family fun · Jewy goodness · Travelogue

Day 798: Fourteen-hour Day

We got an early start yesterday morning. By eight a.m. we were already walking through the shuk on our way to the light rail stop. We bought some bananas and fresh pita (straight from the oven) on the way, plus some treats to share with our cousins in Tel Aviv.

The train station in Jerusalem is new, beautiful, and very, very deep. We took an escalator down to the light-filled tickets concourse. Then we all scanned our tickets and went down another—very long—escalator. And another. And then another. I lost count at some point but I think there were only three. Suffice it to say, we were extremely far down.

(Fun fact: there are blast-proof doors at the top of one set of escalators. Apparently the station was also built to act as a bomb shelter for up to five thousand people in case of emergency.)

The train ride itself was fast, smooth, and pretty comfortable. The kids got to see (for the first time) men gathering at one end of the train car, wrapped in tallit and tefillin, to daven shacharit (the morning prayers.) We emerged from the station at Tel Aviv University and hopped on the number seven bus to the Museum of the Jewish People. Luckily for our fellow passengers, it wasn’t until we got off the bus that the kids started up their chorus of “We hate museums.”

Along the way, we passed the natural history museum and stopped to enjoy an outdoor exhibit of animal caricatures. I have a feeling we might have missed some of the jokes (like the one that played on the fact that the Hebrew word for “lazy” also means “sloth” (as in the animal.) We enjoyed them nonetheless. At least, some of us enjoyed them while others sat on a bench and listened to music.

At the Museum of the Jewish People we went straight for the important stuff—coffee and croissants at the Aroma in the lobby. Then we went through all three levels of the museum, learning about Jewish identity, history, arts and culture. Sadly (for all of us, I think,) R ran out of patience and we had to skip the last—and probably best—exhibit: Jewish humour. At least we got to enjoy a video of excerpts of some of the best comedic moments in Jewish TV shows and movies before we left.

We crossed the university campus—R and E took a break to climb on the sculptures—and took a bus down to the “Namal” (port) of Tel Aviv, which has been revitalized and turned into a destination for shopping and dining. We found an enormous playground where K immediately hit the swings and everyone else had fun on the play structure shaped like a pirate ship (including a wobbly plank for walking.)

Our cousins from Ra’anana drove down to meet us and we walked over to the beach. About an hour or so later, we were joined by another cousin who I haven’t seen since his family came to visit us in Toronto 30 years ago. His mom just happened to be visiting him yesterday, so she came along too. E played in the sand with his kids while I got all caught up with the grownups.

It was getting late; our Ra’anana cousins left in the hope of avoiding the worst rush-hour traffic. Our Tel-Aviv cousin invited us back to his place for dinner.

“Is it a long walk from here?” R wanted to know.

“I’m guessing—from the facts that his three-year-old twins can do it and that they’re barefoot—that it’s only a few blocks at the most.” I told her.

I was right. We hung out, ate pizza and salad and homemade tehina, and indulged in the baked goodies we’d brought from Jerusalem. And then it was 8:00 p.m., and it was time to go.

On the bus heading to the train station we saw a young girl with a Rubik’s Cube. “See?” I nudged K. “You guys aren’t the only ones who take your cubes everywhere.” Soon K, R, and this girl were comparing cubes and chatting about strategy.

I noticed two things on the train ride back to Jerusalem: First, that an absurd number of single travellers take up an entire set of four seats, making it hard for a family to sit together; and second, that the bathrooms on the Rakevet Yisrael trains are clean, well-stocked with paper and soap, and bigger than airplane bathrooms.

We finally got home just after 10 p.m.—a fourteen-hour day. The kids went straight to bed; I hung out the wet bathing suits and towels, updated the blog, and fell into bed, sea-salty skin and all.

blogging · family fun · Travelogue

Day 797: Low Battery

We had a great day in Tel Aviv; I’ll gladly tell you all about it tomorrow, because we just got home and we’re all exhausted. To top it all off, my laptop battery is at 5%.

