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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Caribbean (7)


Favorites on Friday--Facebook

It has been snowing on and off for the last three days, coating everything in layers of ice and white. I've been out in it, to shovel, to sled with the kids and play some ice hockey, plus one quick emergency run last night for more marshmallows and crickets for the toads and sallies. But for the most part, I've been home. I've been reading, writing articles and reviews. I've been baking everything from pork roast to GF pizzelles, and I've been teaching the kids--science experiments on crystals, math measuring and more poetry. As a bonus project, inspired by my friend Beth, we organized pounds and pounds of little plastic Legos by color. (Strangely satisfying!)

This is typical January and like the three riled-up feisty cats (not to mention kids!) there's some cabin fever brewing. Yesterday I drank too much steaming coffee and ended up washing all the downstairs walls. And then the baseboards. I only quit because I shredded all the magic erasers.

This is why today I am thankful for Facebook--the ability to be here and gather information, to be passive, cozy by the fire, but connected... To play online word games and catch up. To get news--from the local (why schools were closed today when the snow is under control) to the global (this alarming link on the cyber-reaction to the situation in Egypt.) I can commiserate with others who lost power but have iPhones, drool at photos as a friend's garden in Florida flourishes, and briefly acknowledge or ignore the birthday of a classmate I haven't thought of in years. 

Last weekend my father-in-law was perusing vacation real estate and asked me if I could move to a remote Caribbean island with a population of less than two hundred, where groceries are intermittent and mail unreliable. I thought of all the books I still have to write, of the way our homeschooling makes travel infinitely more possible and I said, "Yes!" But it was on two conditions: that my family comes with me, and we have reliable internet. I need my Facebook. 







Monday Musing--Coming Home

“There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again.”

-Margaret Elizabeth Sangster


We'll leave the light on for you...

I consider it a good sign that whenever we travel, even when we have had more than two decadent weeks in the Caribbean feasting on fresh lobster, conch and just-caught tuna, snorkeling and surfing and beachcombing, playing with cousins and making new friends, we are excited to come home. With the book tour and our winter vacation, we have been on the road plenty this year, but with homeschooling, we've also been using our home base, our classroom in the loft more. Home to my kids means ritual and familiar, means their usual foods, all of their recently acquired Christmas presents, their giant bins of Legos and art supplies, and their animals...

Saturday night, the car got quiet the last mile home from the airport. New snow had fallen--no paw prints to show the footwork of Jonah's last frolic. There was no exuberant, slobbery barking dog to greet us. For the first time in ten years, there was no Jonah to welcome us home.

Inside, the house was spotless. The three cats weaved anxiously and the youngest, Atticus, looked at us reproachfully as if to say, "You have no idea the shit that went down when you guys were gone." There were flowers and a note--a friend had left dinner in the fridge and a lovely card, chocolate in the cupboard. On the counter: Jonah's collar and brushes. J quickly carried them downstairs; everyone, human and feline, pricked up at the telltale, familiar jingle of Jonah's dog tags clinking together.

We heated the dinner and afterwards, I said reflexively, "Boys, clear your places, put your bowls down for--"before I stopped myself. It was the first time in my life that there hasn't been a dog hanging out by the table, waiting to clean the dishes.

After dinner, Hayden got his blanket and curled up on Jonah's big bed by the fireplace; he spent the night there. 


Moving on. Two days later, we are home, settled, 30% unpacked. There are good things happening too. I spent all of Sunday putting the final touches on my second novel and sending it off. We already have two playdates, three hockey games and a clinic under our belts, not to mention hours of fun on our finally-frozen backyard rink:

 "Eau du Joe" can still be found if you bury your nose in the throw pillows of the couch, and I already notice less hair overall, but without his cleaning assistance, more crumbs. As I write this, three deer walk boldly into our yard, sniff around to see if there is anything for them to nibble, no watchdog to keep them away.

It still feels like someone is missing. Bittersweet, but happy to be home.



