Mosquitoes and Mangoes

The island is lousy with both right now. Earlier today, I stopped scratching off the majority of my epidermis long enough to answer what I thought was a knock at the front door. I was hoping it wasn’t a swarm of mosquitoes.

It wasn’t. It was a mango! A perfectly ripe, spicy mango fell from the tree above, bounced off the door, and came to rest at my doorstep. I picked it up, brought it inside, rinsed it off, and put it in the refrigerator. This happened a couple more times throughout the day.

While I question the necessity of mosquitoes, mangoes are one of nature’s most luscious gifts.  Back in the Mile High City, I considered the mango a scarce luxury. At $1-$3 each, I never dared to experiment. But now, with my fridge filling up with this awesome fruit, it was time to play!

I set out to soothe my ice cream craving by inventing a gluten-free/dairy-free mango-coconut frozen treat. By the way, if this is your first visit to the LifeMurmurs blog, welcome! You should know this isn’t a food blog. Today is a perfect example of how most days in paradise are full of unexpected and delightful surprises. And, if you read carefully, I’m including a bonus recipe that you might enjoy this holiday weekend. Here’s what I used and how I made it:

Mango Tree

2 ripe mangoes

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 oz. Cruzan dark rum

8 oz. pineapple juice

4 oz. cranberry juice

Lots of ice cubes

¼ cup “sugar” (I used coconut crystals)

¾ cup water

12 oz. coconut milk

Peel the skin from the mangoes and cut the fruit away from the stone. Chop mango flesh into cubes and purée in a blender. While the blender is running, fill a tall glass with ice.  Next, add lime juice into the purée and blend while you pour half of the rum into the glass of ice. Stop the blender and set the purée aside. Pour half of the pineapple juice  and half of the cranberry juice into the glass and stir. Now, take a deep gulp from the glass. Take a short break and keep drinking until the glass is empty. Nyum nyum nyum

Fully refreshed, bring the “sugar” and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over a moderate heat, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Cook briskly, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a light syrup. While the syrup is cooking, refill your empty glass with ice, and add the rest of the rum, pineapple and cranberry juices. Stir. Taste to see it’s as good as the first one. Add a splash of mango rum (in keeping with the theme). Taste again. Release a big, smiling, happy sigh. When the syrup is finished cooking, pour into a heatproof bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

Take another couple of healthy sips from your glass. Then stir the coconut milk into the cooled syrup. Have another sip. Stir the mango purée into the coconut syrup until it is well mixed.. Place mixture in freezer for 3-4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so to break up the icy particles as they form. Drain the rest of your glass. Sprawl out in the hammock on the patio and fall asleep. Forget to stir. When you wake up a couple of hours later, your dreamy mango-coconut concoction will be ready to serve. Spoon into coffee mugs…because, that’s how we roll on the island.

“But what about those awful mosquitoes?” you might ask. To that, I say, “Dengue, shmengue.”  Care for another mango?

From my paradise to yours,

B.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

The standard of success in life is not the money or the stuff — the standard of success is absolutely the amount of joy you feel.” — Abraham-Hicks

What do you do when you hate living in paradise?

Many people refer to our brief existence on this planet as “Earth School.” Well, if the world is a school, then I live in the middle of the playground!  Right here in tropical paradise. And the island I live on is my homeroom teacher. And she can be a real B!^@#.

What many tried to tell me before I moved here is true. Island living can feel like a crash program in becoming humanly whole. And many come to it only to be chewed up and spit back out.

In my third month on-island, I was getting chewed up pretty badly. I was in the worst part of the culture shock continuum. Everything felt, tasted, smelled, looked and sounded ‘wrong’ to me. Everything, including driving, had to be done differently than I was used to, and it was guaranteed to be more difficult, less convenient, and/or unnecessarily inefficient.  Paradise has many ills. Most are the same as exist on the mainland, but at significantly higher rates — crime, corruption, poverty, racism, Dengue fever, incest, domestic violence, etc. Oddly, I think it might have been the discovery that Amazon wouldn’t deliver anything other than books and software to the island that threw me into the pit of “rock bottom” here on The Rock.

