Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Wink From The 2017 Solar Eclipse

View from my balcony - no eclipse this time :~(
I was in London on August 11th 1999 when the last total solar eclipse visible from the UK occurred. My parents and I got in the car and drove up to Harrow Weald Common from where you get a view of the whole of London lying flat out before you. 

We had our pinhole camera thingies which my Dad had made by following instructions in the newspaper. You stood with your back to the sun, held up the card with the pinhole and saw the image of the waning sun projected onto another card held in front of you (being careful not to eclipse the pinhole with your head obviously). We had all heard the warnings and we were all being sensible and not looking at the sun. I have to say that I caught my Mum peeking and she didn't go blind so who knows. However, I won't take her next time as she cannot be trusted in eclipse conditions.

Obviously we weren't the only people who came to the common. The car park filled up and then people parked in the driveways and when they filled up, they parked down the road - a narrow country road with no pavements and absolutely no parking allowed. But on this day nobody cared. 

Office staff came with hampers of champagne and posh lunch. This was very funny as the whole thing lasted only 2 minutes so that was 12 minutes if you count 5 minutes waiting time either side of the eclipse. And there was no possibility of having a post-eclipse picnic for the rest of your lunch hour as the whole parking thing relied on everyone leaving straight after the eclipse or cars would be blocked in. 

It definitely added to the event by enjoying the atmosphere of everyone coming together. There was a camaraderie among strangers which I know to be true because we all sat in our cars for up to 20 minutes afterwards allowing the gridlocked car park to slowly empty out, last in first out. We were all relaxed like we were saying good bye to friends. Silly really, but that's how it actually was. 

There was also a bit of the end of the millennium anticipation come six months early. Was this the beginning of the end? It really did go eerily quiet as the birds were silent, and obviously the road was silent, and the people were silent with awe and wonder and suspense. 

So I was a little disappointed to find out that the much publicized eclipse of two days ago was only going to be visible in North America as a total eclipse. Parts of Northern and Western Europe would see a partial eclipse but the Middle East - zilch. So I forgot about it and got on with doing nothing which is what we do in August. 

Suddenly the light dimmed like when one lightbulb on a five-bulb chandelier goes but you still have the other four. I knew immediately what it was. It was a wink from the solar eclipse telling me, "not to worry love, there'll be another one - an annular solar eclipse - in your part of the world on December 26th 2019." 

"In an annular solar eclipse, the moon is too far from the Earth to block out the entire sun, leaving the sun peeking out over the moon's disk in a ring of fire." NASA

I can't wait.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Essential Emergency Fund And More Decluttering - R2BC

Some minimalizing progress and some less good events that, with a bit of Pollyanna attitude, I can turn around to be a R2BC. I'm joining the R2BC linky over with Becky on Lakes Single Mum.

Decluttering Books

I wrote the other day about sorting out all my books and letting go of my academic dreams. In addition to all the academic books, I got rid of 20 year old guidebooks to various cities around the world, children's books that DD has grown out of and which we didn't love, various out-of-date reference books, and a few novels that I'm never going to read. About 100 books in all.

In addition to the books in the photo which are all being given away, donated, or possibly sold; there were also a pile of magazines and the city guides that went straight in the bin.

That seems incredible as I sort and donate books every year for the Yedidya Bazaar in March. Only two years ago I got rid of 200 books (although that was the first cull in about 25 years). I think it's a process and some books it takes you longer to realize and come to terms with the fact that you don't need them anymore.

Empty Furniture

I decluttered a whole chest of drawers out of its usefulness and sold it on facebook. The guy who bought it also took an old armchair down for me and put it by the bins. Within half an hour I saw a man stop and load it into his car.

I also have one empty bookcase but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet.

Gone to a better home in the back of a passing car

Not So Wonderful

I had a blocked sink so I had to get the plumber in. It cost not a trivial amount of money. On the other hand, he changed the crappy IKEA drain set-up underneath to a much more efficient arrangement that goes straight into the wall without the long, narrow pipe, which is the part that gets blocked.

