Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Hill of Life

A few posts back I mentioned our overnight stay in the northern settlement of Tel Chai and promised to tell you more about it. Tel Chai, meaning "Hill of Life" in Hebrew, lies just a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border (the STOP - BORDER AHEAD! sign can be seen, above). It is home to a small community college, the 'Hatser' (courtyard) museum that reconstructs the life of Tel Chai’s founders (above, top row, on the left), a fantastic youth hostel which overlooks the scenic Hula Valley and Tel Chai Industrial Park. It was once however the site of an early battle in the Arab–Israeli conflict and was one of the first Jewish settlements of the far north in the early years of the 20th century.
The settlement was founded in 1916 by a group of Hashomer guards who built a fortress (now the museum) and began to cultivate the land (Hashomer was an organization that believed that only Jews should guard Jewish settlements). After the First World War, Tel Chai and other Galilee settlements were transferred to French rule and suffered in the Arab revolt against the French. In 1920 the settlement was attacked by hundreds of Arabs and and eight members were killed. Among the fallen was Yosef Trumpeldor, the guards’ young commander and a Russian Jewish military hero. Trumpledor's last words are famous in Israel until today. "It is good to die for one's country" he said, and some believe that he added "And it is good to have a country to die for".
The young fighters were buried in a communal grave at nearby Kfar Giladi which,  in 1926, was marked by a stone lion, the traditional symbol of independence and courage, (above, middle row, on the left), sculpted by Avraham Melinkov. It stands as a monument to the bravery of those who fell, determined at all cost to defend what they had built.
It is hard to imagine the drama that was played out in this spot. When we visited the courtyard museum the sun shone on it's well-tended lawns and the scenery around us was breathtaking. Yet this small yard witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the life of the young Zionist community of Israel.
The exhibits in the museum explain the history of the settlement and the ideology which brought further groups of settlers to the area after the original settlers of Tel Chai were forced to leave. The nearby town of Kiryat Shmoneh, meaning "Town of Eight" is named after the settlers who died in 1920, and visitors are left with the understanding that Israel's existence today is due to them, and people like them, who put their own personal lives at risk for the ideal of a Jewish State.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Seasons Greetings from Israel

I haven't got any snow pictures to show you. In fact we are having a dry and unseasonably warm winter here in Israel. I live in an area that does not really acknowledge Christmas. I don't see any Christmas paraphernalia on the street nor watch the seasonal commercials on the television. Yet I must admit to wandering around the house singing 'Last Christmas'!  Why? Because listening to BBC Radio 2 on the internet allows me to enjoy from a distance the festivities I remember from my life back in the UK. You see, unlike my children, I didn't go to a Jewish school. There wasn't one in the city where I grew up. Therefore I learnt a lot about Christmas in the run up to the holiday, though of course we celebrated Chanukah in our own home. I am quite well versed in all my carols and so it's rather fun to sit here in the sunshine and remember the cold winters, Christmas carols and pop songs of my childhood.
Even though I do not celebrate Christmas I was of course happy to make some holiday cards and in fact have a regular customer here in Israel who orders some every year for his company's clients abroad. My cards also had their moment of glory when they recently appeared on the Etsy Greetings team blog (above).
As the year draws to a close I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me and my blogging adventure throughout the year. I have enjoyed composing each and every one of my posts, and appreciate every comment and email that I receive. I wish you all happy holidays and a safe and exciting start to 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Terrific Treasuries


Baby Blue Extra Lon...

$120.00
Treasure Box

$8.00
Sentimental sign

$12.50
Sterling silver wir...

$9.00
Gauloises Cendrier ...

$40.00
vintage french empt...

$26.00
10% SALE Woodland f...

$12.50
sale Winter purple ...

$22.40
Cobalt Blue Celtic ...

$
Earrings - Turquois...

$
Fused glass engrave...

$
Nuno Felted Silk Sa...

$95.00
The White Bridge - ...

$1420.00
Crazy Quilt Patch R...

$19.00
Blue Christmas Cat ...

