Friday, November 30, 2007

The Orchestra

I have already mentioned that both my son and daughter are taking part in a wonderful orchestra project that has been started in Shlomi.

They enjoy playing their instruments and both of them are aware of the fact that they must practice to develop their embouchure and produce a clear sound.

My daughter has been playing a couple of months and already has a good sound.
My son has only been playing a month and at first he complained that after only a few minutes his mouth went 'wobbly'. We explain that this is what will happen until his muscles become strengthened though practice. He has taken this very seriously and once he has finished his homework he wanders round the flat trumpet in hand, even
when he is watching TV. He practices for a few minutes, then rests, then practices again. Depending on her mood and how interesting the TV program my daughter tolerates the loud blasts or chucks him out of the room.

The Trumpet

A couple of weeks ago my daughter came home with the announcement that the orchestra was going on a trip. Everyone was going to a hostel in a small community about 15 miles away and they would be spending the night. It would be an opportunity to practice together and create a spirit of cohesion among the members of the orchestra who are of different ages and from both of Shlomi's schools.

I was excited for her. Both my husband and I have taken part in musical trips and we know what a fabulous experience they can be.

Last Wednesday my son came home from school, and his trumpet lesson, and informed me that he was to join his sister at orchestra practice that evening and the teacher had asked that a parent also put in an appearance.
I knew I had paid everything required so wondered what more paperwork I would be signing.

When I got there, the conductor informed that I had been asked to come because they wanted my son to join the orchestra trip. I checked with my son that it would be OK; although he had never been on an over-night trip before he would be with his sister and although most of the children were older than him, he is quite friendly with the boys from his sister's class.
Then I wandered off to pay for the trip and then phoned my husband to ask which restaurant he intending taking me to on our childfree night.

They set out yesterday afternoon. All the parents were crowding round the bus, some of them crying, others saying they would have to pay a visit later in the evening.
I don't really do the 'mother hen' thing. I blew kisses through the window and
waved goodbye in the expectation that my children would have a fine time.

They returned home this morning full of stories about how much fun they had had mainly telling stories and playing games in their rooms until late in the night. They even played a little music!
My daughter was also proud to tell us that she had helped a younger girl learn how to hold her flute properly and place her fingers on the right keys.

The Flute

Of course are so much fun they were pretty tired out this evening but they still had enough energy to show off their instruments to the guests at my parents' for Shabbat meal.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pretending to be a librarian

I have been volunteering at the local library for several years now, organizing the English section. I am also a familiar face around the community centre as a result of the various children's activities and local initiatives.

So the last year when the local librarian was struck down by a vicious bug that barely left her able to breathe, they asked if I could man the desk for a few hours so local bibliophiles, desperate for the next literary fix, could make a quick exchange.

With my fondness for computers I soon figured out how to enter lent and returned books on the program that I had previously only used for cataloguing. More problematic was trying decipher Russian names, mumbled names and names that turned out to be first names.

Most of the visitors were children and Russian pensioners with the occasional mother who, recognizing me from various activities with my children and after inquiring how I came to be working in the library, would launch into an enjoyable review of the latest bestsellers while I would try to translate the titles from Hebrew to English in order to reference their comments against my own opinion or other reviews I had read.

After two afternoons of such pleasant occupation they asked me to take a third turn at the librarian's desk However, obviously due to such frequent contact with the librarian, I had become infected with the same dreaded lurgy and could hardly summon enough breath to gasp, "I can't."

This week the librarian attended a conference and asked me to cover for her again. The timing was a little complicated as my father was going into hospital, meaning that not only was my mother not available for babysitting but we would also have to be 'on call' for any night-time pickups and any animal emergencies. On the other hand, it would be a good thing if I were occupied with no spare time to fill with considerations of hypothetical 'worst case scenarios'.

I managed to arrange, with the help of my hubby, that my daughter would be able to take part in her ballet lesson without having to go either there or back on her own. And I felt that several long stints in the library might encourage my son to read.

The first afternoon the library was quite empty to begin with and my children joined me straight from school.
Then a couple of six grade boys came in and began searching the Internet for the history of Hanukah. Soon they began calling for my help.

"Find something for me," they asked.

"Exactly whose homework is it?" I replied.

A little while later a teacher tried to help them but they couldn't even be bothered to click through on the links Google gave them so she soon gave up. Eventually, after lot of fuss, they found something suitable and printed it out. However, one of the boys being too impatient grabbed a page it before it had printed and the printer had a hissy fit.

I made several attempts to fix it, with the boys pestering me that I had to fix it because they needed to print.

After ten minutes a lady stood at the desk waiting to be served. I didn't want to keep her waiting as I knew her books would take only a minute while the printer seem to be un-fixable.

As I was talking to the lady one of the boys barged in. "You must hurry up. I'm going to be late for sport!"

I replied that he must be more polite and more patient.

Eventually they showed me that they had already printed one copy so that photocopying was their solution. An end to the problems? Not quite. One of the boys had no change to pay me for the copies so I directed him to reception.

"Where's that?" He asked

I explained to him, but even though reception is the main feature in the community centre lobby he had to return twice for directions until one of his friends took him.

Next two little girls needed help with their homework. As I moved over to the computers I noticed two small boys were playing games on the Internet computers even though one of the games computers was free [Don't get me started about computer games in the library] When I asked them to move their mother gave me an 'evil glance'.

About ten minutes later another child came in and inquired politely when a computer would be free so she could play. I replied that the children already at the computers had another five minutes at which 'evil glance' mother piped up "That's not fair my children have only been playing for ten minutes."
I replied that when there is a queue each child has a turn of fifteen minutes so it was perfectly fair.

Somehow the turns sorted themselves out without me having to interfere any further. However when 'evil glance' mother decided to go home both of her boys threw a temper tantrum at being removed from the computer which gave naughty me more than a little satisfaction.

