Monday, 30 July 2012

Fan Mail

A young lady from Canada e-mailed me recently to tell me that her Mum loves my work and that she therefore wanted to order a customised card for her birthday. There wasn't too much time but it seems that Mum reads my blog regularly and "was raving about your [my] work recently!" How could I possibly resist a request like that?
'Mom' is a Hebrew school teacher. She loves arts and crafts and she paints. She loves flowers and everything Israel. Her daughter told me that her hair is reddish and asked me to include a picture of her on the card. All quite straight forward really and so I set to work in order to get the card into the mail with time to spare.
I recently received a message from 'Mom' telling me that she had received my "fabulous" card for her birthday from her kids and that she was "so delighted and surprised!" by it. Her daughter also mailed me to tell me that "Mom loved her birthday card". I love it when I have such satisfied customers.
Not long after that another e-mail popped into my inbox. "I've been a big fan of your work (and a follower of your blog) for a while now," the writer said. "I'd love to order a card for my fiancé's 33rd birthday [and]I'd love for you to include various aspects of his personality in the card, if possible". Of course it was possible.
The writer's fiancé loves baseball - watching the Red Sox or Oakland A's - and playing softball. He also loves playing basketball and plays in a weekly game of poker too. I had to do a little research to figure out the various team badges and colours - I am much more au fait with the English Premier League football clubs than baseball teams - but I think I got it right!
I showed her fiancé wearing a green Oakland A's t-shirt and with a Boston Red Sox cap on his head. He has a softball bat in one hand and four aces in the other, with some poker chips close at hand. I included a basketball and softball ball too. My customer also asked me to write the birthday greeting in English and Hebrew on the card.
After a week or so I received an e-mail to tell me that the card had arrived and that she thought it looked fabulous! "You did a great job" she said. "I can't wait to give it to J. next week."
What lovely customers I have.

Thursday, 26 July 2012


I don't know this young lady, apart from what her Mum told me about her, but I know for sure that she would get along great with my boys. Anyone who loves the English Premier League football club Arsenal would be made very welcome in our home, and we know just how much she loves Arsenal because her Mum asked me to show her wearing her favourite football team's shirt on the front cover of her Bat Mitzvah album.
This Bat Mitzvah girl - or BATgirl, as her Mum calls her - also enjoys playing and studying on the computer, arts and crafts, and is passionate about our Holy City, Jerusalem. I have created a little representation of Jerusalem to the left of BATgirl, and included Montefiore's Windmill, a landmark windmill in Jerusalem, a few domed buildings, and the golden stone walls of Jerusalem's Old City. The Hebrew writing on the cover gives the date of BATgirl's Bat Mitzvah celebration, her name, and underneath that, the word Bat Mitzvah.
Inside the album I decorated a few pages along the same themes. Once again I recreated a little Jerusalem scene for the first page. Following that, one page shows her computer and some books - BATgirl's Mum told me that she is very curious and likes to learn new things - and another page displays the Arsenal logo and a football. I illustrated some pencils, scissors and a tube of paint to show her love for crafting and, finally, on one of the last pages of the album, made some little mock photographs of the various places BATgirl has visited with her family during her Bat Mitzvah year.
Each page was also decorated with a gold Magen David (Star of David) on a blue background, BATgirl's favourite colour and, finally, I sprayed the whole album with an acrylic sealer to protect it from sticky fingers at the Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
I am told that the album was very well received. BATgirl's Mum sent me a lovely message when it first arrived. "I just wanted to tell you that the book is even more beautiful than I imagined it would be! It is simply perfection, it is still a surprise, but I can't wait to see her face when the time comes!" and then, when the Bat Mitzvah girl did eventually see it, her Mum followed up with "You should have seen her face light up, she was so excited!"
There's nothing better than a happy customer!
If anyone is interested in ordering their very own guest book/album, there is a listing for one in my shop.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Hanging Gardens of Haifa