It was that same evening my husband brought a colleague home for dinner.  It was my first time meeting Jim, but my emotions had run amok and I just couldn’t be bothered to hide them. Not my ideal way to make a first impression, but I didn’t care.

Jim turned out to be a compassionate soul. Having once been in similar shoes, and subsequently spending many happy years here, he said the words that made me even less happy to be here:

“You will never change the island. The island will change you.”

These words would haunt me for weeks.

I was speechless. I didn’t much care for the first part. Every ounce of my ego was geared to control my circumstances and environment. I’m hard-wired for victory, and I had set up the island as my adversary.

At the same time, I was intrigued by the second part. After all, isn’t that why I purged my life down to the bare bones and came down to this God-forsaken so-called paradise in the first place? Wasn’t it I who yearned to live “closer to the bone?” Wasn’t “life as an adventure” my intention?

I wanted all of those things. And…I didn’t want to be here. But the real stunner was realizing I didn’t want to go back to the States either. I felt desperate and trapped “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”  In that moment of grace that often feels like letting go of the end of your rope, I chose surrender.

Surrendering to the Sea - Lindquist Beach, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The next day, I signified my turning point by baptizing myself in the turquoise bathwater of the Caribbean Sea. As it turned out, it was an initiation into the world of play.

On her blog, Brene Brown talks about what constitutes play.  She quotes play researcher (and husband?) Stuart Brown who lists time spent without purpose as one of the essential properties of play.  I have come to agree with him. That day at the beach, I reconnected with all those “feel good” emotions children come by so easily.  I remembered what it feels like to be free, timeless, and present. I found that pursuing joy with no goal or agenda will lead you to that place inside that is your calm center. Your inner island sanctuary.

For me, playing is like following a trail of breadcrumbs left by an other (my higher self? Great Spirit?) It can constitute any activity that comes from a sense of inner desire and blind curiosity.  I return to it, guiltless, again and again because I’m rewarded with serendipitous surprises of epiphany and innovation. Play is sacred and necessary. It’s how I grow.  It’s a journey of connection, and it keeps me true, centered, and joyful!

I have been living in paradise for thirteen months now (joyfully for at least the last seven) and have since graduated with honors in the art of spending time without purpose. As it turns out, play is a doorway. My friend Jim pointed me toward it, and I had to choose to enter.

Crossing it’s threshold has led me to discover countless blessings and gifts. It was through that doorway that I began unleashing my deepest levels of creativity and started my own business. It was through that doorway that I embodied the truth that, in the words of Joseph Campbell:

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

Are they trying to kill me?

I’ve been on the Island for just over a month now, and one of the first things I set out to master was driving.  Perhaps you already know that it is customary to drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  You may see a sign posted, much like the one in this photograph, and there is a great little shop named Keep Left over in Red Hook.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I have been told that when ownership of the Islands transferred to the United States, the local taxi drivers lobbied to maintain this custom. Why would they care?…because it discourages tourists from renting cars, of course!

As it turns out, learning to “keep left” is the easy part of driving around on this Island. The cars are the same familiar left-hand drive type we’re accustomed to driving on the mainland, just driven on the opposite side of the road. I got used to it very quickly, so I’m sure you could, too.

It is the rest of the driving experience that is quite different and….shall we say….invigorating?!!!

To give you an idea of the experience, let’s play a little game.

Begin by imagining yourself driving on a narrow, steeply-graded, winding road. There are no stop-lights or stop signs on this particular road. At all times, you are either driving up or down these very steep hills.  You will soon notice that this makes the hairpin curves very interesting. (Especially those that bend to your left and around which you have little visibility from your seat on the left side of the car.) You feel like you are on a roller coaster ride.

Now imagine the road you are on is also an obstacle course. The potential obstacles are many and appear suddenly and randomly. These may include a gauntlet of any combination of the following:

Wild chickens, wild goats, feral cats, sleeping dogs, reclining dogs, pooping dogs, dogs chasing tires, cows, iguanas, stopped tour buses, work vehicles, large kitchen appliances, public works crews, hitchhikers, enormous potholes, road construction, barricades, fallen rocks, bags of trash (or other unidentifiable debris), pedestrians (both sober and inebriated), randomly parked cars, school children, cars entering the road from blind drives, open car doors, stopped cars, the car you are following suddenly reversing direction, encroaching jungle vegetation (including potential windshield-smashing dangling limbs and vines), washed out roads, torrential downpours, and road closures due to collisions.  And these are just the hazards I’ve encountered in my first 30 days.

