Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Ilanot National Arboretum

The Ilanot National Arboretum (Ilanot is the Hebrew word for trees) was founded in 1950 by the newly established State of Israel to study which species of trees would flourish here. The information was later applied in afforestation projects all over Israel. Major studies were done at Ilanot, among others in seed collection and tree pests. The arboretum occupied the site for over thirty years but was closed by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1986. It fell into neglect, becoming overgrown with weeds, and some of the trees died because they did not suit the climate and soil conditions, or withered from lack of care.
Fortunately, in 2013 the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) decided to restore this little forest, transforming it into a spot where tree buffs could spend days, but also as a park for the general public as well. Trees have been planted, including some of the original species that died, and explanatory signs, many with a QR Code that leads you to a webpage with information about the tree, have been prepared. Today you can find more than 750 species of trees here, local and exotic, among them over 100 different eucalyptus species.
The trees are arranged in a grove with twenty-five sections, in accordance with the geographical regions from which they were collected. We saw the Japanese Sago Palm, a relic of the ancient plant world, a variety of eucalyptus trees, an Australian conifer, a Chilean Mesquite tree, an American cypress and others. A labyrinth is a new attraction in the arboretum, formed with concentric circles of two kinds of shrubs, Blue Kuni-rhus and Crepe Myrtle. Both of these species are easy to shape and therefore suitable for labyrinths. Across from the labyrinth is the Casuarina Circle, very tall She-oak trees creating a circle and a very special atmosphere eight metres high. A little further along the paved trail, across a wooden bridge over a dried-up stream, are two beautiful specimens of cork oak, below. The oak's wonderful bark is the source for corks that are used in bottling wine.
The 130-dunam area has wheelchair-accessible pathways running through it, picnic tables, and benches where visitors can rest and enjoy the trees. A tour through the arboretum is a fabulous experience for nature lovers and a great place to get to know exotic and amazing-looking trees from foreign lands.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A History Buff and a Bottle of Beer

This gentleman recently turned 40. His wife told me that he is a great Zionist, enjoys going to the gym, and is a bit of a World War II buff as well. On his birthday card I have shown him working out with hand weights. A blue and white Israeli flag, and the badge of Tzahal, the Israeli Defence Forces, are proudly displayed on both sides of him. I also added a history book, with the cover showing the Normandy landings, apparently his area of expertise. A big '40' completes the design.
Below, Mike's favourite beer is Hobgoblin, a brown ale brewed in Oxfordshire, England. His wife asked me to show him holding the aforementioned bottle of beer on his birthday card. She also requested a birthday theme, so balloons, bunting, and of course cake were added.

Friday, 13 November 2015


I've always made birthday cards for my kids. One day, when I get round to it, I intend to line them up and photograph them all together. The first birthday card for my eldest son, that was shown here on my blog, was made for his 8th birthday. Back then he was mad about football, but couldn't decide where his allegiance lay. These days he knows for sure. Arsenal are always his first concern, though he is keen for me to shout out the results from the latest Hull City A.F.C. game when I know them. Arsenal's crest had to appear on his 15th birthday card. He's also very involved in the NOAM youth movement at the moment. (NOAM is an acronym for No'ar Masorti, Masorti Youth, a Zionist youth movement.) He is a madrich (youth-group leader) for the local group. On his birthday card I have shown him in his green club shirt, with the movement's tree logo on the pocket and the white cord which displays his rank.
Of course with birthdays comes cake, and this one was quickly polished off. 15 year old boys can sure eat a lot of cake.

This young lady also turned 15. Both she and her Mum are keen netball players.  I have previously illustrated her Mum in a netball bib and I decided to show the birthday girl wearing the same red bib, this time with the letters GA (Goal Attack) on it. She has a white netball in her hand. She is also, like my son, a youth-group leader at NOAM, so I popped the aforementioned movement's logo onto the card, along with a little photo of the cast of Grey's Anatomy, the American medical drama which is one of her current favourites.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Birthday Twins

It's a whole year since I made these cards. Now these twin boys are keen on tennis and basketball respectively. They both have their favourite colours too.
Mum said they loved the cards.
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.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Seltzer Goat Farm

