Downtime …

I was recently reading an article from a fellow blogger on the importance of ‘downtime’ (The importance of downtime – Niraj’s blogs (home.blog) And, as much as this topic is universal, I wonder whether it transcends all ages and stages of life.

Can you have ‘downtime’ from a life of ‘downtime’? That’s the big question.

There were moments over the past 35 and more years when this word would totally escape me – it wasn’t even part of my everyday or occasional vocabulary. Very rare was it that I would have a moment to spend by myself or for myself. These moments, if at all, would have to be stuck in at the very beginning or at the very end of the day, when alas my eyes would close and I would drift away into a dreamland far far away not knowing whether I actually had this downtime moment of not.

I certainly tried to find that work/life harmony – exercising 3 times weekly, eating right including fruits and vegetables in my diet, savouring the ‘antioxidants’ from my daily glass(es) of wine, sneaking away on weekends to the coast to soak in some much needed sun and sea breeze. It was hard work finding this harmony and I used to wonder whether stressing on the importance of finding time to de-stress wasn’t a big part of the reason we were all so stressed. And most times I would just let the day go by and whatever moments were left in it for me, I would be grateful, joyous and feel ever so blessed.

And so now that my days are filled with whatever I want to do, I wonder whether it is still necessary to seek ‘downtime’. For my days can be quite full (note that I’ve removed the word ‘busy’ from my vocabulary), and tiring. Am I in fact catching up on all the ‘downtime’ moments I missed over the past years. Or am I just in another stage of life where I am able to make that ever so important choice of doing what the hell I want to do.

Stay the course my dear friends. Work/life Harmony is important. We must however manage our expectations as to what this ‘harmony’ looks like. Then and only then will you be able to achieve it.

Dear Dad,

Circa 1950

For the past year and a half, you’ve been constantly on my mind. Covid-19 has sent the world in a tailspin, and as much as I miss you and mummy terribly, I’m forever grateful that you’ve been spared this ‘inconvenience’, and selfishly, that we have not had the added worry of keeping you guys safe. It would have been a lonely existence for you both, one which, after such a long and happy life, seeing your children and grandchildren almost daily, would have possibly left you bereft of what was most important to you – family.

We’ve managed well, though – and keep in touch with each other often. Meeting up when we can for quick get togethers at each other’s homes, dropping by to share excess fruit (Julie mangoes, Mummy’s favourite), Zabocas (the boys are still competing as to whose is the best), homemade bread (your eldest has become quite the baker), but most importantly, keeping our family bond strong.

You’ve left us with a legacy so ingrained that in this time of forced isolation, our family connections have pulled us through and we thank you for this.

Circa 1972

And oh the family keeps on growing – with some scattered across the globe, we still remain in touch thanks to the technology which baffled you so much towards the end. Your great grandkids keep us busy and entertained. Some we have not yet met due to Covid, and some on the way. And they all look ‘just like you’ – if not physically, certainly in their hearts which are full of love of life and family.

You would be proud, as are we.

Forever and always……

I remember my Alma Mater

I recently had the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater for a fundraising function.  It is an all-girls school and since I was only blessed with sons, the need to return to the school has not presented itself in a long time.

It’s quite the experience returning to a place that holds your critical formative years as part of its history.  I felt as if I were walking back in time. Everything seemed familiar but with changes. And yet I was a stranger.  The entrance driveway seemed shorter, the roundabout smaller, the landscaping sparse – I remembered so many more trees.

And as I looked back at the entrance, I remembered my father driving through the gates, hanging out of the car window, calling “Ninkins” – his pet name for me – waving his hand to catch my attention.  I was drowning with embarrassment.  And before I could collect my bags, he jumped out of the car and picked them up for me, opening the door and ushering me in with a big proud smile on his face.  I wanted to die.

I smiled now at how silly I was not to understand that my Dad was just so happy to pick me up from school, just this once.  And yes, he intended to embarrass me but in the loving way he always did.

The event started with a Mass, as all events did at Holy Name Convent.  The Hall seemed smaller, filled with HNC girls of all ages.  I remembered faces, but names not so much.  I remembered smiles and expressions and surprisingly I remembered the songs as if it were yesterday.  That familiarity started to creep back in, and I started to feel at home again.

As I gathered together with my classmates, the constant chitter chatter began, and the girlishness sneaked backed in.  The giggles, the stories, the dreams shared.  “Remember when” preceded every sentence, followed by roars of laughter.

