Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Best of 2013

Tuesday night sees the end of a year and the start of a brand new one. As is common at this time of the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favourite creations of 2013. The biggest thing for my family was our son's Bar Mitzvah and you can see all the paper goodies that I made for the event here, but of course I also made plenty of other things during the year and visited some pretty interesting places too. Have you spotted your card or album amongst this collection?
As always, a big thank you to those of you who have visited my blog this year. I am always very happy to receive your encouraging comments and support, and hope you will continue to visit in 2014.

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Wishing you a wonderful, happy and colourful New Year's Eve and an exciting start to 2014!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Time in Ein Kerem

Last Christmas the hubby and I visited the village of Ein Kerem, now a neighbourhood of southwest Jerusalem. Truthfully we weren't really thinking about it being Christmas time - it was a regular December weekend for us - so it was a pleasant surprise to see all the festive trees dotted around the neighbourhood.
Ein Kerem, which means "Spring of the Vineyard", has been an Israeli village since 1948 and in recent years has become home to a population of artists and craftsmen. According to Christian tradition John the Baptist was born there. There are two churches by this name in the village.
Though the buildings hold no particular religious importance to us, we were happy to stroll around the village to see the sites and quaint little alleys. The Church of the Visitation on top of a hill honours the visit paid by Mary, Jesus' mother, to Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother. The views from the church square of the Jerusalem Hills were stunning and the modern church, built in 1955 on top of ancient church remnants, is impressive. The lower church houses the rock that hid Elizabeth and John from King Herod, who had sent his soldiers to slaughter all the sons of the Tribe of Judea. An inscription in Italian reads pietra del nascondiment, "the stone in which John was concealed".
The Catholic church of St. John the Baptist, below, was built in the second half of the 19th century on the remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. Inside are the remains of an ancient mosaic floor and a cave where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. Remnants have also been found below the building of a mikve, a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism, dating to the Second Temple period (between 530 BCE and 70 CE). On the church's walls there are paintings that depict the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, a typical theme in all Catholic churches. Then church has been in the hands of the Franciscans since 1674.
Close to the main street of Ein Kerem, where many restaurants are located, we stopped at a fresh-water spring which, according to tradition, is the location where Mary and Elizabeth met and where Mary drank from its water. The spring waters are considered holy by some Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims, though sadly today the water is contaminated by runoff sewage and drinking it is not recommended. Former Arab inhabitants of the village also built a mosque on the site.
There are other notable buildings in Ein Kerem. The Ein Kerem Music Centre was once the home of the local sheik, the village head. The Convent of the Sisters of Our lady of Zion, hidden behind a stone wall, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the village. Built around 150 years ago, the building was once an orphanage for Christian girls from Lebanon and is now home to a community of Catholic nuns. Above the village The Yelizavetta Fyodorovna Church was built by the Russian Orthodox Church at the end of the 19th century but only completed 100 years later, in 2005. This church is decorated by a tented roof, similar to other Russian churches, and was nicknamed "Moskovia" (Arabic for Moscow) by local villagers. In 1961 the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, where my sons were born, was built to replace the medical facility on Mount Scopus which had become unreachable when Jerusalem was divided in two after the War of Independence. Today Jerusalem is reunited and is the site of two Hadassah hospitals.
Besides the churches and old stone buildings Ein Kerem is also home to an abundance of galleries and restaurants. The kids were not with us on the day we visited so we decided to end our walk with a good lunch! Eager to enjoy the wonderful views of the valley below us we chose to sit outdoors on one of the restaurant's rooftops. It was chilly - no, cold - but hot drinks and blankets soon warmed us up and we found it a wonderful way to enjoy the picturesque lanes of Ein Kerem, a neighbourhood so close to the city of Jerusalem and yet with such a different atmosphere.
Whilst the Jewish people worldwide have already celebrated Hanukkah (this year I wrote about the festival on the Etsy Expats blog) and have returned to normal routine, I know that many of you will soon be celebrating Christmas. Happy holidays to you all and best wishes from Israel. Thank you for all the support you have given me and my blogging adventure through another year! Please keep visiting.

