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The Birds and the Bees

As you know by now, we at It’s Cactus are always interested in how people use and display our products.  Therefore, when a gentleman at one of the recent retail shows approached the check-out loaded with four birds and three bees and declared, “I can’t resist.  I’m hanging these together,” we all started laughing appreciatively and applauding his wit.  Birds and bees.  Gotta love it.  We’ve all heard that time-honored, picturesque euphemism for sex, but where did it originate??

Apparently you have to go back to England in 1825, when Samuel Coleridge wrote his poem “Work without Hope,” to find the first use of “birds and bees” as a metaphor for human sexual activity.  To quote:


“All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair –

A great display idea and a chuckle-inducing visual pun!

A great display idea and a chuckle-inducing visual pun!

The bees are stirring – birds are on the wing –

And Winter, slumbering in the open air,

Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,

Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.”


It might be a stretch, but it’s the earliest documentable hint of birds and bees together in that connotation.


Later, in 1875, American naturalist John Burroughs wrote a set of essays entitled, “Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes and other Papers.” Burroughs aimed to present the workings of nature to children in a way that they could easily understand and appreciate. One might also leap to the assumption that his descriptions were vague enough for the comfort and refined sensibilities of Victorian era parents. His work does refer to bird and bee activity, but conspicuously does not include any specific reference to the phrase, “birds and bees” with regard to sex.  It is therefore curious to me that he gets any credit for the metaphor at all, but so be it.  Theories are theories and who am I to argue?

Finally in 1928, American composer Cole Porter wrote “Let’s Do It,” which lyrically presents the pretty metaphoric picture in the song’s introduction:


When the little bluebird
Who has never said a word
Starts to sing Spring
When the little bluebell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little blue clerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love

Porter appears to have been making deliberate, if oblique, reference to ‘the birds and the bees’ and it is reasonable to assume that thereafter, the phrase became a part of the common vernacular.  Just for fun, I thought I’d listen to a Billie Holliday performance of the song on YouTube.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Her 1935 rendition didn’t include the introduction! I had to go to the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight in Paris” to hear the song performed by Conal Fowkes in its entirety.  So for the nostalgic and the curious among you – Voila! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eraOhezY23s



Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus/Beyond Borders

“Creepy Crawlers” and Other Garden Friends


“Flowers and Bugs” 3150 by Jean Sylvionel Brutus

ad7395ccb8072aca766cd4ff4c9c7d81[1]Remember the “Thingmaker” by Mattel and those marvelous rubber bug creations that you could make yourself with colored (even glow-in-the dark!) Plastigoop?  You poured the Goop into metal molds that you placed over a heating element and waited impatiently for the Goop to cook sufficiently and then cool sufficiently so that you could pry out your new astonishingly creepy “Creepy Crawlers” and amaze your friends.  Maybe you remember, and maybe you don’t. They came on the market in 1964 and disappeared quietly in the 1970s amid concerns for child safety regarding the heating element. Nevertheless, the “Creepy Crawlers” were marvelous and the burns that I probably did sustain while making them must have been minor and healed quickly, for I do not recall them at all.  Now thanks to Mattel, the moniker, “Creepy Crawler” refers to anything of six or more legs in my garden, flower beds or pretty much anywhere.  It is a convenient catch-all phrase for the entomologically challenged, which indeed, I am.

It’s kind of too bad, really.  “Creepy Crawlers” is a great name, but greater still are the REAL names of REAL bugs.  Take for example, “Green Lacewing Aphids,” or “Minute Pirate Bugs” or “Assassin Bugs” or “Spined Soldier Bugs.” What’s more, each of the aforementioned is great in the garden.  Voracious predators all, they feed on harmful garden pests which can destroy your labors of love in a twinkling. Healthy populations of these carnivorous insects can go a long way towards protecting your garden as it grows.

The good news is that, with a little advanced planning, you can encourage beneficial bugs to take up residence in a bed of your choosing rather easily. Include plants of various heights in your garden, including ground cover, which gives desirable dwellers a place to hide.  Taller flowers with composite blooms, like zinnias and sunflowers, provide attractive food sources to beneficial bugs. Additionally, providing a little water can be helpful.  No need for “your” bugs to go to the neighbor’s for a little refreshment.  Puddles that form after sprinkling can be sufficient.  If you do drip irrigation, place small dishes at intervals and keep them filled for your thirsty friendlies.   Mulch with generosity and put out large flat stones which can be crawled under for protection from heavy heat and mid-day summer sun.

Experts rightly advise gardeners to learn to distinguish the “good” bugs from the “bad” ones. For me, visual identification is one tough row to hoe, and proper nomenclature is yet another. I pledge myself to both tasks, but until I get the names straight I’ll just say, “Bring on the Creepy Crawlers!”


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







Audubon and His Birds – The Haitian Connection

Birds flying through the flowers, by Louiceus Antelus

While in Haiti with Casey a few weeks ago, she and I looked for new designs to introduce at the winter wholesale and retail shows.  Particularly, we were interested in garden and springtime pieces and did we ever find them! Flowers, trees, bees and butterflies, farmers in their fields, trees budding with fruit, and birds.   Oh the birds!  Nesting, winging, swooping, soaring, lovebirds, song birds, flamingos, swans, and more. An endless avian menagerie in the workshops of Croix-des-Bouquet.

