Thursday, April 25, 2013

Family Holidays - Why You Must And How You Can

As the weather finally turns thoughts turn to the summer and holidays. The question is, do you ever get a real holiday with young children? Of course you could go away without the children but if you only get time and have financial resources for one holiday then you really want and need to have a family holiday - after all, it's their lives as well.

On holiday 2011
So you take time off work for your family holiday, you take the littlies away from all their toys and friends, away from their familiar food, and you cram yourselves into one or two small rooms where you have to find ways of entertaining them and feeding them for the duration.

On the other hand, it's exciting to take your children to new places and show them new things. It's fun to spend time with them outside the daily grind. It's what family memories are made of. But as rewarding as it can be, it is hard work. And if you are a single parent, as I am, you can double that.

Here are my 10 top tips for successful and memorable family holidays:

1. Go away. Go somewhere. Anywhere. The children need to feel they've been away and had a holiday.  It's not about keeping up with the Little Joneses or even about 'resting'. It's about a change of scenery. It's about shared experiences and family bonding. It's about excitement and it does everyone good. It doesn't have to be a hotel and it doesn't have to be long. It can be staying with relatives in the country or camping. It can be three nights at friends who live near the sea. But you have to do it.

2. If you can go with good friends it adds to the social experience for you and the kids. The adults can also take turns babysitting.

3. Create a flexible routine. Even though holidays are about escaping routine, you need to schedule events to fill the time and establish when the day is over. If you don't you'll find yourselves going to bed later and later, getting up nearer and nearer to lunchtime, and doing very little in between. Make breakfast an event at a reasonable time. Plan a trip or event each day but also have a regular daily session in the pool (if there is one), or on the beach, in the children's playground, or in the woods. If there are none of these things you may be in the wrong place. Stop for lunch and a proper supper. The idea is for everyone to be happily exhausted by the end of the day.

4. It's easier if the weather is guaranteed but even in sunny Spain, have a list of things to fill the times when there's 'nothing to do'. For example: play board games or cards, do puzzles, make postcards to send home to friends, make scrapbooks, go on a nature walk and collect things for a collage or take unusual photographs, collect shells from the beach or popping seaweed, interesting pebbles to paint, see a movie. Make it a challenge to do everything at least once.

5. Go somewhere child friendly - a child friendly hotel or a family holiday park. Let's face it, it's easier if the resort is geared to children with loads of activities laid on. It doesn't mean you are off duty of course, but it does mean that you don't have to come up with ideas all the time. In the UK holiday parks are usually equipped with all sorts of indoor activities like bowling, covered pools, and soft play areas, so the weather doesn't really matter. Not to mention child friendly entertainment in the evenings.

At the beach 2012
6. Find the excitement in everything. Remember that everything is potentially exciting to young children. One of DD's favourite things in London was going on The Underground. It was only the train journey to get to our destination but it was exciting (because I chose to make it exciting) for a four year old. In Tel Aviv for the weekend in January, we had great fun collecting shells on the beach and a hilarious time dodging the waves so as not to get our shoes wet.

7. Don't pooh-pooh all the old games and jokes. Playing 'I spy' may be a cliche for us but every generation discovers it anew. Likewise all the old knock-knock jokes and even the ones about big red rock eaters, chickens crossing the road and doors that are jars. I can't wait to play 'sevensies' (with a tennis ball up against a wall) and 'jacks' with DD when she's a bit older.

8. Don't make food an issue. When we went caravaning in Europe back in the 1970s, us children lived on Vienna shnitzel for lunch and chocolate crepes for supper - everyday for two weeks. Once or twice we may have had the crepes for lunch and the shnitzel for supper.

9. Establish holiday traditions. We used to have marathon kalookie evenings in our caravan. We could have been in Las Vegas - up to 150 points and you can come in twice. No money changed hands but there was loads of lemonade and nosh. We could have been in Vegas but we were usually in a damp field in Wales. Didn't make any difference to us though.

10. Be prepared to work hard and reap the rewards. All too soon the children won't want to go on holiday with you anymore. Your time for seeing art in Italy and wine-tasting in the South of France will come. Don't waste this precious opportunity to give your children a memorable childhood.

What are your tips for successful and memorable family holidays?

This post was written by me in association with Richardson's Family Holiday Parks. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits 4

On checking in at Ben Gurion Airport...
DD (anxiously): Where are our soup cases going?

