Coat of Many Colours

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At the side of the main coastal highway, wedged between the railway tracks and the noisy traffic there is a field.

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Israel has donned its Spring time coat of many, many colours.

The red stretches as far as the eye can see.  The poppies in this field have not been in bloom for 3 years ( I know, I check every year after being blown away by its beauty 3 years ago), and then the earth, the climate, the time was right and they made a re-appearance in their full glory.

Mother Nature, not satisfied with one colour added a dash of yellow,

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a smattering of white,

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and a surprise clump of purple just for the hell of it

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IMG_1829Fluttering in amongst the blooms and resting on the dry earth were hundreds of butterflies.  We tried and failed to capture them with the iphone camera (no.1 son was convinced he could catch one) but failed dismally.  This is the best we could do. You just have to trust me that there were a lot and they were beautiful.  I don’t know what’s happened this year but the sky is swarming with butterflies.  At a red traffic light the other day I counted 28 fly past my windscreen and I don’t like to think how many my windscreen killed once the lights turned to green.

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In  corners of the field we found nature’s hedgerows in the form of enormous thistles and the prickly pear cactus. Ah! Here’s another butterfly.

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The colour overload continued even in the dirt paths skirting the edge of the field,

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so the view back towards our neighbourhood provided welcome green relief for our irises. (The field is avocado trees which you may be able to see are also in blossom)

IMG_1833One day, when I grow up, I will own and know how to use a proper camera and not rely on the snaps from my trusty phone to capture such images.  I apologise to all photographers. I know that I cannot even try to do the field justice but I wanted to share.  In the words of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber;
It was red and yellow and green and brown
And scarlet and black and ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve
And cream and crimson and silver and rose
And azure and lemon and russet and grey
And purple and white and pink and orange
And red and yellow and green and brown and
Scarlet and black and ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve
And cream and crimson and silver and rose
And azure and lemon and russet and grey
And purple and white and pink and orange
And blue

 

Sponja

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question

Don’t you know what sponja is?  Or maybe it’s sponga with a soft g. Who knows how you spell it, or do it for that matter.  Yes it’s something you do.  Any guesses?  Well I had no idea what so ever all those years ago when we moved into our first apartment in Tel Aviv.  I was faced with a lot of dust and boxes from shipping all our crap belongings, from the UK and once everything was unpacked I had to clean up.  There was no mop, neither at home nor in the shops.  Instead I had a cloth and a window washer on a long stick.  This is sponja.

As in most hot countries there is no carpet so all the rooms need to have their floors washed and the way to do this – I have since learnt – is to throw a bucket of warm soapy water on the floor, swill it around with the squidgy on a stick and then push the dirty water out to the balcony or down the hole in the bathroom floor, shine the tiles with the cloth which is then wrapped around the squidgy thing and voila; shiny clean floors.  Or not.  In fact I just had pools of dirty water collected and never quite had the foresight to pick everything up off the floor – rugs, furniture, shoes etc. etc.  As the years went by and the homes changed (to the one we live in now where there is no hole in the floor and with a step to the garden and no balcony) sponja for me became pushing rag around with soapy water and hoping for the best.

For those of you not from the UK you may well be thinking I am somewhat of a dunce.  Who doesn’t know how to clean tile floors?  Ummm, people who live in the UK and have carpet and vacuum cleaners? This was before the fashion for laminate floors and cleaning wooden floorboards by throwing a bucket of water and swilling it around was not a good option.

IMG_1777Luckily yesterday my life changed with the arrival chez nous of a Shark steam cleaner.  You may have read a previous post and are already familiar with my love of my Shark floor sweeper.  Now I have the electric mop too.  Ah yes I can swivel the steam around and clean the floors in no time.  No grimy water, no toxic smelling floor cleaner, no slippy patches and forgotten grey puddles.  I feel like I am writing copy for an ad but believe me it has, just like it’s sister, changed my life. I have already washed my floors twice in 2 days – a first in my house. I am now wondering if I can somehow use it to clean the rug, sofas, cupboard doors and bless me I even considered using it to wash the outside patio.