The youngest son had spotted a picture of Haifa's Baha'i Gardens in a magazine some time ago and wanted to visit, but I needed to wait till the school holidays to take him there. Even though Israel really is a tiny country, Haifa is quite a long drive from where we live and, whilst I have no problem with motorway driving, I prefer to drive distances with someone with me (aside from the bickering kids in the backseat of course!). My Dad's recent visit meant I had that important someone and so off we went to Haifa for what turned out to be a really lovely day out.
I used to visit Haifa a lot as a child. My adored Great Aunt lived there and we spent many happy holidays with her. I was familiar with the lower Baha'i Gardens, built in the 1960s, from those early years. The construction of the upper gardens was made between 1987 and 2001, at a price tag of US$250 million, and it was that part of the gardens, with its 19 terraces, that we wished to see.
The gardens are one of the two great holy places for members of the Baha'i faith, an independent movement that originated in Persia in the middle of the 19th century. The Baha'i are based in the area because the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah spent 25 years imprisoned in nearby Acre.
The faith can be traced back to Ali-Muhammad (1819-50), a native of Iran. In 1844 Ali declared that he was the 'Promised One' and gathered up followers, called Babis, but was later arrested and executed by firing squad. In 1866, a Babi named Mizra Hussein Ali assumed the title of Baha'u'llah but, like the Bab, his declarations were unwelcome in Persia and he was expelled, first to Baghdad, and finally Acre. Sitting in his cell in Acre he lay down the principles of a new faith, the Baha'i, which comes from the Arabic word baha (glory).
Baha'i now have an estimated six million followers in more than 75 countries. Few Baha'i live in Israel, but 700 volunteers from abroad serve in the Baha'i World Centre, the Baha'i governing seat. Tradition dictates that once in their life a Baha'i must make a pilgrimage to Haifa to walk up the 1400 steps of the Baha'i Gardens.
The remains of Ali-Muhammad, the Bab, were brought to Haifa in 1909 and interred into the golden-domed Shrine of the Bab. The tomb is considered one of the two most sacred sites for the world's six million Baha'i. Higher up the hill, behind the shrine, stands the Universal House of Justice (above, bottom right), a classically styled pseudo-temple that also belongs to the Baha'i but is closed to the public. All the Bahá'í buildings face toward Acre, the burial place of Baha'u'llah.
It was the gardens we had come to see, however, and, with every tree trimmed to perfection and every blade of grass seemingly cut to the exact same height, the 19 terraces are truly a sight to see. Built through voluntary contributions from members of the faith, they are quite simply breathtaking. Also known as 'The Hanging Gardens of Haifa' and declared by Haifa's Mayor as "the eighth wonder of the world", they extend almost a kilometre up the side of Mount Carmel, covering some 200,000 square metres of land. Each terrace is linked by a set of stairs, with streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges.
Putting aside the heat for a moment - and, gosh was it HOT - the hillside gardens feel almost European. The terraces are lined with stone balustrades, fountains and eagles. Carved urns overflowing with red geraniums set off the emerald-green grass and dark-green trees. Black iron gates give the 100 gardener's access to the trees, bushes, flowerbeds and manicured lawns, and there was not a leaf out of place!
The garden’s crowning glory is most definitely its breathtaking panoramic view of Haifa Bay and the Mediterranean Sea. I am confident that there is no place on Earth with a more beautiful view!
Afterwards we visited the downtown German Colony, originally founded by the German Templer Society and now a lovely area with nice bars and outdoor seating, but frankly nothing could compare to those incredible hanging gardens and the view beyond them.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sequin Shoes, Saba and Sam

A regular customer of mine asked me to make a card for her niece's 15th birthday with make up as the main theme. However, the young lady also recently wore some really high multicoloured sequin wedge shoes for her brother's Bar Mitzvah celebration - apparently her feet were killing her after 5 minutes -  so I was asked to feature them on the card too. I couldn't really see the shoes properly on the photograph my customer sent me so I did a quick search on the Internet. My customer was impressed with my investigative research and wanted to know if I'd ever thought of being a spy. It seems I'd found the right shoes!
The card above was a request for a Saba (the modern Hebrew word for Grandfather) who apparently always seems to visit the dentist when he comes to Israel on holiday! The customer who requested this card nearly always asks me to add her kids into the design too. It is not always easy to get it to work, but in this case I showed Saba in the dentist's chair, receiving treatment, whilst his grandchildren watch nearby.
Certainly one of the more unusual requests that I have received lately...
Finally, another regular customer of mine wanted a new baby card for her brother and sister-in-law. They have recently become parents to a baby boy and so my customer wanted me to show them with the new baby. My customer's brother is a fitness instructor by profession so it was fun to show the new dad flexing his muscles a bit. Mum is probably a bit too tired for any sport herself at the moment!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Born on the First of July

