Don’t want that, want this.

SO, I have these ideas swirling around in my head. Ideas to be financially independent, ideas for art projects, and learning new things with graphics. Unfortunately they bang into things like the feeling I am jumping on a hamster wheel going nowhere, every time I clock into my day job. You know, that one we do to pay the bills and be responsible.

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I want to be responsible..I just don’t want to jump through hoops, count lots of money that is not mine, or work for people who want my loyalty, but will fire me without a hiccup in their day because that’s what is best for them.

I was just “voluntold” (a word my lovely pastor is fond of using!) to work all night with inventory. It is a shift that was volunteer only. I did NOT volunteer, but found myself on the list.

I want to be irreplaceable. I want to be so good at what I love and what I do, that my work space is unique and welcoming. I can only do this if I work for ME.

Part of me wants to quit my job and launch out on my own. But. But. But.

I have no back up money to do so. The rent still needs to be paid, among other things, and I am not going to drown in bills. The plan is in place, I am moving forward, albeit slowly, but moving I am. I am NOT in a happy place, that’s for sure. But in that time, I am learning what I do NOT want in my life. And that can be just as important as knowing what I do want.

I hate to be confined. I hate being told what I can not do, just because another can’t do it. So dumb. It took me so long to learn that lesson. I was told by others what I could not do, and didn’t realize it til later it’s because they had no vision and could not see what I saw. Why are people so scared of another’s talents? I never get that…

Then I have this problem with time. When I have time to paint or write, I spend it staring at the wall, spacing off and lost in my dream world. Time is lost, never to be brought back. I could have had a book or two written by now…

coulda woulda shoulda

Not worth thinking bout. I have today. Tomorrow, I am back on that wheel, spinning and spinning, going nowhere. Just trying to get thru another 8 hours of quagmire.

 

 

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Scrubbed

Scrubbed

Trash in the street.

Tossed under trucks.

Muddied and torn.

Picked up by the wind.

Flung in the gutter.

I am.

Gust of frigid air catches it again.

Bending backwards, forwards, sideways, upside-down

Crazy.

Whipped around, and around, blinded, ripped, bleeding

Trash in the street.

I am.

Once a pretty picture.

Drawn by a child’s hand.

Now stained with dog shit

Muddy boot prints.

Passed over and over and over

Again, by cars, buses, trucks.

Forgotten.

I am.

You trampled me.

Scrub scrub scrub SCRUB!

Can’t scrub the pain away.

I am.

Numb.

I am.

Gone.

I am.

Scrubbed.

Snake in the Grass?

Boa in the grass in our yard

Boa in the grass in our yard

So, yes, snakes. I happen to really like them. In fact, the whole reason I went to Costa Rica in the first place was because I worked as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo with their reptile house. It was my job to feed and clean out the cages of all the non potential dangerous species there. The zoo had quite a lot of critters that were not always on display. I got to work with gavials, a very interesting Indian species, found here:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/gavial.html ,

monitor lizards, anacondas, a wide variety of turtles, lizards, crocs….SO MUCH. I fed the Chinese Alligators gold fish, made salads for 5 ft long iguanas that ran around my legs as enthusiastic as dogs for their dinner, and brought massive salads to Aldabra Tortoises, weighing in at about 400 lbs. It was normal for me to be in a room, cleaning out cages of rainbow boas, anacondas and different pythons, with a row of cages of spitting cobras behind me. Yeah, I don’t have a problem with snakes. Back at my apartment, I had nine. In my menagerie were 3 boas, a ball python, Asian vine snake, 2 corn snakes and 2 milk snakes. The Asian vine snake was particularly interesting because its eyes are shaped like keyholes and it was also a rear fanged, mildly poisonous chap. It never bit me. Other snakes had and I think I have been bitten about 11 times, mostly by boas and usually at feeding time.

Living in the jungles of Costa Rica was no big deal for me with the critters. Having children did cause my momma senses to kick up several notches and as most people around the world do, I raised my children learning to respect and not touch. It was just a little different; in the states one might teach a child about not going into the street or to play with matches. I taught mine not to go near this guy….

