Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting in the rhythm

Here is the porch of our cottage and a couple of amazing Hibiscus flowers that Georgia picked each morning. Thankfully, there were so many buds on the shrubs in our compound, that more bloomed the next day.

I love the pads of yellow pollen on the stamens.
Georgia with a lizard on her hat. I think it's a gecko. They have sticky foot pads so they can climb walls.

Rob-the picky coffee guy- likes the coffee! Everywhere we go! Even at the weird tiny airport cafe! It is milky and sweet and I like it too. It is funny (scary) to see how quickly an addiction kicks back into place! After 2 days I am craving coffee, the more I drink, the more I want. It pops into my head with frightening frequency! (Yumm and uggh I'm hyper and dehydrated!)

Ahhhh. Melones beach. Quiet. A close walk from town. Snorkeling with our goggles we could see big pointy black sea urchins and colorful darting fish. Just enough clouds passing over that I was not overheated.

We had definitely recovered from our initial trauma of nauseous arrival and the undertow beach.

But Rob had felt so heinous on and after the boat ride that he declared he would not take it back. This meant we would have to take a tiny plane off the island for $50 each. (I had secretly hoped we would get to fly on the 8 passenger plane over the islands, back to San Juan in a nifty 25 minutes as opposed to 2 hour puke ferry followed by 70 minutes of driving in traffic.) Rob was very anxious about this tiny flight before we came which is why we arrived the way we did. That's why I had procured his Ativan prescription from his doctor, just in case we had to fly on a tiny mosquito of a plane. I was glad I had. So was he, because he's already used it on the big plane from New England and, although he said he didn't feel any effect; I think it made him much more pleasant to fly with.

We all loved the beaches, the swimming and enjoyed hanging out with no work to distract us from each other and the beautiful island. My friend who had recently visited the area had warned me, "You will think the island is kind of grubby and OK, but then after a little while goes by - it will seem like the most beautiful and amazing place!" She was right. Culebra was just the right size, just the right level of friendly, and we felt blessedly surrounded by wildlife and nature all the time.

After another taxi ride home from Melones, the taxis were adding up ($3 a person to anywhere, so $12 each time. It turns out Rob is a generous tipper so after $45 spent getting around in one day we decided to rent a jeep and spend a few days exploring. (Rob and the girls really wanted a bright red golf cart but, thankfully, minors are not allowed in the back's of the tiny little cars so we were stuck with a sturdy jeep.)


Georgia with Chocolate on her face and a lizard in her hand. She was consumed with interest in the lizards that skittered around the trees and porch. The first day she cried because she could not catch one. They darted away each time she lunged. Rob helped her catch this one and after that she was unstoppable, walking around with one held in her fingers half of the time. She was quite gentle, but she did pull the tail off of one, which horrified her enough we got a small reprieve from Lizard hunting, but not for long.

A playground nearby, with really slippery slides.

We settled into the world of Culebra, going to bed really early and waking early with the chickens. We spent the day walking to town, taking a taxi to a beach and hanging out at home.

It was lovely to have no to-do list!!

These are flowers growing in an empty lot on our way to Dewey. The purple is bougainvillea, which I love, and have seen in Florida and India but the yellow? So beautiful! They were plentiful.
It was interesting how much I wanted to know its name.
I wanted Google. I wanted to have a book of plants of Puerto Rico.
Finally, now, I find it in Wikipedia:

Allamanda, also known as Yellow Bell, Golden Trumpet or Buttercup Flower, is a genus of tropical shrubs or vines belonging to the dogbane family. Allamanda cathartica is also notable for its medicinal properties: all parts of the plant contain allamandin, a toxic iridoid lactone. The leaves, roots and flowers may be used in the preparation of a powerful cathartic (hence the name); the milky sap is also known to possess antibacterial and possibly anticancer properties. Gardeners exposed to the sap will develop rashes, itch, and blisters.

So satisfying for me to have a name and even medicinal properties.

It was a really lovely color of yellow.

Some Merfolk on our 10 minute walk to Dewey (the capital and only town on this 7x3 mile island we were on, which is 17 miles away from Puerto Rico.)