The First of July was a popular date for Bar and Bat Mitzvah's this year. I made three albums for that date alone! There is of course a reason that there seemed to be so many simchas (happy occasions) at the beginning of the summer. Firstly the Counting of the Omer (a verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot) is a  time of semi-mourning during which Halakha (Jewish religious law) forbids joyous activities. Now we are in the Three Weeks, a period of mourning on account of the collapse of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. Weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally not held at this time and so, whilst all of the kids I made albums for were certainly not born on the First of July, they got to celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvah's on that day since it fell between the two mourning periods.
One young lady who had her Bat Mitzvah on that day was Charlie. My customer told me that Charlie plays the piano, likes singing, and is very creative and arty. The photo I received of her showed her blondish wavy hair and I had fun recreating it in paper.
I have shown Charlie sitting at the piano, singing along to the music. There are a few arts and crafts supplies nearby, and her beloved Blackberry mobile phone is perched on top of the piano. 
I decorated the inside pages of the album along different themes. The Bat Mitzvah girl likes to go swimming (above). I added her school's badge with a couple of books and pencils (below), a few more arts and crafts materials, some music notes and a treble clef to represent her piano playing and singing, and finally showed her with her dark haired best friend.
Mazal Tov on your Bat Mitzvah Charlie. More First of July albums will follow shortly...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Mey Kedem

My Dad has just been here for visit. The kids are on holiday from school and have not yet gone off to camp, so timing worked out perfectly (not by chance, but with a little planning of course!). We were able to do some great day trips together and show my Dad, who knows Israel pretty well, some offbeat parts of the country. One of the places we visited was Mey Kedem archeological park near Binyamina and Zichron Yaakov, where a 280-metre underground tunnel built by the Romans used to lead water to the city of Caesarea.
More than 2,000 years ago the Romans ruled the Holy Land. During this time they took on a lot of construction projects. One of them was the creation of a water system to bring water to the growing city of Caesarea. Many people are familiar with the end of this system - the ancient aqueducts in Caesarea - but if you trace the ducts all the way back, you'll reach the Ein Tzabarin Springs, about 23 kilometres northeast of the city. A network of canals, tunnels, clay pipes and aqueducts transported water from those springs to the city port. Every now and then new parts of the system are uncovered and Mey Kedem is one of these sites, found in 1967.
After years of restoration visitors are now able to explore the 280-metre stretch of the 6-kilometre water tunnel. The architects of the water system utilised the land form around them to keep a gravity-based water system going. They started at the bottom of a hill and dug a horizontal tunnel into the hillside until they reached the natural springs at Ein Tzabarin. They sank diagonal shafts into the ground every 50 metres then, at the bottom of each shaft, two teams would go down and start digging in opposite directions until they met the team working from the adjacent shaft. In this way, the tunnel was completed. There are even little niches in the walls of the tunnel where candles were placed to light the diggers' way.
Torches in hand and wearing our waterproof Crocs, we descended down into the deep, dark tunnel. A little eerie and a tiny bit scary, the kids had a blast splashing through the water (at times waist high). Our guide pointed out the chisel marks and slight curves which show where the diggers didn't meet up perfectly, and showed us an original Roman filter which got rid of the leaves and other debris (above). A small green frog hopped along with us through the water. My Dad had initially said that he wasn't going to come into the tunnel but the guide was persuasive and he managed just fine. The spring water flows all year round and so, with temperatures currently reaching 35°C plus, it was a great, cool summer treat.
There was a short film afterwards, followed by a yummy picnic brought from home. The kids had had a fabulous day and Grandpa too. What an interesting place!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

