At the Beach

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I went swimming yesterday for the first time since early July. It’s amazing, I live in The Bahamas, it’s summer time – surely I’d be at the beach every weekend! But no. You know how life is, it gets in the way.

There were a couple of weekends of bad weather too, like the one where my mum and I planned a beach date but it rained all day, and last weekend, when Hurricane Irma was moving through. The ocean is still churning after her visit. I was surprised when I got to the water at how high the tide was, how fierce the waves. More than that, I was disappointed: this meant I wouldn’t be able to do much swimming.

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I did have my camera with me though, so I walked up the shore taking pictures of the waves, trying to capture their aggression. There’s so much for me to learn about photography, I’m still getting a handle on the basics. ISO, aperture and shutter speed work in tandem, and as one shifts so do the others. Balancing the three is one skill, mastering it for different scenarios is another. Then there’s the matter of the shifting light, and manually focusing – so much to think about! I lost track of time as I practiced and the next thing I knew it was 40 minutes later. Time to meet the waves head on, without the buffer of a camera lens, so I finally went into the water.

The ocean was rough. It felt almost like I was getting beat up: as soon as one wave crashed over my head, another was building right behind it. I tried floating on my back but the waves crashed over my face, pushing water into my mouth and nose, causing me to sputter. The delightful bobbing and underwater somersaults I’ve written about before weren’t possible. The most comfortable position was floating on my stomach. But the water was warm, and I was in it, and I was still happy.

Maybe 10 minutes later I couldn’t take the beatings anymore. I was beginning to have a headache and was afraid I’d soon become nauseous – seasick without being in a boat! It’s happened before, swimming in rough water.

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I packed up my things and slowly made my way back home, grateful for the reprieve. Hopefully it won’t be so long before my next beach visit.

 

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On Hurricanes

timothy-meinberg-105726.jpgPhoto by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

Bahamians spent most of the last week talking about and preparing for Hurricane Irma. We were getting ready for an apocalyptic-level storm, and (most) everyone was taking it very seriously. Our government evacuated people in the southern islands, who were forecast to be the worst hit. Schools and businesses on New Providence, in the northwest and home to the capital, closed as early as Wednesday evening, though they weren’t meant to start feeling the hurricane until Friday. Hurricane prep takes time, and no one had an excuse not to be ready.

Thankfully, the events over the weekend have felt more like a hiccup, and we were spared the devastation experienced by islands like St. Martin and Barbuda. This was the first time I was home for a hurricane in a few years, and it got me thinking about my more dramatic storm experiences.

Floyd
My earliest (storm) memory is of Hurricane Floyd. I was 9, and my family still lived in a condo complex, next door to my best friend. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. I remember our condo was very dark because of all the shutters up, and that for hours all we could do was imagine what was going on outside, with the wind whistling, rain falling and mysterious things crashing. After the storm passed, my siblings and I walked through our complex with our dad, in awe of the flooding, the sand, the downed trees. I can still see my sister (or brother)’s red rain boots, splashing through the dirty water.

Michelle
Michelle came not too long after Floyd, and she was a doozy as well. By this time though we lived in a house and had much more space to play during the hurricane. Again, most of our house was in darkness because of shutters, but upstairs our two bedrooms were a little brighter since their windows, at the front of the house, were uncovered. My siblings and I ran back and forth between our bedrooms, watching the wind batter the trees from the second-storey windows. The family before us left behind a yellow box in the front yard, covering some small machine or appliance. The wind picked it up and tossed it all across the lawn; it ended up in pieces. Some trees blew over too, and there was generally debris everywhere, much like Floyd. I remember being thankful that we had a generator because of how long the power was off, and playing plenty of board games.

Frances and Jeanne
I don’t remember going through these storms, but I do know they were bad for The Bahamas. I think they both pummeled Grand Bahama, an island in the north, and possibly did major damage elsewhere too. They must have been kinder, if you can say that, to my island though, which is why I don’t remember them.

