Tag Archives: Tel Aviv

What a difference a decade makes

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Ten years ago today I said good-bye to my family and friends and boarded a plane for the Holy Land. I was about to embark on a journey of life, of discovery, of fear, loathing and love. Ten years on, 3 children, 3 conflicts, 3 homes and a lot poorer I can honestly say that I have some of the best friends I could have ever imagined, I have tasted a life I never would have imagined and I am certainly not the naive small town girl I was back then.

In December 2004 I had been married just 4 months and had lived as a married woman with my husband for 1 week before his visa required he returned to his native land. We had spent the 7 years previous working towards the end goal; marriage, family and a life together in one of our countries.

I arrived to blue skies and bright sunshine, a far cry from the grey, damp, drizzle of the UK and was filled with hope and dreams for our new life together. I was still at the stages of checking my wedding ring finger and admiring the shiny rings. I was excited, but also I was scared. What if I never spoke the language, what if I couldn’t find a job? What if this place was just. too. foreign? It was, not so much now.

Our first few weeks were spent at the apartment of very generous and welcoming friends, sleeping in their spare room and seeing each other every now and then. Husband was, at the time, working as a pastry chef in a newly opened restaurant and that meant long hours, day and night. I was on my own. Luckily our friends lived near Tel Aviv’s large and luscious park and I spent many an afternoon with a book or a journal, marvelling at the sunshine and the parrots and acclimatizing myself to the Middle East. Each morning I rode our friend’s bike to the Ulpan, the Hebrew school for new immigrants (you may remember the comedy of errors that experience was). I met people from around the globe, 1 of which has become a great friend and ally here.

In lieu of my husband the weekends were spent with his friends, one in particular who became my regular date for nights out, coffee shop meetings and cinema trips. Seems like as good a time as any to say thank you, your friendship was and still is invaluable.

We finally found an apartment to rent, close to my newly beloved park and I set about setting up home as a not so smug married. We got a dog, my adored Jesse. We bought furniture and unpacked our belongings from their shipping crates and the first of our UK visitors came to see us in our new life. Once Husband changed jobs his hours became easier and we spent time exploring Tel Aviv, the beach and the benefits of year round sunshine.

There were ups and downs. The language was so hard and the people so aggressive. Many a visit to the supermarket or post office saw me seeking refuge on our balcony, sobbing into Jesse’s fur. But on the up side, Husband and I were finally together, permanently, after our long and international journey. We had a ready-made set of friends from his early army days and I could manage one or two words in Hebrew. We had money in the bank and we wanted to start a family.

A long period of ill-health put paid to the family for a few years but eventually and due to the incredible health system and amazing Doctors here, 4 years later at full health, we welcomed our first child. By this time I was working back in television where I had worked for many years in the UK. Things were on the up. We had a bigger apartment and a wider network of friends including my gorgeous British girlfriends who continue to provide me with laughter and wine and a shoulder to cry on.

By 2010 we were a family of 5. The arrival of twins sent us packing to the suburbs and a child friendly home which is where we reside now. The TV career took a back seat as I faced the challenges of motherhood and three very small people. So now what?

As 2014 comes to a close and I look back on this year and the ten years I have spent here I see that we are on the edge of a new chapter. What that will be, we still don’t know but it seems a fitting time to take stock and count our blessings; our friends, our children, our health and our love for each other that has carried us through the upheaval of moving countries and facing the challenges that a life in Israel brings.

Thank you for your loyal following of my ramblings through 2014 and I’ll see you on the other side, hungover and ready to begin the next stage of the journey.

champagne-toast

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Last Night

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I have a new best friend, in my dreams.  In my dream he is rich and famous, enormously (suprisingly) talented.  He lives in New Orleans (surely that should be Memphis) and he wants to be my best friend.  In my dream he is Justin Timberlake.  Oh woe is me.  I have a teenage crush at 41.  Last night I joined an assorted crowd of JT fans in a park in Tel Aviv to see my new best friend in concert.  At the end of the concert I was shocked by the talent and professionalism.  I had enjoyed bobbing up and down to the music, I even raised my hands above my head at certain moments.  He can sing, play guitar, play piano, dance and lets face it he is easy on the eye.  He wasn’t however my new best friend.

Then I went home to sleep.

By 7am he was my best friend.  I was enjoying myself so much, hanging out in a cafe with him, introducing him to my family, being introduced to his friends that I asked my 3 year old to let me sleep a little more rather than admire the art work she had done for me and wanted to be stuck on the wall,  This surely is a mid life crisis.  I am already looking forward to going to sleep tonight so I can hang out with him again.