You're in the Army Now

I've been busy making a few cards "for the boys" lately, starting with this card for a recent recruit into the Israeli army. This young man gained a place in the Golani Brigade, an Israeli infantry brigade that is traditionally responsible for the northern front with Syria and Lebanon. The brigade is one of the most highly decorated infantry units in the Israel Defence Forces and the birthday boy's grandma is very proud of her grandson. She specifically asked whether I could make him a birthday card showing his brigade's symbol. Of course I could!
I did a little research and showed the young man wearing service uniform and proudly holding up his brigade's insignia: a green olive tree with its roots on a yellow background. Apparently the symbol was drawn by the 12th Battalion's intelligence officer who came from kibbutz Beit Keshet, a kibbutz in the Lower Galilee which is home to numerous olive trees. The colour green symbolises the green hills of the Galilee, where the brigade was stationed at the time of its creation, and the olive tree is known for its strong roots that penetrate and firmly hold the land, reflecting the brigade's connection with the State of Israel's heritage. Early Golani soldiers were farmers and new immigrants, so the strong connection to the land was important to symbolise. The yellow background on which the tree stands reflects the brigade's role in the south of the country in the war of 1948, when it captured Umm-Rashrash, now Eilat, Israel's southernmost city.
The Hebrew greeting on the card says "Happy Birthday to N. my dear Grandson."
My father-in-law celebrated a birthday recently and so I popped this card into the post to let him know that we were thinking of him.
Finally the card below was made for a young man who recently celebrated his 18th birthday. His Mum told me that he is passionate about the English football club West Ham United but also loves cricket and watching our more local team מ.ש. מודיען. They haven't made it to the Premier League quite yet but apparently the birthday boy is a loyal supporter and enjoys watching them play. I was pleased to be able to find a photo of the team in their blue kit on the web.
Happy Birthday and Mazal Tov to all the "boys". It was rather nice to make cards that were not all football-themed for once!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Jordyn's Album

Way back in December last year a customer approached me about an album for her daughter's Bat Mitzvah which they were going to be celebrating in... June! Talk about being organised. I have been faced with many weird and wonderful deadlines over the years, from requests to make a personalised card within the hour, to something required around eight weeks later. I am not sure that I have ever been asked to make something six months in advance! Well done to the Bat Mitzvah girl's Mum for being so organised.
The Bat Mitzvah girl's name is Jordyn and her Hebrew name ירדן (Yarden). Her Mum told me that she loves to read, has read all of the Harry Potter books and is on number four of the movie. She also recently received a Kindle Fire and loves listening to music. Lucky Jordyn! Mum said that she is very tall and thin and that her hair is light brown and very long. Finally I learnt that she always kisses the mezzuzah (a piece of parchment, often contained in a decorative case, inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah and affixed to the doorframe in Jewish homes) every time she enters or leaves a room.
Jordyn is involved with the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva in the town she lives in. She is fluent in both Hebrew and English and is a very serious student at school. On the cover of her Bat Mitzvah album I have shown her wearing the grey shirt of her youth group with her group's name and its pink badge. She has a book open in one hand and is clutching the Kindle Fire in the other. A mezzuzah and some music notes are shown to one side of her, with two of her favourite books, 'A Year Without Autumn' and the second Harry Potter book on the other side. Her schoolbooks and pencils are open nearby.
Mum initially told me that Jordyn loves the colour blue. She later added that the colour scheme of the Bat Mitzvah was to be teal and silver, so that became the colour of the album design too.
Jordyn has two younger sisters so they featured prominently on the first page inside the album. She has just got braces on her teeth too and apparently loves choosing the different coloured bands every month! Mum thought she would be amused to see herself, pictured with her sisters, with those braces on her teeth. What a lovely smile she has!
The other inside pages of the album show her, well actually her father's, iPod Shuffle; her much loved books; a mezzuzah and the badge of her Bnei Akiva youth group. Jordyn's Dad asked if I could add an Israeli flag inside too, since the family only came to live in Israel 2½ years ago.
Mazal Tov Jordyn! I hope you thoroughly enjoyed every moment of your Bat Mitzvah. May you continue to love your life here in Israel and keep enjoying those coloured bands on your braces too!