October 27, 2014

Goodbye to London

This is our last week in London.
On Friday we will say goodbye to what has been our home for the past two and a half years and get on a plane to Berlin which will be, for the foreseeable future, our new home.
Life is funny this way, if you let it, it will take you to places you never imagined you'd get to. If anyone would have told me ten or even six years ago that I will become one of those people who move around the world I would have never believed them, and yet Germany will be the fourth country we've lived in; if anyone would have told me my wandering will bring me to Berlin I would have laughed, and yet here I am, packing; if anyone would have told me I would take two kids with me on all my adventures I would have really gotten angry, and yet both my boys happily approved this move and are impatient to get to Berlin.
In the last few weeks there has been a bit of stir in the Israeli press about the fact that young Israelis choose to immigrate to Berlin. It was called "the pudding protest" because apparently pudding is cheaper in Berlin than in Israel (honestly, it is cheaper here in London as well), and apparently we Israelis follow the pudding. Well, while it is true that for Jewish and Israelis food is not just an important thing, it is the most important thing of all, people do not leave their whole life behind just to buy cheaper pudding.
And yet here we are, part of a trend. I have to say I am somewhat excited, I've never been part of a trend before. On the other hand, it is in part why I've waited with this post until our bags are (almost) packed. I was hoping it will go away and I won't have to deal with it in my post. After all we are not moving to Berlin because it's cheaper than London. First of all because everywhere in the world is cheaper than London, and second of all because I don't even love pudding.
No, we are moving to Berlin for the same reason we moved to Gibraltar and London - for the adventures.
Because adventures is such a better reason than pudding.
A few years ago I've read this story about a family who travelled around the world, stopping for a few months in each place to learn how people there live. They had three kids I think, and they chose mostly less developed countries as destinations. I remember thinking they were crazy, that they were ruining their kids' lives, that they were bad parents who'd rather realise their own dreams than raising their kids. Well, I was young and much more prone to criticism in those days, and I guess I deserve the people who look at me and think the exact same thing. These days, though I would still won't be caught dead in any place that requires a tent, I understand their choice so much better.
Because adventures aren't about having fun all day every day, they are about experiencing everything the world has to offer. And everyone knows the world likes to throw crap your way.
Adventures are about the fear of the unknown and the belief in yourself.
Adventures are about the people you meet along the way and the things you get to do that you'd never imagined you will. Hey, I got to meet David Cameron.
Adventures are about inventing yourself every time - who will I be here? What will I do? You get the chance of a clean slate and a new beginning.
Adventures are about the option to experience life from different angles, see other cultures,  understand that every place is different, that there is no right or one way to live.
It is, if you allow me some schmaltz, about building a better future for your children. It is about letting them grow up and live without seeing colour, or religion, or country of origin. Wherever we see all these differences, they just see friends.
But most of all, if you let it, living in different places teaches you all about freedom. A lot of people think the hardest part of being an expat is the fact that you don't belong anywhere anymore. You are no longer a real part of the country you left, and you will forever be a foreigner in the country you live in now. I think if you embrace this feeling what you get is an enormous amount of freedom to be who you want, to do what you want, to think what you want.
No, the hardest part of being an expat is the food. Don't look so surprised, I did say we Israelis are very attached to our food.
And they do say Berlin has great bakeries.
Now that the time to say goodbye has come, I should be able to say something about London, summaries the last two and a half years in one sentence. But I can't. Mostly because writing short sentences was never my strong suit, but also because I am just not sure it will be the right sentence. There is, after all, something to say for perspective.
For now mostly I feel that I am ready to move on, but I can say that London gave us a lot, we've had so many good things happen to us here, we've accomplished so much, but that it all came with a very high price-tag. Like everything else in London.
I am proud of us for what we've achieved, and at the same time I hate that we had to pay so dearly for it.
And then, because life is funny this way, someone shared this Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross quote on Facebook that just seemed so fitting for my goodbye to London -
"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen".

So Long London, and Thanks for All the Fish!

All the photos in this post were taken by Hidai on his recent travels to Berlin, and not by me because I haven't been to Berlin. Yet.