I swallowed that cost and moved on. However, I was then alerted by a neighbour that my solar heated water boiler on the roof was leaking big time. Having established that the tank that was falling apart was indeed mine, I needed to get it fixed. I bought this apartment 16 years ago and inherited all the equipment on the roof. I've never had to fix or replace any of it, so it was time.

Yesterday they came with a new boiler, two new solar panels, and a new stand as the old one was rusted through. All new. All fully guaranteed for 5 years. All costing an absolute fortune. But I chose the best and not the cheapest in the hope that I won't be dealing with this again for another 20 years.

Emergency Fund

This is when you fully understand how important it is to have an emergency fund. And how important it is not to dip into it for months that are a bit tight or if you want to treat yourself. It's not for an impulsive holiday, a new sofa, or even the new fridge which I had to buy only a few months ago and which could be put on 12 monthly payments without added interest.

The new solar boiler had to be fixed asap as water was dripping into my upstairs neighbour's apartment. And I had to pay all of it up front. Luckily I have been paying small monthly amounts into an emergency fund all year.

Usually I need to use some of it to get us through the summer as I don't get paid for teaching my summer courses until the end of September and I don't get paid an August salary for teaching in school. I was getting excited because we didn't go away this summer and various tax rebates came in so I thought I was going to get through the whole summer without touching the fund. I had dreams of rolling it over for another year. Man dreams and God laughs.

It still makes things very tight for September as the emergency fund won't cover the full amount of the waterworks. But it makes it doable instead of impossible. So we'll do it and be cheerful about having the foresight to save for emergencies.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Teacher Drawings And Real Art

DD had a good week. Friends came over, she went to a movie, she went to the pool, we went to a birthday party, we bought her school supplies and then this happened:

I found it as I was decluttering my books, bought in 1985 as a newly qualified teacher. My students often tell me what a good artist I am but I know it's just 'teacher drawing'. It's not hard to learn simple line drawings to illustrate your lessons on the whiteboard. There's no shading or detail involved or even much perspective. Anyone can learn to do teacher drawings.

I gave the book to DD as she loves drawing. She has spent hours drawing detailed landscapes and roomscapes full of animals, plants, furniture, and people. Here are just a few of her creations:

 I think there is a definite point when teacher drawing becomes art. Don't you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Letting Go Of My PhD

Have you ever wondered why people talk about 'my degree', 'my M.A.', or 'my PhD.', when they haven't even got it yet, or even not 'yet'? It's like everyone has a Ph.D. by the mere fact of thinking about it, it's just a matter of whether you've actually done it or not.

I got my B.Ed. at the usual time after A'Levels and a gap year. I went back to do my M.A. in my 30s which was almost 20 years ago now. At that time I remember saying, "if I ever start talking about doing a Ph.D. please shoot me." It's a bit like childbirth. After a while you forget about the trauma and start to think about diving into academia again. And exactly like pregnancy and childbirth, it's not the doing of it that one yearns for, it's the having it at the end.

I was never a good student at school. I could have been but I didn't have the sitzfleisch to actually do all the studying required. At college I did ok, but only ok because I didn't get what they were looking for in an academic essay. When I did my M.A. the tutor explained it to me and after that I did really well. Why hadn't anyone ever explained it to me before? Why hadn't I thought to ask? What I learned from that experience was that anyone can do a Ph.D., you just have to find a subject that you're sufficiently passionate about to devote up to five years of your life to it.

I never found that passion although I did rather like the idea of being Dr Rachel Selby, or Rachel Selby Ph.D. So I coddled the dream in the back of my mind and bought a 'how to' book but essentially, I did nothing about it because having an M.A. was enough at my level of academic career. And then it wasn't. Suddenly the colleges only want to hire teachers with Ph.D.s and Head of Department is out of the question.

So I looked into starting a Ph.D. last year. My mother even offered to help pay for the tuition (it's much cheaper to do it in Israel than in the UK). However, the problem is not the cost of the tuition, it's the cost of the time you won't be able to work, the babysitters you'll need for late afternoon/evening courses, and the quality time you won't be spending with your child. Added to this, I'd be nearly 60 by the time I finished. I saw the amount of work involved and scared myself out of the whole idea.

