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One thing you need when you live on an island is a reliable way to stay connected. Sure, most of us are pretty good at checking in with our co-workers and neighbors, but what about all those friends and relations in far away places? That’s what the internet is for!

Indeed, I feel very blessed when I hear about unlucky island dwellers of not-so-long ago, for example, the North American transplant who was so homesick and had just enough to drink one night that he thought it would be a good idea to borrow the company phone to make a massively expensive long-distance phone call.

Nope, we lucky folks of today can fire up one of any number of social media sites and scroll through our feed or sit back and watch the latest stories to see what our peeps all around the world are up to.

But, and I can’t be the only one who falls into this trap, how do we know when we’ve had enough? A quick check can keep you informed, but did you know researchers are finding more and more evidence that too much scrolling, rather than helping us feel connected, actually causes most people to feel isolated?

Take the way people often use their Twitter pages to vent their problems. Everyone needs an outlet, but it’s stressful for us as readers to take in so much negativity all at once. One Pew Research Center study showed that more time reading people’s tweets is correlated with a higher stress level. Other studies have pointed to links between social media use and anxiety, feelings of envy, a reduced amount of sleep, and, for women and girls, reduced self-esteem.

On second thought, maybe I’ll log off the internet a little early this week and make an old-fashioned long-distance phone call!

A version of this post firs appeared in the Feb, 7, 2019 edition of the Limin Times.

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The Huntress

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The Huntress guarding the Wee Baby Abel during a nap

Sharing a home with any pet requires trade-offs. At our house, the cat – who adopted us when we moved into what she clearly thinks of as her apartment – provides many benefits. She is an excellent snuggle buddy whenever anyone is enjoying some quiet time with a book or a movie. She’s been very patient about her de facto role as big sister to the baby, waiting as he progressed from the stereotypical baby “pat-pat” through to understanding that animals should be touched gently. Where she used to tolerate the baby for a few moments and then dash off as kiddo got excited, she now seeks him out for attention and I think she might be trying to teach him to open doors for her. It’s been sweet to watch how much the baby loves this cat. He follows her around the house, sometimes babbling excitedly. “Gentle” is one of his first dozen words. “Meow” is another. I would even go so far as to guess that his positive experiences with our cat are the reason behind his love of the pets he meets when we are out in the world.

As the adult human in the partnership, my end of the bargain is usually pretty low-key: buy some cat food, fill her dish a couple of times a day, make sure her water doesn’t turn green. All in all, it’s a pretty good system, most of the time.

But then there are the times when I have to deal with the cat’s instinct to hunt. Or rather, her persistent attempts to bring her prey inside the house.

Once, the only clue I had that one of her prizes was in the house was a terrible smell. I searched high and low before I discovered the source: a decaying lizard under my bed. Another time, I caught her as she was coming inside with a mouse in her mouth. Who knows where she would have stashed it if I hadn’t sent her right back out once again.

Recently, she took it way too far, however, when I came home to find a ground lizard on its back. This is the biggest thing she’s ever brought inside. In my mind it looks like a small alligator, although the reality is that it was probably 12 inches long from snout to tail. Normally I find small lizards pretty cute. I’ve never willingly touched one, but neither do I find it necessary to chase them away if they want to hang out nearby, and, I don’t know, hunt flies. This one, however, was too big to be endearing, it just needed to get out. Attempting to removing it showed me the worst of the situation. The poor creature was still alive.

Is there a ground lizard intensive care unit? No, but even if there was, I doubt very much they could have saved this thing. It was just the latest victim of the huntress.

This first appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of the Limin’ Times.

Bird Walking

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A green heron spotted in Road Town on assignment during previous bird count.

After wanting to participate for ages — and not just cover it as a reporter — this year I finally got it together and joined in the annual Christmas Bird Count. If you’ve never heard of it, the count is a bit like a census, with birdwatchers taking to the field (or sometimes their own backyards) to identify and count the bird species they see.

While the BVI is home to many different birds, the Christmas Bird Count is an international project, with volunteers from around the US, Canada, and parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean, all designating the last weeks of December and first few days of January as the time they will count in their local area.

Although there are places that have had counts all the way back to the year 1900, the history of the event here in the BVI is pretty respectable, with the National Parks Trust recording counts going back to 1988.

