Sunday, 31 October 2010

Way way back many centuries ago

"Way way back many centuries ago"... Well, okay, not quite centuries, but certainly many months ago, I received an e-mail from a prospective customer. She had been given one of my customised cards for her own birthday and was so happy with it that she wanted to order one for a friend. It seems that she had quickly worked out what information I needed to create the card and had already attached a photograph of the blonde birthday girl, her precious white West Highland Terrier and mentioned that she was going to be 60, likes karaoke singing and is a caravan owner.
All very straightforward and the best was still to come! There was no rush with the order. I had plenty of time. She didn't need the card for a couple of months. Her friend's birthday wasn't until October! There have been many time when I have been asked if I can just squeeze in an order and make a card for a birthday or anniversary the next day. Once I was even asked if I could bring a card to my boys' school when I collected them at the gates - 45 minutes from the time of the phone call. However, up till this particular occasion, I had never ever been given an order roughly six months in advance! Now that really was good planning.
Of course I didn't wait all that time to complete the card. For sure I would have forgotten about it if I had done so. I created the paper karaoke singer and her dog and sent the card on it's way.
A few weeks later I received a follow-up e-mail letting me know that it had arrived and that the lady who had made the order thought it "absolutely fantastic. Thank you. So so much."
I thanked her so much for being such an organised customer too!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Parks, Paddling and Pickling

I seem to be playing catch up with my blog at the moment. These photos are from our various Chol Hamoed Sukkot day trips a few weeks ago, which I referred to back here. I hope that you still enjoy seeing the pictures of these gorgeous places in Israel. I guess it doesn't really matter if the shots were taken yesterday or three weeks ago, right? I can assure you that even now, at the end of October, the sun is still as high in the sky as it was for our week's holiday, though apparently there might be a little rain tomorrow night. Hurrah!My dad was with us for the holiday and during that week we squeezed in a lot. I take the view that it won't be long till the kids start saying that they don't want to come out with us but prefer to stay at home with their friends, so for the moment we are enjoying full-on, really great days out together, which results in a really busy and quite exhausting week!We spent a good few hours in the National Park at Caesarea, a town on the Israeli Mediterranean coast. Caesarea is a city that Herod the Great dedicated to Caesar Augustus more than 2,000 years ago. Today it is one of Israel's major tourist attractions and an increasingly popular place for Israel's elite to make their homes. Originally called Straton's Tower after its founder Straton who is believed to have been a ruler of Sidon in the 4th century BCE, Herod built Caesarea into the grandest city other than Jerusalem in Palestine, with a deep sea harbor, aqueduct, hippodrome and magnificent amphitheatre that remain standing today.
We spent time strolling along the sea front, collecting shells from layer upon layer of them washed up on the shore. We sat in the sun and watched a horse show in the hippodrome and kept an eye on the fishermen trying to make a catch.
The sun was setting when we tried to leave and found ourselves locked into the grounds because preparations were being made for a concert due to take place that evening in the amphitheatre next door, but that's a whole nother story... The next day our eldest went off to an overnight camp with his youth group and we took the youngest and his best friend on a tour of the Tnuva milk and dairy food company factory in Rehovot. Afterwards we travelled to nearby Ramle, a city known for being the only city founded in the land of Israel during the era when it was under Arab rule. It’s been around since 716 CE and is full of architectural artifacts. We were looking for the 'Boating Under the Arches' sign. In land-locked Ramle it sounded too strange to be true, yet we passed through the centre of the town and upon finding the place, were led down steps into the underground pools where rowboats awaited us. With the two seven year olds in charge of the rowing we paddled among the pillars and arches, around the 20-by-20 meter space, which was lit by small ground-level windows. The Unayziyya Cistern, also known as the pool of St. Helena, dates back to the 8th century and once served as the reservoir for the town and the surrounding area. Today it is a tourist site of sorts - though frankly I am really not sure how many tourists reach the town of Ramle, currently a rather neglected place, though in recent years attempts have been made to develop and beautify it. We enjoyed two more great days out that Chol Hamoed week. We picked olives and prepared them for pickling close to home in the Ben Shemen forest, a forest in fact named for its fame as an olive-producing region in the past (in Hebrew shemen means oil). The fruits of our labour will hopefully be ready in another week or two. At the Better Place Centre near Herzliya those of us with driving licences test drove the company's first fully electric, battery-powered car currently being prepared for commercial launch.
All in all it was great week. Dad has now returned to the UK. The kids are in school for a good few weeks now and I'm back at my desk crafting away! The memories of our jam-packed week will last for quite some time, as will the quantity of olives that we harvested that day in the forest.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Something Sweet

