Monday, March 31, 2014

35 Years Ago Tonight - Halellujah!

This morning I woke up to the radio playing Halellujah. Thirty-five years ago on March 31st 1979, Israel hosted the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time and won for the second year running!

It was the 24th contest. In the era of three tv channels and before everyone had video, it was a night when everyone stayed in. In was an event on telly - a bit like a royal wedding but without a day off school.

It was an age of Eurovision innocence with only 19 countries participating. Turkey and Yugoslavia opted out for political reasons. Was this the beginning of the end? On the other hand, in a bizarre Eurovision karma, where is Yugoslavia today?

It was a time of dignified judging rather than the money grubbing telethon and mad dash across borders with multiple mobile phones stashed in the boot, that symbolize the contest today.

Even Israel, with Milk And Honey singing Halellujah, was a source of Eurovision pride with the emphasis on simple entertainment and the music rather than the over-the-top, all-dazzling extravaganza it produced in 1999. In fact, we declined to host it again in 1980 even though we won in 1979 - we couldn't afford it. It was the tail end of austerity and maybe the tail end of modesty.

These days I don't even bother to watch the three-ringed circus that Eurovision has become.

Here is Gali Atari and Milk And Honey singing Hallelujah in 1979.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tidbits 17: The Passover Story

It's that time of year again. DD is learning about the story of Moses and The Exodus in kindergarten. Her teacher swears that she understands everything in Hebrew.... If she says so....

DD: Moses saw a bush with flames but it wasn't burning, you're right?
Me: You're right. Then what happened?
DD: Someone started telling him things.
Me: Who was the someone?
DD: I don't know. I think there was someone standing behind the bush.

DD: God made the water turn to blood. Then Pharaoh's daughter had to quickly come and get Moses out of the river because it was all blood.
Me: You've got the story a bit confused. I'll tell you the whole story from the beginning.

DD: They got 10 plagues. Blood, frogs, lice, hail..... *sighs* I love the 10 plagues.

DD: Moses put his stick down and it turned into a snake. Then someone else did it. It's magic like when [Uncle] Charles takes sweets out of my ear, you're right? But only if I'm a good girl, you're right?

DD: Pharaoh was very happy because he had slaves and they built things for him and he didn't have to pay them anything.

DD: I know why we eat matza. Because when they were running away they didn't have time to make bread so they ate matza and it happened on Pesach so we eat matza on Pesach.

DD: What was the last plague?
Me: All the first born boys died.
DD: But only the boys, you're right?
Me: Yes, only the boys.
DD: Phew! Lucky Aviva's not really a boy.
Me: She's not a boy at all.
DD: She's like a boy because she likes to play football and wear trousers.
Me: Well she's got two older brothers so she's not the first born anyway.
DD: Phew! Lucky!

DD: It all happened a long  time ago, you're right? So everybody from the story's dead, you're right. There aren't any bad people in Egypt now, you're right?
Me: Ummm. Yeah, right.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Expected Jerusalem Marathon, 2014

After last year's unexpected marathon, this year we were up early and looking forward to it. As the weather was (accurately) predicted to be hot, they started at 6.45 am. Most of my friends who were running were doing the half marathon (or the 10k or the 5k but they didn't come through our neighbourhood). We were at the crossroads at the end of the street by 8am, boogieing to the music, clapping and kiffing (fives - high and  low depending on the size of the kiffer).


I wanted to photograph some of my friends but everything was happening too fast. In the end I put the camera away and enjoyed being in the moment.

From 8 - 9 were the serious runners. David Graniewitz we saw you at 8.30 (by Bagel Bite). I clapped, woohooed, shouted "Kol Hakavod!" (Well done!) and your name, but you didn't hear me.

8.40 - Yael Zisquit Gabai joined for a short stretch by her husband and four children. "Woohoo! Kol Hakavod!"

8.50 - Our mayor, Nir Barkat, ran past. I gave him a cheer as, on the strength of one pre-election parlour meeting and seeing him in the street occasionally, I consider him to be a personal friend. He also came to my daughter's kindergarten once and although the parents were invited, I didn't go as DD tends not to join in if I'm there.