Above: Hayden skating in to score




Favorites on Friday--Sunset

And I don't just mean here, with the sun sinking down into the Caribbean Sea, dancing up off the water in riotous shades of orange and aqua. I don't love it just because whenever we are here, this is the time of day I come home from my beach run and rinse off, and depending on the wind direction, we spray the kids with OFF and fire up the blender for Tingaritas, and we marvel as people have done from the beginning of time, as the sun slides down the sky. (What are Tingaritas? See recipe below.) The boys wrestle on the beach or perfect their sand stops, we chat with friends and wave to the last snorkelers making their way home. We plan dinner, the evening ahead as the light paints everyone and everything in the most flattering shade of peach, and the waves break, the tinkling of shells and corals and sea glass on the tidepools.


At home, there is sunset ritual as well. There is something calming about the transition from day to night, the shift for us at home from being mom+kids to reunited family. It is the time when we five-o'-clock-fling clean the house, shuffling the debris of the day back to its place. It is when I usually try to catch a quick run, to the crest of the hill where cars park for the view of the sun behind the Pennsylvania treeline. I cherish these moments alone that leave me recharged for the evening routine and ready for dinner, hungry to come back to my family.


tingarita in CaymanTINGARITA RECIPE

(not to be confused with Tingolayo, one of Quinn's favorite songs about a Caribbean donkey)

Note: If you are like my sister, and prefer your recipes full of things like measurements and details, I am sure the internet or the back of the Jose Cuervo bottle or someone at the liquor store can help you find a good sunset cocktail recipe involving tequila. This is more of an approximation, a suggestion open to creative interpretation. And the best part is, even when they're bad, they're pretty good.


- 1 bottle of Ting, Jamaican grapefruit soda (Bigga will work as well). Down here, these are in the gas station, and along with an Island Taste beef patty from Four Winds Esso, were a regular staple of our diet circa 1996-99. Not easy to locate stateside, but at home I have found them in the West Indies section of Wegmans Supermarket. 

- some Cointreau

- some silver Cuervo tequila, about double the amount of the Cointreau, but half the amount of the Ting.


-salt and sugar

-wedge of lime or grapefruit


Put liquid ingredients and ice in the blender. Salt and sugar the rim. Garnish with whatever fancy tart citrus you have handy. Serve with sunset. 










Favorites on Friday-ish: fans

There are two reasons that I am coming in on Saturday with my Favorites on Friday, one that I love and one that is not-so-great. 


Number one (this is the good one) I am on island time. Friday, in the land of 'soon-come' means that my Friday post shows up midday Saturday, just like the Kittiwake wreck that was to be sunk at 10 am Tuesday actually went down at 2:35 pm on Wednesday. It was a treat to watch and we had a spectacular view of this. Waiting around for it to happen meant more lollygagging on the beach, meant rescheduling such imperatives as Uncle Nick's day to Breakers to teach the boys about catching and cleaning conch, replacing it with more snorkeling and shell collecting instead. I'm okay with island time.

But the second reason is less magical than a relaxed island attitude: this week I lost my trusty little-laptop-that-could. Kids were belly-up to her watching a YouTube, like three little piglets on the electronic teat, a glass of water was on the scene... you can imagine the rest. Everyone: go back up your work now. 


Luckily, my work and photos were backed up at home and J has his laptop here, so I am still on schedule with my last round of revisions for my upcoming manuscript. But without old faithful, I am not so ONE with the computer and checking and answering emails and working in the way I was. In essence, I am getting a tiny bit of a vacation, you know, here on vacation. 


Still... I wanted to take a minute to catch up on the final few days, the tail end of my hardcover tour here in Grand Cayman. I had a really nice interview (thanks Joe!) in the Cayman Compass, all to create awareness about my final bookstore appearance at Books and Books January 7. The night before yesterday's interview on Daybreak 27, Cayman's local channel, I woke up in a cold sweat to realize that I was going to be appearing at 7 am in an interview about my book, and I didn't have a copy of "Chosen" in my possession. (Long story, but it's all part of this private little game I am playing with the airlines where I try to travel without paying any luggage fees, even when all 5 of us are going away for fifteen days, so things like hardcover books that I have read 2,780 times don't make the baggage cut.) Luckily, Holly Smith of Books & Books, who was appearing with me, is not only a competent bookstore manager, but she is also prepared and had a copy tucked in her bag. The show went on.


