Frakkin' Ceylon - Day Five

By the time the fifth day arrives, it feels as though we’ve been in Sri Lanka for a long time. (That’s a good thing – it’s not like we’re hankering to get back to Dubai.) There's a strange familiarity with it all, despite the fact we're only a little over half-way through a short trip.
After a breakfast on the apex of the hill, overlooking the jungle, watching palm squirrels and wild peacocks run amok, we head down to the cinnamon museum. How any of that could become familiar, I do not know.
Despite all the colonial décor, this place is relatively new – and the cinnamon was only discovered when it was cleared to make way for a holiday home. Still, what they’ve got now is designed to look as authentic as possible. Certainly the poor bastards harvesting the cinnamon bark look pretty genuine.

This is all explained by Herman, who has a story of his own that’s much more interesting than anything to do with cinnamon. Herman is a tea man; he’s worked with it for the last 45 years of his life, turning land inherited from his father into a working tea plantation. The land is generational – his great grandfather was sold it at a reduced rate as he was growing rice to feed the British army. Until 1974, they had 1200 acres, then the white man decided that he wanted 1000 of it back. Suddenly, what had been in his family for 160 years had all-but disappeared.
“Did they just come and take it?” I ask.
“No, they gave compensation,” he says. “Well that's what they called it; some people might call it something else.”
His father had used the land to grow rubber and coconuts, which is hardly surprising as they’re everywhere.

However, when the land came to him, Herman decided to go for tea. Having worked for the British plantations for over 35 years – at one time handling over 100,000 acres – he was well placed to do so. For the past 14 years has been producing over a dozen different varieties, all of which he personally tastes for quality assurance.
Now 65 years old, in charge of what he believes is the closest plantation to the sea in the world, he produces 20,000 kilos of tea a month and is proud of what he has achieved. His morning walk of five miles around the property, brings him “great sense of contentment.”
He’s got a great archaic way of talking too: he refers to his butler as “the boy”; laughs at the memory of being considered “a little brown fellow” when visiting London; and occasionally says great things like “There are some very untidy goings on in the tea trade, let me tell you”
He’s a wonderful character whose voice will stay with me for a long time, though as hospitable as he is to us, I get the impression he’d be terrifying to work for.
Already one of the most interesting folk I’ve met in a long time, he sits us down to enjoy a slice of cake and a cup of his masterpiece, the Virgin White, which at US$1500 a kilo is the most expensive tea in the world. By the time he’s finished telling me its story, I know I’m sitting on my second Really Good Story of the trip. It’s hard not to grin, it really is.
During the 5th and 6th centuries, in the dynasties of Emperors Tsong and Tsang, the Chinese mandarins employed virgins to harvest white tea. They cut the leaves with golden scissors and caught them in golden bowls before they were brewed and offered to the Emperor. That way, the only part of the human anatomy that ever touched the tea were the Big Man's lips. “It was a nice story, but nothing more,” chuckles Herman. “Besides, if I’d run around telling people I was looking to employ virgins, they’d have thought I had bats in my belfry!”
Some time later, he met a
Nose in France. The Nose was sitting with five jasmine flowers from five different countries and claimed that he could identify them individually by smell. He explained to Herman that when something is harvested by hand (and there is no other way to harvest tea) the way people eat, drink and subsequently sweat inevitably taints the crop.
Herman returned to Sri Lanka and decided to blind test himself with tea that had been harvested traditionally and that which had never been touched by human hand. He could immediately tell the difference – in a country with a diet as pungent and spicy as Sri Lanka's, it was perhaps unsurprisingly.
Thus he set about making Virgin White tea a reality, his only variation being that the harvesters need not be virgins. Now he has an exclusivity deal with a tea shop on the Champs-Élysées and makes a massive profit from his unique (heavily copyrighted) product. I’m so amazed by the story, I barely set aside time to enjoy the tea itself, but from what I remember it tastes Quite Good.
By the time we leave, the rest of the day seems a little empty, but on the way home we finally see the fishermen we’d been looking for.

Which is cool and all, but a little disappointing when we’re immediately harassed for money afterwards. Still, we escape – and another half dozen or so chancers later – find a spot to watch another weird sunset.

The best gift ever...

I have a confession to make -- it hasn't just been the renovation and the move that I've been busy with (although those are still in full swing). I've been carrying around (literally for nine months!) some pretty big news that has (finally) just made her arrival.

Little C was born 12 days ago and I am still not over the wonder. Perhaps I never will be -- I wouldn't know, never having been a parent before. Now that I am I'm ecstatic and nervous and excited and scared all at once. "Please let me be good at this one thing," I think to myself as we stare at each other over her 3am meal. And as she nods off to sleep with a ghost of a smile, which isn't really a smile at all but just some gas according to her doctor, I know this is going to be the most amazing ride of my life.