Now imagine that all of the traffic or right-of-way rules you’ve ever known, whether you followed them or not, have been disregarded. (Completely forget everything you know about four-way stops.)  Red lights don’t necessarily mean stop.  Green light? Proceed with caution because the cross traffic may also have a green light.  Headlights on after dark?  Not necessarily.  You quickly sense that if there are any right-of-way rules, they have been rewritten, and you have no idea where the handbook is hidden. The only rules you do know for sure are:

  • It is legal to drink alcohol while driving.
  • It is illegal to drive shirtless; and if you do, you are likely to be pulled over. (This applies to men as well as women.)

Yep…that’s all of them!

Oh, I should tell you the name of the game we are playing! Remember “Chicken?” Yes, that’s the one….two cars drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the inevitable crash, but to swerve before the other driver will earn you the name “Chicken.”

Now imagine that you are one player in a multi-player game of “Chicken” (maybe we should call it “Island Chicken”) and it is being played on this narrow, winding, mountainside obstacle course.

Finally, you have reached your destination. You breathe deeply while asking yourself “Why are they trying to kill me?” Congratulations….you have won the game!!!  You feel happy to be alive…AND you still have both headlights and side mirrors!  This is cause for a moment of silence, followed by a refreshing (adult) beverage.

Cheers!  You have just experienced driving Island-style, and are now an honorary Islander!

Here’s a bonus quiz:

What does a tap on the horn mean to St. Thomians?

  1. Go!
  2. I am yielding to let you in.
  3. May I cut in?
  4. Get out of my way!
  5. Hello.
  6. Watch out!
  7. Stop!
  8. Goodbye.
  9. <Insert your own made-up meaning here>
  10. All of the above.

Top 5 Reasons to Leave Your Stuff Behind

How does moving to an Island nearly 3000 miles away, versus a city 1000 miles away, change things?  We’ve moved across the country a time or two now….but this was going to be different.

We had a lot of questions at first. Do we take it all?  What would that cost?  If we don’t take it all, what DO we take?  Life was going to be different in St. Thomas….moving from a high desert to the humidity of the subtropics, a different lifestyle, culture, activities…rented housing vs. owning a home…possibly different priorities and concerns, i.e. sun, open windows, trade winds, potential hurricanes, power outages, lack of freshwater, did I mention humidity?

Deciding what to ship was a never ending stream of arduous judgment calls, but it got much easier with a little practice.  Working through my attachments, first intellectually, and then viscerally, I was eventually able to release each with a sense of wholeness rather than emptiness.  With every attachment I let go of, I seemed to recover a small piece of myself, rather than feeling each time like a small piece of me had been torn off.

The attachment I struggled with most was my beautiful iMac computer. With its deliciously glossy 24” screen, sleek aluminum body, it was my personal portal to the wonderful worldwide Interweb that helps beckon my soul to eventual manifestation as words on the page.  No matter what airline I ended up flying, I knew there was no way I could fit that miraculous machine in an overhead compartment, or under the seat in front of me.  I became concerned when I realized I was having trouble imagining pulling the plug and putting it in a box, not knowing exactly when we might be reunited.

I clamored for alternatives.  I considered everything, including trading it in on a laptop that I could carry with me.  With my data transferred to a laptop, we would never be separated, and  I could stay connected.  Symbolically, it was starting to resemble a security blanket, and I wasn’t sure that was a healthy sign.  Unfortunately, even when accounting for shipping costs, I couldn’t swing a net-zero trade, and I couldn’t justify spending additional funds on a “security blanket” at a time like this.