The second day I just put a notice on the printer saying it was broken, saving myself a whole load of hassle. A few children came into play games and use the Internet but they were well behaved and I was able to concentrate on dealing with the positive flood of people coming to exchange books. At one point I had to chase out a few children who had drifted in from the Hanukkah fair with doughnuts in hand. But otherwise I spent all my time checking books in and out on the computer while the returns piled high around me waiting for the librarian to return them so their shelves in the morning. It was a busy but very pleasant way to pass the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pump it

In England, when I was a teenager, it was always my job to wrangle the petrol pump at the self-service stations and it was a chore I enjoyed.

Fast forward to my life in Israel and even after self-service had began to take over from the full-service in the mid-nineties it was always my hubby who dealt with the petrol, after all, he is the driver.

This morning my mother requested my company when she went to pick-up my Dad from hospital (Thankfully, he is feeling fine.)

On the way we stopped to get petrol. Due to my mother's minimal amount of Hebrew, she has no chance of following the self-service instructions so she always pays extra for full service. Today she offered to 'get the man', but with determination and a little trepidation, I stepped up to the pump.

The instructions flashed on the screen and the only minor hiccup occurred when my mother had to scrabble in her bag for her ID card as she has yet to learn her ID number by heart.

Finally, the pump clicked off and I returned the nozzle to its position. Feeling a little ridiculous the sense of victory that surged through me I was also pleased to reflect that despite wifehood, motherhood and imminent middle age I had not become totally dependent and 'girlie'.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Arnolfini Portrait

As a child I lived quite near to London and made many visits to the wonderful galleries and museums.
One of my regrets living so far from the centre of Israel is that I now rarely get a chance to visit museums or national art galleries.

Luckily the internet, as always, can help out.

The National Gallery in London has a wide and varied collection and they have created a beautiful website.
The paintings are arranged by artist or by collection. There are tour and guides and even podcasts. I particulaly like the 'Painting of the month' .

What makes this website special is the zoom-in feature that allows you to examine the paintings. More closely than you are able to do at the actual gallery.

One of my favourite paintings is 'Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife' by van Eyck. This is a painting we studied at school. I still find it fascinating

Monday, November 26, 2007

Books - Night by Elie Wiesel

Today I worked in the library so I though it would be appropriate to post a book review.

Normally when I like a book or film my reviews are short - 'Wonderful', 'Great', 'I loved this'. it is when I don't like something that I become more eloquent. However I did think it best to start with something positive, if not terribly upbeat.

Despite having read many books and seen many films on the subject I had never read Elie Wiesel's Night. Although I am always cautious about the books that become so hysterically popular after featuring on Oprah's Book Club I did feel that this particulr book deserved the benefit of my doubt.

Here is my review:

It would be easy to say everyone will feel compelled to this book 5 stars because of the subject matter but Night receives top marks from me because of it's straight forward writing style and clear narrative.

Night was a quick but by no means easy read. The subject was not new but during the first half when people are been ripped from their homes and families I could feel tears prickling in my ears. When they arrive at the camps horror soon dries the tears but no matter how many I read or films I see on this subject I am still left incredulous that people could do such things.

The book is quite short and clearly written. And you can feel Elie Wiesel's pain reaching out to you across the text - A must read.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Procastinating is Fun

It is amazing the wonderful amount of things I am getting done in the name of procrastination. I will do anything except writing!

I normally do well on deadlines. Tell me, 'I need two thousand words by tomorrow!' and I will probably get it done. But a month is too much time. The laundry needs doing today and the meal needs to be ready in an hour, this letter needs posting, this email need answering. They all have deadlines less than a month away and therefore take priority over NaNoWriMo.
Suddenly we are nearing the end of the month and my motivation, and time, has evaporated. I am like a deer in the headlights - I know I should move but I just cannot seem to snap into action.

In contrast NaBloPoMo, with its daily deadline, is going OK. My posts are hardly great works of literature but I enjoy talking about my knitting, the weather and my life in general.
I am also enjoying the comments I received and my chosen procrastination for today is looking through some of my friends' blogs.

Tropical Screamer has two blogs. On one she blogs about her knitting, quilting, cats - life. On the other 'Tropical Screamer Writes', she is doing an excellent job journaling her writing for NaNoWriMo and seems to be well on her way to winning this year.
I am enjoying reading about her progress even if I am a little jealous.

Ponders of Two Guinea Pigs is a blog written by ... two guinea pigs. Everyday stories of their adventures and those of their mum. For some reason I am reminded of Beatrix Potter.
The photos are wonderfully colourful and clear. (How they hold the camera and press the buttons with those little paws and claws, I'm not sure!)
They are so cute and remind me of my lovely Pitzi Ephraim who passed at the beginning of the year.

In addition, Wiggley blogged about my music post!

Cello Centred is another blog that caught my attention today.
In this post maricello discusses readability and how to make your blog more accessible to others. I found her blog definitely accessible - a very pleasant and soothing read.
I loved the discussions of her music interspersed with her various other activities.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Shabbat Music

I previously mentioned Israel's version of Pop Idol - A Star is Born.

To be honest I only saw a few episodes of the first season and I watched those because my husband kept telling me how wonderful Ninette was. She was pretty cool then but since winning has become hysterically popular, stars in some telenovella, has lost a ridiculous amount of weight and in the process seems to have also lost her singing talent.

My daughter actually prefers Shiri who came runner-up in the first season and went on to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Here is the song which is pretty good and the dress isn't bad either

Friday, November 23, 2007

Oneg Shabbat

Today has been a little weird.

I am not hosting the meal tonight but still had to cook a couple of dishes. No problem except that in my usual fashion I had left the purchasing of certain vital ingredients until this morning and then I didn't feel well enough to go out.