I have no clue when my posting with regain a semblance of regularity. Right now the only meals I am serving are hers (although I have sneaked in a few items of sustenance for C and I). I'll be back as often and my and little C's ever changing schedule allows -- after all, I now have more people to cook for and more reason to document our family recipes :)

C and I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas gift! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! :)

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, and ...

it did! Wow, we had a huge snowstorm this past weekend. Although I didn't need to shovel the snow because we have people who come by and clean out our driveways and walkways, I did. I loved it. The boys went sledding and made snowballs. When I went to put some groceries in the freezer today, I saw two snowballs in there. They pleaded for my husband to keep them in the freezer. So funny.

Afterwards, I got down to business. I had to design the craft project for the little one's class. What do you think? I do like my snow globe ornament a lot. I hope that you're enjoying the holidays. Only a few more days and Santa's coming to town!

Thank you for the comments, e-mails and FB notes to me regarding my little guy. I really appreciated all the love!
xo, L

Frakkin' Ceylon - Day Four

By the time we’re ready to head down the coast, I’m so ravaged with insect bites that, to quote Charlie Brooker, my legs look “like two throbbing angry dicks with knees in the middle.” It’s itchy, ugly and annoying, but when I try to suggest to the hotel manager that they really need to get some mosquito nets in there, I’m shot down in a hurry.
We leave a little indignant and head to the train to enjoy the relative luxury of second class, featuring: Seats! Windows! A hole to piss through! The journey is mostly slow, which is great, giving us plenty of time to doze, enjoy the view and take occasional pictures.

A couple of times we’re approached by people enquiring where we’re going. We take to lying, but get slightly cornered when people try to hurry us off the train at what we claimed to be our stop. After about three hours, though, we arrive at Weligama and jump in a tuk tuk to our nearby hotel. Again, it’s a lesson in luxury, but this time has a bit of soul too: this place is a working cinnamon plantation, owned by a wealthy New York-based ad executive. The tuk tuk driver has no idea where it is, but a phone call later, he has the little three-wheeler scrambling up a winding mud road.
We’re placed in the cottage at the summit, overlooking the jungle canopy. Without doubt it’s some of the oddest accommodation I’ve ever stayed in: the setting and décor is heavily colonial, but the place is punctuated with a frankly bizarre collection of modern art. The staff on-hand seem quite bamboozled by our arrival too, even though they claim to have been expecting us.
We talk to a guy who I at first think is the equivalent of a bell boy, but who turns out to be the hotel manager. We tell him we’re here to look for the fabled stilt fishermen of Weligama. He tells us that the fishermen are in fact in nearby Mirssa, which seems believable enough. Despite his advice to get a tuk tuk, we insist on walking there, back down the slippery slopes, past the plantation, through rice paddies and across the train track.
Down here, we’re more of a novelty to the locals: impossibly cute kids shout “hello!” before collapsing into giggles or darting back inside a nearby doorway. The adults wave and grin wonderfully fucked-up smiles at us too. There’s wildlife all around – it’s an amazing place.

We’ve not long reached the end of the road when we bump into Amal, and even now – over a fortnight later – I’m not sure what I think of him. His story is simple enough: he lost his house in the tsunami, but has a new one thanks to the kindness of Europeans. On the day the disaster struck, he thanks Buddha that his pregnant wife was at her sister’s house inland. He, meanwhile, was on the beach. He says that there wasn’t one wave, but three, each of which was bigger than the last. Not that he saw them all – it was clear what was happening and he was already running for his life. He speaks about all this quite freely, pointing out the remnants of the catastrophe as we walk.

He’s nice enough, but it’s so hard to trust him. He never directly asks for money, but just keeps hanging around. It’s hard not to be paranoid: why is he still following us? Why does he ask so many questions about our cameras? Thanks to Bernard, I eventually have to gently tell him to get tae, feeling like a bit of a bastard as I do so.
We don’t even get to see the fishermen – it turns out that Mirissa just has a standard harbour here. Sure, there are folk fishing, but they’re using big fucking boats, not the weird stilts.

Despondent, we take a long walk down the beach, watch some surfers for a bit, then get caught on the hop by an amazing sunset. It’s a colourful end to a strange day, and no mistake.

