Saturday, December 22, 2012

VISIT THE NEW BLOG WEBSITE

Choosing the Better Life has moved!  A better site for a Better Life. :)

Please visit us at www.choosingthebetterlife.com.

Please mark your bookmarks accordingly; this site (blogger) will be deleted in the near future.

Thank you!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm Still Out Here!

My dearest Better Lifers, I'm still out here!  But, boy oh boy, do I miss you!

My blog conversion is taking waaaaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated.  When frustration mounts, I pause and remind myself of our Better Life principles:

Breathe.

Remember that it all gets done - it all always gets done.

Refocus on the good parts.

Express gratitude for being in such a blessed position to live on an island and blog about it!

Although I'm dismayed by the delays, I am pleased with how it's evolving and will be excited to present an improved blog to you!  I've been holding off on posting until it's all ready (so there's not ongoing content to convert), but I couldn't resist checking in today to say:

Do not despair - I will be back as soon as possible!  

Thank you to so many loyal readers for your patience, and please check back. 

Have a wonderful beginning to your holiday season!

For those of you who are not part of our Better Life Facebook community, I encourage you to "like" the page to receive updates and participate in comments there.  Despite my blog silence, I have been posting regularly on Facebook.  In fact, THANK YOU to the many Facebook Better Lifers who voted recently for their favorite new blog header image.  I can't wait to unveil the final result!

Meanwhile, all is well on the island and in my life.  Beau, Angel and Milo are happy and healthy. So far during my hiatus, I have:
  • enjoyed time with my family in Florida and Beau's family in Nassau, 
  • hosted three of my best girlfriends on an incredibly fun whirlwind weekend on the island, 
  • took my first ride on the weekly freight boat from our island to Nassau (an 8-12 hour journey)
  • crewed in the "chase boat" to our sailboats during a regatta in Nassau, 
  • enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal with friends on the island, 
  • danced the night away with Beau and friends at a fabulous Stateside wedding, 
  • worked on freelance writing projects,
  • and - of course - put a lot of effort into blog transition and upgrades.  
Boaters and snowbirds are beginning to return to the island for the winter season, so the social activities are kicking up a notch during this festive time.  The days are sunny and warm with cool air, and the nights are "chilly" enough for long sleeves.  It is as beautiful as ever, and  - as I near my two-year mark as a full-time islander - I still appreciate every little nuance of it all.

I hope to relaunch the updated site before the holidays, but I thank you for your patience and loyalty in any event.  Thank you, have a wonderful few weeks and happy holidays!  (Please post your comments to Facebook, rather than the blog, until we convert over - thanks!)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hiatus & Blog Improvements: Your Input Sought!

Greetings, my Better Lifers!  I hope you are enjoying each and every day.

My days have been a flurry of Discovery Day celebrations, family visits to the island, my Stateside visit and requisite errands, upcoming friend visits to the island and more.  

In addition to the usual "island busy,"  I've also been working more on freelance writing projects and having fun developing some exciting possibilities in that arena.  As part of upgrading my focus on writing projects, and after 8 delightful months of blogging with you all, I want to make some improvements to this blog as well.

So . . . please excuse me while the blog goes on a temporary hiatus.  During this time, I will be transferring it to a different host, reformatting, making it more user-friendly to newcomers trying to wade through the many posts, addressing other technical details and generally retooling it to better serve you and to open us to broader possibilities in the future.  I'm very excited about this!

Plus, don't worry, we won't be disconnected during this period!  I'll still be available to you on Facebook, Twitter and email.  Especially on Facebook, we have a nice Better Life community developing, and it will be fun to have some group discussions there.

Moreover, I would REALLY LOVE to hear from each and every one of you with your feedback to the blog so far:  What do you like about it?  What bores you or turns you off?  What would you like to see more of?  Do you follow the blog because you like island details, or because you daydream about your own career/geographic change, or because you enjoy the inspirational/Better Life philosophy, or to keep up with me personally, or . . . ?  