Real-live flesh and feather birds are having quite the struggle for survival, given the heavy toll that deforestation has taken on their habitats.  Yet this is the land where John James Audubon, the great American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter was born.

Yes, you read that right.  John James Audubon, born in Les Cayes, in what was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue on April 26, 1785.  And though not all of the story is clear, it is intriguing, to say the least.  Of his own origins, Audubon wrote, “The precise period of my birth is yet an enigma to me.” There is considerable weight to the theory that it was not so much an enigma to him as it was a hesitation to disclose, what with legitimacy and claims to inheritance hanging in the balance.  The family as a whole was evasive on the subject. Long after he was gone, his own granddaughter wrote that Audubon was, in her belief, possessed of royal Bourbon characteristics and, “in fact, the Dauphine of France, child of the martyred Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who mysteriously disappeared during the French Revolution.” He was also said to have been born in Louisiana, son of a French Naval officer and creole mother, who took ill on a Mississippi River flatboat moored at Nine Mile Point and died in childbirth. The city of New Orleans was only too happy to claim him as their native son and erected a bronze statue of him to emphasize the point.

It was not until 1917, a full 66 years after Audubon’s death that legal documents were brought forth by Audubon biographer, Francis Hobart Herrick.  These documents established that Audubon was born the son of the swash-buckling Captain Jean Audubon – a sometime gentleman planter and sometime privateer in the service of the French navy – and his creole mistress, Jeanne Rabine in their home in Les Cayes, Saint-Domingue. At birth, he was given the name Jean Rabine. His mother died a few months later under unclear circumstances and Jean went to live with another of Captain Audubon’s island mistresses and his half-sister, Muget Bouffard.  At the age of four, Captain Audubon became wary of the clouds of slave unrest gathering over Saint Domingue and fled with his two young children to his French homeland and legal wife of seven years.  Madame Audubon greeted the three with love and grace at the family estate near Nantes, France and raised the children as her own henceforward. When Jean Rabine was eight years old, his parents sought to secure his legitimacy and rightful inheritance by adopting him and changing his name to Jean Jacques Forgere Audubon.  Thereby, his status as a bastard child of Haitian origins were buried and remained so for the rest of his life.

From there, Jean Audubon’s story becomes well known, though

Portrait of John James Audubon by John Syme

Audubon himself was prone to embellishment.  He

claims to have been a student of art under the tutelage of court portraitist, Jacques Louis David, where he refined his artistic eye.  However, bemoaning the “boring nature” of his subject matter, that being still-lifes and backgrounds, he left David’s atelier after a few months.  In 1789, with his father’s encouragement and blessings, Audubon sailed for the United States to avoid conscription in Napoleon’s army.  After a few fits and starts, the handsome French dandy, Jean Jacques Audubon became John James Audubon, American woodsman, distinguished naturalist, and internationally acclaimed artist.  His magnum opus, “Birds of America” to this day remains a landmark work of art and ornithology.

Okay.  So maybe this is more information about Audubon and birds than you were looking for in one sitting.  But it could win you a round in Trivial Pursuit.  Enjoy your victory, with my compliments!

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Decorating with your collection

How do collections get started?  Maybe we’re drawn to certain images because they remind us of something special – a favorite time or place or experience.  I was with my good friend, Jennifer at the San Diego Zoo one day, having an absolute ball.  We were in our 40’s mind you, but I started playing with the masks at the gift shop.  Holding up first the giraffe mask and then the panda mask to my face, I asked her, “Which do you like better?” To which she thoughtfully replied, “Well, the giraffe is more your color.”  Immediately, I started laughing so hard I could scarcely stand up, and I bought the giraffe mask right then and there.  Since then, I have bought a few other giraffe items and find myself always tempted by more.

By the way, I have played this all pretty close to the chest.  No one really knows about my great affection for giraffes but Jennifer and me. Thus, my collection has heretofore remained modest and very manageable.

Sometimes, however, friends and relatives get wind of our affinity and suddenly, in their generosity, we find ourselves in possession of gaggles and flocks and herds and swarms. So what is one to do with a great collection gone wild? Just about every interior designer out there says that collections should be displayed as a whole, or at least in groupings within a defined area.  This, they say, gives a cohesive look that defines and personalizes the space and provides the greatest visual impact. For added interest, we should try varying color, size, texture, and medium within the assembly. For example, on a shelf I could arrange my framed photo of a giraffe, my carved wooden giraffe face, and the folk art pottery giraffe, and hang my Haitian metal giraffe sculpture above them.

We must go carefully, though.  Anna, author of the interior decorating DIY blog, “Take the Side Street” cautions against clutter. Ideally, she says, your display should add interest and character your home without overwhelming it. She advises, “If your collection  is enormous, store and rotate the items you display as a means of keeping the whole thing fun and fresh looking.”  Indeed.  If a giraffe collection isn’t fresh and fun, what’s the point? I’m just so glad I don’t have to rotate things in….yet!

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