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St. Francis

"St. Francis in the Garden" SM 561 by Edward Dieudonne

“St. Francis in the Garden” SM 561 by Edward Dieudonne


"St. Francis in Reflection" SM562 by Edward Dieudonne

“St. Francis in Reflection” SM562 by Edward Dieudonne


Twice a year – once in January and once in July – Beyond Borders selects about 2 dozen new designs from our artists to feature in the catalogue and online.  Last week was the “unveiling” and, as always, I was very excited to see which designs made the final cut.  Among many lovely pieces, my fast favorites became Edward Dieudonne’s images of St. Francis.  Edward captured the saint’s tender love for the creatures of the earth, depicting him standing reflectively among the flowers and birds. He rendered the sculptures with a beauty and simplicity that are completely appropriate and fitting for his subject.  Perfect!

Though I was aware that St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment, I never knew why. Fortunately, it takes very little research to discover the answer.  His designation is well-deserved and the story is a good one.  Several stories, actually, and from a noteworthy set of contemporary medieval sources. The life of Saint Francis of Assisi is, in fact, one of the more closely chronicled lives of the pre-Renaissance, with sources including a number of early papal bulls and three biographies; one written by Thomas of Celano, a follower of Francis’ (1229-1247), a joint narrative of his life compiled by Leo, Rufinus, and Angelus, who were intimate companions of the saint (1246), and the celebrated Legend of St. Bonaventure (1263).

These accounts were summarized neatly for me in several online sites, including www.newadvent.org where I read that, “The very animals found in Francis a tender friend and protector; thus we find him pleading with the people of Gubbio to feed the fierce wolf that had ravished their flocks, because through hunger “Brother Wolf” had done this wrong. And the early legends have left us many an idyllic picture of how beasts and birds alike susceptible to the charm of Francis’s gentle ways, entering into loving companionship with him.”

Perhaps the most famous story associated with St. Francis is the one told of his sermon to the birds.  Apparently, Francis had hit a something of a professional impasse.  He was uncertain whether to continue his ministry, or to withdraw from teaching and spend the rest of his life in solitary prayer and meditation.  His colleagues, Sister Clare and Brother Sylvester encouraged him to continue his outreach. Following their advice, he set out with renewed vigor and immediately encountered a large flock of birds. Francis stopped in his tracks and preached to the birds, instructing them to be thankful to God for their beautiful plumage, for their independence, and for God’s loving care.  The birds were rapt in their attention as he spoke, flying off only when he bid them leave.

Modern interpretations of these stories lead us to the conclusion that St. Francis revealed that the whole family of creation – flora, fauna, and the earth itself – is deserving of respect and care. It’s an idea, and an image that bears repeating.

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Let It Snow!

"Stable in Bethlehem" (Snow not included!) by Jonas Solouque.  See more of his work here by clicking on our "Haitian Metal" tab on the homepage.

“Stable in Bethlehem” (Snow not included!) by Jonas Solouque. See more of his work here by clicking on our “Haitian Metal” tab above.


Authentic photo of a camel in the snow on the Sinai Peninsula taken during a rare blizzard that swept through the Middle East last week.

Authentic photo of a camel in the snow on the Sinai Peninsula taken during a rare blizzard that swept through the Middle East last week.

Last weekend, while surfing the web, I came upon an astonishing headline, “Rare Snowstorm Hits Cairo.”  I could hardly believe it – snow in Egypt? Reading on, I learned that it actually had happened before – 112 years ago – thus making this storm a true, once in a lifetime event.  Quickly, I emailed my Egyptian friend, Heba, and asked if I should FedEx her some mittens and a snow shovel. She is a bright and infinitely capable woman, but I doubted that she was adequately provisioned for SNOW! Her reply came back to me later that afternoon in the affirmative regarding the fluffy white stuff, but negative on the offer of mittens as she was staying put until it melted and making do nicely with space heaters in the meantime.

