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Bringing in the New Year

New Years Eve is a funnny holiday at our house. To be honest, we are usually kind of partied out by then so we don’t really plan much. We mark the ocassion, do appreciate the day off of work, do spend it with a very small gathering of friends and/or family, but we do not tend to dress to the nines, dine extravagantly late, and toast the dawn of the New Year with fine crystal and finer libations. Our observances are distinctly more casual and free-form, centering around movies and munchies in the living room with a decent bottle of champagne at the ready for the countdown to midnight.
Oh, and hats. We do have hats. And we do turn up the music for dancing, though I would describe the choreography as more tribal and exuberant than elegant and graceful. I am sure that households throughout the world have their unique and time-honored traditions for bringing in the New Year. These are simply ours.
Happy New Year one and all!

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Enthusiasm is everything.

Enthusiasm is everything.


Don't they say that you should dance like no one is watching???

Don’t they say that you should dance like no one is watching???



Sometimes, I suppose I resemble a "Dancing Goat Mama" I think my kids would agree....

Sometimes, I suppose I resemble a “Dancing Goat Mama” like this one by Tunis Dixon.I think my kids would agree….

Tall Skinny (dancing) Girls by Julio Balan

Tiny Skinny (Dancing) Girls – who look alot like us! By Julio Balan 

Cherishing Christmas

Anticipating Christmas

Presents under the tree are wonderful, but greater still are the people who will surround it on Christmas Eve.

Part of me will always be a little kid. Its quite true, and the more I think it over, the more I believe that this is not a bad thing. Take Christmas, for instance. I look forward to it with child-like anticipation and as The Day draws nearer, the more excited I become. The reasons have changed since I was a child, however. Whereas I used to be breathless with wonder at what treasures lay beneath the tree, I am now most eager to pick out that very most perfect tree with my husband. I am excited to see our daughter arrive at the airport, the joy in her face radiantly acknowledging that the holiday travel gods have smiled upon her yet again . I can’t wait to take up the cheese fondue project with our son that together we produce as a featured item on the Christmas Eve menu. In short, the gifts are still the point, but they are gifts I have everyday: My family. Christmas time is simply the time I seem to reflect upon them and cherish them the most.

May your holidays be a time for cherishing too.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Creativity is the best part of Holiday Decorating

Aguilar and Ortega figuresIf you are like me, the minute the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared, you shift into heavy holiday mode.  I take inventory of items to be given as gifts that for months have been stashed in the “gift closet,” I have grocery lists for cookie baking in process, while wrapping and packing gifts to be mailed are on the “to do” list for next week, as is deconflicting the family schedule to shop for the holiday tree. This week, it is ALL ABOUT decorating.

This year, I undertook my decorating with a determination to be creative and group things together in ways I hadn’t tried before.  It turned out to be a fun experiment, with which, I will say with very little modesty, I got good results. Starting with the mantle, I arranged the Ortega Wise Men I collected years ago with my more recently acquired Aguilar market women. (See our wonderful selection of Aguilar figures here. https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Aguilar_Family-35-1.html ) Who said the Wise Men travelled alone?! They now process splendidly together following yonder star. Then I had a brainstorm regarding Guatemalan belts.  How terrific they look as bows on a wreathOaxacan tin and Guatemalan belt trimmed with Oaxacan tin ornaments!  In truth, I have the wreath hanging in my window, but the backlighting was so horrible,  I opted to photograph it on the door instead. Good either way, says I! (Yes!  We have Guatelmalan belts here: https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Traditional_Belts_and_Hair_Ties-58-1.html  and Oaxacan tin ornaments here: https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/TIn_Art-70-1.html  Call the shop at 831-998-8993 for an even greater selection.)

Haitian metal sculptureMy greatest decorating inspiration, however, came when I spotted our new Haitian metal signs that say “Peace on Earth.”  Oh!  I though, “that might look pretty great attached to a wreath.”  See what you think.  And by all means, do some experimenting on your own. The best part of holiday decorating is the creative part.  If it wasn’t for the creative aspect, decorating would just be work.  Bah-HUMBUG!

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

It’s Never Over

All Souls Procession in Tucson 2013

All Souls Procession in Tucson 2013

According to the calendar, the Day of the Dead has come and gone for 2014.  But just because the calendar says so, doesn’t mean it IS so.  In Tucson, AZ, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.  The largest Day of the Dead celebration in the country will occur in the form of the “All Soul’s Processional” this Sunday at nightfall.