Truly, my goal is to tailor this blog to you while remaining true to my own Better Life and writingsPlease share your thoughts with me and the Better Life community by posting a comment to our Facebook page.  If you prefer a more private medium, please offer your feedback, comments and suggestions to me by email at choosingthebetterlife@gmail.com

Thank you in advance for your comments!  I'll post status updates to Facebook and will look forward to talking to you all soon.  Meanwhile, take care, smile and have a great few weeks!

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12 - Three Reasons to Celebrate

Today, October 12, is a special day.

Why?  In addition to simply celebrating another day of Better Life, here are my top three reasons to celebrate today.

Reason # 1 - Discovery Day

On Monday, October 8, the United States (and other countries) observed "Columbus Day" as a holiday.  Similarly, today, the Bahamas (and other countries) recognize "Discovery Day."

Discovery Day commemorates Christopher Columbus' arrival in the "New World."  His initial landfall is thought to be on one of the Bahamian islands, what he called Guanahani, on this day in 1492.

Present day, this is observed as a holiday and a day off from work for many Bahamians.  Locally, it coincides with a weekend-long bottom-fishing tournament and other activities (beach parties, dominoes challenges, etc.).  So let the celebrations commence!

Beau's little grandnephews in awe of the barrel full of fish during last year's tournament.

Reason #2 - Slick's Birthday

One of my favorite people on the island - in fact, on the planet - is Slick, and today is his birthday.

Bonefish Slick (real name Oliver) also happens to be Beau's cousin, although I met Slick years before I met Beau.  Back in those days, Slick was a bit more of a wild man, and I was a wide-eyed touristy teen.  I still remember one sunny winter day 25 years ago, sitting outside the local bar in a gazebo by the sea and declining the offer of a beer from a man ten years or more my senior.  (A beer!  I was 15 or 16, and my parents would have killed me.)  Yup, that was Slick.  He just laughed and went on his merry way.  

A few years later, Bonefish Slick demonstrated to me the fisherman part of his nickname.  Along with another fishing guide, Slick took me and my brother and two boatloads of family friends out for a wonderful day of bonefishing.

Since my move to the island on a more permanent basis, I've come to know Slick much more personally.  He has a heart of gold and an infectious laugh and is a loyal friend.  These days, Slick continues to thrive as an outstanding fisherman and guide.  He also serves as surrogate parent to Beau's dog, Milo, who follows Slick like a shadow when he's lost track of Beau.  Slick also is wonderful with children and spent hours in our volunteer program with the local kids this past summer.

Slick, celebrating the victory of the sailboat he crews on with Beau.

Beau and Slick are close, and Slick has embraced me tightly as family.  He's an excellent cook and will send native dishes over for me to eat, and he looks out for me in other little ways.  Slick has an open and loving heart and is simply a stand-up guy.  He's overcome many obstacles that would have been (and have been) the demise of other people.  For this, and for the man he is, I have immense respect and love for him.

Happy Birthday, Slickie!


Reason #3 - A Special Anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of something I hope to celebrate for many years to come.

Today, someone dear to me celebrates a year of sobriety.  

This time last year, my heart clutched in fear, my stomach roiled with anxiety, and my eyes filled with tears as I observed my loved one battle the early stages of detox and recovery from alcohol/addictions.  This was something I had never previously encountered up close and personal, and it scared the daylights out of me.  

In the year that followed, I learned a lot about addictions and recovery.  I have incredible thanks and respect for reputable rehab programs and the almighty powers of AA - Alcoholics Anonymous.  More significantly, I have more-than-words-can-describe respect for my loved one who has conquered and thrived.

From time to time, people will hear "my story" about leaving everything for life on an island, and some of these people tell me I am brave.  Hah!  It's all in the eyes of the beholder, I suppose, but, to me, entering a detox facility is brave.  Confiding in family and friends about stigmatized addictions is brave.  Sticking it out through a rehab program is brave.  Ending toxic relationships is brave.  Returning to work where people may have whispered at the long absence (and prior downward spiral) is brave.  Redefining friendships is brave.  Finding new interests and ways to have fun is brave.  Maintaining sobriety - as in, never have a single drink - for an entire year (with many more to follow) is brave.

