Monday, 30 April 2012

Israel's 64th Birthday

Last week in Israel we remembered and honoured our fallen heroes and then celebrated Israel's 64th birthday. On Wednesday it was Israel’s Memorial Day for the country's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism (Yom Hazikaron). It began on Tuesday night with a nationwide siren at 8pm, which sounded again at 11am the following morning. It is a very moving sight to see the whole country come to a standstill and respectfully bow their heads in memory. Cars literally come to a halt on the roads, the drivers get out and stand in silence. All day long programs are broadcast documenting the loved ones that have been lost, and memorial services are held throughout the country.
Israel's Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) begins the minute Israel's Memorial Day ends. It seems so strange to have this heavy day of mourning followed by such a joyous holiday but the message of linking these two days is clear: Israelis owe their independence - the very existence of the state - to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it.
Independence Day is celebrated each year on 5 Iyar, which corresponds to May 14, 1948, the day that the State of Israel was proclaimed. On Wednesday evening we joined thousands of others in our local amphitheatre for a concert and fireworks. There was singing and dancing on the streets, pizza and falafel stalls aplenty. On Independence Day itself everyone packed their picnic baskets with lots of meat and Israeli salad, and headed out in search of the perfect picnic spot. The whole country was dotted with families outdoors enjoying the countryside.
There is no better way to teach children about the history of Israel than to be able to show them the actual locations of crucial battles. On Memorial Day we took the boys on one such trip, retracing the 1947-48 battles to keep open the road to Jerusalem.
Castel National Park is located on a hill known as Mount Ma‘oz, overlooking the main road to Jerusalem. The word Castel means 'castle' in French - the fortress was built by French Crusaders a thousand years ago and after the Crusaders left, Arabs lived in the area, in a village they called Castel.
During Israel's War of Independence Jerusalem became cut off from the rest of the country. Food, water, medicine and personnel were unable to get through and hunger became a real danger for the Jewish population there. It became clear that only the capture of points along the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would change the situation and at the beginning of April 1948, after several days of fighting during which many young men were killed, Israeli forces ultimately captured the village of Castel and it has remained in Israeli hands ever since.
As we sat on the top of Castel the strategic importance of the site was immediately apparent. A beautiful sunny day, we enjoyed a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. Being there hopefully gave the boys a real feeling for how the Jewish soldiers felt at the time. Around the back of the hill were memorial plaques bearing the names of the fallen soldiers and that morning, it being Memorial Day, a service had taken place for the 84 young men who had died in the battle for Castel. Many of them came to Israel from other countries, and some had only been here for a few months. Our visit to Castel was a wonderful way to remember and honour our fallen heroes who died defending our beautiful country.
Here's wishing Israel many more meaningful Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations filled with happiness and peace!
* One of the distinctive flowers for this season is the Red Everlasting, known in Hebrew as Dam Hamaccabim (Blood of the Maccabees). Just as in Britain the red poppy came to symbolise the blood of the fallen on Flanders fields in World War I, and so became the flower worn on Remembrance Sunday, in Israel the Red Everlasting has the same symbolism and is the emblem of Israel's Memorial Day.
I spotted these beautiful flowers on our visit to Castel and to see them flowering there, on that particular day, felt very special.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Scrabble

This was one of those cards that seemed so simple to create in my head but when the time came to make it, boy did it take a lot of cutting! It was worth all the effort though. It looks exactly as I intended it to!
A friend asked me to make a card for her son's 12th birthday. As we already know, the theme was to be Scrabble (check out the history of the game here) and she already had the idea in her head. Apparently her son is really good at the board game and beats her all the time. It seemed so simple. I just had to look at her attached sketch - ahem, ignoring a bad spelling mistake (giggle!) - and make it real. Of course, cutting out all those little tiles, which had to have rounded corners like the real ones, took me a fair amount of time, and then getting it all to fit in the space correctly took even more time. The board and the black star finished it off nicely and my friend was very happy, even after my teasing complaints about the time it had taken. "Thanks for all the effort you've put into the Scrabble card." she wrote. I really hope her son liked it.
Scrabble, anyone?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Moo

