I absolutely love making leather bracelets!!  I don't know what it is about it, but something about combining metal and leather really gets my creative juices flowing.  In fact, I could fill my shop and sell nothing but leather bracelets and be completely happy.  But, people do fancy things other than leather bracelets, so I do branch out from my "playtime" to create other lil' tidbits too:.)

I buy most of my leather as "scrap leather" from vendors who make leather coats, shoes and handbags.  For my uses, I only need small pieces so their scraps work out perfectly for me.  Currently, I have 5 shoe box size plastic tubs of leather pieces and scraps, but I'm always on Etsy looking at new colors and patterns (with my mouth watering).

A few weeks ago, my hubby and I took a little overnight trip to Nicaragua and on the way back decided to go through a little town named Rivas -- the next "city" across the border from Costa Rica.  It's a very small town consisting of a typical Central American outdoor market selling everything from fruits and vegetables to women's underthings.  Lots of pedestrians, taxis, pick-up trucks and bike taxis.

Nicaragua is much less expensive than Costa Rica so we hopped on a bike taxi to take a lil' tour of the town to see what we might be able to pick up before heading back.  Noticing that there were lots of handmade leather sandals and bags being sold at the stands, I asked our taxi "pedaler" if there was someplace in Rivas to buy leather.  And what luck!  He pedaled up and around a dirt and stone road to the back side of town, dodging chickens and oxes crossing the road, and stopped in front of a little hole in the wall vendor stall.  (I wanted to take a photo, but the place looked like it might be a bit dodgy to break out my expensive "looking" inexpensive camera.)

It was a supply place that sold shoelaces, metal grommets, shoe soles and belt buckles.  Also, they had stacks and stacks of leather pieces.  YIPPEE!!  As with all things in Nicaragua, the price couldn't be beat.  Unfortunately I didn't have a ton of cash on me and they definitely didn't accept plastic, so I wasn't able to get everything that caught my eye, but I did get some large pieces of lush leather.

I love to find vendors like this, little mom 'n' pop holes in the wall.  The couple who owned the place were extremely interested to know what I planned to use all the leather for.  I had on one of my cuffs and showed it to them as an example.  They ohhhh'ed and awwww'd.  Cute.  I'll probably head back to Nicaragua again in the next few months and will definitely go back by, cash in hand.


Kids Jewelry Class

There is a non-profit organization here named CEPIA that does all sorts of community projects.  I had been thinking about doing some volunteer work for them so it was an ideal opportunity when a friend of mine Janet (who volunteers for CEPIA) asked if I'd be interested in doing some jewelry making with the CEPIA kids during their summer camp program.  

I had just done a huge clean up of the tons and tons of beads and jewelry making supplies that I was never going to use (lots of stuff I bought when I first started making jewelry) and was trying to decide what to do with it all.  This camp idea seemed like an ideal place to put those supplies so I packed it all up and went to CEPIA for the day. 

As I started unloading all the supplies onto the tables, the kids crammed around the table trying to grab this bead or that as "theirs".  I had to calm them all down, assuring them there was plenty of everything for everyone.  They were so excited, which made me excited!  I finally got everyone calmed down and seated, gave some basic pointers and then let them start making their own things.

Janet helping the kids with measuring and beading.

I was really surprised at the level of interest from the boys.  I really didn't anticipate that they'd be all that into it, but they were just as interested as the girls.  They made things for their moms, and even bracelets and necklaces for themselves.

At the end of the day, I got lots of hugs and thank yous.  I haven't been back to CEPIA, but I definitely would like to go and work with the kids again.


Photo Studio

I love my lil' shop.  In the early afternoon, the natural light coming in the front of the store is ideal for setting up my super-duper pro-fessional photo studio! (wink wink)

Plus I have my trusty side kick outside the door miro-managing the whole production.


Is That A Snake In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

One of the best parts of having my boutique in a tourist destination is hearing travelers' stories from their Costa Rica vacation. 