Was I just an undomesticated anti-goddess (my husband could sponja the floor successfully in minutes) or is it another culture thing?  English – can’t sponja, Israeli – can.  I know a lot of my readers aren’t from the UK so tell me, was it just me?

 

NB: Israeli readers, the Shark steam lite is on special offer in Home Center until mid April!

 

Ten things I didn’t expect when I moved here

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1. 1 day weekends.  Yes you heard right.  Weekends start on Friday afternoon and end on Saturday evenings.  Kids go to school, many people go to work and you only get one lie in a week (if you don’t have small childers and consider 7am a lie in)

2. Shabbat.  You know, the day of rest.  The Sunday that was, when you were young. Closed shops, quiet roads, visiting friends and relations.  In some of the religious parts the roads are closed completely on Saturday here.  For the secular, Saturday means mass exodus to the countryside, beaches or desert for some quality time.  Shame it ends abruptly when the sun goes down.

3. Salaries.  In Israel the cost of living is on a par with the UK, food costs apart from fresh produce are higher and clothing, electronics, household goods are much, much more expensive. Taxes are high and house (read apartment) prices are the same as London.  So how people manage on such low salaries is beyond me.

4. Year round sunshine.  I have mentioned it a billion times before but its worth mentioning again.  Israel rarely sees bad weather which means outdoor living, lots of sunblock (am sporting a burnt forehead as I type) and bikinis from March to December (if you are brave or under 40)

5. School til lunchtime.  This to me is just weird.  I have talked (complained) about it at length here.  As we all struggle to pay the household bills on the crappy salaries we also need to fork out for childcare from 1pm.

6. Everyone has an opinion about Israel.  Everyone.  Before I moved here Tel Aviv sounded exotic and Israel sounded dangerous.  I  am aware of people’s reaction when I say I live here and have learnt not to argue.

7. Food.  Street food is better than most restaurant food in middle England.  Vegetables are fresh and plentiful.  Home cooking is the norm and convenience food few and far between.

8. Israel is tiny.  Teeny tiny and most people live in a teensy portion of the tinyness – few brave living in the desert.  Israel’s population is smaller than the population of Greater London.  No wonder you always bump into someone you know and sometimes it can stifle.

9. Shouting.  Everyone does it. Blame the fiery temperaments, the stress of living in a conflicted region, or the heat and humidity but tempers here are short and it takes some getting used to.

10. Everything is everyone’s business.  “How much do you earn?”,  “How much do you weigh?”, “How much is your mortgage/rent?” to “Why don’t you have/have more children?”, “What did your parents do for a living?”.  All questions I would consider (from a stranger) at best none of their business and at worst downright rude are just plain simple questions here.  My favourite was a few years back when an old man in the park asked me how old I was and then asked why I didn’t have children yet, “because you are too old to start having children now”.  Nice.

Yum, Treats for Purim

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katiedz:

For the third year running hubby’s bakery has come up top for their hamentaschen. Just in case you didn’t see this last year, here is my post about Purim and the award winning recipe.

Originally posted on 39 and Counting:

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Continuing on with the Purim theme I feel the need to introduce those of you not familiar with the treat that fills my local bakeries and coffee shops at this time of year; Oznei Haman or Hamantaschen.   Hamantaschen is Yiddish for Haman’s pockets and Oznei Haman in Hebrew literally translated means Haman’s ears.   Google it and there are a number of explanations as to why these delish biscuits are called this, none of which is the one I heard first and has stuck in my head - Haman (the baddy in yesterday’s story) was punished for his treachery towards the Jews by being hung from a tree by his ears.  This explanation doesn’t actually explain why the biscuits have 3 corners (maybe he had 3 ears?) and so obviously I heard it from someone even less informed than myself.  The real reason is either to do with the 3 cornered hat he wore, the 3 corners representing…

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My children stroke snails

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Whilst in Switzerland in January I ate, a lot.  My friend’s partner is a bit of a foodie.  He likes nothing better than cooking up a storm of an evening, especially when they have visitors.