Speaking of batteries, my iPhone battery was being drained remarkably quickly today. K seems to think it has something to do with the latest OS update. All I know is that it went from 77% to 59% in about five minutes. That just isn’t right!

Will update you and share pics from yesterday… tomorrow. Let’s hope this thing posts before my computer dies.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Unschooling · what's cookin'

Day 796: Quiet day at home?

Today was just a regular old school day—don’t all regular school days start with a trip to the shuk for provisions?

We started with journaling. Notably, nobody complained about having to do it. They all sat down with their notebooks and started bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely getting easier for them.

Next up: music. I taught them a song about Jerusalem; that’s not to say that they learned it. K sang along but nobody else did, so I’ll probably be teaching them the same song on Thursday.

K playing her viola out on the porch.

Everyone was supposed to find a space and practice their instrument. K got right to work setting up her music stand and tuning her viola; N took the roll-up keyboard to his room with the songbook we’d brought along. R and E, however, engaged in all sorts of avoidance—flopping on the couch while moaning, needing a drink, needing a bathroom. Mr. December started to get fed up with them. I corralled the two girls and took them downstairs with me. It took all my patience and then some, but eventually R agreed to learn the F chord. Then it was E’s turn with me—she started to learn the chorus to Sweet Caroline. And when I say “started to learn,” I mean “played the first four notes repeatedly.” Guess what earworm I had all afternoon?

While Mr. December taught the kids, I did laundry. I had to hit the supermarket first, though, because someone (I’m not naming names) scratched their mosquito bites and bled on the bed sheets (it happened in Costa Rica too,) and I needed something to get the stains out. So that was my afternoon: soaking, scrubbing, and hanging to dry.

Bird's eye view of a bowl of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with crumbled feta, a wedge of pita with za'atar, and a cup of coffee.

Two kids refused to go to the park after school; I informed them that if they stayed home there would be no screen time and they would be cleaning up the kitchen. They were unmoved. I was starting to despair of them actually doing any cleaning when R finally heaved herself off the couch and loaded the dishwasher. In the meantime, I sat on the patio and enjoyed an Israeli salad with sheep’s milk feta, a pita with za’atar, and some hummus. Have I mentioned how much I love the food here?

Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 795: In the Old City

The morning after is always hard.

Yesterday’s ramparts walk along the north side of the old city of Jerusalem was physically demanding; even after soaking in Epsom salts, most of us were exhausted and sore last night. It was only with a narrow margin (one vote) that we decided to go back to the old city.

(Lest you believe this was an instagram-worthy moment, I’ll assure you that we only left the house after 30 minutes of crying, some yelling, and more than a few sighs. That’s just how this family rolls.)

On the way to the train we bought croissants, challah buns, and a bunch of bananas for breakfast. The light rail train dropped us off by the Jaffa gate, and we immediately headed for the ramparts walk, south section.

Bad news: even though the rampart walk tickets are valid for two consecutive days, the tickets we bought yesterday were stamped with Saturday’s date. The ticket-taker didn’t want to let us in. After we argued for a while, he reluctantly punched our tickets and allowed us to pass, saying “It’s illegal, you know.” Thus admonished, we set out.

We took a break halfway along the wall to sit and sketch for a while. Here’s mine:

pencil sketch of a minaret, a church steeple, three flags (two Israeli, one unidentified) and various stone walls.

After we descended from the ramparts we wandered through the Jewish quarter for a while. Mr. December showed off his bargaining skills, bringing the (overinflated) price of a whole lot of stuff from 1050 shekels to five hundred. He didn’t even compromise. He said, “Five hundred.” and the guy looked at him and said, “Maybe 750?” and Mr. December said, “Five hundred.” It went back and forth like that until the guy decided he wanted the sale, and accepted five hundred shekels.

We saw a multimedia presentation about the Burnt House, a remnant of the destruction of the Second Temple (63 CE.) We ate lunch (I’ve been here for two weeks and that was my first falafel. Worth waiting for, by the way.) Then we walked back down to the Kotel and sat down to write notes. It took a bit of coaching for the kids to think of something not completely shallow (“please make Abba buy us candy,”) but in the end everyone had a note or two to put into the wall.