The principal captured our attention with her warmth.  She welcomed us back with open arms.  She was engaging and well-spoken with a winning smile.  I hung on her every word.  Something I must admit I seldom did way back when – my attention always being interrupted by some gossipy story or another.  But this day I listened.  And she warmed my heart.  And I smiled.  How lucky the girls must be to be led by her.

Memories jumped at me at every corner.  Standing alone by the tree in the courtyard in the midday sun, retribution for some random act of disobedience.  Sharing our life stories sitting on the edge of the drain (no better place to pour your heart out to your friends).  Pinning paper tails on students (what a bully I was).  Gossiping about the teachers and their love life.  Painting a mural on one of the walls in recognition of our many years at school (well I must have been there for moral support only as my painting skills are non-existent).

It was a time when life-long friendships were formed.  When, cocooned by the guidance and care of the teachers, you built dreams for your future.  You built a base that would support you in the big bad world.  You built memories that would last a lifetime.

There is never enough time …

Six weeks gone in a flash, leaving very many precious moments etched into my heart.  Many times I felt as if I could not hold them long enough, just one more minute please.  Not enough books to read.  Not enough time at the beach.  Not enough walks to the park.  Just not enough time.  That sweet smile, that warm hug, that soft small hand in mine.  That wicked giggle.  That morning snuggle.  It is never enough.

My blessings are many and I am truly grateful.

Just a short eight months ago I left Julius at 4 months old.  He turned one a few days ago.  And he is the same sweet angel with the biggest smile and warmest cuddle.  He knows what he wants and how to get it pointing excitedly, squealing ‘da da da’.  His wide-mouthed smile of pride when he stands on his own melts your heart.  His eyes alit, his arms outstretched for balance as he looks around for the clapping sounds of praise, quickly dropping to the floor and zipping across on all fours to his next antic.

Wyatt, now two, has started to replace his incoherent sounds with words you can actually understand.  He is non-stop action.  Walking is never an option.  He is either running or riding or running – whichever way gets him from one spot to the next in the shortest space of time.  Talking constantly with an array of facial expressions and complementary sounds that complete his stories that we still can’t easily decipher.  His love of music, the water and food is undeniable and he is up for playtime always.  He is confident, has no fear, is sometimes defiant, as a two-year old is expected to be, but always ready for a hug.

Solomon is quite the chatter box himself.  He has grown up in many ways and having turned three, has adjusted nicely to his big brother role.  He loves his Baby Ju Ju – and more and more his heavy loving is being replaced with gentle caresses and less tight hugs, always ready to comfort him.  His wicked streak however, still lurking in the background.  He always has a ‘flan’ (plan), and quite an intricately interesting plan as well.  His collection of seeds and small insects, dead or alive, is testament to his love of nature and his empathy which sees him trying to save even the smallest creature.  He loves a good adventure whether it be going to the beach or exploring the nearby creeks and waterfalls.  Eating may not be his favourite pastime, but his insatiable love of berries, preferably blue, is unparalleled.

They have all captured a special place in my heart which is full to overflowing.  Full of gratitude.  Full of memories to last a lifetime.  Overflowing with love.

Following the Cape to Cape Cycle race in Western Australia

Cape to Cape is traditionally a 4-stage mountain bike cycling classic race which takes place annually in Margaret River, Western Australia.  The race attracts over 1200 cyclists, the largest contingent including Aussies of course, but cyclists from other parts of the region including Singapore and New Zealand and even as far as Ireland, Scotland, UK and Brazil make their way to this challenging event every year to test their skills and endurance, secretly hoping to move further and further up the ladder to become one of the top participants – the black dots.  Riders can vie for top spots as a solo rider or pairs and mixed pairs.

This year, a lone Trini (Trinidad and Tobago) joined the group of enthusiasts.  Having successfully completed an Ironman in 2019, I guess the sky will always be the limit.

The job of supporter this time was a lot less demanding both physically and emotionally.  And why would it be anything else when the location is simply one of the nicest in Western Australia.  Margaret River is a small town south of Perth and is known for its craft breweries and surrounding wineries – and I could stop here, but there is more.  The nearby coast boasts of beautiful beaches including Surfer’s Point, a favourite spot to capture the imposing sunset.

Margaret River is located between two lighthouses north and south of the town and the Cape to Cape race skirts around the limestone caves and sea cliffs of the Cape Naturaliste National park.  As you meander in and around the town the roadside is spotted with native flowers at this time of year and the majestic wooded areas take your breath away.

