Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Final Festival Flings - R2BC

Part of the Sukkah City behind our building
Late to the party again with Reasons 2B Cheerful as I wanted to wait until after the weekend. It's the last week in September so, for the last time until November, the linky is with Michelle on Mummy from the Heart. Here are my R2BC...

The festival period is coming to an end. Only one more tonight and tomorrow and then we can get back to a proper routine for the first time since before the summer holidays. Whilst a nine week school term with no breaks is a bit scary, I'm so looking forward to a bit of discipline in our lives before we waste any more of it with late nights and hardly any mornings.

On Shabbat we went to my cousins in Netanya. It was a leisurely day including two meals in their sukkah with extremely good company. Some of their friends we meet every year and it's lovely to catch up. Some new faces but no one is completely 'new' as everyone is from the expat community. A bit of delving and you always find a connection. The couple I met for the first time were in the Scouts with my dad and remembered him fondly.

There were wonderful sunsets over the Mediterranean but the 25 hour festival without [visible and hands-on] technology encompassed both of them so no photos this time.

This final festival tonight celebrates coming to the end of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah (Old Testament) which we read weekly portion by weekly portion. We celebrate the Torah and that the the book of life, that we were hopefully written into for the coming year, will be signed and sealed by God. There is a lot of singing, dancing, and rejoicing in the synagogue. It goes on for hours.

It's been an intense three weeks of introspection, atonement and celebration. To be honest, I've had enough and I'm looking forward to real life starting again on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Seven Non-fiction Books I have Loved

A while ago I wrote a post about seven books I have loved in reply to a facebook challenge. After I'd published it I realised that I'd only mentioned fictional novels. Somehow I assumed that this was what was required. (...that this was what was.... a line of words in one sentence without a meaning among them, LOL.) In reality, there are many non-fiction books that I have also loved. So here are seven of them.

1. The Essence of Style by Joan DeJean (Free Press, 2005)
The blurb on the front cover says: "How the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafes, style, sophistication, and glamour." Basically, Louis XIV realised he wasn't going to win in the world quantity stakes so he shifted the mindset of the French to value lesser amounts of quality instead. It was pure genius and the reason people are willing to pay small fortunes for what are perceived to be 'luxury' items. How he did it is the fascinating story in this book. It makes you understand that so much gold is simply dross and at the same time, it makes you want to be part of that quality over quantity mindset.

2. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (Black Swan, 1995)
One of Bryson's series of travel books from around the world but this one I found particularly hilarious, recognising so much of the peculiarities he depicts about Britain. One of my favourite observations is that the British are endearingly satisfied with with small pleasures. They are delighted if the sponge cake has currants in it and, when a cup of tea was served at 9 pm in the guest house, he had never seen a group of people get so genuinely excited over a hot beverage. Another observation that I only saw after Bryson had pointed it out is the gender differences at the supermarket express checkout. You only have a small number of items so the men tot up the payment and have it ready to hand over. The women seem surprised by the amount due and only then start searching for their purse in their bag, as if they didn't know that they would have to pay. And don't get me started on the uncoordinated country railways where each train would arrive 20 minutes after the connecting train, on a once a day schedule, had left. There's a lot in this book that perhaps died out with the last century but that just makes it all the more worth reading.

3. The Victorians by A.N. Wilson (Arrow, 2002)
We have a love-hate relationship with the Victorians. On the one hand they personify family values and good behaviour, while on the other hand they conjure up horrific scenes of the work houses, squalor, quack surgery, Oliver Twist type orphans living on the streets and cruel governesses like Miss Minchin in A Little Princess. It was the age of the British Empire - once a great source of pride and now never mentioned because of the shame of colonisation. It was the era in which the biggest changes in in lifestyle occurred due to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. It was when Britain stopped being a nation of farmers and became a nation of shopkeepers. And factory workers. It was the beginning of the end of the aristocrat-servant relationship. So much history and change within one century.

