Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Whirlwind Tour of Puebla, Las Vigas, Naolinco, La Antiqua, Chachalacas and Veracruz

Last week we had the good fortune to visit Mexico for nine days, and I am going to give you a whirlwind recap this time, instead of a play by play, because I did not bring my computer with me on this trip.  I am rebelling, now, against bringing my laptop because it is heavy to travel with, and I am manifesting an iPad mini or tablet!  Everyone keep good thoughts for my new tablet, please.  Hope it appears soon!  Anyway, back to business. We arrived in Mexico City late Thursday night on the 16th, and spent the first few days attending a family reunion and looking for materials for our work downtown.  If you are friends with me on Facebook, I posted some pics about that part of the trip there.  If you are not friends with me on Facebook, "Friend Me"!  There are however, a few extra pics I wanted to share from Mexico City, before we move on.  Things that amuse me.  This young lady was making the most of her time in traffic,
while this young man was learning the art of change-giving while riding along with his bus driving father.
Riding backwards, helping Dad.
And looking out the bus window to my left, there was this entrepreneurial fellow at the intersection.
Will juggle for spare change.
Natalie Queally, you know how to juggle.  Just saying.

Anyway, bright and early on Monday morning the family rented a car and we embarked on a five day road trip with Eduardo's mom and sister.  Since Eduardo and I are used to traveling mostly on the "Libre", or free road, this would be a new experience because we will be taking the "Cuota" or toll road.  First stop, Puebla.

This is my second trip to Puebla, and let me just say here and now that Puebla is all about the eating.  The food is absolutely delicious.  There is a street devoted entirely to sweets.
Look closely.  In this shop window the bees are enjoying the candy as much as the humans!
I haven't tried these yet but I bet they are delicious.
Yep, busted!  Can't resist the candy.
Puebla is known for their Chiles en Nogada,
and here's a description of what's inside.  That's 180 pesos, by the way, not dollars, and worth every penny.  They were one of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted.
Puebla is also know for their Mole, and this dish was Enchiladas con Tres Moles, namely, Red Pipian, Mole, and Green Pipian.  Our favorite restaurant for the Chiles en Nogada and the Green Pipian was La Chiquita (founded in 1896), and our favorite restaurant for the Mole and the Red Pipian was Fonda de Santa Clara.
Getting ready to dig into my Enchiladas con Tres Moles at Fonda de Santa Clara.
There are also fabulous historical buildings, churches and convents in Puebla.  This time we visited The Templo Conventual de Santa Monica (17th Century),
The entire narthex of the church is decorated in Milagros, or Mexican Folk Charms.
and the Templo de Santo Domingo y Capilla del Rosario (also 17th Century).
The gold in this Spanish Baroque church literally took my breathe away.
Here are just a few of the many beautiful architectural details you find on the buildings throughout Puebla.

I could go on and on about Puebla, and I highly recommend you put it on your "must see" list for Mexico.  But there is more to tell.  We are headed for Veracruz, and next stop, Las Vigas, where we left the Cuota at dusk and headed for the Libre, to enter this tiny town to spend the night.

Those of you who follow my blog will remember that it was in Las Vigas that Eduardo and I traveled to the top of the mountain with Pepe, the fruit and vegetable vendor.  You can refresh your memory and read about that adventure here.  We were very fortunate to meet these hardworking, caring people again on this trip,
With Pepe and Griselda in Las Vigas.
as well as to visit with their family and enjoy a special breakfast prepared for us before they started their day.  Pepe and Griselda hold a special place in our heart.
Delicious Chile con Queso prepared for us with love by Griselda.
We also got to meet one of their neighbors, Dona Natividad, who had just finished preparing the tortillas for the family.
Now that's a lot of tortillas!
In stark contrast to the cosmopolitan feel of Puebla, Las Vigas is a town.  I sat outside in the morning absorbing the sound of the roosters crowing and the smell of firewood. 