Arenal is a really popular destination that 8 out of 10 people that come through my shop have either already been to or are heading to at some point in their vacation.  It's up in the mountains, lush, green, undeveloped and has an active volcano and a gorgeous lake.  There are lots of mineral rich natural hot springs with water heated by the underground lava.  Several of resorts build themselves into the jungle pools with paths to walk through from pool to pool.  You really are one with nature.  One resort even has a swim up bar centered in a pool for those who want to sip cocktails while soaking. 

The day that I arrived in Costa Rica to move here, I had the worst flu of my life.  What a "fun" flight experience that was.  From the airport, an avid Costa Rica traveler friend of mine picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Arenal.  He was my own personal Indiana Jones who seemed to know every off the beaten path, unexplored place in Costa Rica and took me to some truly natural pools a short hike into the jungle.  Surrounded by hanging vines, lush jungle trees and hot flowing mineral water, I soaked in the sounds of the moving water and life around me.  After a little over an hour in the spring, I emerged a completely well person.  My flu was gone.  I am now a strong believer in their healing qualities. 

So when a recently passing family told me of their experience in the commercialized springs, I had nightmares of the "what could have been" of my own soaking experience.  While visiting one of the better known springs in Arenal, apparently a large boa snake was found inside one of the pools by a client!!  They quickly evacuated the entire area and roped it off with yellow police tape. 

What an incredible vacation story this person had, huh?  Interestingly, as amazing as this story is - it wasn't on the news.  I'm sure the PR person for this resort was busy keeping everything very hush, hush.  I think even the most adventurous traveler draws the line a being strangled by a boa at the hot springs!


~ Leather ID Bracelet ~

People always ask me how things are made and how long each piece takes to create.  The majority of my jewelry is completely handmade by me - having only certain pre-fabricated components (like jump rings).  I recently made a production of sheet metal and leather ID bracelets.  This is the process for making them.

For all of my sheet metal jewelry, I use 24 gauge metals.  It comes raw in a long sheet.

I use very heavy duty scissors and lots of hand muscles to cut it into the desired shape.

It's super sharp on the edges after cutting, much like the edges of a tin can top after opening it with a can opener.  The first step in smoothing out the edges is to pound the edges flat using a heavy hammer and my trusty lil' anvil.

This not only helps to prepare the edges for polishing smooth, it also helps to shape the metal and gives it texture as well.

Next, I use a heavy duty black emery board (yes, for fingernails!) to smooth out all of the edges and corners of the piece.  I also sand over the front and back faces to remove any hammer marks and make the metal appear more polished.

Even after a good sanding, those edges are still pretty sharp and could probably give a nice cut, so I use a fine grade nail buffing block to smooth out the edges, corners and both sides.

Now that the metal is completely prepared, I mark where I want to punch the holes.

I love this tool!!!  It is supposed to be for punching leather, but I use it on sheet metal to mark holes, and more than anything to texturize and add designs.

Next, I use my other beloved tool, my heavy duty metal hole punch and punch my marked holes.

For this piece, I want the metal to appear a little less polished and a little more aged.  I use my pencil torch to apply some heat.  This quickly changes the color to a less "new" appearance.

Now I'm ready to attach the jump rings and create the straps.

I have tons of leather - in all different colors.  I buy what other people call "scrap leather" but it's perfect for my uses.  One person's trash is another person's treasure!

I use E-6000 adhesive.  It holds forever and a lifetime, but is pliable when it's dry making it perfect for use on leather and fabric.

Here's the finished product - photographed and posted on my website.
Total work time - about 40 minutes.


Tree Trimming

I have learned a ton about how much behind the scenes maintenance goes into operating a large, over populated 1st world city like Los Angeles, where I'm from.  There are so many things that are the responsibility of your local municipality.  Everyone pays their taxes and so for the most part, things are maintained.  I didn't learn this by living in the city, I learned this by living in the country...in the country of a country of a developing 2nd world country.  (That's a mouthful!!) 

By living in a place like this, it has becomes painfully apparent that it's necessary that I put everything I've learned in my "other life" (i.e., city dwelling) regarding basic safety -- behind me -- and embrace other ways of doing things.  Because let me assure you, there are ways of fixing things that you never in your wildest dreams would have imagined.

Like tree trimming.