By then, it was time to go. Mr. December went off to a meeting he had with the International Free Loan people. The kids and I boarded the number 1 bus (super crowded and super slow—next time we walk back to the Jaffa gate and take the train) to go home. And once we got there, we all collapsed.

Stay tuned for tomorrow: a normal, possibly boring, school day at home, with a chance of a foray into the shuk.

Guest Posts · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 794: All Along the Watchtowers (Guest Post by Mr. December)

Sunday – Yom Rishon (The First Day) – is not a weekend in Israel. And when in Rome, get yelled at by the kids a lot. But eventually we did some math, watched Bill Gates shill for Apple Computers (in 1984), and Mark Rober pranking scammers in India. Then after an hour in the park, we were treated to more whining about going to the Kotel. R’s friend wanted her to put a note into the wall (as did our dentist) which really motivated her to go.

Finally, we managed to go the big event: The Kotel. Act I: Forgetting N’s kippa and going back to the house before realizing it was in the bag already. Act II: Forgetting sunscreen and going back to the house to get it. Act III: Actually getting on the train up to the Jaffa Gate. We bought our rampart tickets and decided to go clockwise on top of the old city wall, around the Christian quarter and the Muslim one. Plan was to circle back around to the Jewish quarter, but nope, didn’t do my research: the rampart walk ends suddenly on the far side of the city.

The old city is very safe, but nevertheless I took off my kippa and I noticed Sara was carefully speaking English. First we went east, to an entrance to the Temple Mount, but we weren’t allowed up (Muslims only) by a polite soldier in broken English, who was very pleased when we switched to Hebrew. “I’m not sure exactly where you should go, take care of yourselves” was the advice we got. But we knew where to go and took the long stroll west and then south through the Arab market.

Since R was having a hard time being in a strange place, I wasn’t allowed to shop or buy anything, so at least I saved a few hundred bucks. Sof-sof (finally) we arrived at the security gate for the Kotel. S and R took a rest on some nearby steps, and the rest of us went back into the Arab market and purchased some excellent food that was a bit cheaper than everywhere else. First the shopkeeper didn’t return my change, then returned 20 Shekels too little, but after some discussion we got it right. N loved his fresh orange juice: “Just like eating a fruit but I don’t have to do any work like peeling or chewing”.

Rested and fed, we changed into our Kotel clothes and entered the plaza. The Kotel is divided by sex, so I took N to the men’s part where we prayed and I laid Tefillin (particular Jewish prayer ritual that I rarely do). The girls went to their side, deposited their notes, and came back noticeably happier. Should we return tomorrow to see the other side of the walls (included in our first tickets)? Maybe go to the museums and explore the Jewish quarter? I’ve got a meeting at 1:30 in Talpiot (another neighbourhood of Jerusalem) to meet with the microfinance organization I volunteer with (Ogen), so we’ll have to get there bright and early. But this means no formal school, so at least the kids will be happy.

Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue

Day 793: Different

“Can we go to the park tomorrow morning?” K asked.

“Nope,” Mr. December said. “Tomorrow’s a school day.”

“But it’s Sunday!” K protested.

“And this is Israel,” I said. “Sunday is a weekday. The first weekday, actually. That’s why it’s called Yom Rishon*.”


Yom Rishon – The Hebrew word for Sunday (literally, “first day.”)


Some things in Israel are very different from what the kids are used to (I’ve spent enough time here over the years to be used to it already.) The earlier and shorter weekend is one of those things. Synagogue is another.

Most synagogues here are Orthodox, meaning (among other things) that men and women are seated separately. Sometimes the mechitza (divider) is done in a way that allows everyone an equally good view of what’s going on; other times, not so much.

We took the kids to shul last night. I had researched which shuls were near us, and found one just down our alleyway that has a Carlebach minyan. My memories of Carlebach services past (also Orthodox, with separate seating) are of lots of singing, some dancing, and an almost transcendent experience. I assured the kids that it would be great.

