Tea Parties and Teapot Sketches

tea party, Alice performance in Rutgers Gardens
Back in July we attended a performance in Rutgers Gardens. Well, maybe performance isn’t the right word. We were told as we entered the woods on the edge of the gardens that we were Alice. Then we met characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. This table displayed the tea party. I really liked the set up. What do you see? I see a tablecloth that looks like a chess board. And teacups. Thank you to reThink Theatrical for a fun evening.

dormouse, mad hatter in Rutgers Gardens
The Dormouse and Mad Hatter were right next to us. In the photo you can see the March Hare approaching. The large green chairs are part of the regular Rutgers Gardens display.

A friend posted her colorful teapot on Facebook this summer. I was inspired. I had a busy summer of work and family events, but while riding as a passenger in a car on the way to see my daughter perform in sleepaway camp as the Wicked Witch of the West, I produced this teapot sketch:

teapot sketch

A few weeks later while in a hotel room I did a colored pencil sketch of the teapot:
teapot colored pencil sketch

I am a fan of fanciful teacups and teapots – to sign up to read more of these posts by email, please click on the teacup in the sidebar of this blog (should be down at the bottom if you are reading on a phone).

Thank you for visiting – I plan more sketches in the future!

Watercolor Sketch: Esther Points at Haman

Esther points out Haman
I started this sketch of Esther pointing out Haman to Ahashverosh of Persia way back in December. It is based on an old painting – if you want, you can look it up. I liked the idea of the boldness of Esther. Is she someone to emulate? Can we find evil and point it out? Even if it means risking out lives?

The story of Esther is told at the Jewish holiday of Purim, which usually falls in the early spring. So you would think December would be enough time to finish a sketch? Mind you, this isn’t a full-scale oil painting, although I think portraiture (especially three people) is much easier in the medium. Well, December rolled in January and February, when I went with my daughter to Israel. Then I got offered some great website work when I returned … I am still working quite a few hours a week for a school at Rutgers University. Fast forward … daughter went to camp, husband took son to college orientation in Maryland. I’m home alone … what do I pull out, but this painting! Started it again. The first time Haman turned out like a blob of black. I intended to give him a three-cornered hat instead of the Dutch feathered cap in the painting I used as a model. Maybe next time.

I will now spend a bit of time poking around for inspiration for a new watercolor sketch. Suggestions welcome.

Assorted Israel Photos in Celebration of 68th Birthday

israel picnic table flowers
Last week on May 12 Israel celebrated its 68th birthday. And since I was working, I missed our local celebration (here’s a local Edison parade from a few years ago). Well, now I have a little time; I can share with you a few more photos from our January/February trip to Israel.

We went to visit my niece who teaches high school English in an international school north of Tel Aviv. The high school is in a youth village called HaKfar HaYarok – literally, the Green Village. Above is a picnic table with a pot of flowers. Wouldn’t you like to study math or social studies in February while sitting at a sunny picnic table?

Old City of Jerusalem, inside Jaffa Gate entrance

Here’s my daughter inside the Old City of Jerusalem, right near the Jaffa Gate.

And here’s a similar photo inside the Old City of Jerusalem – how is this different from the one above?

Hula Valley, Galil, Israel Views

Ah, birds in flight – probably cranes – at the Hula Valley nature reserve (previous post on this blog).

Even more birds in flight – how they fill the Hula Valley skies.

In many spots in the Hula Valley you can see the Golan Heights off to the east. Here’s a dramatic photo of the Heights rising over the farms below. Before 1967 when Israel captured the Golan Heights in a defensive war, Syrian soldiers used to fire shots from the mountains down on the farmers below.

Back to Jerusalem


These two photos (above and below) are both Jerusalem shots. The carnation in a pot is located in the quaint neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, a “suburb” of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was built in the late 19th century. I understand buying a home there now would cost you quite a pretty penny (can you afford a yacht?).

Finally, this is a cute bird diving into a little fountain with Jerusalem lions. It was near our hotel (the Inbal), north of the old train station that was renovated (and we did not get a chance to see – lots to do for our next visit).

