March was wonderful -- there was travel, I had several talks that I gave. I love it when my calendar is filled with things I love to do. However, for the first time in a month, I have two weeks before me with nothing on my agenda.
This is a gift.
I have promised myself that I'm going to use the next two weeks to work exclusively on Lime Retreats, which I'd like to officially launch mid-April. For this reason, during this time I'm going to scale back on writing here on Chookooloonks, turning it into an old-school photoblog -- I'll continue sharing photographs every day, but probably not so much with the words (although I'll continue to do This Was A Good Week on Fridays -- there's just too much awesome on the internet, and life generally, not to share). I could, of course, go completely silent here while I work, but I find that often photography helps me get out of my head when I get too bogged down, so I'd like to keep up my practice of shooting daily (and as a result, you'll probably glean what my current state of mind is with every day's post!). And of course, I'll continue to update Instagram and Facebook, if you want a more real-time experience of what's going on.
One more thing, before I go -- I had been meaning to add a Trinidad & Tobago gallery to Chookooloonks for years, and this past weekend, I finally got around to it, using photographs that I took almost 3 years ago. (Three years. It's time to go back, man.) I hope you enjoy them.
And on that note, friends, we'll talk again on Friday (although, again, I'll share photos with you daily in my absence). Hope you're having a great week!
My daughter is 10 years old. Overall, she's a pretty confident kid, for which I'm incredibly grateful. But I'm not naive: she's fast approaching the age where most girls' self-esteem begins to plummet, when self-worth becomes tied to appearance, to the exclusion of everything else. (These statistics are horrifying: 80% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, while body satisfaction hits rock bottom at ages 12-15 -- when their bodies are changing the most! -- without recovering at all until age 20!). The fact is that it can be tough to think of yourself a weed among a garden full of roses -- at least, I know when I was 11, it definitely was for me.
So how do we convince our kids that despite the hype, even weeds are beautiful?
I was talking with a group of girlfriends about this recently, and I mentioned a few of the things that I'm pretty intentional about in our house, in order to help Alex navigate this time of her life in the best way possible. Again, we're just now entering her tweenage years, and I'm certainly no parenting expert, but I'd thought I'd share my thoughts here with you, in the event you might find them helpful in your home.
1) I'm a big proponent of telling your kid he/she is beautiful. I feel like there's a trend happening where people believe that telling your child that s/he is good-looking is a bad thing -- like it's somehow telling them s/he somehow "less than," or advocating that looks are really the only thing that matters. To be frank, I think that's total hogwash -- if your own parent isn't going to tell you that you're beautiful in his/her eyes, then who the hell will? (And honestly, even if my daughter thinks "you're only saying that because you're my mom," I figure that she must take a little comfort in the fact that at least her mom is saying it, you know?) I think the mistake comes when people make that the only thing they say about their kids, or say that to the exclusion of all the other awesome things they are. Complimenting talents, intelligence, caring, kindness, compassion and empathy are extremely important, and should be done often -- but I don't think that means that telling your child s/he's beautiful is a bad thing, either.
(Besides, the fact is that I truly, honestly believe Alex to be very beautiful. Why would I withhold this belief from her?)
2) I'm also (unsurprisingly) a proponent of advocating different as beautiful. I'm very careful and mindful to point out beauty of every kind to Alex -- I point out beautiful old people and beautiful young people, beautiful people who are different shapes, and different sizes, and different races, and different religions. I think when your kid sees you sincerely expressing how beautiful you think people are who don't look like what the media defines as "beautiful," your telling her that she's beautiful gains a bit more credibility beyond "well you're my mom, you're supposed to say that." (I might be making that up, but I'm going with it). I'm also really big on making STRONG beautiful, as opposed to thin being beautiful, since I have a daughter who will never be a media ideal of tall, blonde and thin. Her black belt in karate has done TONS for her self esteem, and I point out beautiful strong people as often as possible -- in fact, the Olympics were awesome for that. We discovered Paige McPherson, a Tae Kwon Do Olympian (she won the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics), who actually looks like Alex (and shares a similar story -- adoption, multiracial, passionate about dance as well as martial arts) -- and Alex now follows her on Instagram. It has been lovely to have a positive role model for Alex, and it has helped Alex pick through the messages about what is beautiful on her own.
Identifying celebrities who share your kid's interests, and sharing YouTube videos and interviews with them (make sure that they're celebrities who also seem to share your moral code, though -- the last thing you want is some arrogant, drug-using-superstar-in-their-own-minds to send the wrong message!) is a great way to have your child feel less alone, and see her own potential. It's even better if the celebrity resembles your child -- having someone to identify with who represents attainable beauty might help as well (Lupita N'yongo spoke so eloquently about this herself).
