Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home for the Holiday

This week I am taking a break from the island and visiting home for the holiday.  I haven't been home since I moved in May, so it's been a whirlwind of a week.  I've been busy tying up some loose ends that didn't get done prior to my move...renewing my driver's license, going to the bank (there is no Chase Bank in St. Thomas), performing some of my landlord duties on my condo, going to the doctor for a check up, Christmas shopping, etc., etc.  Of course, more than anything I've been trying to see as much of my friends and family as possible while I'm here.  In particular, I love spending time with my 4 year-old nephew whose personality seems to get bigger and bigger every time I see him.       

I won't be able to spend Christmas Day with him, my sister and my mom, so we all decided to get together early at my mom's house to celebrate the holiday.  Since arriving at my mother's home, we've primarily spent our time eating the ham that she baked yesterday and playing with the presents that I gave my nephew....Legos and a pirate ship, but right now he is playing Angry Birds and a bowling game on my iPhone. 

My nephew, Brody, opening his X-mas gift from me.

So far, though, my favorite part of this week has been the 1 hour and 30 minutes that I exclusively spent with him, shopping for a gift for my sister (his mom).  The jibber jabber began immediately upon strapping him into my rental car.  During our short car ride to his store of choice for this important endeavor, Bed Bath and Beyond, we briefly discussed several topics including, but certainly not limited to...bombs, good guys and bad guys, hot chocolate, Legos, and the fire truck that passed us with its siren and lights on.  He also managed to fit in an entire rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in baby talk and then he translated it for me in plain English.

When we arrived at the store we took one walk around to scope out his options.  He considered buying his mom some rainbow colored magnetic clips for her refrigerator, which he had also bought for my mom for Christmas, but then he decided against it.  For a while we looked for some soaps that he had in mind, but we couldn't find them.  In the end, he settled for a snowman nightlight, some cranberry smelling candles, one snowman candle holder and another decorative glass candle holder that looks like it may be missing it's bottom half.  So, about $50 later we were done and off to grab a treat at Starbucks.

Once we had made it to Starbucks, my nephew changed his mind from wanting hot chocolate to simply having some chocolate milk, as to avoid the chance of burning his tongue.  He then decided to sit down at a table where we proceeded to play with one of his army Lego men by flicking him back and forth into our hand made 'goals' and sliding him around on our table.  Somehow, he managed to win every time, even when his man didn't land in my goal.  I, however, never seemed to win even when I successfully managed to get my man into his goal.  Lego figurine aside, I made an effort to have some sort of conversation with him by asking who his best friend was, what his favorite color was and what he is currently learning and doing in school.  He could not be bothered with this nonsense and stayed persistently on course with the flicking around of his Lego man.   

When we had finished our drinks and our game, we decided we should head home.  We got back into the car and my nephew once again got lost in conversation about all sorts of various subjects.  My participation in his dialogue seemed to be inconsequential to the discussion, so I simply listened to him go on and on about all of the things that blow through a 4 year old's mind from one split second to the next. I believe Jack Sparrow had a lot to do with the conversation, but in all honesty I didn't catch much of what he was saying.  I was simply happy having him around, all to myself, for the precious little amount of time we had together.   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend in St. Maarten

I’ll admit that during this busy time of year, I've neglected my blog.  With the holidays upon us in addition to the normal day-to-day responsibilities, there hasn’t been much free time.  However, over the Thanksgiving holiday we took advantage of our time off and headed to St. Maarten for the long holiday weekend.   

For those of you that haven’t been to St. Maarten, it’s a pretty unique island - half French and half Dutch.  The border is open, so you can go from one side of the island to the other without having to go through Customs, which makes it easy for tourists like us to get around.  Both sides have a distinct character of their own, so we were looking forward to exploring each end of the island. 
We hopped on a quick 45 minute flight from St. Thomas to St. Maarten the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and checked into our hotel on the Dutch side in an area called Maho.  As we checked out the area, we took note of the restaurants, bars and the casino that were within a block of our hotel.  We kicked off the night at a piano bar called Saprano’s.  It was a happening place and we had a good time listening to some live music, but we had our sights set on the casino.  So, after we had heard enough Elton John and Billy Joel cover songs, we headed off to the Black Jack tables where I proceeded to lose most of my money, the rest of which I put into the video poker machine only to (more slowly) lose more.
The next day was Thanksgiving.  We rented a car and drove out to the French side of the island toward our final destination, Orient Beach.  We noticed that this side of the island was much less Americanized than the Dutch side. Rather than offering flashy casinos and hotels, the French side was much more European.  There were French bakeries and small French cafes along the way.  But, I have to say that the most French aspect of the whole experience was the nude beach that we walked through when we reached Orient Beach. 
I have never been to a nude beach before, so I was curious to see how it worked.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but frankly, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.  The beach was loaded with naked people of all shapes and sizes lounging around on their recliners, baking in the sun.  Like a bad car accident, I couldn't stop looking at these people.  Some of them were relaxed and relatively tasteful in the way they displayed themselves, others were seemingly flashing me, and at times I felt a bit violated by their stance.  Either way, nothing could have reinforced my notion that humans simply aren’t good looking creatures more than walking along this beach.  We quickly made our way to the other side of the beach where tops were optional, but bottoms were required.  It was a good compromise, and I felt much more comfortable.
When we were done relaxing at the beach we made our way back to the hotel to clean up before dinner.  Since this island isn’t American, there weren’t a lot of options to find a good turkey dinner, so we settled on an Italian restaurant where I ended up having the best lasagna I’ve ever had, drank some delicious wine and simply enjoyed spending some quality time with my boyfriend.  We then proceeded to follow our routine from the prior night by hitting up the piano bar before continuing on to the Black Jack tables where I ended up winning enough dough to make up for the previous night’s disaster.
We spent the rest of the weekend checking out other areas of the island, shopping, gambling, eating and relaxing by the hotel pool.  My favorite area of the island was Grand Case on the French side.  It had a quaint, quiet, European feel to it, and it was full of restaurants and shops.  Upon arriving in Grand Case, we took the time to review the menus of several enticing restaurants before deciding on Ls’ Auberge Gourmande where we had one of the best meal we’ve had since we moved to the Caribbean.