$17.50
I am fortunate to have my work quite regularly included in some fabulous Etsy Treasuries. Of course there are naturally some that I prefer more than others but I always appreciate the time and effort that people have put into them in order to give my art a little extra exposure.
I have often posted these treasuries here on my blog so that I can return the favour and showcase the work of other Etsy artists. With the onset of Christmas and the holiday season I have pretty much received an e-mail every day or two day telling me that my work has been included in one treasury or another and obviously I cannot post them all here without it getting boring! Therefore I decided to pick one of my recent favourites and try out the new Treasury HTML generator tool. Please feel free to click away and check out the gorgeous items in this stunning  blue and purple treasury and then check out some of the others where my work has been featured below.
Oh, and which is my piece in this particular treasury? The little blue Treasure Box, featured above, in the middle of the top row.

Under 20 Last Minute G I R L G I F T S !!!
Presents for women who celebrate life
Tag your gift
An Expats' Christmas... Where Will Your Heart Be?
Stalking the Mailman
Let's Hear It For Etsy Expats!
Looking Forward to 2011
and finally, another beautifully curated one and a particular favourite of mine, My first time

So, did you spot all my pieces?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Agamon (Hula) Lake

Okay, so Chanukah week was very much a week of mixed emotions here in Israel. The terrible forest fires up in the north of the country knocked us for six and we were pretty much glued to the television and radio for several days. However, I have long ago learned that life goes on and that you just have to carry on with normal life whatever is happening, and carry on we did.
Before the holiday we had booked an overnight stay in Tel Chai, meaning "Hill of Life" in Hebrew, a town in northern Israel next to the border with Lebanon and the site of an early battle in the Arab–Israeli conflict. Given that it is already mid-December, we were taking a chance with the weather and as we drove north we experienced some rain but also saw some gorgeous scenery and a fabulous rainbow. The weather was going to be good to us. I will write about Tel Chai itself in another post but want to tell you now about our day at the Agamon Lake, a day which turned out to be a day that I expect to remember for a long time to come.
The Agamon Lake is in the Hula Valley (Emek HaHula) an agricultural area in northern Israel. The Hula is bordered on the east by the Golan Heights and to the west by the Naftali mountains, rising 400 to 900 meters above sea level. It is an important route for birds migrating between Africa, Europe and Asia and is home to millions of migrating cranes each winter.
The Hula Lake existed until the 1950s but between 1951 and 1958 draining operations were carried out by the Jewish National Fund in the belief that the country could gain additional arable land and at the same time the breeding ground of the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito would be destroyed. Unfortunately what originally seemed like a good idea over time created numerous agricultural and ecological problems and so, beginning in 1980, a programme for the Hula’s rehabilitation was inaugurated. In 1994 a small area in the southern part of the Hula Valley was reflooded to create Agamon HaHula (literally “Little Hula Lake”).
At least 390 different species of birds have been recorded in or around the lake including large flocks of migratory pelicans, storks, cranes and other birds en route between Europe and Africa. New nesting colonies of various species such as herons and plovers have been established, water buffalo and donkeys have been introduced and a small furry rodent called a coypu has made its home there. Native to South America it was brought to Israel in the 1950's by kibbutz workers who intended to breed it for it's fur. However, Israel's warm weather did not result in good quality fur and the animals were released.  They have since become pests in the area, destroying vegetation and irrigation systems, though we found them quite delightful to watch and very easy to photograph. I have many, many others photos of them aside from the one in the mosaic above, if anybody wishes to see them!
The length of the route around the park is 9 kilometres and we chose to ride the perimeter route along the waterside and through the fruit groves on mountain bikes. As usually happens, the kids rode ahead of their slow parents but continued to return and tell us about the kingfishers, coypu, a crab and other wildlife that they had spotted. We rented audio guides and, armed with our bird-watching book, we stopped regularly to listen, read and learn about this incredible area.
A fantastic day was had by all and I can totally understand why the nature reserve has been named one of the most outstanding sites in the world for nature observation and photography. For me it was an experience of a lifetime. The Agamon (Hula) Lake Park is certainly now one of my favorite places in Israel.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Chanukah Latkes

Today is the last day of Chanukah. We lit the eighth candle on our Chanukiah last night and now the kid's bags are being packed for school tomorrow. It's always a little sad to have the end of a holiday in sight but, no matter, we have once again had an amazing week travelling a little around Israel, opening presents after candle lighting each evening, eating delicious doughnuts and latkes and generally having lots of fun. Once the kids are back at school I intend to show you photos from our various trips. In the meantime, here are the courgette (or zucchini) latkes I made and the recipe too.
Bon appetit, or as we say in Hebrew, b'tayavon!