When a very large tree went through a growing spurt and extended it's oh so heavy branches up, over and beyond the stores that make up my "corner of the planet", my husband inquired around town about who might be good with a chain saw.  I know, "chain saw" - it sounds pretty creepy, however, (another lesson learned) apparently knowing a guy that's good with a chain saw (or a machete!) is someone you want in your inner circle.  

I had no idea what it took to trim down a large tree -- I'd lived in a large city in an apartment for most of my life, I never had to worry about these things.

So, my husband located a friend of a friend of a cousin of a neighbor's nephew's daughter's second husband's father's, neighbor's second wife's brother's, ex-neighbor, who not only was known to be good with a chainsaw (I prefer not to inquire further into this "skill" nor how he gained this reputation), but was small and limber enough to take on this tree trimming job with the help of 2 other guys.

It went like this.....

Like a monkey, he scaled the tree, chainsaw in hand, and tied a rope around himself and then to the tree.  Another very long rope was then tied to the tree up where he was perched right above the portion that needed to be executed.  The free end of the rope was tossed over a strong branch of a neighboring tree and the end of the rope held securely by a faithful friend on the ground.

The concept was, Chainsaw Guy, gripping the trunk with his legs, revs up the chainsaw and cuts the trunk (ahem, minus any safety goggles) about a foot below where the rope is tied around it.  Then the large, heavy newly cut piece of trunk swings down top speed while Faithful Friend holding the rope which is looped over the other tree branch, tries to control this flying tree trunk like a giant pinata. 

Try to picture this, the momentum of an extremely heavy, solid object free falling out of a tall tree. Seriously.  It's horrifying to watch.

After this - I noticed tree maintenance more often.  Most times I just have to look away - terrified that I'm about to witness a tragedy.  
Look at how high up this guy is - - a bit above the bar's sign.

 Yikes, watch those fingers!!

I'm getting  used to things like this, slowly but surely just accepting what IS.  I'm learning to chuckle at the things that sometimes seem ridiculous and realize it's these things that make me love living here.


Give Thanks Where Thanks Is Deserved

On a local news show a few nights ago, they spotlighted (among other very important stories **ahem**) the 2012 Hooters Costa Rica Bikini Contest.  

As the lucky lady pranced down the runway, jiggling in all the right places, she looked up to the heavens and made the mark of the cross (like a good Catholic girl) across her inflated chest.



Shake, Rattle and Roll!!!

Coming from Southern California, I'd say that I've experienced my fair share of Mother Nature realigning her tectonic plates from time to time.  From a small kid on, you're taught that when the ground gets ta' shaking, get under a doorway or preferably under a large sturdy table until the shaking subsides. Growing up, there were always rumblers here and there that were unnerving - but for the most part it was just part of life living where I lived.  Usually the ground would lightly tremble, you'd stop, take note (waiting to see if it's just a little one or it's going to get stronger) and then went about your business.

However, when Ms. Mother Nature decided to shift things around this past Wednesday (Sept. 5) at 8:42 a.m., I was totally caught off guard.  Standing in my kitchen cooking breakfast, it took a few milliseconds for it to register what exactly was happening.  I guess my earthquake sensors are a bit out of practice and I didn't register "earthquake" nearly as quickly as I would have living in LA.

I had just returned from a hike when I felt what I interpreted to be dizziness, but then realized that there was a rumbling noise all around me.  Suddenly the mental hiccup passed and it registered "EARTHQUAKE!!!!!" and I went into auto mode of looking for a a sturdy table (uhhhh...don't own one) or doorway....(uhhhhh.....questionable Costa Rican construction) to seek shelter under.

But in Costa Rica - that's not the proper game plan.  See here, there are no large sky rises showering glass down, nor high power lines, or billboards, however there is some rather shady construction at times so the outside is exxxacccctly where you want to get.  Lucky me, my knight in shining armor Costa Rican hubby responded more accurately and pulled me out of the house.