Kevin and I in Grand Case at Ls' Auberge Gourmande

 In summary my Thanksgiving weekend ended up being a big hit.  Considering I went to a nude beach, ate Italian food and gambled, I’m the first to admit that it wasn’t conventional.  And, in my opinion St. Maarten isn't as beautiful as the USVI, since it's much flatter and the views don't include other islands in the distance.  Regardless, we did see some beautiful sunsets and truly enjoyed the change of pace.  It was great to be able to travel to another island to get a different cultural experience during our time off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tortola 13.1

Since moving to our new neighborhood on the island, my boyfriend and I have bumped into the same neighbor and her sister several times while out jogging in the morning.  We formally met them at a BBQ that one of our mutual friends was hosting back in August, and since then they have invited us over to their place for football on Sundays, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinner, etc.  One of the sisters even invited us to join her on her softball team that plays on Thursday nights.  All this considered, it was no surprise when 6 or 7 weeks ago they invited us to join them, to run a mini-marathon in Tortola.  After all, we mainly became familiar with them because we saw them running in the neighborhood on a weekly basis. 
While they seemed cavalier about this type of daunting commitment, I struggled with the idea of having to add a long run into my weekend schedule in order to prepare for such a feat.  If we committed to doing this, then that meant we would have to eliminate some fun, late nights on the weekends and long, beautiful hikes on St. John.  Of course, let’s not forget the exhaustion that’s involved with running straight for an hour, an hour and a half, or two hours at the break of dawn as to avoid the heat.  In addition, I was on crutches for 6 weeks after the last 13.1 miler I did, so the answer seemed pretty clear.  No…I will not put myself through all that again!
On the flip side, I thought it would be a fun weekend to bond with our friendly neighbors.  They just bought a boat, which we could take over to Tortola and use for the rest of the weekend to island hop and hang out together.  Also, I had never been to Tortola, and I’ve been anxious to explore some of the other islands.  Somehow boating and making new friends far outweighed the sacrifices and commitment that goes into a half marathon.  After some discussion with my boyfriend, we agreed to join them.
So, for the last 6 weeks or so we have been getting up at 5:30 a.m. every Saturday morning to ride down to town where the land is flat and we could run for long stretches of time.  We would start where all the cruise ships dock, jog through the main town, pass all the tourist shops and jewelers, run along the water by the seaplanes, cross into Frenchtown where there are some great restaurants, over to Crown Bay where the bigger cruise ships dock and on to the airport.  We would then turn around and do some variation of the same course back to our car which was always parked outside of a local diner, called the Delly Deck, where we would have breakfast after cooling down.  Then, we would spend the rest of the day hydrating and laying around on the beach, recovering.
As the weekend of the mini-marathon approached, I was feeling prepared.  I had run 11 miles the weekend before and felt strong.  To keep me going for this 2 hour excursion I had downloaded my favorite podcast, This American Life, and a new playlist – thank you Rihanna and Coldplay.  Of course, trash-talk began between us and our neighbors as to who would win the race.  And, arrangements had been made for where we were staying while in Road Town, Tortola.
Friday evening we all met at the dock and took off across the water to Tortola.  Being a boating amateur, I sat in the front of the boat for the entire rocky ride over and felt as though my back was going to give out before I could get this damn run in.  Relieved, we arrived at Customs (Tortola is British), gave them our paperwork and went to check into our hotel.  We spent the rest of the evening asking several questionable people directions for where we needed to go to register for the race.  After registering we then proceeded to carb-load and hydrate before going to bed early.
The next morning we woke up at about 5:00 am, had a quick bite to eat, drank some coffee and headed off to meet the other 60 people that would also be running with us.  Yes…only 60 people ran this race, yet my bib number was 91.  Curious.
Of course, I’m used to mobs of people at these things, where the runners don’t break up until several miles into the course and you take off in heats, while listening to music like the Blackeyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” blasting out of giant speakers.  Conversely, all 60 of us were verbally told to go to the start line where some general announcements were made and the people from St. Thomas were personally welcomed.  Then we were told to ‘go’ and we all took off at once. 
The course was flat and the path was straight out and straight back on the same relatively shaded road with a short loop in the beginning to add some distance.  Once we ran through Road Town, we met the ocean.  Since the race started at 6:00 am, the sun was coming up over the islands in the distance and a nice breeze came up off the water.  It was a cooler morning and the island seemed quiet.  I started to loosen up after about 3 miles and felt the perfect runner’s high on miles 6 and 7 where I proceeded to have some water and eat my gummy bears.  I then turned up my playlist and started counting down the rest of the miles.  It was a pleasant run and I had paced myself well.  I finished in 1 hour and 55 minutes and 34 seconds – 10th overall in the women’s division and well under my goal.  Yup, I was a big fish in a very little pond.  However, I felt accomplished and satisfied.

Kevin and I - post race.
Kevin and I with our neighbors, Ashley and Leslie, at the finish line.

