Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spring is Here!

Spring has arrived 4 weeks early in Portland! The crocuses and some of the daffodils in our front yard are already blooming. . .

The other day, we were contacted by a photographer that we've never heard of. The gist of his message was that he apparently sells similar images and products to ours and he offered to "sit down and show (us) a few tips and shortcuts". Hmm. . . We thought we were doing pretty well, on our own. Bizarre. . .


Our ETSY ARTIST OF THE DAY is the multi-talented D. Antonia Truesdale, whose Etsy shop is called The Midnight Orange.

An artist since a very early age, D. Antonia says that her work evolved "from jewelry onto mixed media" and that she "loves making altered books and assemblages". We're particularly fond of her magnificant clay pieces, like those shown above.

You'll find more of D. Antonia's work in her Etsy shop.
You can also follow her on:
Facebook: The Midnight Orange

As always, thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Dog Stories

We heard two dog stories on Good Day Oregon this morning, one very sad and one very happy. A man died on the Oregon coast while attempting to save his dog, who had been swept into the ocean by a wave while playing. The dog managed to swim ashore and survived. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a family was ecstatic when they were notified that their beloved dog was found, alive and well in a forest, three years after it went missing.

Etsy Artist of the Day:

We think that Philadelphia-based artist Lori Cellini creates beautiful paintings! You'll find the three shown above, as well as more of Lori's work in her Etsy Shop

As always, thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

French Vineyard in Winter

Ever wonder what the vineyards in France look like during the off season? Well, if you were in the Languedoc-Roussillon region right now, this is likely what you would see. . . Empty, mature vines that look more like twisted arms reaching up from the ground. The stone shed is a "Capitelle" or, "shepherd's hut", which once provided shelter for the field workers from the scorching Mediterranean sun.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fasnacht is Almost Here!

Never mind Mardi Gras and Carnivale, those conventional, pre-Lent gatherings. . . For our money, the most interesting and magical event of the season is the post-Lent Fasnacht in Basel, Switzerland! The text below is from a travel article that we wrote years ago for the Detroit Free Press. Since little about Fasnacht has changed in the hundreds of years that it's been celebrated, everything in the article likely still rings true today.

By Yvonne Mestre and Michael Manahan

Church bells are ringing. The city is pitch-black. Drums and fifes thunder and wail. Magnificent lanterns awaken. There's magic in the air and it's . . . four o'clock in the morning?!

Welcome to Basler Fasnacht, one of the world's truly unique and perhaps least-known carnivals. Each year, the people of Basel, Switzerland rejoice with three days and nights of marching, music, and madness. Oddly enough, all of the fun and frolicking takes place during Lent. But what really sets this celebration apart from its pre-Lenten counterparts, though, is its mysterious, pre-dawn opening ceremony.

In the wee hours of the Monday following Ash Wednesday, a throng of spectators brave the frigid morning air and pack the center of Basel in anticipation of a stunning ritual known as the Morgestraich (Morning Stroke). The crowd is amazingly silent, as if any noise might destroy the magic. At the stroke of four, churchbells send a shiver through everyone within earshot and, all at once, every light in town is extinguished.

"The Morgestraich, forward, march!" cry the drum majors. And from all directions, as if orchestrated by computer, thousands of fifes and drums shatter the silence. Glowing against the eerie backdrop, scores of colorful lanterns seem to float in midair. Small, battery-powered varieties perched on the musicians' heads bounce along like enormous fireflies, while magnificent, larger models, each an elaborate work of art, are illuminated by gas flame and sit high atop hand-held staffs or are pushed on wheels.
At the conclusion of the overture, each of the grotesquely-masked fife and drum corps plays its own march and the town is set in chaotic motion as they chart different paths through the crowd. When two corps pass closely by one another, the music momentarily sounds like an orchestra tuning at full blast, one melody wrestling its way into another before becoming distinguishable again as the groups pull away from each other. Swept along by the momentum of the marchers, spectators sway and bump randomly around like human pinballs.

