Monday, 22 September 2014

Rosh Hashanah 5775

On Wednesday evening my family and I will begin celebrating the two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah, which means ‘Head of the Year’ in Hebrew, falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar and is believed to be the month in which God created the world.
In general this holiday is celebrated with festive meals, prayers and self-examination. Rather than the rowdy new year celebrations of December 31st, this holiday is a time for reflection. Each person takes the time to review how they behaved in the past year during the ten days prior to Yom Kippur. During this time period there is the traditional blowing of the shofar. The shofar is a horn made from one of the horns of any kosher animal, except a cow. It is meant to remind those that hear the horn that they are being examined by God for their behaviour in the past year.
Throughout Rosh Hashanah no bitter or sour food is eaten. People eat sweet food, symbolizing the desire to have a new year filled with sweetness. Special meals for the holiday include pomegranates, apples dipped in honey (thus my paper bees!), and challah bread in a round loaf, to symbolise the circle of life and of the year.
Whilst we're on the subject of food, it's been a long time since I posted anything food related here, but a recent cooking disaster was turned around with the discovery of a yummy new recipe which I thought I'd share with you. Last week I overcooked the lentils for a salad I was making, so searched the web for an idea of what to do with a pot of slightly mushy green lentils. A Macheesmo recipe for Red Lentil Falafels popped up, using lentils, instead of chickpeas, as a new twist on an old favourite. The falafel were easy to make, very tasty and turned out to be a great new addition to my kid's lunchboxes.
Bon appétit, or b'tayavon as we say in Hebrew, and whilst I am at it, 'Shana Tova U’Metuka' ("May you have a happy and sweet year"). I would like to wish all my Jewish customers and friends a very happy and peaceful holiday, and, in the words of the traditional blessing, "May You Be Written and Sealed for a Good Year."

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Edinburgh

We arrived in Edinburgh full of the joys of the Highlands and admittedly we weren't sure that we were ready for a big city quite yet. However, the Edinburgh Festival was on and we had precious tickets for The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, so there was a lot to see and do.
We soon discovered that the historic centre of Edinburgh is actually quite small and easily walkable. It is divided in two by Princes Street Gardens. To the south is Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and the city’s famous "closes". To the north lie Princes Street and the New Town. A short bus ride from our B&B in Leith dropped us on Princes Street and we were soon right in the hustle and bustle of the festival.
I hadn't planned much before our arrival in Edinburgh. We had those tickets for the tattoo and we also wanted to go to Camera Obscura & World of Illusions on Castlehill to enjoy their rooftop telescopes and see the city close up and far into the distance, but otherwise we wanted to roam and perhaps see a show or two. It was a great plan.
Within minutes the youngest son spotted a poster advertising a production of Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful. Now, we're all big Michael Morpurgo fans in our house, so we were quick to call and find out about tickets. In the end just Mister Handmade in Israel and I went to see the production. The kids decided that a one-man show was not for them and Grandpa was happy to hang out with them in the meantime.
Scamp Theatre’s production of Private Peaceful tells the story of Tommo Peaceful, who at 15 goes to the trenches, and who in the play is awaiting his execution for cowardice by firing squad. It was a exceptional piece of theatre, beautifully performed and very moving. I am very glad that we saw it.
Yes, it rained again whilst we were in Edinburgh, but this time only for a short period as we watched performers on the Royal Mile and, incredibly, just for a few minutes right at the end of the tattoo. After our experiences in the Highlands, I was sure that the show was going to be a wash out - literally - but that wasn't, and apparently has never been, the case. We were able to enjoy the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Kapa Haka of the New Zealand Highland Dancers, the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra, the only marching military steel band in the world, and more, without getting wet. With the beautiful Edinburgh Castle in the background, it was an imposing sight. At the conclusion, the sky erupted in fireworks and the crowd roared its approval. It had been a fabulous performance by military groups from around the world. Definitely a highlight of our trip to Edinburgh.
The next day the views from the top of Camera Obscura & World of Illusions were superb. It was a great way to see Edinburgh. We continued to be entertained by the various street performances on the Royal Mile, ranging from the incredible classical guitar of Tom Ward, to the rich harmonies of the Soweto Spiritual Singers. We saw the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and enjoyed The Improv Musical, a performance chosen by the kids which was fun, but nothing like the standard set by Scamp Theatre’s Private Peaceful.
We had one more night in Edinburgh and then it was time to return home, or at least to Grandpa's home in Hull. Our route saw us stop in the rather chilly seaside town of Whitley Bay, where we could barely understand the locals, and then another stop at the truly incredible Angel of the North, a contemporary sculpture designed by Antony Gormley, located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. The magnificent steel sculpture is 20 metres tall and is believed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world. Beautifully designed and most significant for its sheer scale, I was very happy to see it up-close.
Then it was foot down and a straight drive back to Hull, in time to see an Arsenal game. We made the second half.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Liza & Alexis

