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visiting israel’s holy cities of jerusalem and bethlehem

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By houseofanais · January 24, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

jerusalem

What is a trip to Israel without visiting the most famous cities in the country – Jerusalem and Bethlehem! I had clearly not done all my homework well as i didn’t realise that Jerusalem is a home for a million people and that Israelis consider this city to be their real capital, rather than Tel Aviv (more on Jerusalem later on, when I have hopefully manage to retrieve my lost photos from the backup server in the cyberspace). Jerusalem is also one of the oldest cities in the world.

The first stop of the tour was the Mount of Olives (and yes, there are still some olive trees there, but the key point of coming here is the view of old Jerusalem) and you can easily see the main churches and the wall surrounding the old town – very impressive indeed!
Old Jerusalem is well protected by tall walls


Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus in turn is rather a small town, but hard to access due to its location inside the West Bank (i.e. the Palestinian Territories). It is also a bit scary having to go through all that security, walk the long zig-zagging corridors and change to a “local” bus, driver and guide as our Jewish driver wasn’t actually allowed to enter there.

Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, still decked in Christmas decor

I took a combined day tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and whereas I was happy with what I saw, I would have liked to visit more places and walk more up and down those narrow cobbled streets and alleys and along the old city wall. Therefore, if you are more of an explorer by nature also I’d recommend taking independently a day trip rather than a guided tour.
BethlehemThe place to visit in Bethlehem of course if the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. This is the oldest continuously operating church and at the same time it’s three churches in one: a very decorative Greek Orthodox one in the middle and Catholic and Armenian on the sides. You need to queue to enter the underground Grotto of the Nativity, where a 14-pointed silver star marks the point where Jesus in believed to have been born.


Bethlehem

It sort of feels like time runs slower in Bethlehem, no rush anywhere. As the number of tourists is relatively low, you’ll will get lot of offers from the street vendors – if you are in the mood for a nice souvenir or this is a good place to go for a it. Do negotiate well and you can get a lovely decorative  back bag for around £1 (2 USD or so)!

Tourists groups often get taken to a local shop where they sell beautiful nativities made out of olive wood among other things. Those masterpieces don’t come cheap, though, but they are pretty and the store can ship larger items for you so it’s convenient.
Lunch at a beautifully restored monastery

After Bethlehem we stopped for lunch at an old monastery. The food was pretty good but clearly priced for tourist – plus they only took cash there. Luckily we had some good samaritans who gave me money so I didn’t have t starve. Be beware that it’s not easy to find a cash machine in Old Jerusalem!

Jerusalem itself fulfilled all my hopes, I only wish I had had more time there. We covered all the key sights from theWailing Wall to the narrow cobbled streets of the four quarters of the town (JewishMuslimChristian and Armenian),stations of Via Dolorosa to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can feel the history seeping through the stone walls – Jerusalem is an amazing place to visit, and no wonder it also an Unesco World Heritage site.  Hopefully I get to share more from Jerusalem with you soon!

You can see below more of my Instagram photos from this trip to Israel. Enjoy!

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random acts of kindness

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By houseofanais · January 19, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

In my recent trip to Israel I came across a little problem:  I had run out of most of my cash during the a day trip to Bethlehem and Jerusalem when touring with a group and we had stopped for lunch in a monastery that only took cash. Pretty much every place outside the street vendors I had encountered took cards, so I was a bit surprised about it.

I thought I was going to have to skip the lunch, when a lovely American lady, Diana, stepped in and offered me the money, which was 100 shekels (30USD/18 GBP). I was so taken by this act of kindness. I said I would get money from the nearest cash machine, but we didn’t find a single one in the old town of Jerusalem (although I imagine that there are a few somewhere) and she just asked me to pass that act of kindness on to the next person in need.

I’ll certainly do that, but Diana, I am also sending you the money back along with this lovely fairy card with a thank you note from me …and my kids, who were happy that someone gave their mommy food when she was hungry.

So thank you once again Diana – you are such a kind person!

Now I would love to hear your story – whether you have received unexpected help or been able to help someone that you didn’t know – what is your latest story of random act of kindness.

