Friday, 29 June 2012

Fun in the Vineyard

The summer activities have begun. The Chavaya b'Kramim (Fun in the Vineyard) team at nearby Kibbutz Sha'alvim started its spring session of Pick-Your-Own-Fruit events. On a recent Friday afternoon we went to pick blackberries and mulberries in the peaceful kibbutz vineyard.
The deep black blackberries pulled free from the plant with only a slight tug and we very quickly filled several containers. It seems almost impossible to pick the fruit without getting juice all over yours hands, but the kids deemed that a perk of the job and delighted in the messiness! The youngest son liked the mulberries and picked a small container of those too. Later we enjoyed the fruits of our labour served with ice-cream, and there was more left over for a rather luxurious breakfast the following morning.
I hope all of our summer outings are as pleasurable as this one.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sano K-300

By far the favourite card I have made for a member of my own family was the one I made for the hubby's birthday last year. The kids still talk about it. Therefore I knew I had to come up with something good this year. Something that was going to make them all laugh that little bit harder. Well, it was Mister Handmade in Israel's birthday yesterday and I'm pleased to say that both the hubby and the boys roared when he opened this year's envelope.
The hubby is very pale skinned. A real Englishman in New York, erm, the Middle East. He's quite rightly careful about the sun and insists on wearing a truly dreadful green hat with a flap to cover his ears and neck. I couldn't resist showing him wearing the above-mentioned hat on his birthday card!
Not only is he careful about the sun, but he's also obsessed careful about flies and other creepy crawlies getting in to our back garden and home. Now, I'm not saying that I love them, but Mister Handmade in Israel, well, he blasts them with plenty of strong smelling repellent whenever he gets the opportunity. The Sano K-300 that he uses is powerful stuff. There isn't a crawling insect or cockroach that can survive it but I often wonder if we can survive it too! Boy does it smell.
I have shown the hubby with a can of Sano in his hands. Those little flies look pretty scared don't they? The big cloud of repellent clearly shows the hubby's age on it, and I popped a football onto the card too. I simply can't make a card for many of the boys in my family without a football on it. I was tempted to make it England-related given that, up until the night before the hubby's birthday, England were doing pretty well in the European Football Championship. Good job I didn't do it.
Happy Birthday Mister Handmade in Israel. Thank you for laughing at the card and allowing us all a little giggle. I hope you had a great birthday and that you liked your cake too. If you don't come home from work soon there won't be any left for you. The eldest son is rather partial to it...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Magic of Challah

A customer in the UK asked me to make a special card for her granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah. She thought that it might be nice to show a Siddur (a Jewish prayer book containing a set order of daily prayers) and some candles, but otherwise it was left to me to come up with something appropriate. My favourite kind of commission!
Bat Mitzvah literally means "daughter of commandment." When a girl reaches 12 years old she becomes a "bat mitzvah" and is recognised by Jewish tradition as having the same rights as an adult. She will begin to use her prayer book on a regular basis and, since every family has different customs regarding the lighting of the Shabbat candles, the young lady will either light one Shabbat candle until she marries, or will start lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night.
I also showed a plaited Challah and a cup of sweet red Kiddush wine on the card.  Most people think of challah as that special, yummy, plaited bread eaten after the Kiddush and before the Friday night and Saturday meals, 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 God, 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. Additionally, it is one of the three primary commandments of the Jewish woman and thus my reason for including it on this Bat Mitzvah card.
I hope that Grandma liked the different images I came up with and that the Bat Mitzvah girl understood the meaning behind them. For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you might be interested to learn that this is the card that took a looooong time to reach it's destination, frustrating me somewhat. However, all's well that ends well. It got there in the end. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

Birds of a Feather

A customer in the US contacted me recently to enquire whether I could make a guest book for her wedding like the one in my shop, but in the colours she had chosen for her big day. She wanted bright red and a yellowy gold - lovely cheerful colours to work with. She also asked if I could add another bird to the design. No problem!
The book came together easily enough and my customer seemed very happy with it. She left me some wonderful feedback on my Etsy shop's Feedback page. "I procrastinated on getting a wedding album and thankfully found a really cute one on Lisa's page" she said. "Lisa completed the book (which is extremely cute and perfect for my quirky wedding) in I think a day, and the package arrived from Israel to my house in California within a couple of days. Great service and amazing prices for such a darling handmade piece."
Feedback like that is the best!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Swimming and Sunshine

