Sunday, February 16, 2020

My Perfume Story - A full Circle

Old friends, Oscar and Cantata
For my 16th birthday a friend gave me a big bottle of Charlie. That was the young and cheap(ish) choice for teenagers just starting on their perfume journey in the 1970s.

At 20 I returned from my gap year and started college. My more sophisticated friends explained that you needed to have a signature scent that you always used. People would know you by it. It was the sophisticated thing to do.

So I experimented with some of the light, fresh, citrus scents. namely O de Lancome and another one that I can't remember. Very soon I was drawn into the wonderful hype world of perfume and O wasn't exclusive enough.

This is when I became a perfume snob. I searched for weeks. My signature perfume had to have a pleasing, sleek bottle. It had to smell wonderful obviously. I was drawn to vanilla scents and repelled by whiffs of pungent pheromones (Opium). Anything that said SEX was out (Obsession), and so was anything too aggressive (Poison). I didn't want a girl's name (Chloe) as that would be Chloe's not mine. And I avoided any perfumes directly connected to a particular celebrity - I wanted to live my best life, not contribute to theirs (Elizabeth Taylor, for example and now Sarah Jessica Parker, et al). I didn't want to advertise a shop or a business (Ralph Lauren or Giorgio, Beverly Hills). Chanel No 19 was a cliche and No 5 was out of my league. I was very picky,       

I eventually found Oscar by Oscar de la Renta. It was slim and sophisticated, it smelled of vanilla, it was expensive, exclusive, and Oscar de la Renta was one of the sexiest men on the planet. (I happen to like bald men, ok, I have slightly weird taste.)

For years I wore Oscar. If a friend smelled Oscar on anyone else, and it very rarely happened, they'd say, "oh, she smells like Rachel," Or, more flatteringly, "Oh, she's wearing Rachel's perfume." I had indeed established a signature scent.

I was single and carefree at the time. A married friend with four young children would ask me to get her a bottle of White Musk from The Body Shop when I was in the UK. Hahaha, poor thing, I felt sorry for her. Well not exactly sorry. More like superior.

Then a couple of things changed. 1. I acquired a mortgage and a few years after that, a baby. And 2. the price of perfume shot through the roof. The gap between my disposable income and the cost of Oscar was too wide.

I downsized to a similar (to my nose) scent with Burberry Brit. It had that pleasing country house tartan on the bottle. But this was short lived as things got financially dicey for a few years and Burberry suddenly had ideas above its station. Now even Burberry was out of my price range.

About 30 years ago, a friend came back from Paris with a gift. A small tin of scented vaseline (for want of a better word). It was Cantata by Yves Rocher. I loved it. It was warm vanilla. The next time I was in London I went looking for it. Apparently, Yves Rocher is only found in Yves Rocher shops. And they're not in the UK. Only in Europe.

Fast forward 20 years and I was in Prague on a mini-break. Lo and behold I came across an Yves Rocher store (it was a shop but it was so chic it warrants being called a store, iykwim). I was overjoyed. My joy was premature and short lived. Cantata had been discontinued.

At this point I gave up on perfume. I hardly had time to brush my hair in the mornings let alone worry about perfume. Although I kept that Cantata tin for years after the perfume was [almost] used up. There was a part of me that still wanted to be the sophisticate with her signature scent.

Last September I was in the local high street near my mum and I wondered into a cheap toiletries shop. I can't remember what it's called but it's like Poundland for toiletries and cleaning stuff. I picked up a vanilla spray for DD as she'd got something similar as a gift and enjoyed spritzing herself. I went to pay and saw a stock of Oscar de la Renta's Oscar behind the counter. It was only £20! It's over £80 in the duty free and in Selfridges! I couldn't believe it. Obviously I snapped it up.

To say it was too good to be true would be accurate. I don't know how old this stock of Oscar was, or how it had been stored, but it was decidedly off. I tried it more than once just to make sure but it didn't get any better. While decluttering last week, I took a photo of the spoiled Oscar and the 30 year old Cantata tin, thanked them for their promise of magic and binned them both. Then I went into DD's bedroom and tried a spritz of her vanilla spray which cost 99p. It's lovely.

Body Shop, here I come.

Winter Denial

A real fire isn't necessary but otoh, a log fire is comforting.
"We don't really have winter in Israel." People really say that. It has some truth (but only some) in the centre of the country around Tel Aviv, on the coastal plain, and in the southerly Negev Desert. But half the country is in the mountains and we most certainly do have winter.

Granted it's not like winter in Northern Europe and Canada for example. Winter is much shorter here - about three months tops, and our lowest temperatures are around -1 to -3C (maybe a bit more if you include windchill).

I can't speak for the other mountain regions but Jerusalemites are in denial about the very existence of winter. "Ach," they say with an air swipe of the hand, "it's only a few weeks."

They mean that it's not worth investing in insulation for the houses, cold weather clothes, and proper heating. In the same way that the municipality doesn't invest in snow and ice clearing equipment because we only get snow approximately once in three years. If we get 1 mm of snow, school is canceled for the day even if it all melts by 9 am.

But we do get winter every year and it's not for only a few weeks. It's for three months!

The school where I teach is built like a kibbutz or an African school with minimal corridors. There are a number of small buildings which you reach by going outside. Some of the classrooms have their doors directly to the outside, others are in blocks of 4 or five rooms. The sports hall is a trip outside, the library requires some outside, and the offices are another excursion into the elements.

Small groups regularly learn around tables in the big lobby to the teachers'room, where they are exposed to two big outside doors that are mostly left open. In extreme cold we all try to share the library which is cosy, like Little House on the Prairie with all ages working in the same room, but it's not always available.

In the summer the school is lovely. In the spring and autumn it's also very pleasant. In the winter we suffer. Many of us keep our coats on all day. There are heaters in the classrooms but the room I use has some sort of time clock whereby it shuts off for about an hour every time it hits the target temperature. But it's just for a few weeks right? The whole school year is only 10 months long so actually a third of it is winter. FYI.