Frakkin' Ceylon - Days Two and Three

As always, the main reason for me being in a new country is to learn. And in Sri Lanka, I am to learn all about Angam Pora, an ancient martial art that has survived for thousands of years on the island. When the British became the third colonial power (after the Portuguese and Dutch) to take control here, they realised the danger Angam Pora represented and, via notice in the local paper, outlawed it completely. Soon thereafter, they razed all of the known Angam maduwas (dojos) to the ground and imprisoned the gurus and masters who were teaching the art. Anyone found to be practising after this, would be punished by being shot in the knee. Extreme indeed, but they knew that what they were dealing with – probably because of the unfortunate Portuguese some 250 years earlier.

Sri Lanka had also already proved a costly place to conquer and while muskets and canons negated many of the techniques that so ravaged the Iberians, as the British pushed into the mountains, they were reduced to fighting an unwinnable guerrilla battle against an often unseen enemy. In the end, the capitulation was achieved through bribery and double-dealing rather than brute force. After the hand-over, in a bid to keep the art alive, the locals practised in secret when they could, hiding many of the Angam foot movements in dance. What looked like theatrical prancing to an inspecting officer would have actually been the graceful movements that are essential to the “art of death.”

Today, as is the case with martial arts around the world, Angam Pora is largely redundant: too few disputes are settled with a sword; too many with a gun. But on the south side of Colombo, there is one group keeping the traditional fighting spirit very much alive. Somehow, I've stumbled across this story – and from what I learn I'm the first foreign journalist to do so since the colonial era – and now it's going to be my job to tell their tale to the world. Here in one of the few modern maduwas in the country, men have gathered from around the city to learn from the Guru Karanpula, a 72-year-old grandfather who, I say without hyperbole, could pass for a man 30 years younger than that.

Softly spoken and terrifically fit, The Master has an iron glare and an incongruously warm smile that only appears when greeting people. He learned Angam Pora from his grandfather, who must have in turn learned when it was illegal to do so.

The Master studied for 40 years and knows more about the art than any other man alive; meeting him is a goddamn privilege. Wee Mo and I are invited into the maduwa to conduct an interview with The Master (via translation through the wonderfully helpful Piumal) but not before we've first been given a good deal of tuition and paid our respects to Buddha, Ravana another deity who's hitlist I'm doubtless on for forgetting its name. We leave our shoes at the door and head onto the dusty floor. The earth here all comes from ant-hills: the insects are a fussy bunch and don't build with rocks; use their dirt and you know it'll be refined. We start with foot movements that aren't unlike line dancing, before modifying them to shift around inside an imaginary square. Then we're shown how to block... Soon we're marauding forwards, throwing punches, kicks and a wicked boot-to-the-swingers. Obviously we're comically clumsy and spend more time concentrating on not falling over than causing Actual Bodily Harm, but it's a useful insight into the ethos behind Angam.

Then we sit down for a chat. The Master's students (between whom there is a very clear hierarchy) don't hold competitions as the aim of Angam is to cause as much damage to your opponent as possible. Pressure points, weak spots on the skull and the neck are typical targets for the blows which can be administered with a range of weapons and body parts. Those who learn to higher levels could theoretically kill someone with anything they could lay their hands on – whether it was a knife, necktie or newspaper. Between the emphasis on striking a coup de grâce and the Buddhist ethos that plays an important part in the practise, there's no room to attempt point-scoring as one would in karate or judo. As The Master says, “If two men use Angam against each other, they both lose” - in other words, it's a strange game, the only winning move is not to play.

Yet play is precisely what they do – training whenever they can around work, the group now mostly use their skills for demonstrations. I wonder if it was always so? The Master stands up and raises his shirt: around the astonishing site of a six-pack, there is a network of scars. In total he has 42 marks from various different blades. He looks at me while Piumal talks. “My Guru was a legend in this art – I am proud to say that. When he was young, some gangsters tried to open a club in the area, to sell liquer and so on. My Guru and his people were against that, so 16 people came to fight him. They came to kill him – it wasn't a demonstration – with swords and knives. He fought with them barehanded and four of them got killed. After it, the police were impressed – they wanted to learn.” If there's a part of me that wonders if this could be a tall-tale, it's crushed by the glare from The Master. I look away, to listen to Piumal, and when I look back I find He is still fixed on me. I try to match his gaze, but last only a few seconds. For the first time in my life I'm sure: I've looked into the eyes of a killer.

The next day we return to watch the men train before being lucky enough to watch a demonstration.

The fact that they’ve put it on just for us is quite humbling; the fact that Wee Mo and I have to follow it up with demonstrating what we’ve learned over the past two days is quite humiliating. Even so, it’s a small price to pay. Theirs is a great tale – and it’s my First Real Story.

