Tag Archives: Weather

Let it snow, let it snow

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For readers who are knee high in snow at the moment, look away now. We in the Med see very little of the cold white stuff, in fact here in the coastal plain snow just doesn’t fall. Last weekend on hearing the news of a snow fall in the Jerusalem area and the Golan, our childers understandably wanted to make a snowman. Therein followed a long two and half hour journey to the foothills of Mount Hermon, an hour  of frolicking before the badly equipped munchkins became thoroughly wet, cold and slightly tearful before we bundled them back into the car and drove two and a half hours home.
At that point, I needed this IMG_4086

Luckily, hubby was well prepared and had not only stocked the car with kid friendly snacks he had also remembered a tot for me.

The last part of the journey North was slightly fraught as the childers failed to understand how we could have arrived in Ramat HaGolan and still there was no snow, until in the distance we spotted this,

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I should point out that apart from at 3 months old, our twins have never seen snow in the flesh and come to think of it on that particular Christmas visit to the UK the tiny tots actually didn’t see the snow as they didn’t leave the warmth of the living room.  No. 1 son, then aged two and a half did sledge, build snowmen and make snow angels, however, he has no recollection of it whatsoever (I am so glad I made a special photobook of that holiday to capture memories otherwise lost).  Therefore the excitement as we arrived to the white was steaming up the car windows and sending the noise levels to deafening levels.

Their excitement, their smiles and awe at stepping into the snow for the first time, at throwing snowballs at Daddy and finally the long anticipated building of a snowman was worth the noise, the seemingly never ending journey and did I mention that we did all this after school and nursery finished at midday on a Friday and I don’t like snow?

Sadly iphone batteries died before I could capture the snowman and the ‘body of snow’ (literal translation) that the childers insisted we put on the bonnet of the car (in front of the passenger windscreen) for the journey home – unfortunately it didn’t make it all the way back.  I will however leave you with a selfie, not something I have done before on the blog but I like my eskimo look.

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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.

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Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow

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It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s the end of the school year. Schools are out for summer and the summer playschemes/school camps or as we know them here, kaytanot, are in full swing for the smaller kids. This can only mean one thing for a mother of three younglings; arguing, short tempers, over excitement followed by extreme boredom, in short, stress. So what better way to spend a Saturday but to drive up to the slightly less humid climes of Jerusalem (aka J’lo) to visit the zoo.

The Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem is an oasis of calm on a Saturday afternoon and due to the tensions in J’lo at the moment it appeared that last Saturday people preferred to stay at home and the zoo was all but empty.

Kids love zoos. They love the idea of a zoo often more than the reality of schleping around sleeping animals in cages, so the excitement when Daddy announced we were going was at fever pitch on Saturday morning.

I am not a fan of zoos as a rule but because of the setting, the gardens, the enormous enclosures and the general well-being of the animals (so it appears) Jerusalem zoo gets my vote. The chimps live on an island in the middle of the lake, not a cage in sight, the kangaroos live in an open enclosure, the lemurs walk on a path in front of you and you can pop your head out right next to the meerkats (albeit under the cover of a plastic dome).

Number 1 son said he liked the penguins best, Princess Daughter liked the crocodile and the fish and no.2 son was scared of the snakes, the crocodile, the tiger, I could go on, but liked the monkeys best (takes one to know one?). I liked the fact that the kids were happy, we were in no rush, there was wind (unlike where we live), low humidity (unlike where we live) and apart from no.2 son having a small incident when he fell into the disabled loo, bottom first, we managed to get through the day accident free.

Earlier in the year we went to the Safari near Tel Aviv and I came away feeling that zoos were cruel, people were rude and my shoulders ached because I’d had a small child perched on them for most of the trip. It was fun…up to a point. If you ever need to decide between the two, go to Jerusalem.

Due to the amount of time we were there and the age of our kids we probably only saw a third of the animals. We’ll save the rest for another trip.

