Tales from Torti Town: Life Lessons Learned from Tortoises

Tales from Torti Town: Life Lessons Learned from Tortoises

...a collection of tales (and life lessons learned) from the home of 14 Red-Footed Tortoises on the island of St Croix.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tortoise Spotlight Three: Introducing Marina Tortoise

February 05, 2021
Tortoise Spotlight Three: Introducing Marina Tortoise

 In the third Tortoise Spotlight, I'd like to introduce Marina Tortoise!

Here's a background story...when Dean and I first started dating, we realized that there were many parallels in our lives. Our childhoods were somewhat similar...we had similar interests and goals, and we both love adventure and experiencing new things. There were also more specific, weird similarities...like, when we were much younger, we had each chosen the same favorite name for a daughter. That name is Marina.

And this tortoise came to us seemingly destined for that name! Notice the large 'M' on her head?

Marina is one of the largest in my creep, with a nice, smooth shell. She is a little timid when you approach her (she pulls her head into her shell if you try to give her head-scratches...some tortoises love this). I think this means I just need to give her more attention.

The yellow around her nose stops right at her nostrils, and under her chin she has two yellow-orange swooshes on each side, with no other marks. She also has a little white spot above her left eye.

Marina is usually found hanging out in Torti Tavern, although she occasionally hides out among the oyster plants.

Marina is the Tort on the right (if you look closely, you can see lots of torts in this hide).

Marina loves to hide among the oyster plants (the large tortoise on the far left is a ceramic decoration).

Marina joined my creep on July 30, 2020. Her previous owner moved to the states, leaving 9 tortoises with a friend of mine. I ended up with the 5 females of that group.

Marina is the tort in the bottom left of this pic. I originally picked up 4 of the 9 tortoises from my friend. Marley is in the top right. I mentioned him in Cupid's spotlight...I ended up trading him for 2 females.

Now that you've gotten to know Marina a little bit better...can you pick her out of the picture below?

In our next Tortoise Spotlight, I'll introduce you to another tortoise in this pic - Lucky Tortoise! 

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town!

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Monday, February 1, 2021

Lesson Five: Listen to the Good Vibrations

February 01, 2021
Lesson Five: Listen to the Good Vibrations

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe. ~Lao Tzu

I mentioned in another blog post (Lesson Two: Things Do Not Have to be Perfect to be Ideal) that tortoises can feel the vibrations. And when they feel my vibrations, they come out of their hides to see what good stuff I have brought for them. The tortoises have learned that the vibrations of human footsteps bring good things (usually a buffet of salad goodness).

Mixed in with the salad buffet are the special, favorite things hidden underneath (mushrooms, carambola, papaya, etc). Although sometimes I hold a little of the good stuff back for the latecomers, on most days it all gets put out at once. This means, the ones who respond first to the vibrations, get the good stuff.

When I was thinking about this, it made me think about other good vibrations - music! 

“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” ~ Ray Charles

I make it a practice to listen to music that is uplifting to me; energizing sounds. I choose music that increases my happiness level.

There was a time that I listened to a darker sound, including goth metal. 

And, while I like the sound of Peter Steele's voice, from Type O Negative (I compare it to dark, melted chocolate...it's deep, smooth, and rich), I found that it was having a negative impact on my mood. My happiness level was going down...And so, I gave up listening to that vibration.

"A great song should lift your heart, warm the soul and make you feel good.” ~ Colbie Caillat

What do I spend my time listening to now? Some people are frustrated (annoyed?) by my absolute insistence that I listen to and watch only positive, happy things. For some, this seems limiting...even shallow. I'm ok with that. Life brings me serious, dark things sometimes...I'm not going to bring it to myself by choice.

I choose to listen to music with a positive message. Songs with a happy beat. This is my vibration of choice.

When the music changes, so does the dance. ~African Proverb

My current favorite is Michael Franti & SpearHead's new CD: Work Hard & Be Nice (in fact, I'm listening to it as I write this).