It's not that nobody cares. It's that despite living through winter every year for decades, they still don't really believe that it's a problem. In their minds it's just for a few weeks of mildly cold weather and a few days of rain.

In the past most apartments had central heating. In the days when the children came home from school at 1.30 for lunch and everyone came home from work at 7 pm, it was relatively easy. The heating came on at 6 am till 7 am, and 4 pm till 10 pm (and then you went to bed), 3 pm if the daytime outside temperature went below 10C, and Saturday mornings from about 8 am (there is no Sunday, people used to work six days a week. Now most adults get Friday off but there is still six day/week school). Every building set their own times but all within similar parameters.

Then a number of things started changing. People started working from home and wanted heat during the day (never mind that retirees had always managed with a fan or bar heater during the day). People started commuting for work and got home late, schools finished later and after school activities became a thing. Tv got cable and was on later with more choices at your own convenience. People no longer wanted to go to bed at 10, they wanted warm apartments until midnight.

Around this time of general discontent about the heating arrangements, the price of the oil to fuel the furnaces for the central heating rocketed. At the same time, because of all sorts of environmental issues, it became usual for apartments to install their own air conditioning units. These doubled as heaters in the winter and was much cheaper than the oil fueled radiators. People with a/c heaters resented paying extra for the communal oil. And whilst they could turn off their radiators ( although why would they?) they could not remove them as they were connected to the central system.

Eventually the central heating was discontinued and we all had our radiators removed. I waited until 2005 to remove mine as I was scared they'd bring back the central heating and I'd have to replace them. There was no announcement or final decision, it just got past the point of no return. Now everyone controls their own heating. So that's inside sorted. Sort of. Having no a/c, we plug in electric radiators and heaters. It's not perfect but we're warm enough and it is easy to control the different rooms.

Outside the rain water runs down the roads with nowhere to drain. On a rainy day, a walk to the shops, or anywhere, involves wading through a river on each side of the road under each curb. In Tel Aviv this year people drowned when flood water was all directed into one neighbourhood and rushed into basements. Apparently there had been plans to address the drainage situation but we don't usually get so much rain so they were ignored. Usually there are not actual deaths, but every few years many people in ground floor apartments have to live through the misery of flooding.

Winter is a term relative to the levels of preparedness. In Canada they're equipped for extreme minus temperatures for half the year. In Tel Aviv people died when it rained for a week. In Jerusalem we just suffer from the cold. We will never be adequately prepared because we live in the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, at the gateway to Africa and Arabia. Half our small country is desert. So we can't possibly need to prepare for a season we don't believe we have.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

R2BC - Running Into Spring

I kept the blue tub. It sits in a cupboard, perfect for collecting stuff to donate.
Reasons 2B cheerful as some of the local signs of spring appear. Namely the Yedidya Bazaar, signing up for school for September, and checking the Sea of Galilee for the final water 1evel before the end of the rains and the spring run off. In truth, because of the snow on Mt Hermon, the level will continue to rise until the end of April but we're already excited about this year's position. 

Declutter for Yedidya
The annual Yedidya Bazaar came and went last week. I took out all the stuff that had accumulated over the past year. The samovar and the wok were on a previous declutter post but were then forgotten at the back of a cupboard. Happily they both got to the bazaar his year and were both bought.

This year was also the first time I was able to go on the Saturday night before the Sunday opening and help set it up, because DD is old enough to stay home alone for a bit. It was an amazing show of volunteer spirit. About 60 people turned up and got through two rooms filled to bursting with donations in about 5 hours.

I bought a pile of books for the school's English library.
In the past I've gone on Sunday morning to sort the last minute donations and left before the 4pm opening time to collect DD from school. This year I was also able to be there to help during the actual sale time. It was quite something to see hundreds of items (at 3 shekels each, about 70p) fly out of there. There were good clothes and shoes hardly worn, whole dinner sets, duvets and blankets, a room full of toys, and so many books that we had to keep most of them in boxes below the display tables.

Junior High
We signed DD up for junior high School. It's called junior high and you can change schools again after two years. In reality most schools are junior high and high school together so hopefully we'll be happy enough to stay in the next school until 18. You can put down between 3 and 5 schools on your list and rank them according to preference. I'm pretty sure we'll get our first choice as it's the closest school to where we live.

Sunny Respite 
We've had a few days of sunny weather before the rain returns tomorrow. We're grateful for the sunny respite and also grateful for the much needed rain.

As I don't have a dryer, as soon as the sun comes out I rush to do two loads of laundry. I'd do more but my drying rack only holds two loads. I leave it out all day and bring it inside in the evening, hoping that the heated apartment will dry it off overnight. Often it takes a couple of days of this in the winter, or longer if it's raining and the rack can't be pulled outside again in the morning.

Yes laundry can pile up a bit in the winter. Otoh, a load of laundry dries in about two hours in the summer. Shame it's not like firewood that can be stockpiled for the winter.

The Sea of Galilee 
Monitoring the level of the Sea of Galilee (we call it the Kinneret) has been a national pass time since the days when this freshwater lake provided most of the water for the whole of Israel. In the past decade Israel has built a number of desalination plants so now most of our water comes from the Mediterranean. This has definitely helped the Kinneret but years of drought or near drought kept levels low even so.

Last year we had a rainy winter which replenished the Kinneret at lot but it was still way below the upper red line. The upper red line is when they open the flood gates and let the excess water flow down the Jordan to the Dead Sea. The last time they did this was way back in 1992. This year we've had so much rain that we're nearly just 1m below the upper red line. We're expecting more rain this week and there is still all the snow on Mt Hermon to melt and run off down.

I look up the level of the Kinneret every day online as do many people I know. When there's a big rise people post it on face book and get very excited. And my 5th grade pupils at school ask me for an update every lesson. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


On the left are the old blanket, beach towel and a box
the same size as the erstwhile radio alarm clock.
On the right are the new downsized items.
So you declutter the clutter, you declutter the doubles and the multiples, then you declutter deeper. You declutter excess storage and newly vacated furniture, and then where do you go? I'm not aiming for a 33 item wardrobe or to fit all my belongings into a back pack, or even the boot of a car. I'm aiming for a comfortable life that's easy to maintain, light and airy, and not weighed down with excess stuff.