It wasn’t great. For Mr. December and N, it was okay. For R and K it was alienating. The mechitza made it nearly impossible to see anything or anyone (I know that’s the point, but still, it’s disconcerting to be sitting facing a veritable wall.) Far worse was the fact that none of the women were singing. None. I was tempted to lift my voice and sing, but reminded myself that it’s not my house, so to speak, and I’d better respect the congregation’s custom.

As R pointed out, watching other people have fun isn’t much fun at all.

(To be fair, “fun” isn’t one of the stated goals of the prayer service. But maybe it is—aren’t we supposed to greet Shabbat joyfully?)

Ultimately, my girls’ first experience of religion in Israel was that of being second-class citizens; They felt uninvolved and unwelcome. That’s not what I wanted for them. Next week—if we can drag them out of the house—we’ll either hit a partnership minyan (Orthodox, but men’s and women’s sections are equally positioned, and both men and women lead the service) or the Reform synagogue in town.

And if that fails, I guess we’ll have to daven at Mr. December’s favourite synagogue, Shaarei Sheinah*


*Shaarei Sheinah means “The Gates of Sleep.”
(It’s a joke about sleeping in, for those who didn’t get that.)

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 792: Are we ready for Shabbat?

Let’s see…

We did the laundry.

We went to the shuk. So did everyone else in Jerusalem. Pretty much everything is closed now and will stay that way through tomorrow, so we stocked up today… and so did everyone else in Jerusalem. R and E helped me schlep it all home. I never get tired of having every single shopkeeper wish us Shabbat shalom.

R and E standing on a sidewalk, each holding several heavy plastic shopping bags. The shuk is in the background.

Food is almost ready—except for reheating. I bought chicken, potatoes, and kugel in the shuk. I’ve made an Israeli salad, and there are slices of eggplant waiting to be fried. For dessert we brought home some goodies from Marzipan, which makes the best rogelach anywhere—hands down.

We bought flowers. The girls chose hot pink roses. Not exactly my favourite, but it was their task and their choice.

We (finally) found the Shabbat stuff in this house. I went into the living room cupboards and found Shabbat and havdalah candles, kippot, and a white Shabbat tablecloth.


UPDATE: Finding all the Shabbat stuff didn’t help. Want to know why?

First, let’s talk candles. I had the Shabbat candles that go in the little glass cups; this was fine, because I could see two sets of candle holders (with said glass cups) on a shelf in a glass-door cabinet. There was only one problem: the cabinet was locked.

“Okay, time for plan B,” I said. “We’ll use tealights instead.” I got some tealights out of a different cupboard and set them on a little dish. Then I went and got the lighter I’d seen in the cabinet.

“Time to light candles!” I sang out. The children gathered round. I pushed the button on the lighter, and… nothing. The lighter was out of fluid.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered. Adding insult to injury, there was not a single match in the entire house.

Mr. December went out to see if he could borrow some matches from a neighbour. He came back with a lighter, borrowed from a few hippie-ish smokers who were hanging out in the square next to our house (we returned the lighter, and now I’m wondering how we’re planning to light the Havdalah candle.) I had foolishly assumed that a kosher house in Jerusalem that has such things as a warming plate and hot water urn for Shabbat would also have matches or a working lighter for Shabbat candles. I was wrong. How many times do I have to be stuck without a light before I just start traveling with matches everywhere we go?

Anyhow, we had a lovely Shabbat dinner, and a fabulously decadent dessert. In between the two we went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at a synagogue that’s housed in a former public bomb shelter—but that’s a story that deserves its own post.

Shabbat shalom!

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 791: Museum Guy

“We’re going to the museum this afternoon,” I announced yesterday at breakfast.

The reaction was immediate:
“No!”
“Museums are boring!”
“I hate museums!”
And then: “I’m not going.”

“We’re all going.” I said firmly. “This is a homeschool field trip, thus it’s not optional.”

I was ready for resistance, and I arranged to have a secret weapon this time: The Museum Guy. He’s an educator with a passion for getting people excited about museums, history, and archaeology. I found him through a website called Fun in Jerusalem (they were advertising one of his group tours, which was only for teens and adults) and contacted him about a private tour for our family.

