Monday, 31 October 2011

The Man with the Palindromic Initials

I discovered that I have a secret blog admirer! A lady whom I met at a local networking meeting quite some time ago e-mailed me out of the blue with a card request. It appears that she has followed my blog for quite some time and actually taken note of some of the things that I have written! Yeah! I was of course delighted to hear from her and happily set to work on a special birthday card for her Dad.
What did she tell me about her dear Dad? Well, I learned that he was a doctor until he retired - 25 years ago! He has spent quite some time researching his family's genealogy, grows vegetables in the backyard and enjoys bowling once or twice a week. He also spends most days trying to solve sudokus. His initials are pretty special too - SHS. They form a palindromic 'word' (okay, I know they're really initials), like the word noon, which is not only the same spelled forwards as backwards, but also is the same upside down when spelled in capital letters.
There was a lot to fit on to Dad's card but I think I managed it! The diploma certificate and stethoscope portray his professional life, whilst the family tree on the top right of the card represents his genealogical research. There are gardening tools and vegetables aplenty, since that is the pastime that he has enjoyed most of his life, and I have fitted in a bowling ball and pins, and a couple of sudoku puzzles too.
I hope that Dad liked his card. My customer told me that her father, as he gets older, doesn't have such a good memory for things but that images assist him a lot. I hope that this card, showing the many interesting aspects of his life, prompted his memory a little and that it gave him pleasure seeing all the things he has enjoyed over time on one special card.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Chol HaMoed - Weekdays of the festival

The six days between the festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are referred to as Chol Hamoed. Many activities which are forbidden on the festival days are permitted on the days of Chol HaMoed (except if it is also Shabbat) such as using electricity or driving a car. Hard work is ruled out and so the days become a time to have fun and relax. We made sure that we did!
We went to "Erez Chavat Chalav" dairy farm, a real gem of a place where we got to bottle feed the calves, toss hay at the cows, 'milk' a cow with a quick squeeze at the base of the teat and then finally we watched how the milking is really done these days with huge, computerized machinery. I'll let you into a secret. I am not sure who had more fun, the youngest son and his friend who had joined us for the day, or I?
The next day we stayed near home to visit the Hiriya Recycling Park. Less than a decade ago the Hiriya mound was an active landfill and a dreadfully smelly one at that! Today the recycling park and the in-progress Ariel Sharon Park have become symbols of renewal in Israeli society. Refuse is still brought to the Hiriya but it is now disposed of properly elsewhere and the visitors centre, where virtually everything is recycled, is a great place to learn how to protect and rejuvenate the environment (below).
The eldest son came back from his youth group camp two days into the holiday and together we took a tour of the experimental Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv. The Palmach was a special military force of the Hagana - the underground military organization of pre-State Palestine. There are no displays or documents in this relatively new museum but rather we followed the story of young Palmach recruits through various rooms, films and special effects. It was a fascinating and thoroughly moving experience.
Later that day we stopped off at the Buffalo Dairy on a moshav about an hours drive away from Tel Aviv. This unique farm serves as a kind of tourist attraction as well as a working dairy. The buffalo herd was imported from Italy in 1995 when the owners saw that the Israeli market was over-loaded with milk products and needed a new direction. Milk from water buffalo, I learned, is thicker, sweeter, and richer than cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk and is higher in calcium, proteins, and healthful fat than any other milk. Certainly the yoghurt and soft cheeses we bought in the little shop were delicious!
We really did have a busy few days but the last day trip I want to share with you for now (I have more to come!) was to the Electricity Power Station in Hadera, a town in central Israel. The pre-booked tour included a film and a bus ride around the power station and all the way up the pier over the sea to (potentially) watch the coal being brought by ship and sent down to the station to be turned into electricity. Unfortunately there were no ships in dock during our visit.
Afterwards we went nearby to the Beit Henkin restaurant in Givat Olga, right on the beach. The restaurant, situated in a historic Bauhaus building high up on a cliff edge overlooking the sea, served some delicious pasta. Later still we hit the the beach which was practically empty, clean and had some rock pools for exploring. A great day out!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Birds, Beads and Banners

