Cook’s Best of 2017

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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Happy New Year everyone! How’d you bring it in? I went to Junkanoo with a cousin (I never ended up going on Boxing Day, like I mentioned last week), and today my family had a house party.

I really enjoyed writing in this space over the last year. Somewhere around the end of January I decided I’d try to write once a week, and I succeeded! There were times I didn’t know what to say, or felt I didn’t have enough time in the day, but I stuck with it and now I have 49 posts to look back on. Although I only shared a few of them on fb, I was still surprised at how widely everything was read! Thanks to all of you for sticking around to see what I came up with. 🙂 These are the 5 most popular:

1. I Met My Grandmother at the Art Gallery
2. The Woman Who’s Mad I Went to College
3. The Name My Mama Gave Me
4. UB Lessons: Taking Hard Things a Day at a Time
5. Fighting Fear, Being Generous

City Soundscape didn’t make the top 5, but it’s my personal favourite.

I wish you peace and joy in 2018, and steady progression toward your goals. I haven’t made any resolutions but there are things I want to continue to improve, like my photography, and doing more to share my creative work. I’m off to think some more about that stuff, with a view to hitting the ground running. I’m one of those love-to-make-lists people – how about you? Cheers!

 

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The King is Coming

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Photo by Artem Pochepetsky on Unsplash

Jamaica is a beautiful country. I’m in love with its hills and gullies, its lush landscape and jawdropping mountain views. As much as I rep The Bahamas, I’m proud of the Jamaican in me as well, and I’m always excited to come and visit.

I’m here now for a few weeks and it’s been great so far; the right mix of low key and stimulating. I’ve driven around Kingston, gone out to dinner and to church, and stayed home catching up on reading. My conversations have been about their national ID card controversy, the instability of the Jamaican dollar, the popularity of Juici versus Tastee patties and Jamaican versus Bahamian ways of speaking. Already I’ve eaten saltfish, curry and Devon House rum raisin ice cream. If you ever come to visit, go to Devon House. Or somewhere that serves their ice cream. It’s uhmazing, and they give you plenty plenty so depending on how you’re feeling you might want to share a single scoop.

While I’m here I plan to do this-year-assessing, next-year-planning work, to cook and write down family recipes, and to read read read. Also, um, it’s December! Which means Christmas is coming and I’m super excited. I’m following this advent devotional from Desiring God, and bustin’ out all the music. Last year I listened to Christy Nockel’s Thrill of Hope album on repeat, and the prelude has been playing more frequently in my head recently:

The whole album is lovely and heart-swelling, on the mellow side of Christmas tunes.

In addition to the devotional from Desiring God, I found a scripture writing plan for the names of God that I’m using in my quiet times. I’ve never done a writing plan like this before, but I’m so thankful that I’ve found it because it couldn’t be more appropriate for advent.

What do you have planned to finish out the year? I’d love to hear about your favourite Christmas  music!

 

UB Lessons: Taking Hard Things a Day at a Time

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Happy Sunday! And to all my American readers, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As close as we are to the US, Bahamians are well acquainted with your grateful feast. Many restaurants and families organise Thanksgiving meals, but it’s by no means the big deal that it is for you, and definitely not a holiday. For plenty of people the day passes like any other, as it did for me this year. The date barely registered for me, and if it weren’t for instagram I probably would’ve had no idea. I’ve eaten no turkey or mashed potatoes, no pie or green beans – it was just a Thursday in my world.

Well, not any Thursday – the last one of my semester! I have final papers to mark now, but the teaching part of this term is o.v.e.r. I am so happy, as well as proud and thankful. I won’t say that the time flew by, because I felt every day of the last 14 weeks, but I do look back in satisfaction at how far I’ve come.

In the beginning, the close of the semester seemed like a horizon stretched out in front of me – far away at the end of my vision, out of reach. Learning how to manage each classroom, brainstorming activities to keep my students engaged and interacting with one another, planning how to actually deliver the material, and marking, I was swamped. On top of figuring out how to teach, there were many admin and/or tech related issues to resolve; as soon as I settled one another took its place. Focusing on the end of the semester didn’t give me any relief, it just made me feel tired. I wondered how I was going to make it to the finish line, and what state I’d be in when I got there.

Instead, it was more productive for me to consider my work in small chunks, taking the semester one class at a time. I celebrated at the end of every week and as time went on I became more comfortable at the front of the classroom. Many of the side issues went away, and for the ones that didn’t I found workarounds. Now here I am, having taught a semester of college! I handed out surveys in my final classes and the students all reported greater confidence since they’ve learned things, so that’s marvelous haha.