The race itself takes place over four days and tests the cyclist’s skills at world class single track, rough road, sandy hills, and sheer gut and determination.  The camaraderie encouraged and practised is testament to the participants’ love of the sport and the fellowship that is built therein.  Supporters are happy to hang around exploring the beauty that surrounds, or just relaxing with a coffee and a good book (laptop/mobile – whichever), meeting new people and sharing their own stories.

While the races were in motion, I took the opportunity to stroll along the rugged coast where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet, lose myself in the beauty of the Barval Wines winery, explore the surrounding forest trails in Margaret River and catch up on some local shopping of course.  Wine tastings, beach strolling and cave exploring were icing on the cake.

The life of a supporter can be rough.

How do you say goodbye to someone like Robert…

I lost my friend a few weeks ago.

He was the epitome of what living a free life should look like.  Exuberant, super grateful, embraced every moment, made you feel like you were the best friend he ever had.  His outlook on life was optimistic and infectious.

He gave of himself to everyone he met.

His talent second to none.  As a decorator his events were stupendous.  I always marvelled at his vision for an empty space bringing his magic and making dreams come true – for those dreamy-eyed brides to the Carnival enthusiasts, to the simple business-like occasions made special by his brilliance.

Robert Solomon had his demons to overcome, and he worked every day of his life to win against all odds.  And in my eyes, he did.  I only hope that he knew that he was a winner to all those who loved him.  And there are many of us who do and always will.

Saying goodbye to someone like Robert at such a tender age is difficult to wrap your head around.  I am still at a loss – it is so surreal – a world without my friend.  We were in touch but had not seen each other for a while.  The plans were there but life got in the way.  We had our moments, several of them, for which I am truly grateful.

Would I have done anything differently had I known he would leave so soon?  Probably not.  For ours was a relationship that included a reveal of our feelings for each other every time we met, whether virtually or in person.

I cry every single time I think of him, for my life will be less exuberant without him.  But at the same time, my life has been enriched because of him.

Farewell my friend.  Until we meet again.

A day in the life of a Retiree…

“So what do you do every day?” – the number one question I receive at least once a week.   I am touched that so many people are interested in my whereabouts now that I am retired and it always brings a smile to my face, especially because I am really not sure if the person is baffled, worried or simply interested in how I am managing this thing called ‘retirement’.

It is an important question, mind you – what you do with your days after 35 years of being consumed with your job, children, hobbies and life in general. There is a major gap to fill when you retire to an empty nest.  And I strongly believe that you need to prepare yourself mentally, physically and financially for this new stage of life.  But I was genuinely never worried about filling my days with ‘busyness’ because quite frankly I wanted them as empty as possible so that I could fill them with what I wanted to fill them with.  That was my goal, and my mantra – nowhere to be and lots of time to get there – continues to guide me.

My answer to this question is oftentimes – ‘Whatever I want to do’.  It really doesn’t answer the question and may sound rude but in essence it simply means that I am free to do as I please, that flexibility rules my day.

Today I thought I’d document my every move – because sometimes I too, am not quite sure what I’ve been up to.  So here goes, for those who are really interested in my sometimes-daily routine.

5.00 – Internal alarms goes off – meaning that my eyes can no longer stay closed which I am told is a mature person’s curse.  I have not set a morning alarm since I’ve retired, and you have no idea how ‘freeing’ this is. I get up and start my day and I’ve chosen to fill my early morning with exercise.  So, I quickly feed the dogs and I am out of the house by 6.00 to take a leisurely 8k run.

The sun is rising, lights are still on in my neighbourhood, the air is cool, the birds are already up and searching for food.  As I stroll down my hill, I take in the lush views of the mountains and begin my run slowly, enjoying the peace and quiet on the roads.  I am smiling.

The route is quiet at first but as the rest of the world begins their daily commute to school and work, the sound of the birds chirping is drowned by the noise of vehicles rushing to get where they need to be.  I am still smiling – I have nothing to rush anywhere for.  I feel at peace even with the hustle and bustle around me.

As I finish my run in my favourite park, the squawking of the parrots come back into focus, the squirrels are scurrying from tree to tree, and I share the usual morning pleasantries and chats with my morning exercise buddies.  As I pass the school on my way home, mothers are frantically doing last minute homework with their kids, quick hugs and kisses, and they are off to start their day.  I remember those days and I smile.

This particular morning, the traffic is thick.  I slowly walk back home engaging in conversation with at least four drivers who are at a standstill.  I laugh and jokingly thank the traffic for letting me catch up with some friends on the way.