Quite some time ago now Amy from Lucykate Crafts promoted a giveaway on her blog. Moo, the online printing business, asked Amy whether her blog readers would be interested in some of their new sticker range. Of course we were! I ordered my first Moo cards when I opened my Etsy shop and use them as business cards and to finish off the packaging for my customised albums (punch a hole in one end and attach with string). The cards are great! In my humble opinion they produce just about the best sticker books, business cards, postcards and greetings cards out there. In addition, my experience with printers here in Israel hasn't been great, though I admit to not having searched too far afield.
Moo cards are really easy to create. You can upload your own images and their printing technology allows you to place a different image or design on every card or sticker. Moo were offering 50 of their new round stickers and also 50 of the rectangular stickers to 5 blog readers and, yep, I was one of the lucky winners!
I finally got round to creating my free stickers after sitting on the voucher codes for a long time. The order arrived last week. It really didn't take that long to get here from the UK (Moo are also located in the US). I was excited to find the package in my mailbox and to see how the stickers had come out. I LOVE the round stickers. I think they will be brilliant for packaging my goodies. I am less sure about the rectangular stickers - simply because there is so much white on the design I chose - but I am sure I will enjoy using them anyway. Regular readers will probably recognise quite a few of the images I have used.
I'd be very surprised if you haven't already come across Moo but, if you haven't tried them, I suggest you do! And, if you do wish to order something from the Moo website, drop me a line or leave me a comment and I will send you a link that will give you 10% off your first order.
Thank you Moo for my free stickers and thank you Amy for hosting such a great giveaway!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Ice City

Last summer it was sand. This Passover it was ice. What am I talking about? The sculptures at Jerusalem's 'Ice City' of course! When I heard that top Chinese ice sculptors had been brought in to create a mini Jerusalem and other pieces in ice, I knew that I had to see it. The sand sculptures at 'Tales in Sand' at the Eretz Israel Museum had been wonderful, so I was intrigued to see some ice sculpting too. Of course Jerusalem is not know for it's ice, or even for its really cold weather, so our day out there meant t-shirts and sun hats in the morning, and then coats, scarves and woolly hats in the afternoon. It was worth the bother.
We were excited but a little unsure about what we were going to see as we donned our hats and coats at the entrance to Ice City. The hubby had gone to move the car and was running late, and the queues were long, so we were all a little hassled too, but, as the doors swang open and the cold air hit us, all we could say was "Wow"!
The first point of call was ‘ice’ Jaffa Gate, followed by Montefiore's Windmill and his carriage, and after that the animals in Jerusalem's zoo, or was it Noah's Ark? I had never seen coloured ice sculptures before and, though they did look good, I think I prefer the clear stuff. 
Having initially declared that it was not that cold, we of course then did start getting really cold. As always, I was in charge of the camera and my fingers were beginning to freeze but the place simply had to be photographed. Then, when the kids found the ice slides, I was obliged to stand in line and wait for the moment they slid down and catch that on camera too!
There was a whole section with ice recreations of well-known Israeli children’s books and even an ice bar. Other touches of recognisable Jerusalem icons included the ice Mifletzet (the monster playground sculpture from Kiryat Yovel's Rabinovich Park). The whole thing was really incredible.
We were in Ice City for just under an hour which gave us enough time to see everything and enough time for my fingers to freeze from taking pictures!
Jerusalem's Ice City has been extended and will be open till May 31st. It is definitely worth seeing and I recommend a visit, but remember, it is really cold inside, -10 degree Celsius, so dress warmly!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Ben's Album

Some time ago I rediscovered a friend on Facebook whom I originally met on Ulpan (Hebrew language school) over 17 years ago. She and her husband had left Israel but have happily recently returned. Because we have become friends on Facebook my friend could see examples my work posted there and, as her eldest son was soon becoming Bar Mitzvah, she asked me to make an album for him.
Her son's big interest at the moment is surfing, she told me. He also likes football - he's an Arsenal supporter, just like the boys in my family - tennis and going on his ripstick. He enjoys bowling and going to the movies, playing games on his iPod, talking to his friends on Facebook and playing games on the Wii console. He loves going on roller coaster rides too - the scarier the better. Wow, did I have a lot to work with!
The cover illustration was fun to create. I showed the young man on his surfboard, wearing, as his Mum told me he does, a chocolate brown swim shirt and the patterned shorts I had spotted in a photograph. The important Arsenal badge is there too and even though our Bar Mitzvah boy is surfing, he has a football in one hand and an iPod Touch in the other.
The colour scheme of green and grey was based on the design of the Bar Mitzvah invitation. I was informed that it was white with a silver and green border and the boy's name was in green. I hope that I was successful in incorporating that into my design. The date of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, and the boy's English and Hebrew names are there too.
Inside the album I embellished a few pages. The first page was movie themed and showed a tub of popcorn, some film (I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart!) and a couple of tickets. After that I included the Bar Mitzvah boy's ripstick, showed him whizzing past on a roller coaster ride, added his tennis racket and, finally, a laptop open on Facebook and a Wii controller. I think just the bowling got missed off but his Mum had prioritised his list of favourites and that was right at the bottom!
My friend sent me the most lovely e-mail when she received the album. "I picked up the album this morning." she wrote. "Absolutely LOVE it. Love all the personal touches and the lovely way it came wrapped in tissue paper and a box. So happy with it. Keeping it as a surprise for Ben. Thanks so much!"