Lisa x

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Salt and Tax Free

I am happy with most of the cards I create. Except those that I am not so pleased with... and I don't post those here. But now and again there is a card that really makes me smile. Not for any particular reason. It just makes me giggle. This was one of them.
Mizzie's husband told me that she is currently into baking challah, bagels and bread rolls, all without salt. How to illustrate that on a card? Easy! I made a little salt pot and put it behind a red prohibition sign. It's clear for all to see that no salt is allowed! I showed the birthday girl, still wearing oven mitts and proudly displaying her latest challah. There are a few bagels and bread rolls scattered around her. All salt free of course.
Larry was celebrating his 40th birthday. He is a tax accountant, so I added a mock US tax form and a teeny tiny calculator to the card. His wife told me that he was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) - the badge of his corps is on the upper left of the card - and that he enjoys playing the board game Rummikub. I included a few tiles, adding up to 40, on the top right. Finally he likes music and singing, thus the notes.
One of my nieces was also celebrating her birthday. Her Mum told me that she is into anything scary! My youngest son is exactly the same - it must be in the blood - so I looked to him for inspiration. Now, many 8 year old girls would like flowers, hearts and all things sweet on their card. Nope, not this one. This card ended up being decorated with a scary skull and crossbones and a big black and probably very hairy spider.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

2 Is Better Than 1

Look at this cutie, above, with his Handmade in Israel birthday card and big birthday cake! How sweet is that? Benjamin's big brothers always receive one of my cards on their big day, so his Mum quite rightly felt that he should have one too. Only he's two years old so he doesn't really have any favourite hobbies. No problem. I put bunting and balloons, a cupcake, party hat and present on the card. Birthday themes are always fun!
Now, these twin boys,above, are even younger! Their Grandma wanted cards for their first birthday. I put a little picture of each boy on the front then added some boys' toys, along with balloons and bunting. 
Gabi and Amitai are a little older. These boys know what they like. Iron ManThe Trash Pack and doing gymnastics are among their favourite things. Mum told me that they were both getting new bicycles for their birthday too.
Everything made it on to the card.
Don't forget, if you would like to order a customised card for a special occasion or just to tell someone how much you care, you can do so right here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Climbing the Walls (Again!)

Back in 2012 we walked the northern section of Jerusalem's Old City walls. We didn't have time to go south towards the Western Wall that day but it was in my mind to do so. A few weeks ago we made a return visit to complete the circle.
The Ramparts Walk is a great way to see Jerusalem from a different perspective and to peek into places that you would otherwise never see. The present walls were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, when he restored the ancient walls of the city, and they have served as military fortifications ever since. From 1948 to 1967 Jordanian snipers used the ramparts as a vantage point from which to shoot at Israelis living outside the Old City. You can still see bullet holes on many of the older buildings facing the Old City.
The walk along the southern walls took us from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate and let us off near Dung Gate, not far from the Western Wall Plaza and the Jewish Quarter. On one side of the wall we could see inside the Armenian Quarter, the smallest quarter of the Old City which houses the smaller Armenian Compound that is private and gated, and from the other we enjoyed panoramic views of modern Jerusalem including Yemin Moshe, the King David Hotel and behind it the tip of the YMCA tower.
As we walked around the walls we could see the Armenian Theological Seminary, the cemetery of Dormition Abbey and the Church of St. Peter. The stables of the Israeli Police surprised us (picture no.3). Known as the Kishle, from the Turkish word for barracks, they were built by the Ottomans in the 19th century on the site believed to have housed King Herod's magnificent palace 2,000 years ago. Arranged around a large courtyard they currently house police offices, stables and guardrooms.
Continuing on we soon had a good view of the Mount of Olives, Har HaZeitim. It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes and has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. It is also described in the New Testament as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.
We saw the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan which is built into the southern slope of the Mount of Olives. Silwan derives from the Greek "Siloam", which comes from the ancient Hebrew name "Shiloah", the name of a pool in the area used to collect water from the Gichon Spring, the chief water source of ancient Jerusalem. Shiloah makes several appearances in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The roots of the modern village were put down in 1882 by Yemenite Jews but it became entirely Arab after the Arab Riots of the late 1930's. Political tensions are still high.
Descending to the Dung Gate, we had just a short walk to the Western Wall, HaKotel HaMa'aravi. The last remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Holy Temple's courtyard, it is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. Traditionally people write notes to God and place them between the ancient stones of the Wall. After a morning steeped in history we had time for a short prayer and then a return to modern times with delicious pizza in the Jewish Quarter. The wall climbing had made us all hungry!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Ariel's Album

