May 31, 2013

Frugal is here. Or maybe not?

While trying to achieve world domination through the blog, I find I spend a lot of time reading about other people's life. I read the news (which I have succeeded in avoiding for quite a while after we left Israel. In Israel everyone is news-crazy, mainly because there are always news, but after leaving Israel I managed to not read/listen/watch any news for a few years. Now I once again am connected to the news here and in Israel. I am not sure I like it), I read parenting & women magazine on (and off) line, I try to squeeze in the odd book when I can (it's tough, because I don't like stopping in the middle of a book and do you know how hard it is to find 5 free hours to read?) and of course I read blogs. Lots and lots and lots of blogs. Mummy blogs, daddy blogs, money-management blogs, party blogs, photography blogs, baking blogs (my favourite kind)... So many blogs, so little time to bake.
Why am I telling you all this? not because I want to make you a list of all my reading materials, but because while reading it all I found out some things, about myself and about the world around me.
I learned the words "thrifty" and "frugal" which I didn't know the meaning of, and I have to say, still sounds somewhat like swear-words. According to "Frugal Family", being thrifty is all about making the most of what you've got and being frugal is about saving money where you can, and apparently "frugal is cool" nowadays, so I sat out to check - are we frugal? are we thrifty?

Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Walking down Regent St. Where else would you check your frugalness?
I couldn't find a comprehensive free list of what it means to be frugal, though there are plenty of ebooks on the subject. Lesson number one then, is that being frugal means making other people spend money. Yes, well, I can see how that works out logically for the authors. I mean who amongst us doesn't know the saying - you got to spend money to make money? As you can imagine I did not buy any of those books, though now that I think about it, about a lifetime ago we did buy one book on the subject which was actually good, so if any Hebrew speaking person wants a recommendation try esh-lidor and their newsletters (don't worry, they haven't paid for my opinion - I wish they would, and I won't charge you for mine).
So I combed through many blogs and websites and checked myself against the points they all mentioned -
1. Plan your meals. That one is so easy, of course I'm frugal. We eat according to the Mediterranean way - big meal at lunchtime, small (usually uncooked) meal in the evening. First of all, it's healthier for you and second I hate cooking. Also, this is where this family obsessive-compulsive behaviour towards food comes in handy - they all eat the same things every day. Very easy to plan.
2. Eat leftovers. Seriously?! I am not ashamed to say it - I love leftovers. Some food I make just so I can have leftovers. Did I hear anyone say cold pizza for breakfast? so yay! Frugal.
3. Buy cheaper meat / buy uncut meat / etc. meat things. Well. No. I am a vegetarian and Hidai's idea of cooking is putting things in the microwave. I have two rules when it comes to meat - that I will have to "deal" with it as little as possible, and that I will not be afraid of what they put in it. So, although I don't buy Kosher (which is safer on the - what they put in it - front, but also much MUCH more expensive), I do buy only processed meat and pre-cut meat from a select few brands. So, not frugal at all. But I do bake all my sweets myself from scratch. And we eat so much more sweets than meat, so that makes us semi-frugal (and wholly sweet).
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Home-made cookies
4. Make you own cleaning product. No thank you. I did think about it a few times, but ended up buying them. Oh and to add insult to injury, not only do I use branded ones, I also buy wipes. Lots and lots of wipes. I have toilet wipes, glass wipes, floor wipes, granit wipes, wood wipes and dust wipes. I also am not big on home-made beauty treatments. I cut my own hair though. So it counts (even if it is because I am afraid of hairdressers and not because I want to save money).
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Home-made haircut
5. Don't have a window cleaner, house cleaner, gardner, or dog walker. Check. Okay, back to being frugal.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Yon cleaning
6. Car related issues. Very frugal. Don't own a car. See how I saved on gas, insurance, repairs, parking and everything else? Sure, it's because we can't get used to the whole other-side of the road thing, and parking is hell in London. But you can still say it's frugal. We have an Oyster card with a pay-as-you-go and two feet. Very economical, and also eco-friendly.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Going places
 Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?

7. Grow stuff. And no, they don't mean mold. They mean vegetables. Great idea, we should start. The only thing is, history teaches us that whenever I start investing in plants is usually the time we start thinking about moving on to the next country, and we are not ready to move on yet. Also, tiny problem of the balcony being too narrow and without direct light. But those are really just details. Not frugal :(
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
My balcony in Gibraltar
 Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?