So we can love deeper
Fly higher
See clearer
Burn brighter
Feel more than we ever did before
Yeah we can swim oceans
Climb mountains
Dance like nobody's watching
Live life like we never did before
And through the highs and lows
Baby I got you yeah
And you got me yeah
~ from the song "I Got You" 

This is a vibration that motivates me to come out and "get the good stuff!" If Lao Tzu was correct (and really, who I am to argue?) and music in the soul can be heard by the universe...this is the vibration I choose to send out for the universe to hear!

Stay tuned for more tales from Torti Town.

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Friday, January 22, 2021

Tortoise Spotlight Two: Meet Cupid!

January 22, 2021
Tortoise Spotlight Two: Meet Cupid!

 Welcome to the second ~Tortoise Spotlight~

One of the most frequent questions people ask about my tortoises is, "How do you tell them apart?" 

I can understand how it might seem difficult to tell them all apart at first. But...wait until you get to know them! You'll see.

The tortoises all have different markings and different personalities (and they are different sizes). The Tortoise Spotlight posts are my opportunity to brag about each of my tortoises individually, and what makes each of them unique. It's also a chance for you to learn about my creep, and about tortoises in general. Plus, I get to share lots of pics of torts...

I once had a male tortoise named Marley (you guessed it...he was named after Bob Marley). He was a very large, very cool tortoise. He was also very sexually active, dominant, and aggressive.  

While he was with us, there was no peace in Torti Town. Several of the tortoises stopped coming out for meals, choosing to stay hidden from the advances of Marley.

In the top two pics, you can see that Marley was determined to create little Marleys. And in the bottom right pic, you can see how much bigger Marley was compared to the others (white arrows pointing to Marley). The bottom left pic is Marley and me.

I determined that I had to return Marley to the person who had given him to me. But I was going to take a female instead. When I realized that my friend had 2 females and 3 males, and trading Marely for one female would leave the remaining single female with 4 males (including the aggressively amorous Marley), I knew I had to take both females (ladies and gentlemen, this is how my creep grows...). I mean, you can't have too many tortoises if you don't count them, right?!

Cupid was one of the two females who came to me as a swap for Marley. And I am so grateful! She is beautiful, outgoing, and has a spunky personality. Cupid (and her friend Virginia) joined the creep of Torti Town on August 7, 2020.

These are the two newest residents of Torti Town. In the top of the pic, the smaller of the two, is Virginia. At the bottom is our Spotlight Tortoise this week: Cupid.

Can you guess why she is named Cupid?


In mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. Cupid Tortoise has a heart right above her nose! She is easy to spot among the creep. She is also an affectionate tortoise. When I step inside Torti Town, she is one of the first to come out and greet me, as she walks over to stand right on my feet (OK...maybe it's not so much affection as determination to be the first to get the food. But I can call it what I want).

Here's another pic of Cupid:

Quiz time! Can you pick out Cupid in this group of tortoises?

Click here to see if you were correct!

Bonus if you can name the tortoise in the top right of the picture above...




         ...Did you say Archie?! That is Archie Tortoise! Remember his identifying sideways 'L' and the redder tones of his legs and head.

And now you know TWO of the tortoises from Torti Town!

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town. 

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Lesson Four: If You Want It, Reach For It!

January 19, 2021
Lesson Four: If You Want It, Reach For It!

 "In this world, you only get what you grab for." ~Giovanni Boccaccio

One thing I can tell you about tortoises is that if they want something, they seem to be completely single-minded in their attempt to achieve it. People who have pet tortoises refer to them as little bulldozers. They will dig, climb, stretch, and push to get what they want (or where they want).


Tortoises don't seem to second guess themselves. They don't seem to overthink their desires. They don't wait until later to go after what they want. If a turtle sees a flower on a tree that looks delicious, the turtle walks over to the flower, stretches out her neck, pushes up with her front legs, and reaches until the sweet reward is realized. 