IMG_1626He picked me up from the airport and we went straight from one country to another by driving the 5 minutes from Geneva airport into France so we could go to the supermarket.  I am always happy to visit a French supermarket, in fact any supermarket that isn’t in Israel is a pleasure (you may remember my distaste for Israeli supermarkets from this post).  French supermarkets are just a joy to behold.  They sell billions of delicious cheeses, ready made bouillabaisse in glass bottles, so so many creamy individual dessert pots and the wine, well the wine – it’s affordable and most of it good including the stuff in a box.  I was happy to see Vin de Pays de Laude which was the cheap wine of choice for me and my pals back in the day when we lived in France.

Stefan, my friend’s partner is the best person to go shopping with if a) you have a desire to eat anything unusual or try something new and b) if you have loads of time, patience and no shopping list.  To say he is a sporadic shopper is an understatement.  I remembered from my last visit that popping to the shop for milk can turn into a half hour excursion resulting in a trolley full of stuff you don’t really need.  Happy to go along with what ever as I was sans enfants and in a foreign country I merrily trawled the aisles whilst he filled the trolley with delicacies for my 4 day visit. I eventually made it back to Switzerland and my friend clutching bacon flavoured snacks (can’t get those in Israel) and a box of ready made fondue – yum.

The first night I tucked into snails and have been regaling my childers about this ever since.  I must admit I have never seen the point of eating snails.  They basically don’t taste of much and you could easily eat garlicky buttery sauce with a piece of bread and get the same affect albeit without the shells.  Still, when in Rome.  My childer’s screams of disgust never cease to amuse me.  ‘what, you ate real snails?’  ‘did you eat the shells?’ and the best ‘ what for?’ – good question.

I have eaten snails a few times before in my former life when I went to Michelin starred restaurants and travelled business class.  On one occasion I took my Mum to the restaurant where hubby was the pastry chef (The Providores in London – what a great great restaurant) and she ate snails.  I am not sure she enjoyed them but she was very proud of herself.  I have also eaten kangaroo and alligator, caviar and frogs legs but nothing screams euughh like snails.

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We don’t see many snails (the non vacuum packed variety) in Israel as it very rarely rains but when it does they come out in their thousands and my childer’s love them.  A couple of days ago whilst emptying number 1 son’s drawer at pre-school I found a tupperware box with holes punched in the top and a poor lone snail swishing around in a puddle of watery grass, I dread to think how long it had been there.

We always have a snail farm when the rain comes.  A snail farm for ye unenlightened few is a cardboard box with a saucer of water and handfuls of grass and a cabbage leaf tossed in for good measure.  There are usually around 5 snails at its inception and 1 hour later there could be 1, if we’re lucky.  They aren’t fond of the farm.  Tears and ‘rescue’ missions follow.

This morning after the 20 minute walk to travel less than quarter of a mile to the nursery the twins came upon a ‘baby’ snail (he was quite small) and they both sat next to him and stroked him.  ‘He’s so sweet’, ‘ hello little snaily’ (but in Hebrew).  At that point, already late, I tried to douse the flames (causing the smoke to come out of my ears) with the puddle they were all but sitting in and dragged them away with promises that we’d see him again later.  I then asked them if they’d like to eat him for dinner.  Does that make me cruel?

 

Somebody’s Story 1: The man with the dog

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Somebody’s Story 1: The man with the dog

survive thatDiscovery Channel has a new viewer.  Once a week is Survival Night and I have discovered that Discovery can keep me hooked, programme after programme.  I have learnt how to light fires from lipstick, how to cover my tracks in a jungle and how to keep my spirits high in arctic conditions.  I am pretty sure that I will never need any of these skills but I feel a more rounded person bear gryllscarrying the knowledge. I am in awe of the people who can be dropped in the middle of nowhere with nothing but their instincts and knowledge to guide them and it got me thinking about the survival techniques I witness in everyday life which are no less awe-inspiring but for very different reasons.

When I arrived here I started a distance learning course with the London School of Journalism.  One of the assignments was to interview someone with an interesting story.  I was spoilt for choice and remember being overwhelmed with the amount of stories available from the people in Israel: From the families who escaped pogroms and the Holocaust; Those who arrived with Zionist ideals and started socialist communities, those who arrived overland, hidden in donkey carts after travelling for weeks, the list goes on and doesn’t stop with the older generations.  I have met and talked to people whose life experiences far surpass any survival story on Discovery for their real lives have been a form  of survival.

