Until we meet again…

What a fabulous introduction to our grandchildren. 

Julius – 4 months at the end of our holiday – captured our heart – always ready to smile, never fussing (unless hungry of course), always happy for a hug and kiss and a morning walk, listening to the birds singing and his Grandma’s lullaby ‘Little boy’.  What an absolute pleasure. Spitting image of his mother, with his grandmother’s complexion – perfect.  He’s won the ‘Angel of the Year’ award.

Wyatt, a 15-month-old with music in his soul and love in his heart – does not stop moving or ‘talking’.  Always strumming a ‘guitar’, with an intimate relationship with ‘Exa’ (Alexa) who seems to respond appropriately to his random requests to play ‘Too’ (Bob Marley) – dances to all music and always has a story to tell.  The way to his heart is definitely through his stomach – a pleasure to feed – who shows his appreciation for everything with the random kiss.  No fear of water and keeps you on your toes at the beach.  A character you can only love to the moon and back.

Solomon, our eldest – adores his brother, Baby Ju-Ju, smothering him constantly with ‘gentle’ hugs and sloppy kisses, loves his cousin Wyatt with a wicked streak that overrides this love at times.  After six weeks, we still need a translator for his Aussie accent, but we managed.  You’re drawn in from the get-go, as he slips his little hand in yours and beckons you to ‘come Grandma’.  Loves an adventure and is extremely aware of his surroundings.  Gives great morning hugs and is enraptured by ‘Moana’.

He is sensitive and caring.  When his cousin left us for the last time, he noticed tears in my eyes and asked why I was sad.  ‘I miss Wyatt’ I said.  ‘Me too Grandma’ and he continued to keep me distracted by catching fish with our pretend rods and telling me stories of whatever came to his mind.  As I watched him play minutes before my final departure, he again noticed tears in my eyes and asked, ‘Why you sad Grandma’.  ‘I am going to miss you’ I said.  ‘I love you so much’.  ‘I love you too’, he whispered.

The tears have not stopped flowing.  Until we meet again my boys.

Time is drawing near…

It’s 4 in the afternoon.  Still a few hours until nightfall.  The birds are singing, chirping, squawking, such a variety nesting in the area.  The rest of the world is quiet in the small town of Tyalgum, Australia.  The gentle breeze is soothing and relaxing and my cup of tea makes it all a very serene moment, giving me time to reflect.

My two eldest sons have now been living in Australia for the better part of the past 16 years – my eldest moved here as a teenager to further his university studies and decided to make this country his home.  My second son moved here with his wife (then girlfriend) about 6 years ago.  Both now have 3 sons between them, and I am a very proud grandmother.

My husband and I have been here now for just about 4 weeks, and the time is flying by ever so quickly.  Using our time and talents to help our sons with their growing families.  Enjoying the precious time spent with our grandchildren – meeting them practically for the first time, after leaving our eldest two years ago at the tender age of 3 months.  We were greeted by two little confident, loving, funny, chatty, determined toddlers and one sweet 3 month-old angel – our hearts melted instantly and we immediately felt the dread of leaving them in the short six weeks ahead.

How does that work.  How is it that you can fall so deeply in love with little humans with just a smile, a snuggle, a giggle.  I will never understand.

We’ve been busy travelling back and forth between their homes – an hour’s drive each way – and have come to love this part of the country.  Tyalgum boasts of just over 500 residents and is nestled in the foothills of Mount Warning, the world’s largest extinct shield volcano, surrounded by farmlands, mountains, creeks and rivers which make this area such a joy to explore.  The centre of the town itself can be leisurely visited in just a short 10 minutes and has all the necessities including a cricket oval, a playground for kids, ice cream parlour, general store and of course, a bottle shop. Sunday afternoon is their busy day when the neighbours gather at the local pub for a quick meal and a beer or two, while being entertained by a live band made up of members of the community.  Charming indeed.

