Monday, 22 October 2018

80 Years Old and Awesome

Some time ago a customer asked me to make an 80th birthday card for her mum. Apparently she creates pottery, plays tennis, sews, likes flowers and gardening, and often hosts her daughter and family for Shabbat dinner. She also likes the colour orange, her daughter pointed out, and could I include a picture of mum as well?
There was lot to fit on the card!
I created a little paper portrait of mum in the centre of the card and added a big orange number 80. Then, clockwise from the left, I added two little photos showing her working on some of her pottery pieces. Next I cut out a tennis racket and tennis ball, some tiny reels of cotton and a needle, and included a watering can, trowel and some leaves to represent her interest in gardening. Finally I added two candlesticks and two loaves of challah to represent their family Shabbat meals.
The Shabbat candles are traditionally lit by the woman of the household just before sundown to welcome the Shabbat. Lighting the candles brings not only a physical light but also peace, harmony, serenity and spirituality into the home. I also created two plaited challot, above. Most people think of challah as that special, yummy, plaited bread eaten after the Kiddush (the blessing recited over wine to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays) but it really represents so much more. "Challah" is actually the piece of dough that is removed from the loaf before it is plaited, not the plaited bread loaf itself. After the challah was removed it was traditionally given as a sacrifice to the Holy Priest, representing a consecration to G-d, but in modern times it is either burnt in the oven or frozen and then thrown away. The separation of the challah is one the 613 mitzvot (commandments of Jewish law) that contribute toward creating a Jewish life.
This "Brother" was also turning 80. Apparently he has just bought himself a sports car, his sister told me, so that's what I put on his birthday card. Drive safely!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

World Cup Football and Municipal Elections

Every year twins Gabi and Adi each receive one of my customised cards on their birthday. I have mentioned before that my cards have become an essential part of their family's birthday celebrations and that these two young men spend the run-up to their big day guessing what will be on their card that year!
This year mum knew for sure what to put on Gabi's card. He was lucky enough to be able to travel to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and was even more fortunate to get a ticket for an England game (Gabi's parents are both British). His birthday card shows him at the stadium, waving his World Cup scarf and wearing his England shirt with pride. Next to him is the 2018 World Cup logo. A big 22 marks his age. England won the game he went to!
Gabi's brother Adi is greatly involved in our forthcoming municipal elections. He is a friend and admirer of one of the candidates and arranged a meet and greet for him at the family home.
I have shown Adi in front of the candidate's election poster. The ballot slip with the Hebrew ballot letters of the candidate is next to him and, once again, a big number 22 marks his age.
On election day in Israel, and upon entry to a polling station, the voter is given an official envelope, and shown to a voting booth. Inside the booth is a tray of slips, one for each party. The slips are printed with the "ballot letters" of the party (between one and three Hebrew letters), the full official name of the party, and sometimes a slogan in small print. Each party publicises their letter prior to election day, with most election posters featuring them. The voter chooses the relevant slip for their party, puts it in the envelope, seals it, and then places the envelope into the ballot box.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Ein Avdat National Park