A phrase I try to live by: "The most dangerous word is 'someday.'" My parents both died at a relatively young age, and somewhat suddenly. I'm sure each one of them had plans for "someday." If something is worth doing, choose the day. Schedule it. Make it happen. Do it. Wistfully gazing into the future and hoping that something will happen someday is not very effective. It just directs your mind to the things you don't have. Instead, focus on what you can do today to get those things.

As Paul Boynton explains in Begin with Yes: "By taking action we often find our optimism or enhance it. We don't need to ask, 'How do I feel?' We need to ask, 'What can I do?'"

In "The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha explains the fallacy in what we often think is the best way to achieve something. Sometimes we feel that we have to spend a lot of time convincing our selves that we CAN do something before we try to do it. He shares this visual to describe that way of thinking.

Then he offers a different way of thinking about this process. Look at the difference in this visual:

For example, if you want to write a book, you could take a course to learn how to write, then create the perfect spot to write, and wait to get inspired. Or...you could sit down and write a page. That first page might not be the best piece of writing ever produced, but you just proved to yourself that you can do it. Your confidence will grow, and so will your motivation. This is a cycle...it keeps the process flowing (as in the circular visual above).

"It always seems impossible until it’s done." – Nelson Mandela

But in reality, what have you got to lose by trying for it...by reaching for it? If you don't get the thing you wanted, you haven't lost anything because you didn't have it to begin with. But if you don't try, you DEFINITELY will not get it. You've lost the opportunity to get it. You've lost the opportunity to learn from attempting to get it. 

And, if it's worth going for...it's worth going for NOW. Take the first, small step.

A challenge for all of us: Consider something you would really like to do or achieve. Write down one small step in that direction you can take TODAY. Do the same thing tomorrow (one more step you can take - even if it's small), and the next day.  Work toward it...grab for it.

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town.

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Tortoise Spotlight One: Archie Tortoise

January 15, 2021
Tortoise Spotlight One: Archie Tortoise

And now, for our first:  ~Tortoise Spotlight~

Allow me to introduce: Archie Tortoise!

Archie is a male red-footed tortoise given to me - along with his buddy, Lucky - by someone who was moving off island. They were the 4th and 5th tortoises added to my creep (in March, 2019).

Archie is on the top right, Lucky is the bottom left.

Archie came to me unnamed, so I named him after a hero of mine - Archie Carr - a trailblazer in the world of turtle research and conservation. You can learn more about Archie Carr here.

This is Archie Carr...doing what he did best.

Archie is very social. He is always one of the first tortoises to come out and greet you when you enter Torti Town. He will walk right up to you and stand on your feet.

When my sister-in-law Sara was visiting the island, I received this pic and
text message from her while I was work, "Someone is pretty interested in me..."

Here are three distinguishing characteristics to help you identify Archie:

1) His head and legs are bright red (some red-footed tortoises are more yellow or orange):

Compare the redness of his head and legs to the more orange or yellow head and legs of the other two tortoises in this picture (Archie is circled in yellow).

2) His shell is pretty smooth (no pyramiding):

Compare how smooth his shell is to the other tortoises (Archie is circled in yellow).

3) He has a sideways "L" in an orange circle on the top center of his head:

Can you identify which of these is Archie:

And now you know one of the 14 tortoises in Torti Town! 

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Lesson Three: Keep Only Things that Bring You Joy

January 12, 2021
Lesson Three: Keep Only Things that Bring You Joy

"Discard everything that does not spark joy." ~Marie Kondo 

One of my favorite things to do is watch tortoises eat. In Torti Town, there are two concrete stepping stones next to each other, fondly referred to as "The Slab." It is on the slab that I lay out all of the culinary goodness I have prepared for the shelled ones. In the morning, I spread the food around, then...

...then I sit and watch. 

Usually, before I am finished putting food out for them, one or two of them (typically Archie and Cupid) have already started to emerge from their hides. Though tortoises cannot hear very well, they can sense vibrations, they have a good sense of smell, and they are aware of time. Because I feed my creep around the same time every morning, the food smells yummy, and my footsteps in Torti Town create vibrations, the tortoises senses alert them that good things are about to happen!