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October 24, 2014

Madame Tussauds - Our last "must"

The last of the "tourist attractions" we had left in London was a visit to Madame Tussauds. When we first moved here (and during our visits here before that) we managed to do everything except go to Madame Tussauds. It wasn't deliberate or anything like that, it was just that there was always a queue, and the kids didn't know any of the characters, and honestly all these statues seemed a tiny bit creepy to me. Then after a while we finished our "must do and see" list, and got tired of paying enormous amounts of money just to have Yon (or Ron, or both) complain all the way there, or during, or on the way home, or when we got home because "they didn't have enough time to do other things", and Madame Tussauds just stayed there on the list in all its loneliness, waiting.
But it is still somewhat of a must, so to ease our guilt towards it we decided to make it a point - we'll go there before we leave London. That way, if we decide never to leave we don't have to go. Gradually it became "a thing" - a symbol of staying or going, so much so that we used to joke that we'd stop there on the way to the airport.
We didn't.
We went there because they had those big advertisement posters in the tube featuring their 4D Marvel Super-Heroes experience, and we happened to walk past them with our Super-Heroes crazed boys.
And also because my parents were visiting and we were looking for a nice indoor family activity (the whole making memories from the Emirates Experience post, but without the heights).
And because we had the vouchers from the Kellogs cereals so it was half price (and funnily enough, because everyone is so afraid of the queue and order tickets online their queue was longer, whereas we got our tickets within minutes).
It's funny how everyone looks at a place and notice different things. Tourists, teenagers, young couples, groups, pensioners, young parents, parents with toddlers and older children, people with disability - we all go into the same building but have a very different experience.
For us, it was a mixed emotions kind of experience. I mean, how can you say no to getting your photo taken with the queen? Or Shrek? But there really was something kind of creepy about those statues. All in all, for us it seemed like Madame Tussauds really isn't all that interesting for young kids because most characters are aimed at older generations, and if you have to bring kids than it is for families with older children (I would say more towards tweens) and is most definitely not suited for people with extra needs. Especially if your need is to sit down in the middle of the tour. There is just nowhere to sit. They do have kiosks where you can buy snacks, but you'll eat them standing up. Sitting is not permitted in Madame Tussauds apparently, mostly I think because they just want you in and out as quickly as possible. If, like us, you have a child that needs to take a break (and even kids without special-needs sometimes needs a break), you will have to do what we ended up doing - sitting on the floor in the hallway where other people and workers walk above your head, looking at you as if you are an alien or just plain weird. Not the best experience.
Don't get me wrong, it was fun for the most part, the boys recognised Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean's is Yon's movie of choice these days), One Direction, Shrek, most of the Athletes and the Royal Family, some of the musicians and politicians and obviously all the Super-Heroes. It has a very relaxed atmosphere and you can touch things and people, which is what Yon enjoyed doing, and the Spirit of London ride was so much fun that even Yon didn't care that the music's too loud. The 4D movie was amazing (well Yon didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of us, but that was not a big surprise. The surprise was that he actually managed to see the movie with his problems with 3D vision) and the fact that it comes at the end leaves you with a very positive experience.
We didn't go to Madame Tussauds with high expectations, and that way we weren't disappointed. Yes, they can do better - they can put in a bench or two, clean the toilets a bit more, lower the volume on the history-ride, charge less money for admission - but all in all, it was a very nice family day out in London.

And though we didn't go there on the way to the airport, It was a very nice way to finish our "must" list,
And it really was a lovely way to end our London Adventure.
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October 21, 2014

The Challah Experiment

One of the things that frustrate me to no end is that my boys do not like baking. I mean they will eat cake, especially if said cake has any form of chocolate in it, and they will criticise the cake and the baker as if they are tiny Paul Hollywoods gone rogue, but they don't like the actual baking. Everywhere I look there are people whose kids absolutely adore helping them in the kitchen, people who regard baking with kids as a half-term activity, people who invent recipes with their kids. Baking, all the parenting sites say, is a great way to connect with your children. In theory at least. Apparently my kids didn't read those sites as their reaction when I even start saying "do you want to help me...." is to run away screaming. No, they would not like to help me. They would rather do anything else. They would rather tidy up their room, do the laundry, read a book, everything but bake.