With only a few weeks to go before we escape to the UK in August it is trips like this that keep both myself and the children from heat induced hysteria. No. 1 son cried when he realised the day that nursery broke up for the summer that we weren’t going to the UK the following day. If we can fill the next few weeks with special trips and family time hopefully we’ll make it through the July heat and the general exhaustion before we are cooled by Cheshire’s weather and warmed by Granny and Grandpa’s welcome.

http://www.jerusalemzoo.org.il/len/

They’re Back

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As the days heat up, the sun begins to really burn and the nights become stuffy we once again welcome the critters that dwell in these parts.  I say welcome but actually what I really mean is dread.

Since this time last year and my post When the Night Comes Falling there have been some changes in my garden, namely the chopping down of too many ficking ficus bushes and a very short haircut for the banana plant.  All in the name of keeping them roaches away.  Duh.  Nothing keeps them away.  Although we haven’t had a repeat performance of the infestation we have previously experienced (yet) there is a certain amount of unmistakable rustling in the leaves come nightfall and we have had some visitors to the house.  7 to be exact.  I think someone may have been feeding them kriptonite as they are getting bigger.

In the months of quiet we have had a couple of hedgehogs hanging out in the back garden, a few preying mantis and a lot of bats.  These I can handle.  Even welcome.  The roaches, no, just no.  When they manage to squeeze under the screen door and make a dash across the floor in front of where I am sitting, when they jump out of the kids towel at bath time and scuttle behind the toilet and worst of all when they run across the bedroom floor I am not ashamed to admit that my deep throated yelp of shock is as forthcoming as ever.

From the early days of my roach encounters I have figured out a way to stun them or at least slow them before they run and hide (and I ain’t going to bed with a known roach monster lurking in my boudoir).  My trick?  Hairspray.  In fact it is the same hairspray can that I have had for around 10 years, because lets face it who uses hairspray? (except my mum).  This handy tin gets sprayed at the offending critter who either a) falls on its back and therefore is easy to bat with a flip flop (flip flops are the method of choice because they are malleable and make a good crack as you whack) b) the smell/stickiness slows the high speed hiding and once again make them easier prey for the flip flop.  So far this year I have killed 3.  Husband wins the tally with 4, he also has to clean up the bodies.  I do wish he’d stop flushing them down the toilet though because they don’t always flush away, think about it….ugh.

I think we have to get the roach killer back to spray the house to ensure a less stressful summer but the idea of poisoning us in order to poison them isn’t ideal.  Someone told me recently that the answer is a cat.  They like to play with them, paw at them and ultimately crunch on them.  Sounds ideal.  There are plenty of cats to take our pick from, Israel like many Mediterranean countries is inundated with street cats.  The problem is that I hate cats only a little less than I hate roaches.  Sorry cat lovers but the moggies just don’t like me and as a result I don’t like them.  Even the most gentle, friendliest cat will attack me.  Once a cat pounced on me as I walked down the street (unprovoked I might add) and clung to my leg with its very sharp claws as I tried to run away (yes people were pointing and laughing but I didn’t find it very funny).  Cats now know I am scared of them and in their spooky, intelligent, sly way they pretend to be mates by purring and nudging my hand with their heads only to out the claws or go for a quick bite.  I now have to decide which is worse, the odd cockroach or a permanent house cat.

Hmmm, which makes a better housemate?

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Here are some snaps from the garden.

 

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.

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?

 

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.

Red Sky at Night

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There are certain times of year when I am very happy that my home is in the Middle East.  November is one, February the other.  To me these were always the most depressing of months in the UK.  November with only a bonfire and fireworks to brighten the dull grey skies and chilly long nights.  The clocks are on winter time and the coats are out.

In Israel I finally pulled the duvets from their summer residence (the back of the cupboard) a week ago and to be fair we don’t really need them yet.  I have been sporting jeans rather than shorts but again, through want, not necessity (everyone else is in Autumn clothes so me too).  This morning is the first morning the childers requested a sweatshirt to go to nursery in.  It is in fact 24 degrees and sunny and tomorrow’s forecast is 29 degrees.  Am I gloating?  Yes, a little.  I think that it is small recompense for all the other crap I deal with from ‘choosing’ to live here.