I’m sharing my accomplishment to encourage you in whatever hard season you might find yourself: this too shall pass! Maybe thinking about the end isn’t helpful because there’s so much to do between now and then; taking things a day at a time might be a better strategy. Then one day you’ll look up and realise – hey! I’m doin this thing! – and a few days after that you’ll look up and say – hey! I’ve done this thing!

I’d feel silly sometimes about being frustrated and upset, knowing that 14 weeks isn’t long, and there were surely people with much bigger problems in much longer seasons of difficulty. But it was still my season, new and hard to me, and I still had to work my way through it. It’s important to keep our problems in perspective, to recognise our privileges and luxuries, but not as a way to dismiss how we’re doing. And in whatever difficulty we’re having, breaking things down into smaller pieces, moving through with a view to steady improvement and skill development, our mountains can become molehills. Or maybe not, but we’ll certainly climb them. 😉

Forgive me for that corny analogy. I’ve gotta go mark now.

Freestylin On My Birthday!

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Photo by Lucy Heath on Unsplash

It was my birthday last week! I had an amazingly joyful day, spending time with friends and family, baking and keeping myself amped up with cheers and freestyle raps. Yes, you read right! Driving to my dad’s house for dinner after work, and then at my dad’s house getting ready for dinner, I was coming up with rhymes about it being my birthday. That was pretty much as deep as they got haha. Here’s one that stuck with me:

Bakin’ chocolate cookies
Eatin’ chocolate cake
And she celebratin’
Because she’s 28!!
28 yup! 28 yup!!

Now imagine appropriate arm movements and head gestures, plus some jumping around, and you’ve got a better idea of how said rap was performed. I had so much fun. I was loud. I felt free. I just let everything else go and focused on the fact that I was alive and had a whole day to celebrate.

The day started off just fine, more on the low-key side. Then somewhere around mid-afternoon it was like a switch went off in my head. I don’t remember there being much of a coherent thought process, but I felt an urgency to be enthusiastic, and grateful, and to create more excitement for myself. It was my birthday! Who better to feel it than me?? So I started, and once I got going there was no dampening the turn up.

It’s been a few years since I was that amped about my birthday, but I plan to continue this trend in the future. Aside from making my day even more enjoyable, it was a chance to just be and tap into the spontaneous, exuberant side of myself. Days like my birthday remind me that even being fluid and carefree can involve conscious decisions.

Anyway, I know you can’t hear my actual birthday rap performance, but I can leave you with one of my favourite songs of late. I love to dance to this one, and often dream of learning the choreography. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and have a great week!

UB Lessons: On Being Less Judgemental

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Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

I have four more weeks of teaching left in this semester, and if you ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I can’t wait. This has been a challenging position in so many ways, and at the end of each week I breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks that I made it.

Issues regularly crop up in every corner: administratively, technologically, logistically and interpersonally. I have a mixed bag of students: some older than me, though most of them are younger; first years and students ready to graduate; singles, married people, more parents than I expected; and they all have quite different levels of ability. On top of all that, although I’m teaching one course, one section meets in the morning and the other in the afternoon, and they have completely different vibes.

One thing that’s stood out to me in the last few weeks is how well some of my students are managing their private difficulties. You wouldn’t know it from their behaviour in class, but some of them are going through really trying times – those major life experiences that can derail you or cause long ‘delays’ as you work your way through them.

I get a glimpse into their personal struggles when they need to explain absences or ask for flexibility with assignments, but if it weren’t for that I’d be like any other student in the class – oblivious. I wonder about the students that don’t know,  that are wrapped up in their own worlds. They have opinions about their classmates, I can guess at some of them from comments and body language, and they’re based on the somewhat shallow interactions they have with each other every week. Maybe they think that students who are regularly absent are lazy or disorganised; maybe they assume that students who don’t speak up in class don’t take the course seriously or aren’t prepared for the lesson. None of these assumptions would be correct.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. It’s a reminder for me to give more grace to the people that I meet. Not necessarily to give them a free pass to do poor work, or excuse them if they’re behaving badly, but just to be kinder in general and more forgiving when things go wrong. Even with people that I interact with on a semi-regular basis, I hope I can be more gentle and less judgmental – I don’t know everything about them, after all.

Despite being the kind of truth that we grasp on an intuitive level – we aren’t sharing everything that’s happening with each person we encounter – it is so easy to forget. I hope this post is a nudge for you to refresh your attempts at being broad-minded. I’d also love to hear if you’ve had any interactions lately that have brought this truth back to the front of your mind as well!

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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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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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