Monday, 28 November 2011

A Weekend in Tel Aviv

My Dad came for a visit not long ago and took us all for a weekend stay in Tel Aviv, Israel's second largest city (after Jerusalem). Tel Aviv is the country's business and cultural centre. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the Diamond Exchange are based in the city and, for the arts, the Habima National Theatre is excellent and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is world-class. The city also boasts several impressive museums. Arguably, Tel Aviv is where the action is. Tel Aviv can be proud of some great beaches and promenades, nightclubs, plentiful shopping and appetising restaurants and outdoor cafes. On this occasion though we  were accompanied by older family members and friends and, with the kids in tow, we were really just looking for some quality time with Grandpa.
We strolled through the open-air market off Rehov HaCarmel, purchasing delicious baklava for our afternoon tea. It had been raining earlier in the day and the market was close to closing. Things were being sold off cheaply and the vendors were in full voice, attempting to clear their stalls before the Sabbath.
After a delicious but rather large evening meal, I took time to myself the following morning to explore one of Tel Aviv's prettiest districts, Neve Tzedek. The first Jewish neighbourhood to be built outside the walls of the ancient port of Jaffa, Neve Tzedek (meaning Oasis of Justice) is the perfect place to stroll around on a lazy afternoon - or in my case, morning - to escape the hustle and bustle of uptown Tel Aviv.
Neve Tzedek's narrow streets are home to some beautiful and original houses, many restored to full glory. The original buildings display features that can be traced to the Bauhaus architecture of pre-Nazi Germany and the Art Nouveau movement. The Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, Israel's premier dance centre, located in the heart of Neve Tzedek, is a prime example of a beautifully restored building constructed in the Bauhaus style.
One cannot visit Tel Aviv without going to the beach... that's what my kids say! Technically the beach season is over but that didn't stop them! Grandpa deemed it too cold to sit there for long but the hubby and I endured several hours in the breeze, watching the boys build the most fantastic structure, which received many admiring glances from passers-by. On reflection, I do wonder if they were admiring - or mocking - our ability to sit out in the cool air for so long, rather than the sand castle building that was going on. Well, at  least it wasn't raining...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Four Sons

A good friend of mine recently had a baby - her FOURTH boy!!! I knew that she already had plenty of boy clothing and toys but anyway wanted to send her something really special as a gift. My friend always orders birthday cards for her family and so I already knew that she was quite keen on my work. It's always a little scary giving someone something you have made just in case they don't really like or appreciate your work, but I felt confident that my friend would be happy with my choices and so set to work on a papercut picture for her baby son's room.
The customised picture, measuring 20cm x 20cm, shows the new baby in all his glory! He is surrounded by his three brothers and Mum and Dad too. I added a few little boy items to the artwork as well - a ball, baby onesie, teddy bear and a little red and yellow sailboat - and included his name in bold red letters. As a final touch, I had the picture framed in a matching blue frame and carefully wrapped it up for the journey abroad.
My friend received the package in the mail yesterday and sent me the most fabulous e-mail.
"We got the most wonderful package today!" she said, "I love your art... So touched by the picture."
I was absolutely thrilled by her reaction and so happy that I took the chance and made her gift. Handmade rocks!

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Little Something Sweet

This young lady, illustrated above, is the same age as my eldest son and celebrates her birthday just a few days before him. Her Mum asks me to make her a card every year and this year proved no exception. In the past I have shown her reading and doing gymnastics. Mum told me that gymnastics was definitely still an important thing in her life but  asked whether this time I could also add her younger brother, sister and the family cat into the picture.
The birthday girl has long dark hair and wears a white sparkly leotard when taking part in competitions. I was specifically asked to give her big white round hoop earrings. I know the younger brother and sister well, so it was easy to create their paper portraits, and the cat - described as short haired and grey, black and white - well, he wasn't quite right, but I hope his inclusion was appreciated all the same!
Another 11 year old recently received a card of mine too. The brief for this card was simpler. I was asked for something "girly" and figured that I couldn't go far wrong with nail polish, lipstick, hearts and flowers.
This request was for someone a little older than 11! The lady in question is apparently a keen golfer, so a golf club and ball fit the bill nicely. I prettified it a little with a few flowers and popped a bright yellow sun into the sky. I hope it helped to make 'Maureen's' day.
And whilst we're on the subject of sweet things for 11 year olds, I thought I'd show you the birthday cake I made for my son's recent sleepover celebration. He asked me for an '11' cake with green icing, a football theme and lots of sweets! Do you think I got it right? He also loves my chocolate chip muffins and wanted his friends to taste them too.  A sugar-filled night was had by all!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Book of Ruth