On top of these four, there was a hurricane somewhere around the end of high school, or in college, where all my cousins and siblings spent the weekend together at one of our homes (or maybe it was Frances or Jeanne?). We kept one another entertained, and afterward my uncle put us all to work cleaning up the many downed trees, tons of leaves and other debris from the yard. We filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, dove to retrieve foreign objects from the bottom of the pool, swept water and wiped windows. It was a lot of work, even though there were at least 10 of us.

After this was what I believe was Hurricane Sandy, since I spent this one almost alone at my parents’ house, and am assuming my cousins and siblings were back at school. I whiled away much of the time on the phone with the guy I was dating. I stayed in my darkened room, reading and texting him, reading and calling him. Every now and again I’d head down to the kitchen for a snack. The storm itself wasn’t very exciting, but I did enjoy having that guy to talk to and to keep me company.

This weekend, for Irma, I spent the time marking essays, getting ahead with other work and tidying my room. Yesterday my family and I watched the US Open women’s final. The weather was windy and grey, but Irma ended up passing us by and we were spared her terrible force. To every reader in a hurricane zone, I pray that we can all get through the rest of this season in an equally quiet fashion. I pray too that everyone whose lives have been dramatically altered by Harvey and Irma can return to a semblance of normalcy soon.

A Little Dance Music Before Bed

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The best kind of bedtime is the one I’m able to ease into. I’m not a fan of those frantic days when I work right up until the nth hour, then force myself to stop and get to sleep as quickly as possible. Neither do I like those nights when I get home late and only have time to brush my teeth, wash my feet, face and hands, and schlafen – the way my dad used to instruct me and my siblings when we’d get into similar situations as children. I don’t even really like watching a tv show or movie as the last thing before bed. No, the best bedtimes are the ones where I get an early start: shower, listen to my ‘sleep’ playlist as I put on pj’s, read, and maybe listen to one more song before I really close down.

I developed my sleep playlist in college, when I started having trouble falling asleep and someone suggested to my mum that I create a wind-down routine. The top two songs on there are ‘Solitude’ by Billie Holiday, and Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 no. 4. I love them both, but I’d like to wax a little poetic about the perfection that is Chopin’s mazurka.

Mazurkas are Polish dances, though this piece doesn’t exactly conjure visions of people partying in my mind. In fact, I don’t really think of anything while it’s playing; it’s the kind of music that clears my head. I am captivated by its lilting melody, its almost saccharine sweetness. Arthur Rubinstein’s interpretation is perfection: most of the time gentle and light, but with enough vigour and passion to keep the experience interesting. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, and still marvel at the way he makes the piano sing. I grew up playing the instrument, and even at my most coaxing, delicate moments I felt like the sounds I produced were plonking and clumsy.

As Rubinstein performs it, the mazurka is 4.5 minutes long. It starts with a basic, four bar, four note melody, a little melancholy. There’s a brief pause and then we get into the body of the piece, which takes that same melody and uses it as the basis for a number of rhythmic and melodic variations. It lifts and twirls, with trills, grace notes and little runs, always with steady chords underneath the movements, grounding them. There’s a portion kind of like a bridge in the middle that introduces new material, and then we return to the familiar melody and some more variations. The music ends at the beginning, tidily, with the same first four bars, but with so much more emotion; it’s like we’ve become intimate partners because of the way we’ve seen the melody move.

When the mazurka comes to rest, I feel completely at peace. Rarely am I able to play it just once – maybe I never have? And I am always overcome with gratitude for such incredible gifts in this world – composing and performing – and with amazement at the skill of Chopin and  Rubinstein. The mazurka makes bedtime magical, and reminds me too of the awesome God who made it, and all music, possible.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

 

 

 

 

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The Name My Mama Gave Me

linh-pham-221033Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

I was getting ready to write about how people love to shorten my name, and how I actually prefer my whole name and don’t like when they do that…. when I realised that I’ve never introduced myself here. So hi! I’m Gabrielle. 🙂

I didn’t like my name when I was a girl, and used to pester my mum about the other names she planned to give me – Stephanie or Joy (Matthew for a boy) – and why she hadn’t used one of those. Apparently when I was born she was supernaturally inspired to name me Gabrielle instead. I thought it would have been great to be a Joy. I still really like that name.