Random runner with runners in the background #rubbishphotographer

By 9am we were cheering the fun runners, the dancers, the stop for a chatters, and the huggers.

9.10 the lonesome ownsomes, the walkers. In a way it was almost more rewarding to cheer them on as they really appreciated it. And if there's only one runner he knows you're talking to him personally. I applauded one runner who stopped, came over to shake my hand and said, "Shalom Rachel." "Who are you?" I asked. Turns out he's the landlord of the apartment downstairs that's rented out. Sorry, Yehoshua Mendel, I didn't recognise you under all that t-shirt and shorts. :~P  "Woohoo! My neighbour! Kol hakaovod!" He ran on smiling.

Sorry we missed you Gershon, Sam, Guy, and Ariella. Emma and Nadia we missed you at the barrier - where were you?

At 9.30 it was almost all over but the music and the street entertainment kept us hanging around a bit longer. Then it was off to the shops to buy food for Shabbat. I would say we did the full 42.2k (where k stands for kiff).

For the less marathon minded

The Jerusalem Marathon 2014 - Kol Hakavod!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No Mess Crafts - Sticky Mosaics

It's not creative as it's stickers by numbers but DD loved it and it was hours of entertainment. My sister bought DD Sticky Mosaics Dolphins (15 pounds or 25 pounds for two sets) Luckily my sister was also buying for another nephew at the same time as they are quite pricey I think.

A lovely present for a 5yo, no mess, DD could do it herself and spent ages concentrating on it. In the end she was very proud of herself that she'd completed all the pictures.

She received the present in Eilat and recruited her cousin to help
There are lots of different sets - we got dolphins

You get 4 pictures on card, with stands
This is not a sponsored post just an FYI to mothers of 5 year olds.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fluent In 3 Months

You can't look inside, I got the image from Amazon.
You can buy it here.
I actually wanted to call this post: My Name's In A Book!!! However, that wouldn't be fair to Benny Lewis who wrote Fluent In 3 Months (from an SEO point of view).

It all started a couple of years ago when I found a website called Fluent In 3 Months. Written by Irish polyglot, Benny Lewis, it documents his travels around the world and learning languages to fluency in just three months. Benny speaks 12 languages and those are just the ones he remembers. I was hooked.

Then last May Benny sent out a request for people with masters degrees or Ph.D.s in language related subjects, to read one or two chapters of his soon to be published book. The brief was to supply some academic references to give his experience and anecdotes more weight. Not that they needed more weight but it couldn't hurt. I have an M.A. in TESOL and language acquisition. I have over 20 years of teaching English as a foreign language experience. I live my life in two languages. I have a library of academic books on the subject and [I had] a box full of coursework, texts and papers submitted for my MA. I volunteered and I was chosen.

I received my two chapters by email and settled down one evening with my personal library and M.A. coursework. It became apparent very quickly that nothing I had in the house was suitable. In academia you can't cite studies from nearly 15 years ago. You just can't. Reader I threw out all my M.A. coursework the next day and severely culled my library.

However, I had made a commitment to Benny. I switched to the computer and spent about 6 hours online looking for articles. I managed to add a few references to the chapters (literally a few, like when a few means 3) and correct one spelling typo. I was so embarrassed by my paltry contribution that, when I'd returned the document by email, I deleted the website Fluent In 3 Months from my blog list and never went back. LOL - like Benny might see me lurking on his blog and sneer at me? Anyway, that's how embarrassed I was.

Fast forward to March 2014 and I got an email from Benny asking me to send him my postal address so that he could send me a copy of the book. I did, he did, and it arrived on Friday. I was gobsmacked to see my name in the acknowledgments as one of:  "...the group I lovingly call Team Linguist ...... Their feedback was essential ...... and ensured the book had a solid foundation ..."

This book is so coming with me when I have to go and plead my case at the Ministry of Education.

So with humility and gratitude, I give you Fluent In 3 Months by Benny Lewis, 2014, Collins, UK. (256 pages) RRP UK 9.99.

