Sunday, 26 February 2012

Eden's Bat Mitzvah

Some custom orders are especially nice to do when you know just how much they are going to be appreciated. This order was one of them! The young lady who was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah has been part of my life pretty much since she was born. Her Mum is a good friend of mine, and her daughter has often received birthday cards of mine and has very sweetly told me many times how much she likes my work. When her Mum asked me to make an album for her daughter's Bat Mitzvah I knew that a lot of care and consideration had to go into it - of course, as it always does - because I knew the young lady was going to treasure it.
Eden, the Bat Mitzvah girl, had a definite idea how her album was to look, though Mum did give me freedom to play around with her ideas! I was asked to show her with her beautiful long hair in a ponytail, wearing a red netball bib with the letters GA (Goal Attack) on it.  Eden is a creative girl and requested that I show her holding a paint palette in one hand and a pair of black jazz dance shoes in the other hand. We initially talked about her wearing earphones, to represent her love of music, but then opted for an iPod instead. The beautiful invitation I had received for her Bat Mitzvah party was turquoise and white. To continue with the colour scheme, I picked out the floral design from the invitation and made my own turquoise and white version of it for the album cover. The date of her Bat Mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue, plus her name in both English and Hebrew complete the cover design.
Inside the album I decorated several pages to illustrate Eden's various hobbies and interests (below). The first page shows her laptop computer with Facebook open on the screen (funny how I seem to do that on so many of the kids' albums these days!)  and the iPod once again. As well as being a keen jazz dancer, Eden also loves hip hop, so her fancy blue and white ankle high trainers had to be featured too. Her Mum asked me to somehow illustrate her daughter's love of music as well. She mentioned the possibility of me illustrating a cassette tape but I figured that I am perhaps the only person who listens to cassettes these days! Instead I crafted some music notes and headphones, along with those same white flowers from the cover. The last page featured a group of chatting girls. I guess there's no need for an explanations for that one!
Eden seemed absolutely delighted with her album and told me many times over the course of the celebrations how thrilled she was with it! Since I was to be a guest at her Bat Mitzvah party it seemed only right that she should receive a matching card from me. Once again I created a paper version of the young lady wearing her netball bib. She is surrounded by a few music notes and flowers, similar to those on her invitation.
It was wonderful to be able to celebrate this young lady's Bat Mitzvah and even more so, to be able to make something for her that I know she is going to treasure. I don't often know the kids whom I make the albums for. This was a request very close to home and one that was truly a pleasure to create. Mazal Tov Eden!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The almond tree blossoms

In Israel flowers bloom all year, in the cold and rainy season as well as in the burning heat of summer. Even the months of January and February provide us with, amongst other flowers, the beautiful red anemone which grows wild in some parts of the country. The anemone is called Calanit in Hebrew, from the word "Cala כלה" which means "bride". The Calanit supposedly earned its name because of its beauty and majesty, evoking a bride on her wedding day. January and February also see the almond tree, the first fruit tree in Israel to wake from its winter 'sleep', bearing its pinkish white blossoms on a naked, leafless stem.
We've had a very wet winter. The month of January saw the highest number of rainy days in one month on record. It's a good thing though. The rains have raised the water-level of the Kinneret (The Sea of Galilee), Israel's major reservoir of fresh water, which desperately needs to recoup its losses after a decade of drought. Of course the rain also helps the anemone and almond trees bloom.
We recently celebrated the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the day that trees come of age according to Jewish law, and, as if by magic, the almond trees burst into flower just in time for the holiday. The almond tree doesn’t mind the cold of January and blooms incredible white flowers before the majority of other trees begin to bloom. Referred to in the Bible as the Shaked, meaning 'hasten', the almond tree, first planted in the country by the Jewish National Fund over 100 years ago and now found all over Israel, is a welcome reminder that spring is just around the corner. The pink and white flowers turn into leaves and finally give way to almonds in just a few months.
In between the rain we recently managed a quick trip to our local beauty spot and archaeological site, Titura Hill, which I have previously blogged about here. It was still a little early for the anemones or cyclamen but the aforementioned almond trees were just beginning to bloom and the kids and I had a wonderful time wandering along the paths, searching for interesting rocks, sticks and everything else that makes a trip into the countryside - even one literally on our doorstep - a lot of fun!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Birthday Book

