Blue Water Vagabond

This week, completely by accident, I came across a book by Dennis Puleston, a man who, on a sailing voyage that began in England and lasted six years, happened to spend quite a bit of time here in the Virgin Islands. According to Blue Water Vagabond, first published in 1939, island life back then was idyllic.

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“It is an isle serene, forgotten and undisturbed by the restless world outside,” he wrote about Tortola, continuing, “no noise of cars startles its one drowsy street, no cablegrams send shudders through its noontide rest… We fell in love with the Virgins from the first.”

He describes inviting Dr. Wailing, who was acting commissioner of the territory then, onto his boat, only to later receive an invitation to come stay ashore in Dr. Wailing’s house after the kind doctor was appalled at the boat’s stink (Puleston and his sailing companion had a dead rat somewhere on their boat).

Once settled, they lived as I imagine many did here in those days: “We bought a fishpot and kept ourselves in fish. Sometimes we went out with a torch on the reefs at night to spear crawfish. We rambled over the mountains and swam in the sandy bays.”

He describes visits to The Baths, to Fallen Jerusalem, and Norman Island, and, one trip he’d looked forward to for some time, to meet the people of Anegada, whom he had read “make their living by fishing and wrecking.”

After describing his first impression of the island, he writes that “the men who can make a living in such an unfruitful place must needs be a resolute and hardy folk… They are bold sailors and energetic fishermen.”

Puleston’s ship the Uldra was also an early charter yacht. A pair of American tourists had tried first in Puerto Rico, then in St Thomas to hire a sailboat for an island cruise, but had struck out. Someone on St Thomas remembered Puleston’s recent visit, however, and suggested the pair look for him on Tortola.

“So the Americans had jumped aboard the first sloop Tortola-bound, and here they were,” Puleston wrote, going on to describe that the tourists hired Puleston and his companion. The cost: all the running expenses of the trip.

The foursome wound up “vagabonding down the islands” for several months, and Puleston includes mentions of all the ports they stopped in – I shouldn’t be surprised that a foursome of young single men basically hung out on the islands that had the prettiest women, right?

What touched me the most about what I read was how Puleston and his friend felt after dropping off the American tourists in St Thomas and were heading back to Tortola, which I very much related to after just year or so here.

“Seems like being at home again, doesn’t it?” the friend asked, and Puleston felt he was right.

“In spite of all the other islands I had seen, I was glad to be back. I loved Tortola more than ever.”

 

This column appeared in the Aug. 23 edition of the Limin Times.

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Still Healing

I like to live as though everything is normal, because, for the most part, it is. I go to work, play my with kid, wait in line at the bank, do the shopping, try to squeeze in workouts and time with friends, all the normal life things, fun and not-so-fun. This week I had a reminder that even though it’s been almost a year, I’m still processing that monster Irma.

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NOAA infrared satellite image of the eye passing over Tortola. 

I have, by island standards, a beastly commute. The family leaves from the east side of the island to drop Husbae to work at the extreme west part of it, then the baby and I head back to town, which is right in the middle. It’s about an hour and a half of driving every morning. So much time at the wheel isn’t that unusual back in Southern California, but remember, Tortola is only 21 square miles. After years of being able to walk everywhere, all that time on the road was really tough at first, but I’ve embraced it. The baby usually naps, I listen to music or a book or podcast, and I often have the road to myself.

One day this week we had an unexpected squall. I was driving on a gorgeous flat road along the sea but all I could see was rain. They were big fat drops too, so they sounded like an avalanche of rocks hitting my little mom-mobile. A few gusts rocked the vehicle and suddenly I found myself crying, heart pounding, pulled over on the shoulder. It only took a minute or two to collect myself, but for a hot second there, I couldn’t think straight at all.