When you're down to everything you still need or want, the logical answer is to go smaller. I already got rid of an enormous sofa that was gifted to me many years ago, and replaced it with two love seats that much better fit the space.

The 2m x3m carpet that necessarily had to go under the front legs of the sofas, has been replaced with a smaller one that neatly sits in front of the sofa legs and is easily rolled up for sweeping and washing the floor underneath.

We exchanged the honeymoon bed in DD's bedroom for a wide twin. She doesn't need space for two to sleep (yet) and if she has a friend to stay, the spare bedroom is right next door. Although I am looking for one of those mattresses that folds up into a chair as we suddenly have loads of extra floor space in DD's bedroom.

Music and movie collections are now virtual so that saves a wall of discs and tapes. (I admit that I still have mine in a box waiting for me to upload some favourites.) And if you want to look at your photos without a screen, the books that are available are far less bulky than the old albums full of individual prints.

Talking of bulky, I donated the last of my big bulky blankets to the Yedidya Bazaar this week as we are fine with the light-weight fleeces that fold up small. Those old blankets were for the days of sheets and blankets. Nowadays we have thick duvets and the blankets are largely for decoration or to throw over the sofa for a little extra comfort while watching tv in the winter.

I used to have a radio alarm clock taking up a chunk of real estate on the bedside table. Not wanting the phone in the bedroom at night, I replaced the brick sized radio alarm with a tiny battery run alarm clock. It works just as well - I still don't want to get up in the mornings.

A trip to the pool or beach is always hindered by an enormous bag containing all the towels. Everything else is relatively small but those towels are cumbersome to say the least. Last summer I bought a  micro-towel to try it out. I wouldn't use it for every day at home but in the heat of the outdoor sun it works just fine. This year I'm going to buy another one. I already donated our two beach towels to the bazaar.

What items can you think of that could go smaller? My apartment feels bigger than it ever did before but I'm open to more ideas.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Bigger Balcony

Filling the newly created alcove
One thing you can rarely do when you live in an apartment is to build an extension onto your living space.

In Israel there have been and still are, a number of programmes whereby the whole building is encouraged to get together and build an extra room and/or a balcony for every apartment. There are a number of reasons for this: they want every home to have a reinforced-concrete room rather than the communal bomb shelters of old, every building should be up to date with earthquake regulations, and they want to create more housing by building additional floors on top.

In my building we got in early and reinforced the building according to earthquake regulations whilst acquiring an extra bedroom and a balcony. We were too early to get the bomb shelters or for the building-up programme, so in emergency situations we're still running down to the communal shelter and we didn't get it for free by selling the building rights to the roof.

When they plan these extensions they have to work with the space available. Thus, we ended up with three big bedrooms but one accessed through one of the other bedrooms, and a balcony that was just slightly too narrow for four people to sit around a big enough table and dine comfortably. The bedroom problem was easily solved by building a wall to create a corridor to the third bedroom. Luckily the doors to both bedrooms were aligned.

Starting work
The balcony situation was irritating. Had I been more savvy about things back when we did that building work almost 20 years ago, I would have fought for less bedroom and more balcony at the front. Back then I might have lost because there were strict laws about how near the property boundary one could build. Now it seems that other buildings are renovating right up to the pavement in front of them. Who knows. It was what it was and I was stuck with it. Or was I?

I needed new balcony doors. I'd decluttered so much over the past two years that I have minimal furniture in the living/dining room. I'd got rid of an enormous sofa and replaced it with two smaller love seats. By building one wall 50 cm into the room on one side of the balcony doors, I could increase the balcony space by a whole square metre (0.5 x 2 sq m). There's no getting away from the fact that that the room would be smaller. You can't have both. I chose a slightly smaller living room and a more usable balcony.

A bigger balcony (before the cabinet arrived for the alcove)
Whilst I was at it, I had the electric blinds removed. They blocked a lot of light from the room and I'd rather just have fabric roller blinds inside. You can get very thin roller blinds that take up almost no space when closed.

The newly created alcove in the corner is the perfect size for a white Billy bookcase with Oxberg glass doors from IKEA. This was by far the cheapest option for a display cabinet to fill that space and as you can only see the doors, there was no reason not to buy a cheap IKEA unit.

Obviously everyone has their own considerations and preferences. For me outside space is paramount and it was very satisfying to find a way to increase our capacity for a mini-garden, eating alfresco, and a place for drying the laundry in the sun.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Beautiful Numbers - R2BC


Here are my Reasons 2B Cheerful for this week. The linky seems to have died but then again, linkies were so last decade. 

Palindrome Day
The following announcement is for your enjoyment and because I don't want you to miss it.

Today, 02/02/2020, the date is a perfect palindrome using the full eight digits. The last time this happened was in 11/11/1111 over 909 years ago! How cool is that? Very.

From now on there will be a full palindrome in February for anyone outside of the USA, for the next 2 years: 12/02/2021 and 22/02/2022. After that we'll have to wait until 2030 for 03/02/2030 and every 10 ten years for 04/02/2040, etc... until 09/02/2090.

Americans will have to work out their own and actually, they've already had a few this century that don't apply to the rest of the world.

The special thing about today is that it's Full Palindrome Day for everyone, whichever system of Gregorian calendar dates you use. This will not happen for another 100 years on 12/12/2121.

(Thank you to Alina Theodor for correcting me and to Jill Yonassi for pointing out that there are quite a few more full palindrome dates in our lifetimes to look forward to, for non-Americans at least.)

Income Tax
Every January you have to fill in an income tax form for your employer. I work for three employers so I have to do it three times. It's not a big deal but ironically, it was less of a deal when you just got the paper and could fill it in. Now you have to have a password, find the form online, download it because you can't fill in a pdf file, and when you've filled it in it's not accepted because your particular circumstances aren't recognised by the computer, and finally you have to sign it. I don't know how to sign on the computer. So I end up printing it out and faxing copies to the various offices instead.