The Procession was born in 1990 in the mind of Susan Johnson as a creative means to express her grief.  Mourning the recent passing of her father and inspired by Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos observances, Johnson felt she wanted to honor her father in celebration and through performance art.  Her piece was enthusiastically  received and the Tucson art community was moved to perpetuate the Procession as a new and growing tradition.
This year, up to  100,000 participants are expected to parade on the streets of downtown Tucson for a two-mile long, brilliantly costumed procession that culminates in the burning of a large urn filled with handwritten offerndas from the public in memory of deceased loved ones. Inside the event are myriads of installation art, altars, and performers, some of whom have spent months in preparation for the event. The All Souls Procession, and indeed, the entire All Souls Weekend is a celebration of rememberance for those who have gone before.  Read all about the event here – and maybe even get inspired to create an “All Souls” event in your area! http://allsoulsprocession.org/
The Day of the Dead is wildly celebrated at “It’s Cactus,” too. The store and the website are filled all year ’round with Day of the Dead art in a wide variety of media, colors, shapes, sizes and price ranges.  (Click here to view the wonderous array. https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Day_of_Dead-45-1.html )  At “It’s Cactus,” it just ain’t over when it’s over.  It’s NEVER over!
Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

The Enduring Mystique of La Sirene

"Mermaid Mysteries" one of a kind sculpture by Michee Remy

“Mermaid Mysteries” one of a kind sculpture by Michee Remy

Mermaids are the among most ubiquitous of sea creatures, at least from a cultural point of view. They appear in ancient legends of the deep from Egypt and Greece, the Eskimos have them in their lore, as do the Western Europeans, Australian Aborigines and the tribes of Africa. Across boundaries of time and space, this half woman, half fish is at once powerful, beautiful, protective, hypnotic, and dangerous.

It was from the combined influences of West African spirit worship and Western European folklore that mermaids made their entrance into the New World. Mami Wata, as the sea spirit was known to West African tribes, was an integral part of the belief system that traveled with enslaved Africans to the Americas. Reestablished and revisualized across the Atlantic, Mami Wata emerged in new communities and under different guises, among them Yemanja, Santa Marta la Dominadora, and most commonly, La Sirene. African–based faiths honoring these manifestations of Mami Wata continue to flourish today throughout the Americas, including Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

From Europe, and beginning with Christopher Colombus, mermaid veneration and ideology was reinforced. During his explorations of Hispaniola Colombus wrote of seeing, “…three mermaids, though these were not as pretty as mermaids that had been previously described to me. In fact, somehow in the face, they appeared more as men.” Too bad for Colombus. Years later in 1614, Captain John Smith had a more pleasant experience, taking note of a lovely mermaid that had, “a fish-tail, round eyes, a finely-shaped nose, well-formed ears, and long green hair.” Though he could not have failed to notice her naked breasts, his impression of that was delicately omitted from the Captain’s log…(!)


One of a kind "Mermaids" sculpture by Julio Balan is clearly inspired  by voodoo culture.

One of a kind “Mermaids” sculpture by Julio Balan is clearly inspired by voodoo culture.

In the practice of Voodoo today, La Sirene is recognized as a strong female deity. She is capable of bestowing great fortune and even magical powers upon those who do her honor, and bringing catastrophy to those with whom she is displeased. Her beauty strenghens her powers of enchantment but also causes her to be vain. She is associated with lunar movements and also with dreams which she uses as tools of inspiration and creativity for endeavors such as writing, painting, and music. In reference to these characteristics, La Sirene is often depicted with a mirror, a comb, and a horn or other musical instrument. Of these items, the mirror is most significant. The glass itself is representative of the sea, while the back of the mirror is the dividing point between La Sirene’s underwater world and ours.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus






Masks and the Spirit of Carnival

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

In just under three weeks, the solemn Christian season of sacrifice and restraint known as Lent will begin. With all of its associated forbearance, however, observance of the Lenten season will be preceded in many parts of Christendom by the joyful, blow-it-all-out celebration of Mardi Gras, or Carnival.

Carnival revelry is conducted with great exuberance in Haiti, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Jacmel.  Throughout its environs, preparations for the spectacular Carnival parade are undertaken weeks in advance.  Bands gather and practice, dancers choreograph and rehearse, costumes are designed, sewn and decorated, and perhaps most extravagantly, larger paper mache masks are prepared. It is because of this extraordinary celebration that Jacmel has become the creative locus for paper mache products of all kinds.  Small serving bowls, decorative items, stand-alone sculptures, and most importantly masks have put Jacmel on the map for this particular type of folk art form.

The masks of Haitian Carnival are of every conceivable theme and style.  Some are caricatures of historical figures, current politicos, or pop-culture icons.  Some are of animals or birds, which may be indigenous to the island, a faraway jungle, or the far reaches of fantasy.  Both playful and ceremonial, these masks are often worn to depict an older, wilder Haiti dancing through the streets in a chimerical parade. (Click here to see a photo essay of the Carnival parade in Jacmel in 2011 http://goatpath.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/haiti-carnival-2011/ )

The basic steps required for paper mache mask-making are actually rather simple.  Strips of paper are dunked in a soupy mixture of flour and water and

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

placed over a base form, usually of clay.  The paper is allowed to dry for several hours to form a rigid outer shell.  Once removed from the base form, embellishments of paint, glitter, sequins, yarn, and more are applied to the mask. (Click here for a video demonstration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eyN_7XnJo8 ) God, of course, is in the details, and masters such as Didier Civil, Pierre Edgard Satyr and Tidier Lavoyant have achieved such skill as to have their work collected world-wide.