After three consecutive posts about my recent travels, I think it is time I showed you some of my work. This album was actually completed before I went away, but I was waiting for my customer in Germany to give it to her friends in Paris before I showed it here. Given that I made it here in Israel, it has become a very well travelled book!
My new customer found my album listing on Etsy and decided that it was the perfect gift for her friend Liza, who was soon to be married. Unfortunately there was simply not enough time before the wedding for me to create the book and mail it to Europe, but she was so keen to give it to her friend that she decided to take the album anyway. She was so sure her friend would love it, especially since it comes from Israel. So the couple received it during the summer instead.
Liza and Alexis had a civil marriage and also a traditional Jewish wedding. My customer had spotted an album that I created for another couple which showed them standing under the chuppah, the canopy beneath which Jewish marriage ceremonies are performed, and asked whether I could make something similar for her friends. She told me that there were white Calla Lilies hanging down from the pillars of their chuppah, and also sent me a picture of the bride and groom in their wedding attire. 
Liza and Alexis live in Paris and have a cat. They both work in the publishing sector: Liza in audio books and Alexis in handicraft books. He also likes to knit! When I learnt about his hobby I knew that it had to feature on the cover of their album. I have shown them under the chuppah, Alexis with his knitting in his hands and Liza with her headphones on, listening to an audio book. Their cat is sitting to the side of them, watching carefully, and behind you can see the Eiffel Tower, representing their hometown.
I decorated several pages inside the album along the same themes. Each page either had a Magen David (Star of David) on it, or a simple white chuppah. From the top you can see the knitting page, then a page with books piled high and headphones sitting on the top. Next, the cat makes a reappearance, while some Calla Lilies decorate the next page. Finally I added a French flag, along with another Eiffel Tour - La tour Eiffel - and some teeny tiny French croissants. They were a lot of fun to create!
When my customer finally got the album from the German Postal Office, she wrote to tell me how much she loved it. "Thank you so much for this wonderful present, I am so glad I found your shop!" she wrote. "It's SO perfect and I can't wait to go to Paris to give it to my friends! I will go at the end of August, so I have to be a bit patient..."
I hope they loved it too.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Highlands of Scotland

The day after our explorations of Holy Island we set off once again on our travels. This time we were crossing the border in to Scotland and driving north to the Highlands. None of us had ever been that far north before and boy were we in for a treat! The Highlands really is the Scotland of your imagination. A beautiful region of mountainous landscapes and long, deep glens, stunning islands and spectacular stretches of coastline. As we drove - and, yes, there was an awful lot of driving involved - the landscape changed from rural lowlands to barren uplands, and from large cities to uninhabited islands. Unfortunately the weather changed too and our time in the Highlands was to be spent under very grey rain clouds. It stopped us from going on our much anticipated cruise through Loch Broom and to the Summer Isles, and landing on Tanera Mòr, the only inhabited Summer Island. I'd, probably unwisely, promised the boys close encounters with seals, dolphin, porpoise, whales, sea birds and even sea eagles and a great variety of wildlife, but it wasn't to be. However, even in the rain, the beauty of the area astounded us. We simply donned more layers of clothing and set out to explore.
Fort William, the second largest settlement in the Highlands of Scotland and the largest town, was our first port of call, with Glen Coe just to the south and Aonach Mòr, one of the mountains in the close shadow of Ben Nevis, to the north. We took a gondola up the mountain and enjoyed some awesome views and clear mountain air.
Later that same day we visited Loch Ness - far bigger than I had imagined - and the Loch Ness Centre. Nessie was indeed home that day, but I shan't tell you where we saw her.
After one night in Fort William we planned to stay a few days in the gorgeous town of Ullapool which, despite its small size, is the largest settlement for many miles around. Founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society, the harbour is still the edge of the village and is used as a fishing port, yachting haven, and ferry port. From Ullapool we visited Corrieshalloch Gorge, a slot gorge that was cut as far back as 2.6 million years ago by Ice Age glacial meltwater. We followed a trail to a Victorian suspension bridge and a jaw-dropping viewing platform, where we were able to appreciate the full drama of the gorge. It was a dizzying and exhilarating experience to look down on the torrent of water plunging 150 ft over the Falls of Measach from the gently swaying suspension bridge.
The next day the rain continued but we went out despite the grey clouds. We couldn't get on that boat, so instead decided to drive along the coast towards Reiff, a small remote coastal crofting and fishing village. The Scotsman published the following description of Reiff in 1960:
“Reiff is at the end of a lovely road to nowhere. With its crumbling sheilings, its emerald green machair, and its shingly little bay facing the Hebrides, it is a sad, haunted, romantic place. The land seems laden with sweet music, the wind sings, the sea sings and even the mountains seem to sing.”
A perfect depiction.
Next we tried to negotiate Knockan Crag to see the Moine Thrust geological feature, where much older and darker rocks have been pushed over younger lighter limestone, so the older rocks are on top of the younger ones. Here the rain beat us back and we returned to our delightful Bed and Breakfast for some dry clothes and hot coffee.
Unperturbed, we continued our Highland explorations with a visit to Rogie Falls and on to Aviemore. The Rogie Falls cross the beautiful Black Water river and, after all the heavy rain (the tail end of Hurricane Bertha), were even more sensational. We watched salmon leaping the falls on their way up river to spawn, and walked through some beautiful woodland of pines and spruce trees. The town of Aviemore, with its sweet steam railway and, further up the road, the Cairn Gorm Mountain railway, the UK's highest funicular railway, was the perfect way to end our Highland experience. So the weather let us down but the scenery certainly didn't. Frankly, it was very hard for me to edit my photos down to just a few that I feel sum up our Highland visit!
Next stop, Edinburgh, the inspiring capital of Scotland, though honestly we were all a little sad to leave the beautiful Highland countryside behind...
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