I believe that human beings are by nature a brave species.  The modern world has worn down our edges and made us lazy and reliant on  machines, technology and others for our comfort and safety but  hidden within all of us there is courage and the ability to succeed even in the most difficult circumstances. Israel is a story of survival, of a country and of the individuals living here. 

Every morning I meet a man walking his dog.  He is proof of a person’s courage and ability to succeed.  He moved to Israel from the UK only a couple of years ago.  He is in his mid thirties, married with 2 dogs.  I first met him about 6 months ago in the local post office.  He and his wife were taking back a parcel that had been wrongly delivered to them.  They didn’t speak Hebrew so I helped them out.  They had picked up the parcel from the post office the previous day and on opening it had realised that it wasn’t for them.  Why didn’t they notice it wasn’t addressed to them?  Because they are both registered blind.

dogThey both have guide dogs, neither of them speak the language, yet they chose to move countries with all the bureaucracy and red tape that entails and they are happy they did it.  I do know that they live alone and that they deal with the same ups and downs of living in a language that they don’t understand as I do (and constantly moan about) with the added burden of their lack of sight.  It puts my grumbles to shame and reminds me that in so many ways a Positive Mental Attitude is just about always the key to success.

Their story is a happy one, they came here through choice and are content here, but that makes them no less brave, they show amazing courage and are an inspiration to me. They also have more in common with the survival experts than you may think; they may not be abandoned in the Himalayas with only a pen knife but survival means after all, existing successfully in adverse or unusual circumstances.  Living in Israel is certainly unusual, for me at least.

AEIOU I sometimes cry

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wmu-g-gb7You have probably noticed that that slogan t shirts are back in style after a 30 year break.  Yes it was the 80′s when we sported ‘Choose Life’, ‘Just say NO’ and ‘Frankie says Relax’ t-shirts and yes that was indeed 30 years ago.  Hmmm.  I had a particularly fetching pale pink cut off t-shirt (also in vogue again) with ‘Ne Touchez Pas’ written across it.  Rather inappropriately for a pre-pubescent 11 year old to be wearing a t-shirt like this, especially when 2 hand prints were printed above the words – you can guess where.  What was my Mother thinking?!  (she doesn’t speak French so maybe she just didn’t get it…?!).

I have been eyeing up on the style blogs a few sweatshirts and t-shirts with cool slogans printed across, my personal favourite being, ‘I have more issues than Vogue’.  Luckily here in Israel there are also slogan printed items to purchase, such as this beauty.

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In case you can’t read it, it says;

MIANI DANCELIKE

EUN DMC

MIX EVERY  CNES IMASTER

FLADN

ANO TRNASHS GOYTAR LIKG

NIRVANA

THE MUSEUM THEY DESERNE

Nope it still makes absolutely no sense but FLADN might become my word of the week.You can’t beat a bit of clothing tat off a market at the best of times but I have found that in a non-English speaking country the opportunity for spelling, grammar, general nonsensical and inappropriate English lends a whole new meaning to the word tat.  Take for example the velour child’s track suit with ‘ blow me’ written across the bum.  Obscene, offensive or just plain hilarious?

The reason for my sudden interest in the written word? I am currently trying my best to teach number 1 son to read English.  Although he understands and speaks English, his default language is Hebrew and once he gets to school in September he will be learning to read and write in Hebrew.  My plan is to get him to learn the basics before he goes to school so that he isn’t confused learning to write both languages at the same time.

We are working with educational work books and flash cards but to liven things up a bit and to keep him interested we sometimes do our lessons on the hoof.  I like to call them field trips but they are often errands that I have to run and I take him along with me and package it as an English lesson.  For example in the mall we stand outside the stores with English names and he spells them – ‘Golf’ and ‘Fox’ were easy but we looked like we were casing the joint outside ‘Honigman’ we were there so long.