I've just created a listing for my Customized Guest Book/Photo Album at a new online wedding marketplace called Shop Hatunot (Hatunot is the Hebrew word for Weddings). Uploading the photo of one of my wedding albums, it reminded me that I haven't yet shown you this album, made last month for a Bat Mitzvah girl called Ruth.
Ruth has beautiful dark curly hair, so that was my starting point for her 'portrait'. I think I may have gone a little overboard with the curls actually, but my customer seemed to like it! Like most teenagers, Ruth is a music fan and enjoys listening to her iPod, chatting on Facebook and reading Mizz magazine. Like my own son, she goes to NOAM (an acronym for No'ar Masorti, Masorti Youth), a Zionist youth movement. Fortunately I checked which shirt the kids wear when they meet and discovered that the shirts in the UK are blue, whilst here in Israel they wear green. Good job I asked!
I have shown the Bat Mitzvah girl busy with all her favourite activities. She is dancing along to the music she can hear on her iPod, whilst the laptop, with Facebook open, is not too far away. Along with the date of her Bat Mitzvah celebration and her name, I added the words בת מצוה, Bat Mitzvah in Hebrew.
Inside the album I decorated a number of pages along the same lines.The first page shows Ruth's favoured iPod again, along with a Star of David (known in Hebrew as the Shield of David or Magen David) to add a little Jewish content. I also created a Facebook page, a page showing her Youth movement badge, the preferred Mizz magazine and finally, a little portrait of the Bat Mitzvah girl once again. She obviously liked all the curls I gave her because it was reported back to me that Ruth loved her album!
If anyone is interested in ordering their very own guest book/album, there is a listing for one in my shop.
* The title of this post, The Book of Ruth, developed from my original title 'Ruth's Book'. The Book of Ruth (in Biblical Hebrew Megilath Ruth, "The Scroll of Ruth") is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. The name Ruth means friend or companion.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Playing Dreidel

Welcome to the Etsy Greetings Team Holiday Traditions Blog Hop! The hop starts at the team blog, where you'll find a complete list of participating blogs. Start there or jump right in here! You'll find poignant stories, yummy recipes and great holiday printables. There's no time limit so feel free to browse our blogs - maybe you'll find a new tradition to start with your family!
Come December, whilst a large number of people the world over are preparing for the forthcoming Christmas holidays, those of us of the Jewish faith will be thinking about Chanukah. The eight day holiday, known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history when Antiochus, a Syrian king, tried to make the Jewish people worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in the Jewish temple and the Jews were ordered to bow down before him. The Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols and so they refused.
A small group of Jews called Maccabees rebelled, and after a three year war they recaptured Jerusalem from the Greek Syrians. But the temple was all but destroyed.
The Jews had to clean and repair the Temple, and when they were finished they rededicated it to God. They did this by lighting the lamp (Menorah) - which was a symbol of God's presence. Only one small jar of oil was found, enough for one day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days.
Today Chanukah is celebrated by lighting one candle on the Chanukiah (an eight-stemmed candelabrum). Each day an additional candle is lit. After lighting the candles it is traditional to give gifts. These handmade tags, used for illustrative purposes here, are perfect for popping on those Chanukah presents.
Because Chanukah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is also traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jam-filled doughnuts) during the holiday. However, the firm favourite in our home is the traditional game called dreidel (a Yiddish word that comes from the German word "drehen," which means “to turn.” In Hebrew the dreidel is called a sevivon).
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The four letters allude to the miracle of Chanukah. They spell out: Nes (נ-miracle), Gadol (ג-great), Haya (ה-happened) and Po (פ-here, meaning in Israel). Outside of Israel the letter ש-there, replaces the פ.
The Chanukah tradition of playing dreidel is not new. When the Jews were under the authority of the Greek Syrians, they were treated cruelly and were even prohibited to follow their own beliefs and customs. The study of Jewish Holy script - the Torah - was banned so they were forced to study in secret. The Rabbis used to take classes underground, posting some children outside to watch. To avoid the attention of the Greek Syrian soldiers, the children were told to play with the dreidel. Content that the Jews were following their orders and not studying the Torah, the Greek Syrians would go away.
In this game, an equal number of foil wrapped chocolate coins, sweets, nuts or raisins are distributed amongst the players and a small amount is put into a kitty. Each player is asked to spin the dreidel, which falls on one of the 4 letters. If it falls on the נ, it means ‘no win and no loss’. If you are lucky to have the dreidel fall on ג, you take away everything from the kitty. If your dreidel falls on ה, you can take half of the kitty. For those whose dreidel falls on פ or ש, they lose everything! The game ends when someone has won all of the tokens in the kitty.
My tags, used to illustrate this blog post, show the four sided spinning top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. I have added a Dove of Peace, a Chanukah candle, some Jerusalem buildings and a Magen David (Star of David) as decoration.
My kids often made their own dreidels when they were at nursery school, though I can't say that they spun so well! When the real game of dreidel is played, a spinning top made of plastic or wood is normally used, though there are silver or glass 'designer' dreidels available and even a platinum and diamond dreidel, priced at $1,800, is up for grabs. Perhaps you shouldn't let your kids play with that particular one!
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Thanks for joining the Etsy Greetings Team Holiday Traditions blog hop. For more handmade holiday traditions, please click on the arrows below!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Acre