Whether museum worthy or just for fun, Haitian masks are authentic pieces of folk art that can make a decorative statement of joie de vivre.  The spirit of Carnival – anytime!

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

The Red Carpet


RND558 "Growing the Flowers" by Charles Luthene.  One of over two dozen new designs for 2014.

RND558 “Growing the Flowers” by Charles Luthene. One of over two dozen new designs for 2014.

Earlier this week, I was working on an email to let Beyond Borders customers know about our newest catalogue designs for 2014.  I was trying to think of some clever way of presenting them and came up with a Hollywood red carpet analogy.  “Rolling out the red carpet for our newest designs” was the pitch I decided to make, and then I began to wonder how Hollywood ever came up with the idea of using a red carpet as a symbol of high ceremony and exalted welcome.

Back in the days of Ancient Greece, red was a color reserved for gods and kings, and there is a mention of Agamemnon walking along a red carpet into his palace after his victory over Troy.  The use of a red carpet pops up again, centuries later in the United States, when one was rolled out to welcome and honor President James Monroe in when he landed by boat for a visit to Prospect Hill in South Carolina in 1821.

However, the “red carpet treatment” was not truly cemented into tradition and vernacular until the 20th Century Limited train line began using a custom red carpet to welcome and direct its clientele on board.  Operating from 1938 until 1968, the 20th Century Limited ran a high-speed luxury service between New York City and Chicago, catering specifically to the rich and beautiful.  Regular passengers were the likes of the wealthy tycoons and glamorous entertainers such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and Bette Davis. (For a fun article and great pictures of this gracious and elegant mode of travel click here http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/225401/print ) According to Ann Henderson of Smithsonian Magazine, Hollywood rolled out the red carpet for the first time in 1961 for its Oscar ceremonies, and in 1966, when the Oscars were first televised in color, the carpet became instantly iconic. Today, the red carpet has become de rigeur for grand entrances of all kinds.  Therefore, roll out the red carpet.  Our new designs are HERE!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

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

Soup’s On!


Celebrating while the soup is simmering.  One-of-a-kind #3031 by Edward Dieudonne

Celebrating while the soup is simmering. One-of-a-kind #3031 by Edward Dieudonne

Independence Day in Haiti is celebrated as the New Year dawns all over the world.  A hallmark of the Haitian celebration is the eating of a special soup, which Tequila Minsky describes in the following article that appeared online in “Saveur” on Dec. 31st last year.  Read and enjoy, and if you are so moved, try making this hearty, satisfying soup yourself.  You’ll find the recipe here:  http://www.saveur.com/article/recipes/Soup-Joumou-Recipe

”Soup joumou (pronounced “joo-moo”) is the soup of Independence, the soup of remembrance, and the soup that celebrates the new year. The soul-warming dish commemorates January 1, 1804, the date of Haiti’s liberation from France. It is said that the soup was once a delicacy reserved for white masters but forbidden to the slaves who cooked it. After Independence, Haitians took to eating it to celebrate the world’s first and only successful slave revolution resulting in an independent nation. 

“Today, soup joumou is such a new year’s tradition that before any good wishes, you’re likely to be asked: “Did you have your soup?” “Where are you having your soup?” or “Do you want to come over for soup?” And asking someone of Haitian ancestry about pumpkin soup opens the floodgates of their memory, both personal and collective. “New Year’s eve was the only time we could stay up late,” Elle Philippe, a New York-based chef told me of her childhood in Port-au-Prince. “I remember when I was five years old, my mother would start making soup joumou in the evening, and around midnight we could begin to taste it.”

“Asking someone of Haitian ancestry about pumpkin soup opens the floodgates of their memory, both personal and collective.

 “Philippe’s mother, like many other home cooks, started her soup with a rustic beef stock. (“You must have a beef leg bone,” one friend told me, who insisted that the opportunity to suck the marrow is part of the pleasure of the soup.) Into the broth generally go marinated, seasoned beef; loads of garlic, onions, and other aromatics; and malanga, taro, yams, or other starches. After some time, cabbage, pasta or rice, and the cooked and puréed joumou, or squash, is added. The variety of choice is kabocha, a green mottled, squat pumpkin whose nutty, bright orange flesh flavors, colors, and thickens the soup.

Though in Port-au-Prince and other cities, people generally prepare meals using indoor gas stoves, in rural areas, I’ve also watched home cooks prepare soup joumou on the traditional recho, a three-legged circular or square iron basket filled with charcoal where the pot sits directly on the coals. In the most remote parts of the countryside, the soup pot might simply be propped over a wood fire atop a rustic tripod fashioned from three stones. But wherever it’s cooked, soup joumou is left to simmer in a deep aluminum pot in amounts enough to satisfy all the family and friends who drop by to usher in the New Year, and to celebrate Haiti and its hard-won independence.”


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







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