My family and people who have known me longest call me Gabrielle or Gigi (which I love). In kindergarten and primary school everyone called me Gabrielle. For whatever reason that shifted when I got to high school, and people started calling me Gabby. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this timeline – some of my oldest, dearest friends call me Gabby – but for the most part that was a name that became more common in high school.

Even then, most of my primary school classmates – my school was k-12 – moved on with me, influencing new students to call me by my full name as they did. ‘Gabrielle’ was still in the majority. That changed when I went to college.

Though I always introduced myself using my full name, everyone called me Gabby. I didn’t mind, until my senior year, when I realised that most of the people I interacted with called me Gabby, and now Gabrielle was in the minority. What if for the rest of my life most people called me Gabby? And I died and that’s what everyone but family and old friends knew me as? By then I loved my name and wanted everyone to use it, but people were calling me Gabby left right and centre! I remember one moment in particular when someone told me they didn’t realise my full name wasn’t Gabby, which no doubt affected my name-for-life crisis.

Now I’m asserting myself as Gabrielle. Gone are the days when I didn’t have a name preference. When I meet new people, if they try and call me ‘Gabby’, I correct them. So many automatically shorten my name without my permission, which is especially irritating when I hardly know them. If we’ve just met, or have a more professional relationship, how are you already comfortable enough to use a nickname?

So yes, I’m Gabrielle, not Gabby.

Can you relate? Do you find people often shorten your name?

Blender Banana Pancakes

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Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash

Today is a busy day! My first semester of teaching at the University of The Bahamas begins tomorrow, and there are a few things I’d like to take a look at and/or wrap up before the morning. I also want to work on my new project, and my mum has asked me for some help with a paper she’s writing. I’m going to go to church, and because my aunt’s birthday was on Friday I definitely don’t want to miss our Sunday family lunch. How will I fit it all in? (Not to mention this post.)

In spite of all that, my day always starts with breakfast. It’s Sunday, so I didn’t want to have a typical weekday meal. There were two overripe bananas chilling in our fruit basket and I thought hey, pancakes! This recipe is very quick, and delicious, and happens to be gluten-free in case you have an intolerance. It’s become my new go-to!

Ingredients
– 1/2 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– pinch of salt
– 2 overripe bananas, peeled and broken into halves or quarters
– 2 eggs
– 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method
1. Pulse oats in the blender until they form a powder.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and mix until smooth.
3. Let the mixture rest for 10 – 20 minutes until it thickens. (I almost skipped this step this morning because the batter seemed thick enough, but I decided to use the time to check my email and plan my day.)
4. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter onto a hot pan. Once you see a few bubbles forming on the surface, flip and cook the second side for 2-3 minutes, until brown.
5. Enjoy!

This recipe makes between 7 and 8 pancakes, which is 2 servings for me. I ended up having to make a small batch of regular pancakes for my uncle, and for those I used 1/2 an egg. I scrambled the other half (the white) to eat with my pancakes. They taste really scrumptious, and now I don’t have to worry about breakfast in the morning! I’m grateful to Alida from Simply Delicious for the original recipe, which I adapted slightly. I hope you give them a try. 🙂

Flexin While His Hands Up

christopher-campbell-33411Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

My youngest brother was in a bodybuilding competition last night, his first ever. Well, technically he was in the physique category, which is for less muscled people, but you get the idea. He signed up months ago, then yesterday morning my mum sent pictures to me and my siblings of him on stage for the pre-judging. None of us knew it was happening so we responded with surprise, but we were all excited for him.