Our crew joined back up at the finish line where we congratulated each other, since everyone ran better than they had hoped.  After cooling down, eating a homemade breakfast of bangers and eggs and showering, we were ready to switch gears. 
We piled into the boat for a full day of exploring different beaches and islands.  We had lunch on Scrub Island at a nice resort, where we took advantage of their pool bar before moving on to another island called Marina Cay to hang out at an isolated beach side bar, called Pussers.  This was by all accounts the most perfect beach bar I’ve been to.  It was close to the water, had great rum drinks and as you looked out over the ocean from your bar stool, you could see the sun sparkling on the sea in the forefront, the silhouette of sailboats floating in the water, and plush islands in the backdrop.  I could have stayed there the rest of the day, but we moved on to Beef Island where there was a strip of beach bars with huge hammocks in front of them where several people could literally ‘hang’ out.  After visiting some shops and a bar, we decided it was time to head back to Tortola for dinner and some live music.  Needless to say, the fun didn’t stop until the early morning and we were exhausted the next day. 
Since we had lived life to the absolute fullest the day before, we took it easy on Sunday.  After breakfast we hopped into the boat and went to Jost Van Dyke before heading back to St. Thomas late in the afternoon.  It had been an incredibly fun weekend, and I was glad that we had agreed to go with our new found friends to spend some time together.  Of course, I’ve spent the last couple of days resting and fighting off a bit of a cold, but we made some good memories over the weekend.  No doubt, a good time was had by all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Couple More Short Stories

One Eyed Willy

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I decided to go have dinner and see some live music in a popular area of the island called Redhook.  The band we wanted to see didn’t start until 10:00 p.m., so after dinner we stopped at a few places for a drink before heading to our final destination, the Caribbean Saloon. 
When we decided it was time to make our way for the live show, we started walking down the street to the bar.  Even though it was a slow time of year, the street was hoppin’ with friendly patrons, taxi drivers and several lively bars.  As we approached the Saloon and started walking up the stairs to their entrance we heard someone behind us, also walking up the stairs, advertising his taxi services to us for when the show was over.  I knew we would need a cab to get home, so I turned around to get a glimpse of the cab driver. 
When I turned around, I saw a short, dread-headed man with only one eye.  Slightly disturbed but pretending not to be as to avoid offending this man, I immediately turned back around and proceeded to go up the stairs and into the bar.  As we sat down and waited for the band to start, the cab driver sat down next to us and proceeded to order a shot, and I believe he also ordered a drink before heading over to play some video poker.  I made a mental note of the situation and moved on toward the stage to watch the band when they started. 
We spent the rest of the night enjoying some decent hairband music, and I believe I even got up on the stage at one point for ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’.  In my defense, I wasn’t the only girl on stage. 
Towards the end of the night we had managed to fight through the crowd so we could be close to the stage.  When I looked over at the hyped-up fans next to us, I found my one-eyed friend by himself right in front of center stage.  He was completely hammered, dancing around and singing every word of the song being played at the top of his lungs.  For a minute, I thought this may have been the first time he had ever seen a concert, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he truly thought that this band was the real Motley Crue.
Willy in the teal collared shirt, connecting with the band.

When the show was over and the crowd piled out the doors and down the stairs, I could faintly hear this visually impaired, entrepreneur once again advertise his taxi cab services.  Seriously?  I thought.  This guy can hardly make it down the stairs with his one eye sober, let alone drunk.  Now he wanted to get behind the wheel and drive people home? 
As the crowd dispersed, so did the cab driver, and I can only imagine how the rest of that guy’s night ended up for him.    

The Freedom of Freeloading

While spending a day in St. John one Saturday, we decided to hop in a cab to make our way to the beach we wanted to go to.  Much to our surprise, we ended up on a safari taxi.  These are all over the islands and they are basically large pickup trucks with benches in the back that the cab drivers say can fit up to 14 people, but I’d argue that it’s more like 10.  Anyway, they are designed to take masses of tourists from one destination to another, and we were completely out of place. 
I tried to keep to myself as the tourists complained about the heat and pointed to the views.  However, I couldn’t help making a comment when the driver actually pulled over at one point for a photo opportunity for these people.  I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘At this rate, we won’t get to the beach until 2:30.’  It was only noon and St. John is less than 20 square miles, so I’ll admit that I was being just as obnoxious as these tourists.  The only difference is that I was aware of how ridiculous I was being.  They were not. 
Luckily, our stop was the first beach on this taxi driver’s route.  We paid him an obscene $5 each, and hurriedly got off this crowded tourist trap. 
We then enjoyed several hours of baking in the sun, swimming and snorkeling. 
When we were ready to head back to the main town on the island, we realized that we were once again going to have to get on another safari taxi.  We sat outside next to the road, waiting for a taxi to come our way.  After several minutes of waiting without much luck, a friendly, older woman, pulled over in her rugged pickup truck to see where we were headed.  My boyfriend told her we were headed to town and she gestured for us to hop in the back of her truck for a ride. 

Now, I’m not going to try to fool you into thinking that I’m some beatnik, but this woman looked like the type of free-lovin', kind person that had likely been driving the same pickup truck back when she attended Woodstock in ‘69.  And, when faced with having to load onto another tourist crammed safari taxi, or riding in the back of a pickup truck next to this woman’s garbage…I chose the latter.  So, feeling like a dirty hippy, I jumped into the back of the truck and we took off on our way to town.  With the wind in my hair and a view of the islands surrounding me, I couldn’t help but realize how free I felt.           

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Trip Back 'Home'

Last weekend I took my first trip back to the mainland since I moved down to St. Thomas last May.  I was super excited to go up to New England to visit my best friend and have some quality time in the States.  I left on Friday and came home on Monday, so it was a quick trip but after 6 straight months on the island, it ended up being exactly what I needed.

Knowing that I was heading for some colder weather, I spent Thursday night digging through a bag of musty smelling cloths that I had stored away.  I pulled out a fleece, parka, some sweaters, a leather bag and a couple of scarves.  After laying out all my clothes, shoes and accessories on the bed and eliminating half of it, I packed the rest into my bag.

Once I was satisfied with what I was bringing for my weekend getaway, I started to anticipate what it would feel like to be back in the States after 6 months away.  Would I miss being away from the island, or when faced with all the familiarity and the conveniences of the mainland, would I realize that I’m too Stateside to be an island girl?  I was anxious to figure this all out. 

