Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Enot Tsukim

Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve or En Fashkha, as it is also known (Fashkha means split or broken), is the lowest nature reserve in the world. Located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, it is named for the En Fashkha spring, a spring of brackish water (semi-salty water) in the area. The source of the spring water in the reserve is rain water that falls on the Judean Mountain range which seeps downward and emerges in the area of the nature reserve. This water is rich in minerals and gets some of its saline content due to the close proximity to the Dead Sea.
Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve is divided into three areas: the northern "closed reserve", which is completely closed to visitors, except for scientists, to protect the native flora and fauna; the central "visitors reserve" which contains wading and swimming pools filled by natural spring water; and the southern "hidden reserve", which can be visited only on tours guided by Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) guides. The central "visitors reserve" also contains an archaeological site from the Second Temple period.
We visited the nature reserve during Chol HaMoed Sukkot and, though crowded, we found it to be a really great place to spend the day. We started off by taking a walk around the "visitors reserve", enjoying the wading pools, all fed by a natural spring which keeps the water temperature down, and the stream that sits among shaded bamboo trees. Enot Tsukim has over 150 springs, of varying degrees of saltiness. These springs provide for the variety of fauna and flora which can be found in the reserve. The fauna include jackals, wolves, foxes, hyenas and leopards. The flora include date palm trees, reeds, bulrushes and tamarisk trees, though none of the trees were planted here. Instead, rangers assume that they stand where date-loving jackals and birds left droppings full of date seeds. We then took a break at the large picnic area, where we barbecued and the kids swam in the "deep" Date Pool.
We had booked ourselves on to the 3pm tour of the "hidden reserve". Our guide took us to the first station, the archaeological site En Fashkha. From diggings in the site – the first one in 1958, and after that in 2001 – it seems that this was an agricultural farm that began in the first century B.C.E. There are the remains of a house, a yard for raising sheep and goats, and an industrial zone with water canals, water reservoir, covered spaces including storage bins and a ritual bath. Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who completed his excavation of the area in 2001, believes that balsam perfume (known in the Talmud as shemen afarsemon) was produced on this farm.
We continued with the tour, entering the "hidden reserve" through a locked gate, then following a path, thick with vegetation, past flowing tributaries, pools that fill up from spring water and which are home to a unique population of St. Peter’s fish, and past signs marking the level of the Dead Sea in different years (the last being 1991). Sadly, the Dead Sea has been steadily shrinking for decades and, if the sea level continues to shrink this way, it will take around 40 years until the Dead Sea will be smaller than the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The fall in sea level can be explained by a few reasons: evaporation due to heat, scarce input of external water, and the Dead Sea Works water pumping that use the Dead Sea for production of potash.
Our guide showed us a nest built by a Dead Sea sparrow, and pointed out the Sodom Apple plant, a flowering plant of northern Africa which bears poisonous fruit, above. We even saw one of the elusive donkeys which live in the reserve, brought in 20 years ago to control the growth of common reed that overruns other plants.
At the end of the tour, the kids went back for another dip in the pool. They had enjoyed a great day out, and I'd managed to squeeze in an "educational tour" without them really noticing!
An historical aside, Ein Fashkha provided excellent cover for 32 Palmah troops on the Night of the Bridges in June 1946. In an action meant to cut Palestine off from the surrounding Arab countries, Palmahniks blew up the Allenby Bridge, over the Jordan River. Eleven bridges altogether were destroyed during the operation, part of a protest against the British policy of strangling Jewish immigration. After the blast, which was executed under heavy fire, Palmah soldiers managed to reach Ein Fashkha and hide out in the oasis’s wild brush.
Ein Fashkha fell into Israeli hands during the Six Day War. Recognizing its unique and special qualities, Israeli authorities declared it an official nature reserve and renamed it Enot Tsukim (Cliff Springs).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Nadav's Papercut

I've well and truly got the papercutting bug! It started with this. Then I made this. My most recent piece was this one. My eldest son's birthday was coming up, so I decided to make him a cut for his big day too. 
He's a big football fan and is great at maths, hence the football and all the little maths symbols. I also included his name in both English and Hebrew in the design.
It was a pretty simple cut, as cuts go, yet he was pleased with his handmade gift. I put it in a red frame, the colour of his favourite football team, Arsenal, but added amber as the background colour to remind him of Hull City, his second favourite team. And don't fret that he only received handmade, we gave him FIFA15 as well!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Fourteen

Remember this card? Well, that 8 year old recently turned 14! He's bigger now (taller than Mum!), but many things remain the same. He is still passionate about football, we still get up very early on birthdays to open presents and eat cake before school, and of course he still eagerly awaits his special card!
This year I showed him doing exercises on his pull up bar. He's pretty serious about getting some muscles at the moment. I was kind and didn't show the red face and beads of sweat though. He's also keen on dark chocolate (he needs the sugar for energy you see!), is very good at maths and spends hours working on the material from his special advanced maths class. But there is still time for football. Plenty of football. He never misses an Arsenal game if it is shown on the television, and frankly, he rarely misses any other games either! Did I say he was keen on football? Just a little...
My youngest son made a card for the birthday boy too, and of course it was football themed. I've already told you how artistic my youngest is, but this year he really excelled himself. I don't know how he had the patience to draw all those people in the football stadium crowd, but he quietly got on with it (he's not normally so quiet!) and came up with an amazing card, full of detail. Each flag mentions his brother's birthday and age, and they're all red and white for Arsenal too!
Of course we had cake as well, decorated with lots of buttercream icing and chocolate rocks, just as my son likes it. There was another surprise from me, which I am giving you a sneak peek at below. I am going to save the piece for another blog post.
Happy Birthday to my sports mad yet studious 14 year old. As I wrote in your card, we are very proud of you and the way you work so hard. Keep it up - and try to work hard at being nice to your brother too!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Benjamin and Gilad