She went on to say that several of the photographs that I had attached to my email had been “embellished.”  Though they were fun, they weren’t the real deal.  The one of the camel in the snow, however, was accurate, taken in Sinai where a good deal of accumulation had occurred.

Apparently, the snowstorm continued east and bore down heavily on Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.  Fifteen inches, according to a Yahoo News source. Imagine that! So then I started wondering if that Holy Night – the Very First Christmas – could have been white?

Little documentation exists to support or refute the possibility.  The Gospel of St. Luke, the closest thing to a contemporary account available, though written approximately 30 years after the death of Jesus, states that “there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night,” when the Angel appeared to announce the Blessed Event. However, shepherds the world over move their flocks to lower elevations as winter approaches, making it unlikely that shepherds or sheep would’ve been on the hillsides above Bethlehem in December, whether yesterday or 2000 years ago.  In fact, many biblical historians claim that the actual date of Jesus’ birth was probably in September. It wasn’t until sometime late in the third century that the leaders of the Early Church decided to mark the occasion at all, and when they did, they chose December 25th. Their choice was not based on anything they believed they knew about Jesus’ actual birth date, but rather their wish to designate a time in which to celebrate the occurrence of the Holy Birth and simultaneously draw in the Pagans, who were already whooping it up over the Winter Solstice anyway.

So there it is, unlikely at best.  Perhaps it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I’m going to hold onto my romantic notions of a white Christmas – for the First One and Forever More.  Sledding and snowmen and icicles and frosted windowpanes and kicking through sidewalk drifts in fur-trimmed boots.  That’s what feels right to me.  Let it snow!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus







Remembering Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela July 18, 1918 -  Dec. 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela
July 18, 1918 –
Dec. 5, 2013

Since Nelson Mandela’s death last week, the media has been filled with accounts of his life, his trials, his triumphs, his leadership, and his sacrifice for the causes of freedom, justice, and equality. He was a complex individual, to be sure, but in the end the tributes flow like rivers in praise of the man who delivered South Africa from apartheid, became its first elected black president and used his position of leadership to set an example of forgiveness, inclusivity, and humanity for the world.

So as I’ve read the papers and recalled his legacy, I’ve wondered, “Where do people get that kind of courage?  What inspires them to struggle unafraid toward something as daunting as what Martin Luther King called, “bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice”? I remember watching “Invictus” a few years back – the film about Nelson Mandela getting behind the predominantly white Springbok rugby team during the ramp-up to World Rugby Cup as a means unifying the nation. There was a scene in the movie between Morgan Freeman (Mandela) and Matt Damon (A professional rugby player) in which the poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, was said to have inspired Mandela while he was in prison.  Mandela used the poem to similarly inspire the rugby team captain to greater leadership of the Springboks in the cause of athletic glory and national unity. Indeed Henley’s stirring verse compels one to courageous heights:

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid”

(Read the poem in its entirety here:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/invictus/  )

Yet, while Mandela was reportedly moved by Henley’s poem and did often recite it during his long years of incarceration, it was not the inspirational message that he actually did give to the young Springbok captain. Cinematic license at work, apparently.  The real Nelson Mandela gave Francois Pinaar, the real captain of the Springboks that really did go on to win the World Rugby Cup, a copy of a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 entitled, “Citizenship in a Republic.” No doubt Mandela singled out a section on page 7 of the 35-page speech which has come to be known as “The Man in the Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Wherever the spirit of Nelson Mandela goes, it will not be among cold and timid souls. As he said in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1994, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Rest in Peace, Sir.  You’ve earned it richly.

Journeys of The Magi and Me



REC498 "Gifts of the Magi" by Jonas Soulouque

REC498 “Gifts of the Magi” by Jonas Soulouque

Of all of the symbols of Christmas, my favorite is The Three Magi.  Not coincidentally, I suppose, it is their journey that moves me.  At heart, I am an adventurer, and I know that they were too; undertaking a commitment of great distance, following a star to an unknown destination. What marvels did they see?  What hardships did they endure?  What lessons of men and mountains did they learn along the way?