I went to the main show with my mum that evening. The place was “cram jam”, as we say here, with cars spilling out of two parking lots onto the grassy strips beside the main road. We had no idea the event was so popular. Unfortunately we missed seeing Jeremy on stage, but we did get to see his friend who signed up with him. Today I got to hear about the behind-the-scenes, and he demonstrated some of the poses he had to hold for the judges. My littlest brother! Flexing his back and spreading out his chest to show his lats!

Bodybuilding has never been something he’s talked about doing; some guys at the gym that he frequents encouraged him and his friend to enter the competition. He is buff though – took home 3rd place! – and open to trying new things. I’ve been thinking about that – picking up new things – a bit lately, because of learning photography. I’ve always been kind of interested, but it’s never been too high on my To Do list. This foray is a by-product of a new project I’m taking on (that I’ll talk about soon!), a thing I need to learn and want to be good at in order to complement the venture.

I feel a little like those people who pick up a hobby later in life, except it’s not “later in life”. When I first started thinking about it, it felt a little weird, like I was jumping the gun on things, but now I realise, there is no gun! Just like my still-in-his-teens brother who is exploring the world of bodybuilding and physique competitions. I doubt it’s going to become a major part of his life, but it’s a very-new thing he put effort into all the same. Before photography, when was the last time I picked up something new to try and keep my mind sharp? I collect skills based on work that I want to do, and now I see that I can – ought to – open the net wider than that and be ready to jump into more of the things I’m curious about. I don’t need to wait until I’m retired or an empty-nester – life’s too uncertain – or have more time – I won’t. Of course there’s the responsibilities that crowd out every day, but a little intentionality goes a long way.

So thanks to my brother! For showing me what this kind of thing can look like, and generally being a wonderful human. If you met him I know you’d love him (basically because everyone does).

Have you picked up any new hobbies lately? Do they say “cram jam” where you’re from?

The Time I Wanted to Be a Fisherman

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I told you all about my trip to Abaco last month, to visit my friend Kelly. Part of my stay included a tour of Cherokee Sound, a tiny settlement established in 1783. It’s home to only a couple hundred people, and the ‘streets’ are more like sidewalks – cement pathways running beside the homes and around the circumference of the settlement. Cherokee is one of Kelly’s favourite places, so of course she had to show it to me.

The day was crazy hot, and we didn’t do ourselves any favours by starting out at 1 o’clock. We parked on the beach and walked down to the Long Dock – the only way people and supplies could move to and from Cherokee until the late 1990s – and hailed the people floating in the very shallow water.

Then we headed back, in the direction of the settlement, and met two boys fishing for bait in the creek.

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They told us their names were Walker and Sebastian, and they didn’t talk much, not to us or to each other. They concentrated on finding fish in the clear water, using their net and rods to catch them. I was mesmerised by their easy, expert movements.

I didn’t do any fishing as a girl. Not much anyway. There were a couple times I went out with different uncles on their boats, but I get seasick easily and the whole sitting, rocking and waiting thing is not for my stomach. I don’t remember doing any dock fishing either. If I did, it wouldn’t have been for long enough to catch anything – I don’t have the patience.

But these boys made me want to be a fisherman, even for a day. Part of it was from admiration – I wish I could throw a net like that! – and part of it was the charm in the moment. The boys on the bridge, the blue blue sky and sun so bright your eyes almost hurt, the rods whipping through the air – it was like a scene from a painting, the kind of feeling directors try to capture in movies. Even the boys’ names, Walker and Sebastian, were just right.

They were friendly enough – answering my questions, bringing up a puffer fish for us to see – but focused. Kelly and I hung around for a little, I took pictures (with their permission) and then we left. I think fondly on that snippet from our day: how cool it was to watch those boys and how they were at once the picture of island life and more than that same picture.

Isn’t it strange how that happens? All of the media we consume set up these expectations based on ideals and stereotypes, but also truths; then those seemingly-perfect, but entirely ordinary, moments come and we experience them both in their reality and measuring them against all the pictures of reality we’ve seen and read.

Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever see Walker and Sebastian again, but I’m glad that I met them, that I got to learn a little about them, and that they let Kelly and me share a part of their Saturday.

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