Today, My Brave One, I celebrate you.  You are a brave, strong, centered, spiritual, loving, positive, open-minded, open-hearted, funny, smart, talented human being.  You inspire me.  You are one of my very best friends, and I love you with every ounce of my being.  My heartfelt congratulations and continued best wishes to you on your first anniversary!!!
Cheers to your new sunrise, new day, new year, new Better Life!
Today, I also celebrate any of you Better Lifers or your loved ones who are conquering these challenges.  Your Better Life awaits you!

Happy October 12th, everyone!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Love of Music

Music.  One of my passions.  From as early in life as I can remember, my home and heart have been filled with music.

The music of my childhood.

Both of my parents played instruments as youngsters, have good singing voices and love music.  Throughout my childhood in the 70's, joyous sounds of singing and old records regularly flooded our home.  My dad even enjoyed moonlighting as lead singer in a band when he was in graduate school and I was in pre-school.  (Those were the days when a little girl could ride on the gas tank of her daddy's motorcycle to band practice in the small town where we lived.)

Later, in my grade school days, I would sing my heart out through a variety of make-believe microphones (and later a real one through my stereo!), engage Dad in duets (our favorite harmonies, Everly Brothers All I Have To Do Is Dream), make up dance routines with my little brother (we can still do a mean Greased Lightning), and begin piano and flute lessons.

Years later, playing flute in high school - big 80's hair, blue eyeshadow and all!
The music of my youth.

In high school, I enjoyed the equivalent of a star quarterback's glory days by performing as Annie in my high school's spring musical my Junior year.  We were in a newly built high school with a state-of-the-art theater, and we filled 800 seats for three nights in a row to standing ovations - what a rush!  Glory days, indeed.

Onstage, in my red Annie wig and red Annie dress.
During those high school years, I also sang with our church youth choir, which would go on tour during the summer, even performing in Disneyworld one year!  

My favorite memory of church-singing was a quiet performance of Amy Grant's El Shaddai.  Such a simple, beautiful song.  More significantly, that is my clearest early memory of music being a strong spiritual connection for me, too.  I just felt so MOVED as the song came up through me.

Interestingly, given my current life, I experience the strongest spiritual connection when combining music and the sea, even back then.  Since my family had started vacationing to the small island where I now live, I can remember riding in the bow of our little Boston Whaler, my brother and Mom nearby, with my Dad on the tiller.  As we cruised through the spectacular waters, my teenage self would belt out Madonna's La Isla Bonita and other favorite songs of the day, letting the wind carry my voice away.  Exhilaration.  Pure peace. 

Fast forward a couple of decades:  Nashville

At the tail end of my 30's a couple years ago, I had just emerged from some dark days and was entering a time of transition.  Music played an important role in my life again.
My "leftie" guitar

Seeking a fun and creative outlet, I began guitar lessons in my Midwestern City.

I also started writing lyrics and learning the wonderful world of song-writing (shout out to Nashville Songwriters Association International).

I made several road trips to Nashville for songwriter classes and to explore the wonderful small city as a potential new home for me and Angel.

On one visit, my mother and I were excited to attend the Grand Ole Opry, being performed in the original Ryman Auditorium that night!  Such an historic, intimate setting with fantastic acoustics.

We knew we would enjoy all performers, but we were most excited to see Dolly Parton!

Dolly Parton, in all her glory, gave an outstanding live performance.

First, however, someone new to me came onstage.  Rebecca Lynn Howard.  

I hadn't heard of her until that night, but from the moment she opened her mouth, I was transported.  She sang what I now know to be her break-through bestselling song, Forgive.  As her words resonated through me and her powerful voice soared through the old venue, tears streamed down my face, and I became a lifelong fan.  ("Forgive, well that's a mighty big word for such a small man" - what a great line!)  I would later enjoy Rebecca's performances at the famous Bluebird Cafe and other songwriter showcases.