Ariel was born in the same hospital and the day before my own son. Ariel's parents were the first people to come and say hello after I had given birth and in fact it was Ariel's parent's who introduced Mister Handmade in Israel and I! With all this history I was therefore very happy to create an album for his Bar Mitzvah on his Mum's request.
Ariel, she told me, is a competitive swimmer. He loves dogs, apparently does amazing card tricks, plays the guitar, has a Kindle and loves cooking pizza. He also has a cheerful smile!
I decided to show him wearing his white swim t-shirt with the JO - Junior Olympics 2013 - badge, which he received for swimming in that particular meet. Ariel has goggles on his head, a fan of cards in one hand and his dream guitar in the other. You can just see the colourful red and orange of his favourite kippa (skullcap) on top of his head. A Kindle can be seen to one side of him, as well as his yummy home cooked pizza. On the other side a dog is keeping him company.
The Hebrew lettering on the cover displays his name, the word "Bar Mitzvah" and the date of the ceremony.
I decorated a few pages inside the album too. Each page has a tallit (a Jewish prayer shawl) on it. In addition, the first page was devoted to Ariel's interest in fishing and has a rod and a little orange fish on it. Then I added another guitar - the one he apparently dreams about getting - and a picture of Ariel swimming. Next I created some teeny tiny origami pieces - another interest of his - and finally devoted a page to his tefillin (also called phylacteries from the Ancient Greek phylacterion, meaning "to guard, protect") because Jewish boys start wearing them one to two months before their thirteenth Hebrew birthday.
Ariel and his family are currently living in the U.S. but came home to Israel to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. When she saw the album I had made for Ariel, his Mum sent me a wonderful message telling me that she thought it was amazing!
It was fabulous, 13 years on, to hear Ariel read in the synagogue and then to be able to celebrate both our boy's Bar Mitzvah's together. An expression that Jewish people often use when saying goodbye to each other after a happy event is Rak B'smachot ("only on joyous occasions"). It refers to our wish to be able to see our family and friends only at celebrations and preferably not during sad times. That saying seems an appropriate way to close this post. May we all only meet on Bar Mitzvahs!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

NOAM and Harry

Adi is a madrich (youth-group leader) with the the NOAM youth movement. (NOAM is an acronym for No'ar Masorti, Masorti Youth, a Zionist youth movement.) Last year it was his brother's job to be in charge of the kids but this year Adi is having a go at it. On his birthday card I showed him in his green club shirt with the movement's tree logo in the background.
His twin brother, Gabi, is concentrating on some pre-army fitness training this year and has been spending his time running on the beach. I am assured  this is really hard work. I've shown him in running clothing with bright yellow sand in the background and the water lapping at his feet. A couple of seagulls set the scene.
Their sister had a birthday not long after them. She's into One Direction and a certain Harry Styles in particular. I have shown Ella with her funky black glasses next to Harry. I tried to get his coiffed hairstyle just right. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

40, 50, 80... Coming, Ready or Not

Dan turned 40 and his wife asked me to create a special card for his big day. She wanted me to show him running - he's a very sporty guy - but also wanted to somehow include his love for Israel, football and, erm, licorice! Dan also enjoys going on tiyulim (hikes) and he apparently drinks lots of water and hot drinks.
I have shown Dan running, with his favourite mug of tea in one hand and his preferred brand of bottled water in the other. He has some licorice in his shirt pocket. The trees in the background suggest that he is outside, perhaps on a hike. I added the flag of Israel and a football and even managed to fit in the number 40 as well. The greeting on the front of the card, "World's Greatest Abba", simply means "World's Greatest Dad". In this case Abba is the Hebrew word for Dad, rather than the world famous Swedish pop group!
Both Dan and his wife told me several times how much they loved the card. It was clearly a big hit!
This card was a simple request for something pretty for a darling daughter. I've made something like this before and enjoyed creating the modern flower shapes, so I did something similar in a different colour scheme.
Mike was celebrating his 50th birthday. He's into guns in a big way but his wife and I agreed that it was perhaps not the greatest theme for a birthday card! I suggested a cake and some balloons instead but added a gun anyway, just for the heck of it! I wonder if Mike spotted it.
Finally, my Mother-in-law recently celebrated her 80th birthday. Unfortunately we could not be with her for the big day, though we of course saw her pretty recently, along with the rest of the family, for my son's Bar Mitzvah celebrations. I got organised before our big event and gave this pretty card, decorated with colourfully wrapped presents and butterflies, to my father-in-law. I hope he remembered to give it to her on the day!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Capturing the Moment