Being a novice when it comes to identifying birds, I tagged along with a more experienced birdwatcher in my neighborhood. Together, we spotted a sparrow hawk, a bird of prey that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hunting from the treetops near my deck. I learned what an ani looks like. We also counted a couple of thrushies, which are more properly known as pearly-eyed thrashers, but which I personally think of as papaya thieves because I can never get to a ripe one before they peck holes in it. Naturally, the birds that were most common on our path were the chickens, which don’t get counted.

Between the sizable puddles from that morning’s rain and the rather small wheels on the stroller I was wheeling the baby in, we decided to cut our walk short, but I still count the morning’s adventure as a success: The little one and I got some fresh air, I learned a bit from my birding buddy about bird calls and behaviors, plus I got to contribute (albeit only a small bit) to a really cool global science project. I had so much fun that I’m already planning my next birding adventure.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 10 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Life in Space

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Moon sprouts (photo: AFP)

In a project that would have seemed farfetched just a few years ago, China recently landed a probe called Chang’e-4 on the moon. The most recent news from the project is that some cotton seeds planted inside the lander have sprouted*, along with hopes in the space exploration community that the moon could eventually be used as a home base for future explorers. The idea is that rather than coming home to earth, future astronauts could simply grow the food they need on the moon.

You might say this project is about as far from our little island as possible, but I’d argue that island life and space exploration share many of the same strengths. For one thing, space missions are right to start thinking about plants early. Relying on imports for basic necessities is the main reason island living is so expensive, and any disruption in transport channels trickles down to every other aspect of life here. Chinese researchers started with cotton plants since those can be harvested to make fabric. According to reports, the Chang’e-4 also carried potato seeds and yeast, so clearly staple foods are another priority.

Whether on islands or in space, it’s clear that teamwork is crucial. As many of us have seen time and time again, island folks know how to pull together to help each other out. We share rides and water; we check to make sure our neighbors are okay after a storm; and, if we see someone stranded on the road, we stop and help however we can. The most successful space endeavor so far (21 years in space!) is the international space station. The five space agencies who partner on the project represent the US, Japan, Russia, Canada, and 22 European nations. No doubt all these countries’ governments have some serious disagreements, but they are able to put such conflicts aside for the good of the greater mission.

As futuristic as space exploration still seems, both island dwellers and space explorers do best when they rely on their history to guide their decisions. In our case, specialized local knowledge of everything from seasonal weather patterns to tourism trends help us make smart decisions in the day-to-day. In space, knowing which missions landed safely on Mars since Russia’s partially successful 1971 Mars 3 were key to the NASA’s InSight touching down on the red planet in November.

What else do space explorers and island dwellers have in common? Let me know in the comments.

*Too bad the dark side of the moon is so cold. The sprouts have since died.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 17th edition of the Limin Times.

 

Happy New Year!

A lot of what I post here is my writing from elsewhere. With the arrival of the latest edition of the BVI Welcome magazine, I thought it’d be a good time to share my editor’s letter from the issue. If you want to see the articles mentioned here in print, you can pick it up at hotels, restaurants, ports of entry and lots of other locations around the BVI. You can also read it online at bviwelcome.com

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A peek at the cover

New Beginnings

With its cozy evenings, contemplative holidays, and of course the chance to turn the page on the calendar into a new year, winter is a time I’ve always associated with new beginnings.

As I reflect on what 2019 might bring for the BVI, I am filled with hope. As of November, the territory boasts more than 800 rooms and nearly 3,000 berths available for guests. The BVI Tourist Board reports that while the number of overall visitors is down from last year, the figures for those coming to our shores for the day have risen.

This calendar year is also slated to see the return of some of the BVI’s larger resorts, many of whom sustained catastrophic damage in Hurricane Irma. A special bright spot is the yachting sector, which is making great strides thanks to hard work, dedicated people, and, of course the BVI’s waters, which remain as enchanting as ever.

In this issue, read about some of the youngest yachties in the BVI, who are using their talents to represent the BVI in sailing competitions around the world. You’ll also meet two radiant daughters of the BVI who are representing the territory in Asia for international pageants; as well as a couple who successfully ditched their corporate careers to make a living going on other people’s vacations. Plus, read all about the re-opening of the JR O’Neal Botanic Gardens in Road Town.