After a while I began to feel better. Luckily as I was about to go out my Dad came round, delivered the lemons I needed and gave me a lift up the hill to the shops.
By this time it was 10:30 and I had to be home by 11:40 for the children.

I had good luck in finding the birthday present I needed pretty quickly. Then I walked to our small shopping centre keeping my eyes alert for any sign of the children as they walk through the centre on their way home.

Nearly forgot one vital ingredient in the supermarket but remembered at the last minute and got out of there quickly as my efficient friend was working the till and when she is around the queue moves fast.

Then to the greengrocer who also had just what I needed and finally to the cafe where they sell the eggs. Lucky again - I bought the last tray of eggs.

I arrived home and began to cook. The children turned up after about 10 minutes and as I was putting the quiche in the oven, my husband walked through the door.

He was home earlier than usual because today was the azcara (yahrzeit or memorial day) for his paternal grandmother.

He helped the children practice on their musical instruments to keep them occupied and out of the kitchen while I made a chocolate mousse and then, while they tidied up, I finished off the tabouleh. I have been a little cautious about making tabouleh recently as the quick couscous often becomes lumpy and tasteless. Today I added the seasoning first, with lots of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. When that tasted good and the couscous was well separated, I added the chopped mint, and finally the tomato and cucumber. According to my husband, this house's expert taster, it is delicious!

I changed quickly and we left for the cemetery. We travelled the road through the Arab villages, Kfar Yassif, Yarka etc. The traffic was heavy and when we got to the junction the traffic coming from the direction of Akko was blocked solid for more than a kilometre. We phoned to warn my in-laws but luckily it was a problem traffic light, which was at that moment being sorted out. The traffic dissipated quite quickly so no one was delayed.

The original Akko cemetery, like the one in Nahariya, is next to the sea on what used to be the edge of town. When they ran out of space a new local cemetery was created far out of town, along the road to Carmiel. It is impossible to reach without a car as there is no public transport and there is a steep walk uphill from the main road. However, it does have a lovely view across the fields to Haifa.

In some cities the Chevrat Kadisha (burial society) makes a lot of fuss about anything non-Hebrew on gravestones. In Akko I think they have given into the inevitable: Along with the Hebrew there was plenty of Russian as well as a smattering of English and Amharic (Ethiopian).

Next to the grave of my husband's maternal grandfather there was a grave with a chessboard etched into the covering slab and there were several graves where the corner of cover slab and been cut away and flowers planted beneath so they poked through - pretty if a little creepy.

One grave had been turned into a rock garden. There was no flat covering stone. Instead there was a mountain-shaped chunk of rock, roughly carved on one side and 'terraced' on the other. The 'terraced' side was covered in smooth stones and nestled in the stones were small pots of hardy but colourful plants. It was quite beautiful.

After paying a quick visit to the grave of my husband's maternal grandfather, the relatives arrived. There were the hugs and hellos, then we made our way to the grave of my husband paternal grandmother and my father-in-law read the appropriate prayers followed by a few moments of reflection.

Then we washed our hands and ate some cake.

As we got in the car and drove home the sky was already starting to darken even though it was only 3:30pm.

We drove past Regba, which is between Akko and Nahariya, and maybe I subconsciously recognised her but my eye was caught by a young woman at the bus stop trying to hitch a lift. At that time of a Friday afternoon there are still plenty of cars but no buses or taxis.

A glance at her long sleeves and long skirt told me she was religious. She was definitely cutting it fine to get home in time for Shabbat. I almost told my husband to stop for her but we would have had to pull across three lanes of heavy traffic. Instead she got a ride with someone who took her to the main junction into Nahariya.

She immediately started trying to hitch another lift from the drivers stopped at the red light. Again, she attracted my notice and when she caught my eye she asked if we could take her to Shlomi. Of course! I immediately called her over and her face lit up with relief.

As she settled into her seat she thanked us profusely. My husband remarked on the lateness of the hour and the fact that Shabbat came in at 4:15pm. She replied that she had though she had until 4:15 pm but her mother had just phoned in a panic because Shabbat started at 4:05 pm. Either way she had been worried she would be stranded somewhere in Nahariya.

My husband drove along at his usual smart clip and we chatted with our pleasant hitchhiker. Shlomi being so small it was no problem driving her to her doorstep and we left her there at 4:01 pm.

It was a pleasing way to start the Shabbat.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Rain = More Knitting

Yes it rained again today! As usual the hardest rainfall was between 3-4pm when the children have to walk home from school.

By the evening the rain cloud had puffed off somewhere else and I enjoyed a walk out in the cold, fresh air as I accompanied my son to his karate.
While he is in lessons I pass my time in the library, organizing the English section on a voluntary basis - but that is a story for another time.

Normally I spend my first half hour repairing the ravages of the high school English class. The Israeli teachers have been on strike for a month now but strikes rarely seem to affect teachers in Shlomi. However, the high school English teacher decided to join them today so the English section of the library was in immaculate condition.

Instead I sat and chatted with my friend the librarian. I often knit while I'm waiting so she immediately asked if I had knit my scarf. When I answered yes her next question flummoxed me - she asked why I had knit it so small!

To be honest the scarf is quite short because I insist on wearing scarves as often as possible during the short Israeli winter even when it is not cold enough for me to bear to wrap the scarf round my neck.
In such a situation 'English length' scarves become entangled in my jackets and bags so I made this one 'Israeli length' - just long enough to hang to my waist when draped decoratively round my neck.

But she was referring to the width. In her mind a proper scarf should resemble a wrap.
It is another one of those culture gaps.

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in a country cold enough to require the use of a scarf during winter months. For me a scarf is a draught excluder, filling in the gap between the neck and the coat collar, sealing out the chilly breezes that sneak down the back on a cold day and leave you feeling stiff and sore.

