Thursday, May 30, 2013

I need more cleavage.

Today was another very productive day. Literally. How so? Well, I produced something! 

Two things, actually. 

I finished the super-secret project, which I will reveal soon. Not yet, but soon. 

What I also made, and this is why we're here today - me writing and you reading - is a braided racerback tank top. 

Yes, seriously! I made an item of clothing today, for realsies! 

Well, I wasn't the only one doing it, I had great company. My friend Kevonne came by my house today, you'll remember her from all-time favourite Lifetime Movie classics such as The Stories of Pre-Carnival and New Year's in Tobago. She brought another friend, Sharia, who also played a vital role in the Carnival Fete Madness - the driver. Today though, we all played equally central roles as we all converted a plain orange t-shirt each into something new and really cool. Very grateful for the awesome company, I hope I get to hang out and create with these two again, it was a fun day. 

First off, we had to scour the internet for ideas and tutorials, because we all came half-unprepared and didn't know just what exactly we wanted to make, then we were ready to get to work. With Kevonne's crafts box and my sewing kit, a music playlist fit for a party (an awkward party, but still a party) and good vibes, we were ready to make history. And two tank tops and a bag. 

Kevonne decided she wanted to make a tote bag out of her t-shirt, Sharia and I settled on making braided racerback tank tops. We found this tutorial on YouTube that explains pretty well how to make the tank, even though the girl in the video seems to enjoy doing more than necessary. We found a few shortcuts - literally. Where the girl in the video cuts each sleeve individually, for example, we simply folded the t-shirt and cut once instead of twice. War is the mother of inventions? Nope, laziness is. 

Here's a step-by-step for how to make your own braided racerback tank top. If you want to make one, you know. But make sure to also watch the tutorial or any tutorial, because I don't want to be responsible if yours turns out worse than mine because you only listened to what I told you. That's something you should never ever do, just FYI. 

So, here goes:

First, fold your t-shirt in half so you don't have to cut twice and cut off the sleeves and the collar. For the sleeves, just see how low you want the cut to go, because it determines how much of your back will be exposed later. And because we're on the topic of exposure, see if the cleavage is deep enough for you with cutting just below the collar. If you're like me and it's not, take your scissors and go to town on that shirt. Freedom for all boobies! 

OK, done with the inappropriateness. 

When all is cut and you're sure it's more or less symmetrical, the kinda difficult part begins. 

Take a piece of chalk and mark where you want to cut the sleeveholes further - but just on the back of the tank top! If you don't have fabric chalk then do it like me and steal a piece of chalk from your neighbour's kid, any chalk will do just fine. And he won't notice, because he hardly ever uses his chalk to draw on the sidewalk anyways. So you mark where you want to cut and then you cut. Carefully. And, again, only on the back of the tank. If you cut this far in the front, then that's too much freedom for your boobs. We don't want that. 

Next, you cut along the collarline in the back and separate your new collar from the back fabric. I'm a smart cookie, so I didn't take a picture of that, but it's in the video. Then, you make two vertical cuts in that back piece so you get three strands of fabric. That's what you see in the bottom left part of the second collage. Note that that picture is upside down. 

Once you have that, stretch the three strands out a bit and then braid them like you see in the last photo. When you're done with that, take a needle and thread and kinda secure your braid just so it won't come apart after all that careful work you've done. 

Now, this is where what we did becomes different from what the girl did in the video. I know you watched it so you'll see what I'm talking about. She just sewed the braid onto the collar piece and then covered it with a little extra fabric, but I didn't really like the way that looked. It was a bit boring, to be honest. I wanted more braid. Also, I don't like how the edges of the tank, where we cut, don't have a clean finish (need to figure something out for that for the next one I hope to make) so I felt like I'd end up with a back full of orange fuzz, leaving it open so. 

The solution: more braiding. 