Because there is some nature in this post (can you spot some?), I am including this post in Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Central Poland Synagogues and Yom Hashoa

Remah Synagogue, Poland
My son went to Poland. I told him I wanted him to take lots of photos. At first, he gave me the usual response about others taking photos or you can look them up on the internet. But in the end, he did take the photos, and I think his choice of subjects were telling. It’s a little like those Florida t-shirts: “My son went to Poland, and all I got were these photos.” I didn’t want photos of the other participants on this particular trip – in other cases, when it is a trip for fun, I enjoy looking at the others. But this was a trip about the story of Jews who had lived in Poland for many hundreds of years and were extinguished by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The photo on the top is the synagogue of the Ramah (also spelled Remah) in Kraków. The Ramah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, lived in Poland in the 16th century. He started a yeshiva and was a great halachic (Jewish law) authority. On his tombstone is inscribed: “From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses”. (source: Wikipedia)

oldest shul in Krakow
In this post I decided to focus on the synagogues of Poland. In part, because they are beautiful. They tell the story of a beautiful civilization that existed in that part of the world for centuries. I like hearing about the positive. At the end, as a contrast, I will share a bit of the horrible.

The photo above is the oldest synagogue in Kraków. It was possibly built in 1407 or 1492. You can learn more on Wikipedia.

slomniki synagogue
This is the Slomniki synagogue. I saw a note from 2012 that the synagogue was supposed to be restored, but it looks like it could use some more restoration help.

Sephardi shul in Zamosc
This fancy interior is the inside of the Zamosc Sephardi synagogue. According to Wikipedia, it was built between 1610 and 1618 by sephardim (Jews who got kicked out of Spain) from the Ottoman Empire and Venice. A line from Wikipedia: “Today only 3 Jews live in Zamość. In 1939 there were over 12,000 who made up 45% of the city’s population. Of these only 5,000 managed to escape the Holocaust by crossing the Bug River, which in 1939 became the border with the Soviet Union. The Nazis imprisoned those remaining in a ghetto (the Zamość Ghetto), from which they were transported to the Bełżec death camp.”

interior painting synagogue Lancut
I really love the painted walls and ceilings of some of the Polish synagogues. This is the interior of the Łańcut synagogue. According to Wikipedia: “The Łańcut Synagogue is a rare surviving example of the four-pillar, vaulted synagogues that were built throughout the Polish lands in both wood and masonry from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.” There is a footnote that names a book: Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, Carol Herselle Krinsky – sounds worth reading.

pillars in Lancut synagogue Poland
Look at those pillars (more of Łańcut Synagogue). They don’t build ’em like they used to.

artifacts Lancut synagogue
These artifacts are inside the Łańcut Synagogue. The open book in the middle looks like a chumash (one of the five first books of the Torah). I wonder what that stork with rings and possibly seals on its feet is supposed to represent. That metal kiddish cup looks battered.

These were not all the photos from my son’s trip – there were quite a few more. Maybe I will share some on a future post. As this coming Thursday is Yom HaShoa, the day in Israel to remember the Holocaust, I will share this shul in Auschwitz:

shul in Auschwitz ushpizin
Turns out the name of the town is Oświęcim (Polish) – it was also called Auschwitz (German) and Ushpitzin (Yiddish). The famous Auschwitz death camp is in a suburb of this town.

Krakow ghetto
My son wrote about this photo of a street scene in Kraków (photo is from World War II): “You can see the balcony on the corner of the street in the picture lines up with the one still there today (Kraków ghetto).”

Work Sets You Free sign
I conclude this post with “Work Sets You Free” – the famous horrible sign posted in the Auschwitz death camp (in German: Arbeit macht frei).

This is about all I can take for one day. My son took it all in his stride. What do you think? What’s your reaction?

Israeli Flowers in January

Tel Aviv daisy
One of the cool things about visiting Israel at the end of January was in all different sorts of places I found flowers! I am not used to flowers in January; I grew in the Boston area where what one found on the ground was usually snow. I photographed a variety of Israeli flowers in January. The yellow daisy above was somewhere near Tel Aviv.

daisy in Hakfar Hayarok
Here is a similar yellow flower – also north of Tel Aviv, in a different spot. We had visited my niece who is teaching English in an international high school. I am wondering if keen-eyed nature bloggers can suggest difference between these two daisy-like flowers.