Benny Lewis and his book. Image stolen from Benny's own blog.
(Seems to be a different edition from mine.)

I read the book, I love the book. How can you not love a book that explains how anyone at any age can learn a number of languages to fluency?

One of the things I love about Benny's philosophy is that his definition of  fluency is entirely subjective. Reading the book, for the first time in my 26 years living in Israel, I feel that I'm fluent in Hebrew. Not that I don't conduct a great part of my life in Hebrew, I do. But the perfectionist in me always focuses on how much I don't know and how much I'm reluctant to participate in Hebrew situations where I don't have to.

There's no room for perfectionism in language learning, according to Benny, just passion and a willingness to start talking from day one. He's right of course. As I resolve to brush up my Hebrew I can already feel the enthusiasm bubbling below the surface for French (I have all the text books - Uh Uh, not the text books, that's not the way...) and I would so like to speak Spanish. And maybe Greek... or Czech... or Russian.

Thanks Benny, I'm returning you to my blog list.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Costume Fight

It's Purim again. Our answer to Mardi Gras, Carnivale, and Pancake Tuesday. Of course we have our own story (they tried to kill us, we won, lets eat). We get the carnival bit in by saying we have to rejoice until we no longer know the difference between the Good Mordechai and the Wicked Haman. Yes we are ordered to get drunk. Not everything in an ancient religion is 100% politically correct. :~) And because we are striving for this state of confusion, it's traditional to dress up in fancy dress costumes. 

I awoke to my facebook home page full of photos of everybody's gorgeous little darlings looking ridiculously cute as they dressed up for their school and kindergarten Purim Parades. My status read like this....

Big fight this morning, "I don't want to be a strawberry!" Got out the dressing up bag and offered her a ballerina, a bride, a fairy. "No! No! No! I don't want to dress up! I don't want to go to school!" Me: "You're going to school, do you want to wear ordinary clothes and be the only one not in a costume? You can if you want to." DD: Ok, I'll wear the strawberry skirt and the t-shirt but I'm not wearing the hat or the leaves!" Me: "Fine."

We were given the strawberry costume weeks ago and DD said she wanted to wear it. I have been telling her that if she wants something else she needs to tell me so we can buy it (I'm not even going to pretend that it crossed my mind to make a costume). Up until this morning, half an hour before we had to leave the house, she was fine with the strawberry.

Totally disinterested in Purim

On another note. This is my fourth Purim since I started the blog. There really isn't much to add from previous years and we are experiencing cold stormy weather so there wasn't as much jollity out on the streets as there usually is. Here are my posts from past Purims. Reading back, I see that dressing up has never been DD's favourite thing to do. At least I didn't end up crying this year. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Dividing Wall

No not that dividing wall. The dividing wall I had built this week so that we could revisit the idea of a lodger.

The original plan wasn't good because it meant giving my enormous bedroom to the lodger while I took the smaller room that DD has to walk through to get to her bedroom. A few weeks ago I had two inquiries about the room to let. Both of them from friends (one was a friend of a friend) who needed a place for a visiting relative for a couple of weeks. They didn't have room in their own apartments, they didn't want to pay hotel rates, and they wanted to be in the neighbourhood. Perfect for us if only the small spare bedroom were not also a corridor to another room.

So I had a wall built and ordered sliding doors. The doors haven't arrived yet although the first guest has. She landed in Tel Aviv as the builder was putting on the final coat of paint. Luckily she could hang out with her daughter and grandchildren for a few hours before coming over. DD will bunk with me for this one (she usually ends up in my bed anyway).

Here are the before pictures:

DD's bedroom beyond the spare room

And here are the after photos. The new guest room, dressed and ready for guests:

Still waiting for the sliding doors

The candle is to cover up any lingering paint smells

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Chosen Poverty

Following my post last week about not being frugal for frugal's sake, and I thank all of you who wrote lovely supportive comments which were much appreciated, another issue came up which I want to address.

Whilst I write about trying to save every penny in any which way I can and how I cannot afford many of the things I used to take for granted, my kind of 'poverty' is not real poverty. Real poverty is when you have nothing, you have no money for food or fuel, you live in less than desirable housing conditions, your children are suffering, and you can see no way out of these circumstances. Thank God none of this applies to me.