In very recent years the major acts are starting to add Tel Aviv to the concert circuit.  Slowly, slowly they are returning after the 2000 intifada and the fear of being accused of political/religious bias kept them away.  Now the instagrams of stars at the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock or floating in the Dead Sea are appearing on a weekly basis. Rihanna liked the Dead Sea so much she was still floating in it when she should have been on stage.

 

My first job in Israel back in 2005 was for a music promoter.  I was in charge of looking after the ‘stars’ from the moment they landed their private jets until we breathed a sigh of relief when they climbed back on.  It was still too soon for the really big names to come so unfortunately I didn’t meet the Madonnas and Elton Johns of the world.  My first band was Faithless who were actually very nice.  Their lead singer was a little demanding but by the time they left I was quite a fan.  The other bands were famous but I had to look them up before they arrived (I ain’t no music officinado).  Some were more demanding than others, ‘I want the tent dressing room to be swathed in white silk and filled with white lilies’ – the “star” in question was one of many acts at a festival, had a 3 song set and was in the ‘dressing room’ for precisely half an hour.  When she left I picked up the lilies which had been thrown on the floor and trodden on.

These backstage riders are actually negotiated before the arrival of the acts.  The promoter and the manager thrash out whether the stars will get French champagne cooled to a certain temperature or not.  In true Israeli fashion we agreed to everything and then provided a version of the requests.

My personal favourite moment was when Phil Collins arrived.  We had a police escort to the

hotel from the airport (why?) which was very exciting.  We weren’t allowed to address ‘Mr Collins’ directly and there were to be no tip offs to the press and no unauthorised photographs.  When the cavalcade arrived at the hotel the entrance was packed with the paparazzi (I was confidently assured that they had been tipped off to boost ticket sales).  The hotel manager came to greet Mr. Collins and the hotel photographer was summoned to take the official hand shake photo.  Collin’s manager was turning puce. The piece de resistance was the cake the hotel had prepared and presented to Mr Collins so he could cut it – again, why?  The cake was decorated with a life size sugar paper photocopy of Phil Collins’ face which he then proceed to stick a large knife into.  Classy.  Collin’s manager then demanded that the whole band, techies, entourage, et al be moved to another hotel.

So back to my bezzie mate.  I have tried to online stalk him just so I know where he stayed and I have wondered what was on his rider.  As I know him so well I think he would just ask for water – he’s no diva.  The one surprise is the fact that my crush is purely platonic.  That’s what age does to you.  I wasn’t the oldest at the concert I am happy to report but my friend’s 9 year old shattered my idea that I was doing something vaguely young and cool by asking,’who is Justin Timberlake?’.  Even Justin is too old for da kids.  Back to dreaming then.

 

Sponja

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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!

 

It’s oh so quiet

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Imagine your city, town or village without traffic, with all the stores closed.  No buses, trains or even planes overhead.  No open 24hr corner shop, no open petrol station.  Just quiet.

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Welcome to Yom Kippur in Israel. A 24 hour period from sunset until sunset the following day when the whole country falls silent.  Oh apart from the bike bells, the odd ambulance, the shouts of children as they race down the traffic free roads and invariably crash into each other, the calls for dogs that, left off their leads are prowling the bins in the neighbours’ gardens and running wild in a frenzy of new-found freedom. It’s now my 10th Yom Kippur I think so I am not as amazed as I was on the first year.  I remember it well.  We were pre-childers but had our lovely dog still and we walked down the 4 lane highway through the centre of Tel Aviv with the dog off the lead and no other people save from a few cyclists.  We had walked down to the beach in the morning and revelled in the quiet and the clean air (Tel Aviv is particularly bad with air pollution).  It had been a revelation to see that it truly is possible to turn off ‘modern’ living, at least to a degree, for a day.

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I soon discovered that for secular people Yom Kippur falls into certain routines, dependent on your situation.  Single 20 somethings use the time to sleep, go for a walk and watch as many films as they can squash into one sitting.  New parents use the quiet to sleep, one parent walks the baby for hours while the other rests and then they swap.  Parents of young kids teach their kids to ride bikes, scooters, roller skates and after the novelty of the first evening  wish that they too could sleep through the heat of the day and watch a movie that wasn’t animated.  Parents of school age kids hang around with other parents whilst their kids race off on adventures with an emergency mobile phone in their backpacks and the promise of keeping in regular contact. The teenagers are out all day or inside with their computer games and the adults enjoy the quiet, read a book, go to synagogue, think.  The day culminates (in my neighbourhood) with everyone appearing fresh-faced and smelling of shower gel, dressed in white shirts and either going to or standing outside the packed synagogue to hear the shofar being sounded.  A crazy mix of religion and secularism which still takes me by surprise and yet warms my soul.