There are a few difficulties using the everyday world of Israel to teach English as there are soooo many mistakes.  Menus for example that are sometimes so ridiculous that you have to read it 5 times before understanding what it actually is.  ‘Egg Plant on the Fire’, ‘Respect the Chicken’.  I know that Israel is not alone in their translating skills and I am more than certain that if a British restaurant tried to translate their menu to French or Chinese or Hebrew with the aid of only Google Translate the results would be equally amusing.

IMG_1538My personal favourite was discovered a couple of weeks ago when no. 1 son and I went on a field trip (I needed to go to the chemist) and we found a puzzle in the $1 store (the clue is in the price).  This was the piece for the letter E.  Not terribly helpful although he does remember the letter E by saying ‘it’s not a hippo, it’s an elephant’ so in a round about way it worked.

I am finding the whole teaching lark rewarding and frustrating in equal amounts.  I am stunned when he recognises words and letters, knowing that I am the one who taught him, but I do worry that I am teaching him the ‘wrong’ way and just knowing the letters and spelling out the words may not be enough.  I am hopeful that the use of song, signs and the odd slogan t-shirt will aid his learning although our field trips will bypass restaurants and market stalls for the time being.

Just another winter’s tale

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The sun is shining the temperature is 28 degrees Celsius and whilst Europe and the States is frozen in the grips of a polar vortex or 3 feet under water, the sun in Israel is shining as ever.  No sign of winter here.  In fact it would be fair to say that Spring has sprung and we hardly got a glimpse of anything we could even laughingly call winter.  My childers are so excited by a puddle (invariably caused by a sprinkler system) that full rain wear is donned complete with umbrellas and on occasion, gloves.  Yes, really, I kid you not.

IMG_1472On my return from snowy Switzerland I kept my 3 little ones wholly entertained with picture after picture of snow.  Snow on a tree, snow on a house, snow on a hill, snow on a road. I informed number 1 son that we would again be heading back to the UK for our annual August retreat and he complained bitterly.  I was so upset thinking he didn’t want to go to visit Granny and Grampy but in fact all he was upset about was that we weren’t going in the winter so he could see the snow.  I pointed out that anything is possible and a bit of sleet is not unknown in the Peak District in August.

So there we were enjoying the unseasonably warm weather when January’s lurghy hits us full throttle, in the jugular, so that in the space of one week all 5 members of the family come down with flu or a version thereof.  Other ex-pat Brits here agree with me that it’s the lack of cold that means the germs are never fully killed off, coupled with the use of those germ spreading forms of heating; the air conditioning unit, that results in half empty classrooms, queues at the doctor’s surgery and an uptake in sales of paracetamol.

Not that I am one to complain (uhum), I was ill enough to take to my bed for nearly 2 weeks and visit the doctor twice.  Unfortunately husband and all 3 childers were also ill at some point during this two weeks which led to what I can only describe as one of Dante’s layers of hell.  On one particularly awful Saturday, husband shivering in bed, all 3 children spluttering and whining, I drove them to the beach to let the wind blow some of the germs away.  The sun was bright and the wind strong, just what the Doctor (from 1933) prescribed to blow the cobwebs away.  45 minutes later as I struggled to drag  2 of the 3 back to the car, 2 in tears (me and 1 child), sweating from fever and exertion I decided that yet another kid’s animation movie would not be so bad for them after all.

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Finally we are all recovered and hopeful that we have seen our fair share of sickness for a while at least.  So its back to the grind, goodbye to way too much nonsense TV and able once again to think ourselves very lucky to be living in such an agreeable climate.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

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Israeli TV screens are in the cooking show phase.  This in essence means that at any point during the day or evening the chance of you seeing a cooking show is probably around 60%.  Israelis like food, they like cooking and they like competing so what better way to combine all three and make ratings grabbing telly?  Yep, schedule another cooking competition.  Masterchef is one of the highest rating shows ever in Israel and the competition channel has just started airing a new prime time cooking competition of its own, Game of Chefs.