For an Israeli, raised in a country where even a heavy winter coat is rarely a necessity, a scarf is pure decoration to be draped over the shoulders, falling off with annoying regularity and providing little in the way of warmth.

Anyway here is the scarf.

The yarn is jewel coloured cotton chenille recycled from a couple of sweaters I had worn until they were falling apart but still couldn't bear to be parted from. The yarn was quite thin so I combined two colours. To make it extra soft and squidy I knit it in double rib.
The imperfection of the yarn gives it a slightly ragged look but it feels lovely and I adore the colours. (which unfortunately don't show up too well in these pictures)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Winter is the time for knitting

It has been raining not stop all day long. My husband even brought home photo of the hail that fell where he works.

Perfect weather for winter pursuits .... like knitting. I wait eagerly all year for the cooler weather. Impatience to start knitting is probably part of the reason I get so irritable when Winter takes in time in getting here.

This year I decided to knit some baby items for a friends' newborn granddaughter and got a little carried away with the 'bite-size' fun of baby bootees.

They only take an evening to whip up. Problem is they take almost as long to sew together!

Finally I convinced myself I must face the music, or rather the bootees, and, after several failed attempts, I have one finished bootee.

one finished bootee

one more to go

The pattern is Saartje's Bootees. The first free pattern on the right-hand side of the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shake, Rattle and Roll

As if this little corner of the world doesn't suffer from enough man-made excitements today we were at nature's mercy.

The week started with and increase in temperate which caused an increase in my irritability (I mean really, too hot for jeans in mid-November - Who wouldn't find their temper more than a little strained?)

Last night with a crack or thunder and a flash of lightening the heavens opened, soaking my laundry before I could rush out and haul it in off the line.

The storm has rolled around the skies all day (as my laundry rolls around inside the dryer) thought there was a slight respite when my daughter and I made our way out of the house to her ballet lesson. As we waited at the bus stop, the storm rumbled back into position overhead turning the road and the drainage ditches into a raging torrent. I was trying to reassure my daughter that we weren't in mortal danger when the man keeping us company under the bus shelter informed me that on a beach only a few miles from us a fisherman had been stuck by lightening and killed.

Although I have felt the earthquakes on previous occasions, it was probably due to the storm that I didn't feel anything this morning.

My daughter was running around outside at break so she also didn't feel it but her friends did and the teachers called them together to explained what was happening.

The epicentre was in the Dead Sea. But they weren't large quakes.

However, we are on the Syrian African rift and the news tonight was full of scare stories of what will happen when the 'Big One' hits.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pen and Paper

I love my computer. Anyone who knows me will tell you this. But I have a confession to make.

I tend to do most of my writing while waiting, at bus stops and while my children are at after-school activities. I do not have a laptop so I write using pen and paper.
The main problem, in addition to occasional losing these precious pieces of paper, is that I then have to copy up all my notes on to the computer.

This November I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Faced with the prospect of writing at least 1,667 words per day I decided that I couldn't afford to waste time copying out notes. It would be more efficient writing straight on the computer.

To be honest I have tried before and the result has been banal prose at best, total writers' block at worst. I thought I could work through it, get used to the glare of the screen, be inspired by electrons.

Unfortunately it has not worked. The problem is not the banal prose. One of the mantras of NaNoWriMo is just write even if what you are writing is crap. During November you put down 50,000 words and then spend December, or the next year, editing to reshape them into something elegant and beautiful.

My problem is that, however self satisfied or recursive it may sound, I am inspired by my own writing.

Or rather, to be more accurate, my own characters. Long before I ever commit my characters to paper they are running round inside my head, acting out scenes from their lives. They keep me amused when I can't sleep or during a boring car journey.

As appalling as my handwriting is, the physical act of writing is automatic and requires little concentration, especially when I let standards of spelling and legibility fall by the wayside. My mind can trailing off in a day dream following round my characters as they develop inside my imagination.

Typing however requires slightly more concentration and although I can edit electronically with alacrity and pizazz my brain is to occupied with the physicality of typing to be creative.

Today I finally gave into this reality and sat on the sofa with pen and paper. It took me less than a couple of hours to write the required 1,667 words and then another hour to type them on my computer. Even better I am satisfied with what I have written and eager to continue.

Now I just have to discover how to ward off writers' cramp as I try to catch up with my word count.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Toad in the Hole

For the English speaker in Israel there is much humour to be obtained from the appalling English so frequently encountered on signs and labels.

Finding the 'vegetal' sausages on special offer at the local supermarket inspired me to prepare
the very British and , normally, very non-kosher dish of Toad in the Hole.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shabbat Music

Israel, just like everywhere else on the planet, has a version of Pop Idol. We call it A Star is Born.

Although, obviously, only one person wins each season the top three tend to become successful.

Harel Skaat didn't actually win in his season of A Star is Born however he has become extremely popular and in my opinion is the best romantic ballad singer in Israel at this time.

This is my favourite of his songs.

Of course, video clips are all very well but for me a ballad singer is truly measured by the effect his song has in a more intimate setting - just him and the microphone, and several million adoring fans!

So for those of us interested in a live version here is the link

Friday, November 16, 2007

Knitting - Baby Blanket

I knitted this for a friend's baby a little while ago and was pleased with my efforts.

Hopefully it will the first of many post about my completed knitting projects though at present my pile of UFOs (UnFinished Objects) is growing larger by the second!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I looked in the mirror as I was brushing my hair today and I noticed not just one but several grey hairs!!!!

I suppose I should have been prepared - My mother has been going grey ever since I can remember and my husband even has a few grey hairs in our wedding photos, he was 23.

I suppose I will have to start behaving like a grown up now?
Maybe not!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sabra Prickles

Maybe it is about time I explained the name of my blog.