So what is Yom Kippur? (as always if you already know/are Jewish I apologise and look away now).  Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is the day in which Jewish people fast, confess and ask for forgiveness for their sins and misdemeanour’s from the previous year and for ones they may inadvertently commit in the new year.  It falls 10 days after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and traditionally is said to mark the day that Moses received the second part of the Ten Commandments from God.  Unlike many of the Jewish fasts many secular Jews fast on this day – fasting is to concentrate your mind and soul on your atonement and not on earthly pleasures.  Wearing white represents the purity of confession and in basic terms the rules are: no eating, drinking, bathing, sex, no use of lotions or perfumes, no wearing of leather shoes.  As with all religion there are those who follow all the rules to the letter and others follow them to a degree.  For example the riding of bicycles etc is of course forbidden so only the secular kids take to the streets on wheels.

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Yom Kippur for me is obviously not religious at all.  It is instead a day of quiet.  When our family is together with no distraction from chores or outings, no television (although I confess to watching Peter Pan with the kids for the first time ever this year). Our Yom Kippur this year saw no.1 son gain enormous confidence both on his bike and from being set free on his scooter, no. 2 son learnt how to ride a bike (with stabilisers) and Princess daughter after a morning of bombing around on her push along bike retired to her throne on wheels (the stroller) in the afternoon so she could view her subjects from a reclined position.  We all slept in the afternoon – what joy during the fiercest heat and humidity to be cool, fanned and sleeping. As the sun went down husband and the childers went to hear the last prayer and the blowing of the shofar in the makeshift synagogue that appeared in the neighbourhood to contend with the masses who couldn’t fit into the local synagogue.

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So, when is she going to tell us what a shofar is? Well, its a ram’s horn that is blown on Yom Kippur to mark the end of the fasting after the last prayer.  It’s also used throughout the year at other religious ceremonies, not least New Year when it is blown 100 times on 2 days (no easy feat as to get a sound out of the horn takes practise and a lot of puff.).

Imagine your town without  TV and radios broadcasts,  no alarms going, no phones ringing.  Voices travelling down the street as there are no cars to drown them out.  Imagine a day when you pull the puzzles and books down from the highest shelves and have time to sit on the floor with your kids and play, when you chat to your family or friends without interruption from pinging emails, phone calls or text messages.  A day when you don’t cook (even if you don’t fast its not fair to have the waft of cooking smells spilling into the street), when you don’t dash out to get milk or petrol.  When the pace of life slows and the juggling stops.  Just for a day. And then it all starts again.

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7 fail safe ways to impress first time visitors to Israel.

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Thank you to everyone who commented and shared this competition entry for www.expatblogs.com writing competition, no, I didn’t win, but it’s the taking part that counts right?!

For those of you who didn’t see it, here is my entry.  Despite what you may see and read in the press there is a side to Israel that most people don’t know, so if you fancy a visit this is what you can expect to see – especially if I am your guide!

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The Israel most people don’t see

1. Jerusalem. It goes without saying that any first time visitor to Israel should visit this most awe-inspiring city. Not only is Jerusalem geographically impressive, historically extraordinary and religiously remarkable it is also a bustling, noisy city of everyday people in an urban melting pot. Start with a view from the Hebrew University over the whole city then wind down by the Garden of Gethsemane to do a tour of the old city; the religious sites cannot fail to impress. Don’t forget to take an empty stomach to feast on the street food as you wander, from fresh bagels and zartar to hummus, kube, knafe (traditional Arab cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup), lahmabajeen (meat on pitta) and tamarind lemonade. Watch as your guest’s senses become bloated, as their minds try to absorb the languages, cultures, religions and sheer enormity of the importance of the city to so many. Take some time to visit outside of the old city walls; to the Machne Yehuda Market to taste halva and listen to the shouts of the market traders, to walk through the ruins of David’s City and wonder at the ancient ruins, to sit in the shade of the Montefiore windmill and take in the sights. Leave to the sound of church bells and calls to prayer ringing in their ears via a short hop to Ein Kerem or with a glimpse of the road down to the desert to tease their expectations for what’s to come.