Once the food is down, I grab my cup of coffee and sit down for the meditative practice of watching turtles eat (if you don't see the video, click here):

Guess what happens...

The tortoises choose the best things to eat. They choose fruits over all else. Mushrooms next, Mazuri tortoise food ranks high; fresh leafy greens and tomatoes are also favorites. They love hibiscus blossoms (actually, they will eat EVERY part of the hibiscus plant). Sometimes I bury the good stuff under other foods...they shove things aside to eat the good stuff first. Foods that are often untouched and left behind: carrots, celery, asparagus. 

They find the foods they enjoy (which are also good for them). They ignore everything else.

Lesson Learned: Keep the things that bring you joy, get rid of everything else. 

You may have heard of this strategy if you've ever gone through the process of simplifying your life, or decluttering. This is a concept I try to live by. Every so often, it is time to go through cabinets, drawers, bins, and boxes to declutter. 

Sometimes when I am doing this, I get rid of things simply because they do not bring me joy. If it doesn't make me happy, why spend any energy, time, or space keeping it around? Here's an example. I recently sent Dean this picture of things I had set aside to donate:

He responded: "Kinda surprised on the coffee mugs." 

While staying in an airbnb recently, I realized that there is a certain type of coffee mug I prefer - a big, chunky, heavy one - especially if it has a cheerful message on it. Holding a coffee mug like that in both hands, breathing in the amazing, warm aroma, lifting it to my lips...it's all part of the experience that I savor. 

This description does not match my coffee mugs. They don't particularly bring me joy. So, why have them? Especially if I can replace them with a mug that does bring me joy. And...BONUS...by donating these mugs, they may bring joy to someone else.

"But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future." ~Marie Kondo

Today I am going to use a gift certificate given to me as a gift to replace some of the things I purged...the things that did not bring me joy. I will enjoy the shopping. I will enjoy receiving the package in the mail. I will enjoy using the new things. And I will have a space in my cupboard for them, because I discarded the things that did not spark joy.

Incidentally, this same concept applies to ALL AREAS of your life: activities, people, jobs, etc. It is easier to apply this idea of "keep only things that bring us joy" to coffee mugs, no doubt. It is more difficult to purge a person or a job that consistently brings us down, but the impact is greater. Life is the most precious gift we are given. I believe it is our responsibility to live it to the very fullest

When you find those things that bring you joy, take time to savor them. Remember to feel the gratitude for them. 

Let's watch Archie savor one of the things that brings him joy...a mango! (If you don't see the video, click here)

Here's a challenge for all of us: Choose a drawer, cabinet, box, or bin and PURGE! Get rid of everything inside that does not bring you joy. 

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town, and for an upcoming Tortoise Spotlight! Get to know my creep...

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Lesson Two: Things Do Not Have to be Perfect to be Ideal

January 06, 2021
Lesson Two: Things Do Not Have to be Perfect to be Ideal

 “Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…but merely to be LIVED. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically LIVED.” ~Mandy Hale

Sometimes in life, we need to follow these steps: 


                                                                                                    Aim and fire again! 

If we wait for perfection, we may wait too long.

The first time I built a hideout for the tortoises, I followed those very steps (and yes...I had to go back, aim better, and rebuild).

Why is it important to have just the right kind of hideout for tortoises? Tortoises like to hide. They burrow, they dig, they climb over things, they climb under things...they like to hide.  When keeping tortoises as pets, it is important to give them places to hide.

There are four main reasons that tortoises hide (but only 3 of these apply to my tortoises):

    1) For Shelter. Turtles are cold-blooded - they rely on external sources to maintain the right body temperature. They also shelter from rain, and mine do not like to come out when it is windy (it gets windy on the mountain where I live, especially during the "Christmas Winds").

    2) For Safety. Tortoises can retract into their shells when scared, but this is a last resort safety behavior. On the island of St Croix, rats and mongooses will both try to eat tortoises if given the opportunity - especially young tortoises. In fact, they can eat them right out of their shells! This is why tortoises stay hidden much of the time, again, especially young tortoises.