The interview was brief and smooth--they all shared a little laugh when, right before we went live, I gasped, "I'm not going to have to talk the whole hour, am I?" Between this and not using my hands so much when I speak, I realize I have a bit to learn about television. 


Okay, but the meat of this post, the real thing that was my Favorite Thing on Friday this week, were the readers and organizers, all the dear people who showed up at the bookstore event itself. I know I have talked a lot about how much I love the book clubs, with their casual atmosphere, their different styles, and the ability to reveal all in conversation, not to mention the food. And there have been bookstore events that were sparsely attended, like the one where the only person in the "audience" was a woman sleeping in the area where I was meant to be presenting.

But last night's event at Books and Books was exactly what I imagined when I thought of touring: a curious, intelligent crowd filled with faces that were familiar and many that were new, those who had read and those who were just picking it up, and as usual, as always, my kids milling about trying to con people into buying them things from the children's section. My thanks to everyone who came last night and asked questions, who shared their stories with me afterwards, who came out for drinks and more conversation, who emailed me today even. What a fabulous way to end the hardcover bookstore tour and to put "Chosen" to bed for a bit, though I'm still doing book clubs this spring and paperback will release in August. Thank you all for riding this ride with me... 










LEAST Favorite on THURSDAY--bad hobby blogger review

Tomorrow is Friday, and I was planning to write my Favorites on Friday post as I fly over the southeastern United States about how much I love my winter sojourn to the warm, to my old stomping grounds in the Caribbean where my sister and friends and sunshine and glorious ocean wait for me. I was going to talk about how my kids have been debating for the past week what they will do very first: Run to the Climbing Tree--a wild and gnarled sea grape up the beach, or catch lizards or hermit crabs, or maybe mole crabs, or maybe just run into the ocean? They consider the merits of going right to Aunt Linden's house to feed the iguanas in her yard, or knocking on doors to see if any of their Christmastime friends are home, if anyone wants to do any of the above with them.

And I realized I don't want to be fussing with internet connection when I get there, don't want to worry about getting my Favorites on Friday post up. It's bad enough to actually have to unzip our suitcases to get out the bathing suits. So I thought I would get a jump on my Friday post a day early, and talk about one of my least favorite things: waking up to a crap review from a blogger. 

Prior to my book going out, I didn't know how this worked, but here's what I understand: these bloggers get your books for free from the publisher, in hopes that they will spread the word, taking a risk that instead they might be spewing a little venom. And a couple of mornings a week, I get a Google alert, open the link and hope for the best. More often than not, it's a lovely way to start the day. And then there was today. I get that not every book is for everyone, and that it is all part of the game--this new world of amateur internet reviewers.  But it still feels lousy to hear that my book had the 'worst ending of any book they read all year'. 

I would love for all hobby review bloggers to read this post by Jenna Blum. There are real people on the other end of these books. I really did ignore my children in the years it took to write this story. I have given up cozy nights with my husband and early mornings in bed and all television in favor of editing. I love my characters, flaws and all. I wrote this novel because I believe in it, and I sent it out to be published hoping for connection. I really do get up each morning with a cup of tea or in today's case, lie in bed with my laptop and a snoring toddler, and read the google alerts of my paper baby. 
So... to this morning's naysayer: I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. Thanks for taking a chance on it.

Today I'm packing my bikini and flip flops and some books. I'll be reading Leah Stewart's The Myth of You and Me, Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, Kelly Simmons' Standing Still and I will be editing two manuscripts for friends. 
Tomorrow, I am doing one of my most favorite things on Friday: I'm off to the Climbing Tree with my kids.