Especially as news of Hurricane Lance on the other side of the world fills the news, I know that I’m not alone in feeling like I still have some work to do when it comes to my personal post-Irma recovery. To my friends who went through it, we are still healing. Yes, we are #BVIstrong, but it’s okay to ask for support. Talk to friends and family and, if you’re in the BVI and you need help or just aren’t sure, talk to the nice folks at Community Mental Health, who are there to help us all.

Beeps of the BVI

One of the joys of island driving is the liberal use of the horn. For those unfamiliar, there is a whole language among drivers and instead of words and sentences, the language is made up entirely of beeps.

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It took me a long while to understand the nuances of the beeps, probably because I learned to drive in Southern California, where the horn utters sounds so rude they aren’t even called beeps. They’re called honks. The Southern California horn, I am not proud to say, is long, loud and always means one thing: “watch it, jerk!”

The BVI’s beeps, by contrast, are varied and sophisticated. Most of them are mild in meaning. There is the friendly beep to say to the vehicle waiting to join traffic that you are yielding so they can come in front of you. Or, there is the equally friendly beep to say thank you to the vehicle that has allowed you to come into traffic on the highway.

Slightly more impatient but still basically friendly are the shortish beeps to let you know that while you have looked away from the traffic light to admire the plumage on a passing rooster, the signal has changed from red to green. The lights stay red entirely too long for this honk to be ignored.

On the hills, there is also the very utilitarian blind corner beep. Especially during daylight hours when headlights aren’t available, this is a great way to make sure that you and another vehicle don’t enter the same switchback from opposite directions. This beep is, by necessity, louder. It’s also saved me from a hill crash at least once.

If you happen to be driving or walking near someone taking a driving lesson, you might hear the pedestrian beep. This is the beep all drivers are supposed to sound to let a pedestrian know a vehicle is coming, in case they don’t realize they are walking on a road that has vehicles on it. This one also has a more personal version, the “hail-up” beep, which is reserved only for pedestrians that are also friends or family members.

I also have one very special beep of my own, but anyone is welcome to it. It’s the accidental beep. Maybe I am trying to get something out of the baby’s bag before I exit a parking space or I have something in my hand or just have bad aim on the steering wheel sometimes, but it I beep the horn sometimes without meaning to. The trick is to style it out by giving an enthusiastic wave at whoever happens to be standing nearby like you meant to beep at them just to say “hey friend!”

This column appeared in the July 5 Limin Times.

On walking while fat

For those who know me, it will be no surprise to hear that I recently took part in a challenging walk around the hills of Road Town. I was so happy that Husbae and the Wee Baby Abel could join me, and we had some good friends along the trail too.

It was a chance for us to get out and sweat together, and, once the more competitive walkers had left us behind (we didn’t rush – that might have disturbed our little princeling!), it was also a quiet and meditative time to enjoy the morning. Coming back into town was delightful: We did it! I felt triumphant, and was already thinking about how soon our little family would be able to do something like it again.

As we returned to the starting point, the crowd that finished well before we did was beginning to disperse. We hailed them up, happy to catch up with several folks who hadn’t seen us since we got back to the island, or who hadn’t met the baby yet.

Then I encountered the ultimate joy-thief. Someone I don’t know well but have been friendly with for several years spotted me pushing the stroller.

“Did you walk, or you just want it to look like you did?”

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Excuse the eff outta me??

I don’t even think I answered him, or maybe I said something polite through a stunned smile because Mom raised me to respect my elders but… seriously? I have many questions.

Why would anybody pretend to do a 5am walk that was ONLY for fun? As he could plainly see I have an infant. If I didn’t want to do the walk, you can be sure I’d be happily and shamelessly at home playing with him on a Saturday morning. There were NO stakes, nobody to impress, nothing to prove.

So, why would this even occur to him? And furthermore, what would give him the idea that this was the least bit ok to ask me out loud?

It’s because I’m fat. You see, he’s slim, so he assumes he’s healthier than I am. Therefore, he thinks he can look at me and decide what I’m capable of. He weighed me with his eyes and decided that I a) probably couldn’t have done the walk and, in all likelihood, b) that I am lazy, but that c) I crave the approval of the thinner community. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE??)