Look at this photo! Isn't it great? It makes me so happy to see this little boy holding up his birthday card, obviously so happy to have received it. I want to see lots more photos of people receiving their Handmade in Israel birthday cards please!
Benjamin turned 3 in October. His Mum told me that he likes wearing a grey cap, and that his favourite things include his cuddly Winnie the Pooh, which is almost the same size as him, and that he's really good at puzzles. 
Gilad is slightly younger. He recently marked his first birthday and my customer, who requested this card last year, decided that he should have one of my cards every year. Although he is only little, his Mum says that he already has his favourite things. He loves playing with balls, and of course has a much loved blankie and dummy. He may well become a bookworm too. Apparently he loves listening to Dr. Seuss' Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Stalactites and Springs

Some time has passed since we celebrated the seven day holiday of Sukkot. We enjoyed a busy Chol Hamoed ("weekdays [of] the festival"), visiting some lovely places around the country and, even though my pictures were taken several weeks ago, it's never too late to show them here, right?
The kids are growing up and are already quite busy with their own lives. Once upon a time we would spend every day of the holiday together, but now they both go on an overnight tiyul (a hike, journey or trip) with their youth group, and they also had homework to do. There was still opportunity to find some fun things to do though, starting with a visit to the beautiful Soreq Stalactite Cave on Mount Yaela, in the Judean Hills.
We in fact weren't heading for the cave on the day we visited. We had planned to visit a nearby goat farm, which I had been told had great cheese, but when we got there we found it practically abandoned, though a return visit did allow us a glimpse of the goats and the not-so-friendly farmers. Luckily the stalactite and stalagmite cave was nearby and, though busy, we enjoyed a stroll through the 82 metre long cave, which was discovered quite by accident in 1968 by workers blasting at a nearby quarry. Though relatively small, the cave includes a vast number of stalactites and stalagmites of different types. Some of the stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave are up to four metres long, and in some cases they fuse with stalagmites growing from the floor. Though we had all visited the cave before, it still delighted us.
The Green Gallery in the fields of Arsuf Kedem is open 24 hours a day, all year round. I had spotted the artistic creations quite by chance on a previous visit to the area, but we did not have time to look on that occasion. This time Mister Handmade in Israel and I had time to wander between the large collection of environmental artworks made from natural materials and set in a wide area of open landscape. The materials used vary from earth, wood, bamboo, plants and tree branches, and agricultural waste, and speak about the human connection to natureThe Green Gallery hope their work will bring people closer to nature and provide them with spiritual oxygen.
Our hike to Ein Lavan, meaning "White Spring", was somewhat disappointing. We were ready to dip our toes into one of the two pools used for swimming at the nature reserve, and the kids were curious to experience the little critters living in the water nipping at their toes, but, when we got there, everything was as dry as a bone!
Ein Lavan is a spring located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in the Judean Hills. It is named after the mountain range from which it emanates - the Lavan Range (which is called this due to its bright limestone). Ein Lavan is, supposedly, one of the largest springs in the area. Water flows, ahem, year-round, out of a cave with an arched stone entrance, and the site has significant religious and historical importance due to archaeological findings of Roman and Byzantine ruins.
Even though we were disappointed by the lack of water at the spring, our short hike there was lovely. From the road we could see many ancient burial caves and agricultural terraces and we enjoyed the view of  the Judean Hills and the lush green hills of the Gilo Forest.
Now, if anyone can tell me what time of the year there is water in the pools, we might even be willing to do the hike again...

Sunday, 9 November 2014

80, 90, 100!

Birthday cards are most certainly not just for the youngsters.
First I was asked for a card for an 80th birthday.
Then a customer had a friend who was turning 90... and another who was soon to reach 100!
I've only made a few of these very special cards before.
I hope Shirley received her congratulatory message from The Queen.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Playing the cello and learning to drive

No, you're not seeing double. I made these cards for twin boys who were turning 8 and who have the same hobbies. Last year gymnastics was their thing. This year it seems that they have moved on to judo - they both have their yellow and white belts - and playing the cello. Quite a combination! 
Their 17 year old brother also celebrated his birthday recently. He is learning to drive, so on his card I showed him holding an Israeli L-plate. The plate shares the general design of Israeli information signs in its square form and blue background. On the blue background is a white triangle pointing upwards, with the black Hebrew letter "ל" in it, from the Hebrew למידה‎ - "Learning". Ori is holding a re:bar drink, from the juice and yoghurt bar where he currently works, in his other hand. He's a clever chap too. Mum tells me that he is a whizz at maths and science, so I added some potions and some mathematical symbols. I can draw them, but I certainly don't know how to use them myself!
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