3) I don't buy fashion magazines, and actually don't have them in my house. I don't make a big deal about it, I just don't buy them. (Even Vanity Fair, which I love for the photography, I only read online, usually on airplanes, when Alex isn't around). I feel like Alex sees enough media that shows what "beauty" is suppose to look like, without me feeding into that media hype. I also am pretty big about curating Alex's movie consumption to show beauty & "coolness" of all different kinds ("Akeelah and the Bee" is a current favourite.) So Alex's media consumption is watched closely, so that all forms of beauty -- different races, smarts, even traditional "coolness" -- are pretty evenly presented.
(My "ban on fashion magazines" statement isn't entirely true: because Alex does, in fact, love fashion, over the past few years she's had a subscription to this very awesome magazine that features fashion design, crafts, and articles written by teens for teens, with models who look like everyday girls. She loves it, and pours over it every time it arrives.)
4) To that end, I let Alex take the lead on how she wants to look. I often ask Alex how she would like to dress, or what what she'd like to do to change her look, and support her experimentation (to an age-appropriate point, of course). My rules are generally that what she chooses to wear has to be weather-appropriate, that it has to fit her (which covers a multitude of "too revealing" sins), and that it has to be clean. But otherwise, I let her rock whatever she wants to. The result has been some really interesting outfits -- many that I would've never considered for her myself, but actually love on her!
As far as additional resources, I also found this wonderful list on ways to raise a confident kid -- I particularly love the point about encouraging your child to solve problems on her own instead of doing them for her. Which, incidentally, brings to mind another really fantastic site -- the Khan Academy -- which I've let Alex loose on. One day, she was very quiet for hours, and when I went to investigate, I found her engrossed in teaching herself how to code. She could not have been more proud of herself. And while I'm on the subject, if you've got a tween/teenager in your house, be sure to check out Smart Girls At The Party, run by Amy Poehler and my friend Meredith Walker. Some really great stuff is happening over there.
But as I said at the beginning of this, I'm very new at this, and as parenting often is, I'm definitely a work in progress. To that end, I'll happily take any advice from you guys: how do you help your kids navigate their adolescence with their self-esteem intact; or, in the alternative, what was the most self-esteem building thing that happened in your teenage years? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments, below.
Some things that made this week a good one:
• This week meant a return to routine after spring break -- and honestly? I find a bit of comfort in this. I loved being away and our concentrated family time, but there's something to be said to returning to life refreshed, ready to tackle things. Also? There's very little I like better than being deep in concentration in my little office, and it begins to rain outside. That happened this week -- total bliss.
• Billy Joel & Jimmy Fallon weemba-wop-a-weemba-wop. And all is right with the world.
• This crystal-clear description of how blogging has changed over the years really made me think. In a good way.
• I'm a dog person. These photographs illustrate why.
• This guy's train set is INSANE. And seriously awesome.
• Marcus and I watched this Academy Award-winning documentary on Netflix this week, about the backup singers to some of the most famous bands and artists of our time. Inspiring (and a little heartbreaking) -- if you can get your hands on it, it's definitely worth the 90-minute watch.
• The light in these shots make me want to bust out my Hasselblad again.
• All over the world, people are feeling like a room without a roof. (Although I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed -- and skeptical -- when I didn't seen Trinidad & Tobago represented. So I did a search. And of course, my country came through.)
• Last week, I mentioned Xanthe's new course offering, Creating Tangible Time Capsules -- a wonderful way to create a tangible keepsake of your life. Well, it turns out that today's Xanthe's birthday, and instead of receiving gifts, she's giving one away -- so leave a comment below telling me something good that happened to you this week, and I'll pick one commenter to win a place in her upcoming class! I'll announce by updating this post on Monday -- one comment per person, please!
• It is entirely likely this Parmesan-roasted cauliflower may appear on my dinner table this weekend.
• And finally, for the song of the day, the following little video clip of Lisa Fischer. Lisa was one of the women featured on that documentary I mentioned above, and her voice is like molasses (which probably explains why she's sung backup on every Rolling Stones tour since 1989). Stunning.
On that decidedly soulful note, have a great weekend friends (don't forget to leave a comment to win a spot in Xanthe's class!).
update, tuesday, april 1st, 2014
Sorry I was late on the announcing friends -- according to Random.org, the winner of the spot in Xanthe's class is Christina, who said, "I started a collaboration blog with 2 of my oldest friends!"
Congrats, Christina! Keep an eye out on your inbox for an email from me. And thanks to all of you for your comments!
Is it me, or has this month flown by? Maybe it's because we spent almost a week away from home, but this month has felt half as long as it should. I'm not sure I'm happy out this -- I worry that perhaps I missed something! But then, I realize shooting daily has shown me that, in fact, this has been an incredibly full month. Alex turned 10. We took a family trip. And the best part is that winter seems to have moved on from our neck of the woods, and spring has sprung.