Jerusalem pink flowers
These lovely dark pink flowers were growing in a garden in Jerusalem right behind Yemin Moshe.

Jerusalem pink flowers in front of the old city
This shot of the dark pink flowers focuses on the Old City of Jerusalem behind the garden. It was a lovely view.

thick leaves pink
This pink flower with thick leaves was in a location north of Tel Aviv. In Israel one can often find flowers and plants with thick leaves; the thick leaves store water, and almost no water falls in the summer, so the plants have to store it up to stay alive.

thick leaf vegetation
This is some kind of thick leaf vegetation by the Mediterranean sea north of Tel Aviv.

thistle in Hula Valley
I photographed this thistle in the Hula Valley. Contrast this green look of the thistle in a winter with abundant rain with the thistle I photographed back in 2008 in a drought.

wildflower in Israel, Har Adar
A tiny wildflower peaked out at me when I visited the backyard of a friend who lives in Har Adar, Israel, a beautiful village on top of a tall hill, the tallest hill in the west Jerusalem hills. Maybe it’s some kind of geranium? (See cranesbill that grows in front of my house, as a contrast). There was also abundant rosemary growing in the area. When I grow rosemary in New Jersey, it almost always dies in the winter. In the Jerusalem area, even the winters are cold, they are not as cold as in New Jersey, so the rosemary spreads and makes itself known. How nice to have rosemary naturally in your backyard!

yellow wildflower Tel Azeka
Enjoy some yellow wildflowers I found by Tel Azeka (a few minutes by car west of Beit Shemesh).

It’s been a while since I last posted. In the Nature Notes blogging world, something awful happened last month. I was hoping to get a comment on my last post from one of my favorite bloggers, EG Wow (real name: Tina Forrester). I learned to my horror that Tina and her husband had died in a terrible car accident. If you have never visited her blog, oh, sigh, you are in for a treat. But you will never really learn how warm and friendly her comments were when she commented on other blogs. May her family and friends know no more sorrow.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Hula Birds: Gallinule, Lapwing, Egret

Hula Valley birds
Among the birds I saw at the Hula Valley in Israel: gallinule (moorhen), lapwing, egret, crane, pelican. My daughter saw a small blue bird fly by quickly twice – this may have been a kingfisher.

A bit of history about this magical (to me, at least) place in northern Israel:
Back in the 1950’s the malaria-ridden swamps of the Hula Valley were drained. However, this caused ecological damage. From the leaflet of the Hula Agamon Lake: “Over the years the peat earth that is typical of the Hula(organic earth the the remains of plants and animals) dried up, broke up, sunk, and even started to burn underground. The worst thing was that the phosphates and nitrates in the earth were washed into the Kinneret and polluted its waters.” In the 1990’s earth was restored; the project included digging canals that allowed the control of water in the area.

One of the major benefits of the 1990’s work was this ornithological spot, unique in the world. Over this area twice a year no less than 500 million birds migrate.

Learn more here: http://www.agamon-hula.co.il/?lang=en_US

This bird is a spur-winged lapwing or spur-winged plover.

Here is a gallinule – note that orange beak.

nesting box
Here my daughter is standing by a white nesting box. We didn’t see any birds near the box, but the box reminded me of the boxes we saw at Cape May. According to the literature we were handed when we entered, these are for white owls. It seems the white owls eat voles, and voles do damage agriculturally, so eliminating the voles is a good thing.

I got some good photos of the handsome egret.


egret in flight
I believe this is an egret in flight.

The most abundant bird species in the area are the cranes.

Those spoonbills sure have funny beaks. (see https://twitter.com/hulakkl/status/498657479324991488)

This furry-looking guy is a muskrat.

rainbow in hula lake
Ah, after rain on and off, it’s nice to be rewarded with a rainbow!

rainbow with birds
Even better, here is the rainbow with birds flying by.

Notes on visiting Hula Agamon Lake: don’t do what we did and try to walk the whole thing. We should have rented the golf cart. It’s a big area! There are also bikes available to rent. It would be great to visit during a migratory period, but I feel fortunate that I got there at all.

For more nature notes, visit:
Nature Notes