Back on the road, it was a picturesque drive to our next stop, Naolinco.
Obligatory cow photo.  I love cows!
This is my second visit to the this beautiful town that is known for their hand made leather shoes, bags and sandals.
The pristine streets of Naolinco.
Charming mural!
And what did we do in Naolinco?  Eat, of course.  And I once again felt the need to photograph the gorgeous candy behind the counter.
Candy Roosters
It was a quick visit and onward to the Port of Veracruz, where we would spend two nights.  Veracruz is HOT, and we were delighted to discover that our hotel had a pool.
Happy Me!
I love, love, love Veracruz, and one of my favorite things to do is visit the Gran Cafe de la Parroquia for their Lechero, or Cafe con Leche.  They pour a small amount of very concentrated coffee in the bottom of the cup, and them fill it up with steamed milk.
My zillionth Lechero of the trip.  Hehe.
We took a side trip to visit the beach in Chachalacas,
I am obsessed with these floatie vendors on the beach.
and to La Antiqua, the first real Spanish Town in Mexico.  Here you will find the home of Hernan Cortes, built in 1523,
as well as the oldest church in the Americas, built in the early 16th Century.
Oldest church, founded by Hernan Cortes.
Also, I found La Antigua to be a real contender for the hottest place on earth, a title I had formerly given to Tabasco.  I judge this by the number of times I find myself spontaneously mentioning how hot I am!  But it's all good, because those of you who know me know I love the heat, and would take it anytime over being cold.

On a mission to find a restaurant the family had enjoyed some years back, we also made a side trip to Boca Del Rio where we had some delicious seafood.
We made a stop in Cuatepec for coffee and pastry on the way home, and then got on the Cuota for the drive home.  The Cuota is expensive, costing about 350 pesos for the drive from Xalapa to Mexico City, but the road is extremely well maintained, so the trip is fast and trouble free.  Arriving back in DF at about 3:00 AM, we had just a few hours sleep, and then up and running to make a quick trip back downtown to pick up a few materials before heading for the airport, for the trip back to Los Angeles.  We capped off the trip with a nice flight on Aeromexico, complete with free tequila.  We are most grateful for another fun and inspiring trip to beautiful Mexico!


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ode to Some Brilliant Women - Getting Inspired

I am on the verge of a change in my life.  We are moving to a new area here in our beloved Los Angeles County, where we will have roomier digs, and I will be able to both set up a larger working space for my bead work, and put up my easel again to get back to work painting.  I have been itching to paint!  When I woke up this morning I asked myself, "And just what is it that you are itching to SAY with your paint??"  Ah... therein lies the eternal question.  If you read my Facebook feed from a few weeks back, you will see that I address this question a bit in my five day Artist's Challenge.  The only thing I know is that there is SOMETHING in there that needs to come out!  SOON!  Tired of WAITING!
"Waiting" by Linda Queally c2008
So what do I do to get inspired?  I find myself looking at work that inspires me.  And that brings me to this post, where I want to share some brilliant women that I follow, but do not know personally, who are modern day creators in a variety of media.  These are nationally acclaimed women, who show their work at the finest galleries, arts and crafts shows, are featured in private collections, and sometimes museums.  I like each one for a different reason.  They inspire me to find my niche and take it to the next level, and hope to one day own a piece of each of their works.  Let me introduce their work to you!
"Om" by Kina Crow.  Here she gives an example of what goes on in her head when she tries to meditate!
First off, there's Pittsburgh artist Kina Crow, who does hand-built ceramic sculptures that are so witty and charming that you can't help but fall in love with her work.  Many have captions below them that are sure to make you smile every time you see them.  Kina takes the things that we all think, and brings them to life in her work.  Truly, I think she is absolutely genius.  She does a circuit of the finest Arts and Crafts Fairs throughout the summer, and you can click her name under the photo above to visit her website to find out how to see her work in person.  So what do I get from Kina's sculptures?  Playfulness and Humor!
Julie Powell, who creates beautiful bead work, including the source of her inspiration.
I am also in love with the work of Boulder, Colorado jewelry artist Julie Powell.  She is masterful with color, as well as bead embroidery, and is always generous to offer us a sample of the piece that provides the colorful inspiration for her latest creation.  She works with her own hand made beaded beads and woven flowers, glass beads, and semi-precious stones, both new and vintage.  Julie also shows her work at the finest Arts and Crafts fairs in the country, and is featured in museums.  click the link above, under the photo, to see her work and where you can find her.  And what do I get most from Julie's jewelry?  Color!
"After Lent Sister Linda Prayed Long and Loud". Acrylic on canvas 24x48, Christina Forster-Ramos
Next on my list, with masterful execution and a wicked sense of humor, is figurative artist Christina Forster-Ramos.  I actually had the good fortune to meet this amazing lady a few weeks ago, when she came to our Angeles Crest Art Guild meeting to give a demonstration on Golden Acrylics.  It was my first introduction to her work, and I am hooked.  She does portraits in acrylic, many finished in a smooth, glossy finish, and her work is stunning.  When I grow up, I want to be just like her!!  Acrylic is definitely my medium of choice as well, and I hope to take some workshops with Christina in the near future.  So what do I get from Christina's work?  Humor and Risk-Taking!
"Girl with a Pineapple Earring" 20 x 24" watercolor on clayboard (modern fresco) by Ali Cavanaugh
Poetic and soulful, another of my very favorite contemporary women painters is Ali Cavanaugh.  I discovered her work around 2008, when I followed her on the Daily Painters after seeing an ad in American Art Collector magazine.  I have loved her work ever since.  She is represented by one of my favorite galleries, Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, South Carolina, among others.  She is very prolific, and her portraits are most often on a simple background with a thought-provoking title.  She is based in St. Louis, Missouri.  What do I get most from Ali's paintings?  Soulfulness, thoughtfulness, simplicity.