8. Make your own coffee. Oh, thank God, one I am totally frugal on. Yes, I do make my own coffee  (I have a Nespresso machine that I can't live without). It's really because British version of coffee is, let's just say less-than-satisfactory and leave it at that, and also because, well, I'm home all day so I don't really have a chance to grab a cup of coffee on the way to work now do I?
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
My red-dotty coffee mug (and cheese cake)
9. Smart Supermarket shopping. I don't know about this one. I am sure you can live on less than us, but I do try buying in bulk the non-perishables, buying on sales, buying "own" brands, and generally buying less. While researching for this post, I found the website Approved Food UK that sales clearance things, which I think I will try. The thing is, I buy my food online because of lack of car & near stores, and what I discovered is this - the difference between the "cheap" shops and the "expensive" ones can come down to the delivery costs, so it's not always worth your while to split your shopping between stores, and buying online is good budget-wise since it lets you compare prices, check unit-price and stick to your budget more easily.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
My first ever Sainsbury's order
10. Entertain at home. Easy one. As a couple with two kids and no free time, local friends, and social-tendencies we entertain only ourselves. That usually happens at home.
11. Keep fit for free. Well, if you don't exercise then it's totally free. You don't need gym membership, fancy gym clothes or equipment! Truth is, we do exercise at home these days, but I promise you - it's only temporary. We will be back to our regular no exercise regime in no time. (Could have put an embarrassing exercising photo here and didn't. So earned another point for that.)
12. Vouchers, coupons, discounts, etc. Should try harder, I know I should. We have all the cards, we get all the newsletters, we collect all the relevant points. But we don't always remember to use them properly or on time. A lesson we learned the hard way - if you see an offer you like, use it the minute you see it. These things tend to run out pretty fast. We did buy some Christmas gifts last year out of our points and got to go to the Zoo for half price. And we always remember when Papa John's have their BOGOF day. So I have to give myself half a point there.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Kids at Zoo. Discount tickets at hand.
13. Sell on eBay. This one is real tricky for me. I saw lots of people advocating selling things to add money to your budget, and being frugal. I get it when it comes to the big things, I mean when we used to have furniture of our own (instead of renting furnished like now), we sold them every time we replaced them, and we sold every little thing we didn't take with us when we left Israel. BUT, I don't get it with the kids stuff. If they grow out of toys / clothes / books, I usually donate them to the nursery / school. It never occurred to me to sell those things on eBay. I have to say, maybe it's more frugal, but it still doesn't feel right. That being said, I have Ron's Nintendo that I saved for Yon but he can't use, and I am going to try my hand at eBay selling for the first time. Unless someone here wants to buy it...
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Nintendo for sale.
14. Bills. We do pay them on direct-debit usually, but I can't really say that we do much more. I mean being frugal means you have to do things like making sure you pay the best rates on your electricity. We don't. Not because we don't think it's important but because, well, the bill is in our landlord's name. And we would have to call him, and ask him to change the rates. The man has yet to schedule an electrician to replace the faulty wiring that caused 2 of our bulbs to stop working. It's been a week. We do use energy saving bulbs though, so at least we are eco-friendly even if not totally frugal here... (and also, we don't pay for the heating through the electricity bill).
15. Packed lunch. I eat at home, so does Yon, and Hidai takes a packed lunch to work (I bought him the most adorable "Keep calm and have lunch" lunchbox. So manly). Ron eats at school. So I am putting it down as frugal.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
It's not packed, but it's lunch
16. Vintage. As in used, second-hand, updated or whatever. The answer is one - no. I find it hard enough to shop in regular shops. For some reason second-hand shops makes me even more nervous. I do shop on sales when I buy in the high-street shops though, and Yon gets Ron's old clothes with some extras from the cheapest shops we can find, because Ron keeps his clothes spotless ever since he was a baby. Yon on the other hand... so it must count for something.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?
Do they look similar?
 Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?

17. Price comparisons. This one I can honestly say yes, always. Especially when it comes to the big things, for Christmas, for birthdays. Always.
18. Libraries instead of buying books. This is another tricky one. For me I download what I want to read and read it on the iPhone, but for the kids I love buying books, and for them it's one of their presents at Christmas / birthday. Ron is now starting to move towards downloadable books, but for Yon it's still buy, buy, buy. It's the same with movies - they get DVDs twice a year (about 4 per child per time), and watch one every non-school morning. Say I swapped instead of bought, I would have needed to think of other gifts, and that is a big no-no.
Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?Orli, Just Breathe - Frugal is here. Or maybe not?

19. Use your stocks, well I do. But then you have to re-stock don't you? So it's a never ending cycle which I don't really get how it is frugal, other than the first time when you use everything you stocked while you were on a non-frugal lifestyle.
20. Know your budget. I do. More than I would like. We use Toshl, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone else as the best budget app I know of, and we use it to keep track of every penny we have going in and out. It is the most used and hated app on my phone (except maybe for the Candy Crush).