My friend and loyal customer in India e-mailed me in quite a panic recently. She had been planning her son's birthday and his brother had announced that he couldn't wait to see what the theme of the card was to be this year. Oops! Yes, she'd forgotten to ask me about it! It really was okay though, there was still quite some time to work with and I was happy to make it for her and pop it in the post.
Her son was turning 9 and had recently won two silver medals in his school's swimming gala. She thought that I could show him wearing the medals, with his blue goggles perched on top of his head. She also wanted me to add his school's logo in the background because apparently he loves his school. Easy peasy!
My friend is always wonderfully encouraging, but the email she sent me when the card arrived just about beats them all!
"Y's card arrived!... I couldn't stop smiling when I opened it... its incredible! I know he will LOVE it! I do! It looks just like him!... Thank you my wonderful, talented friend!". Well, after reading that, I couldn't stop smiling either.
Summer is most definitely here in these parts of the world and it seems to be influencing my artwork. I was asked for two birthday cards, in Hebrew, for men and decided to do something new. I recently worked on a Bat Mitzvah album with a beach (and Harry Potter) theme and remembered the little scene that I had come up with for one of the album pages. I reworked it a little to fit the shape of the card and was pretty happy with the results. I think this might well be a design that pops up again and again.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Let There Be Light

The hubby and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary last week. Obviously I have made, well, 14 anniversary cards for him by now and frankly they get a little sillier each year! This year's card was no exception. The hubby loves fruitshakes you see, so his anniversary present was a gift card for the fruitshake stand in our local shopping centre, and of course the card from me had to match. I have shown him with a banana and date fruitshake in hand - his favourite combination. There is an electric blender in the background, and a few dates and a banana scattered around too. He liked the card.
There was an anniversary outing too. As is quite common these days, the pre-teen son had a party to go to, so we arranged for the youngest to go to a friend for the evening and took the opportunity to go out and celebrate. The Jerusalem Festival of Light was on, with the extra treat of an outdoor performance by Mayumana, the creative theatre and dance company developed in Tel Aviv. What more could a girl ask for? Well, fish and chips, dipped in batter and deep fried the authentic English way actually!
The fourth annual Festival of Light is organised along three main trails that run through the Old City of Jerusalem. The Orange Trail -  by far the best one in my opinion - starts at the Old City's Jaffa Gate, where a 25 metre high dome entitled Cupola by Luminarie De Cagna, an Italian family lighting company, stands in all it's glory (above). The dome of the Cupola resembles a building from the Italian Renaissance, and is made from LED lights, chained into curtains of light that are mounted onto a wooden structure.
Entering the gate, we quickly saw the orange rope of lights which lit up the route we were to follow. The spider-like Poleen and Faces of Jerusalem in the Armenian Quarter were particular favourites spotted along the way, together with the Meetings composition in The Hurvah Square.
The Damascus Gate Pinball turned a serious landmark into a pinball machine, whilst the Light Benches on Hatzanchanim Street allowed us a few moments rest, albeit right on top of a bright fluorescent light!
The festival manages to combine the magical atmosphere of the Old City with some innovative art. Wandering along the usually darkened cobblestoned streets and alleyways we enjoyed some spectacular light shows, installations, performances and artworks from both Israel and abroad.
"Light has its own presence. Beyond its practical functions, such as creating security, illuminating obstacles and marking passageways, light also enables the observer to perceive the city in a different manner" the festival's website says. Well, we certainly enjoyed the Old City in a very different way that night.
My only real criticism of the event? Special attention has to be paid to the Old City as a holy place for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There seem to be huge gaps along the green and blue routes in the Muslim and Christian Quarters, possibly due to this, but the gaps left us wondering what we were actually there for! The Orange Trail through the Jewish Quarter was spectacular though. It was, without doubt, a great way to spend the evening of our anniversary. Additionally all the walking meant that the fish and chips were walked off a little too. Definitely a good thing after the rather large portions we had polished off earlier that evening!
The Jerusalem Festival of Light runs until June 14th, 2012, from 8 pm to 12 am.
The Mayumana performance times are June 11-12: 8 pm and 10 pm; June 13-14: 8 pm, 9 pm and 10 pm.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The City of Firsts