DD: I've got hip cups again. All the time today I keep having hip cups.

Singing along to Mama Mia...
DD: Well I can dance with you honey, if you think it's funny, does your mother know the giraffe?

I crawled into bed with DD one night and felt a tap on my shoulder...
DD (whispering): Do you love me?
Me: Of course I love you. You're my little girl and I love you best in the whole world.
Me (whispering): Do you love me?
DD: Well not so very much.
Me: Why not?
DD: You're a little bit smelly.

On hearing Gangnam Style on the radio...
DD (doing her best PSY Gangnam Style dancing): Opa Grandma style! Opa Grandma style!

We shared a room while we were away. One night I was woken in the small hours by DD shouting: WHAT'S THAT NOISE AGAIN?
Me: What noise?
DD: Like this: khor khor khor khor.
Me: Oh sorry, that's me snoring.

DD: I've got a little spoon and fork for children and you've got a big knife and fork for mummies and daddies.
Me: Mine are for grown ups. Not all grown ups are mummies and daddies. C is a man but he's not a daddy because he hasn't got any children. And H is a woman but she's not a mummy because she hasn't got any children.
DD: You're right.
Me: You're only a mummy or a daddy if you have children.
DD: You're right. And then you can have your big knife and fork because that's only for mummies and daddies.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Evolution Not Revolution: A Grown-Up Approach To Interior Design

A guest post by Liz Higginbottom

My parents often reminisce about setting up home in the seventies.
They hired a van and went from relative to relative picking up a sofa here, a bed there and a table and benches from a neighbour. Books and records were housed on shelves made from planks and old bricks, dodgy plaster walls were covered in posters from museums and there were plants everywhere.
They were evidently happy times and as they became more established in their careers, the beige leatherette three piece suite was replaced by the most uncomfortable but trendy pink sofa from Habitat. They didn’t have the whole modern look as they still had to use the bentwood chairs and mismatched dining table but it would come in good time. 
Change was slow and styles were well and truly mixed.
The next generation
The following generation, having spent their childhoods in a more affluent age with two income families and credit cards have been much more likely to expect to be able to buy everything new and create a ‘look’. Not for them the assorted cast-offs of their parents.
Unfortunately, this has led to an awful lot of poorly made cheap furniture being made to cater for the insatiable demand for everything to co-ordinate.
Further fuel was added to the fire by programmes such as Changing Rooms waving magic wands and producing new looks out of a hat. For this generation creating fantasy worlds, much of it acquired on credit, was the norm.
Since then however, we have, as a country, fallen on hard times. Saving up the cash to buy a house is hard enough, never mind subscribing to the latest design trend. The credit that we used with such gay abandon has landed us, quite frankly, in a mess.
Harking back to austerity
It is no coincidence that we can’t switch on the television without another programme extolling the good old fashioned virtues of baking, handicrafts and most recently sewing. None of this stuff is new. It all harks back to the age of austerity following the war.
So next time you see Claudia Winkelman learning to fit an invisible zip or Paul Hollywood bewitching us with his blue eyes, not to mention his bread, think of the wider implications.
In the forties and fifties couples were thankful just to get a roof over their heads that they could call their own, rather than living with their parents. Is this ringing any bells?
So if you are fortunate enough to have a place to furnish, this is definitely the time to ditch the co-ordinated style look.
Save and be stylish
Be grateful for any cast-offs you acquire as these will help you to spend more money on things that you really like. And there is so much out there! Industrial interpretations, French furniture or retro reproductions, tribal triumphs, ethnic artefacts, animal inspirations…
No longer will you be constrained by the boundaries of your current style. You will be able to choose exactly what you like. But not all at once!
Allow yourself the luxury of taking things slowly. There is no reason why Auntie Joan’s rather tired armchair can’t sit happily next to, a modernist mirrored cube, a tribal bead chandelier and a table lamp made out of a motorcycle headlamp. You are at liberty to display grandma’s floral antique tea plates underneath your newly acquired hippo head.
You will have such fun, and never again will you have to deny yourself some new item that you love, just because it doesn’t fit your current look.

This guest post was published in association with Out There Interiors.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crafty Me And The Azrieli Towers

For Independence Day, DD's kindergarten made their own Mini Israel - the ultimate model village. A scaled down replica of the whole country with mountains, lakes, cities and famous landmarks.