It was too late for a Ph.D. for me. If I'm going to spend that amount of time on a project, it needs to be something lucrative. Why not just write that novel, not have to pay for the privilege of writing it and not have supervisors telling you what to write? And no costly books to buy or find online in order to read everyone else's research before you start - you make it all up. Ha! Why not indeed?

There are five more photos like this - 30 books in total!
Meanwhile my decluttering went up a notch yesterday as I tackled the books. More about that later but suffice to say, I let go all of most of those academic books about linguistics and education. I even let go the 'How to do a Ph.D.' book. I've read it after all so what do I need it for? LOL.

They are all up on the local facebook 'buy, sell, swap' group.

P.S. If I were to do my Ph.D. these books, which are all 20 years old, wouldn't be any use to me anyway so there was absolutely no point in keeping them. I leaned this lesson when I tried being an academic advisor to Benny Lewis for his book, Fluent in 3 Months. I got a mention in the acknowledgements nevertheless but it was all very embarrassing.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shopping In My Closet And Other Simple Pleasures - R2BC

"We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves." Francois VI Duc de la Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac (Paris, 1613 - 1680)

Can you believe that this was written almost 400 years ago? I don't need to explain it to you but if I were to comment, the words Face Book, Instagram and social media would feature heavily.

Becky on Lakes Single Mum, who's hosting the Reasons 2B Cheerful linky this month, wrote a low key post celebrating the simple joys of a summer break with no pressure and luxurious time to organize your life. I was inspired and relieved as we've done a lot of nothing this past week and I was hard pushed to know what to write about.

As Catherine from Escape with the Family (about recently moving to live in France), beautifully expressed it last month, "It was another simple day but these are the type we enjoy and we have nothing to prove and nobody to impress."

New diary and pencil case for me
New Diary
It's that time of year again when I search for the perfect diary. A whole year full of promise and hope in one little book. As an extra bonus, it starts on August 27th as that's the Sunday before September 1st. Two weeks, two days, I can hardly wait to get started. Except that I'll have to go back to work. Remember that our New Year is in September, which is very convenient for the academic year and makes a lot of sense. 

Last year I made my own diary. I had loads of fun drawing and colouring in and making my own designer pages but I abandoned it when I realised that I do in fact need to know the Hebrew dates, Shabbat beginning and ending times, and whole host of other information that's much easier to have printed for you than to copy out yourself. Not to worry, that creative activity kept me out of the fridge for a few hours.

DD already told me that she wasn't coming with me for the great diary hunt. So while she was riding her bike in the park with a friend, I found this. It's actually very similar to the diary I ended up with last year. A full year spread, each month as a one page table, and each week on a two-page spread, with room in all sorts of spaces for additional notes and lists.

New Pencil Case
My old pencil case, bought in WH Smith about 15 years ago, finally fell apart. This new one is in fact a make-up bag that came with a tote that someone gave me once. The tote is long gone but I found the make-up bag in my collection of toilet bags and small pouches that I sorted, decluttered, and partially repurposed. I believe it's called shopping in my closet. I won't be able to do this once I'm a true minimalist but meanwhile I love the surprises at no cost. Did you notice how it perfectly matches my new diary? I'm so ready for this year. 

New school bag for DD
The Spudy
Following my successful declutter and organisation of all my lotions, potions, and other bathroom and dressing table stuff, this week I tackled the spudy. So successful was this that a large chest of drawers was emptied and removed and replaced by a small three-drawer cabinet. It's a small room and the difference makes it a much more comfortable space. 

School Backpack
We found a new school backpack for DD with a matching pencil case, for 99 nis. Those of you who know about school bags in Israel will know that this is a great price as the discount stores are selling them for not less than 199 nis and the chain stores in the malls have school bags for over 200 nis only. (Israelis - the shop is Griffin on King George St, in Jerusalem, a few doors down from The Bell Center).