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Haifa International Flower Show 2012

Passover has ended. The kids went back to school today and the hubby to work. The festival started on Shabbat and the first and seventh days are observed as holy days and full days of rest. The fun really began on the intermediate days, Chol HaMoed (the non-holy part of the festival when we are permitted to do many activities but should still try to avoid work). On Sunday morning we headed north to Haifa, to visit the Haifa International Flower Exhibition held in the Hecht Park, by the beach. A flower exhibition used to be an annual event in Haifa for many years, but this was the first to be held in 19 years and the largest ever to be held in Israel.
The exhibition was proving to be so popular that the queues were already very long when we arrived. Additionally Israelis are not known for their patience or willingness to wait in line and I admit to losing my cool several times with people who saw it fit to jump in wherever they wished or to suddenly bring in another six or eight of their family members in front of us. Orderly it was not. However, none of it mattered. The exhibition was superb!
The exhibition consisted of nine large white domes temporarily placed amongst the green hills of the park. Inside the domes were thousands of flowers bursting with colour from all over the world, each arrangement boasting a different theme. Of course I had my favourites.
Dome #1: "World of Flowers" offered a colourful introduction to the show – an imaginary landscape inspired by flower fields (above). Orange, yellow and white lilies lined the dome, row after row, and the smell was exquisite, if slightly overpowering.
A street lined with cafes and shops was the theme of Dome #2: "Romantic Avenue". A jeans shop, 1960s-era bright pink car, a bed of roses and a bakery in which the baked goods were really flower arrangements, were all waiting to be explored. Dome #4: "Wild World", was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to shuffle through. It was worth a little bit of pushing though. The dome featured beautiful tropical flowers and bushes appearing to grow naturally on a mountain in the middle of the room. There were pods used in the arrangements that I have never seen before in my life!
Dome #5: the "Hanging Garden" was magical and a bit spooky at the same time. A garden of black trees grew from the ground and thousands of white and pink orchids graced the trees, placed in small glass bowls. We actually began our day at Dome #6 in a rather futile attempt to avoid the queues but, although made up of an interesting design of glowing green netted structures shaped like garlic bulbs hanging from the ceiling, it was not one my personal favourites. It was almost impossible to get close to these structures due to so many people trying to be photographed surrounded by flowers. The glowing nets were an interesting idea but not suitable for an exhibition of this scale.
Dome #8: "World of Water" (above) was a big hit with all my family! Bubbles floated all over the room and giant inflated Clown fish and flowers hung from the ceiling, giving the visitor the feeling of being underwater. A pirate ship with floral treasures sailed through a vast sea of thousands of multi-coloured gerberas.
And finally, Dome #9: "Land of the Rising Sun" (above), a Japanese themed dome and my absolute favourite! Oriental music played in the background and red anthuriums hung in vines from the ceiling. White origami doves were positioned below them, above a live fish pond, and a bridge over a lotus pond and floating flowers completed the picture.
Having grown up visiting flower shows - my Mum was a talented florist - and therefore privileged to have seen some of the very best, I did not have any great expectations about this exhibition. However, it proved to be a fantastic experience. The flowers were world-class and the park, with its own displays and trees, quite pleasant. The weather was good - Spring is the ideal time of year for this event, before it gets too hot for both people and flowers. The only downside was that it was way too crowded, but that's understandable, considering the quality of the exhibition. I look forward to visiting again next year.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Very much in love!

Creative work has been put aside for the last week or so and Passover holidays have really taken over! I have not picked up my craft knife or glue in several days now, but we all deserve a break now and then, don't we? We are having a LOT of fun. So far we've visited Haifa's International Flower Exhibition which was tremendously crowded but breathtaking; taken part in the truly eye-opening Dialogue in The Dark in Holon; and tomorrow we will be donning hats, scarves and gloves to visit Ice City in Jerusalem. I promise some great photos next week but in the meantime I want to show you a card I made for a wedding that took place at the beginning of this month, just before the Passover holidays began.
This card was requested by the big sister of the groom and she was keen to include as many things about the young couple as possible. They are both tall and slim, my customer told me, and very much in love! They like to go on outdoor trips and camping together, and they both study the sciences. Most grooms in Israel go for a rather casual look but this young man was going to be wearing a suit and tie for his wedding. It was important too that I showed him wearing a kippa (skullcap).
This was a very detailed but simple card to put together. I have shown the bride and groom dressed for their wedding in the appropriate clothing. A tent is nearby, though I suspect they were not going camping for their honeymoon! To the left of the bride is a pile of (science) books and a microscope is perched on top of them. I added a few hearts and flowers to the card too since it was their wedding and thus a pretty romantic day!
Mazal Tov to the new couple and Mo'adim LeSimcha ("festivals for joy") to those of us enjoying the Passover holiday week. Life returns to normal in a few days time...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Lupin Hill