For someone whose life revolves around baking, that is quite frustrating. And embarrassing. Of course I know why they don't like baking (and mainly baking with me), it is a lethal combination of Yon's fear of getting dirty, Ron's inability to accept deviations from the written recipes and my need for perfection. Add to that the fact that we constantly quarrel for control, and the only recipe you get is for disaster.
But I couldn't let it go because baking is such an important part of life -  it is the perfect combination between science and art, it is a place to work on so many of their issues and it's a great way for them to impress girls in the future.
And even that is not why I decided to bake with them.
It was because I found it inconceivable that they don't know how to bake a Challah. We Jewish people take our Fridays very seriously, and a big part of a Friday is the special-family-evening-meal, which the Challah is a big part of. For Jewish people braiding a Challah is basic, it is something you learn in nursery, when every Friday the nursery teacher makes the dough and all the kids braid their own little challahs. Well, at least that is how it was in the olden days. Ron never baked a Challah in his Israeli kindergarten days, but hey, why should I let reality interfere with my nostalgia and the fear that I am raising the boys to have no roots and no connection to their traditions?
You could argue that there are more important traditions the boys are missing out on, and you could definitely argue that teaching two baking-haters the secret of a good Challah isn't going to make them like their religion and roots more. But it was Friday, and I am not really good at listening, so Challah baking it was.
I've decided to go the extra mile (I don't do simple) and found a recipe that doesn't need eggs so I could divide everything to three and have them not only braid the Challah but make the whole thing themselves, because it will be more fun (?!) and it will let them experience for themselves the magic of baking. You know, that moment when your gooey blob becomes dough. I did not account for the fear of dirt, or the whining, or the constant comparisons.
I have to give it to them, though, they did try. They enjoyed helping me measure the materials (after I explained to Ron that we will not be following the recipe exactly), Ron did rather well with kneading (though Yon didn't touch it and Hidai did that part for him), we all had the "ahhhh moment" when the blob became dough, they understood the basic of braiding (surprisingly enough Yon more than Ron) and we only had one incident involving tears.
But without a doubt the best part was the decorating. In a brave and tradition-shattering move, I've decided to forgo the classic Challah decoration - sesame, poppy, or almonds - and go for the kids friendly - chocolate chips, candied nuts, and pearl sugar. Best decision of the day, and the only part I can say without hesitation both of them loved.
That and seeing their creations come out of the oven.
A few months ago I wrote a post about how life is like baking, about how sometimes you need something to remind you of who you are. Me, I could always find myself in baking.
My boys, though they did enjoy themselves and proudly showed everyone their baking-creations, grow up in a different world, with a different sense of self and different things to ground them. Traditions are a funny things, they are very easy to create and very hard to force. I can't make my kids  bake with me every Friday because this is the tradition I imagine I would like to have, or because it will ease my guilt. Though my Challah experiment was a success (or so Hidai informed me. I finished it with a headache and no ability to think straight) I have to let them grow up in the here and now, and enjoy the traditions we create together.
And honestly, once was enough.

The recipe I used is (link is to the Hebrew original) -
1 kg flour (I used strong white)
2 Spoons of dried yeast
150 gr caster sugar (the recipe itself says less. A lot less, but I like it sweet)
3/4 cup oil
2 glasses of lukewarm water
1Spoon salt
Put everything together (I like to put it all except salt, knead a little and then add the salt) knead well for about 10 minutes until you get a nice, soft, non-sticky dough (we did it by hand, but obviously you can use a machine), oil it well and let it prove until it double it size (around 1-2 hours). Then deflate it, knead for a little and start making rolls.
Put the rolls very speciously on a baking tray lined with baking-paper, and prove for about 30 minutes. After the second proving, heat the oven to 180 degrees and beat one egg. Brush the egg on the rolls and throw on the toppings.
Bake for about 25 minutes until they are golden brown and when you tap on the bottom (caution - it's hot) you hear a hollow sound.
Let it cool, because you never eat bread straight out of the oven.