4. The Pity of It All by Amos Elon (Picador, 2002)
Disclaimer: I used to do pilates with Amos Elon's wife but this in no way influenced my opinion of this book. ;~) Joking aside and with all the furore about the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, this book is extremely topical. The book shows how "a persecuted clan of cattle dealers and wandering peddlers was transformed into a stunningly successful community of writers, philosophers, scientists, tycoons and activists." The Jews of Germany were more German than the Germans. They were more patriotic and influential than any other minority. And then this small minority came to be seen as a "deadly threat to German national integrity." The pity of it all is that they were never accepted even in their most influential heyday. And, as we know, they never saw it coming until it was too late.

5. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (Pantheon 2004)
This is a group entry with The Architecture of Happiness and The Philosophy of Travel (not pictured). Status Anxiety explains what makes us doubt ourselves and our lives. De Botton observes that you are not likely to be jealous of, for examples, Kate Middleton or Meryl Streep because their worlds are far removed from our own. However, the girl you sat next to in primary school and who now owns a property empire can take up not a small amount of envious obsessing. The reason is, of course, it could have been you. She came from the same place and similar opportunities but she did it while you're still wondering if you can afford a week in a caravan next summer.

The architecture book is about the homes that make us happy and the things we put in them. "It prompts us to think about how we live and how we might change things."

Finally, the problem with travel as a form of escape, is that we take ourselves with us. And that glossy brochure showing palm trees on a white sandy beach facing an azure sea, doesn't show the building site behind the cameraman, the beggars who accost you every time you leave your hotel, the humid and oppressive heat, the smell of the leaky sewer, and the shear inconvenient shleppiness of getting there in the first place. So there you have it, a taste of three books to make you love your life.

6. Singled Out, How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by  (Viking 2007) 
Not Pictured as I gave it to my cousin.
The Blurb says it all. "After the First World War a generation of women who believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were simply not enough men left to go round. Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war years had to depend on herself and, in doing so, helped change society." I remember loads of spinster teachers from my childhood who all lived with lady friends. Many of these women lost their fiances in WWII or perhaps there were also just too few men to go round in 1945. And maybe this book is even  more relevant today with the rising number of divorced, never-married and childless women.
7. Outliers: The story of Success by Malcom Gladwell (Little, Brown & Co, 2008) 
Not pictured as I gave it to my nephew.
A bit like Freakonomics, this book takes instances of outstanding success and shows how they are as much a mixture of historical background, social, cultural and economic factors, as they are due to individuals with the courage to go for it. For example, Mayor Guliani who came to office in 1994, claims that he vastly reduced crime in NYC. Whist the crime rate did drop dramatically, Gladwell couples this with legalised abortion in the early 1960s. By the time Guliani was in charge of law and order, for the first time in history there were thousands of unwanted young men who had not been born. In another example, the law in Eastern Imperial Russia that forbade Jews from owning land, forced them to become peddlers and tailors. This gave them a economic advantage over the Italian and Irish immigrants arriving in New York and Boston from the mid 1800s, who had largely been farmers. And if you think western airlines are safer than East Asian airlines, it's partly because the international language of aviation is English, but also because of cultures where people defer to their betters in silence and are always polite - we're very low on fuel but we'll wait until you give us permission to land. Oy vey!

You'll notice that the photo includes A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich (Originally published in German, 1936) but I've not actually read it yet so I decided that it would be cheating to write about it. It does appeal to me though and I do fully intend to read it asap. 
I loved all these books and I'm not even going to give them away as I want to read them all again. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sukkot 2018: First Day

All the guests depicted in a mural in the Sukkah.
We spent the first days of this seven-day festival in my favourite place in Israel - Kibbutz Alumim. This is my happy place full of wonderful memories of festivals, parties and shabbatot (Sabbaths) going back 30 years.

Two of my friends live next door to each other and share a Sukkah. I took a picture of the outide but we'd not yet laid the tables for the festive meal by sundown on Sunday, so by the time it was looking magical inside, all the technical equipment had been put away for the duration.

It's traditional to have a decoration depicting seven special guests (The Ushpizim) who we [symbolically] invite to the sukkah: Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. One of the decorations in our Sukkah was a mural depicting all the guests, 24 of whom were with us for the first day and the others (not us) will be there on Shabbat.

