Baby Traditions

Since anybody who sees me these days can immediately tell, I think it’s safe to let the cat out of the bag: Come September I’m expecting my first island baby.

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A onesie graphic I made to match some sweet knitted gear gifted to the baby.

Now that the pregnancy is pretty far along, people are really starting to notice when they see me – and boy do some of them have a lot to say! It turns out that there are loads of old wives tales, superstitions and traditions about pregnancy and babies that I had no idea existed until now.

One common theme has to do with “marking the baby,” or doing something that will lead to a child being born with a birthmark. Among the things that might mark your child are bumping into something, which in theory leads your baby to be born with a mark on the corresponding spot on their body; or denying yourself a food you’re craving while pregnant and then scratching yourself. If my child is born with a birthmark that looks like a carne asada taco, everyone will know why.

Another theme has to do with predicting the sex of the baby. Friends from the United States swear that because my “baby bump” is visible right under my ribs, my baby will be a girl. Meanwhile, friends from the Dominican Republic think the opposite: most of the extra weight I’m carrying is located around my hips, which, they say, means the baby will be a boy. A few different friends have also predicted a boy, but for entirely different reasons: a girl baby makes the mother sick and miserable, the thinking goes, and I’m having entirely too pleasant of a pregnancy for this not to be a boy child. Since I’m waiting until the baby’s birthday to find out the answer, it’s easy to nod along with everybody’s predictions.

My favorite Caribbean baby related traditions are the ones that have echoes in other cultures. For example, it’s common to hear folks in the BVI say that the first time you meet a child you should “put something in their hand.” This is a polite way of saying that you should give the baby some cash. The literal blessing you give the child helps make sure he or she will be blessed with good fortune. This is very similar to a tradition among Filipinos that says that the first time a baby visits your house you should give them cash, although my understanding from the Filipino “aunties” who did this when I was growing up was that giving cash to the baby would bring the giver the good fortune.

Anybody else heard any good wives tales about pregnancy and babies?

This column first appeared in the Aug 24th edition of the Limin Times.

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Why am I crying this time?

DSC_0555Last weekend, after what felt like ages of scheduling and planning, it was time to take some bump pics with one of my favorite photographers. Memories! A cute dress! Visiting with friends! It was all the good things I wanted to help commemorate what has so far been a charmed pregnancy.

So why was I bawling? Hormones had me feeling super unattractive and just not ready and I shed real, actual, ridiculous tears. Clearly the tears didn’t last and photos came out beautifully, but I have to admit it’s a little bit embarrassing how emotionally worked up I can get these days over what seems to be the littlest stuff.

What else have I cried over in the course of this pregnancy? Some of it is downright funny. Here’s a partial list.

  • The movie “A Monster Calls,” (even though I read the book last summer and knew exactly what was coming)
  • I ran out of club soda
  • The song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the musical Hamilton
  • I had to park far away from my apartment on grocery shopping day because all the parking spots anywhere near my building were full
  • That viral video of a teen coming out to his southern mom at their kitchen table and the mom being super loving and supportive
  • The first birthday video some young parents I know made for their daughter
  • Not being able to get air in my low tire despite stopping at all three gas stations in town
  • My husband’s incredible kindness and patience

I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to my normal self in a few months time, but until then, you might just have to call me MJ.

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Beating the Island Heat

Between the high humidity, the drop in winds and the ever-present sun, there’s no doubt about it: island summers can be brutal. As I gear up for my least favorite weather of the year, I thought it’d be a good idea to compile some of my tried and true methods for cooling off.

Note the hat, which I do swim in because this Caribbean sun is not playing around.

  1. Hit the beach… Not only is the beach a great place to enjoy a cool sea soak, but since the BVI beaches are nearly all lined with sea grapes and other trees, there’s also bound to be a shady spot to sit and enjoy what breeze there is to be had. Carry a cooler full of drinks and you’re set for the day.
  2. …Or the pool. If you’ve got a few dollars to spare in your pocket, you could opt for the sand-free version and spend a day by the pool. There may not be as many pools as beaches around here, but those who don’t want to worry about watching waves or think a swim-up bar is the bees knees still have several to choose from.
  3. Catch a movie. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, a long, hot day in the house can seem like the last thing you want to do. Break up the day with a matinee at the cinema, where you can sit in the dark, chilly theater while you watch one of the latest summer releases.
  4. Take your time with the shopping. This might just be me, but if it’s a really hot evening, I love getting the week’s grocery run out of the way. As long as the post-work rush has come and gone, you’re not likely to face many other shoppers, so you can take your time in the cooled aisles, or, if you’re really heated, the open-air cases of dairy foods. Obviously, shopping is not as Instagram-worthy as 1 or 2 on the list, but hey, we all have to eat, right?
  5. Have a cold treat. I know we all scream for ice cream, but if you’re trying to avoid junk food like I am, frozen fruit can be a nice alternative. Pineapple, mangoes, berries, papaya and other fruits freeze nicely and taste great on their own. If you want to get a little fancier, you can make your own fruit popsicles. Just grind up your fruits in a blender, pour into some inexpensive plastic molds and put them in the freezer overnight.

So, how’s the summer treating you? How do you beat the heat in your neighborhood?

(This column first appeared in the July 27, 2017 Limin Times.) 

Connecting to Nature

It’s no secret: We in the BVI are blessed to live in one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth. Since it’s Environment Week, I’m thinking about all my favorite ways to connect to nature here in Nature’s Little Secrets.

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At the top of Beef Island

Top of the list, for me anyway, has got to be hiking. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I actually love spending a few hours hauling myself up the side of a mountain. You can take your time and check out all the odd flowers and bugs you’d never see on the flats in town, plus when you get to the top you get to take a sweet selfie with a view. Something about the view from over 1,000 feet gives me a better perspective of the shape of the place I live, and really does let me feel more connected to the nature and geography of these islands. Another perk of hiking? By the time you get back to the bottom, you might be exhausted and sore, but you can also justify the biggest, baddest brunch imaginable afterward.

A close second is a solo beach trip. As nice as it is to catch up with friends in the sand near the sea, I find it much more meditative to go on my own to the most isolated beach I can get to. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should just try it. Go early in the morning or on a weekday (summer in the BVI is great for these trips because with way fewer tourists we lucky residents have the beaches to ourselves). Sit in the sand. Smell the water. Listen to the waves. Watch the ants, chickens or other critters that are sharing the beach with you. No kidding, it’s downright magical.

My other favorite isn’t for everybody: a leisurely float in the sea. I don’t want to brag too much here, but I’m an excellent floater. In the right mood, I can stay on the surface so steadily and easily you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between me and a buoy. The feeling of being out on the water and watching the seabirds overhead, the fish underneath and even feeling the occasional bit of kelp brush along past me is so relaxing I can almost feel my worries escaping into the ocean around me. Maybe those not blessed with natural buoyancy could achieve the effect with a sturdy life jacket?

I’d love to hear how others make their own connections to nature wherever they are.

(This post first appeared in the Limin Times Island Life column June 8.)

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.