Ingredients
3 medium zucchini, shredded
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup matzo meal or dry bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Oil for frying
Sour cream, optional

Directions
In a large bowl, toss zucchini and 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze zucchini dry. Stir in the eggs, onion, matzo meal, pepper and remaining salt.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into oil; press lightly to flatten. Fry for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve with sour cream if desired. Yield: 16 latkes.
Of course, whilst I have been running around enjoying myself, others have been hard at work creating some gorgeous Etsy Treasuries. I am very pleased to see my cards and pictures popping up all over the place and my Jewish Boy's Treasure Box is no exception. Here it is, above, top row, second from the left, amongst a great collection of Chanukah goodies. I am sure that there was some very successful 'Chanukah Shopping' done on Etsy this year.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Festival of Lights

Tonight we light the first candle on our Chanukiah, the nine-branched candelabra which is used during the festival of Chanukah, and the eight-day holiday, the Festival of Lights, will begin. This last weekend I photographed these delightful street lights in Jerusalem and think that they are a perfect way to illustrate this popular holiday. The sun setting in the background reminds me of the burning candles on the Chanukiah.
Chanukah commemorates two miracles which occurred on behalf of the people of Israel. The first miracle was the military victory of a handful of Jewish warriors against the mighty armed forces of the Syrian-Greek army. The second miracle was that while going through the ruins of the destroyed holy temple only sufficient oil to light the menorah for one day was found, yet the oil miraculously burned for eight continuous days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights.
We are currently enjoying a very mild winter, though Israel really could do with some much needed rain. Taking advantage of the good weather we decided to meet some friends at the beautiful Wohl Rose Garden in Jerusalem and enjoy a relaxing outdoor picnic with them. Apparently the garden boasts of over 400 varieties of roses grown there. I certainly saw far fewer than that number, though I am sure that at this time of the year there are less flowers in bloom. In addition to the rose bushes, the park features an ornamental pond with waterfall, rockeries and sculptures. It was wonderful afternoon. What can beat lounging on a rug in the sunshine at this time of the year? It's almost hard to believe that Chanukah is upon us!
To those of you celebrating this fun festival, I wish you a very happy candle-lighting, dreidel-spinning, latke-eating Chanukah!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Wedding Album

Please excuse me if I seem a little overexcited in this post! There may be a slight picture overload but my photos caught every angle of this latest customised guest book well and I want to share all the details here.
The guest book / album went to a couple who got married at the beginning of November. Well, they were technically already married but were going to have a Jewish wedding ceremony standing under the chuppah after the groom converted to Judaism following their civil wedding a couple of years ago. They have a 2 year old son with curly blond hair and it was asked that I include him on the cover design as the invitation to the celebration was from him as well. All a little bit different to the more usual wedding imagery but there was a lot of material for me to work with!
The couple are both very interested in technology and were the first amongst their friends to use the social networking and micro blogging service Twitter, amongst other things. My original sketch showed only the groom holding a laptop but it was pointed out to me that the bride is very into technology too - they met at a Virtual Worlds Conference - so I switched the pose around a little and had them sharing the laptop with Twitter's homepage open on the screen. How very romantic! The bride is apparently a great cook and is particularly expert at making hummus, thus the chefs hat over her curly reddish hair, to match her white wedding dress and plate of hummus in her hand.
The groom works in IT (information technology) and is also quite a serious collectors of comics. I was delighted to discover various covers of vintage comics online that I remember from my childhood - particularly the Beano and Dandy - and pretty much assumed that these are typical of the comics that he collects. I have depicted him holding the laptop in one raised hand and clutching the comics in the other. He is wearing a suit and tie especially for the wedding and I picked out a pale purple tie because I was told that purple is the bride's favourite colour.