My circumstances are at worst, sustainable, and at best, temporary. There are a number of very good reasons to choose a temporary poverty. I would even recommend it if quality of life is more important to you than standard of living.

1. A well paying job might take up all your time and you prefer to be flexible while your children are young so that you can be available for school events, volunteering, cooking healthy meals, home-making, helping others, or if the children need a sick day.

2. The logistical organisation and stress that might go with a high-powered career is not worth the money to you and your family.

3. You prefer to be happy finding lesser paid work than to be unhappy in a strict rule-laden work environment. Life's not always all about amassing the most wealth in financial terms. Sometimes it is of course, but at other times you may owe it to your children and/or partner to have a happy parent and/or partner.

4. It may be that a few years of financial struggle while you find and set up alternative sources of income are ultimately worth the investment.

5. Sometimes after a massive effort to put yourself in a good place such as buying a home, paying off debt, finishing a course of study, or paying for IVF, you need to stop peddling so hard for a while and just appreciate how far you've come. Maybe you are gathering your strength for the next big project or maybe you're done. Whichever it is, if you can't take some time to enjoy the fruits of your labour then what's the point of it all?

6. Even if you have a sufficient income, you might strive to live on as little as possible day to day as this allows you to save for expensive things that are more important to you. This may be travel, education, your house, or even amassing a good pension. Each to his own. As one very supportive comment on my last post said: it's about using what you have in a way that best works for you. It's about satisfying your wants as well as your needs without going into debt.

There have been a few worrying moments over the past five years. Realizing that the good income I had prior to motherhood was no longer viable with the time available as a single mother was big shock. I've had to rethink my whole work situation and at times I struggled with it. Only last year I thought I'd have to sell my apartment and downgrade as I couldn't afford to live here. This too passed and we got through it somehow albeit with a lot of tears and sleepless nights.

Now my daughter is 5 and everything is easier. Opportunities are opening up that were impossible to consider with a baby or a toddler. I am no longer struggling or stressed out about it. I am juggling, budgeting, and planning but this empowers me rather than oppresses me. It's a challenge for sure but I'm thriving on it.

Bottom line - I don't plead poverty (anymore), I choose frugality as a tool towards a happy and successful life. I celebrate that I have the choice.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Listography: 5 Inspirational Women

In honour of International Women's Day tomorrow (8th March) this week's Listography is 5 Inspirational Women.

1. Henrietta Szold 1860 - 1945 (I wrote about her and my direct connection to her here.)

2. Candi O'Reilly who blogs at Looking For Blue Sky. You can find her here. I could write more but I want you to read her own words.

3. Meryl Streep. She's achieved the greatest accolades in the film industry, she's a skilled and versatile actress, she's kept her family out of the media, she's always conducted herself with the utmost integrity and dignity, she supports causes with intelligence and discretion, she's not self obsessed with her own beauty, ..... Is that enough?

4. J.K. Rowling (who doesn't look dissimilar to Meryl Streep). Also for her dignity and intelligence, common sense and humility, and for sitting down and doing what so many of us dreamed of but never managed to get started.
5. Irena Sendler 1910 - 2008

Irena Sendler is one of the 24,811 Righteous Among The Nations honoured at Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Memorial Museum) in Jerusalem. Irena helped to smuggle 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and furnish them with false identity papers.

Irena's story spoke to me because my mother's family left Warsaw for London in the 1880s. If they'd not had the get up and go to get up and go, those children could have been my mother and her brother. However, I could have chosen any one of the thousands of women who put their own lives at risk to save Jews from Hitler during the Second World War. You can read more stories here.

Linking up with  Listography at Kate Takes 5.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Frugal For Frugal's Sake? No

Apart from writing some blog posts about being frugal, I also belong to facebook group about living frugally in Israel and another about being financially savvy in Israel. And every so often in real life I get invited to an event which I turn down because my babysitting budget runs to about one outing a month, less if the outing involves travel and a wedding present. I think it's safe to say that my frugality is pretty much out there for all to see.