A Sabra is an Israeli born Israeli.
I was born an Israeli thanks to Dad, but because I was born in England, thanks to Mum, I am not a Sabra. However, my husband and my children are Sabras.

Sabra is also Hebrew for prickly pear. It is said that like the fruit Israelis are tough and prickly on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside.
This generally holds true. The problem is how to get through that tough prickly outside.

I have been struggling with this problem since 1988.
After long, painful experience I am now able to peel the actual fruit almost to perfection, so that the recipient suffers no stray prickles in their tongue or throat.

The metaphorical Sabra is still a challenge. I manage to avoid most prickles either by careful handling or, in truly desperate situations, by just avoiding the Sabra all together.
Occasionally I still get stuck by a prickle which it normally more hair-pullingly irritating than painful, but most of the time I get to taste the sweet, soft centre.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pita Party

Today my children were invited to a friend's party.

We started getting ready at 4pm, late afternoon but the sun was still shining. It was relatively cool outside but I was still concerned that I might be too warm in my long -sleeved shirt. I always forget just how cold it gets in winter once the sun disappears.

By the time we took the bus and started walking along the road to the party's location the sun was setting and it began to get cold.

The place we were heading for is called Taboon BeLul, which literally means Oven in a Chicken Coop.

The northern area of Naharia is still quite agricultural and most of the properties are still small holdings or small farms.

This particular farmer had turned his chicken shed into a location for holding children's parties. The large space was equipped with a kitchen and a play area decorated with rugs and colourful wall hangings. With sofas and chairs against the walls for waiting parents and tired children.

About 50 children turned up for the party and they got a little out of hand but there were people paid to take care of that. I sat on a sofa in the corner, gently sipping some wine and chatting with friends. However, we were sitting by the door and every time someone walked through the cold blasted in so soon we were wandering the room, edging closer to the warmth of the oven.

The main attraction of the 'lul' is the taboon which is a domed oven containing a flat metal plate over the open flame.

The children were all given balls of dough and rolling pins. They rolled out the dough into a vaguely circular shape. The 'pita' were then slapped on the hot plate where they cook quickly. On another table there was labane, za'atar or chocolate spread to put on the homemade pita.

Strange to think that when my father was growing up all his bread was cooked in a similar way.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where has the weekend gone?

I have lived in Israel nearly 20 years, more than half my life, but there is still something I can't get used to: the one-day weekend.

In Israel Saturday is the Sabbath and on Sunday we all return to work. It is true that most people work a short day on Friday but it is still depressing when your day of rest is sandwiched on both sides by work.

Both my husband and I have tried various ways to fix our working week so that it includes a full day off on Friday but it is a rare occurrence. Even though I work from home and have quite a lot of control over when I work, I always seem to need to meet with someone on Friday or rush to get something finished because suddenly the week is over and this is our last chance to find an hour of free time.

I did work part-time with a five-day week for a year but for most of that time I was pregnant with my son and so resting through any free time, and as I was normally home alone it didn't have the feel of a weekend.

Of course working on Sunday is a pain for international companies. They would never let you stay at home because you can always spend Sunday 'preparing' for the rest of the week. However, all business is put on hold becuase nobody in Europe or America is reading the faxes or answering the phones.

For us, personally, it means that that our favourite MotoGP races are Assen and Qatar because they take place on Saturday and Laguna Seca, which is so many time zones distant we can watch the race live late Sunday night.

The hardest struck victim is our social life. We are not completely secular so Friday evenings are reserved for synagogue and a meal with the family. If we do go out it is afterwards, at 11pm. That is fine when you are18 or even 25. But when the big four oh is looming close and you are weighed down by a heavy meal which was, naturally, accompanied by wine, and have been on your feet since 6am when you staggered off to work, going out on a Friday becomes a special event rather than a weekly routine.

Saturday is no better. You maybe well rested having lazed away the better part of the morning but you have to stay the sensible side of a wild time in consideration of the fact that you must be fit for work on Sunday morning.

However, there is a rather dim, wavering, but recurrent light bobbing on the horizon.

The religious sector, who have disproportionate clout in the Knesset, are fed up with everyone in the Jewish Homeland shopping on the Holy Sabbath. They have joined with the factions that support workers rights', in trying to convert Israel to a five-day working week.

There are many economic objections and some orthodox Jews demand that the second day of holiday be on Friday because it is just not Jewish to be like everybody else. As a result, the law has so far been rejected.

But I have hope that in the not-too-distant future the combination of economists on one side recognising the problem caused by the lack of a universally acceptable shopping day, and the religious elements on the other side trying to assert their power by protecting the Sabbath will ensure the rest of us can enjoy a two-day weekend.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shabbat Music

This Shabbat my husband has spent most of the day watching car magazine programs so I have been left to prowl the internet in search of music. Luckily, there is plenty out there to provide for my listening pleasure.

My favourite rapper is the Israeli rapper Subliminal. Not only is he a great rapper but also a Zionist, anti-violence and proud to have served in the army. What more could a girl want?

The following is a popular in our house as it is based on our regimental song.

Here is the original from the 1970s

In addition, here is a link for those of you desiring a more intellectual analysis of the song, including the definitive answer as to the songstress in the original version.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Quiche

Tonight we are having a pot-luck supper at our congregation to celebrate the birth of a grandchild to one of our members.

My contribution is a quiche.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Paperwork - (not) music to my ears

One of the annoyances you most often hear people complaining about in Israel is the bureaucracy. I have been here long enough to become inured to a certain extent and there is no doubt that in the 19 years I have been here government offices, the major source of irritation and bureaucracy, have improved their customer service by about 1000%.

However, I still occasionally encounter some pencil pusher who believes that the world economy will collapse if every form is not filled out in triplicate and passed through at least a dozen hands before finally coming to rest.