According to what little historical background we can attach to their story, The Magi were Zoroastrian priests of Ancient Persia, an empire that at the time of Christ’s birth extended from what is now Central Turkey southward to the United Arab Emirates and east to Mongolia and the Indus Valley in India. The priestly class of the period was particularly avid in the study of astrology and astronomy and that these three apparently dropped everything in quest of a star could be equated to going abroad in the name of scientific inquiry.  Anticipation of discovery and the thrill of the adventure to unfold must have filled their hearts. What excitement they must have felt as they set out on their overland voyage!

Indeed, their journey was on my mind few years ago, early in the holiday season when I set out to run a quick errand.  I had been in the middle of decorating and had carefully arranged my Nativity set; The Magi leading their camels just so across the console table. Upon critical examination, however, I decided that I needed a couple of poinsettias or greenery at least, to complete the scene.  I jumped in the car to head out in IMG_1130 (640x480)search of same when I passed a Christmas tree lot that had the added attraction of offering camel rides. By golly!  I couldn’t drop everything to follow a star for months on end, but I had 15 minutes to stop and ride a camel.  So I did. Discovery and adventure do not belong only to The Magi.  It is something we share.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus




Cupping coffee

IMG_2075 (640x480)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Haitian coffee and where to get it in the United States.  At that time, I rather brashly suggested a taste-test and promised that one would be forthcoming.  So for those of you who have been waiting for me to do that, you may at this point be suspecting that I have been stalling.  In that assumption, you would be correct.


Let me tell you about taste-testing coffee.  First of all, isn’t a taste test, it is a “cupping.”  And it’s fairly complicated, no less so than wine-tasting.  There are protocols to be observed, such as evaluating the aroma of freshly ground beans, and then dampening a precisely measured amount of grounds in a precisely measured amount of water heated to a degree that must be consistent from cup to cup and, yes, precise.  Furthermore, to achieve a reasonable level of accuracy you would do this three times for each type of coffee that you cup. See for yourself, bearing in mind that it is only a ROUGH procedural guide.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5vz7sxlkQI Lord knows what the serious cuppers do!


Then there is the lingo.  I listened to some reviews of other coffees and the reviews included phrases like, “raspberry notes, “and “jasmine overtones, with a long, hazelnut finish.” While I was doing my level best to be attentive to taste and smell as I sampled the coffees separately over a week of breakfasts, I kept coming up with “herbal,” “smoky” and “oaken,” which lead me to the following observation about myself:  I write for a living, but I don’t taste for a living. My vocabulary is fairly sophisticated, my palate is not.  This then begged the question, “Should I be doing this???”


I believe the answer is no, to tell the truth.  So this is what I’m going to do.  I will tell you that, after sampling, Rebo’s “Melange Gourmet,” La Colombe’s “Mare Blanche” and “Lyon” and Just Haiti’s “Kafe Solidarite,” on successive mornings, the latter, Just Haiti’s “Kafe Solidarite” is what I have been drinking ever since.  It is smooth, not bitter, and I like it. Plus, they are a small fair trade company and they stuck a “Freshly Roasted Coffee for Linda” label on the package.  Nice!  So if you want some “Kafe Solidarite” freshly roasted for YOU, here’s where you can get it:  http://justhaiti.org/


Bottoms up!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Ha! It’s Me!

On a bike ID #2734 I'm pretty sure she's me...

On a bike ID #2734
I’m pretty sure she’s me…


I love art for lots of reasons.  It can transport me in time and in space.  It can inspire me.  It can challenge my thinking; teach me to

I didn't get up enough speed to even scatter the birds.

I didn’t get up enough speed to even scatter the birds.

observe and to contemplate.   But while I appreciate all that art can do for me, I find the pieces that I enjoy most of all are those that give me a glimpse of self-recognition and make me laugh.