I am sitting back to back with my hostess - me writing my blog and she reading but also wearing her running shoes. DD is the gymnast with the red ball at bottom right. She loved it. She kept telling me how much she loved her picture.

It was very hot out so the Sukkah was fanned through each of the doors. 
There was also a hanging decoration that DD made in Kindergarten five years ago and we took it with us then. They put it up every year. It's a bit like Christmas decorations that get unpacked yearly. Some are added each year and some are old favourites.

The neighbours' guests included lots of friends, old and new. It was one big catch-up session. We also had a comic rendition of the laws and customs of the festival written in the style of Dr Suess.

On Monday we ate lunch in the enormous communal sukkah that takes up the whole patio in front of the communal dining room. We were about 300 people eating in it. And we ended the day with a light supper back in our own Sukkah.

If you think it's mostly eating and shmoozing you'd be right but there were also a few card and board games going on. Obviously there was a synagogue service in the morning but we didn't go to that - I'm off synagogue services atm but no one minds, each to his/her own.

We had a lovely time, as always. Big thanks to the Landsmans and the Marcuses. xxxx

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Minimalism Phase 2 - Happy Housework

17 items + DD's outgrown bike + a big wicker basket (not shown) = 19 
I'm almost there! I've reached 999 clutters decluttered. Obviously I could have found one more and be done with it but the grand finish deserves its own blog post so I held back.

One big advantage of less stuff is the time saved in cleaning it all. When I lived in my previous apartment I could clean the whole place in 2 1/2 hours. That included dusting or wiping down all surfaces, sweeping and mopping all the tiled floors, and cleaning the bathroom. I used to time myself. This apartment is only one room and half a bathroom more than that old apartment but it used to take me over 6 hours to clean. This meant, I resisted doing it and would clean bits when they needed it but very rarely the whole place in one go. Who's got 6 hours to spare for cleaning on any given day!

There were reasons apart from the one extra room, of course. I was only one person. I have balcony furniture here whereas the old balcony was clear. The second bedroom in the old place was only for guests so it was practically empty. The kitchen was tiny. In fact all the rooms were smaller and there was no corridor so that was less floor area to clean overall. And I didn't have a carpet whereas my large area rug here, requires furniture to be moved in order to clean thoroughly.

Yesterday I cleaned the whole apartment in 3 1/2 hours! The changes made over the past year have cut out a whole 2 1/2 hours of cleaning. That's huge and life-changing in that I could get up early to clean on a Friday and be almost finished by the time DD leaves for school. (I so want to promise myself that I'll do this.)

These are the changes that brought about this happy housework situation:

1. Over the past year I've sold two chests of drawers and one display cabinet. I've swapped a big, heavy sofa, two armchairs, and a large footstool for two smaller sofas on legs. That's five big items down!

2. The new sofas on legs and a niftier vacuum cleaner means I can hoover under them without moving anything. And if I'm not moving furniture, I don't feel the need to mop under the carpet every week.

3. The corridor is completely free of furniture so extremely quick and easy to sweep and mop after I've whizzed over the pictures, mirror and tops of door frames with a [synthetic] feather duster.

4. Everything has a convenient home to go to. E.g. my shoes now fit neatly into two drawers rather than piling up in the bottom of the wardrobe and, to avoid the mess in there, usually left on the bedroom floor. This and other things that are put away and off the floor, means I can start from tidy and only have a few items to put on the beds before cleaning the floors.

5. Fewer ornaments make it much quicker to dust and wipe over surfaces. In the kitchen, the counters are uncluttered and therefore also quicker to wipe over. And in the bathroom, less stuff in the cabinets means space for things that otherwise stayed out on the sink area so that too is now easier to wipe over.

I'm loving this minimalism business. Absolutely loving it. 


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Meditating And Other R2BC

A sukkah for living in next week during the festival of Sukkot
Reasons 2B Cheerful is brought to you this week in the middle of the Jewish Holidays of New Year, Atonement, and living in Booths. The Linky is with Michele on Mummy From the Heart. 

Happy Where I Am
A few days ago I was told that they are looking for an English teacher at a school very near where I live. My school is a 40 minute bus ride away. Before I could even weigh up the pros and cons I found myself saying, "no thanks, I'm happy where I am." 