Filed in: Inspiration
Tagged with: random acts, kindness, thanks

the year of decluttering and organizing at home

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By houseofanais · January 13, 2014 · 0 Comments ·

One would think that after having moved more than 30 times in my life I would have very little stuff and clutter. That probably was the case before the kids era, but somehow with five in the house things just keep accumulating - and I keep trying to find ways to de-clutter and organize them: there is nothing worse that knowing that you need something and that you have it, but you just can't find it when you urgently need it!

I've been looking into organizing and interior trends for this year, and lots of them really are about decluttering, organizing and making the space flow and work for your needs. They are about accommodating family needs (such as trading the dining room for a play area or media room) and making life easier to manage.

At the same time these are timeless trends, and been ongoing for a few years ago, and many of the things I've been trying to achieve in my house this past year. This is what I find to be the best and most useful advice on getting a house to become a functional home:

1. Getting pretty yet functional storage furniture
Pretty functional storage

A big trend for 2014 is to add some pretty, yet functional storage furniture in the house. I've categorically added storage to every room in our house. I like console tables, and I love this contemporary, bold-coloured console table, which at the same time prevents that typical little clutter build-up: there is space for hair brushes and accessories, sunglasses, keys, maps... you name it. All those little essentials you like you grab on the way out but don't want to look at all the time.

For small spaces great multi-functional storage ideas include storage benches and poufs, under the bed storage and over the door hanging storage.

2. Thinking storage in terms of vertical layers
Custom storage

Layers can be a life-saver especially if you are lacking space. Our youngest daughter wanted a bunk-bed but I was a bit worried about the height, so we agreed on a mid-sleeper which has plenty of storage and a cave-like space for playing underneath it. Needless to say that Miss C. absolutely loves playing in that hidden area.

Additionally her room was the smallest bedroom in the house and had to closet for clothes, so I designed a multi-functional storage-bench until for her, with some additional shelf space above the seating area for her toys. This was a custom-made job. I was going to resort to Ikea first, but I couldn't find anything suitable and sturdy enough so I turned into a local carpenter. This is obviously not as cheap as Ikea, but nor was it hideously expensive - and we got exactly what we wanted. Using a carpenter is definitely something one should considered - you'll get unique, perfectly fitting pieces made of good-quality materials.

Get a large family chalk board calendar in the kitchen. We use a different colourful chalk pen for each child so hobbies etc can be marked easily. I add pretty much everything to the calendar from doctor's appointments to recycling dates - and I use the memo area for shopping lists and to-do items. This is a wall decal from Etsy, and therefore it's rather easy to put on, and take off too.

3. Be creative with odd spaces & create space for hobbies
Custom hobby space

Do you have any odd-shaped areas in the house? If you live in an old house or just about in any English house are you are likely to have odd nooks, corners and low-hanging areas. Think how you could utilise them. We had a hallway, that was wider than a normal one, but not quite wide enough to make it a reading area with a sofa or something, so we decided to create an art/computer area.

This was simply created with custom worktop from Ikea and standard kitchen drawer units, which have already been filled with art and crafts supplies. On a rainy day you are likely to find 3-4 members of the family hanging around here.

4. Hiding those cables and wall-mounting your media
wall mounted media and tidy cables

Cited as one of the hot-ticket items for this year is tiding the cables away and we have happily joined in with the trend: wall-mounting the TV will avoid some dust piles on the console table/tv stand, but also frees up space. And if you have little kids they are less likely to tip over the telly, or whack it with a bat like happened in our house last year. We still got some cables, but at least they are all now hiding behind the red storage units: out of sight, out of might works well here...

And let's touch another home design trend here also: open spaces and combined kitchen and living room area: finally someone has realised that no-ones uses the stuffy dining room (we use it as a play room) and that most people like to (or have to) hang out a lot in the kitchen, and the experience is finally becoming more social by combining it with a dining area, a living room - or in our case both. Just make sure that you have a good extractor fan if you opt out for the open living plan option...