My flight took off on Friday morning, and I had a short lay-over in Miami, which would be my first encounter with ‘home’.  As the plane began its decent and the stale smell of my fleece started to fade, I took a look out the window of the plane.  There it was…that large mass of land that only a few short months ago I had lived on for my entire life.  I noticed how flat the land was and how there appeared to be an endless amount of developed buildings and houses – one right on top of the other one with no gaps inbetween.  I also noticed how squared off and similar the taller skyscrapers were in downtown Miami. 

When I got off the plane at the Miami airport I had about an hour to grab a bite to eat, and then board my next flight to LaGuardia.  As I made my way down the terminal I couldn’t help but notice how nice, efficient and convenient the airport seemed to be.  The clean, black tiled floor had these pretty little silver designs of sea creatures in it that I couldn’t stop looking at.  I noticed that there was vibrantly colored art on the wall from local artists.  And, when I went to the bathroom, I practically ran right into a cleaning lady that was coming in to sweep my stall the second that I stepped out of it.  Then, there was the convenience of a tram that would take me from gate D24 all the way to gate D29 - I opted to walk instead.  On my way, I grabbed some seemingly fresh sushi and a Diet Coke and boarded my on-time departure to head to my final destination.

As my connecting flight began to approach New York City, I started contemplating whether I’d prefer a latte or a café mocha from Starbucks…the latte was always my go-to coffee in Chicago, but the mocha certainly is delicious.  Of course, there is coffee in St. Thomas, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I somehow, unknowingly, developed a certain dependency on Starbucks coffee.  What can I say?  I miss it.  So, upon stepping off this flight and into LaGuardia airport – a far cry from the Miami airport, I might add - I somewhat desperately looked around for a Starbucks.  Unfortunately, my memory of Starbucks taking over the entire USA, if not the world, must have been exaggerated because I didn’t find it on my way to baggage claim and had to postpone my frothy beverage craving.

After getting my bag, I met my friend, and we started the drive up to her house in Connecticut.  As we hit the highway, my distraction for a coffee turned into a bit of concern over the speed at which we were moving.  Could she really be going only 65 mph?  I haven’t gone over 35 mph in a car in months, so this felt really, really fast and kind of dangerous.  Regardless, until we reached her house, we continued on with the type of non-stop chitter chatter that only two best friends that have been away from each other for a while can generate.

The rest of the weekend I spent quality time with my friend and her family, and it felt really good to catch up.  Naturally, she was sure to help me indulge in some of the other things I missed like eating a decent steak and quality Indian food, going to the movies and shopping at the local CVS drug store.  And, of course, she took me to get my café mocha.  It was delicious.

Spending quality Halloween time with my friend's daughters.

Alas, when the weekend was over and it was time to go home, I didn’t feel all the emotions that I thought I would.  I thought that I’d be really sad to leave the States again.  Or, that I would have missed St. Thomas so much that I couldn’t wait to leave the snow storm that had just hit New England and head back to paradise.  However, I think all I needed to know was that the States are still there and accessible to me.  They aren’t going away, and I can go be there whenever I want.  I know this seems obvious, but when you’re away from home for a long time and feel a little homesick, you can find a lot of comfort in seeing that home is still there – the same as it always was and probably always will be. 

So, my emotions upon heading back to the island were simple.  I just looked forward to seeing my boyfriend again. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autumn Leaves

Ahhh….Autumn is in the air for you folks up in the States.  My friends back at home have mentioned how excited they are to get their first spiced pumpkin flavored latte from Starbucks.  Or, how great of a time they had with their kids at the pumpkin patch/hayride excursion they went on over the weekend.  People are talking about warming up inside next to their first fire of the season, and I’ve seen recent pictures of folks wearing knitted hats and crocheted scarfs. 
However, for me nothing has changed.  I woke up this morning to the same 80 degree, clear, sunny day that I woke up to 3 months ago, and I’ll continue to wake up to this same sunny day indefinitely.  The sun rose at the same time it always does, and it only goes down about 30 minutes earlier than it did when we first moved here.  People down here say that there is a noticeable change in the temperature this time of year, but I’ve only noticed that the evenings are slightly cooler…I mean slightly – like, maybe 5 degrees.  I wear the same shorts, sandals, skirts and t-shirts that I’ve been wearing here all along, and I’m still throwing on a swimsuit after work for a quick dip in the ocean.  The doors to our home are completely open, with a warm ocean breeze coming through.  And, this weekend I plan on golfing all day on Sunday and going for a long run outside.  I haven't even checked to see what the weather will be like for either day's plans.  It’s assumed.            
Yesterday morning, as I drove my car to work through the hills, my windows down, the AC pumping and my sunroof wide open, I couldn’t help but think about what life was like for me back at home this time of year. 
I would be weighed down by the stress of the busiest time of year at work – impossible sales goals, endless emails and the deafening sound of the phone constantly ringing.  Days would be getting significantly shorter, the sun would start hiding behind the clouds more and more, and a damp coldness would be settling in.  Even though I had spent time piling on heavy and constricting clothes - a hat, a scarf, a jacket and boots, I’d inevitably scurry from my car to my office, uncomfortably trying to get inside as soon as possible and oblivious to anything or anyone else.  Taking out the dogs for a walk was an unwanted chore…waiting for them to go to the bathroom so that I could immediately hurry back inside to escape the elements.  As evenings got colder, I'd end up just wanting to stay inside and watch TV.  I now realize how confining a climate can be.            
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the comfort and coziness of a crisp, cool autumn day, sitting at home in a snugly sweater, making a hearty meal while watching football.  I enjoyed taking our dogs to play in the park when the leaves had changed colors and curling up on the couch under a blanket to warm up next to my boyfriend.  I had fun carving pumpkins and dressing up for a Halloween party with friends.  However, all of that coziness was somewhat tough to enjoy, knowing that the dreaded long, cold winter was close to follow, and to me the thought of another lifeless winter to come was often daunting and depressing.
Regardless, I always thought that the seasons changing was a guarantee – kind of like the sun coming up and going back down.  It’s surreal for me to know that people back at home are experiencing a change of climate when I’m not experiencing any change whatsoever.  Since we moved here in May, the weather has been relatively similar to what it's like back at home.  It wasn't odd for me to be at the beach, or outside hiking when my friends and family at home were also outside enjoying the weather, but now I'm realizing that our worlds are more different than they were at first.  All of you back at home are hunkering down for the looming winter, yet I'll continue to enjoy all the benefits that a beautiful day has to offer.  It's kind of like being in a time warp, but it truly makes me realize not only the impact that an environment can have on your life, but also how much larger the world really is.  I had no idea. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Boat Drinks