My introduction to the talented Rebecca Lynn Howard at the Grand Ole Opry

Fast forward to present:  Island Living

As you know, I ended up not in Nashville, but on this special island, where music continues to play an important part of my life.  

For example, I luuuuuuuv the sound and vibe of old-school Bahamian music, soca and rake-n-scrape.  When Beau and I are out to the local bars, that's what really gets me twitching in my seat when it comes over the stereo.  And when we can hear live bands and dance, like at his birthday party, even better!

More significantly on a daily basis, music is just around me all day now!  In my former life, I spent most of my waking hours in an office.  And, while I would have been permitted to play music at my desk, I didn't.  For me, serious concentration over contracts and legal documents requires quiet.

Now, however, serious concentration flies out the window!  (Unless I'm writing, of course.)  While I do the dishes, cook, clean the floors, organize files, manage dog duties and otherwise go about my day, the music is on.  

And it's usually on LOUD, especially when I'm cleaning or cooking.  

And, with apologies to my neighbors, I'm usually singing along at the top of my lungs.  More than once I've been dancing around the kitchen, singing at high volume, only to turn around and see that Beau has walked in the house and is now gazing at me with a quizzical expression on his face!

Music is joy.  It is connecting with others.  It is spiritual.  It is fun.  It is part of me.  It is part of my Better Life.

What about YOU?  What role does music play in your Better Life?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Swimming Pigs (and video!)

" . . . when pigs fly!"  How 'bout when pigs swim?!

Yes, it's true.  Pigs swim.  At least, island pigs swim!  

I've posted about this before as part of an evening boat excursion, but it's just too fun a topic not to revisit.  Besides, the pigs really warrant their own post!

So, the scoop . . .
 
On a nearby (uninhabited) island, a handful of large, wild pigs are the dominant residents.  Some twenty years ago, a couple of the local guys brought in two pigs and placed them on that island to breed and provide table fodder for the occasional pig roast that our local community loves to do.  (Over the years, there have been funny stories about pigs slipping overboard while the guys tried to transport them by small dinghy and other such adventures.)

The pigs have slowly gained fame or notoriety (depending on whether you've been entertained or terrorized) as a tourist attraction.  The pigs have learned that when boats approach their shoreline, these boats often bring slop and food treats.  So, the pigs now swim out to meet the boats!

All too often, visitors decide it'd be fun to get out to swim with the pigs, or pet the pigs onshore.  While this can certainly be entertaining and make for good vacation photos, it's really not the best idea.  These are still wild animals!  And in their excited quest for food, the pigs get quite aggressive.  I've seen pigs practically climb aboard smaller dinghies.  And I've seen pigs chase people onshore.  Unfortunately, the local medical clinic is all too familiar with treating various pig bites, some of a serious nature.

That said, they're still fun to go observe at a safe distance!

ESPECIALLY because I hear there's a new litter of piglets!

So, yesterday, Beau and I took a boat ride over to see the pigs.  Unfortunately, the piglets were nowhere in sight.  They were napping or otherwise tucked safely back in the bush.  Given the aggressive nature of the pigs, presumably even more so as mommas protecting babies, I did not go ashore to root the piglets out of their hiding spot to pose for pictures!

Nonetheless, the big pigs are always a treat.  See for yourselves . . .

No other boats around, so the pigs were still onshore as we approached.

Here they come to greet us!

Yup, pigs swim.

As many times as I've seen this phenomenon, I still chuckle.

Realizing no food was being thrown from the boat (sorry, pigs), the pigs start to turn away from the boat.

Checking us out one last time.

Ambling back ashore.