At the end of last year they started a wonderful project here in Shlomi - an orchestra.

The moment she heard about it my daughter became extremely excited, pondering daily about which instrument they would chose for her and how difficult it would be to play.

I was also ecstatic because not only is the project subsidised, most of the lessons take place during afternoon school so there are no scheduling clashes with other activities.

I always sang in the choir and played, if rather badly, in orchestra and even though I never had the slightest chance of making the concert circuit, creating music gave me many hours of pleasure.

Darling, the husband, was a skilled trombone player in his youth and has happy memories of time spent with the orchestra.

Trombone didn't seem a likely instrument for my daughter and although I still have my own clarinet from my days of mangling 'Sloop John B' at band I was sure that my daughter was destined to be a flautist.

So all is perfect. Well not quite. Although the lessons are during school, the project is run by an outside entity through the local community centre. The payments are made at the community centre but unlike all other activities there, I was given the paperwork to take home.

A fortnight later, after the first lesson, the teacher demanded that all the children must bring a receipt to show payment. All other teachers working from the community centre ask for the printout of the names but for some reason the music teachers must have the actual receipt.

I made a copy to ensure I have the receipt in my records and then sent my daughter to school with the piece of paper tucked into her diary, hoping it will not get lost among the thousands of other bits of paper crowding her school bag.

Next, the teacher said the children must bring in the liability form I had signed for the rental of the musical instrument. I made a copy of that and sent the form to school with my daughter. In the evening my daughter returned still in possession of the aforesaid form. The music teacher didn't have a suitable instrument for her and would only accept the form in exchange for the instrument.

That miserable piece of paper visited school with my daughter once a week for a month until they finally gave her the flute. I think congratulations and full marks go to my daughter for organisation. If that form had been in my school satchel for so long it would probably have ended up as a calculations sheet for my math homework.

After all the fun time we had playing with the paper work the orchestra actually got down to business and I was cast in the role of 'Proud Mummy' in September when the orchestra, including my daughter on flute, played at the First Day ceremonies of both the local schools.

I was also pleased to hear that this year my son would also have a chance to join the orchestra. I had a feeling that the trumpet would suit him best.

Like a good little parent, I arranged for payment as soon as possible. A week or so later I get a call form the community centre:

'You need to come and pay for you daughter's music.'

'I've already paid.'

'You've paid for the lessons but at first they decided only new students would pay for the rental of the instrument now they have changed their minds.'

'Brilliant! I can't get there to pay before the next lesson. They had better not hassle my daughter about the payment.' When things are not done on time my daughter gets anxious, not the state of mind most conducive to producing beautiful music.

My son went to his first music lesson and again they demanded receipts and forms.

I copied the forms twice this time; once my daughter and once for my son, but my son is not quite as organised as his sister and managed to misplace the form. In addition, he was so concerned about the teacher's warning to bring the receipt and forms he didn't go to the lesson. When he got home and told me this, I flipped.

After I calmed down I paid a visit to my friends at the community centre who agreed that the orchestra is peculiar among all courses held there in that they insist the child brings the receipt and form to the lessons rather than keeping them on file at the community centre.

Moreover, it seems they are so into the bureaucracy they have their own secretary.

I obtained the secretary's number from the nice lady a reception.

Next day I had a little word the secretary.

'No, my son will not be arriving at the lesson with his receipt as it has been lost due to his having to haul it round school with thousands of other bits of paper. You will go the community centre reception, just like every other teacher, and with the help of the printout confirm that both my children have paid and then you will inform their teachers.'

She grudgingly agreed to do that, all the time emphasising the fact that she could only do so IF I had actually paid, in a tone that suggested she had the gravest doubts that I had.

Then she informed me that my son would still have to bring the liability form to the next lesson in order to be able to take the instrument home.

Well that was not going to happen either. Remember that bit about my son losing papers?

I suggested that like every other activity they open a file at reception where I could hand in the form to be stored safely until it could be retrieved later on by her or one of the teachers. She didn't like that idea but eventually conceded that the day before they had arranged to have a drawer at reception and I could leave the form there.

Unbelievably it's only taken them 7 months to figure put that having a place at reception, where the parents fill in forms and make payments, to store the paperwork is more sensible than having primary school children traipsing round school with important paperwork wrapped round their sandwiches or stuffed in a pencil case.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Podcasts - Israelisms

So what does a girl do when she first discovers podcasts?

Well in my case, I searched for all podcasts connected to Israel. There were about half a dozen at that time and I tried to listen to most of them but one of the first I started listening to and still listen to today is the Israelisms podcast.

Charley and Carol, with rare appearances from one of their daughters or a special guest, try to explain to the outside world just what life in Israeli is truly like.

Once a week they sit together to discuss whatever has cropped up in the news during the previous week interspersed with a sprinkling of personal and family news and the occasional anecdote highlighting the craziness that is life in Israel.

Carol careful explains the situation and then Charley puts forth his solution.

Sometimes they discuss the peace process however they also include other stories that rarely make the international new media but are just as important to Israelis, such as the newly formed Israeli baseball league and the teacher's' strike.

From time to time they agree, more often they don't but it is always fun to listen.

Whether you are a new immigrant, old immigrant, Israeli or not, or just someone interested in learning something more than a sound bite about this tiny Middle-Eastern that spends so much time in the news - this is the podcast for you.

edit: I nearly forgot something important - Carol is beautiful!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Daily Amusement

Today was hot yet again. So I spend another day trapped in the house, crouched over the computer screen, with hair as straight and as dry as straw as a result of washing my hair during the heat wave which is raging outside the closed windows.

As a stay-at-home Mum who works part time from home, I divide my time between the computer and housework.

I love cooking and don't mind laundry but cleaning and tidying is a punishment thought up by the devil and all chores can be boring when executed in silence.