So maybe this piece by Tunis Dixon doesn’t resonate with you as it does with me.  Maybe you didn’t have the day on the bike that I did. More’s the pity. This hard-charging gal reminds me quite clearly of me the last time I rode a bike.  No, I wasn’t topless, but I was grinding away, wind in my hair on a beach down in South Carolina.  I had the clunker; we drew straws and I lost.   The bike was heavy, with wide tires that had no penchant for holding anything in the way of air pressure. But that wasn’t going to stop me.  It was a glorious day on the beach and I was with my friends.  They were riding like the wind and I was determined to do the same; grace and elegance be damned. Puffing and chugging, I was glad for the outing and chalked my sweaty exertions up to good exercise.  I look at this gal and I think if I’d had my portrait made at that moment, on that day, this is what it would look like.

Tunis Dixon in his workshop.

Tunis Dixon in his workshop.

Tunis, you nailed it.  I saw myself and it made me laugh. Thank you for that!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Starting the day with coffee from Haiti


Taking care of the coffee crop. Haitian Farmer One-of-a-Kind Sculpture ID# HT1516

Taking care of the coffee crop. Haitian Farmer One-of-a-Kind Sculpture ID# HT1516

As my family will attest, coffee starts my day.  I need it – they need me to have it.  The day just goes better if I’ve paddled out to the kitchen in my jammies and headed straightaway to the stove to make and subsequently drink a cuppa Joe.  Yes, I still do this the old-fashioned way.  No high-tech Keurig for me, though I do admit it has its appeal and my eye has strayed from time to time. I make my coffee in a French press.  No muss, no fuss, I can do it in my sleep and in fact, that’s probably the way it happens most of the time.  So the last time I was in Haiti, I left with a few vacuum-sealed packages of local Rebo  Deluxe Coffee in my carry-on bag.  Good souvenir, I thought with a fair amount of satisfaction.  No chance of languishing in obscurity on some dark shelf.  I would drink and enjoy it to the last drop.

And now, I am out, which of course made me think about getting some more.  So where does one buy Haitian coffee in the US?

Once upon a time, Haitian coffee was plentiful worldwide.  During the French Colonial period, Haiti was the second largest coffee producing country on the planet and it was in the top three until as late as 1949. Dictators and trade embargoes did the coffee planters no favors and in fact, coffee production nearly died out entirely by the late 1980’s. Verdant acres of coffee trees were abandoned on the mountainsides, left to grow wild or die trying.

Fast-forward to post-quake Haiti and there has been renewed interest in reviving coffee production as a means of re-building the agricultural sector.  The Rebo company is in the process of expanding its export market, primarily to Haitians of the Diaspora, while at least a handful of importers are buying coffee from  Haitian farmers and co-ops under Fair Trade/Direct Trade agreements for roasting and selling in the US and Canada.  Haitian coffee is thus available to me, right here, right now – I can buy it online!

Ready to brew!

Ready to brew!

Thus, I shall order up.  From www.kafepanou.com I will get a bag of Rebo “Gourmet,” which is an arabica typica varietal.  From www.lacolombe.com I will get “Mare Blanche,” also arabica typica.  And from  www.williams-sonoma.com I COULD order “Lyon,” but it is cheaper to order it from La Colombe, since THEY sell it to Williams-Sonoma, OR just run up the street to W-S and pick it up myself, which I will do and at least save the shipping. “Lyon” is a blend of Peruvian, Brazilian, and Ethiopian, coffee beans along with Haitian blue forest semi-wild, heirloom beans.  And a portion of my purchase of “Lyon” goes to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is an environmental preservation organization, so isn’t that nice? I’m gonna stop writing now and go buy some coffee.  Shall we have a tasting?  Oh, I think so!


To be continued…

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Mermaid Metamorphosis


Tidepool’s Mermaid REC455 by Bernard Excellent

Ever wonder how the form of the mermaid – half fish and half woman – came to be?  Known in Haiti and other parts of the world as “La Sirene,” the original Sirens had at one time been part bird and part woman.  How and why did the change take place?


