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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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

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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?

It Feels Good to Feel Good!

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I’ve been feeling gradually more light and happy the last few weeks. Nothing has changed in my routine, I haven’t gotten any news in my work or personal life, but there’s joy humming in the background of every day. It feels like I’m getting my old self back, from this new personality where things were all so heavy. In the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with job stresses, multiple moves and relationship transitions. Together they were bogging me down and I had to fight to feel happy, to have peace. There has been a lot of learning – about outside barometers of success I didn’t realise I so thoroughly imbibed, about trusting God, about perseverance – and I knew that I was changing, I hoped for the better. In the process though the sillier parts of me slipped further away, which I don’t fault myself for, but I did remember the way I used to be and wonder if I would ever be able to access those parts of me as easily.

So what’s brought me here? And where is here? I’m wondering now as I write this. I realise this post is really introspective, but it seems like it’s only going to get more so.
What’s brought me here:
1. Time – to learn how to handle life’s difficulties, to wash over wounds.
2. Watching my mother and my uncle – I inherited my silliness from them, and they retain that part of themselves even though they’re middle aged.
3. Spiritual maturity – resting more fully in Jesus, exulting in all of his blessings and goodness toward me.

Where is here:
1. Spontaneous outbursts of joy, manifesting itself physically and verbally.
2. Laughing and smiling all the way to my toes; generally being in a good mood.
3. Not being afraid that my expressions of happiness diminish or disrespect the difficulties I am otherwise experiencing.

On Friday afternoon I visited my friend’s mum in the hospital. She’s very ill, yet in our conversation did not complain about her condition or worry about the future. She was easygoing and we talked about all kinds of things; in fact, she’s like this whenever I see her. I marvel each time at her equanimity and feel comforted and encouraged after our conversations (although I always want to be the one encouraging and giving some comfort to her). Seeing her manage her illness is influencing the way I want to handle my own struggles.

After my visit I spent the night laughing, often to tears, at the storytelling of Evelyn from the Internets. I felt so refreshed afterward, and grateful for her and the work that she’s doing. As with my mum and uncle, she reminded me that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

I am so thankful to be in this place! I want to continue down this vibrant road, becoming even stronger, and not slip back onto the now-familiar, comfortable, pale-coloured one. This is it, my life, and there’s no reason not to twirl and whoop as often as I’d like, as often as I can. I hope you’ll do the same. 🙂

Swimming Through a Sea of Roses

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I’m back from NYC now, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but it’s all the way in the Bronx and travel time has always been a deterrent. When I found out that there was a Chihuly exhibit up I decided I finally would make the trip, and though I only ended up seeing a few of his pieces the visit overall was well worth it.

After walking past the closed-early conservatory (boo!) and wandering a little aimlessly across the grounds, I was happy to find myself at Thain Family Forest, full of centuries old trees and pieces of rock reminding us of the age when this part of New York was covered in glaciers. When I came out the other side I was at the Cherry Grove, and although the time for cherries has passed it was still a very pleasant experience, with the cute little trees lining the walkway and dotting the grassy slopes. It made me wish I could go climbing into their branches, and afterward enjoy a picnic with a blanket and a basket; picturesque, like the storybook picnics described in books from my childhood.

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Then the grove ended and I came to the lilac collection, which was also unfortunately not in bloom. I did read a little about how supposedly easy they are to grow and make into hybrids. Apparently they’re one of the most popular flowers in the US, which was news to me, but I don’t know much about plants or gardening really so no surprise there.

Finally, I came to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, which was in bloom with thousands of stunning roses. Oh my goodness. The whole effect was exquisite, and there were so many different varieties, it was astounding. I took a few pictures and just kind of stood in awe of creation and the amazing God responsible for everything I was seeing. Then I made my way slowly back to the entrance of the Garden, past more beautiful flowers and greenery. Despite the disappointments about my visit, it was still wonderful and restorative, and I’m glad I made the effort to go.

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