Bookworming it, part 2

I have always been a reader. Not the type of reader who enjoys the occasional sit with tea and the cat for an hour, mind you. No, I’m the type who, at 10 weeks into 2017, has read about 20 books. In my college days, I had shelves and shelves of books of my own, in addition to memberships at multiple libraries to feed my need to read. But with few bookshops, a tiny local library, and an even tinier apartment, I’ve had to adjust since coming to the BVI.

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My latest book purchase came with a matching bookmark.

The main thing was to be ruthless about my bookshelf. Parting with some of my beloved favorites was only made tolerable by the way I got rid of them: they went to friends, coworkers, or to the Red Cross thrift shop. Knowing that my novels and nonfiction would be enjoyed by some other reader made it okay that I was parting with them. Today, my bookshelf – just one! – is home to maybe two dozen tomes. Some are sentimental favorites I know I will want to re-read, while others are useful reference books. Fellow die-hard readers have probably already guessed that I also have a couple that have been on the shelf for years that I swear I will get around to reading one of these days.

You might wonder how I squeeze such a high volume of reading into my schedule. Technology helps a lot. Thanks to the internet, I have access to digital versions of almost anything I could want to read, from bestsellers to niche genre books and graphic novels to classic poetry. They get loaded onto my tablet and, since they’re digital files, I don’t feel wasteful when deleting them after I’m done.

I think the main way I get so much read, however, is that I do it daily: It’s how I unwind at the end of the day. Since I’m naturally an auditory person, a lot of what I read might be more accurately described as listened to. If you see me walking around town with my headphones in, the chances are good that it’s an audiobook, not music, that I’m listening to as I go.

If you’re so inclined, I can’t recommend audiobooks enough. Being able to read while doing mundane tasks like laundry, cleaning the house, or sitting in traffic not only makes the task pass more pleasantly, it also gives me the sense that I’m a multi-tasking superhero. And of course, it’s nice not to have to drown in paperbacks to maintain my two-books-a-week habit.

This column first appeared in the March 30 Limin Times.

 

Sweet Self Care

Recently I was struggling with some life disappointment or another: I can’t remember if it was a nasty cold or stress related indigestion or something else entirely. Whatever the case, I decided to draw on some advice I had heard from a medical pro and do some nice things for myself. Self-care, she had said, is something that people often neglect, to the detriment of their mental, and ultimately physical, health. The logic being that in life, as in the kitchen, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

I dedicated an entire Sunday to the mission, and challenged myself to do only things that I could accomplish in my home and without spending any money.

I started my day with a wholesome and delicious green smoothie spiked with seamoss gel. Armed with that nutritional boost, I was inspired to do something else nice for my body – a quick living room workout. Even though deep down I knew I’d feel better when I got through, I had a bit of a case of the “don’t wannas,” which I squashed by putting on a funny audiobook while I did my circuit of pushups, lunges, dips and crunches.

Once my healthy moves were done, it was time for a fun reward, which for me was a home pedicure. I don’t do these all the time but when I do, I take them very seriously. That means a soak, scraping the calluses and some serious moisturizing all have to happen before the nail polish even comes out. I think the years I spent on my feet working in a restaurant make it feel like a fun ritual rather than just a lot of work.

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Post pedicure nap situation.

That home-spa experience reminded me that my younger (and far cooler) sister-in-law had raved about an exfoliating face mask you can make by combining charcoal powder and white glue. I felt a little silly mixing it together and trying to put it on may face without making a sticky, charcoaly mess, but it was so much fun to peel off after it dried that I’d totally do it again.

After my feet and face were looking and feeling fresh, it was time for a few episodes of a favorite old TV show and a nap. I think under different circumstances, I might have kicked myself for not trying to get ahead on work or household chores for the coming week, but when I woke up the next day, I really felt refreshed! Consider me a self-care believer.

This column was in the Limin Times a little earlier this year.

On being a morning person

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What sunrise looks like just a few steps from my front door.

I’m a morning person. You’re picturing it now: I get most of my important tasks done before noon; I eat proper breakfast; I wake up without an alarm. While those are all true, I have realized over the years that my particular morning-person-ness is a bit out of the ordinary because I actually enjoy getting out of bed at 5am.

It may sound hard to believe, but truly, being an early riser is the best way to get the most out of island life. Here are some of my favorite things about being a morning person.

  1. The roads are quiet. If I’m in the mood for a jog, dawn is the time to do it. There are few, if any, cars on the road just after 5am. At that hour, I’m about as likely to share the road with other morning exercisers as I am to share it with vehicles.
  2. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything is quiet. I can sit on my front porch in the heart of Road Town and not see or hear another soul. Likewise, if you fancy a sunrise swim or surf, you won’t be competing for space with many others. If you’re a person who savors solitude, early mornings are a treat.
  3. I can map out the day. Without the distractions that abound later in the day, it’s much easier to set goals for myself. It’s the time I use to clear my head and prepare for whatever the day might throw at me.
  4. I get things done. Sure, maybe it’s just everyday activities like cleaning out the cat’s box or running a mop around the kitchen, but something about having the whole day in front of me gives me motivation to check things off the to-do list.
  5. The view. Whether I’m on the road, hiking a trail or just sitting on the front porch, an island view of sunrise is sure to give me a big dose of gratitude for another day in paradise.