As we ran out the front door, the roof of our patio was trembling and clanking and there was this loud rumbling noise from all directions. (SCARY!!!)   As we reached the front gate the ground was absolutely rattling and it was difficult to stand up -- and still the noise.  The shaking kept getting stronger and at that point all I could do was pray "Oh God, please keep us safe!"  It really began to seem feasible that it was going to keep getting stronger.  It was surreal and I thought "could this really be happening???" But then, the shaking stopped and we looked at each other and ran to get the car keys and get to higher ground.

We live about 1/4 mile from the beach and having no idea where this large quake was epicentered - we had to get up and fast.  For all we knew it was epicentered directly in front of where we were and a wave was headed our way.  Our town is 21 feet above sea level.  Not a good place to be had this huge jolt generated any large wave action.

Luckily, we live at the base of a good size hill which is probably the best place to get to quickly in situations like these.  So off we went - quickly -- tuned the radio to the news and sat above the town overlooking the ocean.  Slowly the hilltop starting filling up with other residents of town after a tsunami alert was issued for the entire Central American Pacific coast.

As news started coming in we learned that the earthquake measured 7.6 - epicentered less than 40 miles from my home. Ah-ha.  No wonder I felt that sucker so hard.

It really was quite a shaker!!  As I recall other quakes I've experienced I'd say the only one that would really qualify as "large quake" would be the 1994 Northridge quake which measured 6.7 -- significantly smaller than what I felt with this shaker.  This was by far the largest, strongest earthquake I've ever felt and let me just say ....whoa!

Experiencing something like this in a place that is so "off the map" really does make one think about things like emergency preparedness.  Had this been something more serious, where I live (out in "the country")  help would not be coming anytime soon.  This has really impressed on me (and hopefully others) the importance of putting some thought into what it means to be prepared and to immediately get those items together.

There have been lots and lots of aftershocks in the past 3 days.  We keep getting jolted awake by shakers like this morning's aftershock which registered 5.6 -- still a good size quake. I'm hoping things mellow out soon.  My nerves are a bit rattled....literally.


Got Gas?

Gas stations.

Add this to the ever growing list of things that I've always taken for granted.  Not even taken for granted really - just never thought about.  I've always lived someplace where there is a gas station literally on every corner.  Getting gas is something you do "on the way" to wherever it is you may be going.

Here however, I live about 10 miles away from the nearest full service gas station.*  The next closest one is about another 10 miles from that one.  Most people, including us, don't make it to the actual gas station all that often because the majority of people's driving is local in and around town errands and business.  So, we keep our cars chugging along thanks to a few locals who set up their own gas vending locals.

Meet my "local" gas station.

It's not fair to even call this a gas station, because it's an old wooden shed, filled with gallons and gallons of gasoline in someone's yard.

You pull up, honk and someone from a nearby house comes out, retrieves the requested number of gallons ($6/gallon) from the shed, and dispenses.  And that's how it works.  

By the way, the spray painting on the shed reads "We don't lend gallons, we sell them".  I think that's a good policy for a gas vendor.  Don't you?

*A lil' side note about "full service" stations, they are a bit nostalgic in that there are pump attendants who pump the gas and clean your windows.  They'd probably check your oil too if you asked.


The Dog Lady

So, a little something about me (if you don't know this already) is that I am craaaaazy about dogs.  Seriously, you know those weird "cat ladies" - I could all too easily become the canine equivalent....almost.  I love 'em, love 'em, love 'em!!

My nickname among some has become "The Dog Lady" and perhaps with good reason.  I have so many dog "friends".  Some are homeless, some have owners, some are now mine!  Neighborhood dogs come by to visit me and sit on the porch with me while I drink my morning coffee.

Not only do I love dogs, THEY LOVE ME TOO!!  Dogs follow me, find me, sniiiiiifffff me out!! Lost dogs seem to show up in my presence, as if they've heard through some grapevine that I am the Doggie Messiah -- a savior for the weary and hungry.  They show up at my door.  They find their way to my shop.  Recently, one even turned up INSIDE my house!  Stories to be told.

So, my husband and I have 5 dogs.  Yup.  You read it right, 5, f-i-v-e.  Well, 4 and 1/4 if you want to be fair (4 big dogs and one that's a 1/4 of their size).  Having this many dogs on the beach in the country is a completely different experience than having that many pets in a city.  The dogs have space, the beach, freedom and lots of time with their human counterparts.