Again, the Universe conspired FOR me, and the day before I planned to ship my beloved iMac, I lost my Comcast High-Speed Broadband connection.  As frustrated as I was, with so much still to do, I recognized it for the blessing it was, and pulled the plugs, packed her up just like she was from the factory, and set her in the queue near the front door to go to Pak Mail the next day.

My advice to anyone considering a move to these islands is…. Leave your stuff behind and be prepared to make a fresh start of everything!

What happened next brings us to Reason #1 for leaving it all behind…..

Reason #1

This is what my iMac looked like when it arrived.  (I’m gratefully using Marty’s PC laptop, not without its frustrations, however…<urggghhh!> , which he hand carried down here, of course.)

I first packed it in its original manufacturer’s packaging. Then I took it to PakMail of Littleton, where they were to place that box in whatever their expertise dictated it needed to get to St. Thomas safely.

Fun facts:

  • FedEx is the only carrier that will allow high insurance limits.
  • FedEx considers shipments from the U.S. (Mainland) to the U.S. Virgin Islands “International.”
  • International shipping charges (including insurance) were about $400.00.  I’m hopeful I’ll receive a refund from PakMail.
  • Insurance values above $2,500.00 USD require the shipper to obtain a “Harmonic Code.”  It seems that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to know when anything of a higher value is leaving the Country.
  • Getting said code was taking way too long in this case, so I reduced the insurance value to $2,499.00 to keep the process moving.  I should be able to replace it

Reason #2

The USPS considers the USVI a part of the United States.  Anything sent from the mainland to St. Thomas is considered a domestic shipment, and qualifies for Domestic Flat Rate Shipping.

Fun facts:

  • Free Boxes!
  • Largest Box: 12” x 12” x 5.5”
  • Same rate up to a maximum weight of 70 lbs.
  • Postage: $14.50…. $13.95 if you create the label and purchase postage online (Tip: only enter one package at a time.) This was a plus for me because I was shipping a dozen boxes at once.
  • You can schedule free pickup from your location.  This really made life easier.
  • The (free) boxes are crap!   The long trip to the USVI seems to be brutal on just about everything we shipped.

Reason #3

We didn’t feel like spending thousands of dollars to have our stuff moved to and then palletized in Miami, put in a shipping container, put on a cargo ship, only to show up weeks or months later, if at all, potentially battered, bruised, or worse, at which point we would need to get the container up the mountain and down the steep, winding road to our place. In retrospect, I am glad our Mikasa China service for 8 will find a new home via the estate sale.

Reason #4

We realized we would have to repeat the same miserable exercise to get our stuff OFF the rock the next time we move.  In our case, this was paramount .  What if the airline suddenly reassigns us to a different island base? Or what if we decide we want to switch islands…give St. Croix a try, then Puerto Rico…????  What if, in a couple of years, Marty wants to fly around the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean?  What if we decide to move back to the mainland?  (It could happen????….)

Reason #5

The most important reason, to me, for leaving it all behind, is…..It’s just stuff!  For the last month I was on the mainland, the only thing keeping me away from my husband, turquoise water, and sunshine was….you guessed it, STUFF!  Sorting through and shipping or otherwise disposing of stuff consumed a lot of time and energy I would have preferred to have used elsewhere.

Never again, my friend.  I am finally willing to acknowledge that I have the spirit of a curious gypsy.  All I have to do is to start living like one, so that the next time Marty and I look at each other with that twinkle in our eyes that says, “I’m ready for a change.  What should we do next?”  we each will be able to pack one suitcase and set sail toward our next dream.

Who said this would be easy????

As you might imagine, the phrase,“I’m moving to the Virgin Islands!” comes up often these days.

“Great! Piece of cake!” is not, however, the usual response. In fact, this is the one response I haven’t heard.  Is moving to the Caribbean easy?  Not so much.  Wonderful?  Yes.  Exciting?  Absolutely!   And, along with all of the wonderful excitement is a surprising amount of… pain.

I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t drawn a line between the word columns in my head associating ‘paradise’ with ‘pain.’  Joy, happiness, abundance, unspoiled beauty….these are the words that first came to mind.  I even anticipated ‘challenging’ and ‘discomfort’ (i.e. “you’re going to feel a slight pinch.”); however, when conceiving Project Paradise, ‘pain’ wasn’t one of the contingencies.