We have just ended an incredible week of Chol HaMoed, the holiday days between the festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah (a celebratory holiday that marks the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle). I have taken many, many photos of the wonderful places that we visited but they need a little organising before I post some of them here. In the meantime I have a few more cards to show you which were requested before the holidays and my short creative break began.
A customer wanted a card for her Mom. She told me that Mom likes to paint watercolours and loves beautiful, classy things. She is also a wonderful Savta (the Hebrew word for Grandmother) and it was asked that I somehow add that into the card's design. I remembered that I had made a card for Mom along the very same themes last year so made sure that I came up with something quite different. My customer was amused that I remembered exactly what I had done - especially since she hadn't - and proclaimed that if anyone ever starts ordering birthday cards for her, I can tell them that they can use the same one every year since she wouldn't know the difference!
The same customer also requested a card for her 16 year old son. She preferred a pattern of some sort - not necessarily a theme - so I had fun cutting out 16 birthday candles in funky, bright colours (below).
Finally, her last card request on this occasion was for her daughter's birthday. This one had to be a very girly card and the suggested themes were jewellery, nail polish, hearts and flowers! Since the young lady was turning 12 - the age that a Jewish girl becomes Bat Mitzvah - I added a number 12 to the design and a banner with 'Batmitzva Girl' on it (my customer's requested spelling).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Bat Mitzvah on Sukkot

This young lady is celebrating her Bat Mitzvah this weekend and an order for a 'Handmade in Israel' album was made for the occasion. Her Bat Mitzvah celebration coincides with the Jewish Festival of Sukkot. It is a 7-day holiday, with the first day celebrated as a full festival with special prayer services and holiday meals and the remaining days known as Chol HaMoed ("festival weekdays").
Sukkot dates back to times in ancient Israel when Jews would build huts near the edges of their fields during the harvest season. One of these dwellings was called a 'sukkah' and 'sukkot' is the plural form of this Hebrew word. Sukkot is also related to the way the Jewish people lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years. As they moved from one place to another they built tents or booths, called sukkot, that gave them temporary shelter in the desert.
Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest in the land of Israel, another custom on Sukkot involves waving the lulav and etrog.  The etrog is a kind of citron, while the lulav is a composed of three myrtle twigs, two willow twigs and a palm frond.  Together the lulav and etrog represent the Four Species (four different kinds of plants that have symbolic significance during the Jewish holiday). During Sukkot the lulav and etrog are waved together while reciting special blessings. Returning to the aforementioned Bat Mitzvah celebration, because it falls in the middle of this festival, I decorated the album with a lulav and etrog (above) as a reminder of the holiday.
Sukkot aside, I was informed that the Bat Mitzvah girl loves the American brand Hollister, high heels, make up and books. She has also just started at the City of London school, so I added the school badge on to the album cover.
Inside I decorated a number of pages with those same themes. From the top, you can see the make up page and above, moving clockwise, her passion for high heeled shoes and make up, the lulav and etrog for Sukkot, books to illustrate her love of reading and finally, her school's badge and some school supplies.
"Mazal Tov" to the young lady on her Bat Mitzvah and "Chag Sameach" (literally "joyous festival") to those of you celebrating Sukkot. We have already kicked off our week of travelling and day trips and I promise to be back here very soon with some great photos.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Israeli Glass 2011

The same morning that I visited the wonderful 'A Land and It's Dolls' exhibition at Tel Aviv's Eretz Israel Museum, I also dropped by 'Israeli Glass 2011'. The exhibition, hailed as "one of the most exciting events on the Tel Aviv art scene this year" (Israel Inside Out), displays approximately 100 works of glass created over the last four years.
Professional glass artists, as well as pieces created by those who have only recently completed their schooling, are showing their work. Several of the artists participating in the exhibition have in fact crossed over from other fields, such as painting, sculpting, and graphic design.
A  large range of glass making and glass decorative processes are illustrated in various ways, highlighting some of the inventive and imaginative ways the material is used. I am by no means an expert in the field of glass but, from reading a little further, I learnt that some of the 66 exhibiting artists concentrated on mastering traditional skills and standard materials, whilst others pushed the boundaries of what is possible with glass, exploring new methods of working with the material. Blowing, fusing, kiln casting and lamp working has been employed, as well as cold processes such as cutting, grinding, engraving, acid-etching, polishing and sandblasting.
Minute dancers, delicate beads, a glass Sabbath table packed with glass plates, candlesticks and plaited challah breads were all on display. My personal favourites were the truly incredible 'splash' (my title), above, and the chunky green and white birds sitting on a wooden shelf (second from top).
'Israeli Glass 2011' runs until November 15. If you are in Israel, I strongly recommend a visit.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Alison Moore Designs