As to my work: I am a bookkeeper. There are few things in life that give me more pleasure than reconciling accounts but due to years of experience and computer automation most of the work does not require the 100% participation of all my brain cells.

Television is no good as a distraction. I need my eyes for the computer screen while working and it would be a temptation too far for my self-discipline especially when competing with the dubious attractions of washing floors.

Radio could be an option except that endless pop music is not my thing and Israel talk radio does not appeal to me.

As always, my trusty computer came to the rescue. One day I was surfing the net searching, in vain, for the perfect RSS reader when I stumbled across podcasts.

After a short flirtation with ipodderx, iTunes became podcast friendly and I switched even though I have never owned a Mac or even an iPod.

Now I am subscribed to about 70 podcasts. Some have fallen by the wayside due to lack of time or lack of interest but there are still many gems that keep me company during the day.

If nobody objects (and even if they do - this is my blog after all :0) each week I will recommend a favourite.

Tomorrow I will return with my first recommendation.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Guy Fawkes and a heatwave

Once again, the weather hit the headlines.

Having had a reasonably unproductive day yesterday, I knuckled down to work early in the morning, even before the children left for school.

I crouched before the computer working on yet another financial report but despite being transfixed by the number crunching I soon noticed that it was unbearably warm. There was a horribly hot, dry wind wafting in through the windows - a heat wave.

The north facing rooms were nicely dark and cool but the sitting room was trying it's darned to resemble a kiln.
I closed the windows, as keeping the warm air out is the best remedy in this situation but decided against air conditioning as I was working in the other room.

I also rushed to launder a large load of jeans. The clothes on the line were already bone dry and such a hot wind is more efficient than any tumble dryer.

Heat waves are typical of the Israeli autumn but November the 5th did seem a little late in the year. The news confirmed my suspicion that it was unusual. They have only recorded such high temperatures in November twice since the establishment of the state.

Oh for November 5th in England. Guy Fawkes Night with bonfires and fireworks and weather so cold we had to wear a coat, scarf and hat! Here it is nearly midnight and I am too hot in long sleeves!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Bloody Sunday!

I can't believe that I woke up from snoozing in front of the TV and nearly missed today's deadline.

Must post now or today will be over!!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Shabbat Music

This is a little strange, as I normally don't post on Shabbat.

We aren't particularly religious in the Orthodox sense and although we use the car, surf the net and listen to the TV; our Saturdays are reserved for family activities.

We spend a lot of our day reading and resting so when we turn on the TV we aren't in the mood to be mesmerised by a feature length film.

Instead, we often tune in to Channel 24 the Israeli music channel that plays only Israeli music. Unlike MTV it actually shows music videos almost non-stop and on Saturday they have, at least in our opinion, an excellent play list.

In the spirit of Channel 24, I will make my Saturday post about Israeli music.

When I first arrived in Israel, in 1988, there was a song on the radio that entranced me. It was both beautiful and a little sad and I just couldn't hear it enough.

In fact I heard it rarely as living near Kiriyat Shmona the airwaves were jam-packed with transmissions from Syria and Lebanon and frequently the reception from both Galei Zahal (army radio) and Reshet Gimel was so appalling I would give up and listen to cassettes.

Even when I did hear the tune on the radio my Hebrew was so non-existent I couldn't catch the name of either the song or the artists. As luck would have it the song was never played whenever there was a Hebrew speaker within listening distance.

The other day I was clicking round YouTube, tracing a rich vein of Israeli music I had recently discovered, when I came across some unexpected treasure.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Freaky Friday

I can't actually believe I have time to sit down and write this.

This week is my son's birthday and so I have invited all the family to Kabalat Shabbat.

The family includes my parents who celebrate Kabalat Shabbat every week with a meal which we share with them, either at our house or at theirs, a couple of times a month.

The family also include my in-laws. The ma and pa in-law who are extremely secular and rarely celebrate Shabbat or in fact any Jewish festival, and the bro-in-law plus roommate who rarely eat anything but rice and lentils unless someone else is cooking.

Despite the differences, all are appreciative of my cooking and extol the delights of the various dishes I provide. Which is enough of a boost to my ego to make it all worthwhile.

Also since the purchase of a decent oven these family meals have been relatively easy as I just have to plonk seasoned chicken on the oven tray, set the timer and voila!

For once I have kept to my plan of organisation and by last night I had the birthday cake prepared as well as the home baked challah. In addition, the cabbage salad and spiced carrots were waiting patiently at the bottom of the fridge.

I was left with only the chocolate mousse to prepare and a ton of potatoes to peel.

Due to the shmitta year vegetable prices are already ready rising so instead of spending hours hacking expensive cucumbers and tomatoes into the tiny pieces required for an Israel salad I opted for frozen broccoli.

The Mediterranean diet is all very well but a girl brought up on curly kale and brussel sprouts does yearn for the occasional green vegetable. Even the cabbage in Israel is white.

Friday looked to be a pleasant day. In addition to my relatively light workload the hubby announced he was taking the day off work.

Technically Israel has a 5-day working week from Sunday to Thursday. Nevertheless, everybody we know works half day on a Friday. If my husband takes the work's bus he gets home around 2pm which gives him time to eat lunch, take a nap and shower before we leave for synagogue at 5pm.

Having him at home all day is a luxury, he can pop into town for last minute shopping, lend a helping hand with the cleaning and generally keep me company as I prepare the house for Shabbat.

Unfortunately, he came home last night with high colour and dopey eyes. By this morning he was feeling infinitely grottier and almost had a temperature. He slept late but at one point got fed up with being in bed and went out to do a little shopping.

He returned so exhausted he crawled straight back into bed and didn't surface until 2:30pm when he wandered into the kitchen in search of food.