Digging nests in the cool damp sand.  You can see that's a nursing mother pig.
Although I failed to deliver piglets to you this time, I have an extra treat.  To complete this virtual experience, you must hear the snorting sounds of the pigs and see their pig-paddling legs in action!  So, here is a video clip.  (I apologize for the wind noise - it was a squally afternoon.)

video

 
Looks to me like the pigs enjoy their own Better Life!!  What do you think?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Wild, Wild West (Jackson Hole & Yellowstone)

As I've commented before, the Better Life can be enjoyed regardless of the setting.  And this island girl travels!  Most recently, Beau and I enjoyed a journey into the Wild, Wild West - an area of the United States that neither of us had previously explored.  In short, it was fantastic!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

This area still feels like the frontier as it's a looooong way from the Bahamas, but it was entirely worth the trip!

After arriving by plane last week, stepping into the chilly mountain evening and eating a late dinner by the hotel, we fell soundly asleep in our log cabin at the lovely Rustic Inn Creekside Resort & Spa.  

We awoke early the next morning - by habit and due to the two hour time difference - but lounged for a while before venturing outside to the hotel's hot breakfast buffet in the main building.  Overnight lows were in the - gulp - 30 degrees (F), so we waited until the sun burned off some of the cold!

Stepping out into the crisp day, I inhaled deeply, breathing the fresh mountain air and enjoying the spectacular vista.  Our "backyard" consisted of a bubbling creek, changing leaves on trees, hillsides, tepees and fire pits.  What a beautiful time of year in a beautiful setting!

Our backyard, Rustic Inn, Jackson Hole, WY.
Venturing into downtown Jackson later that day, we strolled around the Town Square, enjoying the local art, quaint shops, restaurants, bars, friendly locals and western ambiance.

All four corners of Jackson's Town Square park are graced by archways of antlers (shed every winter).
Grand Tetons

Early the next morning, a guide from Grizzly Country Wildlife Adventures picked us (and a couple from Israel) up for a 12-hour guided tour of the Grand Tetons and the lower loop of Yellowstone.  The guided tour was worth every penny!  Instead of wrestling with maps and twisting mountain roads, we relaxed and enjoyed the views - many of which we wouldn't have found on our own - during our 250 mile jaunt.

First stop was a scenic look at the Tetons in the soft morning light.
Grand Teton is the highest point in the middle of this picture.

Entering Grand Teton National Park, our next stop was the picturesque Oxbow Bend along the Snake River.
Oxbow Bend, with the Tetons reflecting in the Snake River.
Yellowstone National Park

Leaving the Tetons, we entered our famous national park.

Just a pair of happy tourists!
First of all, I never realized how HUGE Yellowstone National Park is - spanning almost 3,500 square miles!  Really glad to have our guide!  I also hadn't known that it is volcanic in nature - Yellowstone Caldera is the largest supervolcano on the continent.

One of our first stops in the Park was a visit to Old Faithful Geyser.  Perhaps the most predictable geyser, it erupts approximately every 90 minutes.  Our guide called a hotline to check the projected schedule for the morning!  We took our seats - at a presumably safe distance - around the bubbling, steaming area and patiently waited.

Sure enough, within 10 minutes of the predicted time, the geyser erupted, shooting thousands of gallons of boiling water approximately 140 feet up into the air.  Amazing.

Old Faithful Geyser erupting, Yellowstone National Park.
We learned that Yellowstone boasts hundreds of geysers, hot springs, bubbling mud pits, waterfalls and petrified forests.  It was strange to see a pool of water (like the one below) that looked like a Caribbean blue hole, with clear turquoise water, only to realize that the steaming water is more than 200 degrees (F) - no swimming!

Yellowstone National Park.
Another spectacular sight in the Park was the grand waterfall crashing into the river at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Park.
Waterfall and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
In addition to the spectacle of nature's beauty, the Park is rife with wildlife.  Our favorite - encountering a herd of bison along the road.

Bison herd, Yellowstone National Park.
It was impressive to see these massive creatures in person.  I was also surprised to hear their snorting and other noises.
 

Less pretty, but equally astounding, were the surprisingly large droppings of, err, Bison scat.

For perspective, that's my little foot next to the huge Bison scat.
Entering yet another scenic area, our guide sent us to explore (keeping an eye on us, of course) while he set up a gourmet picnic lunch alongside the river.