Last weekend I had one of the most fun weekends I’ve had since I moved down here.   It was full of many new friends, plenty of cocktails and lots of time out on the water.
It started out on Friday night at a beach BBQ charity event that my employer was sponsoring.  While I’m always happy to chat with people I don’t know, there’s something about networking for my own selfish/professional advantage that seems completely unnatural to me.  I spent most of the first hour staring at other people, rather than socializing.  In the meantime, I tried to take down a full cup – not a glass - of white wine that the bartender had given to me right when I walked in.  As I've stated before in prior blogs, there’s a big difference between an Island Pour and a Stateside Pour.  I keep forgetting that it’s important to specify, and I used up a good chunk of time waiting for nobody to look as I poured half of my wine out into an empty cup on one of the tables. 
When my boyfriend and I finally got hungry, we made our way to the BBQ buffet.  Upon filling up my plate with a variety of seasoned, sauced and smoked meats, I grabbed another full cup of wine and sat down at a quiet table in the back across from a welcoming couple.  It didn’t take long for the four of us to strike up a conversation.  After a couple of hours of chatting and listening to a very annoyed and annoying band complain about how bad the audio was, this nice couple invited us out on their new boat for the day on Saturday.  As I’ve mentioned, people down here never feel like they have too many friends.  They are so accepting and friendly.  It’s fantastic.  We eagerly took them up on their offer.
At around 10:00 the next morning, we met our new friends out on a dock as 6 of their closest friends trickled in one at a time behind us.  I quickly realized that we were the random couple that they had invited out on their boat the night before after they had had too many cocktails, and I wondered if they would remember our names. 
As the group grew to full capacity, the captain - meaning our new friend from the night before -assumed his duties and began taking down the necessary information for the day’s trip.  Since we had to go through Customs to get to our destination, everyone had to hand over their passports and yell out their dates of birth.  All I heard was….1980, 1985, 1983, 1984.  So, the odd couple was also the oldest couple and this was only reinforced by the hard core pop music blasting in the boat as we shot out of the dock and into the open water.  We heard just about every song that I had put on my most recent workout playlist, and a few more that I made note to add to my list.
Since this happened to be our friend’s inaugural boat trip on his new boat, things were especially celebratory.  Our jammin crowd of 10, soon-to-be-liquored-up people, made its way over to Tortola to get through Customs and off to our destinations.  Upon arriving in Tortola, Customs was quite busy checking in some of our other friends on different boats.  St. Thomas is a small island, so it’s no surprise that we were all friendly with each other and some of us knew each other through other friends on the island.  With this in mind, from there all 3 boats moved together to the first destination – cliff diving and doing some sort of cave diving under the water. 
After several attempts to explain this very dangerous sounding activity, only about 3 people out of probably 25 total people, swam out to this ‘cave’ that you could swim into by diving under water, swimming several feet and coming up on the inside of a hole in the earth that the sun shines down into.  Of course, you had to pray that the swells didn’t get too high and flush into this surrounded hole, drowning you in the process.  I think only 1 person actually ended up swimming to this suspicious hole - our captain, who's idea this was in the first place.          
Meanwhile, several people jumped out of the boat for a swim and a few others started climbing the cliffs to go jumping.  To put this in perspective, rock climbing and jumping off a cliff into a sea with undetermined depth, seemed safer to me than swimming under water several feet to see some light shining down through a hole.  Either way, I opted for a quick swim in the ocean to cool off, then got right back into the boat.

Once we had had enough of this stop, we took a long boat ride to our next destination.  Of course, the music was pumping, several girls were dancing, a few guys in the other boat were hanging off the side of their boat as it was going full steam ahead and our new friend's girlfriend had already puked off the edge of our boat.  It was shaping up to be an entertaining day.  All this aside, I took a few minutes to tune out the chaos and enjoy my surroundings.  It was a warm day and the relatively calm ocean seemed endless.  Our boat was quickly making its way down to the other side of Tortola, which provided a mountainous and rugged coastline.  With the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, I truly felt like I was in paradise.
Anyway, we eventually made it to a gorgeous slice of land that somebody claimed was the place where the Corona Beer commercials are filmed, but people say that about a lot of beaches down here, so I took that with a grain of salt.  Either way, it was beautiful enough to be filmed as a landscape for TV.  We anchored close to the beach and jumped out to swim towards solid land for a bit.  After a while, someone decided to bust open a full bottle of Strawberry Cruzan Rum, which we all past around for a few swigs each, then headed back to the boat. 