So these are some of the places I go for inspiration, following fabulous women artists that are creative, prolific, and successful.  If these artists are new to you, I am so happy to introduce you to their work, and I hope you enjoyed it.  And where do you go for your inspiration?

Wishing you a fabulous day!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Is Amber Once Again Becoming More Precious Than Gold? Amber Scouting in Tucson, Arizona.

Ever since Eduardo took me to Simojovel, Chiapas, Mexico in 2013, I have become fascinated with Amber, and those of you who have come to see us at shows know that Amber now graces our table in increasing proportions.  I had dinner with a special friend of mine, Trayci, last week (from my former life in the Title business) who reads my posts on Facebook and my emails.  Over burgers, the subject of Amber came up.  She said "I don't get it.  What is Amber?  What do you DO with it?"  This comment made me realize that she was probably not the only person I knew who was thinking that!  Maybe my friends are thinking "Supposedly Linda is an artist.  Why has she become such a nut case about Amber?" 
Cognac colored Mexican Amber from Chiapas with Insect Inclusions, at the Tucson gem show last week
Well, to back up a bit, before I ever visited Chiapas, my first encounter with Amber was at Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, Arizona, about five years ago.  Eduardo was introducing me to the gem and mineral business, and pointed out a vendor selling Amber with insect inclusions.  I found that just plain WEIRD.  Why would anyone want a rock with a bug in it?  I felt just like Trayci.  What do you DO with it?  I was not in the least bit interested.  Now fast forward to Chiapas in 2013.  I started to learn a bit about this fossilized tree resin called Amber, and you can read that post here.  I became fascinated with the color variations, the weight, the inclusions, and the sweet smell of honey.  And I became taken with the fact that this organic gem was the only one that trapped history inside of it, and was translucent so you could see that history, which was in some cases 20 to 40 million years old, or more.  I became hooked.  We brought some home with us.  And as I began selling it, I noticed that I could literally feel the healing, positive energy of this substance when I placed it on my table.  So over this past year I began to study my Amber customers and their desires.  Who is my customer?  Jewelry designer, carver, lapidary guy, collector, dealer, healer?  What type of material do they like?  Mexican, Baltic, Colombian, African, Dominican Republic?  How much are they willing to pay for it?  And it became my most important goal this year at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show to seek out Amber, and study the trends in both where it is coming from these days, and how it is priced.  I found out a few things, starting with the Mexican.  One, there were not many Mexican Amber dealers this year.  We found two.  One we knew.  One was new to us.  And Two, it has become very expensive, with clarity being highly prized.  Like Greek and Roman times, is it becoming more precious than gold?
Surrounded by Mexican Amber in honey, cognac and red.
Learning about quality, color and price.
Choosing some Mexican pieces.
One of the most noticeable trends on this trip was the abundance of Amber from Malaysia.  It was everywhere, and this material has a lot of variation in both color and quality, ranging from red to a deep brown with patches of pale color running through it, to a blue or purple when held under ultraviolet light.  The prices vary greatly on polished pieces, depending on the color.  I intend to study more about this Amber, because it has flooded the marketplace right now and it is new to me, but I did discover so far that in the book "Amber, Window to the Past", by David A. Grimaldi, it mentions that some Ambers from Malaysia are from the Miocene period, which was 26 million years ago.  We brought some home in the rough, and I would love comments from anyone who knows more about the history of this type of material.
Malaysian Amber
I couldn't talk about Amber without mentioning the Baltic Amber, which is the most well known to the public and some of the oldest that is readily available, ranging from 38 to 54 Million years old (Eocene to Oligocene periods).  Amber literally washes up on the seashore on the Baltic Coast, one of the most plentiful Amber regions.  I've had many customers tell me that they grew up there, and would pick it up along the shore as kids.  Imagine that.  As always, there were quite a few Baltic Amber dealers in Tucson, but I have my favorite dealer, and I have my favorite colors when it comes to Baltic.
The white and the butterscotch are my personal favorites in the Baltic.
I love the white and the butterscotch, and I was delighted that I could bring home my first small pieces this year.  Stop by one of our shows to see it.