Although we aren’t quite where we were before being pummeled by flooding and two major hurricanes in 2017, it’s safe to say that the BVI is well on its way to a new beginning as Nature’s Little Secrets.

Goodbye Old Year

A fireball sculpture by BVI artist Aragorn

I find that most people around here have a good idea of how they will be celebrating the end of the year well before Old Year’s Night. Maybe you’re going to church or to watch the fireworks at Trellis Bay or to Foxy’s legendary Old Year’s Night bash. As long as you celebrate safely, I say go nuts.

For those who don’t bother with celebrating, or anybody who wants an additional way to mark the turning of the year, I have some ideas.

  1. Do some journaling. The turning of the calendar year offers a chance to look back on the successes and shortcomings of the past 12 months. Whether you look at it through the lens of goals achieved, contributions to your community or industry, new skills acquired, adventures taken or passions pursued, taking stock on the old year will help you enter the new one with the right perspective.
  2. Inspiration check. Think hard about a time over the past 12 months when you felt the most inspired. Where were you? Who was around? What were you working on? Whether it’s a certain calling or just your favorite community of people, use what you find to maximize your levels of inspiration for 2019.
  3. Release what no longer serves you. This is a tradition I learned from my cousin, and one we do together when we get a chance. Write down all the things that have held you back in 2018. Maybe it’s a fixation on an old flame, an unhealthy habit, or a job that no longer suits you. Even if it’s just one thing, put it on paper. Then, light a fire and let the paper (safely!) burn to ashes. As it burns, focus on the paper and imagine that it is the thing you’ve written there. Move into 2019 lighter knowing you can release whatever it is not just symbolically, but in reality too.
  4. Make a rememberlutions jar. I learned this idea from Tracy Clayton, a writer whose work I love. Step one is to get a jar and decorate it in a way that makes you happy (in my case, it would be glitter, but maybe for you it’s National Geographic cutouts or song lyrics or puffy animal stickers). Put it someplace where you will see it often because step two is to fill it up. For all of 2019, write down awesome things that happen, little moments of joy, and anything else positive you know you want to remember. Put your moments, or rememberlutions, into the jar. When it’s almost 2020, dig in and reminisce about your year.

    What is everybody doing to ring in 2019, or what did you do? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

A version of this post first appeared in the Dec. 20 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Flu

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Some people lament being sick in the summer, or the extra awfulness that is #manflu, but for my money, there is no illness quite like the one you get while living in paradise.

For one thing, you don’t just fear that you’re missing out when it’s a gorgeous day outside and the beach down the road is warm and sunny. This is the pain of knowing for absolute certain that you are definitely missing out. This Saturday while my friends went to the beach or pool or hopped over to Virgin Gorda for the most recent Food Fete event, I was in my bed chugging water and paracetamol. It was miserable!

We also have to contend with the special bother that is island pharmacies. Man was I spoiled by the giant chain pharmacies and big-box stores back in southern California. With such a small population to serve, perishable items that don’t get purchased frequently just aren’t a wise investment for businesses that serve island communities. I get why they don’t keep too many different medications on hand: why buy in bulk when chances are that you’ll have to throw away a lot of your stock when it expires? As a sick consumer, however, the last thing I want to do is visit four or five pharmacies only to settle on whatever over-the-counter treatment comes closest to treating my particular symptoms.

What I do love is the resourcefulness of island home remedies. I have a friend who swears by rum to treat sore throat. I can’t remember the exact reasoning behind this particular folk cure – it may have had something to do with the time this friend spent slinging drinks at BVI bars! I do recall that after I got over the initial burning sensation of that shot of rum going down, my throat actually did feel better.

I’ve also had excellent success with eucalyptus leaf tea as a treatment for cough and congestion. It’s vastly more pleasant and convenient to step outside, pull some leaves off a tree, and then wash and boil them for tea compared to swallowing pills. They make the house smell great, too. Plus, like I said, it works really well for me, and when you’re sick, all you want is to feel better.

I want to know what everybody else uses to treat illness at home. If you have a home cure you can’t live without, let me know about it in the comments.

A version of this column appeared in the Nov. 22 edition of the Limin Times.