Finally, we were on our way to the Soggy Dollar Bar at Jost Van Dyke.  This is where I can find one of my favorite island cocktails – the Banana Pain Killer.  Once our boat cruised into the bay and anchored, we all swam up to the beach and went to the bar.  At this point, I felt a need for some quiet time.  I was exhausted from socializing with strangers for the last few hours, and I was feeling a strong buzz.  I grabbed my drink and my People Magazine and found a beach chair by the water where I plopped down for a long time, enjoying the latest brainless gossip and taking in the intense sunshine. 
After hanging out for a few hours we all got back on the boat and headed to St. John, which was the final destination for our crew.  Upon hopping out of the boat, we all headed to the Beach Bar for some food.  My personal favorite there is the Flying Shrimp, which is fried shrimp in buffalo sauce with a side of blue cheese dressing.  It’s so good that I can’t believe other bars haven’t caught on to it, and there’s no doubt that I look forward to it every time I go to St. John. 
Once we had finished our meal a few of us headed to the ferry to catch a lift back to St. Thomas.  The day was coming to an end, and it was time to say goodbye to our new friends.  I suddenly realized that I was sunburned, tired and ready to pass out in my bed…all signs of a most excellent day. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Paddle Boarding Excursion

My boyfriend bought me a paddle board for my birthday a couple of months ago.  So, when my co-worker invited me to do a paddle boarding excursion for charity over the weekend, I decided to put my new found skills to the test for a good cause and join her.
Now for those of you that don’t know what paddle boarding is, it’s basically like getting on a surfboard, standing up and paddling through the water.  You can find pictures of trendy people like Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Bilson doing this in the latest pop culture magazines, as it’s becoming quite the fad.  However, there is actually some technique to this sport, which I’m still trying to figure out, and it’s a great core work-out that makes you feel much more physically tired once you’re done doing it rather than while you’re doing it.
Anyway, the course for this event seemed longer and a bit more challenging than what I was used to.  After all, I had simply taken my board out on a few calm evenings to a quiet bay, leisurely paddling around to find some sea creatures before heading back to the beach.  However, the charity event was having boarders paddle from one bay, around a point of land - exposed to the open ocean - then back into another bay.  Technically, the entire race was round trip, but I was only signing myself up to do half.  This was a 3 mile excursion for me, 6 miles for mostly everyone else.
The first challenge of the morning was getting my board from my bedroom to the car and strapping it on top tightly enough for me to make it down to the beach.  This is no easy task considering my board is over 11 feet long and about 30 pounds.  So, I huffed it down the hall and made every effort not to bang into anything as I turned the corner and got it out the front door.  Once at the car, I slid it on top and used about 5 bungee chords to secure this monstrosity to the car.  After 30 minutes I finally had it on without feeling like it was going to slide right off.  I started the car and drove down to the beach.
I got there early so I could register and be ready to go.  Coming from the city, I’m used to these charity type of sporting events consisting of swarms of women decked out in the latest Lululemon gear, pop music pumping on huge speakers, people handing out tons of freebies and a ridiculous amount of sponsorship.  However, when I got to the beach, I had to strain myself to find the check-in tent.  Granted, most people had already checked in at the starting point of the event in the other bay, but still…where were all half-assers like me?     
When I finally found the tent to register, it was pretty simple.  I introduced myself, signed a waiver, handed them my $25 entry fee and bought a raffle ticket for $20.  Typically, I don’t buy raffle tickets, but by the looks of things, I was really liking my odds.  I considered buying two.    
Anyway, my friend joined me shortly thereafter, and we waited for the over-achievers from the other bay to arrive so we could start our journey.  Once it looked like most of the paddlers had made it, people simply began to put their paddles in the water and paddled off back to the other bay.  I wasn’t sure that there was any warning or signal for us to start, but I decided to follow suit. 
The beginning of this trek was pretty enjoyable.  It was a beautiful sunny morning, the water was calm and there was a nice breeze.  I took a moment to take it all in.  As I looked behind me, I realized that I was ahead of about 30 boarders and there were probably 40 ahead of me, including my friend who had quickly made it up to the front and wasn’t to be seen again until the end of the race. 
However, after about 20 minutes of paddling I was getting pretty close to the point of land.  This was where I was exiting one bay, but not quite in the next bay so I was approaching open water.  Since I had to go around the point, this was the closest I got to the rocky coast, and I couldn’t help but notice the waves crashing down hard on the shoreline.   It was at this time that I realized how choppy the water was getting.  The wind and current had picked up and my board was catching some waves.  I could feel myself getting a little nervous and tense, but tried to distract myself by looking at all the nice homes right along the water.  I couldn’t help but wonder how everyone else was staying so calm and balanced on their boards.  I reassuringly reminded myself that this was an event for charity, so they would never put us in harms way.  Regardless, the further out I got into the open water, the harder it was to keep stable on my board.  Out of nowhere, I lost balance and nearly fell off my board.  Slightly terrified, I kneeled down on the board and paddled ahead until I felt comfortable standing up again.  Needless to say, I kneeled down, shaking, for some time.
Now, for those of you that have never paddled before, I’m here to say that when you’re standing, or kneeling in my case, on a board with a paddle in the middle of rocky ocean water, it takes some physical strength to get to your destination.  Since I have very limited physical strength, by the time I got around the point I was exhausted.  Now, there were probably 15 boarders behind me and 55 ahead of me.  However, what really broke me was the sight of a 60-something woman in a lemon-lime green bikini come from behind me out of nowhere, kick it into high gear and blow right by me.  At first I tried to stay ahead of her, but after battling all those waves, I didn’t have it in me.  ‘Good for her’, I thought to myself as I gave up racing her and let her pass by me.     
Alas, after an hour and a half of paddling I made it to the beach and hopped off my board to meet up with my friend, who clearly had done this several times before.  She commented on how well I had done, and I made every effort to pretend like I hadn’t feared for my life at all.  I spent the rest of the day at home, exhausted but feeling accomplished. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hill – A Follow Up

On May 24th I wrote a posting called “The Hill”, which was dedicated to me feeling sorry for myself as I bitched and complained about how difficult it was to adapt to jogging in the Virgin Islands after being here only 11 days.  If you didn’t read that post, then I recommend you take a look at it prior to reading this posting so you have a frame of reference.  However, a simple recap of that posting is me agonizing over how hard it was to run in the heat, the hills and the blazing sun. 