8.00 – I peruse my garden – feeding the wild birds and the pond fish.  There’s nothing like walking through your garden, trimming, pruning, chatting with the flowers and wildlife along the way – picking the fresh produce of the day.  It’s peaceful and rewarding.  As I sit having breakfast, the hummingbirds are darting back and forth from the flowers to their feeders, the wild birds are having a blast with the fresh seeds, the butterflies flitting gracefully from flower to flower.  The morning is cool.  The rest of the day looms ahead.

10.00 – Hobbies are cast aside today as I have some last-minute shopping to do readying for my big trip next week to see my boys.  At the mall I meet up with my sister unexpectedly. With nowhere to be and lots of time to get there, we catch up on the last days’ events, laugh and even reminisce, forgetting that we have anything else to do.  Then, oops, we do have things to do and continue on our merry way, all the better for having met up with each other.

Alas, nothing like a nap when it is raining…

1.00pm – Lunch while catching up with the BBC and some other personal messages. However, a day is never complete without succumbing to the call of the sleep gods.  And it is raining.  YES!!!  A movie and a nap are in order for the afternoon quiet time.  This was always a must on my retirement list of ‘things to do’ – nap time, relax time, meditation time, me time – call it what you will – the only flexibility about this time is its length, but it happens every single day.

3.00 – I thought I had set aside my hobbies for the day, but my sewing machine is clambering for some attention, and I dutifully answer the call – finishing off some projects before my impending vacation next week.  I am still smiling.

But by 6.00, the sun is on the verge of setting and I prepare myself for the end of another beautiful retired day with a glass of wine.

It was a good day.  I am blessed and grateful. Looking forward to tomorrow ….

Hike to the Avocat Falls

I discovered the Avocat Falls two years ago during the Covid lockdown.  Even though we were forbidden to visit any water sources, beaches or otherwise, the outdoors beckoned, and my husband and I ventured to this quiet part of our rainforest to soak in a bit of nature.  I was enamoured with the silence of the forest, the magnificent roar of the waterfall and the clear clean water filling the many pools we crossed as we made our way down to the mouth of the Marianne River.

Getting to the Avocat Falls

The Avocat village is located off the Arima Blanchisseuse road, and you can trek to the Falls the easy way (20-minute walk both ways) or the more scenic adventurous path (2.5-hour turnaround).  And well I am sure you can easily guess that we took the longer route.

Since then, this hike has become our go-to when looking for a ‘quick’ outdoor fix.  It begins with a 15-minute uphill climb through the lushness of the rain forest.  The birds are always nearby calling out to each other and the sound of the river fades at you move further away.  The descent into the river is gentle and you are soon serenaded once again with the rush of the water flowing down river.

There is a slight wade through the river and a quick swim across a pool before you feast your eyes on the roaring waterfall.  What a sight to behold.  The world stops.  You are in a sacred place that nature has provided for all to enjoy.  You sit and ponder the strength and beauty of the water gushing over and thundering into the pool below.  Tempting for the brave to jump in and enjoy the cool refreshment the water brings.  Serene enough for those who just want to sit and enjoy the beauty that surrounds.

Avocat Falls

You are mesmerised and want to stay a while, and only pull yourself away because you know there is more to experience as you make your way down the river, swimming through the many pools of water, soaking up the natural rock formations, breathing in the sweet scent of the white peace lilies that line the river bank.

We have since taken many friends on this hike with us.  And always, but always, it’s a joy to see the smile on their faces.  The sheer delight in visiting one of the best waterfalls in Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s your turn now.  Go venturing.

Avocat Falls

Saving the environment …

… one small step at a time.

I recently re-read the simple story of a young boy saving starfishes on the beach by picking them up and throwing them back into the sea. An older gentleman asked him why, when there were so many starfishes on the beach, did he think that he could make a difference.  And as he threw one more back into the ocean he said simply – “It made a difference to that starfish”.

I often wonder what difference I could possibly be making by collecting my one bag of bottles weekly and taking them to recycle.  Why do I continue cleaning up my favourite little beach when the ocean continues to bring debris from all parts of the world every single day, not to mention those indiscriminate beach goers who could care less.  Why should I go the extra mile to conserve energy by switching off unnecessary lights.  Why should I take the extra time to seek out locally grown food when I can just as easily buy foreign stuff in the supermarket all nicely wrapped in plastic.

Because, the truth is, every single small step makes a difference.

One set of bottles recycled can offset the use of precious raw materials.  One garbage bag of beach litter results in one bag less of trash floating around in the ocean harming our sea life.  A healthier electricity bill, less bulbs purchased and less energy being consumed are good reasons to turn off our lights. Helping grow our economy while limiting the use of plastics, seems good enough reasons for me.