Lunch in Yellowstone.
Returning from lunch to the main road, we waved to this immense bison ambling along the road.

Photo of this bison taken through the car window!
Later, also just off the main road, we stopped to admire grazing elk.

Elk in Yellowstone.
Elk lunchtime.
Another breath-taking spot was the large Jackson Lake, nestled right against the mountains.

Jackson Lake, Wyoming
Although we did discard our jackets during the sunniest part of the afternoon, clouds rolled in late afternoon, the wind picked up, and we bundled up again!

Ending the day in the Tetons.
Horses, Cowboys and Friends

The next morning greeted us with another sun-filled, blue sky kind of day.  Weather was wonderful all week.  We could handle the brief bits of cold (overnight lows in the upper 30s) for the pretty days (highs in the upper 60s and lower 70s).

Another beautiful Wyoming day.
After a leisurely lunch at a restaurant situated high on a butte with breath-taking views, we stopped at a local stable for some horseback riding!  In this day and age of liability and waiver forms, I didn't expect that we'd be able to work up much speed.  However, when our group included a dad with his babe-in-arms, we knew it was going to be a really slow amble!

Nonetheless, it was fun to be on horses, and the hour-long journey over the top of a mountain with the views below was exceptional.

Beau having fun with Horse Trey - look at that view!

Later that day, we cleaned up for a tasty dinner in town and to go hear some live music.  Like the night before, we enjoyed live bands with country music, entertaining dancing and friendly locals and visitors.

We especially enjoyed meeting a real live cowboy who regaled us with stories.  This cowboy has never left the country and thinks he might wither in an island sun, but he certainly enjoys his own Better Life and embraces a similar philosophy.  Becoming fast friends, we enjoyed his company on several evenings and left amid promises to keep in touch and visit again.

Our cowboy friend gifted us this picture of him and a favorite horse.
Our last day welcomed us into sunny arms yet again.  After a leisurely morning, we met dear friends for lunch at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.  Beau has known this lovely couple from their years of frequenting our island world, so it was a special treat to see them in their mountain world!

With friends at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming.
We enjoyed our first taste of bison burgers - tastier and leaner than ground beef - as we sat outside in the sun, enjoying the view across to the Elk Refuge and the company of good friends.  

Would you believe that I had to leave the islands to suffer a little sunburn?!  I underestimated the proximity and strength of the sun in the high altitude.  After lunch, we viewed the various galleries of the museum, oohing and ahhing at the splendor.

Heading Home

All too soon, it was time to return home.  Being in altitudes of 6,000 (Jackson) to 8,000 (Yellowstone) feet, we occasionally had a headache (which Beau joked was due to beer!) and mild shortness of breath.  Time to get back to sea level!  Also time to get back to humidity - we went through about a gallon of body lotion in the dry mountain air.

We traveled back to Florida for an overnight before heading on to the island.  The overnight stay with my father brought its own vacation enjoyment as Dad and Beau continued their decades-long challenges of pool and dominoes.  

Dominoes, especially, is a favorite Bahamian pastime, and Dad always enjoyed the fast-paced game coupled with fast-paced banter and trash talk.  Beau, on the other hand, enjoys teasing Dad for taking too long to play his turns.  "Study long, study wrong!"  Beau emerged the victor that night, duly noted by Dad on the ongoing score sheet that lives on his refrigerator.  But Dad insists that I tell you all he gave Beau a good run for his money!

Beau and Dad - Bahamian style dominoes and trash talk in Florida.

What a great trip!  I thoroughly enjoyed my journey into the Wild, Wild West and understand how the Better Life can be enjoyed there.  The pretty weather (which has just turned colder, so we had perfect timing!), amazing views, majestic mountains, impressive wildlife and crisp mountain air fed my soul in a different-but-still-good way.

Now, back on the island, I am - as always - happy to be home and appreciative of my Better Life here.  Cheers to your Better Lives at home and in your travels!