Because I work in three places I also have to get a Tax Coordination form for each employer. Until now I've always taken the bus ride to the tax office and got the forms in my hand there and then. Until recently online applications would still need to be processed and the Tax coordination Forms sent to you by snail mail, taking up to two weeks of anxiety about whether you're actually going to get them.

This year my neighbour told me that it's now an instant an online calculator, You fill in the form (just one form), click on submit and you instantly get all the forms you meed for each employer. And what's really amazing is that you can just email them on. Whilst this news was exhilarating and liberating, it was also giving me butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Remember that I have to do all this in not my native language, a language with a different alphabet and it doesn't even use vowels! For example, stp could be step, stoop, stop, setup situp, shutup, stiff, stuff, staff, setoff, shutoff, shotup, etc... (because s and sh are the same letter and so are p and f). While I was dithering I received all three Tax Coordination forms from the tax office with the notice that if nothing has changed since last year, they will continue with the same agreement.

So that's all the January tax forms done and dusted.

End of semester
It's the end of the first semester. I finished writing all my reports and sent them in on time. I wrote my semester summaries for each class. I wrote the mid-year exams for my students and they're ready to give out on Tuesday. I'm up to date with all my grading. We now have four weeks of no teaching at college for mid-semester exam period and break. (I get five weeks because the festival of Purim falls on my college day.) I still have meetings on College days but no teaching. Although I will still be teaching at school.

The Tweenager
I wrote a sentence about DD's report. No details, just a general comment. But then I deleted it because.... ya know, she's entitled to her privacy. Like most things, there's no set age by which things have to change. Everyone is different and you know when it's time to make changes. It's a feeling not a number.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

When Is Your New Year?

In Judaism we have four new years. The big New Year celebration is in September when we finish the annual cycle of reading the Torah and prepare to start again from the beginning. It's all about atonement, forgiveness, and hoping to be written into the book of life for another year.

Some rabbis claimed it was the time of creation. How did they know? They didn't.

It is also the date on which the ancient Hebrews calculated their taxes and charitable donations for fruit and grain grown the previous year. And the date from which years of servitude and agricultural activity were calculated towards the Jubilee years when slaves were set free and fallow years for crops. It was the equivalent of the fiscal new year.

However in Leviticus 23; 23-25 God says to Moses, that they should mark the first day of the seventh month as a solemn and holy day of rest and proclaim it with a blasting of horns and a sacrifice to the Lord. The Bible does not call this day Rosh Hashanna (the Head of the Year) as we do. It is never mentioned again in the Bible and why is it referred to as the seventh month?

It's called the seventh month because the 1st of the month in which Pesach (Passover) falls, is mentioned in Exodus 12; 1-2 when God tells Moses in Egypt, two weeks before they leave, that this month shall be the beginning of months for you, it shall be for you the first month of the year.

Some Rabbis argued that this was the time of creation. See my comment above.

We have two other minor New Years. In February the New Year for Trees marks the beginning of spring, the re-awakening of nature after the cold, barren winter. We plant trees and eat fruit. The final New Year marks the cut-off date for tithing animals at the end of the summer, a month before Rosh Hashanna.

So we have two contenders for the official New Year for people. In the end we celebrate both, although the pre-Pesach one less so as it's not a holiday and it gets rolled into the Pesach celebrations.

I love this. At the end of the summer, after all the hard work of the various growing seasons and just before the final harvest of the year, we celebrate surviving another year, we reflect on our behaviour and vow to do even better next year. Then, just before Peasch, we get another chance.

If Rosh Hashanna was the month in which the creation happened (or even if it wasn't), then the Exodus was also a beginning, a re-birth, and the start of the journey into nationhood. A second chance. And what a great time for it, just after we've done all the spring cleaning, washed out the storage jars from the winter food, and aired out our homes.

Interestingly, this is also a significant time for Christians who celebrate the resurrection at this time of year. Another re-birth of sorts, and a new beginning.

Of course we all have a number of New Years besides the ubiquitous celebrations on 1st January, when the number of the year changes and Americans (and Israelis, surprisingly) have to get their tax forms in. In the UK we have the fiscal New Year on 15th April. The academic New Year is in September, everyone has a birthday (the Queen has two), and various countries celebrate their number of years of Independence. There is the Chinese New Year, every religion has its own New Year, and people have all sorts of random dates and anniversaries that they celebrate because they have personal meaning. Adoption days, surviving a dangerous situation or illness, finding religion, re-locating, changing career, becoming vegetarian or vegan, meeting your soulmate, to name but a few.

My personal favourite New Years are September (academic, Jewish and my birthday) and 1st January. But I  sort of missed 1st January this year because we had house guests and I'd not managed to plan it with enough reverence and aforethought. Also, resolutions aren't always appropriate when cooking for guests. This was doubly disappointing as it's also the start of a new decade.

In many ways 1st February is more meaningful. I think people need more time after the hectic Christmas holidays to reflect and really work out what they want for the coming year. It's also valuable to have the time to put everything in place for the big start. There's no point in resolving to give up sugar with the Christmas pudding, fancy liqueurs, and gifted chocolates leftover and tempting you. No one is going to throw these things out so you need a few weeks to clear the decks, as it were.

In Israel it really is the end of the harsh winter and although we still have another month of heating, coats, and [hopefully] umbrellas, it's the beginning of the end and spirits start to lift. And I'm all about second chances.

So for anyone who would like to join me... HAPPY NEW YEAR AND HAPPY NEW DECADE! It starts today!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Flu Is Not A Bad Cold

Today a beautiful young woman of only 40, a mother of  five young children, a talented singer and dancer, was laid to rest after succumbing to complications of influenza. The flu.

Deganit Zarum-Glick (Duggi) grew up in Edgware near us. I knew her older sister and brother. Later I met her cousins from Manchester and I shared a flat in Jerusalem with one of them for four years. Thus cementing my friendship with the whole family.

Deganit's mother, affectionately known as Aunty Gitta, came to my father's funeral. She didn't know any of my family apart from myself and she came on the basis of my connection with her family and our friendship on facebook. I will always remember her kindness. I'm only sorry that I couldn't be there for her and all the family today.