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October 17, 2014

How we crashed a (pretend) plane

You know how sometimes you find yourself in a situation you are not completely sure how you managed to land yourself into? Well, that is NOT what happened to me. I know exactly how I got there. I thought it will be fun. Because, apparently somewhere along the way I've lost a few of my marbles, and did not put together "cable car" and "fear of heights".
And because it was sunny and warm and we decided we have to "live life to the fullest" and "try everything London has to offer" and such things.
And because it was Saturday and to be good parents you have to spend time with your kids on Saturdays creating memories (apparently letting them play on the iPad all day does not create memories).
So off we went to the Emirates Aviation Experience and Cable Car.
Unfortunately by the time I was standing on the sunny Greenwich sidewalk looking up at the cable cars gliding merrily on what (from down below) looked to be as thick as a sewing thread and it finally dawned on me that not only do I not like heights very much I also hate not being in control and firmly on land, it was too late to back down.
By then Yon had already gone through the whole crying-because-he-wanted-to-do-something-else routine, and Ron has gone through the whole I-am-afraid-of-things-randomely routine (he doesn't have a real fear of heights, he just likes to adapt his fears to fit the occasion) and because we firmly believe in the never-back-down parenting method - which means if started something (an argument, a war or a fun activity) we will win it at all costs. Otherwise the kids will win. And they already control too much of the house as it is - we simply had to go on.
So on we went, with a "it's going to be fun" face on the outside and a "who the hell wanted to do that?!" shivers on the inside.
The view from down below
We decided to go do the Aviation Experience part first, because it held the best part of the day - flight simulator. It costs 45 pounds for 30 minutes, which is a lot. A lot. And it is only for kids over 9 (because younger kids just can't reach the pedals). But since it was supposed to be really awesome we decided to give it a go. As it happened you can buy one ticket for 45 pounds and use it for up to 4 people and that way each gets a turn flying an airplane, which makes the whole thing a little more reasonably priced (but honestly since when we were there we were the only ones actually using the simulators, and there were 6 of them, I think they could lower the price a bit).
Getting in to the simulator
Yon (who does't reach the pedals and so couldn't be a real pilot) was in charge of releasing the wheels, and the rest of us listened intently to the very long explanation about all the gears and bars and pedals before we took our turns trying to not crash.
Poor Ron crashed us right into the Duty Free building, while I managed to land on the wrong runway and Hidai, who managed to avoid both misfortunes, was crowned "best pilot of the day".

Trying to fly an airplane. Not as easy as you'd think
It is a very cute building to walk around even if you don't want to do the simulation (though it was hilarious) and you have a virtual cockpit where you can get your photo taken (though I would recommend taking it yourself. We are still waiting for the one they took) and a lego model of a plain engine and a very funny video showing the flight from your suitcase's point of view.
Lego model
What happens to your suitcase when you fly 
By the time we finished all that there was a queue for the cable-car, a long one, but it moved fairly quickly - even Yon didn't complain much (which is how we measure queues these days). And after we found the elevator (not easy, and no way Yon could handle all the stairs) and got up to the cable car platform we found ourselves in another queue! Sometimes I wonder if these places think waiting in the queue is considered part of the fun...
Geting in to the cable car
Getting into the moving cable-car was (more than) a little scary and when the doors closed I have to admit I was extremely nervous, ok, I was having a slight panic attack which I think I hid very well, especially because Ron was having one of his own.
Do you think he's enjoying himself?
Look at me hiding my panic attack
It is a long ride, much longer than the one I remembered in Israel or in Gibraltar, and as we took the round trip without leaving the cable car it looked like it took forever.
The good news - nobody threw up, the view is amazing and I took about a million photos, and it was a lot less bumpier than I thought. Oh, and it didn't fall.
The view
And that is how we got to crash an airplane, not fall from a bubble in the sky and learn a valuable lesson - people with control issues and fear of height should not go on cable cars. And if they do, they shouldn't look down (trust me on that one. Down is a long way when you are up there).
But sometimes, when you find yourself asking "how the f*&^ck did I get here???" You end up doing something amazing, and what the hell, you even make some memories.