Mullumbimby, Australia’s biggest little town, is a bit larger with just over 3,000 residents and seems like a metropolis in comparison.  When you first arrive, it feels like a one-horse-town with not much action but that is part of the charm of Mullumbimby. It is known for its cafes serving world class coffee, quite often locally grown, and its choice of restaurants, local bakery and butcher, all your needs being met within a stone’s throw away.  The weekly Saturday market offers an opportunity for the neighbours to meet each other, share a meal, and of course be serenaded by the local artists.  A simple life, no fuss, no bother.  Locally the town is known as Mullum. Back in the day, this town grew weed so potent it was known as Mullum Madness – go figure. Fashion is alternative and shoes are always optional.

Both towns exude a simplicity of life and ease of living.  A haven for young children where the outdoors beckon, the rivers pique your curiosity for exploring, the trails easy to venture.

We’ve been joyfully busy.  Grateful for every moment shared. But the reality is that we will leave in a short two weeks, having put our life on pause for our grandchildren.  Creating memories that we hope will build a base for many more to come.

The start of something new…

I retired at the age of 60.

It was not without much thought and planning though.  And it certainly wasn’t because I was unhappy in my job.  Nestlé afforded me what I would consider a rewarding career path over a 35-year span.

I remember it so clearly that interview with Nestlé at the Long Circular Mall, 1985, with my first and one of my very best Nestlé managers, Mr. George Rampersad, Corporate Affairs Manager – May he Rest in Peace. I had heard through the grapevine that Nestlé was looking for a bilingual secretary and I was elated, for I had just spent two years in Europe learning French and Spanish after finishing a Secretarial course in Trinidad – a stipulation from my Dad who wasn’t too sure where this French and Spanish quest would take me.  On my return home 2 years prior, I secured what I thought was the perfect job at the French Embassy, a stone’s throw away from my home, as a bilingual secretary.  Shortened working hours, nice salary, nice people.  Bingo – I was set.

But as it happens, life changes, and you want more.  More challenge, more responsibility and let’s face it, more money.  But I digress.

I arrived at the Nestlé office, unannounced, and presented myself for the job.  Which I then discovered had not even been advertised – the grapevine had obviously given me a head start.  The HR Manager was a bit confused as to how I knew about the job but was kind enough to ask the hiring manager if he had a moment to chat with me.

That was my last interview in life.  A simple, who are you, what have you been doing, what are your hobbies, and a few days later I was offered the job.  I often think back on this experience and compare it to the current hiring process.  And I shake my head with a chuckle, and horror as I am not sure I would perform as well as I did back in the day.  I like to think though that Mr. Rampersad was a very intuitive man who understood clearly from our very brief conversation that I would give Nestlé the best of my years.  I was honest, hardworking and would seek their best interest until retirement do us part.

And he was right.  I gave Nestlé everything I had – my time, my brain, my energy, my passion.  And in return, Nestlé afforded me the opportunity to grow, to learn, to raise and educate 3 sons along the way, to fulfil my passions as they developed throughout my career through the areas of Consumer Services and Corporate Communications.  Giving me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many through their philanthropic activities. Develop my communication skills both verbal and written, interact with persons at all different levels of society, teaching me through experience the virtues of listening, watching and learning.  I made appearances on television and radio understanding the importance of representing my Company with a calm professionalism aligned to their values.  I was privileged to lead professionals of varying stages of their life, of all walks of life.  Nestlé’s vision for health and wellness and caring for future generations, was perfectly aligned with my own aspirations of leading a healthy and meaningful lifestyle and I truly believed that I was making a difference.  On top of that, I had the opportunity to meet people from different cultures travelling for conferences and workshops – fulfilling one of my dreams.  What more could you ask of a career with the #1 Food, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company in the world.

I was happy.  Stressed.  Frustrated.  Needed more ‘me’ time.  Exhausted.  Struggled to achieve work life harmony.  Like most people I guess. But I was also fulfilled.  I had given of my best and I was aptly rewarded both financially and emotionally.