Cut off two pieces from the sleeves that you still have lying around because, just like me, you're a messy artisan - only cleaning up after everything's done, not during the doing. So, one piece per shoulder. About two fingers wide and about as long as your forearm, stretched out and then knotted onto the collar piece just behind the original stitching on top of the shoulder. After knotting it, the two strands that hang off should be of the same length. Also, the knot is on the inside so when you braid, the strands kind of come around to the top. Braid down to the middle of the back of the collar, using the collar itself as the third strand. Repeat on the other shoulder. 

Again, I'm a dummy and didn't take any pictures of this either, mainly because I didn't really know what I was doing until I was done doing it. 

The three braids then meet in the middle of the backside of the collar - I don't know what that piece of a shirt is called, thus the long description. Get your needle and thread back out to secure everything in place and then cover it with an extra piece of fabric, here we're back on track with what the girl in the video did. 

A last few stitches after everything's covered, just to make sure it's all secured in place and won't come apart the first time you try on your brand not-that-new braided racerback tank top. I don't actually know what that means, racerback, but everybody uses that term so I'm just going with the flow here. If you know why they call it that, can you let me know in a comment? I want to learn! 

Here's the finished tank top from the back, I love the colour (Thanks, Kevonne!!) and all the braids (Thanks, Sharia, for unknowingly convincing me not to make that vest thing!!) and, yeah, just the whole thing. 

I lifted my right shoulder so it looks somewhat crooked in this picture, but it's a really cool top that I'm looking forward to wearing. I also got the cleavage just right, but there won't be a picture of that in this blog. I only write about the really inappropriate things, I don't show them. 

What's that I'm doing with my hands in this photo? It's my gang sign! Double live-long-and-prosper stands for Nerdfighteria. Google that if you don't know what it means. 

I'll keep posting about the random things I make and hope that you'll make some nice stuff too and then share it with me! 

Until then, DFTBA. 

Monday, May 27, 2013


The last time I posted, I mentioned my friend Thais, who had said she would meet up with me and teach me how to make new things out of old things. Well, guess what. She did! 

That's what this post is about. Upcycling. Wikipedia defines it as "the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value" and that's exactly what we did. We took empty Tetra Pak boxes that would otherwise go into the rubbish bin and converted them into pretty little wallets that look fun and will give anyone who wants to buy them from her or from me instant Karma points! (wink wink, nudge nudge) 

We were supposed to meet at the Rituals coffee shop on the UWI campus in Saint Augustine today at noon, because I was going out there anyways to read at the university's library and she lives close by. Unfortunately, rainy season has kicked in now and our plans kind of got flushed. No, no. I'm not saying it's bad that it's rainy season. Not at all! I have been waiting for it to start for a long time, for two reasons: 1) the bush fires were becoming a serious problem and B) you know, I love the rain. Today, however, we got one of those torrential downpours that paralyse traffic and flood neighbourhoods, so neither Thais nor I could leave our respective homes. (I have an umbrella, but it's not industrial strength and it can't protect me and my laptop from horizontal rainfall..!)

To make up for the potentially lost creative time, I started another project. A super-secret one that I can't yet tell you anything about. Probably soon, though. But yeah, I spent quite some time working away on that front. Glasses on, [item I use for super-secret project] in hand, brain's concentration levers pushed all the way to "ultra elevated". 

Until it finally stopped raining in the early afternoon, that is. So, a little later than originally planned, we met up in the coffee shop to get started on our arts and crafts project. I had brought some empty juice boxes (I drank a lot of juice this morning, just for this), clear tape and some hair ties, and she had brought some empty milk cartons and a big apple juice carton, scissors, a Swiss Army knife and all her expertise. And patience. 

This is not going to be a tutorial for you to learn how to make those wallets and purses, if you want that, you can google it or look for tutorials on YouTube - there's a lot of really good ones! I could have done that as well. But why learn from the internet, when you can have a friend teach you and have fun and share nice conversations at the same time, right?

Instead of a tutorial, this here is just me sharing my joy and happiness with you. Because I had a great day today, despite the late start. And - who knows? - maybe this will inspire someone out there to start a little DIY creativity project of their own. Maybe YOU! 