At daybreak, the masses retreat to the warmth of busy restaurants, where the festival's traditional flour soup and onion or cheese pies, coffee, white wine, and beer await them. Those who need a nap to make it through the rest of the day's activities ride home on Basel's bright green streetcars, which look like caterpillars winding their way slowly but steadily through the center of town. Sleep is not on most people's agenda, however. Relishing a rare time when obligations and responsibilities can be pushed aside, stalwart Fasnächtlers continue to stroll through the narrow streets and alleys, drumming, fifing, and cheering, lest they miss out on a single moment of the cherished event for which they've prepared all year.
Particularly fanatical participants are the cliques, social organizations which are the lifeblood of Fasnacht. Similar to the krewes in New Orleans' Mardi Gras and the samba schools in Rio's Carnival, cliques center their participation around carefully chosen themes derived from international news and events of the past year. Whoever or whatever is chosen as a theme is satirically pulverized in every detail of a clique's costumes, masks, floats, lanterns, drawings, and verse. Celebrities, institutions, politicians, names in the news; anyone and anything is fair game, provided it's not deemed vulgar by the Fasnacht committee. These are, after all, the Swiss, and civility is a high priority, even when mocking deserving targets.

On Monday afternoon, much of the cliques' hard work and preparation comes to fruition in the form of the Fasnacht Cortege, the carnival's grand parade. The streets are once again filled with revelers, nearly all of whom proudly wear a Blagedde, beautiful, moderately-priced badges available in bronze, silver, or gold. With a new design chosen each year from submissions by local artists, they're not only the most sought-after souvenirs of the carnival, but also collector's items and, to many Baslers, cherished heirlooms. They also provide much-needed funding to the cliques.

With typical Swiss punctuality, the cortege begins at 2 p.m. on the dot. Each clique is led by an entourage of garrulous characters in outrageous costumes related to its theme. Clearing the parade route, they playfully boss people around and distribute hand bills which satirize their chosen subject in verse. The ensuing procession is a colorful ensemble of antique carriages, giant lanterns, floats carrying jolly brass bands, and hordes of revelers dressed as traditional Fasnacht characters, the most popular of which are the loud-mouthed rascals known as Waggis.

Usually riding aboard flat-bed trucks decorated with hay, the Waggis are audacious, bucktoothed caricatures of Alsacian peasants, with enormous noses, tousled hair, and wooden shoes. They've been a part of Fasnacht since the French-German War of 1870-71, when the Baslers began to parody the neighboring peasants who loudly called out the prices of the produce they brought to the marketplace.

Symbolically, these merry troublemakers carry an arsenal of agricultural items with which to conduct their mischief. Along the parade route, they show off by heaving oranges up to the highest balconies and windows, where spectators eagerly try to catch them. They lure unsuspecting victims to within arm's length with flowers and oranges, then shower them with potato sacks of confetti (originally wheat chaff, which was eventually replaced because it irritates eyes and skin). Somehow, it also became tradition to playfully clobber people on the head with an inflated pig's bladder (that's right, a pig's bladder). As unpleasant as that might sound, it's actually no different than being struck by an ordinary balloon: clean, painless, and no harm done. Whatever their means of attack, the Waggis always excuse their compulsive trickery by handing over the bait. And they practically fall off of their trucks to place candy in the outstretched hands of children.

At dusk, most of the Baslers are going on their second night without sleep, yet nobody seems the slightest bit interested in slowing down. Roaming from restaurant to restaurant, small groups of costumed actors and musicians hand out Schnitzelbängg, slips of paper containing verse that pokes fun at subjects of local interest. The players display caricatures and sing lively songs, accompanied by instruments chosen for their mobility, rather than musical sophistication. So, while only those who speak Baslerdytsch can appreciate the clever lyrics, the strains of ukuleles, spoons, kazoos, washboards, and whatever else the musicians drag in make for interesting floor shows during dinner.

Guggezystig (Paperbag Tuesday) is a jam-packed, city-wide block party. It's the time when families parade around town, parents escorting children who've impatiently counted the days until they could show off their costumes. Young kids play fifes and drums, or, at least, try to. Even infants and toddlers are dressed in carnival outfits, complimented by the pacifiers in their mouths. The tongue-in-cheek term used to describe the proceedings is Schyssdräggziigli, which loosely translates to "lousy little parades", but the spontaneous delirium throughout the town is nothing short of spectacular.