We promised the girls ice cream from this amazing inexpensive restaurant with milk shakes and sundaes we read about in Let's Go online, which did not date any of its entries but I think they were a few years old. The shop was no longer there so we ended up at a pizza place on the dock and two sleepy girls.

Relaxed and happy me!

See Georgia's pig tails in the shadow?

First Day in Culebra

(Georgia at Playa Flamenco with handfuls of sand she threw on the ground, yelling jubilantly,

"Look, It's Papa's throw-up. Look! I'm throwing up!"

She tossed it, "splat" on the the beach

over and over.)

We woke up after a night filled with piercing peeping from a bug or bird outside the bathroom window to ROOSTERS caroling in the morning in before the morning began. Then truck traffic started at about 6am with loud Puerto Rican music blaring.

I loved it! We were here! We certainly weren't in Kansas anymore!

I had given everyone else ear plugs so they could sleep. I was that one who kept the ears clear "just in case" we were assaulted by a hoard of Vikings and we all slept through it.

Off to Playa Flamenco we went! It looked like an OK walk but Rob and I were still feeling peaked so we took a cab from the nearby mini-airport and we were very glad we did. The road was long, sunny and dry. We bounced along in the van, taking in the world around us.

Culebra is arid so there are cacti and low growing shrubs. The houses are square and modest with mostly chain link fences around them. We saw many chickens and roosters, some cats sunning themselves and flowers blooming as we made our way over bumpy roads to a beach that has been named one of the ten best beaches in the world.

The girls ran to the water. It was cloudy and about 80 degrees. After the pouring rain the day before, I was confused. In my pre-trip research I had read and heard that it never rained in Culebra and was always 85 degrees with clear blue skies. I was relieved to have it cooler because I'm not a big fan of non-stop sun and one of my concerns about going to a mostly shade-free treeless island was that I might perish of heat stroke.

Culebra like nearby Vieques was used for US Naval practice for many years, which is part of why it has remained so undeveloped. (Another part might be the 2 hour vomit ride on choppy seas it takes to get there.)

Here's a rusty old tank they left on the shore in 1975 when they stopped their practice missions on the island.

About ten people were swimming in the strong waves where Rob and the girls joined them. Then the life guard, all dressed in black, blew his whistle. All the Spanish speakers came out and circled around him, where they had a 20 minute conversation in very fast Spanish that I could not understand. On and on they talked. I wondered what he could be saying that kept them all standing there looking interested. I didn't get in the water. His audience looked bored, but they didn't leave. I wanted to ask what was happening but I didn't want to interrupt. Rob and the girls and a few other gringos were still playing in the water happily, squealing at the big waves.

Finally the group dissipated and I asked what was happening (One on the many times I would ask a question in Spanish and be answered in English)

"No swimming." He said. "The storm from yesterday made the waves too strong for swimming. See how the sand is coming with the waves? That means there is an undertow. It is too strong after the storm."

My family was appalled. I was thrilled to have the life guard there looking serious because they would have ignored me if I had a whistle. They came out of the warm waves dejected and annoyed.
We took a walk along the beach.
Went to the kioskos and got a snack of rice and beans and Lily's first of many fruit shakes (This one was mango, passion fruit and banana)

I asked Rob, "What should we do?"
And he replied, shrugging, "I don't know; It's your trip."
He was being bratty, but it was true. It was my trip. I planned it and I did tell him that it NEVER rained. (I didn't bring a raincoat. He did.) It was my trip and even though we'd vomited, been awakened by raucous birds and were kicked out of the water once we finally got to the beach; I was still thrilled somehow I had pulled this off. This was my trip. I'd somehow dragged my whole family to an island!

We took a taxi to Tamarindo Beach on the other side of the island, where the lifeguard told me we would be able to swim.

Beautiful calm and deliciously empty. We played in the warm water.

Getting there

(I wanted to blog and post from the island but my camera loading-software didn’t work and there was no WIFI. Who was I kidding?)

On our way to Culebra! 3/22
We woke at 4:44am and packed up the car and headed to Bradley in the dark. We would be at our destination at around 5:30pm if everything went smoothly.

