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An unComplicated Caribbean Retreat

June 2, 2012

Ahhhhh…Anguilla. It was so good to be back after a hiatus of nearly three years. This lovely Caribbean island has become my favorite getaway spot — and I get away there as often as I can.

Anguilla is appealing not only for what it has — miles of gorgeous beaches with crystal-clean, turquoise-tinted water — but also for what it doesn’t. Unlike the island of St. Maarten (about 10 miles to the south) and many other Caribbean destinations, Anguilla is not overdeveloped and brimming with shopping centers and casinos. Instead, it is a small, quiet island that is perfect if you want to swim, relax, eat great food, and listen to live music at diverse locations.

Part of the Leeward Islands chain, the coral and limestone isle encompasses 35 square miles and spans only three miles at its width point. There are no lush tropical forests, mountains or waterfalls on Anguilla, but the island has hidden beaches and coves, hiking trails, coral reefs and other places to explore on foot, by boat or by kayak.

Even though we’ve traveled to this Eastern Caribbean gem many times over the last decade, my husband and I always find something new on each visit. During this trip, we explored the secluded beach at Katouche Bay and found the trailhead for a one-mile hike to a cave. Since it was too late to start the hike that day, we plan to try it during our next visit.

Katouche Bay

Another new find was da’ Vida, a recently opened restaurant, bar and spa complex at Crocus Bay, one of the island’s prettiest bays. The owners have spruced up this stretch of beach, which previously was home to a popular, but decidedly more rustic restaurant. It’s a great place to watch a sunset while sampling the tapas and sipping a “Tropical Storm” cocktail.

Crocus Bay

At Sandy Ground, where several restaurants and two nightclubs are located, we checked out SandBar, a hip little restaurant that serves a refreshing rum punch containing only one liquor (dark rum). That was a find in itself, as the rum punches offered at other restaurants (they all have their own recipe) usually contain three or four liquors. Not a drink for the timid.

Also on this trip, we finally made it to Gwen’s Reggae Bar & Grill on a Sunday afternoon, when Gwen’s regularly hosts an Anguillan reggae band and draws both tourists and locals for the lively music and party atmosphere.

We ordered dinner-to-go one night at the Pit Stop, one of several casual spots that serve simple but tasty barbecued chicken, fish and ribs, along with delicious Johnny cakes (fried cornmeal biscuits) every Friday night. These inexpensive outdoor eateries are popular not only with locals, but also with visitors who want to venture beyond the restaurants touted in travel guides.

We stopped at Rainbow Farm one morning to buy vegetables to eat with the parrot fish we had purchased at a fish market in The Valley, the island’s capital. The farm had greatly expanded since our last visit a few years ago.

Noel, the friendly owner, gave us a tour and sliced open a yellow passion fruit for us to try. The pulp and seeds had a sweet-tangy, citrusy taste. We bought a few to take back to our quiet, hilltop apartment, which was also a new discovery for us and a change of pace from the beachfront places where we previously stayed.

Anguilla has a reputation for being a pricey travel destination because of its upscale resorts, such as Cap Juluca at Maundays Bay and the vast new (and a bit intimidating) Viceroy complex overlooking Meads and Barnes bays. But the reality is that there are many accommodations in the mid-priced to budget range, especially during the low season, which generally runs from mid-April through November. Do a little research and you’ll find one that fits your budget and preferences.

We favor apartment-style lodgings with a living room and full kitchen, plus a balcony to sit on while eating breakfast or watching sunsets. It’s like having our own little vacation home — minus the commitment and mortgage.

This was one view from the balcony of our latest Anguillan digs.

You don’t have to stay at a five-star resort to see this horizon — or to experience the pleasures of Anguilla.

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, with links to the original content.

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Gnome trouble, et al!

May 20, 2012

While sitting on my patio on a recent afternoon, I sensed that someone was watching me. When I looked toward the garden that borders one side of the flagstone, I saw it: Evil Frog

My husband had planted the ceramic critter in the garden last summer as a joke after finding it at a deceased relative’s house. The frog peered out from the hostas, with only its menacing eyes and part of its face visible.

I agreed to let the thing stay — as long as it was clear that it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek (so to speak) and that it remain mostly hidden. But now the yellow- and black-eyed beast was front and center at the edge of the garden’s stone wall. And it was truly creepy.

I don’t mean to knock lawn ornaments in general. Well, yes, I do. I have never understood the appeal of garish gnomes, concrete bunnies and plastic flamingos adorning a lawn or garden. Aren’t the natural features — the flowers, bushes and trees — in a front or back yard attractive enough? Why tart them up?