Spending the final year of your career as Head of Communications during a pandemic, is not exactly the way I imagined it.  I imagined the closing off of some wonderful projects, the handing over of my duties in the final stages as a breeze.  That was only a dream.  But true to my commitment to Nestlé, I remained steadfast in my determination to do the best I could to ensure continued success of the organisation through my team and my successor.

At the end of it all I was ready to start my new chapter in my life.  I wanted to do what I wanted to do, with my deadlines, my objectives, my goals.  My family had grown and is still growing.  I wanted flexibility of time to enjoy the fruits of my hard work and dedication not only to Nestlé but to my family as well.  Simply put, I wanted control of my life.  Visit my grandchildren when I wanted and for as long as I wanted.  Plain and simple.

And so, I retired at the age of 60.

And after one year of much rest and introspection (Covid-inspired), I have started that new chapter with much fervour.  I have rekindled my love of reading and writing.  I am exploring many different hobbies and I am travelling as I wish to.

Do I miss working full time?

No

Do I miss the people I worked with?

Most definitely but I know that time permitting at their end, we can always catch up

What do I do with my days?

Whatever I want to or don’t want to do

Am I happily retired?

Absolutely

Do I have any goals in life?

Most certainly – to stay as focussed on the present as much as possible

Grandparenthood

My father had an insane love for his grandchildren.  They were all perfect, and in his opinion they all looked just like him.  A joke the grandchildren would share to this day.  They were all his favourite, and he told each one just that.  His patience, his gentleness, his special love was felt by each one of them.  And sometimes I wondered just who this man was. As a young child, I knew him as a disciplinarian.  You knew you were the apple of his eye, but yet still you never took the chance to be on his wrong side, and you did all you could to make sure you always did what he wanted you to do.  As an adult, you realised that everything he did was for your benefit.

So, when grandchildren came into the picture, and this guy’s face softened visibly at each birth, visit, hug, you knew that this thing called grandparenthood could change your life forever.  And it certainly has.

Living away from your children is one thing.  Living away from your grandchildren is a totally different ball game. Facetiming as often as you could, smiling from ear to ear with each babble.  And when you finally meet, losing yourself with the slip of a small hand in yours, your heart melting at the sound of your name coming from their lips, you know your life has changed forever.  It feels as if your heart will burst with love, but it only grows and expands to adapt to all the indescribable emotions that come with being a grandparent.

No one can prepare you for this.  And jokingly, I tease my children that I love my grandchildren more than I do my very own.  But it is different.  You’re at a stage of your life when you can easily shake off your adulting duties and once again experience the wonder of the world through their eyes.  Their innocence and awe of life softens you.  And you now begin to truly enjoy the simple things in life.  The beauty of a ‘baby flower’ at the side of the road.  The awesomeness of a tractor cutting grass.  The imagination of fishing with a stick and catching leaves.  The excitement of skating down the driveway laughing a belly-laugh like it’s the best thing in the world.  The deep chuckle at the sound of a stone ‘kplunking’ into the water.  The colours of a rainbow.

It’s a joy bestowed upon many.  And I’m ever so blessed to be one of them.

Are we doing a good job as parents?

It’s been quite a journey – this thing called parenthood.  Your main purpose is to raise your children to be the adults you wanted them to be – honest, hardworking, loving, gentle, strong, worthy…  You didn’t always get it perfectly right.  There were many mistakes along the way, but at no time did you give up.  At no time did you stop loving them unconditionally, for this is the foundation on which you build their dreams, their hopes, their future.  Plain and simple LOVE.

I remember quite some time ago, discussing with my dad the trials and tribulations of raising my kids.  There were so many frustrations and questions.  None of which he answered, by the way.  He never offered any sage advice. He would just sit and listen.  Nodding the knowing nod.  Shaking his head appropriately and on queue.  As if to say – ‘Well it’s your turn now.  It’s not easy, but you will get there’.

And then one day he said, quietly and unexpectedly – “You’ll know if you’ve done a good job when your kids have their own kids.  I think I did a good job.”  And he continued staring ahead at the view as we always did on his weekly visits with me.  It was enough affirmation for me, that I wasn’t doing such a bad job.