So are we frugal or not? I started the list saying a flat-out, capital NO. Somewhere in the middle of the way I said a small yes, but I finish it with a resounding not sure. Some things we do, other there is no way in hell we will ever do. Some things we are good at, with some we should try harder. But having two kids, one stable income, and some rough years behind us means that we have to be, I don't know, sensible with money? frugal? it means we have to have an intimate knowledge of our budget. It also means we get to use our beloved saying "it will be better in two years". it's been 13 come December, and still the saying remains.
I guess to my way of thinking only people who are not in a "financial situation" have a right to give any financial advice. But seeing how the whole internet disagrees, and how I discovered we are (surprisingly enough) not that bad with the whole frugal trend, and since I am not going to charge you for my wisdom, then my two cents on the subject is, that the one important thing is - don't feel poor. Find out what makes you feel frugal, sensible & smart, and what makes you feel just plain poor. It doesn't have to be logical, it doesn't have to be something expensive, it doesn't have to be a real poor-people-thing, but if it makes you feel poor than just don't do it. If buying a certain type of bread makes you feel poor, buy the kind you like. Other things will be sacrificed without feeling bad.
And also, live long and prosper :)
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May 27, 2013

A Job Interview

"What kind of support system do you have at home?" was the moment I realized that the first job interview I've had in over ten years is most definitely NOT going to end up in a job. Unfortunately it was five minutes in, right after "why don't you have a proper CV?" and before "where does your English comes from?"
Yes. I had a job interview. I will say it again, really slow - I. Had. A. Job. Interview. I know, the mind boggles.
In my defence it really looked like one of those Karma / fate / God kind of things. Really did. It was one of those moments in life where you have to make a choice - do I jump or not. I always jump. Head first and without checking the water.
I mean, it was my birthday, the role looked really similar to what I want to do (and what I already do) in the Blog, I wrote an email saying I wasn't looking for a job, I don't have formal qualifications and I have nothing to show for myself except the blog, but would really like the job :), and got an interview invitation instead of a refusal. It all looked like it was one of those things that happens to other people, you know, the ones with the stories about how they accidentally or magically got to be doing what they are doing. These kind of things never happen to me. But this time showed real potential, it seemed like all the pieces were falling into the right place. So I jumped.
I spent the next few days studying the website, preparing a list of suggestions, improvements and questions, and mainly thinking of myself as an employee for the first time in over a decade. It was really weird, the thought of being an employee, of having a "proper job", of being "ordinary". I spent a lot of time in those early years of not having a "proper job" coming to terms with it, it took me a while to hold my head up high, to be able to look people in the eye and not be ashamed of my work-related choices (my "so, what do you do all day" post talks exactly about that). And somewhere along the way, bit by bit, and without really noticing it, I succeeded. No, that's not entirely true, I began to marvel in it. I love being extra-ordinary, I love having "a story", I love my different way of life. If I was better with people and stopped trying to avoid human contact as much as possible I am sure I would have been able to look them in the eye. It defines me, you see, the "self-employment in weird professions" I've done over the last decade or so. And I like it. But Yon is going to school full time in September (it will actually be October, but don't get me started on the topic), we could use the extra money (just the idea of being a two stable incomes household was so alien), it's a freelance part-time job from home (which are the only type of jobs I can even consider, and even those are bordering on "too organized" for me), and I finished all the Candy-Crush levels on the mobile app. It seemed like a good a time as any to try something outside my comfort zone.
So I jumped.
And on Sunday I got dressed in my only real young-professional (and totally not mummy) outfit and went on a 45 minutes trip to the interview (alone. Hidai & kids stayed home because Yon has been sick for the last four days. An unheard of record for any of my kids. Last night we were actually contemplating the A&E because none of them had EVER been sick for more than a couple of days).
The sunny sidewalk outside the Starbucks was where my fairy-tale story ended, and reality came back. I can't say that I was happy with the way I conducted myself during the interview. Can't say that I haven't felt the last ten years melting away, leaving me again a baffled young girl with nothing to her name. I have never been good in these interview situation, I am not good in front of authority figures, and I most definitely don't react well to belittling or patronizing human beings.
I lost them. All the right answers I prepared in advance, all my savvy comebacks, all my thoughts. It didn't help that the first sentence was an accusing "you didn't send me a proper CV". Which leads us back to the beginning of the post and my "support system". Why does a freelance part-time web editor needs a support system? Well, the answer is really quite simple. That's not the role. The role is a combination of PR, sales and marketing, and includes attending functions, parties, hunting for advertisers and being interwoven in the Israeli community in London. All of which are things that I am so so so so horrible at. And all of them things that were not in the written job description.
What do you do in this situation? How are you supposed to conduct yourself in a wrong-place wrong-time kind of situation? When it is all perfectly horrible - wrong job, wrong interviewer, wrong interviewee? What do you do when each question is more wrong than the one before?
What kind of support system do you have?
What does your husband do?
Where does your English comes from?
How good is your Hebrew?
Why don't you have a proper CV?
How much do you see yourself involved in the Israeli community?
How is your teamwork spirit?
Can you find advertisers?
Do you bore easily?
What other characteristics don't you like about yourself?
Will you work for less than the living-wage?
I don't know what other people do, but me, I like to say all the wrong things and really hammer the "never gonna happen" nail, but in a polite way. I guess that is why some of my answers included "We really are not big fans of the Israeli community", "I haven't worked with a team in more than 10 years, so I can't really say", "yes, I do bore easily", and my favourite "I can't say that these are things about myself that I don't like, but you might think otherwise. I don't like people of authority, and I don't react well to criticism".
We parted ways on that same pavement some 45 minutes later with a vague "it was nice meeting you, we will do something together even if not in this role", and a "you can email me if you need help with the settling in in London" on her side and a "sure, sure I will be happy to" on mine. But I won't.
We never know why we go through the things we do, all we get (if we are lucky) is retrospect. Hidai said it doesn't matter, because I jumped, I did something way-way out of my comfort zone, I took a risk and was willing to follow through. I am not really sure, mainly because I felt disappointed with myself, I would have liked to feel so much more poised, to be more matter-of-fact with the whole thing, I would have liked to feel that I used the last 10 years to grow-up. That I don't work in "proper jobs" because it's my choice, not because I can't get through an interview.
In the end of the day I don't know if this interview was a sign for things to come, if it was there to open my eyes to options I haven't thought about, to pave the way to other opportunities that will arrive, or maybe it was there to remind me, that I really like working for myself, that I am the only boss myself is willing to tolerate (and even that isn't a smooth ride).