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This is a 16 ft or so salt water crocodile that was sunbathing at our place. Quite alarming especially when it would snap its mouth close several times, a sound like gunshots going off. Guess it was getting ready to go catch some very unlucky prey. My ex is a fisherman, and he would clean the fish at our dock. We had a sink and a plank over the water where he did this and all the fish guts/heads would be tossed into the river. It was normal to see about 5 pairs of eyes reflecting back red at us. These were the caimans and the crocodiles that were like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating when they heard the water from the sink hit the river below. We were about 5 feet above the surface, so never felt in danger of our dumpster divers.

Our children knew all about being careful. My son would inform me of eyelash vipers in trees where he was playing. Usually, his dad would collect them and let them loose into the forest where they belonged.

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This is one that was hanging out on our porch. The interesting thing about these is that they come in three colors, which is not normal for a species. They can be bright banana yellow or a mossy green that blends perfectly onto the trunk of trees…Another valid lesson: “DON’T PUT YOUR HANDS ON THE TREES!!!” In Spanish, they are called “Dormilonas” or Sleeping Beauty because they will stay in the same tree for days. A favorite spot for them is the heliconia flowers where they wait for humming birds. I highly recommend http://www.fogdenphotos.com/dbm.html They have some amazing photos of an eyelash viper in the bright yellow color phase, striking out at a rufous-tailed hummingbird.

Sometimes, in the late evening, heart wrenching cries would be heard. One evening I heard what sounded like a cat mewling and crying. I went out to investigate and came upon this disturbing sight. Felt really bad for the little frog, but nature rules out there…

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I’ve had snakes slither cross the floor of my house…actually it was 5 snakes and my only guess is that the first one was a female and the other 4 were horny males trying to be first.

There are several species of poisonous snakes other than the eye-lash viper in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. There were bushmasters, Fer-de-lances (called Terciopelo in Spanish which means velvet due to their beautiful pattern.), other pit vipers, and coral snakes. I have had friends that have gone through the agony of a snake bite. One gentleman, Rapha,  was closing his wooden shutter before heading to bed, not realizing that an eyelash viper was curled up on the sill. At that time there was no way out of there other than by motorboat and he had to be driven in the pitch black to the nearest hospital, three hours away. I am happy to say  that he survived with no health issues after getting the proper treatment.

At one point I raised chickens for their eggs. I had a little coop and would go out daily to collect the eggs. Hens will make a certain clucking noise when they lay, so I knew there were eggs to be picked up. I was surprised to find none. I thought, maybe an opossum, but there were no tracks. This baffled me for days until one day I ran over when I heard the hen’s cluck and found a big boa sucking down the freshly laid eggs!! He was promptly removed and dropped off on the other side of the river.

I guess it’s a good thing that I am not phobic about snakes and other funky wildlife that surrounded me in and out of my home all those years. Don’t get me started on bugs. And, yes, I like them too!

Sea Turtles

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Female turtle coming up for air off the coast of Tortuguero

Back in 1985, I went to Tortuguero, Costa Rica to tag sea turtles. I really had no idea what that meant.  No, I did not swim after them in their water world, like you might think from the photo I have put up.  This was taken out in the ocean, while fishing for Kingfish. The turtle is coming up for air, sometimes in a love grip with her mate. They stay right off the coast from June-November, the females making their way to the beaches of Tortuguero and other towns up and down the coast to lay their eggs under the secrecy of the night. Ah, Tortuguero….known as Turtle Bogue by the old timers…Such a wealth of life, hardship, and hidden treasures.

So turtle tagging, was done on the beach. Tortuguero is the biggest nesting beach for the green sea turtles in the Caribbean. I went there at 21 years old, to participate in one of the oldest data collecting researches being conducted at the time. One of the turtles that I tagged had first come up in 1968, making her estimated age in her 60’s. Tagging turtles involved putting a tag on the front flipper, usually while the turtle is laying her eggs. While they are laying their 120 or so eggs, they are focused on what they are doing and we would try to tag them as they were finishing up. Tagging a turtle heading back to the ocean is extremely challenging as they weigh anywhere from 350-500 lbs, can bite, and are not very happy about being clamped with a tag. Their flipper also has a claw on it, and getting swiped with it hurts like a bitch. However, the tagging program has brought clarity to tracking their progress once they leave the beach and understanding their behavior. The turtles are around 35 years old when they reach maturity. For those first 35 years in the ocean, not much is known about where they go. Tagging them helps researchers and scientists track the female turtles movements in the course of their lives.