Not too long ago we observed the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur with a day of fasting and intensive prayer. Most of my day was spent in the synagogue but a little preparation before sundown, when the fast began, meant that my husband and I had something sweet to enjoy once the fast was out after the Ne'ilah (the closing prayer) service the following evening. I have blogged about these delicious cookies before, yet each and every time I make them I think of the girls at 'A Spoonful of Sugar' and silently thank them for posting such a fabulous recipe. Above you can see a sneak peak of a new design for my handmade card range. Bird icons seem to cross the age barrier and appeal to many people, myself included. This sweet and simple design came together very easily and I can see myself repeating it over and over again in many wonderful colour combinations. Lastly, I'm delighted to show you a couple more treasuries which feature some of my items. Above, middle row on the right, is a pack of my pink and blue New Baby Cards in amongst a delightful collection of fairy items. Below, second from the left in the middle row, my Little Penguin Papercut Picture, which I have just renewed in my shop. As always, a very big thank you to the lovely folk who have selected my pieces for their treasury collections. With so much to choose from in the world of Etsy, it is always a great thrill to discover that my work has caught someone's eye.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Savta and Eli

'Savta' is the modern Hebrew word for 'grandmother'. I recently made this card for a customer who wanted a birthday card for her Mom, yet it also had to show that the greetings were from her children too. I think that 'Savta's' name at the top of the card did just that and I am sure that she was proud to see it up there in lights!
My customer told me that her Mum had recently started to dabble with watercolour painting, so a pan set and tiny brush were incorporated into the design. This particular card was quite a last minute request and had to be made at night - something that I really try and avoid because I find it hard to work accurately under artificial light. The hand cut letters made it all the more complicated but I was happy with the end result. A few days ago a visitor to my Flickr page commented with a question as to where I get my Hebrew letters cut. She wanted to know if they are only found in Israel or do I do it with a die cutting machine? I was so flattered to read that question because I cut all my letters out by hand after having drawn them to the required size. The fact that she thought my letters were machine-cut hopefully means that I might be doing something right! 'Eli' was celebrating his birthday a few days after his Grandmother so the very same customer asked me to make a card for her son too. People have very different ideas about what should go on cards for teenagers and this particular customer felt that he was "too old" for pictures of his hobbies or a portrait. She asked me to make a more generic card for a 15 year-old, with his age somehow depicted on it. I'm pretty sure that a birthday cake and candles are still quite acceptable to teenage boys, right?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Well-Received Gift

Back in July I mentioned that my father-in-law was celebrating a significant birthday. I popped a card into the post for him but, since we were travelling to the UK later in the summer to join in with his birthday celebrations, I still had a little time to think of a suitable present. My husband is next to useless when it comes to gift ideas and frankly I was finding it hard to think of a good present for an eighty year old myself. A quick e-mail to my sister-in-law solved the problem though. When I asked her if she had any suggestions, she pointed out to me that I could make the perfect gift myself! "What about doing him one of your albums, then on his birthday lunch people could write in it and we could put in photos?" she said. Bingo! An album it was then.My husband provided me with a list of all his father's hobbies and interests and the album cover came together quite easily. My father-in-law is a retired lighting engineer, thus the light bulb and electronic equipment. He enjoys going to the theatre and pottering around on his computer. Both my own Dad and Dad-in-law are really very good at DIY - very useful when they come to visit for sure - so I added a few tools into the picture. The Jewish religion plays an important part in my father-in-law's life, so a Magen David, or Star of David, the generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism, was included. He is also a keen Bridge player, hence the symbols of the four playing card suits - hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs. Inside I layed out some family photos. I was able to include a nice variety and decorated them with various papercut illustrations, depending on what each photo showed the family doing. On the first page of the album, above, I added a photo of my husband and I with our two boys and wrote a short message of congratulations from us all.
The album was almost forgotten about on the day of the celebration but I noticed it sitting on the bottom step of the stairs during lunch and my husband quickly encouraged the first few guests to get writing.
It would be pushing it to say that my father-in-law and I are in regular e-mail communication, yet on our return to Israel I received the following message from him:
"I must thank you for the lovely album you made with its thoughtful symbols on the front which reflect my interests and pastimes. I shall always treasure it and the comments that my friends and relatives wrote."
I think he liked his birthday gift.
The Etsy Treasury Gods have been smiling upon me once again. This time a set of my Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah cards, above, bottom row in the centre, were included in a lovely Judaica collection, whilst my Jewish Boy's Treasure Box, below, top right, made it into a predominantly blue themed compilation. Thank you for making room for it Rachel at Swirsky Designs. All these items and more are of course currently available in my shop.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Trotters and The Reds