I've visited many of Israel's national parks and thought that I knew my firm favourites. However, when we hiked at Ein Avdat in the Negev desert during our recent stay at Naot Farm, it quickly shot towards the top of my list!
Ein Avdat National Park is set within the incredible landscape of the Zin Valley in the centre of Israel’s Negev desert. Ein means spring or water source and Avdat derives from the nearby city of Avdat that stood south of the canyon. Avdat was named after the Nabataean King Obodas I. (Nabateans is an Arabic word meaning "cistern diggers".)
After the establishment of Kibbutz Sde Boker in 1952 and the construction of Highway 40 to Eilat, a hiking trail was created at Ein Avdat which is part of the Israel National Trail. The well marked trail takes you through some incredible desert scenery. It simply took my breath away.
The spectacular canyon is the result of power of the waters at Ein Avdat. The spring, an oasis amid the barren and rocky Negev desert, has carved a deep, narrow canyon through the rock. The source of the spring is not definitively known, but is generally thought to be rain water which seeps into the ground. A waterfall has formed, and the pools below it provide a source of life to animal life including ibex (a species of wild goat found in Asia and northern Africa), birds of prey and the various plants and trees which are able to flourish despite the challenging conditions.
There are two entrances into the Ein Avdat National Park: one at Midreshat Ben Gurion, and one 5km further south. It is possible to walk between the two, though this is really reserved for advanced hikers because it requires climbing metal rungs, and was also not suitable on a hot August day. We visited Ein Avdat from the lower Midreshat Ben Gurion entrance, walked along the streambed, and then returned to where we had begun before the last short segment of the trail.
The hike itself was an easy one. We followed the well marked route passing an Atlantic Terenbinth (Pistacia atlantica) tree that is about 250 years old. This tree is the sole remnant of what was probably a forest here. Other plants along the trail are more typical of the dry Negev desert including Euphrates poplar trees, atriplexes (commonly known as saltbush), and other salt-loving trees (the spring water at Ein Avdat is slightly salty). Also common to the area are Bulbul, rock pigeons, eagles, vultures, hawks, bustards, frogs, crabs, and of course the ibex.
Crossing the streambed we first arrived at the lower pools of Ein Avdat which are separated into two parts by a man-made dam, then climbed some narrow steps hewn into the rock which go around the 15 metre waterfall (these steps were initially carved by Israeli youth in the 1950s). From the top we were able to gaze down into the spectacular canyon and the pools below.
We continued to follow the trail along the stream to a grove of Mesopotamian poplars. This is where we had a break and spent some time watching the beautiful ibex, native residents of this canyon, and the vultures nesting on the cliffs. On the wall of the cliff you can see the mouths of caves where monks dwelt during the Byzantine period until the Muslim conquest of the area. The monks sculpted shelves, benches, stairs, and water systems from the rock. The caves were also decorated with crosses and prayers were engraved in the rock of the caves. It is possible that the area of the poplar grove was once a vegetable garden cultivated by the monks who lived in the nearby caves.
From here, additional steps and two ladders lead first to the Ein Ma'arif spring, the initial source of the Ein Avdat waterfall, and on to the upper observatory at the southern end of the park. We needed to turn around at this point and make our way back to our car in the lower car park. The hike had taken us well over the one hour that had been suggested, though we were fascinated by the ibex and did stop to watch them and take photos at every opportunity!
In Israel, ibex are common in the Negev, the hills around Eilat, and the Judean mountains in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. The ibex roam around the cliffs and steep slopes which are its natural habitat. Its range is always in the vicinity of streams, springs or waterholes rich in vegetable life.
Besides man, their only natural enemy is the leopard, which once flourished in the Negev and is still found at Ein Gedi. The ibex population in Israel, once depleted, has been recovering over the past several years thanks to stricter enforcement of the nature reserve laws and strict prohibition of hunting.
Back in our car we drove to the observatory at the upper end of Ein Avdat to enjoy the magnificent panorama of the canyon, fortunately arriving just before it closed at 4pm. It was awesome! Once again we watched two or three ibex navigate the steep, rocky slopes with ease. Its brown colour, solid body and muscular legs, as well as the special structure of its hoofs which gives it excellent rock-climbing ability, together enable it to exist and survive under harsh desert and mountain conditions. Sadly we are not built in quite the same way and it was time for the air conditioning and some rest. There was more to come the following day.
Sunday Snap

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Emma & Joe

I mentioned in a previous post that my niece got married in the summer. Of course I made a card for her and her new husband to congratulate them on their special day.
The wedding invitation I received was pastel coloured, with shades of very pale pink and pale green in it. I picked out a pretty pale pink for the paper inlay and cut their names out of white stock. A pale green envelope completed my interpretation of their colour scheme.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Amy's Album

Amy celebrated her Bat Mitzvah back in July. I know it's October already but better late than never!
Her mum told me that her daughter has a lot of hobbies. She plays the clarinet and piano. She likes reading, skiing, kayaking and playing football (Amy's team wear purple tops, purple shorts and purples socks). She also bakes, enjoys listening to music, spending time with family, going on holidays and getting together with friends. I couldn't include everything on this list in my cover design for her album but I did my best!
I have shown Amy with her clarinet in one hand and some skis (with a ski glove!) in the other. To Amy's right are some mountains to represent her interest in skiing, a bright red kayak and some books. To her left is a piano, a baking sheet with biscuits on it, a wooden spoon and a rolling pin. There are some music notes dotted around as well. Amy is wearing the purple top and shorts of her football kit.
Amy's Bat Mitzvah celebration invitation had a rainbow colour scheme. Therefore I made the lettering purple and used the colours of the rainbow on the cover of her album to match it. I also added coloured hearts in two corners of the cover, to match the hearts that featured on her invitation.
I decorated several pages inside the album as well. Each page had more brightly coloured hearts on it. From the top, you can see the page with books on it to illustrate Amy's love of reading, the page with some tiny skis, goggles and ski poles, the page with a mixing bowl, wooden spoon and some biscuits and, finally, the page showing Amy with a friend in a kayak. Amy's mum often takes Amy and several friends kayaking and was keen for me to include her friends in the album.
Finally, the opening page of the album had yet another clarinet on it. I was tasked to create those tiny little silver keys once again!
Amy's mum loved the design of her daughter's album, as did her auntie, who declared it "gorgeous". I had a long list of things to include in this design and I think it turned out well. The rainbow-coloured hearts were a bright and colourful new addition.
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