I tried my best to include all the couple's main hobbies and interests on the cover of the album. Embellishing a few of the inside pages allowed me to add a couple more. Unfortunately I was home alone when I photographed the album and had to get it in the mail pretty quickly so could not wait for assistance. Consequently my photos of some of the inside pages look a little strange to say the least because I did not want to fold them flat and risk creasing the pages. One page illustrated their love of  the art deco movement, whilst another showed the wedding chuppah again, along with a ketubah - the Jewish marriage contract that explains the basic material, conjugal and moral responsibilities of the husband to his wife. It is signed by the groom, as well as two witnesses, and given to the bride during the wedding ceremony. To your left you can also see the page that illustrates the couple's shared love of social media marketing (top), the bride's passion for cooking and entertaining (middle) and their commitment to their Jewish faith (bottom).
When everything was cut and placed exactly where I wanted it, all the hand cut lettering was added. The Hebrew at the top of the cover design says 'Mazal Tov', which literally means 'good luck' but the phrase is more often used to express 'congratulations' for a happy and significant occasion or event. Perfect for a wedding! 
I package my guest books/albums up in a matching presentation box and they are wrapped in tissue for safekeeping. Some of you might recognise my Moo cards (below), one of which I have used as a tag. Ordered quite some time ago, they still bring a smile to my face each and every time I use one!
The very last thing to do with this particular album was to wrap it in lots and lots of bubble wrap. It was travelling quite far! In fact I was beginning to get quite anxious when I had not heard of its arrival in the UK, only to discover that it reached its destination on the Friday morning before the Sunday wedding! Phew! That was cutting it a bit fine.
I am told that the album went down very well indeed and I received a wonderfully complimentary e-mail upon its arrival. The words "absolutely, extraordinarily gorgeous" were used. A good ending to a fun project.
If anyone is interested in ordering their very own guest book/album, there is now a listing for one in my shop. 

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Butterflies, Books and Balloons

There seem to have been a few changes made with Blogger since I was last here and I am struggling a little bit with photo placement today. I really hope that my explanations match the relevant photos!
Some time back I received a request for a birthday card for a sweet little girl who was turning 2. She’s loves butterflies, books, balloons, dragons and fish - all delightful images to play with on a child's birthday card. The main thing I noticed when I received a photo of the birthday girl was her wispy blonde hair. Her Mum obviously likes to tease it into two little bunches on top of her head and I enjoyed matching the 'hairdo' on her card. Mum seemed pleased with the card when she picked it up and I hope that Abby was too. Most importantly I hope that the fish that she received as a birthday present - the reason for the presence of a fish on her card - is still swimming happily around it's bowl!
Abby's Dad was also due to celebrate a birthday around the same time. He turned 32, is getting his Ph.D in Political Science, is a history buff and, in his wife's words and certainly not mine, is a "big geeky academic". He likes baseball, particularly the St. Louis Cardinals, reading and maps. Phew... I think I fitted everything onto his card!
These photos seem to have slipped through the net, but better late than never! Back when we visited England this summer my Dad asked me to bring him a supply of cards suitable for men. He already knew which designs he liked and asked me to make him a bunch of 'shirt and tie' cards and also some of the 'wine bottle' ones. He likes cards that can be used on various occasions, rather than just for birthdays and it's convenient for him to have them on hand. Above and below you can see the variety of colour combinations I came up with. I've mentioned before that, whilst I love coming up with a new design each time I make a customised card,  'mass producing' the same design over and over again can be quite relaxing too. I dare say that quite a number of these cards have already been sent to a number of my Dad's friends. I can make more whenever you are ready, Dad!

Monday, 15 November 2010

On Soup and Stilettos

I certainly would not call myself a great cook. I come up with decent enough meals and we all eat reasonably well, but a great cook? No. Having said that, I make soup most weekends to open our Friday evening Shabbat meal and I was recently trawling the internet for some inspiration. I discovered this recipe and it was GREAT! Really great. Though this blog is by no means a food blog, I felt that I had to share it. This soup was so easy and yummy! To make it kid friendly I only used half the jalapeno pepper and poured in a little apple juice rather than the concentrate suggested. I made my own seasoning from some of the spices that were mentioned. The result? A really tasty soup that was possibly still a little bit too hot for the kids but perfect for me and I thoroughly enjoyed finishing it off a couple more times during the week.
Back to the cards. I recently delivered this little lot to one of my regular customers. She leaves me pretty much free to come up with what I want, sometimes giving me guidance as to the age or favourite hobby of the person she wishes to send the card to. Usually she just asks me for "something pretty". The card in the foreground is going to a lady who likes fashion. I had fun making the little red number and the black stiletto heels. One can dream! I wouldn't look very good in the outfit myself...
This 'Sweet 16' card was recently made for the daughter of a friend of mine. I was happy with the composition and have since made a few variations. One of them, the 21st birthday card in my shop, is currently part of the EtsyGreetings Great Greetings Giveaway. Purchase any item from my shop, or from participating shops, throughout November and you will be eligible to win 20+ handmade greeting cards from a variety of talented Etsy sellers. To see details about the giveaway and information about how to enter, please visit the EtsyGreetings blog and then get shopping!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

