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.

Listening to the day end…

At first it sounds quite sad. Listening to the day end evokes a picture of someone sitting alone, maybe lonely, with only the birds, trees, flowers and frogs for company. No talking. Silence.

But even though the image may be somewhat accurate, the sense is quite the opposite. Alone yes, but not lonely. With the birds, trees, flowers and other garden creatures as the only company, certainly, but happy to be among such a simple, forgiving crowd.

And then again, imagine that person basking in the stillness of thought, feet up with a glass of wine, ending an otherwise not so busy day, quietening the mind, body and soul. With the sounds of nature – the dogs across the valley barking at Lord alone knows what, the busyness of the birds getting ready to roost for the night, one or two taking their last share of the seeds left there for them, the buzz buzzing of the night creatures coming alive, the frogs leaving the comfort of the garden beds to venture out for the evening – no one really knows where they are going.

Peace reigns.

As the sun sets, the light casts a glow on the garden that makes the flowers radiant with colour, creating a mysterious sky, but in such a soothing manner that all your muscles relax, your thoughts subside and you focus only on the breeze that caresses your face ever so gently, and the faint hustle and bustle of those poor sods rushing home after a hard day’s work (no offense intended – I’ve been there).

Listening to the day end brings calm, allows you to rationalize your worries, to notice the beauty that surrounds, bringing great anticipation for the beginning of another day to come.

And we can only hope that we will be gracious and grateful for such.

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……

Retirement fun …

My daily sunset view

I have slipped into this new way of life so easily; it scares me.  I guess I was super ready for this phase.  And, as I learned during my years in the corporate world, preparation is key to success.

”Don’t you miss being busy?”  Well, first of all, ‘being busy’ is over-rated.  There is much to be appreciated in just sitting still, enjoying the view, the sounds, the people passing by – emptying your mind and focusing on the now, the person next to you, your grandson making funny noises, having his breakfast or laughing at your silly antics and clapping hands on the other end of your iPad.

Oh, and that afternoon nap.  Who knew that a short half- hour nap on an afternoon could bring such joy – readying you for your quiet enjoyment of the end of the day, watching the sun set in all its glory.

I have time for everything and everyone, mostly.  I have become available – for what I want to do (and this is critical – what I want to do) – and it is empowering.  I am still capable of learning new skills, and this excites me.

Do I miss my former work life? No.  It played a significant role in my growth and development, and I am now onto new and exciting things.

Do I miss my work friends?  Most definitely.  But we’ll catch up some day.

And as I look at my new life unfold; I can only count my blessings…

  • Not having a schedule
  • Getting up early with nowhere to be and lots of time to get there
  • Working in my garden whenever I feel like it and for however long I need
  • Watching the sun set every single day
  • Noticing the wide variety of birds in and around my garden
  • Daytime naps
  • Freedom to chat with my children and grandchildren whenever they call
  • Having impromptu Covid-sanctioned limes
  • Learning new skills
  • Being available to my family and friends
  • That glass of wine

And the list goes on….

On the other side of Covid-19 …

I always try to look at the positive side of life.  It just makes more sense.  And as such, even though Covid has brought many many downsides, I am still standing firm that there has be a bright light at the end of this very long tunnel.  We’ve witnessed many many good things though – with amazing people stepping up and helping within societies and communities, families coming together for the common good – in some instances for the very first time.

I acknowledge that we’ve all lost – family, friends, livelihoods, time with family and friends, education …. and the list goes on and on… but I can’t help believing that there has to be a damn good reason for our pain.

There must be a lesson that we need to learn – that I need to learn.  Otherwise, this dark era will be for nought.

We’ve learned that family and friends are more than just important – they are critical to our well-being.  We’ve learned that our materialistic way of life is worth little at the end of the day.  We’ve learned that we are all in this thing called life, together.  That for one of us to survive, we all need to survive.  That we are social beings who struggle without human contact and interaction.  That as much as technology has got us through this to a large extent, it is not to be revered.  That to get through this our faith is also an important factor.

And none of this is new.  We’ve been given a chance to step back, take a second look at where we were heading, where we truly want to be going, and press that reset button.

Stop.  Don’t yell at me.  I know there are people suffering.  I too am suffering.

But I honestly believe that amidst all of this, if we can just spare one moment, we will all realise that we have a tremendous amount to be grateful for, and that to move forward on a more sustainable path, we need to make some changes.  That coming through that Covid tunnel not only depends on a serious vaccination programme, but on an internal rejuvenation process that each of us must take.

What has the past year and a half taught you.   What have you done without, that you realise is of little significance to your happiness? What blessings have kept you going?

Nurture those things that you realise are important. And get rid of those things that are merely superficial.

We are a village.   A village that is not as large as you believe it to be.  We can do simple things to help the village grow and prosper. Each one of us is a critical spoke in the wheel.

I’ve noticed that within my small circle of family and friends, simple things have kept us together – the sharing of our time – a simple telephone call to check in – sharing our overabundance of fruit, a new recipe, an extra loaf of homemade bread, a not so funny joke.  We have bonded in a way that we may not have if life had remained on its fast-paced track. And I am sure you have too.