I am not a great fan of these shows, perhaps if they were in English it would make viewing more palatable (ha ha) but in the interests of research (I write about TV as part of my job) I watched part of an episode of Masterchef a couple of weeks ago and stumbled upon a fellow Brit contestant.  This fella had balls, he didn’t speak much Hebrew and he was merrily auditioning to be on a prime time Hebrew TV show.  I am always in awe of people who couldn’t care less that they don’t speak Hebrew fluently as I am of the mind that its better to stay silent than risk looking a fool.  When the judges came to taste his creation one of them told him to ‘stop saying sorry’ and that to me encapsulated the whole difference between the Brits and the Israelis.  We apologise, they say stop.  They say stop, we apologise.

In fact us Brits say sorry whenever we get the chance.  Someone pushes in front of us in a queue, we apologise, ‘sorry, I was there’.  Someone bumps us on public transport, we apologise.  Someone serves us cold/bad/wrong food in a restaurant, we apologise;’sorry but this is cold/tastes funny/not what I ordered’.  Sound familiar?  Why oh why do we do it.  When we lived in London my husband used to ask me,’why does everyone keep apologising?’.  “Because we are polite”?

Today I fly to Geneva, back to Europe where manners count.  I always wonder whether I have become so Israeli that I will forget to say pardon, or sorry or thank you.  I will make an effort to keep my Britishness and use this weekend as a little update on social etiquette.

So to the land of chocolate, snow and watches.  A heartfelt sorry to the childers and husband who have a weekend to fend for themselves.  I will return, chock full of choc and cold fresh air.  Now, to practise je suis desolee and merci.

Where ever I lay my hat?

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It’s a big year chez nous, 2014.  It’s the year that husband turns 40, it’s the year that no. 1 son starts school, it’s the year that we will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary and it is 10 years this year since I moved to this sometimes not-so holy Holy Land.  How did that happen?  Where did the time go and why after all this time have I still got one foot (and a half) pointing towards home?

Home, where is that?  After all I counted London as home but I lived there only 9 years. While we were travelling I called our tent ‘home’ and I was perfectly happy that we could pick that home up and take it where ever the whim took us.  If home is where the heart is, do I have 2 homes? And more importantly if you have 2 homes do you ever feel truly ‘at home’ in one of them.

This time last year I was 100% going home (to the UK that is).  I was tired of the difficulties of living in a different language, different culture, different religion  I was exhausted.  I was brow beaten and sick of being an outsider.  No longer at the top of my career but instead unable to find work that suited my skills, language or salary expectations.  Most of all I was tired of hearing people say, ‘make more of an effort to settle’, ‘maybe if your Hebrew was better, why don’t you speak it more’, sick of feeling like nothing I did was enough.  Was it all in my head?  Maybe, but I think that as an ex-pat, especially one who moves to a new language and a different culture you always ask yourself, ‘do I fit in?’ followed quickly in my case with ‘why should I have to?’.

So what now?  It’s 2014, a New Year.  Has anything changed?  Honestly I don’t know.  As in the previous 9 years I have good weeks and bad weeks, good days and bad days although the bad is less in occurrence and in intensity. I feel at home here although it is not, nor do I think it will ever be, ‘home’.  I hope to go back some day, whether it’s in 2014 or in a box in the hold of an aeroplane.  If someone would wave a magic wand or give me a winning lottery ticket to set us up in the UK for a couple of years to see how we would like it, I’d go in a shot.  But it’s not just about me.  It’s about my lovely husband who would go where ever I wished if it made me happy (even though he would not really want to go).  It’s about my children, my Israeli children who, like it or not only know this as home and speak to me and each other in a language that I often don’t understand.  As they get older the move gets more difficult, and the looming start of school underlines that fact.

Over on a blog I follow, Expatriate Life,  Judy has often talked about repatriation, about the challenges of repatriating after time away and I think it is this repatriation fear that stopped me from packing our bags and running this time last year.  Really, what do I know about the UK now.  Have I perhaps become too Israeli for England but too English for Israel?  Only time will tell as yet again we write our pros and cons list, we look for options were we to move back.  The key, I think, is no regrets, no looking back in anger, no what ifs or maybe.  When all is said and done as long as our family is together we are home.