I work in a challenging school and every year so far I've vowed not to return for the following year. But here I am starting my fourth year. This year there are have been a lot of changes in the work conditions so I'm in a better place without going anywhere. It was nice to know that my subconscious mind agrees.

Rosh Hashana Meditation
I didn't write a R2BC last week as I left it until Sunday and then something tragic happened that made it inappropriate to publish such a post. Had I posted, I was going to mention a wonderful Rosh Hashana experience on the first morning of the festival. 

Three friends got together in one of our homes for a meaningful discussion about the year ahead. We had all expressed some dissatisfaction with the regular synagogue services as they are very rigid and leave no space for your own individual prayers. There's also a lot of unnecessary repetition of things you didn't really want to say in the first place. 

We had a loose agenda decided beforehand including a guided meditation. I've only ever meditated successfully once and that was over 30 years ago. This was the first time since then that I felt the value of it and understood why so many people meditate daily. 

The meeting wasn't supposed to be instead of synagogue but rather an extra something before it. However, we were so content in our little Rosh Hashana circle that we decided to have kiddush together before we went. Kiddush is sanctifying the wine and it's usually an aperitif after services and before lunch, said with a blessing and often served with some light refreshment. 

It doesn't have to be wine - any alcohol will do. So out came the whisky and a plate of biscuits. From there we progressed to tea. Long story short, we spent the morning together and forwent the traditional service completely. This didn't matter as there were repeat services on the second day of Rosh Hashana. Our welcoming in the New Year was perfect. I hope we do it again next year. 

One of my favourite festivals and we are spending it in various places with family and good friends. It starts on Sunday night though the booths are already going up all over the country. And no school for another week. So that's next week's R2BC taken care of.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

After The Fast - Dedicated To Ari Fuld z"l

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day like on no other day of the year, the whole country shuts down. All places of work (except for hospitals and the military) and entertainment are closed. The airport is closed. The streets are clear except for the occasional police patrol or an ambulance. Children who are not synagogue-goers take advantage of the lack of traffic and ride their bikes on the roads. I've written about it before.

After a long day of introspection, prayer, and atonement, we put the old year to rest. We contemplate how we can improve ourselves and our behaviour in the coming year.

There was a lot to think about today. Last week there was a tragic terrorist attack in a community nearby. Almost all my friends either knew Ari Fuld, a 45 year old father of four children, personally or knew someone close to him. For a while many years ago I was in a women's group with his mother. Jerusalem and indeed Israel, is like that. We are all connected.

Many of my friends said it made them appreciate the present. Ari's close friends urged everyone to be like Ari - a man of action, a doer. He was outspoken, yes, but for the truth. He was a teacher, a soldier, and a leader. CCTV footage shows that after he was stabbed and before collapsing, Ari ran after the terrorist and shot him as he was chasing his next victim, thereby saving her life and potentially more lives after that. His daughter quoted Ari at the funeral: "If your life is too comfortable you're doing it wrong."

There was much outpouring of grief. Facebook and newspaper comments inevitably got political. Some comments, both from the extreme left and the extreme right, were way out of order, imo. Emotions ran high. Moderates, in the middle of the road, tried to keep things calm and civil. Well if you can't stand in the middle of the road on Yom Kippur when can you?

At just after 7pm today the shofar (a hollowed out ram's horn) is blown for the last time and we finish introspecting and have to start doing. Of course we have to break our fast first. And then we should start as we mean to go on.

The first deed after Yom Kippur is traditionally to build your sukkah - a temporary booth in which to sleep and eat for the upcoming seven-day festival of Sukkot. As I sat at my computer tonight I could hear the bang bang bang of many hammers as a number of sukkot were being erected in the garden behind my building. 

I was at the computer and finished grading all my Summer Course papers to date. DD prepared her school bag for tomorrow, showered and washed her hair, and read a chapter of her book all without prompting, to show that she was already making good changes.