On the other hand, I seem to live a nice life and we do things, go places, and acquire stuff. I'm sometimes asked how this can be? If I'm so strapped for money, how come we had a new bathroom fitted last year, went to London, went to Eilat last month, and next week we are having more building work done, after which I really do need to buy that new cooker.....???

There's a three-part answer to this valid question.

1. We are not totally without income although it barely covers. Living frugally allows me to put a little away each month so when, for example, I need a new cooker or we want to meet the cousins in Eilat, there is a small emergency fund available. I couldn't do this if I bought clothes, ate out, belonged to a gym, or took taxis everywhere.

2. Some things look extravagant but you may not actually be paying full price for them. You may be invited to that meal in a fancy restaurant and some building costs may be covered by building insurance. Whilst hanging out with family at the posh hotel in Eilat, you might not mention that you were actually staying at a modest hostel down the road. Elderly parents who no longer travel may use their holiday money to bring their grandchildren to them if that's a more convenient arrangement all round. Looks can be deceiving and part of the game is to find ways to enjoy some glamour on a budget.

3. Some purchases are an investment. The new cooker will save money on fuel charges and allow more frugal cooking from scratch than is currently possible. The spare room is getting a dividing wall so that a corridor is made along one side to get to DD's bedroom. We are re-instating the lodger idea but with a few tweaks to make it more suitable for our lifestyle. Both of these purchases will pay for themselves over the next few months.

So that's the answer folks. I'm not doing this frugal business for fun. I don't have money to spare at the moment. However, I do have a plan to see us through the challenging years of being a single mother with a young child. It requires a certain amount of juggling and keeping a couple of months ahead of the bank balance. What it doesn't mean is that we are sitting in the dark, cold and hungry - although it could mean this if  I weren't doing the frugal thing.

I hope that clears things up for those of you who were asking. And please feel free to ask anything, it's good to explain when more clarity is needed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Teachers' Oscars

"Film has the Oscar™, music has the Grammy™, science has the Nobel and sports has its gold medals, but what about the true unsung heroes on the frontlines of shaping our future? Where is the recognition for our nation’s educators?" Lowell Milken

Today sees the red carpet rolled out for the 86th Academy Awards in Los Angeles - The Oscars. I have friends in the US who have Oscar parties in which they dress up, drink champagne and watch the whole shebang on the biggest tv available. In the UK it's perhaps less celebrated but still broadcast in full. Here in Israel we get the highlights.

However, the buildup has been in the media for weeks. The hype is an amazing feat of PR, whipping up a frenzy of hero-worship and adoration for... what? Writers, actors, producers, directors, and technicians in the film industry. 

I'm not saying that films don't give an enormous amount of pleasure to an enormous amount of people. Who hasn't watched a classic on the big screen and sighed with relief that one more heavy tome doesn't need to be ploughed through with actual reading? (I'm thinking War And Peace, all of Jane Austen, and most of Shakespeare.)

On the other hand, what if there were no cinema? Think about that one while I add: what if there were no medicine, technology, law and order (not the tv programme, the real thing)? What if there were no teachers? Because in the end it all comes down to teachers really. 

The other day I came across the quote above and went looking for more information. I found it here. Real Teachers' Awards. In an industry without millions of dollars to spare and in which the clothing is practical out of necessity. In this industry the little egos of the 'clients' are put centre stage while the teacher stands back and lets them shine. And when their little egos become big egos it's often because of the teachers and the teachers still stand back and let their students shine. Lowell Milken recognises that it all comes down to the teachers.

By pure coincidence, this morning I read this blog post about Fantastic Miss T. Then I went to grade some papers from my online students and one of them had chosen this article about Jennifer Rosenbaum to appraise. Another submitted this one about Vanessa Muller.

Where are their red carpets? Where are the champagne parties for the teachers who change children's lives in ways that no film can ever do, however big the screen? Check out the Milken Educator Awards in the US and The TES Schools Awards in the UK.

Disclaimer: I have never met Lowell Milken but he is now on my list of the four people (living or deceased) I would most like to have dinner with.