Deganit was perfectly healthy, slim and fit. She had access to among the best medical services in the western world and she was indeed hospitalized. It wasn't her health. It wasn't the medical system. It was the flu.

How many times have we heard colleagues say they have the flu when phoning in sick, only to have them return to work a couple of days later almost better? Friends, this is not the flu.

I had real flu once. I died for a week. Then, because I'm a teacher and felt guilty about missing school, I stupidly went back to work the next week. For the next three months the virus was in my body and I basically dragged myself to work, came home and went to bed exhausted. Every day. On the weekends I slept.

After that experience I never misused the flu word. And I made sure I got the flu shot every year it was available.

This is what a quick google search says about flu: Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

This year there is a particularly virulent strain. "15 people have died of flu complications, including two minors, in a recent flu outbreak that hit Israel with especially aggressive strains. At least 130 people have been hospitalized in serious condition this winter, compared to 45 last winter." The Health MinistryJan 2, 2020

Since then the number of deaths in Israel has risen to about 20.

We had a busy end of year last year and I didn't get round to going for our shots. By January they had run out. Apparently supplying enough vaccines for 20% of the population is usually enough to fulfill the demand. And they sometimes only advise the very young, old, and vulnerable to get vaccinated. But this year they advised everyone to do it and after a number of deaths, people started to get scared.

I still wasn't too worried. I figured that last year's shots would immunize us from some of it. Not so. The nurse told me today that they're only good for six months.

Yes, we saw the nurse today because although I couldn't make it to the funeral in the north of Israel, I could make it to our local clinic and suddenly it became imperative to get our flu vaccines.

Reader, if you haven't already, please please please go and get a flu vaccine.

This post is dedicated to Deganit Zarum-Glick (Duggi) Z"L and written with love for the Glick, Zarum, and Slifkin families.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

I Am Not Prince Harry

A cottage in the country
I'm supposed to be working so all I want to do is blog. Not a good idea because of the need to get work done, but also because all I want to talk about is why I think Prince Harry will be unhappy in North America and why he'll be back in the UK eventually, or even sooner. So if you're fed up with my obsession with Harry and Meghan, please stop reading now.

First you have to understand that it's all about me. Not Harry and me. I've never met the guy in person and he certainly doesn't know who I am. My point is that opinions and advice are usually highly subjective. Meaning, if someone gives you their opinion about what they would do in your place, even if you begged them for it, you have to bear in mind that they are not you.

I learned this when I got a job running teenage camps for three months in Australia back in the summer (their winter) of 1990. It was an amazing experience, though exhausting. I had the time of my life and I was paid for it! Six months later they asked me to go back and do it again in the spring of 1991. I didn't know what to do so I asked around. This is the advice I received.

I had steady employment with a company whose busiest time of year was the spring. So my father, who was always extremely careful, advised me not to go so as not to jeopardize my job. He was fearful of me being unemployed on my return and was thinking of my future.

My Australian friend who had just arrived in Israel for the adventure of her life, said, "You went last year. What do you want to go back again for? It's just more of the same."

A friend who was a professional youth worker and spent his life running camps, clubs, and activities, said, "Why do you want to travel all that way to work? Work hard during the year and save up so that when you want a holiday you can travel on your own terms and your own itinerary."

And my hard working friend who was fed up with her low paying job, had never traveled and dreamed of having the money to do so, said, "Of course you should go! How can you turn down a free trip to Australia?"

In the end I didn't go. I didn't stay in the same job as I soon went back to teaching, and I did regret not going back to Australia a bit. But it wasn't a life changing decision so no harm done. The issue is that everyone gave opinions based on their own situation and desires. None of the advice was about me, it was all about them.

So if I were to write that Harry will miss being close to his large family and that it's sad for Archie not to be brought up with his cousins, I'd be projecting my feelings, as an expat, of living far from my family and that my daughter only sees her grandmother, aunts and uncles and cousins once or twice a year. It would be less painful if Meghan were not estranged from most of her own family.

When I say that he'll miss the English culture it's because I do.

When I think he'll miss his large house in the English countryside, it's because I live in a small flat without a garden in the Middle East desert. I yearn for the rolling green hills, rivers and commons of England. I would love to have even a small cottage in the English countryside.

When I feel that it's sad for him to have to give up on all his military associations that gave him so much pleasure, it's because I also had to compromise my career when I moved to a country with a different language. Different challenge, same result. Well not exactly the same result but also a compromise.

And I've also been in a relationship where my whole personality changed. A situation where after some months of doing only what he wanted, I found that I wasn't at all happy.

In Harry's case, he used to be friendly with the media. Long gone are the days of the paparazzi that he blamed for contributing to his mother's death. Nowadays there is an agreement, a system whereby the royals give photo opportunities at certain times and rites of passage for them and their children. At Christmas, on birthdays, after births, christenings, and first days of school, etc... They smile, they wave, they remain still for the photographers to do their jobs, they answer a few questions in a friendly manner, and then they are left alone. Harry was a favourite because he was always friendly and chatty with the official reporters and photographers. He knew that his job was a team effort.

But Harry and Meghan have not been playing the game. They refused the assigned photographers and only wanted those that they personally invited. They have refused to speak to the media. They refused to pose with Archie until they decided the time. And they kept unnecessary secrets like who his godparents are. All this helped turn the media against them.

It's not how Harry used to be. I don't blame Meghan because Harry is a grown man and can decide for himself how to live his life. In fact, knowing the system better than she does, he should have put his foot down about certain issues of protocol. He should have explained to her how it works and that it's not the same as being a Hollywood celebrity.

I do think he will regret this decision to move away and out of the Royal family, but that's all about me, not him.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Harry & Meghan, A Marriage of Compromise

North America is better than the Tower, marginally.
Harry and Meghan Mountbatten (or Sussex or Windsor or Wales or whatever they choose, probably not Markle) will not be using their HRH titles in the future. They may even have to give up their rights to the Royal branding that they've trademarked.