And why dot the landscape with fake animals when real ones abound? Aren’t the local rabbits, chipmunks and birds fun to watch and nice to look at? They also have the advantage of having expressions that change and limbs that move.

I realize that some people stick pink flamingos on their front lawns as an ironic or kitschy statement. “We know that plastic flamingos are uncool so we thought it would be cool to flaunt some” seems to be the rationale.

The trouble with that reasoning is that unless someone knows you well, how would they know that your lawn ornaments are meant in jest? This applies to the Evil Frog in my back yard. I may know the amphibian is a joke but a first-time visitor to my home would probably assume that I had a thing for weird-looking ceramic animals.

I can think of only one good reason to own a lawn ornament: as kidnapping bait. But the kidnappers must follow the tradition of taking your colorful duck or adorable skunk on a journey that they document with photos or videos and send to you regularly to keep you posted on the victim’s whereabouts.

Some friends did exactly that with their neighbor’s unwitting gnome. (This was long before a certain company adopted a traveling gnome as its mascot.) For months after the gnome-napping, the owners received photos of the little guy in intriguing locations around the country. The gnome would be wearing sunglasses or a cap with a local baseball team’s logo or would be next to a “Welcome to Boulder, Colorado” sign. He seemed to be having a good time.

The victim ultimately was returned to his amused owners, who now had a story to tell their grandkids and a figurine that was much more worldly than the average lawn ornament.

German garden gnome

Photo credit: Wikipedia

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, with links to the original content.

Cat we all just get along?

January 25, 2012

It began peacefully. Diego, a one-year-old tabby, joined my household last August without incident. Lupe, my 12-year-old tuxedo cat, eyed him warily but kept her distance.

But within a few weeks, Diego was regularly chasing Lupe (Lu-Pay), who would hiss loudly and bolt to one of her safe zones, such as a bedroom or under the dining room table. Diego became especially belligerent at meal times, when he would inhale his food and dash over to Lupe’s dish to finish off whatever tidbits the older cat hadn’t managed to down by then.

I was hoping for at least détente by now, but the cat scuffles continue and at the worst moments, the fur is still flying. So I turned to Dr. J, my cats’ veterinarian, for help. Dr. J recommended that I try a spray that simulates the facial pheromones that felines rub on surfaces so they become familiar and comforting.

The spray officially is designed to stop a cat from peeing where it shouldn’t or from scratching furniture but it’s also used to calm felines who are aggressive or stressed out. Several customers who bought the spray at a retail website vouched for its effectiveness, so I decided it was worth a try.

I began applying the product to a cloth collar attached to Diego’s neck two or three times a day, as Dr. J recommended. A few weeks later, the spray seems to be helping, at least a little. The tussles between Diego and Lupe have decreased and my boy cat seems more docile. But my husband and I still have to monitor the animals during meal times and separate them when the two begin to tangle.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that it’s simply a matter of time before my pets learn to just get along. Perhaps Diego is still taking advantage of his new power position. In his last home, where he was the newest and youngest of several cats, Diego would wait patiently while the other felines ate their meals, then take his turn. And he never got into scrapes with his housemates.

With a little more time, maybe Diego will recognize that he’s won the power struggle in my home and leave Lupe alone. I certainly hope so. Aside from his behavior toward Lupe, Diego is a sweet and affectionate lap cat — a silky furred feline that, with any luck, will be a member of my family for many years.

He recently met Ghedi, the neighborhood Guinea fowl, during one of the bird’s forays to my front steps — a meeting that has become a rite of passage for my cats. Who knows? Maybe Ghedi will give Diego some pointers on peaceful coexistence in the animal world.

Diego in corner

Lupe

Ghedi & Diego
Diego & squirrel

Lupe & Diego

 

Unlit, Unheated…and Unhinged

November 8, 2011

Three nights. That’s my limit. I now know that three inky black nights fitfully sleeping in an unheated house in 30-degree temps are all it takes to nearly push me over the edge.

I learned this during the Great Pumpkin Snowstorm that plunged my neighborhood and millions of others throughout the Northeast into forced experiments in pre-electric, pioneer living two days before Halloween.

Pioneer living? So I exaggerate a little. But a few days of daytime indoor temperatures in the 40s, followed by evenings illuminated by candles, flashlights and a single lantern and capped by frigid nights, bordered on primitive conditions for someone who didn’t inherit the camping gene.

On one of those nights, while buried beneath three blankets, a bedspread and a down comforter, my head covered with a stylish knit hat, I tried to drift into sleep by imagining that I was slumbering outdoors in a rustic lean-to. There was a time when I did enjoy that experience, especially when it was part of a backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains or some other awe-inspiring locale. But it was hard to convince myself that I was spending a night at Glacier National Park when I could hear an emergency generator chugging away next door, keeping my neighbors toasty.