My back was sore so I brought my ingenious back pillow as inspired by my friend and my wedge pillow given to me by my mother (the pillow I had thrown on the porch last year when she gave it to me thinking "Why would I need that?"-Oh yeah-searing back pain) But I was going to prove that even in pain I could travel and have fun, even if it meant dragging a pillow with me anywhere. No illusions of being cool for me.

Checking out the planes. The last time we flew Georgia was barely 3 months old so neither of them remember it. They were taking it all in. The security process was easier than I thought it might be.

Because I have almost no photos of me I am starting a project of forcing my family to document my existence in the family. I am training both Lily and Georgia. I think Lily took this one.

When we filed onto the plane I had a little surge of panic which I had never felt when boarding a plane, "Really? All these people? In this tiny thing? This can't be right!" but I took a deep breath and it passed. It made me more sympathetic to Rob's need to pre-medicate with Ativan and Georgia's later response to sitting still in a tiny place for an hour.

I thought she's be amazed and distracted by the magic of flight for a bit longer, but no. She was done. We had 2 more hours. Thank goodness my mother gives good gifts because I pulled out the sketch books she had mailed us for the plane ride and the kids survived the other 2 hours. I had thought I'd get to read Bossypants by Tina Fey,(which I was enjoying intensely for 10 minutes before I looked down and remembered I was traveling with young children)

Art to distract them from the pain of sitting still and not even getting fed anything.

We landed and took a air conditioned van to the port town of Fajardo 70 minutes away. I had dreaded this leg of the journey, fearing total chaos, traffic, smoking and hellish heat but those anxieties turned out to be unfounded and probably just some PTSD from my trip to India in 2001 which is the last time I left the country!

Our driver drove 55 and handled all the madness around us. As we sped down the three lane highway a car in the far right lane pulled directly in front of us as we zoomed along in the left lane and they just stopped. Brake slamming and seatbelt utilization time! Even our driver yelled.! I said, “That would have been a really short trip.” And Rob (who is a very brave driver) decided he would not drive a rental back to the airport as we had planned and did not change his mind as the trip went on.

We got to the ferry and waited. There was alot of stress as the ferry was boarded because after we had all lined up they declared in Spanish that residents would board first. It took forever for people to declare they were residents and come forward with all their luggage. Lots of conversations and yelling and drama. I thought it must be a new policy for all the tension and confusion, but the expatriate resident behind us finally sighed and asked, "Why is it always like this?" as he stepped forward. I asked if their was enough room for all of us and he reassured me there was plenty and he was right. We finally boarded and settled into our seats with our luggage. Almost there! Things had gone so smoothly! We were going to make it to the island by dinner!

The boat was large and clean and bright. We settled in facing forward and hoped to nap. Rob took Georgia up to watch the waves. Then hell descended. The boat began to pitch. Everyone around us seemed to think this was normal.

Up whoosh and down whoosh.

It was like a roller coaster. I had taken a Zofran and a Meclizine from my nausea medicine chest at the beginning of my trip but it could not fight these waves. The friendly woman across from us, who I had just taken a group picture for, motioned her daughter to grab a trash can and she heaved just in time. I looked in sympathy and said, “I think I’m next” as I rummaged in my bag for the stolen puke bag from the plane. I began to heave. Terrible. Then another woman across from us succumbed.

Lily groaned next to me and I handed her her own bag and gave her a tutorial from my long history of using vomit bags. “Aim for the bag. Don’t let it drop or the puke will go everywhere. It won't leak even though you'll think it will. Stay strong. We’ll be OK.”

Then I remembered “You could go outside with Papa. He might be fine up there in the fresh air. I can’t leave the luggage."

She just whimpered and looked at me in horror as she puked into her bag. It went on and on and on. I would feel better for only a moment after vomiting, first my omelet and then just acid and then gut wrenching bile. It was hard sweaty work. My eyes were watering and sweat was dripping down my back. I tried not to make too many gaggy puke noises to upset the 25 or so people around me, some of whom were coughing and gagging themselves and some, when I had a moment to breathe and look around, looked like they were serenely meditating with their eyes closed.

I was hoping at least Georgia and Rob were doing well but then a french man in a wet poncho stood beside me holding Georgia’s arm, “Is thees your child? Your husband is sick.” I thanked him and settled Georgia between Lily and me where she worried loudly “Mama I’m scared Papa is going to fall into the ocean. He’s about to fall in.”