And of course, I've loved looking at all of your #lookforthelight shots -- there are some spectacular images that you've shared this month, thank you! The following is what March has looked like all over the world. As always, be sure to click on each photographer's profile below each diptych -- there's a lot of talent out there in the mobile photograph world, my friends.
Thanks again to all of you who participated this month in #lookforthelight -- keep 'em coming! If you'd like to participate and you have an Instagram account (it's free), simply grab shots of the light in your life with your mobile device, and add the hashtag "#lookforthelight" to your shot, either in the caption or in the comments. I'll feature my 10 favourite shots again at the end of April here on Chookooloonks, giving lots of link love, naturally. And of course, click here to see all the submissions (and feel free to follow along my own progress at heychookooloonks on Instagram!).
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon this video, for the second time. I'd seen it about a year ago when it first came out, and loved it then, but this time ... I dunno. It just wouldn't let go of me.
And then, Alex came home with a note from school, asking for my permission to let her join the others in her class to visit a local nursery. The fourth graders in her school have a vegetable garden, you see, and it was time for them to buy the seeds.
And then, I saw these photographs of all this gorgeous produce on Laura's blog, and later in the week when I was talking to her on the phone, she unleashed all her gardening knowledge all over me. I was awestruck by how much she's learned in the last few years she's had her garden. A regular Laura Washington Carver, she is.
And that's when I decided: it's time.
Even though my grandmother always had a huge fruit and vegetable garden in her back yard, my parents' garden has always made up primarily of flowers, with few edible crops. For this reason, I didn't grow up knowing really anything about how to grow food. And the truth is, the prospect has terrified me. But for a brief little taste of success growing zinnias a couple of years ago, green things tend to shrivel up and die if I so much as look at them. But recently, and suddenly, it has felt important for us to grow food. Ron Finley's exhortation that growing food is a revolutionary act resonated with me. That fact that food deserts even exist in a country as wealthy as the United States seemed wrong. And besides, it feels like supporting the learning Alex is getting in school with regard to growing our own vegetables is an important thing for us to do.
And so, this past weekend, Marcus built a couple of beds in our back yard (using a bit of reclaimed wood we had lying around), and we planted.
It isn't much, but if we're successful (IhopeIhope) at some point we're going to have cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, mint, rosemary, asparagus beans (what we Trinis call "bodi" -- I'm particularly excited about this one), and limes. And the reason I'm sharing this with you here and now is for accountability: I really don't want to give up on this, this time. And besides: as I told my friend Martha, if I actually manage to pull a tiny, dirty little carrot out of the soil, my delight will be so unlimited, I'm going to have to share a picture of it with you, anyway.
So wish me luck, friends. And if you have any good, encouraging gardening stories to share, believe me, I'm all ears.
Song: Word up, as performed by Willis
I stumbled across this 14-minute video yesterday, and it resonated with me so deeply, I couldn't wait to share it with you all. Granted, the reason it struck me so profoundly is likely because I'm a Trinidadian who has spent much of her life in the US, married to a Brit, and raising our multiracial American daughter, but I suspect that anyone who is living in a place that is different from where s/he was born will find some truth in Pico Iyer's words.
It's worth the 14-minute watch -- simply click here on the image above to start the video. And I'd love to hear your thoughts about what he has to say.
"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.)
This was a spectacular week. Here are just a couple of reasons why:
• Did you catch my little "get lost" clue in my last post about where we spent Alex's spring break? If you've been watching my Instagram feed, you know that we just returned a couple of hours ago from a really lovely vacation in Bermuda! I have tons of photographs to share with you, but I haven't even begun to process them yet -- the photo above is just a quick sneak peek. I'll tell you (and show you) all about it next week, I promise.
• I fell in love with homemade granola every morning while I was away (and am planning to try my hand at making my own this weekend). So I suspect that this new interest fuels my love of this awesome video showing what the world eats for breakfast. (And am I the only one who thinks that breakfast in Japan sound particularly delightful?)
• I love Maggie's words on how to answer the question "what do you do?" if you're self-employed. Lots of food for thought there.
• Really intrigued by Xanthe's new course on creating a real-life time capsule -- with printed photos and everything.
• There's a theory that images that follow the Rule of Thirds -- where your subject is offset a bit in the frame -- are more interesting that fully symmetrical images. I love that filmmaker Wes Anderson completely ignores this, and often shoots perfectly symmetrically. This supercut of centred Wes Anderson shots proves that symmetrical can be seriously mesmerizing.
• In addition to making homemade granola this weekend, I might have to roll a cookie down my face and into my mouth. Because why not?
And on that note, friends, have a wonderful weekend. Bermuda stories to follow next week.