And so, as I too now watch my boys raise their own.  Watch them be the ever-present, ever-loving father, instilling in their sons, the important virtues of honesty, gentleness, love – I too feel proud.  I too believe, finally, that I really didn’t do such a bad job after all.

Your heart is at peace …

It’s still dark at 5 am.  Venus is shining bright straight ahead of you in the dark sky.  The world is silent. And your heart is at peace.

The creatures begin to stir slowly.  At first you hear the Whippet birds calling out to each other.  Then as the sky brightens you see the Magpies scouring the lawn for their first meal of the day.  Their young following them, learning, by example, how to take care of themselves.

First you hear them with their distinctive laughing call, then you see them as the Kookaburras appear in the veggie patch, picking at the moist earth searching for unsuspecting worms as they too start their day hunting for food.

The clouds move slowly to allow for the rising sun and everything is awash with its golden light. And you know that it’s going to be a great day.

You wait patiently for the pitter patter of the little feet you kissed good night looking forward to the early morning smile and hug.  The simple things in life mean the most.

It’s been two years in the making.  The waiting game is over.  You’ve cried enough tears.  Many prayers have been answered. And your reunion with your grandchildren has finally taken place.

Your heart is most certainly at peace.

It is going to be a great year…

Because I said so…

I am tired of the doom and gloom that has pervaded our lives over the past two years. Tired of that one topic that seems to find its way into every single conversation. Tired of keeping my distance from my family and friends. Tired of the sadness. We seem to have lost what little control we thought we had of what tomorrow could possibly bring.

Like everyone else, my 2021 plans were turned upside down. But with my positive thinking-cap on, I have convinced myself that they may not have been the right plans for me at that time anyway. Instead 2021 allowed me the opportunity to spend time delving into some of the things I’ve always wanted to do and never had the time to do (or the will, whichever is the real reason). In my first year of retirement, I was allowed to reconnect with family and friends. To truly R E L A X. To literally sit and and watch the grass grow, as they say – or the waves roll onto the shore. To take the time to rebuild my garden, my sanctuary, my pride and joy. To enjoy my hummingbirds who from time to time awake me from my reverie to remind me to refill their feeders.

I’ve reconnected with my creative side and reacquainted myself with my sewing machine. We have once again become good friends and we are happy together. I have become a student of the University of YouTube where there are no limits to what you can learn to do. And most of all I have learned that the roller coaster that is life can change its speed, and that’s OK.

With your positive thinking-cap on, the world is a much better place. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel as small as that light may be, the good things outshine the bad, and you are able to move forward one step at a time, slowly but surely.

2021 was great and 2022 will be even greater, as I will soon be on my way to meet my three grandsons, two of whom I am yet to meet personally. FaceTime has become an integral part of my relationship with them and as grateful as I am for being able to watch them grow from afar, it is time for that ever important transfer of love through the hugs and kisses I’ve been storing up over the past two years. We will all be overwhelmed when we finally meet, but it will be good.

It is going to be a great year, because I said so…..

Glamping, Lumbre style…

I remember as a child watching the movie “Sound of Music” over and over again.  I shamelessly admit that I’ve also seen it as an adult multiple times.  And every time that I’ve had the opportunity to hike across the ridge of a mountain, my mind goes back to that scene when the Von Trapp family leave Austria and escape to Switzerland.

Lumbre offered that experience, with cows grazing on the hills, open landscape as far as the eye can see, and as a special treat, what seemed like a secret hike through the forest to an enchanting waterfall – our own private escape.  Such a perfect way to spend a beautiful sunny morning just oustide the small quaint town of Salento nestled in the Cocora Valley.

For those of us who think they want to go camping but aren’t quite ready to sleep on the ground, who want to enjoy the simplicity and beauty that nature has to offer, to wake up to gentle breezes and the chirping of the birds, to be pampered and catered to by the most gracious of hosts, Glamping at Lumbre will fulfil all of your desires and more.  With hiking trails just 100m away, horseback riding at your whim and even the extreme pampering of a masseuse, if you so desire.  A treat for bird watchers.

