Okay, I know I warned you that it would be all peaceful, calm photos from here on out, but when we learned that yesterday might be our last day of good weather before we returned to Houston, we decided we needed to get up and out and make the most of it.
So, what do you do when you're in Galveston on a misty, overcast day with three energetic kids?
You go to the Pleasure Pier, of course.
Earlier this week, I was trading emails with my sister, and she mentioned that she gave up Facebook for Lent. "I had to," she said. "I think it makes me depressed."
Man, I know exactly what she means. I don't know what it is about Facebook, but often it feels like the medium emboldens folks to say things to each other that they might not actually say in person.
Isn't it strange? All of this social media, ostensibly designed to help us connect, also has the power to drive us apart.
I've mentioned this before, but I am vicious when it comes to limiting what I read online, restricting what I read on social media sites to primarily funny, positive, uplifting or informative. I'm a firm believer that "I am what I ingest," and that includes what I read and watch. It's important for my own health.
That said, as I look around, I feel at some point like it became inappropriate to turn it off: that for some weird reason, because of some misguided definition of "freedom of speech" maybe, we feel like we're required to read the vitriol or anger that shows up on our social media streams. I think this is highly unfortunate. So I was really happy when my sister told me that she was taking care of herself for the next month or so.
And so I thought I'd just remind you that like your front door, you have the power to open your social media sites up and let people in, but also, you can close them to keep yourself safe. (And by the way, pro tip: for those people whose Facebook updates always harsh your mellow, you can "unfollow" them without "unfriending" them -- just go to their profile page, and click the button on the bottom right of their background photo that says "following." Their updates will no longer show up in your stream unless they tag you directly, and they won't know that you've unfollowed them. It might seem harsh, but honestly? I don't think it is. In fact, it might be the best thing you can do for your in-real-life friendship.)
Take care of yourselves, friends.
I just finally downloaded the photographs I took in Canada onto the hard drive of my desktop computer at home, and pulled this one up on screen for the first time. I'm not sure which part I love the best: the snow boulder that Marcus is hurling at me that appears to be bigger than his head, or Marcus' homicidal expression, or the fact that Alex is off in the corner, appearing to say to herself, "This will not end well."
Ladies and gentlemen, my family.
See you on Monday, friends.
All the very best of the holiday season, from our family to yours!
Angela stood wrapped in her fleece coat, and listened to the wind.
"I wonder ..." she thought.
She turned and closed the door. She walked toward the fruit bowl and took an apple. She ate a bite, and looked at the jagged marks caused by her teeth.
She went back outside. The wind whipped her face, and she clutched her coat tighter.
She decided it was too cold, and went inside to sit by the fire, and watch T.V.
"I wonder ..." she thought.
~ By Alexis Jennings
Right before we left for England, on a whim, Alex decided she wanted to write as short a story as possible. She wrote the above, and shared it with me. I loved it so much, I asked her if I could photograph my interpretation of it, and share both my photograph and her work with you. She agreed, so while we were in Cornwall, my niece, Ellie, kindly acted as my model.
It had been almost exactly three years since our family was in England -- we spent Thanksgiving 2011 in Bath. This year, instead of picking a central location in the middle of the country, and meeting Marcus' family there, we spent most of our time roadtripping to various locations to visit their homes: first to Cornwall (where we celebrated my mother-in-law's birthday), then to Gloucester to visit my father-in-law, and finally a couple of days in London -- because London, for me, is where it all began.
The time in England had me thinking about what "home" means -- and in my life, "home" is sort of complicated. "Home," of course, is here in Houston, Texas, where Marcus, Alex and I make our daily life: sleeping in our little suburban house, Marcus working a daily 20-minute commute away, Alex attending the school she loves. It's where many of our dear friends are. It's the place where we create our life.
Also, for me, "home" means Trinidad, my birthplace and birthplace of my parents, the country of my culture. It's the place where, as soon as I get off of the plane at Piarco International Airport, I exhale. Trinidad is where I don't have to try so hard. Where, despite all of its flaws (and there are many), I get it. I'm not on my guard as much. I'm not as affected.