A couple of weeks ago two young men celebrated their 14th birthday. I have made cards before for these twins and the theme stays the same year after year - football! Their favourite teams of course remain the same as well, so it was time to put my thinking cap on and come up with something a little different.G. (above) supports the North England team Bolton Wanderers, known as "The Trotters", and I was very happy to see that this year they have got rid of the large amount of stripes on their shirt which made hard work for me last year!
A. (above) is passionate about Liverpool and remains a loyal fan even though they are going through some hard times this season. For this design I tackled the whole kit, which is all red with white trim, hence Liverpool's nickname "The Reds". I have shown A. having just scored a goal and proudly holding the ball up high to celebrate his success.
I always remind my customers that my cards are not portraits but that I try to get some sort of likeness by matching hair styles and hair and eye colour. It amuses me though that just by cutting out a little round pink face and some hair that I can often catch some sort of similarity. In this case I think that G, in his Bolton shirt, really does a look a little like him! I dare say that his Mum might not agree though.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Belgium

Now that we are in the month of October, I realise that the time has come for me to finish showing you my photos from the summer! We have just celebrated the festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the remaining days known as Chol HaMoed ("festival weekdays"). I have many pictures from the various wonderful day trips we made here in Israel, but first come the photos from back in August! And here's the thing. We didn't just visit England but managed to pop over to Belgium as well.
Some good friends who we knew in Israel and who now live in Brussels invited us to come and stay with them. As a family we love to travel and to see new places, so we jumped at the chance and hopped onto the Eurostar from London St Pancras.With only three days in Belgium our time was somewhat limited but we squeezed in as much as we could. Day one was spent exploring Brussels, and what a wonderful day it was. We walked and walked and walked, enjoying the stunning Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture around us and popping in and out of all the exquisite chocolate shops dotted around the city. We tasted chocolate and learnt all about it's history at the quaint Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. We looked round the huge complex of the European Parliament and, whilst the boys let off steam at a park near the the Royal Palace, I visited the The Musée Magritte Museum, honestly not one of my favourite artists nor am I even a great fan of the whole Surrealist movement, but felt I should take a look since we were in Magritte's country of birth. One cannot visit Brussels without stopping by the famous Manneken-Pis either, though he was somewhat smaller than we expected and my youngest son didn't think it so nice that we should all be watching whilst he was doing a wee!Our second day in Belgium saw us taking the train to the delightful city of Bruges. The main sights of the city are concentrated within a fairly small area which made it easy to explore and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the city's age-old houses and picturesque bridges. Highlights included a climb to the top of the 272 ft 15th-century Belfry tower in the central Markt Square, which offered a stunning view over the city and the surrounding countryside, and a boat trip on the canals, where we were treated to some fantastic views of the city's historical buildings and monuments at water level. Once again my patient husband allowed me 'time out' to visit the Lace Centre in Peperstraat, a visitor centre dedicated to one of Bruges' most important industries, housed in restored 15th-century almshouses. The day ended with ice-creams for all and the purchase of one or two boxes of yummy Belgian chocolates to be enjoyed at a later date back in Israel.And finally, it was the last day of our Belgian visit and a much anticipated event lay in store for us. Some weeks before, whilst planning our trip, I had been delighted to discover that we were to be in Brussels just when the Grand' Place, the central square of Brussels, was to be covered in flowers. Every two years in August, an enormous "flower carpet" is set up in the square for a few days. A million colourful begonias are set up in patterns, and the display covers an area of some 2,000 square metres. The first flower carpet was made in 1971, and due to its popularity, the tradition continues.
This years design was a tribute to the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The 'eu' logo which appeared in the centre of the carpet was made up of two linked letters to express solidarity and harmonious relations between the Member States.
We purchased tickets to enter the Town Hall which overlooks the square and is itself quite an incredible building, and walked onto the balcony to get an overhead view of the flowers. It was a breathtaking experience. Something magical. Given the size of the carpet and the unique architectural framework that the Grand' Place provides, the flower carpet is considered to be one of the most spectacular flower displays seen in Europe today - and I was there to enjoy it.
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