When my husband and I met, he had 2 dogs:

Onyx -- a bundle of love and tail wagging.  If I was able to rename her, her name would be "Pig Pen" after the Charlie Brown character.  She's a Black Lab and absolutely cannot stay clean for a second.   She's constantly dusty and dirty and always has some sort of gnats, flies or mosquitos caravanning behind her.  In her defense, what she lacks in cleanliness, she makes up for in unconditional love and faithfulness.  Age 10 and counting!!

Merlin, the big, the brave and the bad.  Can jump and almost do a full 180.  Loves to swim and play fetch in the ocean waves.  A sucker for any kind of petting, but a fighter.  You know those signs people put on their gates that say "Perro Bravo" or "Guard Dog" - those signs were made for him.  A mix of Lab, Dalmation and who knows what else.  Aged 5 +/-

To those two, I added my one dog, Johnny (aka the worlds bestest dog ever), who passed away two years later in December 2009.    After Johnny died, together we adopted....

Maya, the delicate, timid little princess (but growing braver every day!).   A lover of chasing the ball and sitting on the porch watching the world go by.  A 12 lb. little mixture of Mini Pincher, Wiener dog and for sure some kind of Jack Russell.  Approximately 2 years old.
Then a few months later....

Carmen, my first accidentally adopted dog.  I first met her in the summer of 2008 and thought she was a street dog.  She did have an owner though and about a year after I met her, they gave her away to another family about 15 miles away.  She was gone a few months, then ran away from them and showed up at my door.  The prior owner could not figure out how she had found her way back to town.  I'd say she chose me.  A gorgeous mix of  Ridgeback, Pitbull and who knows what else.  Approximately 3 years old.

And finally, my last dog.  (Really!  I don't want any more!)

Lola, my second accidentally adopted street dog.  The most beautiful dog ever.  A complete street mixture of a little of this and a little of that dog (locally called "saguate").  These street dogs are incredibly smart and resilient.  This lil' girl showed up about 1/2 a day from starving to death.  We tried and tried to find her a home, but it just didn't happen.  She ended up staying and a few months later was run over by an SUV.  She walked away without so much as a scar.  She's like Wonder Dog.  Approximately 1 1/2 years old.

 These are the dogs I call "mine", however I have tons of pooches in my life.  I have a whole other life that goes on between me and these dogs and me and the outside world.

Stay tuned.

Marshmallow People

I went to a small place in town known for strong, creative cocktails, a mini putting ground and playing chess.  I wanted to try what was rumored to be a super tasty fresh raspberry mojito.  So, after a long ((strettcchh)) day, we headed over there.  Yum.  

Upon arrival, the hubby was immediately sucked into a chess game and clearly was not going to be my source of stimulating conversation over cocktails.  I noticed a little boy sitting in a bar stool across the way animatedly chatting with himself.  He was busy constructing something, and being an arts-n-crafts kinda' gal, I went over to investigate.

The bar in front of him was strewn with tidbits of cut up straw, tape, ripped napkin and large, pastel colored marshmallows.  In his hand was a marshmallow stick man in a napkin skirt and straw legs and arms.  When I asked if I could make one, he quickly introduced me to the materials I'd be needing to construct my own marshmallow stick figure.  I decided his marshmallow man seemed lonely and needed a lovely marshmallow girlfriend to share lives pleasures.  Pink marshmallow in hand, I started to build.  

After it was all finished and we discussed a bit what might be missing - we decided that they both needed to look happier, and created a sliver smile for each using small tidbits of straw.

His marshmallow man must have been pleased with my marshmallow lady because his smile was bigger than hers.

He played with the marshmallow couple for a few moments, the lady fluttering in ballerina moves, singing the songs of angels.

Everything was going well until the marshmallow man's eyes started falling off and at that point the little boy decided that it was time to eat him.  Oh well.  

I was done with my drink, which, by the way was soooooooo tasty.   Such the gentleman was this little boy that he asked the bartender to please pass him the bottle of rum so he could fill up my glass and I wouldn't need to leave soon that way.  ;)