Last year I made my husband's all-time favourite card. A customer sent me a photograph of her friends who were newly engaged and asked me to recreate the photograph in paper. So I did. And it came out really well.
This year the brother of the guy on the first card got engaged and so another card was requested along the same lines.
The photo I was sent this time showed the new couple holding hands, standing by a pool of water. The colours were lovely and the image a strong one to work with. I did not attempt to copy every reed in the water but rather tried to give an impression of all the plants and their reflections. I dressed the couple exactly as they are in the photograph.
On the front of the card my customer wanted the short and sweet greeting 'Rafi ♥ Maggie'.
A couple of weeks after I mailed the card I received a lovely thank you message. "It [the card] came out really nicely" my customer wrote. "It was much appreciated by the young couple. You managed to capture the moment beautifully!".

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

ScaVentures in Gush Etzion

I make no secret of the fact that I love Tali Tarlow's Scavenger Hunts. I have already "hunted", with map, pack and source sheet in hand, in Jerusalem's Old City and the narrow winding lanes of Nachlaot. When Tali contacted me to tell me that she had created a new "Scaventure" in Gush Etzion, a group of communities located in the Judaean Mountains directly south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it was just a matter of me saving the date. There was no way I was going to miss it!
This hunt was a family affair. Unlike the other hunts which I had completed by foot, this time my whole family joined me to explore Gush Etzion by car, jumping in and out of it to find the clues and see the sites. My kids thought we were on HaMerotz LaMillion, Israel's version of The Amazing Race. It was actually our first real visit to the area and was exciting for us all to discover the ancient relics and modern settlements of the Gush. 
We started the day in Kfar Etzion, an Israeli settlement and religious Kibbutz re-established in 1967. A sound and light show told us the harrowing story of the original Kibbutz and its fall in 1948. With our hearts in our mouths we set off on our allotted route (so that the various teams driving around the area do not arrive at the same point each time), eager to learn and equally eager to have fun.
Our first stop was at the original kibbutz Masu'ot Yitzhak. Founded in 1945 by young pioneers from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany, it was captured and destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948. We stopped by the spring at Ein Yitzhak, a centre point to many hikers in the area, and the boys had time to cool off (above). We saw the water tower at the Gush Etzion regional centre and learnt the story of the Alon HaBoded, the Lone Oak, a 14 metre high oak tree which between the War of Independence (1948) and the Six-Day War (1967) was the only sign of the destroyed communities of Gush Etzion. Today it stands tall and proud and has become the symbol of the Gush Etzion regional council.
We followed Derech Ha'avot, the Patriarchs Route, which was the route frequently travelled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as mentioned in the bible, then returned to modern times with a stop-off at the truly wonderful Pina Chama, the Cosy Place. Set up in 2001 in memory of two locals who were murdered by terrorists, Pina Chama is a refreshment station for soldiers and police serving in the area and is manned entirely by volunteers. There are usually more than 200 soldiers coming in over the course of a day and most of them say that doing miluim, or duty, in the Gush is worthwhile because of this wonderful station.
We'd been on the go for several hours and the last stop of the day at the Biyar Aqueduct was a welcome one. Torch in hand and trousers rolled up high, we entered the 2000 year old water channel built to take water to Jerusalem from springs in the Hebron hills. Using only the force of gravity, the aqueduct was an amazing engineering feat. From the entrance we followed our guide south and wiggled our way through water and mud. The youngest son was in his element!
Another Scavenger Hunt had come to an end. I think that this was perhaps my favourite... but then I say that every time! Certainly the kids had fun and they'd learnt so much along the way. Even Mister Handmade in Israel was enthusiastic!
Tali runs ScaVentures throughout the year. If you want to get in touch with her and join in for yourselves, you can contact her here.