Here's another fact for the uninitiated Israeli parent: when the class makes a collaborative display of any arty crafty nature, they don't actually make it at school. Each child comes home with instructions to make a model of e.g. one of the 10 plagues of Egypt. The components are then constructed by hassled parents while the children are asleep. The teacher receives all the individual offerings, sets them out as a display and receives loads of kudos for her efforts. I may be exaggerating a bit but you get the picture.

I swore I would never take part in this collusion. I disapprove of it wholeheartedly and besides, I don't do crafting.

So we were told to make a model for the class Mini Israel. After my initial underwhelming response I had an idea for maximum effect with least amount of artistic talent necessary.

Here are the pictures. And I have to admit - we both enjoyed working on this together.

Can you tell what it is yet?

And here are the real Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv. There may be 8 (or more) differences between the real towers and our models. No prizes for spotting them.

Disclaimer: Junk food was bought for the soul purpose of making these models. Obviously we consumed the Pringles and choccy biscuits in the interests of educational pursuits.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From Sorrow To Celebration - 65 Years!

As Memorial Day segues into Independence Day we try to lighten to mood and move forward. It's fitting that the day before we rejoice, we remember those who have died to make it possible for Israel to be celebrating 65 years.

Last year on the morning of Memorial Day I took DD to a ceremony at the school I used to teach. All the schools do this. They start with the 11 o'clock siren and commemorate the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Then they start the uplifting music, marching, dancing, flags, gymnastics, singing, and rejoicing for Independence Day.

This was last year. I didn't say much but took a bunch a of pictures. This year DD was going to the ceremony at the school connected to her kindergarten. The whole kindergarten went together. I stood on my balcony for the minute of silence and the siren.

Opposite us is another nursery, not connected to a school. These children are also 4 years old but were not doing the ceremony thing. As I waited for the siren I watched them playing on the slide and other outdoor apparatus. Laughing and squealing, running and climbing. I wondered what would happen when the siren went off.

Suddenly it started. It's very loud. You can't ignore it. The cars in the street came to a standstill and the drivers got out to stand silently for the duration. The teacher from across the road shouted, "Come children, stand still!" Every child stopped playing instantly, stood where they were, straight and silent, without moving for the full minute. I took a quick photo - notice how everyone is wearing blue and white today. When it was over the teacher announced, "Well done! Now we go into Independence Day with happiness!" And they all went back to their toys.

I was amazed and proud.

I arrived at the school to collect DD just in time for the final dance of the ceremony. Then all the children stood up to sing Hatikva. DD doesn't know the words yet but I was overwhelmed (again) with pride to see my 4 year old daughter 'singing' Hatikva in a ceremony for Israel Memorial Day - Independence Day. It took me back to all those Zionist summer camps where we ran around a field in The Wye Valley or South Wales capturing the Israeli Flag and singing Israeli songs around the campfire. This is what it was all for.

And for the whole afternoon DD marched round the flat chanting: YIS YIS YISRAEL, ECH ANACHNU OHAVIM ET ERETZ YISRAEL. (Is Is Israel, Oh how we all love the Land Of Israel). At one point I asked her not to stomp so much as it might disturb the downstairs neighbours. Her reply - "I'm not stomping, I'm marching!" Oh well, I think they are Zionists downstairs too so they'll understand just for today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Israel Memorial Day

Soldiers observe the minute of silence.
From: via google
Today is Memorial Day. We remember all our soldiers and victims of terror who have fallen.

When I was growing up in England we observed the minute of silence on 11.11 every year. It was for soldiers who died during the two world wars, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. It was a minute and then it was over. It had all been such a long time ago as far as us children were concerned.

In Israel every family knows people who have died either defending our country and keeping the rest of us safe, or in terrorist attacks. I think the situation is also a little different in England since I left because of the Falkland War, Iraq and Afghanistan but, not to compare, we are a country of 7 million and the old adage of six degrees of separation is about three too many.

Every boy and girl has to serve in the army. It's not a career choice, it's a necessity. Even if your son is the most sensitive, non-athletic type he will have to toughen up in order to defend his country and defend us all. And they go with pride. And we are proud of every one of them. Some of them never come back.

My peers were in the army during the first Lebanon war in 1982. A close friend has spent every Memorial Day since then, along with other members of her unit, visiting the families of comrades in their unit who never came back. Over 30 years later but they are still honoured and remembered for their courage and selfless sacrifice.