Everything we do has a ripple effect, for better or for worse.  Your one tiny step to saving the environment will make a difference.  So go ahead and take that step.  Your grandchildren will thank you for it.

Bermuda

As a child, Bermuda was synonymous with the legendary Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, a place somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean where planes and ships were reported to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Even though this myth has been dismissed by the experts, it is still ever present in my mind.

Bermuda is in fact an archipelago consisting of over 150 islands with the most significant being connected by bridges, making it appear as one landmass.  You can literally run from one part of Bermuda to the other in just over 8 hours depending on your level of fitness.  Or if you prefer, you can simply drive around at your leisure in less than a day.  But what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in beauty.

It is located out in the middle of what seems like nowhere, approximately 1000 km to the west-northwest of North Carolina.  Even though I live on an island myself, it’s still kind of scary living so far away from any other landmass, considering the increasing number of hurricanes recorded annually off the east coast of the US.  But in essence Bermuda, even though it has experienced the wrath of hurricanes over the decades, receives some protection from a coral reef, and its position at the north of the hurricane Alley limits the direction and severity of approaching storms.  As safe a place to be I imagine, as any of the other Caribbean islands.

Bermuda remains one of the British Overseas Territories. With a population of just over 71,000, its inhabitants reflect its rich history of slavery, colonisation and migration with descendants from Africa, Britain, America, Portugal and the mixtures in between.  The buildings whether commercial or residential share a similar paint pallet all with white roofs, giving it a feeling of unity and purpose.  A very warm and welcoming people greet you and you immediately slip into the vacation-I’m-gonna-have-a-great-time mode. With an ocean view at your every turn, you remain calm, relaxed and always with a smile on your face.

We were fortunate to spend our time with some long-time friends or ‘locals’ as you would say, affording us the privilege of visiting every nook and cranny of this wonderful island by land and sea.  From St. Georges at one end to the Royal Naval Dockyard at the other end of the island and all the beautiful beaches, hilltop views, walking trails and restaurants in between.

Thanks to our very generous and gracious hosts, I’d say a time very well spent.

Blanchisseuse

In my humble opinion, there’s not a bad spot, view or beach on the north coast of Trinidad. Not all beaches are accessible but the views are certainly there for everyone to enjoy. The drive is long and winding but the lush flora and the oceanview makes is all worthwhile.

This is just one little beach with so much beauty to offer. Enjoy the pics.

30 – then and now…

When I turned thirty, some thirty-something years ago, it was a turning point for me.  I truly felt that I had finally grown up.  I was a big woman.  Married with two kids, just purchased my second home, a working career with a great future, and I was secretly thinking of adding one more kid to my small family.  Secretly because my husband didn’t know about this plan just yet, and quite frankly he never really knew.  It just happened – that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

It was a time full of excitement, lots to look forward to with a growing family.  Lots of places to go, people to meet.  I held a party at my home to mark the momentous occasion.  Friends, family, food, drink, music and dancing of course.  As you can imagine, there are a few stories that we reflect on from time to time with our close friends, in awe of what could only be termed as reckless behaviour in this day and age.

There was a certain excitement in my life with what I could only dream were many years of fun and adventure in my future. I was ready to take it all on.

My youngest son turns 30 today.  He has just recently landed a job ticking all his boxes.  He is single, not that this is a plug but I could take applications – LOL just kidding.  He’s just spent the past two days celebrating with friends – fete after fete after fete, as they say.  I tried to curtail his enthusiasm with sage advice.  It didn’t work.  He was determined to put his mark on this milestone.

He organised a party at our home.  Friends, family, food, drink, music and some dancing.  My husband and I retreated early to our ‘not so quiet’ space as we were no longer ‘needed’.  There was certainly a lot of noise, laughter, singing and from the Instagram pics, there was dancing as well.  Thank God he warned the neighbours.

The morning-after clues revealed in no uncertain terms that a fun time was had by all and that my thirty-year old was responsible.  The house was cleaned, leftovers put away or given away, and the bar empty or tidy – depends on the perspective.  But he was missing in action.  My husband insisted on calling him, but I knew in my heart that he was just stretching his celebration to the limit.  And he was. Going to be beach was next on his list of adventures. I was hoping that this was this last hurrah of the celebrations. A quick pit stop to stock the cooler, and he was off.

Turning thirty has not changed.  It is still a force to be reckoned with – no matter the era. It’s a turning point as you head towards the more responsible time of your life.  It is to a large extent leaving a bit of your youth behind.  A youth you’ve lived to the fullest, taking with you your memories, your joie-de-vivre and your optimism for the best future ahead.