This guy, who I will continue to be polite to although he clearly has zero respect for me or any other fat people, is only a little further past the assumptions I am used to. People will often see me on the road or trail and assume that I am a “good fattie,” that is, someone who is actively trying to lose weight. Those people, much as it might be none of their business, are at least assuming the best of me – in their minds I am working hard to shrink down to an acceptable size, therefore it’s a “you go girl,” or “it gets easier,” as they pass me. And you know what? I just had a baby nine months ago, it’s totally normal for people to check me out and decide that I am looking pretty hot for a new mom. All those people want to do is encourage me and they are wonderful and I truly love them!

But.

I don’t work out to fix my post-baby body. I don’t exercise to shrink myself or impress others. I am not a body in progress, waiting until I reach some magical goal weight before I begin to really live my life and love myself. I workout because it feels good, because I want to be strong and mobile, because the view from the top is incredible, because the music is amazing, or to clear my head, or de-stress, or for the great company, or the time alone, or fun photos, or fresh air, or wild animals, or to get outdoors or…

I could go on, but you get the idea. The main thing is

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I do it for me.

(Ps – Lizzo is an absolute queen and everyone needs to go buy her album and if you don’t believe me watch this.)

Baby Beach Day

Being able to have an awesome beach day is one of the best parts of living here in the BVI, but, as I’ve recently realized, heading to your favorite beach for the day becomes a lot more complicated when you have to cart a little one with you. Over the last several months, I’ve been conducting serious field research on how best to enjoy a beach day with a little one. Here are my preliminary findings on the best way to include a baby in your beach day.

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Our baby containment unit is an inflatable pool.

  1. Contain The Baby. Maybe you have a mobile play yard or one of those zip-up cribs with the handles. There can be a lot to carry to the beach already, but trust me, bring that baby containment unit. My little one likes sitting in his inflatable pool, which we set up for him without any water inside. He likes to lean out of it to play with the sand, but I’m able to relax and enjoy myself somewhat knowing that he can’t crawl off into the bush or pick up any stray beach litter.
  2. Help Baby Entertain Him or Herself. For us grownups, it’s often enough to sit and stare at the water, but babies will insist on being wiggly, grabby little creatures, so now we bring toys (and things like plastic food containers that my son thinks are toys) which are great to keep him occupied so that the grownups can do stuff that requires two hands, like eating.
  3. Give The Sea A Few Tries. Our little guy loves bathing at home, so we figured some splish-splash fun in the ocean would be a cinch. Not so. As soon as a very mild wave touched his little toes, he cried. Hard. But after giving him a few minutes to get accustomed to the water (and making sure he felt comfortable snuggled up to his daddy), he got to really liking it.
  4. Put Things Away As You Go. It’s a bit of a hassle to keep track of all your various belongings on the beach, but when the little one has had enough and it’s time to go right-this-minute, you’ll be glad you didn’t leave everything you brought with you scattered in a 20-foot wide circle around you. If you can get a sweet spot on the sand right next to your vehicle, so much the better.
  5. Embrace Sand. It doesn’t matter how many rinses, how many brush-offs, how often you redirect a baby, a beach trip pretty much always means the kid is going to come away as the sandiest, messiest version of themself. So what if they eat a little sand? A day at the beach means the kid is also happy and exhausted, so as a mom, it’s a big win.

This column first appeared in the June 7 edition of the Limin Times.