So here's what we made today. Or rather, what she helped me make with careful instructions, patient teacher that she is. Not that I cost her a lot of patience, at least I don't think I did, but still, this young grasshopper still has a lot to learn. 

We started off with a basic purse made from a juice box, right after came the slightly more elaborate version with two compartments, made from a large carton. 

Next, we made the same two-compartment wallet from a large carton of almond milk, but we opened it on the side and turned it inside-out to make a shimmery, silver wallet. I think, this might be my personal favourite of the four I got to make today. 

Last, but most definitely not least, we tried a new thing. Thais found a tutorial online and we didn't have the patience to watch it so we only saw the beginning, but that was enough. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you, the screw-cap wallet! 

Seriously, it's a cool thing. 

Now what I want to do is to keep making these ones I've learned today and perfect them, because I want to become better and faster at making them, and then also have a look at some more ideas in order to be able to start making more sophisticated ones. More creative, more interesting, more colourful, more intricate and more awesome. 

All in all, I must call this a very successful day. I started a super-secret project, I met my friend, learned a cool upcycling technique from her and generally just felt a lot of positive energy. Whenever I get to be tangibly productive, especially when it has to do with making/fabricating/creating something with my hands (or, almost as much, with getting a lot of 'real' work done, reviewing a lot of academic texts or spending large amounts of time outdoors), it's like my body's and my brain's batteries get re-filled to maximum levels. Not literally, of course, but while I might end up really freaking tired, depending on what I've been doing, it definitely makes me feel like I want to jump and sing and hug everyone. As in, I might be exhausted but I'll be happy as fuck. Pardon my French. 

If you are anything like me, even the tiniest little bit, you should give this a try. 

If you haven't already, that is, in which case sorry for boring you. 

If you have, share your ideas with me! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Japa Mala Mantra Chanting

Yes, yes, I know. A long time has passed since the last time I posted something even though I so promised I would get better with this. But, honestly, I always say I'll get better. Do you really still believe me? Really? Well, OK. I guess you're a very trusting person. I'll try my best just for you. And right now I don't care what Yoda said, a try is all you get! I'm sure you understand. And if you don't, at least you'll be able to simply accept. 

As you could have guessed from the way I wrote about the Temple in the Sea, it was only a matter of time until I started getting more serious about the meditation I already mentioned in the post about the Botanical Gardens. Well, it is all coming together now. 

I got a beautiful mala, a set of prayer beads, from Kwesi, yesterday after we visited the opening of an art exhibition at the Night Gallery in Bohemia, where Freetown played a while ago. It was great, because the artwork was absolutely stunning, the music was wonderful (Kwesi played amongst a whole round of other people) and Thais was there, so I got to chat with her and friends of hers throughout the evening, in English and in Spanish! And the beads, they're magical. Or, they're going to be pretty soon. 

What I aim at doing is, I want to fill them with positive energy to carry around with me. 

Does this sound stupid to you? Then stop reading here. 

Through meditation, I want to reinforce the energy of everything that's good in my life right now. That's quite a lot, blessed as I am. I would like to express how grateful I am, but I can not, I don't have the words for it. And you know this to be true, because you've read this blog for a while and you've seen this before. Me, bursting at the seams with love and gratitude and other warm, fuzzy feelings. Everything is incredible and I'm doing my best to take care of all the bad stuff and then just using those experiences to grow and learn and appreciate the good ones even more. Meditating with the beads, all that positive energy from inside of me and around me would be channeled into the mala and that way I would have it with me wherever I go. Like a talisman. No, like a backup battery for the soul! 

I don't want to wear them 24/7, however, because my skin takes on marks pretty easily and I don't want their pattern permanently etched into the skin of my left wrist, so I have two spots for them at the moment. I say at the moment, because once I leave Trinidad I'll have to find a new second spot for them. 

Spot number one - day: 

Too large to fit with 4 rounds, to small to make 5 rounds. Still, perfect fit.