In the great bag reshuffle, I gave one of our two carry-on cases to my nephew to help take all his gap-year stuff back to London with instructions to throw it out on arrival as the zips were all broken and the pull out handle didn't. I've commandeered DD's school backpack from last year which I bought because it was also on sale for 99 nis but was actually far too big. This will now be our second carry-on bag (the one we don't offer to check in). Because I tend to choose red, all our luggage now matches. Very pish posh even if we're only going on Easyjet to Luton Airport. (How many of you thought of Lorraine Chase? Naaah, Lu'on Ehpawt. LOL)

Marathon Paydate
DD's friend asked if she could come over in the morning as her mum had to go to work. She came at 8.30 am and left, reluctantly, at 7.15 pm. I think you could call that a successful play date.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What's Your Special Power?

Imagine if every family had a guardian wizard who is one of the family and takes over the responsibility from one of their grandparents at age 10. That is the background to The Wishwell's Family Wizard by Maya Resnick and Noa Covo.

There are two connected stories. The first is about Mel Wishwell receiving her wizardship and the second is 50 years later when Mel's grandson, Liam, takes over as family wizard. We like books spanning generations, seeing how everyone grows up and how their lives pan out. It also gave the opportunity for a heroine and a hero in one book.

Another wizard book yes, but one with a difference. Resnick and Covo were only 11 when they wrote this novelette (107 pages) and 12 when it was published in 2015. Yes it is self-published and it could have done with some proof-reading and editing but that's not the point. For me this is the point, or the points:

1. How wonderful to have your book in print. Anyone who has had to have a university dissertation or thesis professionally bound knows that you can go to a printer and have your work made into a book. That's how I did it way back when, and now there are all sorts of online services that make it even easier.

2. The kudos is for actually writing a story of sufficient length to make it worth publishing.

3. And never mind the length, feel the quality. The story kept us reading 100 pages over four nights. DD looked forward to it every night, urging me on to read her a few more pages each time I wanted to stop.

It's a book full of humour and some of it had DD rolling all over the bed in fits of giggles. Long after we finished reading last night she kept saying, "and don't wish for Great Aunt Penny's cat to talk, to be covered in polka-dots and for it to take over the world." She even explained to me why this was so funny. "Because there are lots of general rules like 'be nice', 'don't hurt anyone', 'don't wish for more power', and then suddenly she tells this very specific rule that he probably wouldn't even have thought of doing." And then she dissolved into laughter again.

There are lots of Rowlingesque details that get revealed later in the stories. Though we know why not all of us have a family wizard - we used to but over the years wizards have lost their power and then the line is broken forever - we find that there are other families besides the Wishwells who do still have their powers. We find out about family Keepers and Relic Collectors, about the book of Wizard Traditions and the book of Family History. There is a Memory Eraser and a mysterious wishing well. I was very impressed by the writing skill involved in not revealing all the information too soon and allowing the reader new discoveries at intervals along the plot.

For me the best thing about The Wishwell's Family Wizard is the suggestion that not only the designated wizard, but all the members of the family have special powers. They just need to discover what they are and awaken them. Even DD caught on to this idea. She pondered, "I wonder what my special power is?" What indeed? And what a wonderful thought to be left with on finishing a book.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tuesday Tidbits #46 - That's Entertainment

Last night we watched Swallows and Amazons. The four children and their mother arrive for their holiday in The Lake District and as the children run off to explore, the mother calls after them, "Dinner is at 6!"

DD then started chatting about the film as is her wont during every film we watch. Even while I'm reading to her she stops me three times a page to discuss something distantly related to the story, or to tell me what she would do if she were in the book.

DD: Do they go back in time?
Me: No it's not about time travel.
DD: But do they go back in time?
Me: No, they go camping and sailing on the lake.
DD: But do they go back in time?
Me: The story is set back in time. It's in 1929. That's 88 years ago, the year before Grandpa was born.
DD: Noooooo, do they go back in time for dinner?

Another night as she was dropping off to sleep she asked, although she already knew the answer, "We're not a wizarding family are we?"
Me: No.
DD: Aww. Too bad.

Listening to Nat King Cole's L.O.V.E. and hearing the lyric: Love is more than just a game for two...
DD's response: "That's true. Supposing you have three children. You love them all, right? So love isn't just a game for two, it's a game for as many people as you've got in your family."