My youngest son, the 9 year old, loves to write stories in English (he speaks both English and Hebrew) and even though I am his Mum and so am terribly biased, I think he has a real talent for it. A while back he decided that he was going to publish a book of his short stories. I am delighted that he has such grand aspirations and decided to make that dream come true for him as a special birthday present. I mentioned it briefly here.
After a little research on the internet I decided upon a company that prints books in the UK. I could have made the book here in Israel but since Hebrew books are read from right to left, I would have had to build my son's book backwards, which I imagined was a mistake waiting to happen! It took me a few hours to create the book, primarily because it involved a LOT of typing, but my graphic design skills came in handy and I found laying it all out a lot of fun.
I have kept my son's 'best' pieces from the last couple of years and have saved as many of the better drawings as possible. He draws all the time, using up a massive amount of paper, and sometimes is quick to discard the pictures that he feels do not quite reach the mark. The pictures that made it into the book were pretty much all met with approval. I tried to match them where possible to a story. When I didn't have a suitable drawing, I added a photograph of the birthday boy instead.
I used Albelli books and overall was very happy with the service, though it took some time for the book to be sent and for me to receive it. Shipping to Israel pretty much always comes under the 'worldwide' bracket and is therefore unnecessarily expensive. Fortunately my Dad was willing to help and knew to forward the book onto me as soon as it arrived at his address in the UK.  He paid less than a third of the price that Albelli had quoted me, using the same packaging.
I made a hardback photobook and paid a little extra for a photo cover. My son was speechless when he saw his first book and it has been shown to anyone who is willing to spend a few moments looking at it, regardless of whether they speak English or not! I am not sure that his form teacher speaks a word of English but she seemed impressed all the same. His friends even asked him how many copies he had sold! Not many, but two more copies have been ordered for the proud Grandparents in the UK, and I see a second collection being 'published' within the next year or so. Look out for it.
* Want to take a look at the book? A link to the online version is here.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Ketubah Scroll and a Blog Award

A customer asked me for a card for a Jewish wedding. She showed me the invitation she had received but didn't necessarily want me to use it as the theme for the card and was happy for me to come up with something myself. I decided to create a card with some symbolic imagery but also matched the wedding invitation in a small way. The cream coloured card and the curvy hearts in the top left hand corner were the elements which matched the invitation.
In many Jewish weddings two candles are carried to escort the bride and groom to the wedding canopy, so I illustrated two candlesticks and a white canopy, or chuppah, on my card. The numerical value for the Hebrew word candle (nair) has the same value as the biblical phrase in Genesis "Be fruitful and multiply." The chuppah symbolises the new Jewish home that the couple create together.
Next to the candlesticks I included a Magen David (Shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David). The Magen David is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, and is supposed to represent the emblem on King David's shield.
On the right of the card you can see the Ketubah scroll. The Ketubah is a 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. And before you all jump up and tell me how old fashioned it is that the contract is signed only by the groom, I must add that the purpose of the Ketubah is to protect the woman's rights during the marriage and in case she is divorced or widowed. Historically, the Ketubah marked a great leap forward in the thinking about the rights of women.
The last element of the design that I should explain is the silver cup. Actually two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings, recited by the rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup. Wine, a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition, is associated with Kiddush, the sanctification prayer recited on the Sabbath and festivals. Marriage, called Kiddushin, is the sanctification of a man and woman to each other.
Moving on, I was recently bestowed with the Versatile Blogger Award by Annie of the wonderful blog Dough, Dirt & Dye. Thank you so much, Annie! It is always very nice to know that someone out there is reading and enjoying my blog possibly as much as I enjoy writing it. Annie's own blog is always a delight to visit. She is incredibly talented in the kitchen and I love reading her anecdotes and thoughts about the various happenings her life.
Receivers of the Versatile Blogger Award are asked to share seven facts about themselves, so here goes:
1) I am British-born but have lived in Israel for over 17 years.
2) I am lucky enough to have visited the Egyptian Pyramids and the Nabatean city of Petra.
3) I studied graphic design at Liverpool School of Art. Japanese tourists regularly stopped by to see the place where John Lennon studied.
4) My family and I only speak English at home, even though we live in Israel.
5) I am a vegetarian but regularly cook meat meals for my husband and sons.
6) I love spicy food but it really makes me sneeze!
7) I cannot sing in tune.

Now it is my turn to pass the award on to some of my fellow bloggers. Here's a real mix of some of my very favourites:

Now the torch is in your hands girls so, as Annie herself told me, "Go forth and be Versatile!"