Looking back, it seems silly for me to have wanted to quit running after only 11 short days of being on the island.  After all, I had hardly given it a chance, yet I was convinced that I was done with jogging - the conditions were too extreme.  However, I quickly realized that without my main form of exercise, I found it difficult to sleep, so I was often very tired and moody.  After several weeks of tolerating this, my boyfriend suggested that I try running once again, and convinced me to do so by starting with a short run. 
Since nobody can motivate me more than my boyfriend and a new playlist on my iPod, I decided to suck it up and go with him on a short, but difficult jog.  I won’t sugar coat this - that first run after several weeks off hurt like hell.  I’m not even sure I made it all the way without stopping to catch my breath countless times.  Keep in mind that a year before, I ran a half marathon at a 8:26/mile pace with a stress fracture in my femur, so I’m used to moving at a decent pace, running long distances and dealing with pain.  Yet, this 2 miler felt like I was running in a steam room, with a 100 pound weight on my chest, after smoking an entire pack of cigarettes the night before.  What had become of me - ugh.   

However, somehow I managed to go on another run a few days later, and I continued to stick with it.  I’m happy to say that one slow-moving, grueling run at a time I have lengthened my courses and, to keep my interest I’ve found different routes with even more hills.  Still, my attitude isn’t great right afterwards.  Almost every time I'm finished, I find myself saying things like, ‘brutal’, ‘I’m done with running ’ and, my personal favorite, ‘kill me now’.  And, I often yearn for a cool, crisp and flat autumn run up in Chicago.  So, I’m unclear as to why I continue with this self-masochistic behavior. 
Of course, I understand the obvious benefits of this type of exercise.  It does help me sleep, and I feel accomplished and more relaxed throughout the day.  I feel fit (my ass is, indeed, firmer!) and running boosts my confidence.  It also keeps me in shape for the other physical things I enjoy doing.  But, when most people experience such pain, they don’t go back for more – especially when the positive effects aren’t immediate.  I don’t get it.
As I write this post I, like you probably, really am not sure what the point is – truly a sign of a terrible posting and an ammatuer writer.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I have a love/hate relationship with running, it is a passion that I’ve had for most of my life.  Some of my best, most proud moments and memories have been made exploring my surroundings and my physical potential through the sport of running.  With this in mind, I find it disappointing that I was so apt to quickly quit on something that had brought me such gratification for so long.  Another life lesson, I suppose.  And, without this blog I never would have realized how inpatient I was with the situation.  So, I guess I’ll keep running, and I’ll keep writing.  Hopefully, you’ll keep reading.  
Finishing my last half marathon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Status Report

I’ve been here on St. Thomas for 3 ½ months now, so I figured I was due to express my honest feelings about some of the things I’ve learned in addition to some of the hardships and hopes that I have for my new found home. 

I’ll start with what I’ve learned up to this point.  I’m happy to say that most things have been positive, small and simple.  For example, I’ve learned that one of the best moments of my day is watching the sunrise when it’s coming up over the ocean and the islands in the distance (see pic below).  I realize that the highlight of swimming or paddle boarding is spotting a sting ray or sea turtle glide right by.  Every day, I can appreciate how carefree it is to take my dogs outside without needing a leash to walk them.  I’ve learned that Birkenstocks are more comfortable than flip flops, calamine lotion is better for mosquito bites than hydro cortisone, too much saltwater will give my dog diarrhea and olive oil will protect my hair from drying out from the ocean and sun. 

Since the cable goes out often, I’ve found that a good book or card game is much more gratifying than TV.  I’ve learned that a warmer, sunnier climate can make me want to be more active, and I now know that my favorite meal is fresh seafood that was just picked up from our usual fish market by the marina.  By now, I’m starting to understand the dialect down here, which is in fact English.  However, the best and most important thing that I’ve learned is how much stronger a relationship can get when you both move away together to a very foreign place.
Of course it hasn’t all been sunny days and beach balls, as there have been plenty of tough moments and tears.  More than anything, it’s been incredibly difficult for me to let go of a career that I unfortunately allowed myself to be defined by for 10 years.  And, I miss the life in Chicago that enabled me to catch a Cubs game on a weeknight with my friends, eat junk food at a summer street festival, head out for a concert or meet up with a friend for Happy Hour or lunch. I miss jogging and biking through Lincoln Park and making a quick coffee run to Starbucks.  In general, I miss how nice things are in the States.  I took it for granted how pleasing, efficient and accommodating everything is up there…smooth and well-marked roads, big shiny department stores and fancy grocery stores that are fully stocked with fresh, non-moldy food.  Things up there are well maintained and taken care of - I miss that.
Anyhow, since I haven’t been down here for very long, there’s no question that I still look forward to the many experiences and memories to come.  In particular, I’m most excited about finding some new passions – something that I probably haven’t focused on enough in my life.  At the top of my long checklist, I’m most enthusiastic about sailing, scuba diving and traveling.  And, I'm eager to continue down this path here since it has allowed me to redirect my attention to what’s important in life.  I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that at times it’s been tough for me to understand that life isn’t about the latest leather boots that I want to buy, or the next big-time sale that would make my year at work.  However, when you live a fast-paced life in a big city, it can be extremely easy to get caught up in superficial things.  It is for this reason that I am most thankful for making this choice to change my course in life.  
However, I’m still going to try to search for a place that can serve a non-fat, no foam, one shot, extra hot, grande, latte…please!           