Paperbag Tuesday is also the day when the Guggemusik (Paperbag Music) brass bands strut their stuff. All day and until late at night, they play their unique brand of Dixieland in the streets and squares. The term "Paperbag Music" stems from the fact that the bands' horns are accompanied by a number of homemade instruments fashioned out of funnels, stovepipes, plumbing fixtures, and just about anything else that can produce a sound. Not surprisingly, many of these instruments sound like they look, adding some pretty strange notes to the music. If Spike Jones were alive and attending Fasnacht, he'd feel right at home with these guys.

Wednesday afternoon brings another big cortege. To the sound of drums, fifes, brass, and homemade instruments, the tired but enthusiastic participants and spectators spend the final day of Fasnacht trudging along on a thick rug of confetti, flowers, and squashed oranges. Despite their exhaustion, most people don't want the celebration to end; even those who began as casual spectators have become addicted and long for time to stand still. Not surprisingly, conversations that night are centered around plans for next year's celebration.
When it's all over and the sandman has finally won his battle, the Baslers reluctantly go to sleep, knowing that when they awake, memories are all they'll have to tide them over until next year. And when visitors stroll through town on Thursday morning expecting to see traces of the three-day spell that was cast on them, they'll get a graphic reminder that Switzerland's reputation for cleanliness is justified: not a single speck of confetti can be found on the already immaculate streets.

For more information on Basler Fasnacht: Basler Fasnacht Online

Etsy Artist of the Day:

Today we'd like to introduce you to the work of Miami-based artist Dorit of DesignOnTheBay. Take a little trip to her Etsy shop and you'll find wonderful pillows derived from digital photography. You can even have her make a custom pillow for you, using your favorite photo.
You'll find Dorit's Etsy shop here: Design On The Bay.

As always, thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Michelle Obama's Campaign for Healthier Food

When I first came to America I had no idea that salted butter even existed! I was first introduced to it during a meal at a chain restaurant in Los Angeles.

I had just tasted my green beans when I called the waitress over to tell her that they weren’t salted. She gave me a puzzled look and gestured to a small dish on the table, containing pads of butter.

Unsure of why she'd want me to add butter to my veggies, I tried a little of the spread on a piece of bread and . . . there it was -- salty butter.

I was reminded of this last night, when I saw Michelle Obama on Larry King Live, talking about the unhealthy food in school cafeterias. I couldn’t agree more with the Obamas regarding the need for healthier food for kids. Let’s hope that this current push towards better food in cafeterias also spreads to our restaurants! (Restaurants that everyone can afford, that is!)

Etsy Artist of the Day:

We LOVE the work of Melbourne-based artist Ember Fairbairn-Ramsay! Nothing we could say about her art could be as effective as you viewing it for yourself! You can see her work in her Etsy Shop , become a fan on her Facebook Fan Page , and watch her YouTube Video.

Thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


We recently received a gift in the form of a ceramic flower pot containing a thick layer of moss. Hidden within was a bulb that sprouted a large stem at an almost alarming rate. It grew so fast that you could almost follow its progress just by staring at it for a few minutes. It wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was certainly interesting and it seemed determined to reach the lamp that was hanging high above it. Then, practically from one day to the next, it exploded with these spectacular blooms.

Since the first flowers appeared, it has continuously been covered with these huge clusters of pink and white. From now on, we’ll be less skeptical as these bizarre plants grow their stems, knowing that there’s quite a show ahead when they bloom. By the way, we read on Wikipedia that other names that Amaryllis go by are “Belladonna Lily” or “Naked Ladies”.

Etsy Artist of the Day:

Is food art? It certainly is at Las Vegas-based Yummy Affair! Take a look at the goodies above and tell us that your mouth isn't watering! Fortunately, with Yummy Affair, what happens in Vegas doesn't have to stay in Vegas! You can order these delicious treats and have them shipped anywhere in the U.S.A.! Here's a link to Yummy Affair's Etsy Shop.

As always, thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Local Events

The Portland Japanese Garden, a place dear to our hearts, will be having one of its FREE ADMISSION days this month, on Saturday, February 27th. In addition to the free admission, there will also be a Japanese doll festival in the pavillion on that day.

The new poster for this years Buckman Art Show and Sell is out:
This year's Show and Sell will be held on March 12th & 13th.

Etsy Artist of the Day:
Clara Uribe of Sweet Treats makes these adorable "Sweet Tweets" brooches in Houston, Texas. You can see more of Clara's work (and make a purchase!) in her Etsy Shop. Thanks for supporting independent artists and buying hand-made!