This evening my family and I will celebrate the Passover Seder. Our home has been cleaned from top to bottom to remove all traces of chametz (the Hebrew term for "leavened bread"). I have switched all the utensils and pots and pans for ones that we only use during the holiday and have generally used the arrival of Passover as an opportunity to spring clean our home. However, in between all this craziness, the youngest son and I took a break and headed to Givat Haturmusim (Lupin Hill) in The Valley of Elah, to see the gorgeous purple Turmusim (Lupins), a few remaining red Calaniot (Anemone), and other wildflowers covering the hill.
In early spring (March/April), Israelis from all over the country flock to Givat Haturmusim. The hill, also known Tel Socho, is famous for its Lupin and is literally covered with this beautiful purple flower. We parked the car and climbed to the top of the hill along the marked trail. The view was incredible and the carpet of flowers quite breathtaking. My son, who had really wanted to spend the day at the Tel Aviv's Luna Park (which was, ahem, fortunately found to be closed that day), declared the place to be "almost as good as the Luna Park!". High praise indeed.
The carpet of colourful flowers gives no hint however to the battle that once occurred on this hill. The Valley of Elah (Elah being the Hebrew word for Terebinth – a tree found throughout the valley) is where the battle between David and Goliath took place. Tel Socho was the camping grounds for Goliath and the Philistines. Goliath stood in the Valley of Elah for forty consecutive days, challenging someone to fight him. Of course we all know what happened next. But while David slew Goliath with stones, it is the flowers which now draw people  - and especially my son and I, in need of a break from organising and cleaning - to the area.
There is a popular Hebrew song sung by many Israeli children at this time of the year. Simcha raba, Simcha raba, Aviv hegiah, Pesach ba. "Great joy, great joy, Spring is here, Pesach is coming" they sing. Well, we certainly saw that Spring is here when we visited Givat Haturmusim. May the sun keep shining and the flowers keep blooming. 'Chag Pesach Sameach', a happy Passover festival, to all celebrating.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sarah knows how to play it

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is getting to know the people whom I create cards and albums for. I often receive photos of these people, learn about their interests and hobbies and consequently get to know them, if not personally, in a very small way. Very occasionally I actually meet the person I have made a card or album for.
Back in February you may remember that I took part in a wonderful Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt for bloggers. Arriving at the event I immediately recognised one of the faces in the group and, after a moments thought, realised that it was a guy who I made a wedding card for some months previously. I suspect I freaked him out just a little bit by telling him that I knew who he was, even though he didn't know me, but he took it well and he was kind enough to tell me just how much he and his wife loved their special card.
Well, we are now friends on facebook and recently this same guy contacted me and asked me to make a card for his mum's 60th birthday. His mum is a great cook, he told me, and makes gigantic meals of twenty dishes and more, including meat, pies, soups, salads and all kinds of fancy food. She volunteers in the Yad Sarah organisation which provides free medical aid for needy populations, and uses email and facebook too. In her son's opinion she is the classic example of a Polish mother, so he thought that Poland's flag should probably be on the card as well. The Hebrew greeting on the card says "שרה יודעת לשחק אותה", "Sarah knows how to play it."
Whilst we're talking about cooking, not long ago a friend asked me to bring a vegetarian dish along to a meal we were having together, one that would be good for me - the token vegetarian - but also something everyone else would happily dig in to. These stuffed tomatoes seemed to fit the bill. They tasted great and looked pretty too, so I took a photograph of them!
Want the recipe? It comes from Rose Elliot's 'Complete Vegetarian Cookbook'.
Tomatoes stuffed with Pine Nuts (Serves 4)

4 large tomatoes, weighing about 225g (8oz) each
Sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
125g (4 oz) pine nuts
125g (4 oz) soft wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven to 190° C (375° F), gas mark 5. Wash the tomatoes, slice off the tops and scoop out the seeds with a spoon - they will not be needed for this recipe, although they can be made into a good sauce to serve with it. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with a little salt and place them upside down in a colander to drain while you prepare the stuffing. To do this, heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion for about 7 minutes, until softening, then remove for the heat and stir in the pine nuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and thyme; season. Arrange the tomatoes in a lightly-greased, shallow, ovenproof dish and fill each with some of the nut mixture, dividing it between them. Then replace the sliced-off tops, if you like, and bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes until they're tender.
Finally, this a is a sneak peak of another version of this card. The weather has really brightened up here and in a few days time we will celebrate the beginning of Passover. Spring is most definitely here and this sweet little bird sitting amongst the flowers really says 'springtime' to me. To those of us busy preparing for the Passover holidays, happy cleaning. We're very nearly there!
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