Because I also love antique beads, I have most recently started learning about antique African Berber beads, which are large antique Amber beads worn by nomads.  The beads can cost several hundred dollars each, and here's a necklace I spotted at the show for a mere $9,280.00.  Serious collectors only need apply for this little number.  Watch out for the new African "Amber" beads, though, which are largely synthetic.
Antique African Berber Beads.
Last, but not least, I would like to talk about Copal.  We met a new Colombian dealer on this trip who sells mainly Copal, which is a younger tree resin, not yet fossilized.  I like to call this a young form of Amber, but I find there are those that get very ornery about that description.  Anyway, I do believe it is safe to say that all Amber was once Copal, and that these specimens have their own intrigue and charm.  This particular dealer had some very, very nice pieces with insect inclusions, and one in particular had a cricket inside of it.  Unfortunately you will have to take my word on this, because I did not get a good picture of it.
Copal from Colombia with insect inclusions.
Since Copal is not fossilized like Amber, it is priced accordingly, and can be quite affordable.  I have sold some very interesting pieces of Copal and I especially like the larger sculptural pieces and pieces with insect inclusions.  It is quite fragile, and susceptible to cracking or crazing in the heat, so I always warn my customers to handle it with care.  The smaller pieces are great for lapidary people to practice their polishing, for jewelry makers to wire wrap, to carry in your pocket for good luck or healing, or to burn as incense to cleanse the energy in a room.  I find it to be particularly fragrant.

In closing, I have been visiting the Tucson Gem and Mineral show for about five years now, and I always enjoy it and find that each year I become more focused.  What I learned about the Amber on this trip is that it can vary in price from fifty cents per gram for certain rough pieces to twenty-five dollars or more per gram for the more desirable clear, polished pieces, especially the Mexican red and the Dominican Republic blue.  These prices per gram translate into mucho dinero.  And the specimens with insect inclusions can be even more, depending on the importance of the fossil, and the type of material.  The Malaysian and the Baltic were plentiful at the show.  The Mexican and Colombian not so much.  Mostly, the types of Amber that are most interesting and sought after by my customers are more expensive that ever!!  Time to become an ultra savvy buyer, to stay in the game.
My highly professional method for recording my findings each night back at the van.
I'd love to hear your own comments on Amber.  We are back in Los Angeles for now, and you can follow me on Facebook to see where we will be selling.  Come and visit and let's talk Amber!

All the best,

Monday, January 26, 2015

It Takes Some Endurance to Sell in Quartzsite, Arizona

Tonight we're back home in our cozy room, internet and all, ready to share our first road trip of the year with you, namely to Quartzsite, Arizona.  Eduardo and I spent January 21st through the 25th selling at the QIA Pow Wow in Quartzsite, and it was windy, dusty, hot, cold, sunny, challenging, did I mention dusty, and most importantly, FUN.
QIA (Quartzsite Improvement Association)
First off, contrary to the way it sounds, the "Pow Wow" is not a Native American event.  I tell you this because I myself was surprised to learn this when we visited the Pow Wow last year, in 2014.  I was expecting rituals and Native American dancing.  Wrong!  What the Pow Wow IS, is a gathering of rock, gem and jewelry dealers who camp out in their RV's, Vans or Tents for five or six days on this big dusty plot of land, did I mention dusty, in order to offer for sale an interesting variety of rocks, gems, mineral specimens, jewelry, jewelry findings and more, share their love of the business, and enjoy the camaraderie of like minded people.  There are over 500 vendors who come from all over the world to sell at this event, and the same awesome volunteers return year after year as well to lend a hand. 
Here I am the first morning, waking up after a brisk night, getting ready to set up our booth.
Oh, you say, look at that cushy RV they are sleeping in behind them.  Oh, no, no, no.  That belongs to the neighbors.  We are enjoying more cozy accomodations.
Our little home away from home for five days.
But comfortable and warm, we slept like babies, despite the temperature dropping into the high 30's each night.  The only disadvantage was if you had to make a late night trip to the Porta Potty.  Oh so very, very chilly.  And yet this is one of the things I love about Quartzsite.  It definitely shakes you out of your comfort zone. 
The day starts to warm up and our booth takes shape.
Now set up and ready to do business, with everything looking nice and pretty, the one thing we did not count on for the first day was the wind.  We are Pow Wow novices.  We did not anticipate wind.  The winds came at a good clip the first day, reaching almost 30 mph, and I soon learned that everything I brought would pretty much be covered in a layer of dust for the duration of the show.  The top of the tent went flappity, flappity, flap, wearing on our nerves and pulling on the tent stakes, even though they were embedded in dirt as hard as concrete. 
Although this is one way to tie down the tent for the night, we ended up just taking it off, where it remained for the duration of day two as the wind continued to blow.
Since we are not particularly good early morning sellers, we quickly fell into our daily routine for the rest of the show.  Each morning around 9:15, we would take a walk to get coffee and a homemade cinnamon roll from the concession stand, and visit some of the other booths.
Eduardo with the largest piece of natural amber we have ever seen.  This specimen is from Malaysia.