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Tortuguero beach that stretches for 27 miles

 When I first went to Tortuguero, the villagers numbered about 100. It was a small community of a few families who had settled in the area because of the turtle. You see, the turtle tastes exquisite. Yes, I said it. And yes, I have eaten plenty of turtle. It was the way of life for the people who lived there. My husband at the time was one of the people who was native born and grew up hunting and fishing to survive. In the mid 80’s, the community was allowed three turtles a week that were divided among the families. With no refrigeration, people salted or smoked the meat for later, and prepared tantalizing stews with fresh yucca, hot peppers, and the stock made from coconut milk.

To. Die. For.

My friends up here get on my case for heading down to Central America as a tree hugging, SAVE THE TURTLE, bright eyed conservationist, only to come back eating turtle, iguana, wild pig, tespisquintle, among other things. But, I lived there 24/7, as the locals did. There were no other North Americans, tourists, supermarkets, restaurants, electricity. You know, when in Rome….do as the Romans did…and all that. So I did, and was given a very rich and in-depth education about jungle life.

Now a days, turtles are NOT given to the villagers, and have been a great source of income in the tourist trade. Not as a meal, but as a tourist attraction to see the turtles come up and lay their eggs.  Most people living there work with the now 10 or more hotels, as guides to see the turtles and the inhabitants of the rainforest that comes to the edge of the beach. The village is now over 2500 people, mostly from Nicaragua. There are plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, electricity…There is no need to hunt, but that doesn’t really stop people from doing so. It’s their culture, the old time, the way it was…we all want to remember the good times of precious moments we experience in our lives. The past traditions of Tortuguero are symbols of a lost community and family life style. Preparing and eating turtle stew is a travel log for the people of Tortuguero, that I was very blessed to be able to experience.

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Turtle tracks seen from plane

On Painting…

I have alway been artistic, although it took me a long time to accept calling myself an artist. I think my mind blocked it because I am not formally trained. However, as the years passed, and I made a living using my artistic skills, it was easier to accept that term. 

Living in Tortuguero, Costa Rica gave me an abundant source of subjects to choose from. Every day, I would see vibrantly dressed flowers, birds and butterflies. I could never quite capture the variations of hues and tones that were my world. 

It took me a while to actually try my hand at painting. I felt I didn’t understand color, and rightly so, with the palette of so many shades out my door. Just the greens were daunting, and if it rained? Shoot, the whole thing changed again. But try, I did. I bought books, I practiced, and if I met a tourist who was an artist, I would trade things from my shop for an art lesson. I made my way, and little by little become more comfortable in color. 

Now I am living close to Trenton, and my surrounds have changed drastically. My style uses strong vibrant colors in acrylic. My eyes now have a new feast set in front of me of a more urban setting. So different, yet color is everywhere. One of the things that I can not get enough of are the beautiful garments of women gathering around the steps of their West African church. Or the saris worn by women from India. It’s not surprising that my art style is now veering to incorporate this into my art form…take the painting I am working on now. It is of a Black woman standing in the jungle with the lush tropical flora behind her. She is purple at the moment, graceful and long, wrapped in a sarong of geometric African patterns. Her lips will be pink, full and succulent, and mistaken for a flower by a hummingbird who comes to drink her sweet nectar from her lips. She is one with nature and her inner beauty shines. 

My goal is to merge my two surroundings together in a new flavor of two jungles; the natural and the concrete. In my short time that I have lived in this area, I have met so many talented and gifted people. Ideas are swirling in my mind and I start to “see” what I will paint, way before I start. It is an exciting process, and I am blessed to be on this journey of learning and exploring. 

Last night, as I was driving home after a Hispanic fund raising event, I thought about how happy I am living here. It was not an easy adjustment from where I came, but I can now say that I am content with my surroundings and all that it has to teach me. 