Back in October I promised you a second blog post about our week of travel around Israel. Here it is - sorry for the delay! We had an incredible day out in Acre - or Akko as it is known in Hebrew and Arabic - a city in Northern Israel and one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the country. Acre's Old City has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Since the 1990s, large-scale archaeological excavations have been undertaken and there is a fascinating historical site around every corner. I took many, many photos on the day we visited...
Acre was an important northern city in ancient times. Various cultures made their home there. The Crusaders captured it and the Ottomans lived there for many centuries. Even Napoleon Bonaparte tried to lay his hands on Acre and conquer it, but after two months of siege and failed attempts to storm the city’s walls, he retreated in humiliation.
Acre's conquerors left behind a city of high-walled alleys and underground passages, the huge Jezzar Pasha Mosque and beautifully restored Turkish Baths. The walls of the city, its fortress and citadel, tell the history of the many rulers who governed it and fought for it.
We spent the first part of the day exploring the Hospitaller Fortress, wandering through the enormous stone rooms and large open courtyard. Afterwards we took a stroll through the Templars Tunnel, a 350-metre long tunnel leading from the fortress to the city port. As you walk, you can hear the sea above and around you.
The aforementioned Turkish Bath House, to me one of the most beautiful and fascinating sites in the Old City, is perfectly preserved. Colourful tiled walls cover the space where important men came to steam their troubles away. The 1780 bath house, built by al-Jezzar, the notorious Turkish governor who ruled Acre from 1775-1804, remained in use until the 1940s. I learnt that it was much more than a religious purification house. The Baths served as a social centre where people met for rest, entertainment and banquets. They were a meeting place for doctors and barbers and served as a house of luxury for the wealthy and prominent, as well as for the common people of the city. This was where they talked, gossiped, laughed and philosophized.
We wandered through the Old City market, though I was rather too pre-occupied with keeping an eye on my kids to really appreciate it. The market, I had read, is perfectly safe by day, but it still somehow felt a little threatening. Emerging from the crowded streets, Acre's marina allowed us some fresh air and sea breeze. We were tempted by the vendor selling sweet but sharp pomegranate juice, squeezed as we waited in line.
There are hummus and falafel places all over the city. Friends had already advised us where to eat and we were not disappointed. I made my kids wait a moment before they dived into the hot, fried falafel balls so that I could take a photo of the scrumptious dish!
Frankly there was almost too much to see in the area that day. Not far away from the city is a beautifully manicured Bahai Garden, built by members of the Bahai religion in Israel. We ran out of time to see it and anyway these things shouldn't be rushed. I must not forget that I am lucky enough to live in this fascinating country. We can go back and visit another day.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Eleven

I meant to post yesterday but the day got busy and I simply ran out of time. We were celebrating a birthday you see and there were other things to do! Actually, there are always plenty of other things to do, especially when I am hosting a sleepover for eight 11 year old boys tomorrow evening, but then that's another story altogether.
My eldest son recently wrote in an English project "My Mum is an artist and making cards is her job. She always makes me cards for my birthday and I really like them - they are always good." I guess he was expecting a pretty special card from me yesterday then!
So, the 'special' 11th birthday card showed my football mad son in his new Arsenal shirt, holding a ball in one hand and a tennis racket, his other favourite sport, in the other. He is wearing his white bicycle helmet because he loves riding his bike too (and got a new one for his birthday - lucky him!). My eldest is a keen reader - not quite as mad about books as his younger brother - but he enjoys reading every evening in bed and definitely has his favourites. He devoured the Percy Jackson series and recently discovered The Roman Mysteries books written by Caroline Lawrence. Not bad given that English is really his second language!
I added a chess piece into the card design because my son is a keen player and has been going to an after-school class for more than five years. 'Rabbity', the now rather sad-looking stuffed rabbit who was an important part of his life until a couple of years ago, popped in to say hello. Rabbity's banner declares "I'm still here" because if anyone was to see the real Rabbity, they would know that things are not looking good for him! He's been well loved...
Happy Birthday to my sporty yet studious 11 year old. I can't believe you are getting so big, though some teenage 'attitude' does occasionally creep in there to remind me! Let's try keep it at bay for a while, okay?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Something for the Men

I make no secret of the fact that card designs for the ladies come easier to me than designs for men. It's surprising really since I am surrounded by males in my life! Nevertheless, when a regular customer of mine gave me her card requirements for the coming month (lucky me!), most of the cards she wanted were for men. I had to bite the bullet and make a bunch of 'men' cards and actually they turned out pretty well!
My personal favourite from the collection was the card I made for a guy who drives a London Black Cab, above.  The simple graphics work well together.
I've made cards with wine bottles on them before but needed something new. This particular customer has been sending my cards - I think pretty much exclusively - for three years or more. I am constantly aware that I have to come up with something different each time! I've tried different shaped wine glasses and bottles, beer bottles and pint glasses.  A glass of red anyone?
My customer specified that the card for 'Reg', above, should be book-themed. I gave him quite a library to choose from!
I needed one more male design. You probably recognise this watering can, trowel and plants, below, from my previous post.  The sketches I drew for the customized card, recently made for a keen gardener, came in handy again. These cards are smaller than the customized ones, so I simplified the design a little, keeping the general theme. Most men like gardening, right?
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