10+10

Whilst we're on the subject of tenth birthdays, two of my friend's daughters also turned 10 around the same time as my son and I was asked to make cards for them both. I can't quite believe that these kids are getting so big, though I really shouldn't be surprised since I have 'tracked' their development with my card making each year!
I am pleased to say that both of these girls are pretty keen on my work. I know that the young lady illustrated above collects my cards from year to year, whilst the blonde ballerina, her Mum told me, even put in a specific request as to what should be on this years birthday card!
For the card above I was asked to show a happy, smiling young lady reading a book. She had to be wearing hoop earrings and, to get specific, her hairstyle had changed slightly since last year and I was to add a little fringe. Her Mum excitedly told me that "T. *loved* the card". I am sure that it has been added to her small collection and hope that I will be able to add to it year after year for many years to come.
The young ballerina had asked to be shown doing a jete. Being a Mum to two boys who play football and go to Tae Kwon Do rather than dance classes, I had to look it up! Now I know that a jete is a leap in ballet in which one leg is extended forward and the other backward. Even though the birthday girl had specified what should be on the card, I hope that she was still pleased with it and enjoyed seeing her paper self jete-ing away.
The Jewish holiday of Chanukah is approaching and now is the time to purchase some cards and pop them in the post to your friends and relatives who may not live close by. My cards, showing the dreidel, a four sided spinning top with a different Hebrew letter on each side which children play with at Hanukkah, are in my shop now. For those of us here in Israel, I also have cards with the fourth side of the dreidel inscribed with the letter פ (Pe) - "A great miracle happened here" rather than 'there'.
My Chanukah cards have already appeared amongst a nice collection of Chanukah goodies, many of which are currently being promoted in The Miracles of Hanukkah Sale, details of which you can find here. You can see my cards above and in the Etsy Treasury below, top row on the right.Finally, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, may have been and gone but my cards recently made a fresh appearance in a very sweet treasury titled 'A Bowl of Apples'. I loved the colours in this one and was happy to see my own apple cards, bottom row on the right, make one last appearance for this calendar year.

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Update - My Chanukah cards have appeared in another lovely Treasury of gift ideas for Chanukah. Please check it out here.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Ten

Yesterday was a big day. Yesterday we reached double numbers in our house - well, aside from my husband and I of course. My eldest son turned 10 and what a birthday he had! The celebrations started on Thursday evening with a train ride to nearby Tel Aviv with a small group of his really good friends, then pizza and a quiz in the big mall there. We have been to the movies, eaten pancakes for breakfast, followed by a pinata cake and chocolate chip muffins. Dad and the birthday boy played tennis and we all went out for a delicious meal to end the day last night. Not a bad birthday, heh?
Of course a birthday wouldn't be a birthday in our house without a special card made by Mum! Eldest son is a football fan through and through. Football is his passion. However, this year we persuaded him to try a different after school activity just for a change. This year he is learning to play tennis and he quite likes it too! Above, you can see him with his yellow Prince racket, wearing his Arsenal cap and standing near to a football goal and ball. Football is still close to his heart you see. My son's snake board - last year's much-loved birthday present - can be seen in the front of the card, and Henry the Hamster popped in too. 'Rabbity' turned 10 yesterday as well. Rabbity has been in my son's life since he was born, though sadly, as the 'Puff the Magic Dragon' song goes, "A dragon lives forever but not so little boys" and Rabbity seems to be pretty much rejected these days... However, eldest son was very happy to see him appear on his birthday card and Rabbity's badge and placard declaring his birthday caused great amusement for all.
This pinata cake is nothing new in the blogging world but it was new to me and I am delighted to say that, as far as birthday cakes go, it was one of the easier ones to make. I kept the chocolate shell in the freezer for quite some time and to my delight it slipped out of the bowl beautifully. Probably the hardest and most time consuming thing was sticking all those smarties and jelly beans onto the shell. Next time, someone please remind me to buy some bigger sweets too for easier and quicker coverage, okay?
All these preparations are so worth the effort though when your son declares his party to be "one of the best ever" and jumps up and down on the sofa when he is opening his presents.
Happy Birthday to my very special 10 year old. You are turning into such a wonderful young man. As I wrote in your card, Daddy and I are so proud that you do so well in school and that you enjoy all your sports activities, but, please, please, please stop annoying your younger brother so much!
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