Design element on an Ancient Greek red figure krater

The story of La Sirene begins, as so many stories do, in Ancient Greece. As Homer tells it, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. One day, in the blossom of her youth; lovely, virginal and trim-ankled, (I did not make that up.  He specifically described her as “trim-ankled.”) Persephone was out in a meadow picking flowers, blissfully unaware of the ill-intended approach of Hades. Enraptured by her beauty, the Lord of the Underworld abducted her and spirited her off to his kingdom, leaving not a trace. Utterly distraught, Demeter searched far and wide for her darling daughter and summoned Persephone’s handmaidens, The Sirens, to go looking for her.  In frantic desperation, she and gave them wings and bird bottoms to speed them along in their search. (Either that, or she punished them for not finding her by giving them bird wings and bottoms. There exists a bit of discrepancy on that point.)  Persephone did eventually turn up – no thanks to The Sirens – who, bird bodies and all, eventually settled into life on a rocky island where they amused themselves by singing beautifully and luring sailors to their deaths.

Now here is where it gets a bit muddled:  According to one on-line source, time went by and the Queen of the Olympians, Hera, proposed a singing competition between The Sirens and The Muses. The Muses won, so they plucked the feathers off The Sirens to make crowns for themselves, thus signifying their victory for all time.  The Sirens resourcefully replaced their feathers with the tails and scales of fishes and continued their seductive work per usual, with the world’s second-most beautiful voices.  Another story goes that a hungry sea-monster, possibly the Krakken, devoured the bird halves of The Sirens and again, they cleverly replaced their missing halves with corresponding fish parts.

Still a third version says that The Sirens had been cursed would die if a ship passed by them that failed to stop to listen to their singing.  When the adventurer, Odysseus, set out on his voyage, he avoided The Siren’s treachery by putting wax in the ears of his crew and having them bind him to the masthead so that he could hear their song and yet be unable to stop the ship. Thereby, the curse of The Sirens was broken and they fell into the sea, whereupon they didn’t die after all, but metamorphosed into the half fish/half women that we associate with mermaids today. Since all of this is fiction anyway, for my money what “really” happened is kind of a moot point.  All that matters to me is a good story – and here, we have three!

Nightcrawlers in Grandma’s Fridge


Catch of the day!

Catch of the day!

When I was a kid, I used to love to go fishing.  My grandparents lived up in northwest Iowa, a block and a half from one of five of Iowa’s “Great Lakes” and my family would go up and visit every summer.  The centerpiece of each of those summer memories is Grandpa and my brother and I going out in Grandpa’s boat to fish.

But it wasn’t just the fishing.  It was getting ready to fish.  We’d have spent a good portion of the night before going out with flashlights in the dark and digging into the soft, loamy soil for nightcrawlers.  Seems like there was a reliably good spot underneath a sprawling maple tree near the fence on the side yard where they could be found in good quantity; fat and squirming and key to a glorious catch in the morning. We’d put them in Styrofoam cups and punch holes in the lids so the worms could breathe and stick them in Grandma’s refrigerator.  Then off to bed, dreaming dreams of landing a Big One.

Loaded with bamboo poles, fresh nightcrawlers, a well-fortified tackle box, a thermos full of Kool-Aide, and oodles of confidence we would set out. It was always an early go because Grandpa knew, as all great sportsmen did, that the fish don’t bite much when the sun gets high and the water gets too warm.  We’d buckle into our sturdy orange life vests, find our places in the boat and motor over to the far side of the lake where the water was deep and the trees gave good shade well into mid-morning.  It was there that we would bait our hooks, drop our lines……and wait.

SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

Haitian metal sculpture SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

At this point, memory fades a bit.  I suppose there were squabbles between my brother and I over which side of the boat was the lucky side and who had the best/most/biggest fish.  I suppose there were days when there was nothing to squabble about because we didn’t catch anything at all.  But I do know that when they were hitting, it was sheer delight to pull up the line and watch the silvery fish break to the surface.  “How big is it?  What kind is it?  Do you think it’s the best yet?” “Can we cast out for one more?” And as our pail swirled with our catch of perch and sunfish and crappies, we would eagerly anticipate the feast at dinner that night.

Truth be told, I don’t know how many hours it took Grandpa to clean those fish, or Grandma to filet and fry them.  And I probably don’t want to know.  But the patience they forbore, their toil, their tolerance of holes in the yard and creepy-crawlies in the fridge assured my grandparents’ places in heaven.

I still love to fish.  But what I love most is the memories I have of fishing and those yet to be made.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Encouragement for the Reluctant Gardener

One of a kind by Yves Darius #207

One of a kind by Yves Darius #207


If you read my “Peter Rabbit” blog a few weeks ago, you know that gardening does not come easily to me, though genetically, it probably should.  In truth, I am a reluctant gardener, easily discouraged.  I have blamed the rabbits; the rocks, boulders and 7 tablespoons of sand per cubic yard that I am required to accept as tillable soil in my backyard have set me back too. But it was delightfully warm and spring-like early last week and I was fired up, ready to take them on.

I will tell you that I have spent the past two years off and on clearing and cleaning up my backyard. Hacking, digging, pulling and chopping at my veritable jungle of dead, ugly, and weed-like flora with a fearsome gusto, I have at long-last achieved what to my eyes looks like something I can work with and which my husband views as a moonscape.  But now with the deliciously mild weather fairly begging me to begin, I decided that I would lay some irrigation line, dig a few holes, and start planting.

My cutting and chopping had admittedly given us a rather perfect line of sight to the ugly brown slump block brick wall that separates our yard from the neighbor’s. My immediate goal, then, was to put in something leafy, green, and fast-growing that could soften and eventually obscure that view. Full of energy and purpose, I commenced digging.  It took all of 16 seconds before I hit the first rock, but I was undaunted.  With my new pick-axe, I felt invincible and indeed; I pried it out in nothing flat, but there was another one   underneath. A few more thrusts and it too came away, revealing yet another rock – bigger this time.

Rocks and boulders can be a set-back.

Rocks and boulders can be a set-back.

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going.  I pulled out rock after rock, each one wedging in another just below or to one side or the other.  Oh, and one boulder of mammoth proportions which alone outweighed me three times over. It took some doing to roll that bad boy out of the way. Sisyphus came to mind, but I managed. Two hours later, exhausted but victorious, I was standing in a hole up to my elbows; deep,

beautiful, and satisfying.  The bush I could plant there, why it could be sizeable to start with; full and lush in no time.


RDN253 Garden Tree by Julio Balan

I was so excited! It was only mid-afternoon; there was still plenty of time to run down to the nursery to pick up something to plant. But which nursery?  What plant? Well aware of my limitations as a gardening novice, I called my more experienced friend, Dave to give me some recommendations.  Luck was with me – he picked up on the second ring.

“Hey Dave, I just dug a huge hole in the backyard and I’m ready to put in a bush.  Got any advice?  Where to shop and what to put in? I was thinking of that nursery down on River Road. Would they have anything good?”

“Linda, it’s February.”

“Well yeah, I know.  But it’s beautiful out.  I don’t think it will freeze again, do you?”

“Linda, it’s only February.”

“Well yeah, I know.  But I just dug this hole – it’s all ready to go.  I’m fresh from the fight.  I want to put something in NOW! Whadaya think?”

“Linda, may I remind you that it’s FEBRUARY?  The nurseries don’t even have anything now – it’s too early.  Mid-March is the time to plant here, when the danger of frost has passed. There will be a good selection then, but next to nothing before. Where do you think that hole is going to go?  It’ll keep.”

“It’ll keep.”  What kind of encouragement is that?  And to think, I call that man my friend…


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

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