But I’m not IN paradise yet.  As it, and my husband, patiently wait for me to join them, I’m still in the process of getting from here to there.  And what feels like a dull ache has been with me since I put the first pair of pumps in the box labeled “Donate.”

Some days, the process seems endless.  Since we’re selling, donating, or gifting at least 95% of our earthly belongings, it’s not the actual packing that’s difficult; it’s the sifting.  Consider that when you self-fund a 3000+ mile relocation, and more than half of those miles are open ocean, you end up taking very little with you and letting go of everything else.  And deciding what 5% to keep is a lot like sifting through a mountain of sand, one grain at a time. (“Like grains of sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives,” says a deep voice in my head.)

Put another way, it’s a bit like having your life flash before your eyes, only in really, really s..l..o..w, agonizing motion.  At the end of each day, I feel like I’ve attended a funeral…emotionally drained, with a lightness of being that comes with finality and closure.

Before I continue, I can hear some of you groaning, “Is she really complaining about moving to the Caribbean?  Giving up a pair of shoes? Are you kidding me right now?”  (And the rest of you are smiling and laughing because schadenfreude delights you. You’re welcome.)

Believe me, I get how absurd it sounds.  But don’t give up on me yet, because if the whole idea of ‘paradise’ turns out to be a crock, and I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life, don’t you want to know? At least so you can save yourself and trade it in for a better dream?

I’ll admit to griping a bit.  At the same time, I’m doing it with a sense of gratitude (there should be a word for this).   And I’m willing to bet that griping is exactly what you would be doing if you were in my shoes.  And that is part of the point, wouldn’t you agree?  A chance for you to walk through the experience and figure out where reality matches the dream, and where it doesn’t?

So, true, this part of the journey isn’t easy. We all know it as a ‘transition,’ and, if we’re very fortunate, we are blessed with many.  And we all know that loss often goes hand-in-hand with transitions, which is why we rarely consciously sign up for them.  Instead, we usually come barreling up on them at 100 miles per hour with our eye on the prize.  Soon, we realize we will have to empty our hands of something we hold dear before we are able to pick up something new.

While this particular leg of the journey is turning out to be miles longer than it looked on the map, it is the road I chose.  So even on the day I was pummeled by the gut-grabbing news that our beloved cat’s health is probably too fragile to make the journey with us, I was able to re-center myself in a place of gratitude and acceptance for “what is.”

“Is it all worth it?” someone recently asked.

“Absolutely!”  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Share 

Ever thought about moving to paradise?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to leave it all behind, move to a tropical island, and live your dream?  Well, we have, too.  Now my husband and I are in the middle of relocating to the Caribbean. You know…. turquoise water, white sand beaches, palm trees, perpetual summer…..yes, there!

You may be thinking, “Who really does that?”  Of course, everyone is in love with the idea….but it’s nearly a violation of a sacred trust to actually do it.

Sure, like most of you, we’re aware that their are plenty of reasons for leaving well enough alone.  We were happy, living in a beautiful city along the front range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Good jobs, majestic mountains, four seasons, 300+ days of sunshine, good friends and family. Life was good!

Admittedly, our decision may not have been rational… it’s something other… a decision informed by things like dreams, intuition, instinct, and “callings.”

So, if you’re also in love with the idea of moving to paradise, or you’re one of those special people who believes in dreams coming true, then you’re in the right place to explore the possibility without all the mess and fuss.

I’ll save you the trouble of quitting your job and having your friends and family question your sanity. I’ve already left my job (with all of the mixed emotions you might imagine) and defended my mental health, and Project Paradise is full speed ahead.

Please, stick around!  I invite you to join me on the journey. I’ll do all the heavy lifting, and you can try it on, risk-free, and find out if the reality is anything like you imagine it.   I can’t promise that it will be, but I can promise you a true life story unfolding in real-time… a candid recounting of my experience leaving a conventional American life to explore the possibilities on a tropical island and ‘living the dream’ with the love of my life!

Come on, let’s order up a round of rum punch and have some island fun!

Share