Happy painting!Image

Tortuguero Community

This is a short video done while I still lived there. It’s about life in a remote community in Costa Rica.
I know most of the people in the film, including the first guy who speaks, my ex. The people there are survivors, hard workers, hard players, and have gone through very rough hardships. Living there gave me perspective and strength to live back in the states. Often, people try to share a 90’s moment with me….”Remember when this song came out?” Uh…no…..I was fishing way up in a back creek in the middle of the jungle, watching iguanas sun bathe, monkeys swing and free fall through the trees, and waiting for that tug on the line so I could set the hook.
I miss Tortuguero, but I have no desire to live like that again. It was hard, all the time. However, I wouldn’t change my experiences that I had living there. Not one bit. As this video depicts, there are things going on there that we don’t deal with over here. The lady, Sabina, who talks about making oil from coconuts. That’s about 100 coconuts fine grated…let me back up. Collect the 100 cocos, then husk them. Husking them is done by shoving them down on a spike and twisting from side to side. I watched a woman, Miss Rita, who was all of 90 pounds, do this effortlessly. When it was my turn, I struggled for over 20 minutes just to get one side done and gave up with a bewildered sigh. Never could get the hang of it. The next step is to fine grate…wait! Back up. The grate is a 2’X2′ piece of sheet metal that someone hammered tiny holes in with a nail…lots of them. It was then nailed to a 2’X1′ frame, causing it to bow in the middle. So, grate….all day grate…This is a family effort…Children are sent to collect water from the well. (Don’t get me started on how to do that, because there is an art in that too) Sisters start to build the fire up. The now grated coconut is placed in a big pot where water is added, and the ladies “wash” it. They squeeze their hands through the coconut, and the water turns white. The coconut gratings are now strained out through a sieve and tossed to the chickens. The liquid that is left is coconut milk that is FABULOUS in stews. It is now placed on the fire and cooked. All day, the fire is fed, and the milk cooks….the oil comes up to the surface and is skimmed off and placed in a bottle. A liter bottle. All of this work is for a small liter bottle.
One taste of anything cooked in this oil makes it all worth it. I think each bite taken is savored more deeply because of the process that it entails to make it.
Fast forward to the present. My first time walking up and down through the aisles of Whole Foods? Talk about culture shock. I see a little bottle of organic coconut oil and I smile, remembering such a different place where everything is organic and I am incredibly blessed in the richness of life.

How to Catch a Porcupine

“Can I keep him?”

Oh oh. My son had brought home another creature. Not any old creature, mind you. No, this would not be a kitten or a bird with a broken wing… Kelvin at 10 years old would have something a tad more exotic.

Let me take that back. He would bring back a bird with a broken wing….but it would be something like an osprey, a toucan, or God forbid, a black vulture. That hasn’t happened…yet. But it could.

I can’t really blame him. I mean, I am the mother who showed him how to feed praying mantis and spiders. It was normal to have a tarantula or viper in a cage on our kitchen table. Curiosity with the world around us was a common thread for Kelvin and I. We would find caterpillars and become detectives when it came to figuring out what we had. After identifying the plant it was found on, we could usually find out what it was. If that didn’t work, then we waited patiently for it to go through the stages of metamorphosis and like a gift-wrapped Christmas present, break free of its chrysalis. “Ooooooo! It’s one of those!!!” we would exclaim in unison.

Living in Tortuguero, Costa Rica was a young boy’s heaven. Here Kelvin grew up with nature in all of its glory right up to the edge of our doorstep. He has had more encounters with nature than most children. Our surroundings were our classroom. Everyday there was something new to learn.

“Can I keep him?” he asked.

“Let’s see what you found”, I said, peering out of the kitchen window as I dried my hands from my dish washing. YES, there are dishes to be washed in the jungle!

“You gotta come out, Ma!! I got him on the porch!  Come on! HURRY!!!” My little boy danced impatiently on his feet thinking that I was taking FOREVER as all of us parent types do.

“Well, where do you have him?” I asked.

“Out here in the cooler!” His enthusiasm was making me wary….

“Why do you have him in the coo-OH!” I jumped back!

“KELVIN! You can’t catch porcupines in our cooler! What were you thinking!?”

“But Maaaaa! It’s just a little one and it’s so cute. Look at that little face” My son pleaded with what he calls his “Puss n Boot” eyes.

“No way dude! He’s got a mommy and he is not gonna cuddle up with you, believe me.”

Kelvin smiled. “I know, I know…I just wanted to see your reaction. It is pretty funny looking isn’t it?”

We peered down at this disgruntled, snorting little porcupine who glared back, puffing up its short quills, hoping to get a shot at us.

“I think you need to get him back home to his family, K.” I said gently.

He faked a pout but a smile was twitching around his lips. He carried it back to the tree where the rest of the porcupine family had lived for the last 5 years.

Porcupine caught in cooler by my son, Kelvin

Porcupine caught in cooler by my son, Kelvin

Now there’s more to that story. But I am saving it and many other little adventures for a book that I am working on. Let me know if you think that sounds intriguing.

Antjungle