But more and more, England is starting to feel like home, as well. England is where I first felt my most independent -- moving away from everything familiar to make my own way in a whole new culture. England is where I met and married my love. And it is where his family, without hesitation, made me one of their own. I really, really love England.
And this trip, while altogether far too short, really drove this point ... well, home. It was lovely seeing Marcus with his family again, of course, but it was lovely for me, as well -- because in its strange, beautiful way, it was my homecoming, too.
Here's a bit of what it looked like.
Wonderful seeing everything and everybody again. Here's hoping it doesn't take us 3 years to get back again.
This past Monday was Labor Day here in the States, and we spent the day with our friends Trish and Carl. Trish and Carl are what I call "Kitchen Drawer Friends" -- you know, those friends whose home you can visit, and when it's time to sit and eat, you don't have to wait for them to set the table because you're comfortable enough to just go into their kitchen drawers, and start setting the table yourself.
As we were getting ready to head over there, it dawned on me that it had been a while since I'd shot with my Nikon -- the little Sony I got a month ago is just so convenient. So at the last minute, I grabbed my dSLR and headed out the door. Because even though we weren't planning on doing anything out-of-the-ordinary with our friends, I'm coming to realize that sometimes the mundane, with the benefit of hindsight, is loaded with its awesome as well.
I suspect that I'll be doing a lot more of these "Day of Life" photoshoots in my own life -- because, frankly, they're so much fun to do. I'm also thinking that in the new year, I might offer a few similar photoshoots to those who might be interested in having me record the ordinary extraordinary in their own lives, as well -- capturing the daily moments of love and chaos in everyday life.
More on that very soon.
About 6 years ago, when Alex was 4 and her cousin Julia was 5, they formed the Bad Girls Club. It was unclear what the purpose of the club was; all we know is that they named the club themselves, and the name stuck.
Every time the girls get together, I do another photo shoot, and since my sister and her family are in town, I was compelled to pull my camera out.
Behold, at ages 11 and 10, the Bad Girls 2014.
Fact: They're really not bad in the least.
"Good morning!" he said with a wide grin. "How are you folks today?"
"We're great!" We climbed into his cab. "How are you?"
"Fantastic!" He didn't even skip a beat as he turned on his meter. "I LIVE IN BERMUDA!"
As Alex's spring break approached, I was suddenly overcome with the urge to travel. It had been years since we had traveled alone as a family, and much longer since the three of us had set out to a place where none of us had ever visited. "We should go somewhere new," I pleaded with Marcus. "We should have an adventure."
Happily, Marcus agreed, and so for several weeks I did extensive research to find an airline-and-hotel package deal that wasn't too expensive, and wasn't too far to get to -- which, from Houston, generally means the Caribbean or Central America. Every package that I found was a bit too pricey, or was to a place at least one of us had been to before ... things weren't looking good.
And then I suddenly thought ... what about Bermuda?
I've always been intrigued by Bermuda, and not just because of the Triangle, either (although that's certainly part of it). We folks from the Caribbean always feel a sort of kindred love for Bermuda (and vice versa), even though Bermuda lies nowhere near the Caribbean -- it's actually way out in the Atlantic Ocean, at the same latitude as Charleston, South Carolina. Bermuda shares much of the same English-colonial-and-slave-trade history that Trinidad does, but because Bermuda remains a British territory, it's English-ness feels a bit stronger. And since it was winter there ("winter" meaning "too cold to swim in the ocean," with highs only in the 60s), we could get a really cheap package.
I broached the subject with Marcus. "Would you be okay doing a beach vacation, if all we could do is walk on the beach?"
"Absolutely," he quickly responded. "I just want to get away from the city for a while. Book it, Danno."
So I did, and we both congratulated ourselves on being so frugal. Look at us, we grinned to ourselves. We're so fiscally-minded!
Well, that patting-ourselves-on-the-back nonsense came to a screeching halt once we arrived -- that country is EX. PEN. SIVE. What we made up in airfare and hotel, we more than spent once we got there (as an example, one cold & rainy day we stopped for a cappuccino, a cup of tea and a hot chocolate respectively, and the bill came to TWENTY-ONE-DOLLARS). It turns out that Bermuda has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. If we ever go again, we're not doing so before saving up a lot. And I mean, a lot.