I am happy to announce, because this was one chutzpa too far, that they will be paying back the £2.4 million that it cost the tax-payers to refurbish their home in the UK. Not only that, but they will be paying commercial rent on Frogmore Cottage in order to keep it as their UK residence.

All is good. £2.4 million is nothing to them. Meghan herself is worth about $5 million. According to Forbes, Harry is reported to be worth about £40 million from his mother's and Great-Grandmother's estates, an annual trust allowance of £450,000, and earnings of £50,000 pa as a helicopter pilot. Maybe it's crass to print figures, but I want to make the point that it's not the money, it's the principle. And it's the money.

Of course they will also still get money from Prince Charles' Estate (whether from the Duchy of Cornwall or not). Thus far it's been about £2.3 million pa. You can't begrudge parents helping their kids out. In my own family we all get a £25 M&S gift voucher (one each, not to share) on Chanuka, so I'm not one to throw stones over that.

It's very sad for Harry that he will be giving up all earned and honorary military titles and duties. And indeed, all ties with the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Airforce. Also sad for Prince Philip who passed on the title of Captain General of the Royal Marines to his grandson, a title he himself held for over 64 years. The army was Harry's first love and he fought bravely in Afghanistan twice. But that's marriage for you. Thankfully he will continue his exemplary work with the highly successful Invictus Games, which he founded and has worked so hard for.

I admit that I came back to this topic because my previous analysis of the situation earned itself over 800 page views in one day. Write Harry and Meghan in the title and it's instant click bait. I'm thinking of publishing my recipe for egg on toast with a twist (a slice of cheddar cheese under the fried egg) and calling it: What Harry and Meghan Don't Eat for Breakfast.

Anyway, thanks guys. I gave you more publicity and I was kind fair, and you gave me increased blog exposure. I hope we can work together again for our mutual benefit in the future. Although not too soon in the future as we're actually getting a bit fed up with all your drama.

And finally, I concede that Harry and Meghan's life choices are absolutely none of my business. However, he or she who prospers by fame, invites the public to join the game. (This is an original quote and can be attributed to Rachel Selby or Midlife Singlemum - your call.)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Competing With Pepys - 9 Years Writing

Yesterday I revealed, not for the first time, my fixation with dates. Well today is my nine years bloggerversary. Nine years! I don't think I've ever before kept up any hobby for nine years. Big thank you to Shira Kallus Zwebner ad Keren David who introduced me to the concept of blogging and helped me get started. (It seems such a long time since Shira and I used to push our toddlers home from the nursery together.)

One of my 3x3 resolutions that I wrote about yesterday is to go to bed at 10pm every night and read for an hour. Serving the purpose of reading and also getting enough sleep for a fresh start in the morning. I have a three-point reading plan. (3x3 very quickly becomes 27x27 if you're not careful.)

1. To catch up with the 929 project. It started again at the end of 2018 and you're supposed to read one chapter of the Bible every day. Or you can read five chapters at the weekend, obviously. I was doing really well until last summer when I sort of stopped. (Not sort of, I stopped.) I'm only on Joshua and the official project is way into the Prophets. I resolve to read two chapters a night until I catch up.

But I didn't read any Bible last night because of this book:

2. 365 Great Stories from History for Every Day of the Year. (Actually there are 366, I checked. Lucky for 2020 eh?) It was a present from Jill Yonassi when she came to stay. Thank you Jill. I've started this project before but never managed the full year. This time I'm determined to see it through to the end. It doesn't really matter about the days, although the years are quite important, it's more about reading a little bit of history every day.

Last night I missed the 10pm curfew and only got to the book rendezvous (my bedside table) at 10.30. And then I thought it would be prudent to start at January 1st seeing as it was only 18 entries to catch up. So it was gone midnight when I finished and I had no time to even start ....

3. Another book. Either for pleasure or interest.

And I woke up tired. So another of my 3x3 - getting up early(ish) also didn't happen.

However, I did learn that Samuel Pepys started his diary on January 1st 1660 and he wrote it diligently for nine years and five months? You see I Learned something on the first page! Only another five months to go and I've beaten Pepys in writing longevity. That's cool.

Happy Bloggerversary to me!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

New Year, New Decade, New You?

I missed the New Year goals, resolutions, new start stuff this year. This is particularly upsetting as 2020 is a totally satisfying round number and it's also the start of a new decade.

My mother was visiting and we had to have proper meals and food that she likes (toast) for smaller meals, and a biscuit to have with coffee, etc... We also went out to eat at friends and I forgot about the no sugar rule when delicious carrot cake and vanilla ice-cream appeared for dessert at Sally-Ann's house. Then my nephew came so it had to be cheesy pasta for dinner. My mother isn't going to walk up and down mountains so we got taxis at times I would have walked. And of course we had to watch at least four episodes of The Crown every evening (because my mother doesn't have Netflix) so that put paid to anything productive.

The house guests left and we hosted lunch guests, one of whom was visiting from Switzerland. The beautifully wrapped gift gave no indication that it was full of exquisite chocolates so I didn't think to unwrap it and put them out for everyone to share. They're gone now though. 😋

It's lovely to have guests, but it does interfere with one's plans for a frugal, puritan, exemplary lifestyle. And when they left, it was too late. What's 06/01/2020? Nothing special, is the answer.

If I waited until the next significant date: 1st of February, or even 02/02/2020, I'll have put back all the weight I lost last summer and be feeling dumpy and depressed as well as lazy and unproductive. The new Hebrew month of Shvat doesn't even start until Monday week. What's an obsessive about numbers girl to do?

So despite the absence of a starting date, I can still plan. I read an article, I think it was in Psychologies Magazine, that said it takes a decade to really transform one's life. I like that because there's no urgency to start. Hahaha, did you spot my problem there? I actually think there's a lot of sense in this as long as we are blessed to still be around in 10 years time. Fatalistic? Moi?

On a more immediate scale, I just watched a video by ModernHealthMonk (I don't think that's his real name) called: How to Design Your Life. He suggests you sit down and write one thing... what would be the coolest thing to happen this year? It's a gem of a way to pinpoint what you really want. As he says, "there's no point getting to the top of the ladder of success only to find you climbed the wrong ladder." He suggests that you do this three times. I agree, no one likes a single-minded zealot and three goals are manageable.