Monday, 13 February 2012

Without you life sucks

This card is not a Valentine card but rather one for an anniversary. However, the theme behind it is pretty romantic so I deemed it worthy to be my Valentine's Day post.
Last month I received an Etsy convo from a fellow seller telling me that she is crazy about the paper cut style of cards that I make. She wanted to have a special card made for her up-and-coming anniversary and had some very specific ideas about it which she clearly thought suited my style of work.
My customer had decided upon a card decorated both on the front and inside. On the front of the card there had to be a lemon cut in half with the words "Without you life sucks", and inside a couple sitting at a tiny table toasting with lemonade. I decided right away that this was something that would be fun to work on and we were soon exchanging messages to fine-tune the details.
Upon my request my customer sent me a picture of the "tiny table". Apparently the couple always sit at it to eat their anniversary dinner each year. She also stated that the couple did not have to look exactly like her and her partner but would love it if the girl had a ponytail and a white dress, and the guy was in a tan sweater. In terms of colour, she preferred something done in colours much like her Etsy shop - which I discovered leaned towards pastels - since she wants to frame the card and hang it in their office. She signed off with "I'm so excited. I can't wait to see what you come up with!" and so I set to work.
What do you think? Did I get it right? The card got to the US in excellent time and I'm pleased to report back that my customer was very happy with  it. "It's more than perfect! she said, "I absolutely LOVE IT!". In my shop feedback she wrote that I had taken the picture in her head and made it even better. Wow!
I don't usually work to a design like this. More often than not I am left to my own devices and come up with the theme myself. However this was a really fun card to make and the feedback I received from it was wonderful. It can't get better than that can it?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Cookies, Cakes and Cards

The other day my friend Katie e-mailed me with the recipe for Lorraine Pascale's Double Chocolate Chip Cookies. "They're really, really good" she told me, so I made a batch of them. After all, who needs convincing when it comes to cookies?*
I have a tendency when it comes to cookie recipes to leave them in the oven a little bit too long. I’m always sure they’re not done enough as they look so soft, which of course means that they generally come out and harden up far too much. With this recipe I followed the timings exactly and the end result was a plate of delicious chocolate chip cookies which disappeared way too quickly! They were quite chocolate brownie like, soft and chewy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The kids loved them and I'm not saying that I didn't polish off, ahem, one or two either!
Whilst we're on the subject of baking, this is the birthday cake I made for my youngest son not long ago. Doctor Who fans amongst you will recognise it as the Time Lords' Tardis, the 1960s-style London police box craft which transports its occupants to any point in time and any place in the universe. Youngest son is a huge Doctor Who fan and was thrilled with the cake, even if it was far from being one of my best efforts. I stuck nine candles in to it after the photo was taken.
Back to the cards. This design was the result of a request for a card for a 20 year old niece. Along with the big silver 20 on the card I decided that a glass of red wine, lipstick and nail polish were just about the essential items for a woman of that age. A few flowers and a pink heart finished it off nicely.
It was fun creating a card with the colour scheme I chose here. The oranges, yellows, pinks and purples were bright and cheerful, resulting in, what I hope was a pretty, 'happy' card.
A recent trip into Jerusalem saw me popping into a bigger-than-what-I-am-used-to craft store for a quick look around. Actually it was a very quick look around since the rather tolerant husband but more impatient sons were left standing outside the store!  Inside the store I was in paper heaven and was happy to discover several packs of some glorious patterned paper, some of which I have used in the birthday card, above, that I made for my nephew. The nephew is an Arsenal supporter but I have made football-themed cards for him many, many times. The balloons came to the rescue once again and I was pretty happy with the result. I'm guessing that my nephew was more concerned with the Amazon vouchers inside the envelope than the card itself though...

* Lorraine Pascale's Big Yummy Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 8 large American-style cookies

110g (4oz) butter, softened
200g (7oz) soft light brown sugar
1 egg
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod or 2 drops of vanilla extract
165g (5½oz) plain flour
Pinch of salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g (1¼oz) cocoa powder
100g (3¼oz) milk chocolate chips
100g (3¼oz) dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper.
Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and cream together until combined. It does not need to be light and fluffy. I do this with my mixer but a hand whisk will do the job too. Stir in the egg and vanilla and mix well. It may look like it has curdled at this stage but not to worry. Give it a good whisk and it will come good. Add the flour, salt, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder and mix until the dough looks uniform. The dough will be very stiff. Add the chocolate chips and mash everything in with a wooden spoon.
Divide the mixture into 8 balls and space about 10cm (4in) apart on the prepared baking tray. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will have a cracked top and will be very soft. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave to cool on the baking trays. They will quickly harden up as they cool.
Serve with the obligatory glass of ice-cold milk.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Scavenging around Jerusalem

