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. 

1
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.

2
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.

3
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.

4
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

Downsizing

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

02022020


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

1
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.)

2
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.

3
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.

4
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!