Spot number two - night: 

I took this picture in the morning, because all the ones I took at night are blurry.

At night, I want to have them close but not directly on me, in physical contact, because I know I'd wake up with bead relievos not only on my wrist, but also my stomach, my chest and my face. And that is not what they're for, I don't want any negative feelings associated with them. So they spend the night hanging right over where I rest my head while sleeping, watching over me, basically. 

Malas are used by Buddhists as well as Hindus for keeping count of the mantras that are chanted during prayer and/or meditation. That's why I chose this title for the posts, it sounds a bit like something that could be chanted, doesn't it? Phonetically, that is. There are short sets with only 16, 27 or 54 beads, but mine is a long set with 108 beads. If you use the full set, that counts as one hundred recitations and the extra eight are there to make up for any mistakes you might have made. "Por si las moscas." 

The bead with the red fluff next to it is called the head bead, or Guru bead. Once you reach it, you can turn the mala around and do a next 108 repetitions in the other direction. You can do as many sets of 108 as you want, depending on how short or long your mantra is or how strongly/deeply you want to meditate on it. At least, that's my take on it. 

If you want to know more about this from people who are more experienced and knowledgeable on the topic than me, who's just starting to learn, then you can check out this link.

In many ways, I feel like this can be compared to a rosary. The big difference is that a mala can be used for many different things aside from mere praying. That's what I like about it. My own mala will be used for meditation and giving thanks - and there's so much I have to give thanks for! No praying, though, unless you count that as prayer. Because while I am discovering a more and more prominent spiritual side to myself, I am still not religious. 

Yes, spirituality. It's big here in Trinidad. At least in my circle of friends and acquaintances it is and it feels good. I have my own little system of beliefs, made up from various random things I like, that I pick up from religions or spiritual teachings, or kids' movies. Trust me, wisdom can be found anywhere and everywhere. But I feel like it's all more intense for me here in Trinidad than it was in any other place I was before. 

The same goes for creativity. I constantly want to make things, it's unbelievable. And there are people here, friends of mine, who feel the same. And we make things together. This is not just about the bags I sewed, this goes further. I bake again, with and for friends. I might soon get to teach Kwesi my jewellery-making techniques. And last night, Thais said she could teach me how to make baskets out of newspaper and purses out of Tetra Paks. Amazingness! 

It's beautiful, it really is. 

Feels good! 

And to leave you on a feel-good note as well, with a tiny little bit of beauty, maybe, here's a picture I did take last night and that's not overly blurry. It's a picture of one of my windows, one of the ones above my head, the one the mala rests on. Sometime around midnight, with nothing but tranquility and calm all around. That's not something you get all the time in St James, so when it happens, it's very much appreciated. Therefore, a commemorative picture. 

I don't know about you, but I really like this. 

Love and light. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lovely Leatherback Ladies

Trinidad is a spectactular place for many reasons. This here, however, takes the island's spectacularity to a whole new level. One word, people: turtles. 

Need anything else? Right, didn't think so. 

Trinidad's northeastern coast is the second largest nesting ground for leatherback turtles (dermochelys coriacea) in the whole wide world at this time, mainly from March to June. Seriously, for real, no lie. The largest one is along the coast of Surinam/French Guiana; so, basically, right around the corner. Trinidad has one big advantage over the other two countries, though: I am here and I can tell you all about it! 

Leatherback turtles are the oldest and largest turtles alive on the planet today and the only ones that have a soft shell instead of a hard one and that's not all that makes them special: they're also worldwide oceanic roamers, they have teeth that could give grown men nightmares and they're just fascinating creatures. I mean, it's incredible to think that they, as a species, were around during the time of dinosaurs! 

Last Saturday, I had the chance to visit Matura Beach, one of the nesting sites here in Trinidad and Tobago, and take part in a guided tour, so I'll show you the pictures I got to take and tell you all I learned that night I spent on a dark beach in the East. 