2. The Dead Sea. No matter how stinky and stingy the water of the Dead Sea might be to some, no first time trip to Israel is complete without the compulsory photo reading a book whilst floating on the Dead Sea. Make your visitors strip off and cover them in mud (cameras at the ready), remind them to shower vigorously afterwards and then sit in silence on a cliff top whilst they take in the view. Arrive in the morning and spend the day in the desert so that the true beauty of the changing light on the barren land is fully appreciated. For the historically minded a visit to the majestic Masada fort is fascinating and even for those not so inclined, take them anyway. The view from the top is more than worth the climb or the cable car ride and the story cannot fail to move. Finish the day with traditional coffee in a Bedouin style tent on the shores of the sea, for extra ambience enhancement for your guests, take your guitar (and someone who can play it) to strum as the sun goes down.

3. Tel Aviv sea front and Jaffa. A walk or bike ride from one end of the tayelet (promenade) to the other will take your visitors from the modern cafes and restaurants in the Tel Aviv port, passing the sun worshippers, kite surfers and boogie boarders on the long white beach to the tranquil historic beauty of Jaffa port. A good guide-book to explain the significance historically and emotionally of the port is key, plus a comfy pair of shoes to climb the stairs into Jaffa itself. Once in the buzz of the town, food is once again crucial to the experience so put diets aside and make your visitors tuck into malabi, hummus and shakshuka, pausing for mint tea in the flea market to people watch and pick up an unusual bargain (odd shoe anyone?). If their feet can stand it, make the short walk to the old train station and into the oldest part of Tel Aviv, Neve Tsedek where the tiny run down cottages rub shoulders with designer jewellers and gourmet ice cream parlours and eat dinner in one of the atmospheric restaurants.

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Quiet in Jaffa port

4. North to the Sea of Galilee. The drive from the populated centre of Israel up into the hills of the Galilee should be savoured with regular stops for your visitors to appreciate the abundance of scenery changes on the way. Take the coast road for maximum effect, alongside the turquoise of the sea, the mountain pine forests and city of Haifa and the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra. As you drive inland make sure to point out the Keshet caves, the lonely impressive Montfort, tell the stories of the kibbutzim and their history and make a stop in the ancient and mystical town of Sefad high above the lake’s shore. Pause to take in the history and spirituality of the town, marvel at the views; east to the Golan, north to the Hermon and Lebanon, west to Mount Meron and south to Tiberias and the lake itself. Drive down to Rosh Pina to amaze with the choice of culinary experiences and then head to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) itself. I’ll bet they don’t know it’s a lake.

5. The Sea of Galilee. Depending on the age and interests of your visitor, the lake and its surroundings to stun all tastes. The religious sites and churches on the banks marking the locations of Bible stories from Old and New Testaments, Roman ruins, Jewish holy sites, Byzantine mosaics and a 1st Century fishing boat, to name but a few of the historic and religious gems in the area. For the thrill seekers; white water rafting on the Jordan River (in season of course), windsurfing or jet skiing on the lake and for the nature lovers a walk around or up from the lake promises a wealth of bird life, wildlife, and evidence of ancient life. The views are majestic and don’t forget to keep one eye on the sky to catch a glimpse of impressive preying birds swooping and hovering. End your day with a dip in the lake, in summer the water is warm and the muddy bottom slips between your toes. Don’t forget to take along your shesh besh (backgammon) board, your gas burner and finjan (pot) to make the coffee as you watch the sunset.

6. The Negev. So you took them to the Dead Sea and they had a glimpse at the desert. Now you need to head further into the Negev and show them the Israel they had probably imagined. Camels, donkeys and long stretches of road with nothing but rocks and sand, eagles overhead and Bedouin tents in the distance. The Negev has a stark beauty that cannot fail to impress, especially visitors from the Northern hemisphere. Pack your binoculars and the ubiquitous coffee-making equipment for unscheduled shady stops to listen to the silence and wonder at the dry enveloping heat. Your goal is to get to the town of Mitzpe Ramon where your visitors get their first glimpse of the impressive crater, stock up on all the knowledge there that they need to fully grasp the enormity, geographical wonder and history of the massive natural crater. Remember to make friends with the nosy ibex that wander around the hot town’s streets. Take them for a walk in the crater’s floor to pick up ammonite fossils and get a glimpse of the geological curiosities which crowd the area. Don’t forget to show your insider knowledge by leaving via the small crater and your descent by the Scorpion’s Ascent, a steep and winding road down to the main desert highway. As night falls, pull over to watch and listen to the desert come to life as the temperature drops. For the more adventurous, pull out your sleeping bag and sleep under the stars but only if you can handle it, nothing worse than your host panicking when there’s a rustle in the sand.