We have spent the last three Saturdays at a beautiful beach just south of Haifa with assorted friends, buckets and spades, picnics and swimming costumes (the childers anyway, end of September signals the end of my desire to wear a bikini) and I am glad that I am not looking forward to the next ‘100 days of Arctic conditions’ in the UK.  I am happy that I am not leaning against a radiator that’s covered in drying socks, getting chilblains when returning home from work.  I do slightly miss the need for a winter coat and boots but hell, I can get over that and wear them anyway come January when (if) the thermometer dips below 16.

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Next month when I am mourning the loss of Christmas and fairy lights I would do well to remind myself of the joy of being able to pick strawberries in November, wearing flip flops and sunning my shoulders.  If any one ever needs a time to come to visit, now is it, leave the cold and grey behind and feel the warm again.

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How does your garden grow?

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How does my garden grow?  Well it doesn’t.  No scratch that, there are a couple of things that grow in my garden, the gigantic date palms and the Ficus trees and therein lies the problem.

I grew up in an area where the garden was more likely to be waterlogged or too cold to grow anything so imagine my excitement when moving to a house with a  garden in Israel that had sunshine, warmth, little rain and ready planted fruit trees.  Three years on I want a balcony.

We had a banana plant (which has since be chopped down following that night), a lemon tree, olive tree, date palms and yuccas, it all seems on first view to be so exotic and wonderful.  But we have Ficus trees.  Ficus is more commonly known as fig but do not be mistaken into thinking that our garden sports an impressive fruit bearing tree.  Oh no, our garden sports 3 overgrown, root-tastic, uncontrollable Thai Ficus trees.  And no, they are not the bonsai variety.  The gardener who recently came over to give me a price for salvaging my garden reliably informed me they are Thai Ficus and no-one should ever be allowed to plant them near houses (I have since googled Thai Ficus and I am not convinced he’s right on the name).  Think the story of the magic porridge pot but with roots and leaves and I don’t know the magic word to make it stop, except perhaps axe or poison.

Said gardener regaled me with stories of Ficus roots lifting houses from their foundations, the trees killing everything around them in their quest to survive and I know from experience that these darned roots can work their way into your pipes.  Our bathroom has been flooding on and off for 2 years until a plumber comes and cuts the roots underground, down the pipe.  Yes really – who knew such a machine existed?  This new gardener, whose name is Shimmy and therefore became my favourite person even before I met him, gave me some hope to my gardening skills when he pointed out that the grass doesn’t grow because of the Ficus roots under the lawn, the plants don’t grow in the borders because the Ficus blocks the sun and takes the nutrients out of the soil and in short anything that needs water doesn’t stand a chance, yes you guessed it, the ficking Ficus takes the lot.  So they’ve gotta go.  The uplifted tiles on the patio, the blocked pipes and the bumps under the bedroom floorboards is warning enough I think that this is just the start of one hell of a horror story.

IMG_3017Now what about those beautiful date palms?  Rustling in the wind, casting long shadows across the garden, dropping dates that rot all over the (parched and hungry) grass, providing birth centres for cockroaches and attracting bats that relieve themselves all over my drying washing.  I think chopping the palms down maybe a little excessive so I will just have to fork out an inordinate sum of money to get a specialist to come and clean them up.  Although there are a couple that have just given up on their own.

 

My plan for this week is to try to breathe some life back into the garden, not that I can plant anything because the f word will kill it in a week.  I can however water it a bit more (plenty of water available as there’s not much long shower/full bath action going on at the moment due to the roots in the pipes problem) and I have taken the shears to the overgrown leaves this morning as I am unable to wait another week for Shimmy to come in order to see the sky.  Where is Alan Titchmarsh when you need him, if ever a garden needed a makeover it’s mine.  Roll on next week when hopefully Shimmy will shimmy in with heavy machinery and cut these blighters down and give me back my garden.