We got to Matura a few hours after dark, because even though Matura is not as far from Port of Spain as Sans Souci or Grand Riviere (the other main nesting site) it is still quite a drive and we also encountered some traffic on the way over, and the first thing that struck me after getting out of the car in the parking lot next to the visitor's information centre was the incredible amount of stars in the sky. I realize that, of course, in St James there would be very few stars in the night sky because of light pollution and all that fun stuff, but... man! Man! Incredible density of tiny sparkling objects on the vast black canvas overhead. 

60 seconds exposure, now imagine what the sky really looked like through actual eyes. Unimaginably intense.

Once we were signed into the visitors log and had paid the admission of 20 USD (which goes into preservation of the site), we were assigned our own eco guide and started making our way towards the beach itself. We walked in almost complete darkness, because bright lights might disturb turtles that are scouting the beach for the ideal spot to bury their eggs. Unfortunately, there are always people who disobey or simply ignore the rules, but thankfully the guides have the authority to remove such people from the beach and even call the police on them if they really won't behave appropriately or pose any kind of threat to the turtles. Walking out, then, we had one little light the guide was shining for us, directly onto the ground, just so we'd be able not to stumble over fallen palm leaves or dried coconuts. On the beach itself, red lights are used so as to not disturb or distract the turtles. Via cell-phone, she got confirmation from other guides who were already on the beach as to where exactly turtle-action was happening and what exactly said turtles were doing. There was one, who had just started digging her hole and that's the one we went to see first. By the time we arrived, she was done digging and was ready to start laying her eggs. 

Female leatherback turtles will spend most of the time out of a year out in the open ocean, roaming waters worldwide - they do not have a specific spot they migrate to. But they do have a specific spot they come back to for nesting, the place they were born. They are quite the promiscuous ladies, because they will mate with a lot of different male turtles and then choose the sperm from five to seven males (the ones they deem best). That sperm is stored - how cool is that? - until they make it back to where they are from, when they use it to fertilize their eggs. 

Another thing they do while out at sea is fatten up by eating loads of jellyfish. Jellyfish are mainly water and, once ingested, the turtles will get rid of all the salt water they eat with their jello-like food by secreting the excess liquid through holes near to their eyes, which makes them look like they're crying, the cute things. They need to eat as much as possible because during the time they nest, they will lose a lot of weight due to two facts: a) there are not that many jellyfish in the water close to shore and b) laying all those eggs and spending so much time on land is very stressful for them. Two things about that are really cool. On one hand, they help keep down the jellyfish population which in turn keeps the fish population higher and is good for the marine equilibrium as well as Trinidadian economy (fishermen get good catch, which brings them money and the rest of us food). On the other hand, their shell, being soft, adjusts to their weight and they basically change shape as they gain or lose weight. Other turtles can't do that. And other turtles also can't adjust their own shape to fit through narrow spaces when diving or seem larger when defending themselves. 

Having a soft shell means that these turtles have natural enemies like sharks and whales, aside from us horrible humans, and being among the fastest swimmers (and proven to be the fastest moving reptiles) in the ocean is part of their defense strategy. Also, they can dive incredibly deep. Many of them have tags to identify where they are from and tracking chips implanted into their shoulders, so their movements and well-being can be studied. The tag has a letter and a five digit number (the letter marks the country where she was tagged, like T for Trinidad, and the number identifies the turtle itself) as well as a return address so information about the turtle can be sent to the research unit. The chip in her shoulder is a tracking device the size of a grain of rice. Both the piercing as well as the injection do not hurt he turtle much, they can be compared to us getting our ears pierced and receiving a vaccination. This system has allowed scientists to find out that leatherbacks can dive at least 4,200 feet deep. I say at least, because the time that dive was recorded, the chip burst at a specific depth (which, unfortunately, I can't remember right now, but a little over 4,200 feet) and thus the real depth could never be recorded. Typically, they will stay under the surface of the sea for short periods of time, usually under ten minutes, but when the situation requires it, they have been known to spend between one and two hours under the sea, which is really impressive. 