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May 22, 2013

Birthday Weekend

Birthdays have never been my forte. Not mine anyway. Funnily enough, it is the only day a year in which I get consumed by my what ifs and my regrets and my inadequacies. Imaginary and real ones. It is the only day a year in which I measure myself against an imaginary Other and always comes up short. This is the day in which I feel the world looking at me and going "You again? Let's see what you've achieved this year... Are you sure you want to celebrate that?!". Also, big problem with being told when to have fun. Two reasons, first of all I am never good with the whole being told what to do thing, and second, I find it puts so much pressure on me that I know not only will I not have fun, I will probably screw it up somehow. I actually hate all of them, those "occasions". Also, and it might surprise you, seeing how I open up most everything in my life here in this blog, I don't really like being the center of attention. Okay, you got me, I really hate it, I never know what to do, what to say, where to go. Hate it.
So yes, not a good start for a birthday.
It's a complicated relationship I have with my birthday, and it's a scenario that repeats itself every year. What did I accomplish this year? What do I have to show for myself? Always those same questions, and always the answer is the same - nothing.
That is (mainly) why I keep Hidai around, to remind me that it's (probably) not true. That I do have something to show for myself, and for this last year.
This year was different. I realized something somewhere in the madness that is our lives, I realized I am okay with it all. I am okay with just being, well, me. no fancy degree (oh how I wanted to have a professor or Dr. up there when I was younger), no fancy job title (I did want one of those at a moment or two of unclear thinking), no big financial success to attribute to me (I attribute all our financial disasters to me and any success goes to Hidai). I would lose every contest with someone who walked a more traditional path. All I have to show for me is, well, me. And the truth is, I'm quite fine with it. I think when all is said and done, I turned out to be (and that is our favourite British saying) not too bad.
Do you think it made me be less broody when my birthday finally arrived? of course not. Tradition is, after all, tradition :).
But my boys wouldn't let me wallow and after we said goodbye to my parents (who will be back in September) Hidai decided to turn my birthday into a weekend of very eclectic festivities - we went to the London Zoo for a Special Children's Day, we ate at Jamie's Italian Restaurant in Angel, we went to a flea-market and toured the streets around Angel, my boys baked me a cake and wrote me cards, we drank the last bottle of our favourite wine that my parents brought from Israel, I got the most beautiful bouquet of roses & tulips from Hidai, who also whisked me to a very posh cafe in Covent Garden (Laduree) to have some kids free time and macaroons. And I got so many cards, and mails, and facebook wishes.

The Zoo was better than expected. I mean, I am not a Zoo person, live animals and all that dirt really are not my cup of tea, but I have to hand it to the London Zoo, they really did make us Special people feel welcomed. We had a separate (fast) entrance, a special map of the Zoo, 20% off of everything, and there were so many Zoo people walking around explaining, helping and being generally nice. It was really wonderful. To be honest we were a bit nervous when we got there because maybe they will want to check how Special Yon is, or they will need some sort of certificate or something. Maybe they will decide he is not Special enough? They didn't. They were perfectly lovely. There were so many children with sunglasses (no sun that day), with hats, with canes. So many Special kids. Yon loved the Zoo, his love affair with animals is a never ending story, and he was in over-drive for much of the day. He wanted to touch every animal, he wanted to see every single animal, and seeing the Zebras, the Giraffes & the Penguins, it was the highlight of his day. No, of his life. We were so happy to have given him this day out, and in the same time, it's heart-breaking to ask again and again "Yon, can you see that giant Gorilla?" and know that he doesn't. That the Gorilla is too far for him to see it. That the monkeys move too fast for him to see them clearly, that the iguana looks too much like the tree branch for him to see it distinctly.
It is so hard to know that he can sometimes see more clearly the maps, and the pictures, and the statues than the real animals.
We went with the Healthy-Denial Approach, and even though we knew he can't see things we still looked at them, talked about them, explained it to him, and did not let him feel bad about not seeing some things, we stood at every map or photo, we climbed every animal statue, Hidai took him to the petting-zoo. We enjoyed everything he could see and smoothed over everything he couldn't. In the end, like I said, it was better than expected and I feel so grateful for the London Zoo.
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