As much as I appreciate sandwiches, I didn't feel they were appropriate nourishment for a sick man so I removed him from the kitchen and prepared some noodles. The eating of which exhausted him and he is now dozing yet again , this time on the sofa.

Of course, crazy woman that I am, I didn't feel that even the additional work of tidying and cleaning the house unaided and taking care of a sick hubby was quite enough to keep me occupied so I decided to make meatballs with peas which has recently become a favourite, especially with the hubby.

Despite tempting the fates they must have been on my side. I managed to roll the meatballs without great chucks of mince sticking to my hands, I managed to fry them without creating an impromptu burnt sacrifice and I even managed to remove them from pan to plate without too many disintegrating all over the kitchen floor.

The same luck pervaded my other cooking and housecleaning endeavours so having determinedly resisted the temptations of the internet, a comfy bed and my knitting all morning I had a prepared meal and a clean house by 2pm.

Now I am going to wrap a present and take a nap before we assess just how my poor sick spouse is going to handle the rest of the evening.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Today is the first of November and I have signed myself up for a whole load of trouble!

The 'trouble' most connected with this blog is the fact that I have signed up for NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month.

I have pledged that throughout the month of November - each day and every day - I will post something to my blog.

So far so good!

The second bit of trouble will be much more time consuming in that I, like another 90,000 aspiring writers around the world, have signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.

I have pledged to do my darnedest to finish a 50,000 word novel by the end of November. Yikes!

I have a word count up here on my blog and if anybody reading this has also been foolhardy enough to sign up for one of these endeavours please feel free to contact me so I can add you to my friends lists.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Starting the Stormy Season with a Bang

I am surrounded by blinking lights and my computer has just rebooted - yes we have experienced the first storm-induced electricity cut of the season!

Yesterday I awoke to a cool, clear morning but after a while the temperature began to climb and by mid-morning the Hamsin was in full swing. My lips felt dry and sore, I suffered from a constant thirst and my skin felt like it was being slowly baked. The trees sway like the prelude to a tropical storm but the wind is hot and instead of refreshing you, it sucks all the moisture from your body.

We went out last night and the wind cooled a little making it bearable through the car window but at midnight I was still able to walk outside wearing a sleeve-less shirt.

This morning was still warm but the sky was dark with storm clouds and at about 6:15 am the rumbling started. A few minutes later a flash of light jumped in the corner of my eye - lightening. The rain started, gently at first but then there was streak of brilliant white slicing through the sky to touch Matzuba and with a crack the skies opened. I rushed out to let the cold, fat drops fall on me but it was so cold I had to take shelter.

I dialled Dearest's number to see if it was raining near him but with another crack all the lights went out and the cordless phone went dead. Suddenly I remembered my laundry drying on the line. It was soaked and the rain was pounding down so hard I could hardly pull the clothes off the line without getting soaked myself.
My husband asked why I cut off the phone call. 'It wasn't me it was the lightening. I am in the middle of a thunderstorm.' He was amazed - up near him all was dry and quiet.

I am shivering with cold now so I have fetched a jacket and closed the windows on the side of the apartment where the wind is blowing the rain in through the nets.

After a few minutes the rain weakens and within half hour it is all over the cloud has moved on and the temperatures are climbing back up to normal. I stand outside and inhale the lovely sweet smell of rain-washed earth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pretty in Pink

My daughter, the Ballerina, occasional flirts with fashionable turquoise and claims she likes purple as an act of filial loyalty but basically she is pink. Lots of it and in various shades and hues. Luckily for her room I managed to steer her towards a pale and neutral pink that would be easier to match with furnishings and would not give me a migraine.

Having managed to remove the frieze from at least a section of her wall
, I washed the dust off the walls and then called in the plaster expert, Dearest, to repair some of the damage inflicted on the walls during previous bouts of decorative activity.

I returned a few minutes later to realise he had filled in every hole not containing a rawlplug.

"Dearest, you need to support the shelves at both ends."
"Yes, Darling"
"Well, Dearest, you are missing a hole this side for the second shelf."
"But it didn't have a rawlplug"
"Because the rawlplug fell out when I removed the shelves. It needs to be replaced." In a hole that doesn't exist anymore!

So I disappear off to do something in the kitchen, laundry room etc while he liberates the hole. I return to find several other holes now unplugged.

"Dearest, why the others?"
"For the shelves." Notice he is not calling me Darling anymore.
"But they only need one at the bottom and one at the top, on each end. If you look carefully they line up."
Our conversation did carry on for a little while after this but it's best just to say that despite the decorating we are still happily married.

Plaster dry, I began to paint. Ballerina was eager to help and after a few wild swings with the paint roller, Dearest tried to explain to her the fine art of home decoration. A little while later his only audience was the wall. Soon he suffered an attack of lumbago and after cruelly ridiculing the amount of paint already decorating my skin he returned to his car magazines.

No, it was not finger painting

At first the pink looked a bit splotchy and I did wonder if the fact that the original paint was supposedly washable would affect the coverage.
Dearest insisted that we were being too stingy with the amount of paint on the roller but more paint on the roller increased the amount of spatter over my body and caused drips down the wall. So I decided to be patient, do a first coat and then examine the results.

There was a pleasant breeze drifting through the open window and by the time I had performed gymnastic feats on my kitchen stool in order to reach all the high spots and corners the main part of the wall was dry.
The paint looked good but there were definitely places were the former colour peaked through. It needed a second coat.

Left on my own I poured out some more paint and quickly covered the main expanse of wall. It took little time and effort with the paint covering much more easily now it had a bottom coat to grip on to.
After a few minutes the result looked satisfactory and when I returned, after a well deserved snack, to check the dry paint my conclusion was confirmed - two coats were plenty.

I delegated Dearest and Ballerina to clean up the brushes and roller while I cleaned myself before we went out in the evening.