On the top of their head they have a pink spot and according to the guide, that's where their internal GPS is located. It's what enables them to come back to their place of birth from wherever they might find themselves and then they have this very specific routine that they go through five to seven times per nesting season, with at least nine days between each laying session. 

The female leatherback turtle will come out of the water during the dark hours of the night and find a spot along the beach where the temperature of the sand is right for her purpose, because she decides if she will have a female, male or mixed nest and the sex of the babies depends on the temperature of the sand around the eggs while they're buried, as is the case with many reptiles. Once she has found a spot she likes, she will first throw sand onto her own back to conceal herself from possible predators on land and then start digging her hole. She uses her front flippers to conceal herself and hold on to the ground once she starts digging, then she uses her back flippers to dig and close the hole for her nest. She has to be very careful, because, being a water creature, her senses on land don't allow her to be as sensitive, reactive or fast as in the water. Basically, imagine what we are like when we're in the water and how we don't see and hear as well or move as fast, for her it's the other way around. 

As soon as she's dug her hole, she will go into some kind of trance while laying 80-120 eggs. The trance is because she can only concentrate on one thing with her senses being so limited out of the water. So while she's laying her eggs is the perfect time to really get close to her and observe her, because she won't even notice. That is the time the guides will turn on lamps and show you all of her majestic body and what she's doing and even flash photography is allowed. What's more, if you dare, you can even touch her and stroke her head and try to pass a little positive energy into her while she's producing new life. As soon as she is done laying, however, all that must stop immediately, because if she is distracted, she might decide to abandon her nest thinking her previous efforts of caution nil. 

Of the 80-120 eggs she lays, about half will be fertilized with the sperm from the five to seven best suitors, which she's been keeping with her all the time from mating to nesting. The other half are yolk-less eggs that will later serve as air pouches for the hatchlings so they can move and leave the nest in a group effort. 

Isn't she amazing?

This girl was unmarked, so while in her trance she received a tag and a chip and was measured.

A shot from a different angle so you can appreciate her full size.

Magic in the making.

When she is done laying, she will start packing sand on top of her eggs and when the hole is completely filled, she will spend approximately 45 minutes hiding her nest. She will cover th nest as well as her own tracks and also double back and create false nests on her way back into the sea, to make sure the actual nest is well concealed. Camouflage is very important, as the eggs have a lot more predators than the grown turtles in the sea - from dogs and crabs and birds all the way back to humans. It is because of all the dangers posed by nature and us that for every thousand eggs laid, only one little turtle will make it to adulthood. 

The babies hatch after sixty to seventy days and will dig their way to the surface to make their way into the sea. If they happen to reach the surface during daytime, they will stay in place until it is dark and cool before they leave the nest and walk towards the water. This walk from the nest to the shore is when their internal GPS is calibrated and needs to take place in order for them to be able to find their way back later in life. Should one find a group of hatchlings during the daytime, one should never pick them up and carry them to the water. If the need for help seems apparent, providing cover and shade is the way to go, so that later they can still find the way into the sea on their own and learn to navigate. 

By the time midnight rolled around, we were already on the way back to Port of Spain, having accompanied two beautiful turtle ladies through their journey and experienced the wonder that is being around a leatherback turtle laying eggs. 

When was the last time I mentioned how lucky I am and how grateful I am for all the incredibly positive things that are happening to me in this exciting life of mine? Doesn't matter, I'm saying it again. I'm having an incredible time here in Trinidad and I'm hoping that maybe, reading something like this here, somebody else will also be inspired to come here and enjoy the beauty of the island. 

Preparing more stories through which you can Discover Trinidad with me. Go ahead and google these astonishing creatures if you want more information, I'm sure there's a lot more to find out about them than the little I am able to share with you from what I have learned so far, but, well, all I know you know. And if I get another chance to go see them and learn more, you'll be the first to find out. 

In the meanime, gosh, I am overwhelmed...