    3) To Lay Eggs. Tortoises will lay their eggs in a location they feel will be safe from predators (rats, mongooses, dogs, crabs, iguanas, etc. will all eat turtle eggs). Even humans eat turtle eggs.

    4) To Hibernate. Many tortoises in different parts of the world hibernate. Red-footed tortoises living on the island of St Croix do not hibernate. There is no need, as the temperature stays pretty steady all year.

As I started making improvements to Torti Town, I decided to use some of the extra wood I had lying around (from a roof torn down by hurricane Maria) to build a tortoise hide for my creep (did you know that a group of tortoises is called a creep?).

Here's a bonus Life Lesson I learned: I suck at building things...

I went to work in my backyard with extra wood, some screws, and some paint. Now, I don't have a wood-working shed, or many of the tools needed for this job...but I have a lot of determination (some call it stubbornness, but why use such a negative word when a really positive one fits just as well?). 

I used three boards for the roof, and one for each side. Here is how it looked the first time around:

The walls kind of tilted in, and the whole thing looked more like a shanty than a Tavern...but my largest tort fit inside, and it provided shelter and shade (plus it's such a nice shade of yellow)...so I dubbed it a SUCCESS! 

Now I just needed to pick it up and place it in the perfect spot in Torti Town. The result:

Ok...Not a success.

After a trip to Home Depot and a little help from my boyfriend, Dean...I was able to build a much more stable Torti Tavern. I painted a sign, added a planter to the roof, put some tortoise-safe plants around it, and voilà! A tortoise hide that is ideal!

Is it perfect? Not even close! In fact, I have since built two other very cool-looking hides (much better looking than Torti Tavern). And guess what...?

The tortoises prefer Torti Tavern. They all pile into Torti Tavern until no more will fit. They think it is ideal, in a Velveteen Rabbit sort of way, because they love it.
Peek inside...there are 3 rows of tortoises in there! They are piled in!

Here is a video that shows one tiny tortoise who just can't find the room to fit inside:

There are some much cooler, more perfect, hides for the tortoises:
This hide is made from a Cruzan Rum barrel, tilted on its side.

Yes, those are actual palm fronds from my yard forming the roof. 

But they continue to pile into Torti Tavern until no one else can fit. The tortoises don't care that Torti Tavern is not perfect. To them, it is ideal.

The truth is, there is no such thing as perfection. 

One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist… without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist. ~Stephen Hawking

I have heard people say with a sort of pride in their voice, "I'm a perfectionist," and often people even claim this as their flaw in job interviews. And yet, the pursuit of perfection actually holds us back professionally, as described in this article from Forbes Magazine.

Not only does perfectionism harm us professionally, it also has negative impacts on us emotionally and in our relationships. It leads to regret and dissatisfaction, and sometimes to depression.

Perfectionism can prevent us from being happy, as Steven Handel describes in his article: How Perfectionism Destroys Happiness

The good news is, perfectionism is a mindset. It is something you can change, if you choose. The article mentioned above gives some examples of different mindsets you can practice to help overcome perfectionism. It also has some exercises to try. My favorite is called: Try Failing on Purpose (It May Even Be Fun). I've often shared with my students this adage I found in a fortune cookie:

I'd love to hear from you if this idea of striving for perfection is something that resonates with you. Overcoming this is life-changing (speaking from experience here). 

And if you have to try and try again at overcoming your perfectionism...then just be patient with yourself (no one's perfect, right?). Well...turtles are pretty close to perfect. They are perfectly cute! But they do not concern themselves with seeking perfection. They concern themselves with living, boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically living (and hiding helps them do just that)!

A challenge for all of us: Purposefully choose an activity you don't know how to do (or something you're not good at), and do it! Put yourself in a position to "Fail on Purpose" and remind yourself to have fun with it.

Stay tuned for more Tales from Torti Town. 

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