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October 13, 2014

Learning to ride a Bicycle

Days like today, when it's been raining for hours nonstop, Hidai is travelling, and the universe keeps sending me negative emails, these days are the best time to find a positive thought and hold on to it. Well, actually these are the days to get into bed with a (very) big box of chocolate (or cookies. Or cake) and turn on the TV. But seeing how Hidai is travelling and someone will have to go out in the rain and get the kids home, thinking positive thoughts will have to do for now.
Since I'm fresh out of positivity right now, I've decided to write about the big project we had this summer - We decided to teach Yon how to ride a bicycle.
Riding a bike is such a small thing, it shouldn't warrant a post I guess, but with Yon it is so much more - it is (warning! Schmaltzy comment ahead) one small proof that he could do whatever he sets his mind to. Yes, it is a small leap from riding a bike to ruling the world!
Up until now Yon has never shown any interest in being anywhere but standing firmly on ground (or at least if he is on a scooter, having someone else pull him along), and with his Ocular Albinism and Aspergers we accepted the fact that he will not be able to learn how to ride a bicycle (or a scooter, or a skateboard, etc), but his Reception teacher told us at the end of last year that he really likes the tricycles at school. It took him all year (apparently. We knew nothing about it) to master it, but he did, and he rode around the schoolyard freely.
Our first reaction, naturally, was doubt (okay, we didn't believe a word she was saying), so we politely asked her if we could get a demonstration of Yon on the tricycle, and since she is a very nice person (who also knows that we will just keep asking) she let Yon show us how wrong we were.
It was amazing, seeing him race around the playground, not hitting anything, making all the turn, stopping on the correct spot. But more than that it was amazing seeing his enjoyment.
The next week we bought him his first real bicycle - red ones with flames painted on them - and decided to teach him how to ride.
Hidai assembling the bicycle
How do you teach a child with about 40% vision to ride a bicycle? Well, you make sure there are not a lot of people around... To be honest we did it the way we taught Ron how to ride - we bought him slightly small bicycle so he will feel more secure (and so he won't have too much speed) and started him off with training-wheels and about 30 minutes of "bicycle-time" every day for 10 weeks in our communal area (that is big, flat, and doesn't have lots of people walking around).
It took him a few days to catch the whole mechanic of the thing - starting, paddling, turning and stopping - but after that he was free as a bird, riding around without a care in the world.
Yon has no sense of fear, or that he has to look where he is going, so he rides like he walks - talking nonstop and without looking anywhere near where he is going, which for the rest of the world could be a little heart-attack inducing, but for him is perfectly natural.
We did try to let him ride on the street a couple of time, but Hidai had to run next to him the whole time and ward off unsuspecting soon to be bicycle accident casualties. So we got back to communal-area riding.
After about three weeks we decided it was time to take his training wheels off, and though it may seem like it was an easy and logical decision, we were petrified, and worried, and not at all sure Yon will be able to learn how to ride a bicycle without the training wheels. Balance is not his strong suit.
I won't lie, it wasn't easy. Poor Hidai had to run with him, providing balance, for about two weeks, until Yon finally got it. I suspect some of it was due to the fact that we find it so hard to let go, and that Yon enjoyed having Hidai run after him.
Teaching Yon how to ride a bike gave us a rare insight to his vision. With Yon you'd never guess that his vision is as bad as it is. He never falls or bumps or asks about things he doesn't see well. He has managed to teach himself so many techniques of dealing with the world, that you really believe he sees everything, even when you know he doesn't. The only time we see how much he doesn't see is when we take him to the hospital. He can't fake his way through an eye-test.
Then and when he rides his bike. When we took away his training wheels, turning and going through the big metal gates we have around the building became impossible for him. He just couldn't see or even estimate how wide his turn should be or the width of the gate opening. We practiced for weeks, going through the gates in and out, turning again and again, so he should learn how to "feel" the turn.

But he did get it, and as silly as it sounds, it was one of my proudest moments as a parent seeing him ride his little red bike all on his own.

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