We love visiting goat farms. I'm not really sure where it comes from except for the fact that we all love animals, and two of us especially love cheese. I have written about the delightful Har HaRuach Goat Farm and Shvil Izim previously. A recent outing took us to Shai Seltzer's Goat Farm, down the eastern slope of Mount Eitan by the Sataf Springs.
The road to the farm begins at the car park at the entrance to the Sataf Nature Reserve. It was particularly long and windy, and at times we did wonder where we were going. Fortunately, every kilometre or so we spotted a tiny sign emblazoned with a goat, indicating that we had not yet lost our way.
At last we arrived at the farm. The 170 strong herd, comprised mostly of Anglo-Nubian and Zangabi goats, was there to greet us, along with a friendly horse and a couple of dogs. Founded as a goat farm in 1974, the Seltzer farm has been making cheese since the 1980's. Shai Seltzer, a former botanist, built the farm to enjoy the quiet life. A local monk gave him his first lesson in cheese-making and he has been raising goats and producing yoghurt and cheeses ever since. With his long white beard, which makes him look rather like a relative of Moses, he is known to be somewhat of a hermit, but is also considered one of the top cheese artisans in Israel. His goats have adapted to their lush, mountainous surroundings, producing high quality, fatty milk, and as a result, very interesting and very good cheese.
As we entered the farm we saw the goat pens built into the hillside and a number of old wooden outbuildings. We meandered up the hill past the goat sheds, stopping to stroke a few goats along the way, and came across a little cave that houses a bar with a refrigerated cheese display - the "shop". Another family was just finishing up their purchases. A young woman behind the bar explained the menu and allowed us to taste the different cheeses they had to offer that day. They had a half dozen or so - from the soft to the very hard. We decided what we would like on our platter - two different types of cheese, including a semi-hard variety covered in grape leaves to hold moisture, bread, yoghurt and sun-dried tomatoes - plus a small bottle of wine. It seemed a little expensive for a cheese lunch, but when we sat down at our table in another cave like area, we were soon convinced it was worth every shekel. Each morsel of cheese, aged in a dark cave, was full of flavour; nutty, creamy, pungent, semi-sweet, sweet, earthy.
You won’t find Shai Seltzer's cheese in delicatessens around Israel. Except for supplying a few high-end restaurants, the Seltzers have no interest in commercialising their products. You can only get them on the farm. It has therefore become a firm fixture on the circuit for foodies and professional chefs alike. Training programs and seminars on goat farming and cheese making are offered, as well as tasting exhibitions and special culinary events. Volunteers are also welcome to join the work.
Quite off the beaten track, Shai Seltzer’s goat farm is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and, as we discovered, lunch there and a visit with the goats is the perfect way to spend time with the family. Especially a family that loves animals and cheese.
Credit for this photo: Gadi Isaacs

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Eliana's Album

Eliana celebrated her Bat Mitzvah last month. I made an album for her brother, a Liverpool F.C. fan, back in 2013, and Mum asked me to make one for her daughter too. She is a keen gymnast, Mum told me, and loves anything chocolate - especially Dairy Milk. She is a fan of American Girl dolls, loves Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, and enjoys watching YouTube clips on her Apple Mac laptop. Eliana is fond of the books from the Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie, favours Converse high-tops, and likes playing around with Instagram, the photo sharing service, on her iPhone 5s too. Her favourite colours - which were also the theme colours for the Bat Mitzvah celebration - are mint and lilac.
I had a lot to work with!
I showed long-haired Eliana doing the splits on the front of her album. Her American Doll, dressed in white top and blue leggings as specified, is in her arms. To her right is her phone with the Instagram logo on it, and her favourite Poirot book. To her left is a purple Dairy Milk bar and some Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream. Her laptop is open with the You Tube logo on the screen. Mint coloured Converse high-tops made it into the picture too.
The Hebrew writing displays her name, Eliana Carmel.
I decorated several of the pages inside the album too. I opened with another gymnastics pose, then added some more ice cream - Cookie Dough and Cookies and Cream this time. Next I showed Eliana's American Doll once again, then included her laptop and phone, displaying the important YouTube and Instagram logos. Finally a Dairy Milk bar appeared once again, plus another delicious treat, a Twirl. Eliana certainly has good taste in English chocolate. Yum!