Then for each goal, you write three daily or weekly habits that will bring you closer to realising the goal. Keep a record. Nine things a day to tick off on a 3x3 grid or however you choose to plot your progress.

I'm so doing this. It's 18.00 on 18/01/2020 and that's good enough.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Harry and Meghan, Right Or Wrong?

I watched all three series of The crown and I loved it. Then my mother, who doesn't have Netflix, came. So over a rainy week in wintry Jerusalem, I watched all 30 hours all over again with my mother. And I loved it all over again. I even changed my avatar on Netflix to the Queen and I've caught myself talking like her too. There's a lot of benefit in sitting straight, keeping your face neutral, and announcing curtly, "so that's settled then," before changing the subject completely. I'm enjoying myself immensely. Although part of the trick is not to be seen to be enjoying oneself. Obviously.

Having presented my credentials, I'm going to have my say about the goings on in the Palace(s) in recent weeks. Let's start with Andrew, a tragic case of a misguided, limited-thinker, with a sense of entitlement, too much money and too much free time while his role in life dwindled to nothing. He should have pursued his Navy career where he would no-doubt have been successful, been kept in line, and found a purpose to his life.

Now for the latest crisis in hand. Who's right and who's wrong? Are the Sussexes the victims or the vindicated?

I was surprised when I read about the poor 12 year old walking behind his mother's coffin, next to his father who wouldn't even give him a comforting hand. I was surprised because I watched that happening in real time and whilst I felt extremely sad for the two boys, it never occurred to me that Charles should take Harry's hand. It's not how it's done. And now I'm thinking, would it have been so terrible to take your grieving 12 year old son's hand as he walks behind his mother's coffin, being watched by millions of people around the globe?

At my father's funeral, there was nothing undignified about our walk from the prayer hall to the grave. And yet I was arm in arm with my mother and various other family members walked holding hands or arm in arm. It was comforting how we gave each other support. But of course that was our private funeral with family and friends, not a public event. I'm sure there were plenty of hugs and comfort for the Windsor boys in the privacy of their home.

Likewise at the wedding. Doria Ragland, Meghan's mother, sat alone in her solitary pew. How sad was that? Once again, protocol trumped warmth and consideration. At each of my nephew's Bar Mitzvas their other grandparents sat with their siblings at the party. My parents, having no siblings available, were given eight invitations so that they could enjoy a table of their own friends at their grandson's Bar Mitzva party.

People say that the Royal family are not normal. I think this was the case in the past but the young royals of the 1960s and 70s got a much better grasp on how normal families behave, both from television and from being the first royals to attend school. Starting with Princess Anne's children, there has been mostly normal family life (normal for the mega-rich anyway).

However, there is also the public role, full of pomp, ceremony, rules and rituals, that seem totally superfluous to the 21st century but nevertheless prevail because without it there is nothing royal. It is what it is. Chelsy Davy, Harry's erstwhile girlfriend of many years, recognised this and, apparently, she decided that it was too much of a sacrifice to make.

Meghan Markle, on the other hand, thought she'd come in and change things. I'm not being the judge of whether things need to be changed or not, but then it's not my call. She came up against the British media who were brutal towards her, and the establishment who were not amused. I think the tragedy here is that Harry was so besotted with Meghan that he believed she could take on The Firm and come out shining. Big mistake.

Is it racism? I honestly don't think so. I think people were genuinely excited about the prospect of multi-racial royals. It was her attitude not her ethnic background. Watching the Crown only emphasised that Britain expects their royals to act with dignity at all times in public; spend an enormous number of drizzly Sunday afternoons opening cement factories, suburban community centres, and the like; share photos of their and their children's rites of passage; and above all, not to overtly commercialise their positions and titles. Yes, William has also trademarked his Windsor names and logos and gets a cut from every mug and tea-towel sold, but he also does the job.

And the sad thing is that Harry was doing the job extremely well too.

The job allows for vast privileges in land, farms, and hereditary mansion homes. There is travel and free entertainment. Fine food and wine. The best medical care, no financial worries, and never having to wait for a bus in the rain. There is also a lot of duty, boredom, decisions made for you often years in advance, and a set way you are obliged to behave. It's a trade off. I think many of us would take the full package given the choice. But you have to understand that it's all or nothing.

What about announcing their plans to the press before informing the Queen? I was as outraged as the next woman. Sort it all out in private with all the concerned parties and then make a united announcement about how it's all going to work and why. Obviously the mature and polite way to go, no? Since then I've heard a podcast (either BBC or The Guardian, can't remember) which suggested that they did go to the Queen and she told them to speak to Charles. And then Charles said they need to speak to the Queen. So after being pushed from pillar to post a few times they took matters into their own hands and went public to get things moving. True? Not true? Who knows?

This brings me back to Andrew. A boy who started life as the all important spare and was discouraged from furthering his own career in order to fulfill the supporting role. He was too dazzled by it all to realise where he was heading. His bad behaviour has led to him losing everything in a way that, for example, Edward and Sophie have not. Edward and Sophie, after a couple of memorable and embarrassing foul-ups by each of them, now understand that they benefit enormously by keeping a low profile and towing the line.

Harry and Meghan not so. On both accounts. They are considering their future and they are not prepared to play the parts without deviation in order to keep everything. As someone pointed out, Archie and any future siblings will not get the same financial allowance or role to play as their father has 'enjoyed'. The next generation of Sussexes, or Mountbattens, will have to function in the real world come what may. I totally get it. Though it's a shame that Meghan hates living in England so much, I respect their decision and I wish them luck.

Have wonderful, happy, healthy and successful lives in North America Harry and Meghan. Bon voyage and please leave your Royal titles and the keys to the royal mansion under the mat when you go.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Small Living

Small flat, big view
I am a bit obsessed with The Tiny House Movement. As much as I have decluttered over the past couple of years, and even got rid of a number of big furniture items, I am still fascinated by people, families even, who live in homes the size of a caravan.