Let's Be Friends

I know it's dorky, but I just added a page for Paper Treasure on Facebook. Don't be shy, come join me there!

Frakkin' Ceylon - Day One

The walk to the baggage conveyor in Bandaranike Airport, Colombo, is quite unlike any other I can remember; here, having just returned from holiday, you can do all of your household shopping. Why not pick up a fridge? Or how about an iron? You know, a dishwasher would save an awful lot of work...
If it's funny, though, it's only just about penetrating a wall of fatigue and vague disappointment that the Sri Lankan entry visa is nothing more than a little stamp in the passport. It's 4am local, 2:30am UAE and we're dog tired, so end up doing the minimal amount of negotiating with a toothy shyster on the other side of the gate to get a local guest house. Thankfully, though, only a few minutes later we're in the Full Moon hotel, a crumbling old joint with a noisy AC unit and a menacing ceiling fan. Still, theirs are welcome sites: while it's still hot during the days in Dubai at the start of December, the grinding humidity has at least eased off. Here in Sri Lanka, that clamminess is a year-round nuisance.
A few hours of tossing and turning pass and we're back on the road, in a taxi with a fat jolly driver who is keen to practise his broken English with us. He is taking us into downtown Colombo (actually about 30km from the airport) to the train station.
When we get out, it's hot, sweaty, chaotic and the hawking starts immediately. When I was a child, being blonde with blue eyes made old women in places like Turkey coo and painfully pinch my cheeks. Now, they flag me up as some wealthy descendant of a colonial cunt. As a result, in countries like this, the hard sell is to be expected.
We fight our way to the door of the tourist information office, which claims to be official but looks like a dodgy taxi office without the puggy. Inside, we get back to negotiating, this time for tours and transfers around the island, as well as information about the trains. As poor as parts of Sri Lanka are, they have a functioning rail system in no small part due to the British invaders; where the Romans built roads, we built train tracks. So we may have raped, pillaged, tortured and burned our way around the world, but hey, at least they have some public transport to show for it.
The man in the can also gives us some vague ideas for things to do in the next couple of hours before we head down the coast to our hotel. We head off to explore, but we've not long started walking when we bump into the skeletal cretin.

Bernard is apparently a tourism and hospitality lecturer who has something to do with the nearby Hilton. He flashes us a folder that has words roughly along those lines in it. He is on his lunch break and has nothing better to do, so would like to show us around? Great! Why not?
We get in a tuk tuk – one of these for those not in the know – and head around the city. Bernard takes us to some pretty interesting places, temples mostly, and while the Buddhist ones tend to resemble little more than big white bells, the Hindu versions are altogether more garish.

This is all fine, but after half an hour or so – Bernard constantly talking to reassure us over the dangers of dodgy geezers – it's almost time to go. Now, rather than the 300 rupees each we'd agreed on (to pay the driver, not him – he was, after all, just doing it for the love of his country) he's asking for 2000. He says something about 300 being the starting price, but now wants more than three times that. Tired, angry and far more used to this kind of scam than me, Wee Mo goes ballistic, which is pretty funny especially given that there's two Buddhist monks watching the whole farce. The tuk tuk driver, for his part, seems a bit embarrassed by it all too. The only person pushing on with it, and being continually refused by Wee Mo, is Bernard, the shiny headed little shit. Even he eventually crumbles, though, and we head off.
Both suitably disgusted, we get in a new tuk tuk and clearly agree a flat fee of 300 back to the train station. In the stifling heat we drive through an open rubbish dump, which makes us both nearly puke, only narrowly avoid death on at least three occasions, and get to the train station only to have this chancing bastard up his fee too. I toss the money back into the cab without entertaining it and walk off.
The train down the coast only has third class, resulting in the classic case of it being so busy people resort to hanging from the sides. We're stuck in the middle of it all, next to the shitter. Wee Mo feels faint; I'd quite like to fight pretty much any one of the thousand people sharing the few metres around us.
About an hour and another tuk tuk later, we've somehow made it to our nonsensically luxurious accommodation – a luxury pavilion on the beach front. Things seem to be getting better, then this happens and the world is once more a wonderful place:

I Believe In Santa Claus!

Remember that Designer Blog Hop that we had a little while back? It was fun and I so loved your company. I have a little non-quilty story and I'm only sharing it because I am overjoyed beyond belief.

On the last day of the blog hop on my featured day, while I was enjoying all of your attention, I received a phone call from my doctor. It was one of those calls that a mother dreads and I must admit, it had me slightly paralyzed in thinking, in working and in enjoying the holidays since then. My baby had a test that came back with potentially devastating results and I had to wait three weeks to do another test to confirm or reject the results. I only wanted Santa to bring me good news. I tried not to be crazy and I succeeded for the most part but it took a long time to get to yesterday. I am thankful that I got my Christmas wish. 