7. Tel Aviv by night. Any self-respecting local knows that the nightlife in Tel Aviv only starts after 11pm so pre-warn your visitors to take an afternoon nap and prepare to be out ‘til dawn. Book a dinner at one of the many notable culinary establishments Tel Aviv has to offer, think Middle Eastern, your visitors want a taste of the local fare not a bowl of spaghetti. When setting out to the restaurant take a walk down Rothschild or Nachlat Binyamin streets to get a taste of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus past. Stop for a quick cocktail in one of the multitude of bars. Once full and astounded by the quality of their dinner you can start to head to the bars spilling out onto the streets. If they are still able, at 1am head downtown to one of the clubs where the music is loud, the drinks are shots and the dancing is sweaty. A sleep on the beach as the sun comes up followed by a quick dip should sort out the ringing in their ears and clear their heads for the day ahead.

Congrats to the winners, you can have a read at http://www.expatblogs.com

‘Tis the season

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Christmas is coming, but here in the birth place of the guy we are celebrating the birth of, Christmas is just a regular day.  For my first few years here it was indisputably odd to me that Christmas does not exist (in my part of Israel at least).  Before the arrival of the childers I hopped on the plane and spent Christmas with my family as always.  These days we just can’t afford it.  I mean what are you supposed to do, take 1?  Have a lottery?  Take the eldest in the hopes the little ones won’t notice or separate the twins so they finally get some individual attention.  Hmmmm.  Nope, none of the above, for the 2nd year running and for only the 4th time in my life I will be having Christmas away from ‘home’.

There is a street in Tel Aviv which sells all types of Christmas paraphernalia; plastic trees, tinsel, singing Santas, everything you could wish for should you want to decorate your home a la Gavin & Stacey. One year when a friend came to celebrate with us we spent Christmas morning running around said street searching for crackers.  Apparently crackers are considered dangerous weapons and are banned.  So crackerless but stocked up with a small tree and some lights, a few baubles and some tinsel we are Christmas-ready.  Not to offend anyone I don’t put the tree up until after Hannukah, which is tricky in the year where they fall at the same time.

It never ceases to amaze me (because I am a die-hard Christmas loving consumer) the amount of joy that Hannukah brings to my kids, in fact I would go as far as to say that Christmas is the poor relation in comparison.  It’s taken me a while to get why lighting some candles, eating some doughnuts and twisting a spinning top could compare with pantomimes, too much chocolate, fairy lights and a magic man than leaves you presents when you are asleep, but in this house the joy of Hannukah far outweighs the joy of Christmas, unless of course Christmas is spent in the magical world of the Grandparent’s house in Britain.

I have sensibly accepted that growing up in Israel means that the Jewish celebrations will of course mean more to my kids than any Christian one.  Yes I get pangs of sadness but I also recognize the joy the celebrations and holidays that are unfamiliar to me, bring to them.  Our home already boasts a large collection of savivonim (spinning tops) and I would be a rich woman if I got a shekel for every time my son asked when the Hannukiah (the special candle holder) can come out.

As the run up to the big day approaches (Christmas, not my birthday), I am sure that there will be the inevitable pictures of friend’s kids wearing tea towels on their heads and angel wings on Facebook and I will get the familiar, I wish my kids could be in a nativity.  I have already had a yearning for a Christmas market and a glass of mulled wine and I may have to mop the tears if I hear Fairytale of New York (although not much chance of that).

One year we did a full on Christmas here, we went out on Christmas Eve to an Irish pub figuring there was bound to be some evidence of Christmas there, nope, my son had a stocking at the end of his cot and we had a Christmas dinner with our Israeli friends.  We had a great time (well I did), the tree was up as were the 8 cards I received, we pulled out the emergency chairs, decorated the table with sparkly confetti and candles and hubby cooked a splendid Christmas dinner.  One of our guests asked half way through, ‘what do we do now then?’ hmm that’s a tricky one, I mean what do you do on Christmas day?  If you are not religious and don’t go to church you basically eat, open presents, play a board game and watch the Queen’s speech.  So in essence at our gathering, eat.

This year the Christmas fairy aka my sister will be arriving on Christmas Eve, acting as the present mule and my excuse to ‘do’ Christmas – I am not sure without an overseas guest I would go to the trouble of the whole sh’bang bearing in mind it’s a regular work day and the kids are in nursery. I intend to Christmasify the house, provide pillow cases for the childers for Santa’s haul and play Jingle Bells at every opportunity.  I can kid myself I am doing it for the kids but let’s face it I am doing it for myself;  Christmas brings back so many very happy memories from my childhood. My children will hopefully will be blessed with memories of a double celebration, starting on the first night of Hannukah and ending when the Christmas tree is taken down.