The restaurant was a fluke. We took the bus back from the zoo and realised it stoppes at Angel, and of course we missed the right stop and got off the bus a stop too late, right in front of Jamie's Italian (Jamie Oliver, if you are as clueless as Hidai was). Since we haven't ate lunch (we just ate lots of snacks at the Zoo), and since I've been eyeing it for a while now, we decided to check if they, by any chance, are open on a 5:00 pm to hungry people. I was sure they are going to laugh us right out of there, but no. As a matter of fact, the restaurant was half full, and we could only get a table on the promise that we will leave before 6:30. We did. If you haven't been to Jamie's, then you should :). It's a really nice restaurant, the food was great, the chocolate brownie was divine, the people were kind and nice to the kids. It's just that the chips was... how do I say it politely? don't. Anyway, the kids were really well behaved, the food was lovely, and we were the least dressed people there. I am serious, we were dressed for the Zoo, while everyone else was dressed for a proper Saturday outing...
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
The Flea-Market, was my way of testing how much Hidai & the kids really love me. Hidai & Ron don't like markets very much, especially on big match days, and Yon, though he really does like "stuff" as he calls wandering around shops, is in constant need of supervision. But because it was my birthday weekend, and "whatever mummy wants, mummy gets", off we went to a very very very disappointing flea market near Angel station. And when I say very, I mean VERY. On the way there we stood for a while at the bus stop, interrupting a man, who was around our age, and dressed very... hipstery like,  who sat there quietly and just stared at us as if we were aliens. As if we were a freak show, or maybe a horror show. It was fascinating. He was so horrified by us and the kids. I actually don't think he saw a live child before. After the unsatisfying flea-market we walked around the tiny street just off-Angel, to see the boutiques, shops, stalls, etc. and that is when we realised it - we were the only people there whose kids were of a walking age. This city, whom I enjoy very much, is constantly making me feel old. It is a city where everyone is constantly trying to remain young, to stretch out as much as possible the years before growing up. And for someone who was always in a hurry to grow up, I look around me and see people my age just starting to accept growing up, just starting to check if they are "ready" to have a family (on a side note, people are not cakes. They are not "ready"), I look around me and feel old beyond my years.
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

My heart shaped chocolate cake was made (together with my balloons & cards) after Arsenal (thank God) won their last match of the season and we could all breathe a sigh of relief - another football season done. Hidai & Ron got in to a spot of trouble making the cake, but all's well that ends well, and I had a proper cake (even edible). I think next year I'll bake my own though. Easier, faster, and less messy... On the other hand, Hidai did the dishes, so what do I care?
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

My favourite wine is a sweet desert wine. You can't really say you're surprised can you?
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

On the actual morning of my birthday we decided to do nothing, because it was a Monday. Who has a birthday on a Monday? It's the worst day of all. But Hidai still got me a gorgeous bouquet of roses & tulips, because he loves me, and because I hinted very delicately that I would love tulips in my bouquet (by going near a flower shop and saying ohhhh, look at those tulips! They are so lovely! I adore tulips! Like I said, hinted delicately).
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

The last of the celebrations was a little us-time in this little cafe in Covent Garden that we saw in one of the hundred-thousand times we've been there but never tried because it's so not appropriate for kids (especially boys. Especially ours). In fact I don't think we are appropriate for it at all. Everything was so tiny and delicate and French. We felt like elephants... Every wrong move could cause it all to crumble down around us... But the food was so good (especially the brioche) and the macaroons were so so lovely that it made up for the fear in which we sat.
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

So there you have it - my birthday. It had a few more components that I have to wait awhile before writing about (not pregnant though. Just to make that super clear), and all of it together made it without a doubt a very different birthday to what I'm used to. Different, exhausting, and a lot of fun.
Not too bad.
Orli, Just Breathe - Birthday weekend

A very very big thank you to everyone for making it a great birthday :)
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May 16, 2013