As much as I favour the positive side of life, I worry though that this simple life will not last long.  When the world is once again available in all its glory, will I be strong enough to continue to focus on quality vs quantity.  Will I be humble enough to nurture a simple life?

Serenity abounds

Good Friday Paria Challenge

Even before we were lucky enough to lease and now own Manixia, our home away from home, my family and I, and close friends have been hiking to Paria Bay (click here for my blog The Paria Trail), a secluded beach along the North Coast of Trinidad, on Good Friday. It was a simple gesture for our kids to do something challenging in commemoration of the significance of Good Friday itself.

Needless to say, this gesture, some 25 years in the making, has become a tradition. And has come to include many friends and friends of friends – anyone willing to join in the challenge of what I consider to be one of the most beautiful hikes in Trinidad and Tobago – (we can discuss this point at another time). It has become a day of sharing, a day of camaraderie, a day to relax and maybe reflect, but certainly a day when like-minded outdoor enthusiasts get together for a good time.

Then 2020 happened.

And then 2021, when a small light at the end of the tunnel lit a spark, albeit a small spark, and the Good Friday hike was on again. This time with a difference. And as if we needed to inject any amount of enthusiasm, my husband decided that the hike should include a mental challenge as well. These challenges took the form of simple questions related to the location, the environment and of course Good Friday.

Not surprisingly, the participation was infectious, the enthusiasm at its highest, and the day a splendid one.

Thanks to all for being there.

Touring Tobago… the unconventional way.

It sounded like a cool vacation-type day, exploring the coastline, dreamily driving through the quaint villages, stopping to take some pics, experimenting with the local cuisine, and finally dipping your toes in the ocean, relaxing on some secluded beach sipping on your favourite beverage.  Life in the tropics.

That’s one way to tour Tobago – Trinidad’s charming sister isle.  But I met a bunch of determined, strong-minded, never-give-up, leave-no-man-behind kind of tourists, who took Tobago by storm – on their bikes.  Oh, and I am quite sure there must have been some level of ‘crazy’ in them as well – but that’s another story.

Before the sun could rise, vital supplies were packed, bikes prepped, minds set and off we went.  And by ‘we’ I mean, me donned with my camera in a vehicle, and the rest of the group on their bikes (just to be clear). What initially seemed like a cool, slow, leisurely ride around the island quickly turned into a gruelling test of will, strength, preparedness and sheer gut.  They pumped their way up and down, up and down some of the steepest hills, with sharp hairpin corners, in the hot midday sun.  Stopping only to refuel, regroup and start all over again.  Their minds set on the finish line and the oh so rewarding moment when you realise that you have just completed a 102km ride, climbing 2,700m, some sections with a gradient of 15-18%, 5-7 hours of riding your heart out.

I learned a lot on this tour.  I learned that your mind is probably your most powerful tool.  I learned that your body can endure far more than you give it credit for.  And quite unexpectedly, I also learned a few choice words to add to my ever-expanding vocabulary.

Who won? They all won.  If nothing else, they won my complete admiration.

The day did end with the ‘sipping on your favourite beverage’ part, near to a body of water. Not to mention the telling and re-telling of the many personal stories of the day.  There was laughter, camaraderie, relief and most of all a great sense of accomplishment.

You people are all my heroes.

(I’ve included a short video for those wishing to see the heroes of the day)

the NEW friday…

Fridays have always been a much-treasured day for me.  A day when years ago I would rush home from work, gather up the kids and head to a dear friend’s home, so that the kids could play with their friends and I would have someone to share the week’s ups and downs with – with a ‘drink in hand’ of course.

Then it became the Friday B-B-que night – where I’d prepare all the food, sit back and watch my boys ‘do the B-B-que’ – with a ‘drink in hand’ needless to say.

As the years passed, and work responsibilities increased, not to mention the kids became teenagers, Wednesday became the new Friday – if only because the ‘drinks in hand’ scenario needed to start a bit earlier in the week.

I won’t even go through the Covid times when every day rolled into one and Friday was whichever day you wanted it to be – signalled by the ‘drink in hand’, of course.

With nowhere to be and lots of time to get there however, my Fridays have taken on a new meaning – it’s the wherever I want to be day and I’m loving it.

The Paria trail…

Over the past few years that I’ve had the privilege of occupying a modest space on our north coast, I’ve witnessed hundreds of hikers brave the Paria trail.  It’s not a hike for the faint hearted.  It has its fair share of hills which meander gently down to small creeks.  Views of the coast tease you from time to time.  And the cool breezes that waft through the forest beckon you on to your destination.

It is challenging and well worth the effort.  And over the years that my husband and I have trekked the trail for our early morning exercise, I’ve always threatened to take my camera with me.  To stop from time to time to truly enjoy the views, the flora, the breezes, the birds awakening, the butterflies flitting.

Now that I have nowhere to be and lots of time to get there….. Guess what…. My camera came for the hike.

Hiking the virgin forest …

Early morning wake-up call, an hour’s drive to the start of our adventure, wide open paths (for the most part anyway), scrambling up muddy slopes on hands, tummies and knees, cool breezes, breath-taking hilltop views, ocean-scapes – nature at its best.

A lovely morning spent with like-minded crazies.  And we would do it all again with nowhere to be and lots of time to get there.

@Pigeon’s Peak, Tobago