My usual Friday morning activities include cooking for Shabbat, perhaps a little shopping and there's always an errand or two to run. This last Friday morning my routine changed. This last Friday morning I was delighted to be invited to take part in a Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt for bloggers. Fortunately, after a week of rain and grey skies, the sun came out as we drove towards Jerusalem and, arriving at our designated meeting point in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City (in Hebrew known as HaRova Hayehudi or the Rova), I knew that I was in for a fun morning!
Tali Tarlow, the brains behind the Scavenger Hunts, believes that "there is so much to see and do in Jerusalem that the best way to “see and do” it is with your eyes, feet and hands, along with your hearts and souls!". She believes that the Scavenger Hunts are educational and fun for groups of all ages and I can say right now that I totally agree with her!
The twelve bloggers invited along to the hunt were divided into teams of four and given a pack which included a source book, a map, instruction booklet and notebook. We then set off to scavenge around places of interest in the Jewish Quarter, many of which, even after over 17 years living in Israel, I had never seen before.
Along the way we stopped to learn how a simple cleaner in a Beit Midrash (House of Learning) became a famous and revered Rosh Yeshiva (the title given to the dean of a Talmudical academy) known as Rashash HaKadosh - almost overnight, and heard the heart wrenching tale of 10 year old Nissim Gini, wounded in the battle defending the Old City of Jerusalem on May 27th 1948 and who sadly became Israel's youngest victim killed in action. We saw some beautiful buildings and some yet to be restored, and learned the history of the Broad Wall, built by King Hezekiah (late eighth century BCE), through Rami, the owner of the Makolet (corner store), who’s shop lies just opposite the wall.
It took most of the bloggers about two hours of exploring to answer all the questions and find all the stations listed in our booklet. Okay, so I admit to being in the team which came in last! My husband laughed out loud when I told him so. He was sure that I had made my group read every sign and not leave any stone unturned, apparently as I do with my kids. Whoops!
The instruction booklet we had been given at the start of the hunt was incredibly clear and, though it really would have been quite hard to get lost, Tali was at the end of her mobile phone if we needed her. The tasks at each of the eleven stations in our hunt were suitable for all ages - great for school age kids and upwards, though perfect for our adult group too - and the route itself was very self-contained, making everything accessible to an older age group as well.
We knew we were running somewhat late when Tali called to see where we were. Unfortunately that meant rushing our last two stations a little because we knew that the rest of the group were waiting for us at the final stop, Batei Machse Square, in front of the Rothschild House (financed by Baron de Rothschild to house the influx of Eastern European refugees in 1871). Tali and Jeremy, our guides for the morning, were there to meet us and to answer any of our questions. Tali reassured us that time was not important, that she was delighted we had not felt the need to rush.
The morning's activities closed with a short talk from our guides about the places we had visited and a brief history of the area. We'd all had a fantastic time and enjoyed meeting some new friends as well. Personally I cannot wait to take my own kids - and Grandpa too - on a Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt. I know that the kids will learn so much from the experience, without it being a "boring tour" (their words, not mine!), and they're sure to have a lot of fun along the way.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Boys Are Back In Town

I have made a bunch of cards for boys recently. First up was a request for an 11 year old in India who visited the Taj Mahal on his birthday (lucky him!), so I was asked to feature it prominently on his card. His parents also felt that the young man had been working really hard at school and on his many school projects lately, thus a laptop with PowerPoint displayed on it and some drawing and crafting items were added. His Mum also mentioned that he loves to eat orange ice lollies all day long, so I popped one in to the birthday boy's hand. Brrr! I hope it's a little warmer where he is, since I personally wouldn't like to be eating ice lollies in the horrible weather we have today!
This 8 year old is a big Playmobil fan and also loves to draw buildings - perhaps he's a budding architect? His Mum asked me for a card along those lines but one that also had a strong birthday theme. I already know that she likes birthday cakes on cards, so a big one with blue icing was baked... er, I mean cut out, with the appropriate amount of birthday candles on it. My own boys love Playmobil too, so it was easy for me to create a paper one, with the character's stiff little arms sticking out, just like the real ones do!
I started with a card for an 11 year old and seem to be counting down in age. This hebrew card was made for a 7 year old football fan (there had to be one amongst this collection, didn't there?). This time it was Grandma who ordered the card and no particular team was mentioned, so I went with a general football theme, creating some paper boots, a ball and a big gold trophy. I hope whichever team the young man supports, that they indeed win the cup one day.
Finally, this is an old design of mine but still one that makes me smile. I just love the clown's bright red nose. The theme was left open for this card - I was simply asked for a card for a 5 year old boy - so I deemed a cheerful clown appropriate and crafted him in blues and greens.