I have mentioned before that I belong to the Etsy Expats Team. Some time ago Alison Moore dropped in to chat in the team's forum and I was immediately dazzled by her beautiful handcrafted jewellery. We became business friends on facebook and so, when I recently noticed that Alison was running a giveaway to win a sterling silver & copper organic necklace on Etsy Stalker, I had to enter! And guess what? I was the winner!!! Alison's stunning necklace arrived beautifully packaged a few days ago and I have worn it every day since. 
Alison lives with her husband in a tiny cottage on an island in the north of Scotland and says that being on a Scottish island has a huge impact on her work. The necklace I received features a trio of handmade circles in sterling silver, oxidized sterling silver, and copper and  has a very organic feel to it. I can totally see the the influence of the natural landscape she lives in on her work and I absolutely love it!
If you'd like to read a little more about Alison, check out this interview with her on the Etsy Stalker blog and then pop over to her shop and treat yourselves!
Thank you, Alison, for this fabulous giveaway and your incredible generosity! We have just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and what better a start to the year could I have asked for than to win such a magnificent prize?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What's your favourite favourite?

I have a great customer who always gets very carried away with her requests. She knows exactly what teeny-weeny details she wants on her cards and sends me long e-mails listing them. Obviously I really appreciate her enthusiasm and do my very best to oblige, although sometimes I do come up with some alternative suggestions!
Not long ago she requested a card for a "tubby guy" (I hope I am not offending anyone here!) who had to be wearing a white short sleeved t-shirt. She specified that he is bald but has some grey hair on the sides and that he wears glasses. He obviously has a sweet tooth and is a big fan of Nestle's Quality Streets. My customer wanted me to show them "bursting out" all over the card, as they do, or at least used to do, on the adverts. It's been quite some time since I have seen any advert on the television in the UK, but I remembered the one she was talking about. Lastly, it was requested that I add a packet of Silk Cut Blue cigarettes. From that I understood that our "tubby guy" is, or was, a smoker, so I popped a cigarette into one hand and the previously mentioned chocolates into the other.
A friend of mine sent me no less than TEN photographs of her niece and nephew when she asked me to make their birthday cards. It seems that her sister saves my designs each year and therefore the cards seem to have become a kind of record of the children's interests and my friend wanted to make sure that everything was there!
Her nephew, who turned 4, has a favourite soft toy sheep. My friend sent me a link to show me what the toy looks like, but it was specified that it had to be light brown rather than white. He is also into his scooter right now and still loves diggers. She also sent me a photo of the boy dressed up in his sister's tutu but, since Mum is keeping the cards as mementos, we agreed that he would probably not want to be reminded of that in the future!
My friend's niece turned 3. This time the tutu did appear on the card! I also showed her wearing some white butterfly wings and enjoyed adding cotton wool to them, to give them the feathery edging that I noticed in the photo sent to me. The blue-eyed little girl also has a favourite wooden training bike which I added into the picture. The final request from her auntie was that I make the card as girly as possible. I hope I got it all right!
* For those of you who think I made a typo with the title of this post - I didn't! "What's your favourite favourite?" was the advertising slogan for Quality Street chocolates back in the '80's.*

Sunday, 2 October 2011

A Card for Saba

A customer came to me with some very straightforward requests for cards for her family. She wanted "something pretty" for her sister, above, and a birthday card for Dad, the only requirement being that I somehow include the word DAD in big letters on it. 'Dad' likes gardening and being a Saba (the Hebrew word for grandfather) so I set to work on a card which included some gardening tools, a few leaves and flowers and which accommodated the right words within the design.
My customer also needed an anniversary card for her parents. I went for a pretty floral design, incorporating a couple of wine glasses and a big read heart. The bold colours hopefully gave it a modern twist.