5. Hiding appliances with roll top cabinets in kitchen (and elsewhere)
Roll top cabinet

My kitchen is way big, but the designer didn't do such a great job with the layout, so I am trying to improve a bit. The central island aside I actually had very little countertop space, and once I had set my toaster, coffee grinder, tea kettle and few other items on it there was no space for cooking, drying dishes or any other task left.

My solution? remove the cute glass-fronted cabinet and replace it with a roll top one, where all the appliances I use often are housed. I also added two double-sockets here, so I don't need to move the appliances elsewhere when I want to use them. This is proven to be one hit solution of the season also. And the same principle applies for a little home-office that you want to hide most of the time too.

Metallic roll top cabinet also gives a more modern and contemporary look for the room if you looking to change it. To start with my kitchen had a bit more of a countryside feel with its hand-painted cream cabinets, so adding a coat of bold paint and changing the glass cabinet to modern roll top one changed the mood of the room a lot.

6. Filling those odd spaces with concealed storage
Concealed storage

The space under the stairs - not too many uses for such a shallow space - but for storage it's perfect: hidden, yet so accessible. I have one shelf unit for shoes, hats and other accessories, a larger open area for sports equipments and more shelves on the other side of the stairs next to the main entrance door. Works well with kids especially!

7. Adding open shoe storage by the entrance
Crate for shoes

I have now shoe storage built under the stairs but I still like to use this old French wooden crate for quick shoe storage by the door. Mainly its for larger shoes such as winter boots and wellies - but also all wet and very dirty shoes go here before I clean or dry them elsewhere. As I find this crate so cute to look at I don't mind having it out there in the open.

8. Creating a home calendar that everyone notices and keeping it up to date
Chalk board calendar

Get a large family chalk board calendar in the kitchen. We use a different colourful chalk pen for each child so hobbies etc can be marked easily. I add pretty much everything to the calendar from doctor's appointments to recycling dates - and I use the memo area for shopping lists and to-do items. This is a wall decal from Etsy, and therefore it's rather easy to put on, and take off too.

9. Displaying the latest kids art gallery style (as the fridge just isn't big enough for it all)


Art frame

I love these art frames - they have an open slot on the side so it's quick to change the items on display. We have an art corner in the entrance hall where we change weekly the art on display as the kids keep creating a lot. After a week the old ones gets stored away or hung in kids own rooms.

10. Adding little memo boards for the kids rooms for those must-keep items


Pin boards

My kids drive me crazy sometimes with their little notes, invites, thank you cards, ticket stubs and what nots they want to keep. I have tried offering a box to store them and few other options, but somehow they were still always laying on tables or getting lost. So everyone has gotten their own little pin boards where to place their treasures. And once it's full, it's probably time to get some stuff go in order to make space for new ones.

I love this idea for a couple of reasons: it teaches them to decide what to keep and what to bin instead of just hoarding everything. it also helps to shift the blame away from for chucking their treasures away when they were lying all over the place: I've promised not to touch anything on their boards. Learning responsibility and order, what a lovely combination!

While we are taking about responsibility the children are also asked to make sure that they bring book bags to school. I've added a little peg next to the front door where we always hang the bag - an hopefully remember to grab them to school. Doesn't always happen: last week we arrived at school with the twins holding a toy and no book bag. An apology to teacher and the lessons was learned - at least for a while....

storage cubes for playroom
Remember this playroom storage solution on the right side of the room? I created it some three years ago in Calfiornia when the playroom was just a corner in the kitchen and we didn't have much space. The system works really well (named baskets for cars, train tracks, doll stuff, puzzles, you name it) still so why break it!

Now I'd love to hear about your top tips for de-cluttering and keeping the household running. What is the next project you are going to tackle? Mine is the garage: I have just ordered some extra-sturdy and wide shelving units, and I plan to revisit and label all my clear plastic storage crates so that the rest of the family can also find things and don't have to rely on my memory only...

MY TOP TIP for organizing: Get enough crates and boxes in different sizes so that you can sort and categorize your things. Mark all the boxes clearly, maybe even number them and write the key contents down - this will save you time when you need look for a particular item, and possibly money too: it's easy to forget what you own with items that are not needed often (but still seasonally needed) or just go and buy a new one when one gets frustrated and gives up the search of that particular thing...

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