I was nervous about the tour: what if his skill as a guide and teacher and storyteller was grossly exaggerated? What if the kids were still bored?

But the moment he arrived, Nachliel won over the kids by pulling a rubber ducky (a Roman centurion rubber ducky, to be precise) from his bag (when he heard about K’s ducky obsession he pulled out two more.) Then he endeared himself to me and Mr. December by opening with a line from Monty Python: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Nachliel spent over two hours engaging with the kids, explaining Lag B’omer (which was today) and Shavuot (which is in two weeks or so) and dozens of other things, some of which I didn’t know. He covered the Bar Kochba revolt, setting the kids up nicely for when they go to see Masada (not sure when, but we’re planning on it.) By the end the kids were flagging a little, from the sheer amount of information and all the standing (I think) but they had a fantastic time.

N, whose highest praise up until now has been, “It was almost fun,” told me that “The museum trip was GREAT!” (said with a big smile and wide eyes.)

All of the kids loved Nachliel. And when I asked them if we should book him again for a different museum, the response was a unanimous, “YES!”

“But,” E told me, “ask him to bring more duckies next time.”

I think that’s a ducking good idea. Don’t you?

Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 790: What happened to the shuk?

Our house in Jerusalem is very close to the shuk; Mr. December and I went to walk around yesterday and get our bearings. But what we saw wasn’t the shuk I remembered.

My memories of the Machane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem are of a bazaar-style market with tiny hole-in-the-wall shops for everything you could imagine. It was loud (what with all the shopkeepers hawking their wares) and definitely not fancy, or attractive, or particularly modern.

At least half the stalls and shops—fish vendors, spice merchants, fruit and vegetable stands—have been replaced by gastropubs, gourmet coffee shops, craft breweries, artisan bakeries, and juice bars, all of which have sleek new signage and a laid-back vibe.

“What the…?” I said, dumbfounded, my head swiveling from side to side. “When did hipsters take over the shuk?”

There are still plenty of stalls selling produce, nuts, spices, and meat, but the vibe has changed from “buy and get out” to “buy and hang out.” That said, it’s still an experience. Mr. December got majorly upsold by a purveyor of fancy fruit-based teas, and he’s still not sure exactly how it happened (if we bring you tea as a souvenir from Israel, try to look surprised.)

So it’s not the same shuk that I remember. It’s still a fabulous place to buy food. I bought a kilo and a quarter of strawberries for under ten dollars Canadian and they’re sweeter and juicier than any strawberries you can buy in the supermarket back home (even the super-expensive and tasty ones.) The tomatoes are gorgeous. I bought more than a kilo of cherry tomatoes yesterday before dinner, and today there are only a few left. Good thing Mr. December brought home another kilo tonight.

Photo of a pomegranate, a box of strawberries, and a  box of cherry tomatoes.
family fun · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 789: This park is epic!

For our first day in Jerusalem, we headed to Sacher Park. It’s not far from our house—7 minutes’ walk—and there was a cafe there that looked good for breakfast. The hostess gave each kid a little magazine that unfolded into a board game with punch-out dice and game pieces. It was a very happy table while we waited for our food—which, when it came, was excellent.

Then we went to the playground.

Photo of a sprawling playground with numerous sail-like shades suspended from poles. A very tall climbing tower can be seen above the shades. The rest of the apparatus are hard to see.
Yup, that’s the playground.

I knew that it was huge and new, and other people have said that it’s awesome, but I don’t think I truly understood the scale of this playground. It is EPIC.

The tallest climbing tower is 16 metres high—which meant very little to me until I remembered that our 3-storey house is just under 11 metres. The slides are really long and fast, and the playground has more different kinds of equipment than I’ve ever seen in one place. N loved the little kids climber that looks like a lion; K said that the swings, which were anchored 20 feet in the air, were fun; everyone loved what E called the “worm swing” and the zipline.

Three hours after we arrived, we had to drag four reluctant children out of the park with promises that “We live right here—we can come every day if you want!”

I’m pretty sure they’re going to hold us to it.