I moved to Israel because I love the country, not because I particularly wanted to leave the UK. Quite the contrary actually. I am very proud of my British roots. I have always had a soft spot for The Royal Family too. My Dad still has my huge collection of Princess Diana scrapbooks (ideas what to do with them please!). Therefore I have had a fabulous time over the last few days being glued to the television watching the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. I have, in fact, watched more television these last few days than I have the last few months put together. We only have one television and the kids want it back!
Of course, whilst I am proud of the British people and the fantastic show they have put on these last few days, I am also an extremely proud Israeli and never fail to get a kick out of discovering something new here. 
Not long ago it was International Museum Day, a day when, across the globe, many museums open their doors and invite visitors to explore their institutions for free. The date was actually switched here in Israel to coincide with a one-day school holiday and it gave me the perfect opportunity to take the youngest son off for an educational and fun day with Mum. I already knew where I wanted to take him. Nearby Rishon LeZion has a local museum which we had not yet visited and I thought it would perhaps be a little less crowded than some of the bigger institutions. I was right. The museum was small, quiet and the perfect place to visit with an inquisitive 9 year old who says he hates museums, but always enjoys them once I've got him there!
We learnt so much from that one small place! Rishon LeZion was one of the first settlements in Israel (the city's name means “First to Zion”) and its museum tells the story of the First Aliyah (the initial wave of new immigrants to Palestine in 1882). The youngest son and I heard about the hardships and achievements of these first settlers. The museum is located in some of the founders’ renovated homes, commercial enterprises and public buildings, and we saw how they lived, went to school and made a living. We learnt about how Israel's national flag came about and where it was first flown. The settlers needed a banner to celebrate the third anniversary of the founding of the community and so two members took the tallit (prayer shawl) of one of the founders and sewed on a blue Star of David. This very design of the Star of David with two blue stripes was later adopted as the flag of Israel. We saw where Hatikva (The Hope), Israel's national anthem, was written by Naftali Herz Imber during his stay in Rishon LeZion, and was edited by members of the community. It was a local farmer who adapted its words to the tune of a Romanian folk song, many years before its formal adoption as the national anthem of the State of Israel.
In 1886, Rishon LeZion's school, pictured above, was the first one to speak and teach all subjects in Hebrew. The synagogue in the city was one of the first buildings to be erected, seen below, bottom right. As Turkish law forbade the building of a synagogue, the founders declared that the structure was to be a warehouse. The 'warehouse' later evolved into the synagogue.
A short walk from the museum complex took us to the city's first well, its pumping equipment and the adjacent water tower. The well, built with financial assistance from Baron de Rothschild in France, enabled the settlement of Rishon LeZion to survive and today it is immortalized in the shield of the municipality.
After a good couple of hours it was time for refreshments. Our day of fun had come with the promise of lunch, so we checked out the outdoor cafe overlooking the beautiful municipal park near the water tower. Afterwards we walked off our food through the majestic park and learnt that it too had a historical background, having been the site of receptions for Theodor Herzl, Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill and other dignitaries.
It was a short walk back to the car and, as we made our way back, we noticed a beautiful building built in the 1890's, the Rothschild Administration Centre. Today the building contains a memorial commemorating the fallen soldiers of Rishon LeZion but it once served as the home and offices of Baron de Rothschild's chief administrator. In 1898 Theodor Herzl was photographed on its balcony and, if you look closely at the photo above, you can see his model lookalike standing there today!
We really enjoyed our day in Rishon LeZion. It was only ever so slightly spoiled at the end when we discovered that the hubby's car, borrowed because it has a GPS in it, had a flat battery. Fortunately the youngest son was in a good mood from the day out and patiently waited for almost two hours in the sun till I got the problem sorted out.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Danish and Pastries

The majority of the cards that I create have an English or Hebrew greeting on them. A recent request saw me adding wedding congratulations in Danish to the front of one particular card. I think that was a first for me!
A Danish customer, currently living and working in Israel, contacted me and asked me to create a card for some friends of hers who were getting married. They were going to have a traditional Jewish wedding in May. The couple live in Israel but the bride is Danish-born, whilst her new husband is originally from England. All quite normal here in Israel actually! The couple met in Israel and both like football, my customer told me. The groom is a big Tottenham fan, whilst the bride is always wearing her sunglasses. I knew that this was going to be a fun card to create!
I decided to show the couple holding a football together, standing under the chuppah (the canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony). The bride is wearing her sunglasses and a white wedding dress, whilst the groom is of course wearing his beloved Tottenham's shirt. I decorated the chuppah with flowers and put the flag of Denmark, a Union Jack and Israel's national flag in between the flowers.
My customer thought it would be fun to add the wedding greeting in Danish, English and Hebrew. The English and Hebrew I could cope with. The Danish I left to her to let me know!
As you can see by the date on the card, the wedding was yesterday. Congratulations, Mazal Tov... and Tillykke! I am sure that the couple had a wonderful day.
Last weekend we celebrated the festival of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that celebrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. In biblical times the holiday also marked the beginning of the new agricultural season and was called Hag HaKatzir, which means “The Harvest Holiday.” I blogged about it here. Jewish holidays often have some food-related component and Shavuot is no different. It is traditional to eat cheesecake on this particular festival and so I made my favourite recipe, which you can find here. It's quite a fancy cake to make and it does take time to put it together, but it really is delicious. I thought it looked so good that it was worthy of a photograph too. I hope it doesn't make you hungry!