I love the freedom of not being weighted down by stuff. I love the fact that with a smaller space and fewer things, you can buy better quality. I like that these homes take about 10 minutes to clean from top to bottom. I like the idea of reduced utility costs, I'm not so much into the nomadic life but I do like that they can be parked in a scenic spot and if someone comes along and builds a multi-storey car park next to you, you can move. Or, at least, rotate and turn your back on it. 

All that said, a real tiny house wouldn't do for me. I don't like the thought of a composting toilet, no thank you very much. I don't like that on most models the toilet is right off the kitchen. And I got over the fun of bunk beds at the age of 10. Obviously grown adults don't really have bunk beds but the tiny houses do tend to have loft bedrooms. Some of them have narrow stair cases so it's not all ladders, but I want to be able to stand up in my bedroom, I want to be able to walk around my bed, and I want my clothes in a hanging wardrobe in the same room.

There is also a Micro-apartment movement, but that's too murphy-bed oriented for me. I don't want to take the dining table off the wall every time I want to eat, or choose between reading on my bed and working at my desk that folds away under the bed. I like to work at my computer, go to the bed or sofa to read and make notes, then return to the desk, etc...

It's all on You Tube, you can see for yourself.

The next step up from a Tiny House is a small house. And in fact, this is what most Israelis have. Small flats rather than houses if you live in the cities. My flat is just under 100 square metres and it's considered to be one of the bigger small flats. There are many two-bedroom flats that are only 45 sq m! That's smaller than an American RV. I kid you not. And families with children live in them! It's normal even.

I love my flat. There are things I'd change if I were designing it from scratch. A slightly wider salon, a bigger bathroom, an en suite, and a better view out the back would be nice. However, I have a fantastic view from the front and the balcony is a prize that many flats, both new and old, don't have. Outside space and a view are paramount. Everything else can be changed, renovated, decorated, and designed. 

So why am I writing this now? My friend Sarah, who has a gift for seeing a gap in the face book groups market, has started a new group called: Interior Design for Regular Folks in Small Israeli Apartments.

We are bombarded with adverts for luxury penthouses overlooking the sea in Tel Aviv, 6-bedroom duplexes facing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, and villas with private pools in Caesarea. Whilst they are all beautiful, most of us don't live like this. 

I am so looking forward to seeing and sharing ideas that are relevant to us regular folk. Thank you Sarah!

P.S. small living doesn't mean a small life. How small could you go?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Proud Mummy - It's The Little Things

No DD didn't win a prize, come top of her class in something, pass an exam (well she did get 100% in the English test but we expect that), cook dinner or even tidy her bedroom. It was far more mundane than that.

Last week I finally got rid of that beige carpet that I'd hated from the day it was first delivered. The one I tried to kill but it wouldn't die. In fact, on the day it was delivered, I seriously wondered if they had brought me the wrong carpet. I think there must have been tricky lighting in the shop because after paying not a small amount of money for that carpet, I never liked it. But it cost a lot of money so I kept it for 12 years.

The new carpet is from Ikea. I took a chance - it's turquoise! We only have one reception room so there's no space to be sophisticated in the best room and more daring in the den. If you asked my style I'd say manor house rather than country cottage (although I would love to live in a country cottage) and definitely not shabby anything. I don't like shabby even if it is chic. And blues and greens. No brown. My overall vision is clean-lines, no-fuss cosy. In a word, I suppose Ikea.

I was a bit worried about the carpet, but as I said, I took a chance. You can do that with an Ikea carpet costing less than $200 because if we hated it I would get rid of it after a couple of years. And reader, the quality does not feel any less than that expensive carpet that I did hate.

It took a bit of getting used to. As I unrolled it, I wasn't certain if it went well with the sofas. I didn't hate it but I didn't instantly love it. DD wasn't sure either. But instead of saying, "I'm not sure if I like it," she asked me, "do you like it?"

It's very subtle. She wasn't sure about the carpet but she was careful not to say anything negative. She was diplomatic and polite. I loved that. I was so proud that she was sensitive enough to do that.

One of the basic tenets for doctors is, 'above all do no harm.' It's a good one. For me another basic tenet is, 'above all be kind and be polite.' We don't always manage it, but on this occasion DD nailed it.

Over the next few days we got used to the carpet and now we like it. I'm not planning its early demise. We had guests on Shabbat and the first friend to arrive exclaimed, "ooh new carpet! Lovely!" I loved her for that. Our colours are unsophisticated but we're feeling the clean-lines, no-fuss cosy.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Pondering In Decreasing Lines

One of the lucky ones.
On the way to Kew Gardens we approached the river via Brentford. The overwhelming opinion in the car was: why on earth did we all buy those awful nylon sheets in the 1970s? (Remember Brentford Nylons!?) FYI, the conclusion we came to was that in the 1960s our sheets were sent out to be laundered every week. The nylon sheets didn't need ironing so it was a big saving in either money or time. I'm not quite sure what happened since as we now use cotton sheets that certainly don't get ironed and they're fine. Maybe it's the polyester? Who knows?

On the way home from Kew, and just outside the gardens, we went round a large roundabout - I think they call it a gyratory system - with lots of trees on it. I felt so sorry for those trees for if the boundaries of the land donated to the gardens had been just slightly different, these trees too would be in the beautiful Kew Gardens instead of in the middle of a noisy and polluted gyratory roundabout. It seems there's a location lottery for trees just as there is for people.

After all the decluttering (>1500 items out), if I had to stay sealed in my home with no internet, would I still have enough reading material to last a couple of years? I think the answer is yes, however I'd die of starvation long before I ran out of books. A more pertinent question is do I have enough clutter left to get rid of another 1500 items. I think the answer is sadly, also yes.

We passed a load of rubbish accumulating in the street around the base of a tree. It was old cigarette boxes and other wrappers wantonly disgarded. DD was shocked: "Well that's a serious amount of pollutination!" I think we have a new family word. 😁

Why is it that every film I look for on Netflix appears on that list of films they don't have but here are a load of other random films I have no interest in, that you might like instead?

I've been awol and even considered giving up blogging. But I can't. I love my blog.