Our short 3 night stay wasn’t enough.  If there’s one place you want to put on your bucket list – this is it.

Salento – Touring the Wax Palm Forest in the Cocora Valley

We arrived in Salento late into the night, in pouring rain, cold, damp and hungry.  What was supposed to be a 5-hour drive from Jardin stretched into an 8-hour journey due to unforeseen traffic and road works.  Needless to say we were tired and after a quick dinner, bundled into our ‘Glamping accomodation’ and fell asleep before anybody could say “Jack Sprat”.

As we emerged from our tents in the morning, the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the sound of the birds chirping and the cows mooing in the distance immediately erased any displeasures we may have experienced the day before. We were on the Lumbre farm in the Cocora Valley situated in Quindio, Colombia, located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains.  What an absolutely beautiful morning view.  And the day had only just begun.

For we were about to embark on a tour of the Carbonera estate known for its Wax Palms and amazing views.  We chose however to do this tour with a local guide (www.salentocycling.com) in what could only be described as an unconventional way – not only hiking through farm lands bordering the Wax Palm forest, but exploring what is known as the Cloud Forest on dirt road bikes.

We met our exuberant guide Eduardo in Salento and once fitted with our gear, climbed into the back of a Jeep and made our way 20 km up to 11000’ up into the estate.  Rumbling along the rocky dirt road we eventually arrived at our first point of decent – an 8k downhill bike ride which took us to the start of our trek to the Wax Palms.

Amazing views awaited us as we climbed up and down the gentle slopes back to the top where we picnicked relishing in the peace and quiet of the nature that surrounded us.  And then the adventure really began as we were carried back up to the top and jumped on our bikes to make the final 20k ride downhill back to Salento.

The cloud forest, at a temperature of roughly 18C provided mystery at every turn as we could see just 10 meters ahead at any one time.  As we descended further the views of the Cocora valley opened up once more and we were treated to the mooing of cows and even accompanied by a couple of young foals who galloped alongside us for part of the journey.  The excitement building, adrenaline pumping as we had just experienced the tour of a lifetime.

The pictures speak for themselves, and the memories etched in our minds forever.

Jardin – A small town with a big heart

We pulled up in front of our hotel perfectly located on the picturesque square, El Libertador Park,  of the small town of Jardin, located in northwest Colombia.  We gasped at the imposing presence of the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which towered over the square in all its glory.  The square was encircled by tents with vendors of local food and art, restaurants full to the brim of customers enjoying their Sunday lunch, parents sitting amongst the rose gardens, while their young children ran around chasing the birds, laughing with their friends.

We smiled, and immediately fell in love with the sheer beauty of Jardin, known for its brightly painted houses, colorful floral displays and milk candies.  We too began to laugh and chit chat as we wandered in and around the stalls and shops making our way to the nearest local restaurant for lunch.  A normal Sunday, in a small quiet town.

As the afternoon continued, we began to notice young children in their costumes, likewise teenagers and some adults.  It was Halloween we were reminded, but nothing prepared us for the unfolding events that would take place as the sun set on what we thought was the sweet quiet town of Jardin, Antiquoia.

While relaxing on our balcony overlooking the square, we noticed crowds lining the streets under our noses, music from bands began to play on the other side of the plaza, the stalls that were selling local art and candies filled the air with the inviting smells of street food.  The town had come alive in a way totally unexpected.

And then we realized that we were about to witness a parade of Halloween bands, not unlike the Carnival parade of ‘Ole Mas’ bands we are accustomed to in our small twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. This parade however not only featured the well orchestrated bands as they marched or danced pass but also included a large contingent of motorcyclists showing off their road skills.   The revving of their bikes, intermingled with the sounds of the orchestra, the costumed participants of all ages and the varying methods of expression, made for a highly energetic display much appreciated by all.

We were thoroughly entertained and left this sweet town with its unsuspecting vitality imprinted on our hearts.