Just another immigrant

As I'm sure you all remember, my parents are here for a visit. They have been here for almost two weeks, and like in every visit, we spend most of our time talking. Every visit has a theme - money, kids, family matters, etc. (we are very big on themes here. Ron keeps asking me every few days if I already chose us a new theme song. I have given up and decided to really consider organising a contest - songs suggestions for a home-baked chocolate cake), and this time our theme is immigration. It was not a conscious decision, because before they arrived here we talked about concentrating on Yon's condition and how to deal with it as a theme for the visit. The visit's nickname was "Processing the Trauma Visit". But as usually happens  reality interfered and the truth is the more urgent topic was the fact that Israel is in turmoil right now because of the economy and the austerity budget that is being discussed these days. Whenever something happens in Israel we find ourselves torn, we want to "like" things on Facebook, we want to comment, we want to be part and have our voices heard. But we don't do any of those things, because we can understand those who told us that it is not our place to say anything anymore since we left. Because we can understand the people who looked at us and said hey you, you couldn't hack it here, you are not tough enough to live here, you chose to leave and therefore have no more rights here, you've lost even the holiest of all Jewish rights - the right to complain. 
Because when you go through border control in your new country of choice you leave behind you a lifetime.
That exact moment at the border control is also the moment in which you become an immigrant. A nomad.
That moment changes your life forever.
I found that that moment teaches you, more than anything else, humility.
Have you ever been in an airport that checked your passport or suitcase or body just a tad too vigorously? that gave you the feeling that you are unwanted there? I haven't. Hidai & I apparently don't look suspicious enough (probably have something to do with taking 2 kids everywhere).
But I feel like that now.
Have you ever feared every letter in the post? Every phone call to the landline? Have you ever had to think about how every little thing you do could help you, when the moment comes, in defending your right or even ability to live where you are? Have you ever felt like your whole life is hanging by a thread?
I feel like that now.
That is how being an immigrant feels for me. Even after almost 4 years out of Israel.
I write a lot about other things in my life, but I don't think I've ever written about this topic. I have, as a sin of omission contributed to the myths and the conspiracy of silence surrounding this topic. Why? Because it's "not done" to complain about living in London, or in Gibraltar. It's "not done" to compare yourself to the poorest illegal immigrant you can find, when you are neither poor nor illegal.
it's "not done" and yet it's done.
A lot of people ask me about life outside of Israel, they want to know if I have friends, they want to know if we miss Israel, if we live next to other Israelis, how many times a year we go back, they want to know how much it costs us and how much money we save every year.
They never want to know how it feels when you wake up in the morning and forget all your English; how it feels to sit for an hour in front of the computer and not know the word that you know you know;  how it feels to fear talking on the phone because you don't understand what the person on the other side is saying; how it feels to hear your kids make silly mistakes in Hebrew because they translate from English; how it feels to realize you forgot and missed a Jewish holiday; they never want to know about the time it takes your body to get used to the different weather; they never ask me about how it feels to not know the culture reference people make both here and there; they never want to know how it feels to be lonely.
Because, hey, you live in London.
I do. And I love it.
But Sometimes I feel I don't belong. Sometimes I feel unwanted. Sometimes I think about a song in Hebrew that I don't think is translatable to English (so for my English speaking readers, think Englishman in New York), and talks about a guy who lives perfectly well in Hebrew but secretly, at night, he still dreams in his mother tongue - Spanish. I write in English; talk to my kids in English (and some Hebrew); write notes in English; read in English; watch TV in English; listen to music in English; find it weird to see a phone or a computer with a Hebrew interface;
But I dream in Hebrew.
How can you just leave behind 30 years (or so) of living somewhere the minute you hand over your passport to the immigration agent at the airport? Maybe it's better to not do that? is it better to live in a closed Israeli community, work in an Israeli company, send the kids to a Jewish school and try to pretend as much as you can that you never really left? is it better to live your life with a (virtual) packed suitcase, on the way back home in just a moment or two?
Or is it better to leave everything behind you? To walk through those airport doors a new person? to learn how to live from the bottom up? to live in a non-Israeli community, work in a non Israeli company and send your kids to a regular state school? is it better to live with all your suitcases and boxes, real and virtual ones, unpacked as if you are never going back?
It doesn't really matter what you choose, both options are an illusion. The kids force you to acknowledge the fact that you really left, and the immigrant status forces you to acknowledge the fact that you never really arrived.
It's the same with the language, you find yourself stuck in the middle - your Hebrew is stuck somewhere in 2009 and you make silly spelling mistakes and forget words and uses the hated "oh, come on, how do you say"; on the other hand your English, though in a constant state of improvement, is still not as good as your 8 years old's. And let's face it, I will never understand what ";" is used for. I just randomly throw it around in the text to seem smart.
I know a lot of people have a negative opinion about immigration and immigrants, and I know most of them say "but not people like you two" when they say it to my face. But it is people like us two. Exactly like us two. Because the system doesn't care, it treats everyone the same. It is exactly people like us who lives in fear of the virtual knock on the door, the letter that deports you, the bureaucracy that never ends; people like us who pay the bills the same day they arrive, never cross a red light, and try not to anger anyone; people like us who depend on their employer for everything and know nothing of their rights; it is exactly people like us who question weather the fact that they got treated like air at nursery by some other mums is because I am an immigrant.
It is exactly people like us who feel they live in the shadows.

Yes, I do plan to give you all the dirt about my parents' visit, but they are still here so this is what you got instead...
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May 13, 2013

On Changes, Kellogg's, and iPads

Kellogg's changed Special K for the first time in 30 years, and to commemorate this moment they decided to have a celebration of change in the BritMums/Special K “How I’ve changed Linky challenge”, and have us look at how we've changed in the past 30 years.
I usually don't really like this kind of competitions, even if they do give me the option to win an iPad, but I liked the question - Am I, like the new Special K, updating?
Well, the new Special K promotes healthy eating, with its 3 grains (rice, wheat and barley), vitamines, fibers and wholegrain. I don't.
The new Special K is crunchy. I'm not.
The new Special K is sweet. So am I. Sometimes.
The new Special K feels new and fresh. I feel old and grumpy.
The thing is, they sent it two weeks before my birthday. Not a good time for me to reflect on where my life took me in the last 30 years. 
Do people even change? I don't think so. I know that's not what the Kellogg's people want to hear and I know it will probably won't win me the competition (bye-bye imaginary iPad), but no. People don't change. I haven't changed much in the last 30 years, and I don't expect to change much in the next 30 years. I mean, I even have almost the same haircut for God sake! 
and me!