This piece originally appeared in the Limin’ Times on Jan. 12, 2017.

Bookworming it

You guys 2016 is almost over and I’m proud to say I read more books than I can count this year! Here are some of my favorites that actually came out this year. You should read all of them and then talk to me about how great you think they are. Or fight me if you don’t like them.

obeliskThe Obelisk Gate
Easily the best thing I read this year. What I love about excellent fantasy is falling into a world that is super different from mine but still makes sense. In this case, N.K. Jemisin has created an earth that is pissed off at humanity and taking out its revenge with gnarly seismic activity; and certain humans have (possibly evolved?) the ability to respond by diverting the shakes and even by using geologic energy as a weapon. I love the powerful and imperfect main character, Essun, and the cool way we’ve gotten to know her (both here and in The Fifth Season, the first in the series). This second in the series shows us more about Nassun, Essun’s daughter, who is young but looks to be just as powerful as her mom. Just like the first one, the story is epic and engrossing and sometimes sad but ultimately super satisfying. I can’t wait for the next installment.

potterHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
This one took me a whiiiiiiiile to get into. Time moves super duper fast in the beginning and there is this scene on the Hogwart’s Express that just… why? Anyway, I walked away from the script for MONTHS. But I am truly a die hard fan and anything from the Potterverse deserves at least a couple of chances from me. So.

I’m so glad I came back to it! Harry and his friends are all grown up but still endearing. I would have liked to get to know the next generation better, but since it’s many years crammed into one stage show there’s not enough time. The way this script shows the relationships between kids and their parents was really moving – Basically, even if you saved the magical world from the Dark Lord, at least one of your kids is bound to think you’re annoying. I really hope I get to see it performed somewhere live someday!

towerThe Tower of the Swallow
I’m actually not quite finished with this one but I love it so much. To me this whole series is gold. It reminds me of how great it is when authors play around with some of the beloved “high fantasy” tropes established in classics like The Lord of the Rings. The Witcher for whom this series is named, for example, is like what you would get if Aragorn, instead of being inherently magical (and let’s be real — BORING!), was a regular orphan who became a highly trained badass fighter. And had flings with feminist sorceresses. And was best friends with a lecherous bard…

Anyway, as the series has continued, The Witcher himself has become just one of several important (and awesome) characters, many of them as badass as The Witcher himself and also ladies, which is fun. This book mostly follows Ciri, The Witcher’s now-teenaged apprentice, who also happens to be the heir to a warrior queen and the subject of a mysterious elven prophecy. If the title sounds familiar, the novels were the basis of a popular video game that I will probably never play.

taxiMidnight Taxi Tango
They call this “urban fantasy” which I gather means that magical stuff happens within an otherwise normal, contemporary city. I call it a page-turner starring a half-dead dude named Carlos who works as an agent for the Council of the Dead and Kia, his sassy teen girl sidekick. This book is the second in the Bone Street Rumba series, and I feel like it’s much creepier than the previous one. (Honestly, if you have a roach phobia do not read it.) Usually any type of horror is not for me, but these characters are people I want to spend time with in real life (especially Reza, who reminds me of a favorite auntie). Plus there is this cool mystery thread of who the heck Carlos was in life and why he became a half-dead agent. Anyway all this makes it a really engrossing and delightful read. (Related: so far I have loved everything I’ve been lucky enough to come across by Daniel Jose Older. Shadowshaper is among my favorite books ever.)

nofxThe Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories
One of the greatest pastimes of my teens and 20s was going to see shows. Birthdays, road trips and visits to friends far away would be planned around seeing my very favorite bands, including NOFX. I loved the energy, the oddly introverted nature of this social activity and of course, the music. Heavily amplified music and huge crowds of people aren’t so much my jam these days, but this book reminded me of that part of my life in a good way. Even though I can still sing the catalog, I was never the type of fan to read all the interviews or keep up with whatever might have been going on with the bands’ lives outside of the music, so I learned a lot about the members that I didn’t know before. I also dug how since they formed the band when they were basically kids, reading it lets you see how the guys grew up. This one was extra special in audio format because most of the chapters are read by the band members, except for the ones that are read by special guests like (swoon) Jello Biafra.
loverThe Japanese Lover
Okay so this one actually came out in 2015, but it was December so I’m counting it. Plus, it’s sooooo good. I love these broad sweeping romantic stories, but I also love the California of this book, the way the characters all have a very specific ethnic identity, and how loving Allende is with all the elderly people we meet in the story. Even though this type of story is definitely my jam and the author has been on my “to read” list for years, this was my first time reading anything by her.