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Last Sunday was the closest experience that I have had to a hurricane since we’ve been here.  Earlier in the week I had heard that there was a storm expected to hit on Sunday.  However, I was unphased by this news, knowing that most of the time these storms don’t develop into anything to be too concerned about.  Regardless, since my boyfriend had been traveling all week, I was relieved that he would be back in town before the storm was expected to hit. 
Sunday was the annual chili cook-off, which is a big local event here on St. Thomas, and while I wasn’t planning on participating, I was looking forward to checking out my competition for next year’s cook-off.  However, on Sunday morning the sky looked ominous, and people started to become more and more concerned with what was starting to develop into an increasingly threatening storm than anticipated.  Our landlord called to give us instructions on what to do to prepare our house, and my boss had called to see if I could swing by the office to prepare the building for the storm.   
With this in mind, we decided that our time would be better spent running errands to buy canned goods and extra gasoline at the store in case we lost power during the storm.  We also moved all of the outdoor furniture inside, off the deck since the wind gusts were expected to be about 50 - 70 mph.  Of course, we had experienced worse wind in Chicago, but you learn quickly that storms down here can be extremely unpredictable.  Rather than take our chances on having a lawn chair blow through one of our glass sliding doors, we decided to move everything inside. 
By the time we got home from our errands the cable was out, but the power was still on.   I spent the rest of the afternoon roasting a chicken, scrubbing the shower, monitoring the storm on-line and finishing the book I was reading – Bossypants by Tina Fey (a true, honest, funny and fair feminist to the core – I love her!).  At around 2:30 the wind picked up considerably and the choppy waves in the ocean came crashing down on the rocky coastline.  By 5:00 I had nothing left to do, but the wind was gusting pretty fast and the rain came pouring down against our windows.  I realized how boring life can be when you’re cooped up inside all day and thought about all those years in Chicago where month after month it was too miserable outside to do anything but stay in and watch TV.  It made me appreciate being here in nice weather, where most of the time we can be outside and live life to the fullest.
However, with the storm gaining momentum, no cable TV and the eminant threat of losing power, I was desperate to find something to do.  I found an old Backgammon game and dusted it off.  We tried to teach ourselves how to play the game, but after spending an hour looking up rules that we found conflicting, we became completely confused and gave up on Backgammon.   We then decided to try to watch a movie on our iPad, which we plugged into the stereo for better sound quality since the rain and wind were so loud that we couldn’t hear the movie from just the iPad speaker.  The iPad was plugged in on a short chord so we both had to be close to the TV/stereo.  We sat crammed in together on a lounge chair, holding the iPad in our lap and trying to enjoy a glass of wine.  Not only did this become increasingly uncomfortable, but it was really weird to have the sound coming from behind the iPad.  About 10 minutes into the movie, we gave up on it too.  We spent the rest of the night playing Gin Rummy.  Naturally, I let my boyfriend think he was going to win the game by allowing him to beat me in the first two hands, I then slaughtered him in the 3rd round, and we called it a night.
On Monday morning I woke up like it was any other morning and got ready for work.  The storm had settled down considerably.  However, I got an early message from my boss, saying that I should stay off the roads until 10:00 and then come into the office.  I was surprised.  The storm didn’t seem that bad to me…some rain and some wind – no big deal.  I hung around until it was time to leave, then drove off to work.  Aside from some loose branches and rocks, the roads were fine and I made it to work in no time.       
In the end, Irene was a good warm up to whatever the rest of the hurricane season will bring…a test run, if you will.  She was serious enough that we had to prepare for the worst, but not a strong enough storm to be a real threat to us, or the island.  I know we were lucky because she continues to build in strength as she heads right for the Bahamas and has her sight set on the United States.

Monday, August 15, 2011

There's a Mouse in Our House!

Our dog, Thor, had a big week last week.  Sunday night he woke us up barking at 3:00 a.m. for no apparent reason.  Monday night he actually heard a frog in another part of our house and woke us up again.  However, his biggest night by far and away was on Tuesday night when he actually found a mouse under our couch.

It all started when we were just about ready to shut off the TV and turn in for the night.  Thor suddenly became extremely excited and began to frantically pace up and down the couch.  He then started to  paw at the couch and sniff at it obsessively.  Our other dog, Oakley, seemed a little confused over the matter, but he took Thor’s lead as Thor went at the couch with utter conviction.
I immediately dismissed the situation by thinking it was just another lizard, and headed for the bathroom to brush my teeth.  As a side, I think it’s important to take note of the fact that I was unphased by the assumed lizard inside our house.  What has become of me?!  However, since Thor’s extreme reaction didn’t seem to match the typical lizard response, my boyfriend decided he should take a closer look.  He grabbed a flashlight, kneeled down on the floor and looked under the couch.  After a few minutes of searching for what seemed like nothing, he came over to report the bad news to me.  It wasn’t a lizard.  It was a mouse. 
Of course, I couldn’t resist seeing this for myself.  I got down on the floor, flashed the light under the couch and saw two little round eyes glistening right back at me.  Immediately, my imagination ran away from me, and I pictured this thing running at me at full-force as my head lay close to the ground.  With this in mind, I stood up right away and tried to figure out what you do when you have a mouse hiding under your couch.
Neither one of us had much experience with mice, so it took us some time to think this one through.  At first, like two idiots, we thought we’d try to poke him out from under the couch with a yard stick, then when we got him to run out, I’d throw the kitchen trashcan on top of him.  There was no plan after that.  It was just, catch him with the trashcan.  When that inevitably didn’t work, we came up with another plan.  First, we threw some mice poisoning and traps under the couch.  Then, we decided to use every single thick book our landlord owns and place them all around the bottom of the couch.  After that, we stuffed any openings and holes with old towels.  Once we were satisfied with our trap, we went to bed.
In the morning, my suspicions about this mouse’s ability to get out of our trap appeared to be true.  There was no sign of him.  He had clearly tried to eat his way through a few of the books as well as some of the poisoning, but I concluded that he had gotten away within a hair of his own life.  He was probably laying half dead somewhere with a belly ache from the poison.  The dogs still seemed a bit excited by his lingering scent, but since there was no sign of him I left for work without further thought over the matter.
Later in the day I received a strange text message from my boyfriend, showing not one, but two of our wacky landlord’s swords from his random sword collection, stuck in our couch.  The message said, “Those swords really come in handy when you need to kill a mouse in the couch.”  After I professed to him that he was my hero, he made sure to proudly reinforce the fact that it had taken both of the swords to do away with this feisty rodent. 
I got all the details of the matter when I got home, which I will spare you, but suffice it to say that when/if the next mouse decides to breach the gates of hell by coming into our home, my boyfriend – a regular William Wallace - will be ready.