I reassured her the best I could and told her to just stay put until we got to land. She and Lily both passed out for the last hour (Yes it was a 90 minute trip. Uggh!)

Rob did not fall in. He vomited 15 times over the edge first into the sea, but then he feared falling in so he just puked over the side to where the cars were parked.

We were all beat when the boat finally docked.

We stumbled out with our bags and followed Rob’s trail of vomit.

He was lying, soaking wet from waves and sweat, on his side on a bench, looking pale and stricken. Much like he looked 16 years ago when he vomited in the minivan on the way the new Lion King movie when he and I were camp counselors at camp kinderland. Ask me about that nightmare of a summer, sometime.

We didn’t want to take a cab because we didn’t want to vomit in it.

We stumbled down the soggy tiny dirty streets. Georgia was the only one of us who had any perk in her. She squealed at the chickens, stray cats and land crabs she saw. Stopping to peer into people’s private yards and in murky canals.

We got to our cottage and Ruth, the proprietor, tried to talk to us about rules and such but then she realized we were beyond speaking so she just let us in and gave us a gallon of spring water to drink, saying we'd talk in the morning.

Thankfully, I had brought the laptop and some dvds, which was last minute and scoffed by Rob, but turns out one of the most intelligent things I have ever done. I put the girls on their double bed and handed them the laptop and Harry Potter 1 and pleaded with them to let us sleep off the hideous nausea.

We locked up the cottage and lay in the dark and napped for about an hour, enough for me to feel like I could get up and function. Rob's eyes were still crossed but it was getting dark and we had no food, so I roused him and told him it was getting dark and he'd have to walk with us to the grocery store.

We found our way in the dark to the nearby grocery store that was blessedly open until 9pm. We bought eggs, cheese, cereal, milk, bread, peanut butter and jelly. The island felt very tropical and different. The frogs, birds and bugs were chirping. Music was coming from windows and cars driving by and the air was warm. There were street dogs and chickens in the empty lots and alleys. We had made it to the island! Rob mumbled that it could only get better. I hoped he was right!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sparkle's farewell meal

Getting ready to move Sparkle to our neighbor's. The girls gave her a special meal. Apparently she really likes instant oatmeal more than popcorn.

Rob looks very serious as we walk her over. We passed some acquaintances who just said hello and didn't even marvel at the fact we were taking a family walk with a chicken. We had the stroller filled with a half empty bag of chicken food,too. No questions asked. I was glad because I didn't feel like chatting about it anyway. The girls were a bit excited but Rob was really sad. He's bonded with the birds more than he's bonded with Cookie, who still lurks nervously around him sometimes.

Here's Sparkle in her temporary housing while the other chickens and rooster get used to her. The big rooster came over and checked her out. Jill, the skilled chicken owner, reassured us that he is a very good rooster, not mean at all.

He's quite handsome.
Hopefully Sparkle will integrate well and make some chicken friends, but still remember us when we come visit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Goodbye to the girls

We brought the recent additions to our flock back to their previous home today.

This is Mango who is quite lovely and iridescent in the sunlight.

Georgia and I brought them in a dog crate to our friend's house. The brown one got put in with some hens and Mango was placed in with a giant rooster who mounted her moments after she landed in the pen. Sigh. I feel sorry that we couldn't keep them. They were getting plush and lovely, but last night proved, again, that we need a break.

Lily heard the neighbor on the other side of the fence yell to a dog that she glimpsed while peeking over the fence while jumping on the trampoline.
He yelled, "Get back here!! Come!! I said COME!!"
Lily stopped jumping and grabbed Georgia, saying "Get Mama! The dog is loose! The one who killed Moon is free!"
Georgia ran into me where I was cooking, "Mama, Lily says the dog is free who killed Moon! She needs you!!"
She started to cry.
I yelled for Rob and told Georgia to stay in the house. She nodded and, crying, went to watch from the window. Rob ran up from the basement and grabbed his BBgun by the door (Which we got to scare off chicken predators) and we all ran outside where Lily was standing by the fence looking brave.