Yes, I no longer wear nappies, I finished nursery, and school, and university. I have kids older than I was in that photo. I'm taller. I live in a different country. I can read.
And yet, as every single person who knows me will be quick to point out, I haven't change one tiny bit.  Because people don't change. And because I behave like a child more times than I care to admit. And also because I have good genes and not even one wrinkle.
I still like 80's music, I still think chocolate is a legitimate food-group, I still cry really easily, my favourite book is still The Lord of The Rings, and my favourite movie is still Die Hard 1. I still find it hard to stop while I'm in the middle of a book, and to do as I'm asked.
In the last 30 years the world around me changed - I grew up without a cell-phone, multi-channels TV, internet, DVD, iPads, Nintendo, WII, and everything else my kids now take for granted.
In the last 30 years I moved 10 times and lived in 3 countries.
In the last 30 years I stopped wearing baggy clothes and started wearing tighter clothes, I went through the "only black" phase and I went through the "only trousers" phase, my hair was blond, brown, red, black, and with highlights, it was short, medium and very long.
I still have my first haircut hair.
In the last 30 years I was fat, I was thin, I was pregnant, I was somewhere in the middle.
In the last 30 years I had big dreams, I had big plans.
In the last 30 years I learned, again and again, that people don't change.
I mean, have you ever seen anyone who just magically changed? Some cheap bastard who turned into a generous soul? Some dumb as a shoe who suddenly became sharp as a wink? Some asshole who magically became an angel?
Because people don't change. You can change your hair, you can change the way you look, you can change your weight; you grow old, you might even grow up, you can learn along the way how to hide some things so people will think you changed. But the truth is, no one ever changes their essence. . The few and far between people who change work really really hard on it. They go to therapy, they try, they sometimes fail. And they say "I was wrong before".
In the last 30 years I turned from a child to an adult, but that child is still here. I see her everyday when I look in the mirror, I see her everyday when I look at my kids.
Me (and mum)
and Yon

Kids are the perfect example for not changing. My kids' personalities were evidential when they were in the womb. Don't believe me? both were stubborn as hell and never budged when the doctor asked. No matter how many times the doctors tried to make them turn, or move or sit still, they did what they wanted. Ron couldn't wait to get out. Yon really didn't want to leave. Both were totally unaffected by chocolate and sugars.
It's weird how our whole personality is determined when we are so young. Weird and a little bit frightening.
So dear Kellogg's people, as you can see, I really haven't changed. I still can't answer a simple question.
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May 9, 2013

