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“Creepy Crawlers” and Other Garden Friends


“Flowers and Bugs” 3150 by Jean Sylvionel Brutus

ad7395ccb8072aca766cd4ff4c9c7d81[1]Remember the “Thingmaker” by Mattel and those marvelous rubber bug creations that you could make yourself with colored (even glow-in-the dark!) Plastigoop?  You poured the Goop into metal molds that you placed over a heating element and waited impatiently for the Goop to cook sufficiently and then cool sufficiently so that you could pry out your new astonishingly creepy “Creepy Crawlers” and amaze your friends.  Maybe you remember, and maybe you don’t. They came on the market in 1964 and disappeared quietly in the 1970s amid concerns for child safety regarding the heating element. Nevertheless, the “Creepy Crawlers” were marvelous and the burns that I probably did sustain while making them must have been minor and healed quickly, for I do not recall them at all.  Now thanks to Mattel, the moniker, “Creepy Crawler” refers to anything of six or more legs in my garden, flower beds or pretty much anywhere.  It is a convenient catch-all phrase for the entomologically challenged, which indeed, I am.

It’s kind of too bad, really.  “Creepy Crawlers” is a great name, but greater still are the REAL names of REAL bugs.  Take for example, “Green Lacewing Aphids,” or “Minute Pirate Bugs” or “Assassin Bugs” or “Spined Soldier Bugs.” What’s more, each of the aforementioned is great in the garden.  Voracious predators all, they feed on harmful garden pests which can destroy your labors of love in a twinkling. Healthy populations of these carnivorous insects can go a long way towards protecting your garden as it grows.

The good news is that, with a little advanced planning, you can encourage beneficial bugs to take up residence in a bed of your choosing rather easily. Include plants of various heights in your garden, including ground cover, which gives desirable dwellers a place to hide.  Taller flowers with composite blooms, like zinnias and sunflowers, provide attractive food sources to beneficial bugs. Additionally, providing a little water can be helpful.  No need for “your” bugs to go to the neighbor’s for a little refreshment.  Puddles that form after sprinkling can be sufficient.  If you do drip irrigation, place small dishes at intervals and keep them filled for your thirsty friendlies.   Mulch with generosity and put out large flat stones which can be crawled under for protection from heavy heat and mid-day summer sun.

Experts rightly advise gardeners to learn to distinguish the “good” bugs from the “bad” ones. For me, visual identification is one tough row to hoe, and proper nomenclature is yet another. I pledge myself to both tasks, but until I get the names straight I’ll just say, “Bring on the Creepy Crawlers!”


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Masks and the Spirit of Carnival

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

In just under three weeks, the solemn Christian season of sacrifice and restraint known as Lent will begin. With all of its associated forbearance, however, observance of the Lenten season will be preceded in many parts of Christendom by the joyful, blow-it-all-out celebration of Mardi Gras, or Carnival.

Carnival revelry is conducted with great exuberance in Haiti, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Jacmel.  Throughout its environs, preparations for the spectacular Carnival parade are undertaken weeks in advance.  Bands gather and practice, dancers choreograph and rehearse, costumes are designed, sewn and decorated, and perhaps most extravagantly, larger paper mache masks are prepared. It is because of this extraordinary celebration that Jacmel has become the creative locus for paper mache products of all kinds.  Small serving bowls, decorative items, stand-alone sculptures, and most importantly masks have put Jacmel on the map for this particular type of folk art form.

The masks of Haitian Carnival are of every conceivable theme and style.  Some are caricatures of historical figures, current politicos, or pop-culture icons.  Some are of animals or birds, which may be indigenous to the island, a faraway jungle, or the far reaches of fantasy.  Both playful and ceremonial, these masks are often worn to depict an older, wilder Haiti dancing through the streets in a chimerical parade. (Click here to see a photo essay of the Carnival parade in Jacmel in 2011 http://goatpath.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/haiti-carnival-2011/ )

The basic steps required for paper mache mask-making are actually rather simple.  Strips of paper are dunked in a soupy mixture of flour and water and

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

placed over a base form, usually of clay.  The paper is allowed to dry for several hours to form a rigid outer shell.  Once removed from the base form, embellishments of paint, glitter, sequins, yarn, and more are applied to the mask. (Click here for a video demonstration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eyN_7XnJo8 ) God, of course, is in the details, and masters such as Didier Civil, Pierre Edgard Satyr and Tidier Lavoyant have achieved such skill as to have their work collected world-wide.

Whether museum worthy or just for fun, Haitian masks are authentic pieces of folk art that can make a decorative statement of joie de vivre.  The spirit of Carnival – anytime!

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Listening to Jazz

Announcement of the International Jazz Festival held in Haiti last month.

Announcement of the International Jazz Festival held in Haiti last month.

Hosting what has become the largest cultural event of the year, the city of Port-au-Prince grooved to the beat of eighth annual International Jazz Festival last month.  Musicians from 12 countries arrived in Haiti to perform in both free and ticketed concerts and put on workshops for aspiring Haitian vocal and instrumental artists throughout the week-long event.  The Haitian Tourism Minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, called the Festival, “…. a golden opportunity for Haiti to welcome foreign artists on its land, who can immerse themselves in our culture, and let our special vibes inspire new melodies. Haiti is a country where the arts mingle with each other in great harmony.” (To view the scope and flavor of the Festival, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdsNR736DWA&autoplay=1 )

In support of the event, the United States Embassy sponsored performances by the New Orleans-based  band, “Soul Rebels,” whose eight-piece brass ensemble fuses soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock and pop music. Additionally, Dr. Wesley J. Watkins, an academic from the San Francisco Bay area,

presented his theories of jazz and democracy in a series of workshops to the students of Holy Trinity Music School and Catts Pressoir.  In his

Playing jazz, maybe?  Jean Joseph Son's "Boys in the Band" RND459

Playing jazz, maybe? Jean Joseph Son’s “Boys in the Band” RND459

presentations, he used jazz music as a platform for the democratic process. Haitian students and youth were shown that active listening, cooperation, peaceful negotiation and participation are essential in the creation of both jazz music and democracy.  In his view, the two are mirror images of each other.

Maybe he’s got something there. Both jazz and democracy are inherently fluid and responsive. In each, individual contribution is integral to the workings of the whole. Trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis once observed that, “Jazz music is summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-to-come.” Similarly, democracy works – whether in the US, or Haiti, or anywhere in the world – if we constantly evolve by listening, feeling, understanding, and challenging ourselves to become better than we are.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

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