I will try to be more of a doer. I will stand up for the truth as I believe it. Neither agreeing with those on the extreme right nor the extreme left of most political and religious issues, but finding the middle road with the best possible outcome for the most people. I will continue to support strict security measures and harsh punishments for terrorists whilst not blaming every member of their race or religion.

In keeping with the words of Rabbi Zushya, I can never be an Ari Fuld, but I will try to be a better Rachel Selby.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Minimalism Phase 2 - Delayed Reaction

23 items to go out and another 6 not shown as they've already gone.
Before I start on the topic in hand, an update on The 1000 Clutter Challenge that I started last October (previously 500 before being upgraded to 1000). Having decluttered 952 clutters I had only 48 items left in order to reach the goal of 1000 unnecessaries out of my house. In the photo you can see 23 more things.

There are 7 items of DD's clothing (mostly too small and grubby school tops) to throw out. 7 books (two to pass on to friends, and the rest to donate). 3 old swimming goggles and/or their cases. A Kinder Surprise from inside a chocolate egg, a bag of dried out felt pens, an old CD, and 2 CD racks, I won't count DD's old school backpack with the dodgy zip because we bought another one to replace it.

I didn't get rid of the CDs - I'm not quite ready to do that yet, but I moved them to a book shelf that has been freed of books. So consolidated clutter rather than consigned.

One note about the Oxford Book of Quotations. I got two of these for my Bat Mitzva 43 years ago. I left one of them at my parents' house in London and the other has been with me all my adult life. I chose this one as it's inscribed from my Dad's cousin Alan. I noticed it this week as we were talking on facebook about Bar and Bat Mitzva presents that we still have. I have about 8 of mine still. And then I thought about it seriously. In these days of internet, I don't need a big bulky book of famous quotations. So thank you Barbara and Alan Miller, I really did love it and use it before the days of instant information online. But now it has to go.

I'm really into gifting well loved books that I know I won't read again. In addition to what's on the bed, another 4 books were gifted recently. A Gentleman in Moscow went to a real gentleman for his 60th birthday and Behind the Scenes at the Museum went to my colleague at school who, like the girls in the book, grew up in the north of England in the 1960s. Eleanor Oliphant also went to an English friend who will appreciate the cultural references. And a coffee table book about quilting went to a friend who quilts. Half the pleasure is finding just the right recipient for each book.

An outgrown dress and unused pencil case of DD's went to the little girl downstairs. That makes 28 clutters and a running total of 980 items.

During the summer I sold two items of furniture - a chest of drawers and a tall display cabinet that became surplus to requirements (already counted). A friend came over and exclaimed, "Wow! Your apartment really looks and feels much bigger!" Score

And here's where I'm stuck. Although much has been donated, passed on, sold, or thrown out.... much of it hasn't. I have tops of wardrobes and other assorted shelves and drawers full of stuff waiting to go to the Yedidya Bazaar. I am trying to weed it down by taking books to the park library but it's a slow process.

Until those spaces are freed up I can't move other things into them and free up other spaces. For example, I don't need to store spare cling film and foil, sponges, dish clothes, and paper towels, etc... in the actual kitchen. I buy all these things in bulk packages because it's cheaper but they could be stored in the cupboard in the study, along with the spare toilet paper, if only I could get all the unwanted stuff out.

It's a temporary stuck. A delay of you will. The Yedidya Bazaar comes round again in April so I'll keep chipping away at it until then. Any other charity sales or swaps that come up in the meantime will be gratefully embraced. The only disappointing aspect is that I don't yet feel like a minimalist as I  can still see where more space can be found and possibly one more piece of furniture eliminated.

On the other hand, I do intend to find those last 20 clutters to complete the 1000 clutters challenge within the year.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

September 2018 - R2BC

The obligatory back to school photo.
Begrudgingly allowed because it's the law. 
It's the Jewish New Year this week, it was the academic new year last week, also my birthday, the weather got cooler, as if by magic, and autumn is definitely in the air. The End.

Just kidding. September has always been my favourtie month for all the above reasons.

Rosh Hashana
A chance to repent, renew, recharge and reinvent. This year I finally stopped pretending that I would be going to traditional synagogue services and have arranged to meet with a  few friends on the first morning of Rosh Hashana (it's a 2-day festival) for some meaningful start to the year. I'm not sure exactly what will happen as although we have a  rough agenda, this is the first time we're doing this. But I'm very much looking forward to it.