Practical Island Fashion

Fashion usually focuses on style, taste and creativity as opposed to practical concerns, but I find that living on an island forces me to consider a host of unique matters when it comes to choosing my clothing and accessories. They may not be appearing on the catwalk or in a fashion spread any time soon, but they serve me well and (I hope!) don’t look terrible. Below are my island fashion must-haves:

  1. Walking shoes: No matter how fabulous they are, you will probably never see me working some strappy stiletto heels, because I really need to be able to walk. Maybe it’s my years of being car-less or the knowledge that any day might see me stuck standing in a long, slow line, but comfy, usually flat shoes are my number one fashion accessory.
  2. Shades: It’s way too sunny most days to leave the house without shades and still be comfortable. Since I am on the clumsy side and I have a grabby little one, I tend to go for sturdy and inexpensive frames. I picked up the pair I’m wearing today at a $1 store during my last trip to the states.
  3. A big bag: I love those tiny clutches or palm-sized pocketbooks suspended on a fine chain that I see so many women rocking, but I just can’t do it. My bag needs to hold sunscreen, water, a notebook, some pens, a snack and maybe a camera, and I need to be able to actually wear it on a shoulder rather than carry it in my hand. This means that I often carry a backpack rather than a purse, but I’m happy to report that my current one, with its slick fabric and cute silver-tone tag, is a big step up, style-wise, from the sweaty canvas pack I used to carry around town.
  4. Lightweight cardigan: I’ve accepted that I’ll never solve the mystery of why we like to have our air conditioners cranked to mid-Atlantic winter temperatures in so many buildings, but rather than shivering the whole time I’m in one of these places, I just toss a cardigan in my bag (since there’s so much room in there).
  5. Cute umbrella: It might be polka dot or bright purple but I love to have my umbrella with me in any weather. Is the sun shining? It’s my parasol or portable shade. Drizzly or pouring down rain? I’m sitting pretty under my one-woman shelter.

This column appeared in the May 31, 2018 Limin Times.

Bonus: because my favorite accessory to wear is the Wee Baby Abel.

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These shades were the best until I broke them that time I bonked my head getting into the vehicle.

I feel like it’s the most convenient and normal way to carry him but around here it’s a real conversation starter. One guy, who had to be able to see the baby’s little legs dangling as I walked (people often can’t see his face because of the big hats) had to ask whether I had a baby “in there.” Maybe he thought I was sporting a quirky backpack the wrong way around?

Code of the Baby

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The wee baby Abel’s smile lights up the room, but only when he can’t see the camera/phone, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

After spending some time observing my little one and those of my friends and relations, I’m convinced that somewhere in this world, there really is a Boss Baby, and that he or she has handed down the baby equivalent of a stone tablet filled with the code of the baby. Based on my investigation, here are some universal rules that all babies are required to follow:

  1. Thou shalt taste everything. Seriously, if it’s small enough to fit in your hand, put it right in your mouth. Too big? Just open wide and lick whatever portion of the object is closest to your face.
  2. Thou shalt always be on the lookout for sharp and pointy objects. Make your desire for the object known in classic baby fashion: urgent looks, followed by reaching for and grabbing the object and, if you can’t get it in hand after a moment, obnoxiously loud crying. Bonus Boss Baby points for painfully poking yourself in the face if you do manage to get a hold of it.
  3. Whenever placed on the floor, thou shalt always creep or crawl toward the dirtiest thing within reach. Pet food bowls are okay, but a low, open garbage bin is preferable, and a cat’s litter tray that hasn’t been cleaned out for a day or two is ideal.
  4. Thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s toy. Even if you are already contentedly playing with what is normally your favorite toy, and even if the neighboring child is playing with a toy you normally don’t care for, you should grab for that other toy anyway.
  5. Thou shalt squeeze face. The face squeeze is the universal baby greeting. Show interest in other humans and any pets within reach by grabbing a fistful of flesh, preferably in the facial area.
  6. If you have accomplished a new cute behavior and your parent or other caregiver pulls out a camera to document it, you must immediately stop doing the activity until the camera is put away. Similarly, when the caregiver calls a human witness to observe the new behavior, cease doing it until the second person leaves the room. When you start to talk, use this same strategy when you learn a new word or phrase.
  7. Humor they mother and thy father. Remember to keep a steady stream of cuteness going for your parents, lest they decide to call the stork and return you for following the other rules so closely.