Ron is 8

Ron is 8. I have to repeat it because otherwise it doesn't sound real somehow. Ron is 8. I know a lot of people have older children and 8 doesn't seem like such a big number, but it is to me, because I now have an 8 years old, I have been a mum for 8 years. It's been 8 years since I last had a quiet cup of coffee at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Ron is 8. I can see the end of the childhood years closing in on him, I can see him embracing each sign of adulthood, wanting to be a grown-up, or at least a teenager. I can see it, and am powerless to stop it, he doesn't believe me when I tell him there is nothing wrong with being a kid, that not worrying is better, that he should savour every moment. He was always in a hurry to grow up my Ron. But I can also still see my baby in him, my beautiful baby who I can't even remember life before him. He hasn't changed much my Ron, from when he was that baby who didn't want to sleep so he won't miss anything. He likes sleeping now, but he still doesn't want to miss anything, he still wants to know everything, his mind is still constantly on overdrive. He is still a redhead, though some people told us it will change it hadn't, but he does have more freckles than you can count nowadays. He still loves it. He is still his own person, he doesn't see or understand peer-pressure, he doesn't understand meanness, he is still loved by everyone who meets him.
I really can't summarise or explain Ron, first because how can you summarise a person in a sentence or even in a paragraph? and second because every thing I can write will sound like I am bragging, or exaggerating or will make him sound perfect. And I am not, and he is not. I do have a few mental pictures that comes to mind when I try to think how can I describe him here. The first one is of standing in the darkest corner of the house, holding a crying baby for hours because he couldn't sleep; the second one is of a two years old toddler who chose a heart shape cake for his birthday and never changed his mind; the third one is of a three years old making a bargain with me - he will stop annoying the nursery teacher and do the arts & crafts activities he hates and in return I will teach him to write; the fourth one is of a four years old boy on his first day in a new school, a new country and no knowledge of the language, going into the school with a very happy "bye bye mummy" and without looking back; the fifth one is of a six years old boy going into the operating room to have an oral procedure that required general anaesthesia and when the orderly told him, trying to make him feel better, "don't worry, it's going to be okay", I will always remember him looking up at the orderly, such a tiny figure in a hospital gown, holding a teddy and saying very seriously "I am always fine". And he was. He is.
He's been through a lot of moves in his eight years my Ron - 5 houses in 4 cities in 3 countries. He had to start a new life twice, and every time he did it in a way that leaves me in awe. He is an old soul my Ron, he sees too much, knows too much, worry too much, and we expect too much of him. It's the curse of the older brother I guess, that he will forever be the more grown-up of the two.
But not on his birthday. We make it a point to give him everything he asks for on his birthday, to make a very very big deal out of it being "his day" to choose everything. He doesn't really like big birthday parties, my Ron. When he asked for those for his fifth and sixth birthdays he got them, but usually he doesn't want them. I know you are going to say it's easier like this, but it's really not, because each year I have to think of something to make the day special.
Every birthday starts the same, the day after Christmas I start nagging Ron to start thinking about his birthday wish-list. Ron almost never asks for anything, so I am teaching him that it's okay to ask. I also try to teach him that he can't have everything he asks for, but that lesson isn't going really well. He has everything he asked for. I just can't say no to him in these things. This year was a bit of a problem because he couldn't think of enough things to put on his list, and because we didn't know how we wanted to celebrate since his birthday was on a bank holiday weekend and my parents are here, we wanted to do something special, but we had no idea what. Ron was no help.
So I basically spent the last four months freaking out about Ron's birthday.
And because of everything else that's been going on with us and with Yon, I was laso feeling like a terrible and neglectful mother anyway, so that did very little to my success in organising a great birthday.
One year old
8 years olds
It ended up being a two days celebration and then some. On the big day he got, according to tradition (that he set when he was 2), a heart-shaped chocolate cake with chocolate icing and tiny sprinkles, 9 candles, 10 balloons and 7 presents. He got everything he asked for, which included DVDs, WII games, books, Scrabble, magic tricks, 2 Arsenal t-shirts, Arsenal ball and Arsenal legend DVD. He also got birthday cards from friends in school, from Arsenal and from us because he was really insistant that it's important to him. I also wrote him a birthday message on the blog's Facebook page, which got him some very moving birthday wishes from people he loves, and he was so very excited to see that people remember him and are thinking of him.
That day was an all Ron day, and he did what he wanted, which basically was watch a movie, play on Hidai's iPhone, watch a football match and play on the WII.
Very celebratory.
We also ate pizza for lunch, which was very nice but confused Yon who is used to pizza in the evening, and wouldn't believe us when we told him it's not really the end of the day yet.
In the afternoon my brother & sister-in-law came over and Ron got an extra card (their present was given in the morning, because presents are a morning thing. We don't believe in waiting in this house), and attention.
Traditional birthday cake
Birthday boy
On the second day, which was a bank holiday Monday we took him (and everyone else) to the Warner Brothers studio tour to see the making of Harry Potter. I definitely have to add here, that we booked our tickets before the royal family did their tour so technically they followed in our footsteps and not the other way around :). The day started out a bit rocky (Hidai called me fat - well, that's my version and I'm sticking to it), but settled down after an hour or two (and several apologies and grovelling), and the tour proved to be a great idea because Ron (and everyone else) had a great time and it's really really amazing to see everything they have there. The most amazing things are when you ride a broom, take a tour down Diagon Alley, go into the wand shop, and see a really huge model of Hogwarts. Unfortunately the tour is not without it's downsides, like the huge queues at the entrance, the prices they charge on things during your visit, the food offerings. It doesn't ruin the day, just clouds it a bit. Anyway you know I hate giving a detailed minute-by-minute description of what we did, so if you really want to read the whole review you have two options - the London with Kids page, and the TripAdvisor page.
Ron was ecstatic and so very exhausted by the time we got home, he didn't even eat the chocolate wand he chose...

The third day was cupcakes day, in which Ron went back to school and I made the 36 cupcakes he wanted to give out to all the kids in class and all the teaching staff. Because he couldn't decide on a different kind of cupcake, they got chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing (which also contained some  Lotus spread my parents brought from Israel and gave it a something special feeling). I was worried about the cupcakes thing because I didn't have special cases and decorations for them and I was worried Ron would feel it's not special enough. In the end, I put them in red cases, because you know, Arsenal... And decorated them with white chocolate stars and fairy dust and I think they were very dashing :). Unfortunately I couldn't taste as there were exactly 36, and Ron took all of them. The kids (and teachers) said they were good though, but it could be they were just being polite. We will never know. I did make Ron swear that next time I can make a cake and slice it. So much easier, both with making and transporting it all to school.
Chocolate wands
The fourth day I had a girls day out with my mum, in which I bought clothes. For myself. You have no idea how rare that is. But that's not the story here, because first thing is first, and we started the day with buying some clothes for the kids, and I got Ron five new short-sleeved t-shirts that he was very happy with.
That's it. I've finished another birthday, it was crowned "best birthday ever" by Ron, who was very disappointed he now needs to wait another 365 days before his next birthday...
Thank God for that. I have no idea how the hell I am going to celebrate his birthday next year...
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