An impeccable strand of spiny oyster shell beads with turquoise inlay by silversmith and jewelry artist Tom Kidd.  He actually painstakingly set tiny pieces of turquoise into the crevices of the spiny oyster, and the results were spectacular.  I would love to own this piece!
The scrumptious colors of these pieces of glass found in the desert made me wish I was a glass artist.
Then each day we would return to our booth around 10:30 or so and set up for the day.  The discipline of setting it up, taking it down, setting it up, taking it down, setting it up, taking it down.... for five days.... is challenging.  Another reason why I loved being in Quartzsite.  There I go out of my comfort zone again!  The wind died down by Day Three, and it was smooth sailing, weather wise for the duration of the show.
All in all we were happy with our booth, but I had to constantly shift the amber and the photos as the sun moved, because the Arizona sun is intense and those items needed to be in the shade.  Didn't really anticipate the strength of the sun anymore than we anticipated the wind!  And so each day we learn something new.
Here's Eduardo working on a wire wrap design for a customer.  He always seems to draw extra onlookers when he's doing his beautiful work.
So that sounds like fun and all, Linda, you say, but how do people stay clean out there in that dustbin of a gem show?  Well, not in the bathroom at the event, that's for sure.
No baths in the sink.  LOL.  That sign cracked me up.  You KNOW how I love a good sign.
But you can walk a few blocks to the local laundromat and have yourself a shower for $7.00 per person (5am to 6:45 pm), and do laundry to boot, if you like, so there are some conveniences near by.

And food, you ask?  The dining hall has very affordable and delicious home cooked dinners served by smiling, energetic senior volunteers who are downright adorable every evening.  And if you tire of the dining hall, you can venture out once again by just walking a few blocks to try out the local cuisine.  Friday night I was craving a beer, and so we tried out Taco Mio.  The food was good, but we were not fond of the way you had to wait in line to order, then go find a table, and then wait for the food.  We did not get the best vibe there, and did not love the service.  Hence no picture.  But the next night, Saturday night, we took a walk again and tried out Silly Pete's.
Silly Pete's was as crowded as all get out, and we waited an hour for a table and another hour for our pizza.  But there was a live band, and once we got our beer, we started to relax.  I could have sat there all night.  The gourmet pizza was delicious, the music was really good, and it was FUN!  This place I highly recommend.  On our walk home, we passed a used RV lot, where we saw this little number for a mere $344,037.00.  Really?
One very pricey RV!
Sunday was the last day of the show for us, and we ended up learning about selling in yet another different kind of environment.  We sent home happy customers with Mexican gems and cultural items, brass Native American and Mermaid pieces, Mermaid Prints, Milagro necklaces, Amber and more.  We connected with vendors and visitors alike that we see at show after show, that have become our friends.  We made new friends.  We withstood wind, dust, heat and cold, as well as nippy midnight walks to the bathroom.  A successful week!  We packed up before dark and tried out one last restaurant in Quartzsite before heading home.  This time it was Grubstake Bar and Grill, which was significantly less crowded since the Pow Wow had drawn to a close.  The inside of the restaurant was really charming, and food simply delicious.
Grubstake Bar and Grill
We stopped at the local Chevron to gas up for the drive home, and encountered another thing we like about Quartzsite.  The gas prices!  Yes, my California friends, that is regular at under $2.00 a gallon.  Amazing.
We haven't decided yet if we will sell again next year at the Pow Wow.  We are taking a little time to wash the dust out of our hair, get some good rest, and then we'll decide.  But you'll be the first to know.

Thanks so much for following our adventures, and Buenas Noches.