I believe in Santa Claus. [Good thing too because now I can focus on creating the craft idea for the little guy's holiday party.]

xo, L

Big Shop Update!

Lots of new stuff in the shop! I'm working on uploading my entire collection... keep checking back, it'll take a couple more days to get everything up.

Here's what's new:

Show Photos.

So I just completed the last in a series of four shows and man am I tired! It was a blast! Crafty Wonderland's Holiday show was especially amazing... A big thank you to everyone who showed up! I met so many great people and received such positive feedback. I feel so lucky to live in a city as supportive as Portland! I was so busy that I forgot to take pictures of my displays at my Holiday Party, the Flutter Trunk Show or Crafty Wonderland (I was especially proud of that one too!)... but here's a glimpse of my set of for the trunk show at the lovely Ginger Salon. (Want to learn more about Ginger Salon and the fancy styling of my roomie, Marci? Visit: )

Catching Up

How are your holiday preparations coming along? I've been busy with little bits of this and that. In the end, though, it seems to add up to a lot and I often wonder where does the time go? Have you been busy sewing gifts? I have to start soon! All of the ideas have been swirling around my head but I haven't actually done a lot of sewing. I mean, I have done some sewing but not enough for my liking. I did sew that little wallet up there with some scraps that I had around. I'd never drawn up a pattern or sewn anything with a frame before so that was an experience.

Mostly, I've been busy with some background stuff and with the kids' school activities. It is that time of year that everything seems crammed into a week or two, doesn't it? This was taken at the Holiday Table with my little one, his best buddy, Aidan and his mom, Joanne. It's a fun holiday thing that we do at school. The parents get to come in and have lunch with their kiddos and friends. My big guy had 5 boys at his table and it was madness.

Last week, Little A's teacher had a craft day so Joanne, my hubby and I volunteered to help. My station was the beaded ornament station. Well, I had as much fun and even made a couple of snowflake ornaments while I was supposed to be teaching the kids how to make them.

Then there was the grand gingerbread making adventure of 2009. Ok, Joanne and I are quilters, not professional gingerbread house makers. It all started off well buy after a while we needed to support the roof because it was sliding off. In the end it was all fine. The kids, of course, wanted to eat all of the gumdrops and icing.

Joanne's boys made these adorable ornaments. Hint: Last minute gift for the grandparents! Easy to make and cute!

Onto other quilt business news. These lovely scans came across my desk recently. The ladies from Henry Glass sent me scans of Michelle Blackhurst's new line, Fleur d'Paris. So pretty! Look forward to the release in the spring.

Happy sewing! xo, L

Holiday Shows, The Grand Finale!

New Show Added to the lineup: (Tomorrow!) Friday, December 11th. I'm having a Trunk Show at Ginger Salon (1319 NE Freemont) from 6-9. Come check out this amazing salon, meet the fabulous stylist Marci (who's also my roomate!), have some drinks, do some shopping (there are events going on up and down Freemont) and enter to win a free piece of Paper Treasure jewelry.

And don't forget, this Sunday is the Crafty Wonderland Sale from 11-7 at the Convention Center! I'll be there with 200 of the city's best designers and crafters. Come get your Holiday shopping done in one swoop and keep it local!

Oh Deer!

After drooling over the photographs in my book yesterday, I found out that my friend Toby from Kindred Quilts is heading to Istanbul for the holidays. Jealous? No comment! Lucky girl!

Today was just one of those days where everything was off. We started with three phone calls from the school to tell us that there was going to be a delayed opening. [Note to self: I have to inform the school that I don't need three phone calls.] Then there was the storm and a doctor's appointment. Not fun but I still accomplished a lot.

I was wide awake by the end of the calling spree. What did I decide to do? I  designed a holiday card. Pop-up style, of course. It was fun to work out the details. I made the shape smaller and added a bit of color to add a lot of spunk to the design. What do you think?

I wanted to show you another card idea that I designed for Sew Sentimental . I made an ornament out of fabric transfer sheets and pinned it to a card. So easy and so adorable.

Did I ever tell you that greeting cards were my first crafty love? I had a greeting card design company, the paper gallery. So interesting how things come around again. xo, L


I have always had the dream of visiting Turkey. Someday I will. For now, I love to devour the luscious photographs in this beautiful book about the patchwork of Turkey.  I bought this book from Quiltmania when I was at Quilt Market in Houston. This book is a visual delight.

Enjoy! xo, L