At home DD and I will do all our own Rosh Hashana traditions - blowing away our sins and bad habits, and eating our menus with the Rosh Hashana Symbols. And some of the meals we're eating out with friends.

It was back to school for both DD and me this week. DD has always hated having her photo taken so on the first day of 1st Grade I told her it was the law. She's now in 5th Grade and she still thinks it's the law. Hilarious.

My Birthday.
Me and Ingrid Bergman reduced to tears as we marched, singing This Old Man, into a Chinese village in North Wales. You had to be there.

The Weather
It's overcast. Seriously, there's grey in them there clouds. We are praying for a wet winter in Israel. Turns out that desalination isn't enough and we're once again facing a water shortage. However, the heat of the summer is behind us and hopefully the universe will be kind.

The Reasons 2B Cheerful linky is with Michelle on Mummy From the Heart this week and for the whole of September.

Wishing everyone a SHANA TOVA UMETUKA (A Good and Sweet Year). 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Sixth Happiness For My Birthday

No photos from yesterday so here's one we made earlier.
Yesterday was my birthday. It wasn't a big birthday although no one can say that the number is small anymore so I suppose all my birthdays are now big birthdays. It was the day I don't teach in school, and college hasn't started yet so I did have a less hectic day than would normally be the case.

Whatsapp messages from family and friends mostly either wished me a great day (fantastic, amazing, wonderful, etc...) or asked what I was doing to celebrate. I answered truthfully. Grading papers, preparing lessons, supermarket. I treated myself to a delivery but then I do that every month so not really fair to count it as a birthday thing.

Facebook was marvelous as it always is on birthdays. Thank you to all my friends and even my "friends" and my cousins, who left birthday greetings. I tried to answer each one with a personal thank you but after a while I just 'liked' as many as I could. But, seriously, big LIKE to all of you.

Two e-cards all the way from Canada and California. Thank you, you know who you are.

And now enough of this Oscars acceptance speech  and back to the day itself. I also popped into college to do a few things, I went to sign DD up for gymnastics club, I did some housework. That's it. Until the evening.

This is where you expect me to say that I let my hair down and went clubbing all night. Wrong. DD had been asking me what I'm doing for my birthday all day. She was annoyed that I wasn't doing anything. I think she wanted to go out for waffles but as she didn't even bother to make me a card, I wasn't inclined to break my diet for her to have the treat. She did give me a big hug and say, "Happy Birthday Mummy, I love you so much." She's clever like that - no money or effort involved.

Anyhoo, I felt a bit guilty (Why? Just why did I feel guilty?) so I asked DD to watch a film with me for my birthday. It was my birthday. Mine. So I got to choose the film right? Wrong again. Well I refused to watch some pre-teen Hallmark TV movie this time so DD refused to watch anything with me.

As I was choosing for myself I revisited my childhood and watched, "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" on You Tube. Remember? Ingrid Bergman and 100 Chinese orphans escaping the Japanese invasion. I was surprised to find that the bit about escaping with the children was only the last half hour of a 2 1/2 hour film. I'd remembered Gladys Aylward secretly reading her employer's books about China and saving her wages to pay her passage to China. I remembered her adopting Sixpence and then I thought the whole film was about the orphans' journey across the mountains. Not so.

It was a bit like when I watched Jane Eyre again decades after reading the book (because I had to at school) and seeing the movie and the BBC TV drama. I'd completely forgotten that half the story is about her life before going to be the governess at Mr. Rochester's house.

Btw, I read Wikipedia about Gladys Aylward and the film was very romanticized. The real Aylward never kissed a man in her life and didn't abandon the children in the end to go back to her  boyfriend. I didn't mind that so much but I'm sorry I read the article before seeing the end of the film because afterwards I could only think, all that scenery is actually North Wales not China. It lost some of it's magic I'm afraid.

Still, I found myself blubbering through the last 20 minutes so it was a fantastic choice of movie and a great way to celebrate my birthday.