This is another traditional way to get rid of unwanted books in Jerusalem (possibly throughout Israel). No one wants to throw away books. Books are sacred, So we leave them out for the taking. I took four. LOL, I came home with nine books!