And man, I do hope we return -- it is such a beautiful place. I actually have a theory: you know that whole "Bermuda Triangle" mythology? Despite the legends behind it, I suspect that it's really a body of stories made up by locals to dissuade people from finding out how much of a paradise the place truly is, so they can keep it all to themselves. I mean, Bermuda is damned near perfect: blue-green-aqua waters everywhere, gorgeous houses dotting the landscapes (each painted Easter egg colours, if you please), incredibly warm, friendly people, and the entire island is immaculately kept -- I'm not sure I saw any litter anywhere during our stay. The average temperature highs year-round are between 60 - 85 degrees, so even though it was cool when we got there, the weather was perfect for sightseeing -- and I noticed all the houses had fireplaces, so I imagine if you live there, a cozy fire at night while listening to that beautiful ocean outside would be just the thing. Also, I learned that Bermuda isn't actually a single island, but a series of about 120 islands, all linked together by bridges, and lying within a 21-square-mile area -- so just about everywhere is "ocean-front." It is, hands-down, the most gorgeous island-destination I've ever visited, and trust me, I know islands.
Our 6-day stay (which was unfortunately shortened to 5 days), was absolutely perfect: quiet, peaceful, restorative. If you're looking for a raucous, bachelorette-party-type getaway, Bermuda might not be the place for you (although, admittedly, we were there in the off-season, and I assume there's a bit more nightlife and stuff going on during high season). However, if you're looking for a quiet, family-friendly retreat, or a romantic holiday, definitely consider Bermuda.
But dear Lord, save up first.
Here are some highlights from the trip:
the historical town of St. George
Located at the north end of the country, St. George was Bermuda's very first permanent English settlement. Here's where you'll see old Bermuda -- many of the colonial buildings remain, some of the streets are even cobblestoned. Don't miss The Unfinished Church, a church whose construction was abandoned due to cost overruns, and now stands with a floor of grass and a ceiling of sky.
Bermuda is dotted with caves everywhere; however, Crystal Caves are ones you can safely visit. A guide will take you down the 81 steps to the underground cave, and tell you the story of how two young boys discovered it. This was one of Alex's favourite things we did.
the bermuda aquarium, museum and zoo
I'm not generally a fan of zoos -- I find them usually so restrictive for the animals -- but I have to admit that I was completely charmed by this one. One of the zookeepers I spoke with mentioned that they "try to pack a punch with their small animals" and they certainly do: because the zoo isn't very big (it couldn't be, on such a small island), they don't really have any big animals, and the small animals they do have are from similar climates, and they're mostly in habitats that felt more like small reserves, rather than tiny cages. Like the rest of Bermuda, the facilities are pristine, and the setting idyllic. Though it's tiny, we ended up spending several hours there. Absolutely worth a visit.
Our last day in Bermuda, we took the ferry from Hamilton over to the Dockyards, the historic home of the Royal Navy. I'm so glad we did: we visited glassblowers and glassworkers, watched marine biologists interact with dolphins, and climbed all over the historic barracks. Definitely not to be missed.
and finally, beaches!
Bermuda is known for its pink-sand beaches, but to be honest, because of the cooler weather, we didn't spend any real time on any of them! Still, I could hardly write about Bermuda without mentioning them, so one day, we ran down to a small beach for about an hour to at least say that we experienced the Bermuda coast. But honestly? The one we visited wasn't one of the famous ones -- and even this little one was lovely. We can't wait to come back and experience them in earnest.
(The upside of visiting beaches in the off-season, though? You have them all to yourself.)
All this to say we had an amazing time, and it actually ranks up near the top of the best family vacations we've ever had. To see these photos (and a few more) in large format, be sure to check out the new Bermuda gallery I've published. And to those of you who are planning a trip to this beautiful little country, have a wonderful time.
But save up. (And when you're there, take buses. They're clean, safe, punctual, and tons cheaper than cabs -- friendly cab drivers notwithstanding. Trust me on this.)