Really? In the middle of making dinner after working all day? It's like a dramatic scene from Little House on the Prairie.

No sign of the dog (who is never supposed to be off leash after killing our chicken in our yard last year) We hurried the chickens into their coop. They were confused because they were enjoying the lovely late afternoon. Once we closed them, clucking, behind the thick wooden door, we all finally relaxed and then walked slowly back up the hill.

After seeing my slight Lily standing ready to protect her plump chickens from a loose pit-bull mix, I really decided I had enough. Off the birds went to hopefully safer digs.

My friend with the chickens is going to be breeding Maine Coon cats. Oooh adorable. They won't be ready for a year or so. Maybe by then Cookie will be mellow and ready for a companion?

Hmmm. But I think it was me who said. No. More. Pets.

Happy Spring Equinox!

The lady's Mantle is poking out from under the dark leaves.
It pains me to leave home at such a beautiful time!
The frogs are singing, the bats are flying and our plum tree is on the edge of blossom!

Oh well!
Happy Spring.

I'm packing (or avoiding packing by writing this) and thinking of the quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

“Is there anything as horrible as starting on a trip? Once you’re off, that’s all right, but the last moments are earthquake and convulsion, and the feeling that you are a snail being pulled off your rock.”

This snail is trying to pack but it requires alot of brain power and I've jammed so much work and organizing until the last minute that my back hurts and I think I'd better just go to bed.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

RIP Henny Hen Hen

Dear Henny got hit by a car and killed this week.
Rob and the girls found her by the side of our road on their way home from art class.
I got the call at work.

The girls were sobbing.
She was such a sweet friendly bird. So patient when the girls would pick her up and carry her around the yard.
She was always calling and clucking to her sister Sparkle as they ventured around scratching up the grass.
The new Warwick chickens we acquired a few months ago have never warmed up to us the way Henny and Sparkle, who we raised from when they were just 2 day old chicks.
When our initial six chickens were tiny Georgia would hold them so long in her warm little hands that we would have to make sure to switch them out so they didn't get dehydrated.

Sparkle is lonely now, running up the hill to us when we come home.
Looking for her sister, clucking.
The BBC reported last year that chickens feel empathy, but we knew that.

When Sparkle was attacked by something in the garage last year she emerged from hiding and limped to Henny's side under the Cedar trees. Sparkle laid her head on Henny's back and they clucked quietly to each other for hours until evening came.

We've had enough of chicken grief and sadness.
It feels terrible to grow so fond of them and then have them die one by one.
Sparkle is the only one left of the original 6 we got in 2010.

Here's Georgia's plump little baby hands unable to stay away from the chicks.
And Georgia and Lily 2 years ago holding their babies Henny and Sparkle

We were worried about going away on vacation, even though we have a very reliable chicken-sitter.
We were all scared to come home to bad news.

So we all agreed to permanently place our remaining precious Sparkle with the very organized and competent chicken rearing neighbor we have. We can visit our friendly bird. She can be integrated slowly into the flock. She will be looked after.

The Warwick chickens we will give back to our generous friend, with thanks of loaning them to us so our chickens were warm enough in their coop to get through the winter.

We all discussed the plan and seemed to feel OK about it. Sad and disappointed, but relieved to decide on safe places for our remaining chickens. Glad to be done with the worry and heavy responsibility.
I will really miss the eggs.
And I feel sadness at the loss of them scattered and clucking around the yard like plump colorful jewels.
What personality they have, waddling up to us in greeting when we walk out into the yard.

Once we finished talking there was a pause and Lily suggested, "Maybe we can get some chicks in the spring?"

Rob and I both said, "No!"

We buried Henny by the fence with stones, flowers and notes reminding her how much we'll miss her.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Smith College Bulb Show

Half day on Friday so we went on our annual pilgrimage to the Smith College Bulb Show.

Bright faces of daffodils greeted us in the warm greenhouses.

Steamy windows

Love this dangling flower...

Lily hiding behind an orchid.

Georgia waiting for something.
A drip?

Pansies and tulips. The smell was magnificent. I got lost for a bit by myself while Rob and the girls went hunting for frogs. I got to really LOOK at the flowers.

Georgia found the frog.
She always finds the frogs!