At the college where I teach, I was invigilating an end of year exam. One student was pointed out to me by my head of department. "This student gets extra time if she needs it, she may leave the room and come back, whatever you can do to help her." A young girl recently married, she was widowed when her husband was shot by terrorists whilst driving home one day.

So many wedding photos over the years with the family gathered with a framed photo within the photo. The son who died in the army who is still part of the family and should have been there.

The teacher at school who had the first day of the new school year off in order to take her 5 year old niece to her first day in big school. Both parents had been killed in a drive-by shooting on the road to Eilat.

My 14 year old student and daughter of my friend who was blown up while buying school books in the centre of town.

My plumber who lost his eldest daughter when a bus stop was blown up one night as she waited for the bus home.

I dedicate this post to all our soldiers. To their parents who hold their breaths for three years and never turn off their phones. I thank you for a country where I can walk the streets even after dark and feel safe.

To all the victims of terror, victims of war, and their families. My heart breaks for you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Matza Brei

Obviously I had my matza brei on Pesach (Passover) but I was so out of the blogging loop that I forgot to take photos of it. Can you believe that!?

Before leaving Jerusalem for London, I had had to buy a packet of matzas for DD's mock seder at kindergarten. Also, I rented out the apartment here during Pesach. So when we returned there was a fair amount of leftover matza in the cupboard. I managed to get through most of it with butter and/or cheese. Maybe one or two with butter and jam. And then I was down to the last three slices. I took the opportunity to return to matza brei so that I could share it with you because it's one of life's pure pleasures and, for many of us, the ultimate comfort food.

Matza Brei

Slices of matza (the big ones)
one egg per slice of matza
a splash of milk
salt and pepper
a generous knob butter for frying

1. Run your matza under the tap for 3 seconds to wet them but don't make them soggy.
2. Beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl (like for making an omelet).
3. Melt the butter in a frying pan.
4. Break the matza up over the pan and drop the pieces into the hot butter. Stir and fry over for a minute. You may have to add lots more butter.
5. Pour over the egg mixture and cook like scrambled eggs.
6. Turn out onto a plate and add more salt and pepper to taste.

There are those who prefer their matza brei made like an omelet and they may even season it with sugar like a pancake. Others can't resist adding fried mushrooms or onions to the mixture but, imo, you can't improve on the basic pure matza brei. I would advise you not to play with the recipe.

Everyone has their own family matza brei made to Grandma's traditional recipe. Everyone thinks that theirs is the best and the original. Don't get drawn into arguments about this - keep your cool and be secure in the knowledge that mine is the best and the original.

I invite those with different matza brei experiences to add them in the comments below.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The 1st Time in almost 4 1/2 Years And It Was Fantastic!

So we went to London for three weeks. I watched a lot of 'Escape to the Country' which my Mum records several times a week (and I managed to find it on cable in the wee morning hours as well). I saw some friends and managed to get out with them for a coffee or a quick smooch around the shops. Lots of family time as there were five festival days over Passover. It was all very low key.

Why so low key?

1. The weather.

2. Both my parents were ill. I've since skyped with them and both are completely recovered (thanks for asking). I do have a photo of both of them asleep in their chairs but they'd kill me.

3. I got an email from the people renting my apartment in Jerusalem. The bathroom had sprung a leak, they had called in an emergency plumber who'd fixed up a temporary solution but, bottom line, all the pipes are corroded and everything needs replacing. None of this was news to me, I'd just been ignoring it. However, as I could no longer do this, I was now terrified of spending any money in London. (More about this next week - it's all sorted with some parental help.)

4. DD spent time with my sister and her family without me. They took her bowling, to The Science Museum, the park, on trains and buses, out to lunch... She had three teenage cousins (and their friends) at her beck and call. She stayed over at their house for two nights on her own - first time in almost 4 1/2 years. My brother-in-law finished both nights in the spare room while DD climbed into bed next to my sister.

I had a ball. I should have rushed up to Town to view art galleries and exhibitions, or gone shopping on my own. But I didn't want to. I wanted to get up late, read the papers, have a long coffee for breakfast without interruption, watch Sky news instead of CeeBeeBies, no responsibility, no one climbing on me, wanting me to play, arguing over getting dressed... I did go out with friends on both days and had lunches in grown up places at grown up paces. I went to bed late and later without fear of being woken up before I was ready. In short, it was fantastic. Thank you M, C, E, N, and Th.