Also, if I have to go to a home when I’m old, I hope it’s just like the one in this book.

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So as I review this list I realize that all these are books I listened to and didn’t actually read on the page. I guess I really am an audiobook junkie. The bonus of this is that my walks across town, laundromat time, mundane chores around the house, etc. can be spent on books. The drawback is that sometimes I start listening to a book and I’m so turned off by the reader that I give it up even though I’m interested in the story (Looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Reflecting on 6 years in paradise

Nov. 18th marks six years since I arrived in the BVI.

I was bleary, sleep deprived (I had spent the previous day flying across the US, then the night dozing on top of my luggage inside the San Juan airport) and was far more focused on getting through the immigration and customs line than on considering what a monumental turning point in life I was experiencing.

Still, it was a day of flashbulb memories. I can still clearly see many things from that first day in Tortola. There was my editor, Freeman, carrying my old-fashioned trunk1 in one hand by the rainbow strap I’d  wrapped around it to his somewhat frightening island jeep, Sugar2. Driving up and down the hilly coastal road from the airport into town for the first time. The mid-day traffic in Road Town, even on the “side road” past the movie theater. My relief at meeting Vou and realizing I wasn’t the only lady reporter on staff. There was lunch at The Pub, the paper staff’s favorite lunch spot right on the water, where I had the least satisfying grilled cheese sandwich of my life<sup>3</sup>. There was my delightful apartment with the view of the race track and the sounds of neighboring goats.

The years since have, in some ways, been a whirlwind. I turned 30 here, moved apartments, invested in my first real camera, lost my Dad to cancer, traveled solo to a couple of other Caribbean countries (plus to visit family stateside), moved desks and job titles, had flings and boyfriends and got married, and collected a small but really special circle of close friends.

Over the years, I was asked a lot by my family and friends back in the US when I was coming home. I’m sure that most of them just missed me, but a few ruffled my feathers by hinting that I was on some kind of Rumspringa/gap year/temporary ‘adventure.’ It’s true that my plan when I landed was to stay for two or three years and then move on. But really, it didn’t take long for me to realize I love living here: It’s a beautiful place, the people are friendly and I feel safe.

I remember a few years ago that I applied for a couple of jobs back in the states, and how relieved I was when I  didn’t hear back. I didn’t actually want those jobs. I guess that was when I really began thinking of the Virgin Islands as home.

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Nbd, just a rainbow I saw one morning from my front porch, which is also a dock.

1. That trunk was a gift from my grandmother years and years ago. I think she’d approve of my continued use of it as both a storage item and nightstand.

2. Sugar got scarier over the years. I would later become the third Beaconite to own her and last person to drive her.

3. The Pub is one of my favorite BVI restaurants to this day and I know many of the staff by name. I don’t think that grilled cheese sandwich is on the menu anymore.

St. Ursula, the BVI’s patron saint

Oct. 21 is a holiday here in the BVI. I did some research on why for the Limin’ Times this week. Here’s what I found (from the Oct. 20th Island Life column):

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Who was this Ursula person, anyway?

Most readers will know that this Friday the 21st of October is a public holiday here in the beautiful BVI, but I suspect that not as many know why.

The short answer is that we’re celebrating the feast day of St. Ursula, the patron saint of the Virgin Islands. The longer answer goes way back in history, all the way back to the 4th century, when a basilica was built to honor the memory of a group of girls martyred at Cologne. Who were these girls? Why and how were they killed? I bet it’s a fascinating story, but the truth has been lost to history.

In the absence of facts, several legends have cropped up to fill the vacuum that is their story, including one about a Christian princess from Britain named Ursula who, while traveling with 11,000 maids and ladies-in-waiting, was ambushed and slaughtered by pagan Huns. The legend eventually led to Ursula being named a saint associated with England, the city of Cologne, teachers, education and holy death.

There is even an order of nuns named after her. The Ursulines, founded in the 1500s, are devoted to the education of young girls. Now you might ask how this particular martyr came to be connected with the VI. Blame Christopher Columbus, who evidently thought this cluster of islands was like the legendary saint and all her attendants, calling them Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes or las Virgenes, for short.

If you want a visual of St. Ursula (other than the circa 1440 Stefan Lochner painting pictured above), all you have to do is check out a BVI flag. The woman on the green field is St. Ursula carrying a lantern, and around her are 11 more lanterns to represent her 11,000 co-martyrs.

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While those of us who are glad to have the opportunity to squeeze another beach day into our calendar can be glad that St. Ursula’s Day looks like it won’t be leaving the BVI calendar of public holidays any time soon, it’s interesting to note that we are probably the only place in the world that celebrates this saint with a day off. The Catholic Church removed her from its official calendar of saints in 1969 owing to a lack of historical evidence for the legendary martyr.