Get Your Gratitude

I was having one of those mornings. You know the ones: it was raining, the roads were covered in rocks, puddles were hiding the new potholes, and to top it off I got stuck behind a trailer truck blocking both directions of traffic because its wheels had lost traction as it was backing into a driveway.

Then I remembered that not so long ago, it would have taken all day to get from where I live in Josiah’s Bay to Frenchman’s Cay and back because Irma mashed up so many of our roads. And not so long before that, I would have been making the trek via bus or several thumbed rides because I didn’t have a car. And then I remembered that I’m fit enough that even if there were no charitable drivers to be found, I could always walk, an option not everyone has.

thank god

And thank you, Lil Jon.

In other words, I remembered how fortunate I am to have problems like an inconvenient commute. Suddenly I was giving thanks for the same thing that was annoying me just a minute beforehand. Getting in a grateful head space is an instant mood lifter for me, but did you know there’s a lot of science showing that gratitude is good for you?

There’s the Northeastern University study that found a link between gratitude and more patience and better decision-making. One Swiss study found that people who were more grateful also took better care of their health. A UK study showed a link between more gratitude and more sleep. Yet another study on people with chronic illness found that those who kept a daily gratitude journal experienced fewer painful symptoms than their counterparts who didn’t journal. Then there was the study that found grateful people also have better self esteem than those that aren’t as grateful. There have also been a bunch of studies that show that the more you count your blessings, the happier and less depressed you feel.

So grateful people feel better and happier, which is pretty great, but in all this research I saw another theme emerge: gratitude actually makes you a better person! In one study of people in Germany and the US, those who said they “regularly and often” experienced gratitude were also more likely to do “pro-social behavior,” social scientists way of talking about good deeds. Another study, this one in Kentucky, found that grateful people are kinder to others, even when faced with unkind treatment themselves.

All these PhDs seem to agree that the best way to get more grateful is to practice gratitude daily with something like a gratitude journal. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m going to start mine tonight!

This column appeared in the May 3, 2018 edition of the Limin Times.

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Returning to Paradise

sunset

From #docklife to #decklife, the view from my new place.

The BVI had Irma-geddon, then I had a baby. Baby, hubby and I escaped (okay, evacuated) to California for a while, which was both delightful and difficult.

People have asked when I will be writing about all of that, but the truth is that it’s still hard to talk about and I’m not sure I’ll ever write about it… So I guess the answer to that question is: not yet.

Anyway, seven months on and things are feeling almost normal around here, including at work, where the Limin Times is back!

kermit

Here’s my latest Island Life column, which ran April 19th.

Island life means sharing your mornings with roosters, goats, cows and all kinds of other creatures, but recently I had my worst island wake up call ever. I was roused from my slumber by the feeling of something cold and wet on my shin. Without thinking – let’s be honest, I wasn’t even fully conscious yet – I grabbed the offending object and flung it away into what turned out to be the closet.

This was not a quiet process, so soon I was trying to explain to my groggy husband what the commotion was all about. As my mind cleared I gradually realized that it must have been a frog. I cannot articulate my disgust. A cold, damp frog had been in my bedroom, on my bed, on my leg, and then, shudder to think, I had held it briefly in my hand.

Hubby, hero that he is, wasted no time hopping out of bed and handing me the hand sanitizer. He advised me to take the baby and leave the room, heavy shoe in hand.

“Are you going to kill it?” I asked, realizing that there is indeed something more icky than a live frog hopping around the bedroom.

Beginning to be fully awake himself, hubby put down his shoe and, as if in answer, we heard a rustle in the closet. The frog appeared on the ledge of our son’s play pen and hubby lunged for it. The wily frog, evidently drawn to the sound of his friends outside the bedroom window, started climbing the curtain.

Watching the frog awkwardly make its way up the curtain was like watching a muppet flail its arms and legs. Suddenly, it wasn’t so icky. It was just Kermit. I watched as my resourceful husband coaxed Kermit into the play pen, covered it with a mosquito net, and carried the pen onto the front porch. Kermit was clearly no genius: after he hopped out of the pen he lingered on the porch until hubby made some noise before rejoining the other frogs that love to hang out croaking in the yard.

Even though I fervently hope Kermit never again finds his way inside, I do find myself wishing him well in a way. Now excuse me while I go scrub down everything he might have touched while he was there.

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.)

On being a morning person

sunrise

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.

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.

rainbow

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.

How to have a great boat day

One great thing about island life is the boat trips.

You might think that all boat trips are epic and awesome but I’ve been on a few now — day sails, powerboat rentals, small charters — and they can be uncomfortable if you don’t prepare! So what do you need?

I'm on a boat

But first…

First you need a good group of people. You know that guy from the lunch spot who you always chat with but just kind of irritates you after 10 minutes? Don’t invite him. Funny people, silly people, folks who know you, and folks you don’t mind being in your bathing suit around? Yes.

Next you need refreshments. I have friends who don’t agree, but if you’re going to be out in the Caribbean sun all day, your alcoholic beverages should be WEAK drinks and you should have tons of water. Don’t be the girl who’s out of control before lunch — or worse, losing your lunch. If you know yourself to be the type who might overdo it, get yourself a designated drinks fetcher who knows this about you or bring a thermos of something diluted that you can just sip on all day (my favorite right now is black cherry rum and coke).

While the object of the day might be fun in the sun, the very last thing you want is too much sun, so take all your sun protection. Of course sunscreen (which you need to put on multiple times throughout the day), but also shades and a hat. As I was discussing with a fellow boat-tripper recently, I might look like a geek in a hat, but I’ll take looking geeky over a scalp sunburn every. single. day. Seriously don’t get burned. Bonus points if you bring a hat/shades that you don’t mind losing because the sea… sometimes she claims your stuff.

Now food is a tricky one because some boat trips are planned around eating at a particular restaurant or beach bar, while on others you might be grilling right on the deck. Find out in advance, of course. Either way, snacks will be appreciated, as long as they aren’t a lot of work, so bring something easy to share that doesn’t come with a bunch of packaging that you aren’t going to be able to throw away. Nuts, chips, popcorn and pretzels have gone over well for me.

Finally, no boat day is ever completed without some element of the unexpected. Weird weather? Sharp reef creatures? Jellyfish? The potential for some uncomfortableness is high, so bring your good attitude and willingness to roll with it, and don’t let a little bit of the unexpected ruin your day.

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t talked about navigation or safety, that’s because if you don’t have a captain who has you covered on all that stuff, you aren’t going on a boat trip, because that’s just dumb.