The day of the storm, I watched as the unusual Nor-Easter picked up speed and snow accumulated rapidly around my warm, well-lit house. What fun! My husband and I grabbed our cameras to capture the novelty of slush-covered patio furniture and impatiens flowers still blooming in our window box.

At one point, the lights flickered off and back on, lulling me into (wishful) thinking that we had dodged the power outage bullet that had already struck many areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey that day. But at 8:06 p.m., the bullet made its way to my town and my very leafy neighborhood.

I decided against taking a chance with our long-unused fireplace, which tends to suck all the warm air out of the room instead of heating it up. But I did have a kind of Duraflame log — Diego, our husky orange tabby — to help keep me warm.  And I was able to stay connected to the outside world and listen to music, thanks to my emergency radio.

We were lucky in a few other ways. Because a mushroom-shaped tank that regulates water pressure is located nearby, our water pressure remained strong. That meant that we didn’t have to resort to melting snow to flush our toilets. And we discovered that if we cranked up the temperature gauge on our gas-powered water heater, we had plenty of hot water.

Nevertheless, before our power was restored about 2:30 p.m. that Tuesday, I avoided returning to my gloomy, chilly home as long as I could. I went shopping (of course) and to my health club, which ran out of hot water at one point because of all the members (and nonmembers) who showed up to take showers.

While watching the evening news at the gym one night, I heard an anchor report that some area residents had been “literally paralyzed inside their homes” because downed trees had prevented them from leaving their darkened properties. Literally paralyzed?? I had no idea that loss of electrical power could cause brain or spinal damage!

Another reason to be thankful. After all, I don’t live in that neighborhood…

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use  of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lights out on a stellar show

August 28, 2011
A Highschool American Football game

Image via Wikipedia

Friday Night Lights, a superb TV drama that ended recently, achieved something that no rabid NFL fan could ever do: it made me appreciate the game of football. But the series was about much more than football. It was about family, relationships, resilience, ambition, pride, economic discrimination, teen angst, growing up, moving on.

I was quickly hooked on the show and looked forward to its return twice a year. I was pleased when DirecTV licensed the rights to air the show several months ahead of NBC, then disappointed when I had to wait nearly a year to see the final season because I had switched to a different service provider.

But it was worth the wait. Each of the main characters was an interesting, fully rounded human being with relationships, achievements, problems, conflicts, desires, hopes – and yup, dreams – that were entirely believable. The series finale – unlike others mentioned in one of my previous posts – was equally believable and satisfying.

At the heart of the story line were two relationships – that between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, and that between Coach and his players, especially those for whom he served as mentor and father figure.

Eric and Tami’s marriage was portrayed in a touching and realistic way. I consider it one of the most authentic portrayals of a middle-class American couple ever shown on the small  — or big — screen. They had an enviable relationship, with lots of mutual support, caring and humor. At times, it seemed a bit too perfect. But the couple also had their share of problems and disagreements, especially at the end of the series.

Tami was offered a dream job in Pennsylvania, as director of admissions for a college. Soon afterward Eric was offered his version of a dream gig: head coach at the high school in affluent West Dillon, where he would oversee a “super team” composed of players from that school and East Dillon High, the financially struggling school that lost its football program to its wealthy counterpart.

Tami reminds Eric that her career has taken a back seat to his for 18 years, as she followed him from one community to another so he could pursue better and better coaching jobs. In the end, Eric does the right thing: he turns down his job offer so that Tami can accept hers. (Not to worry: Eric is shown coaching a football team in Pennsylvania eight months later.)

The series also was spot-on when it came to portraying Coach’s relationship with his players, several of whom had absentee dads and difficult home lives. He became mentor, morale-builder and confidante to those boys, but in a way that was not the least bit syrupy or clichéd.

FNL featured other fully realized characters — including a paralyzed football player, a woman suffering from early dementia and the grandson who cared for and protected her — plus intelligent plots and naturalistic dialogue, all of which made it a pleasure to watch every week.

In a radio interview aired the day after the series finale on NBC, executive producer Peter Berg said he originally wanted country music star Dwight Yoakam to play the pivotal role of Coach Taylor. Fortunately, the role instead went to Kyle Chandler, a low-key, nice-guy-next-door actor whom I’ve admired since being introduced to him in another well-made TV series, Homefront, in the 1990s.

Other members of the talented cast included Connie Britton (as Tami Taylor), Taylor Kitsch, Adrianne Palicki, Michael B. Jordan, Zach Gilford and Jurnee Smollett.

To the Rescue

I miss these small-town Texas characters and their lives. But this is television land, so when one favorite series ends, there’s always another to take its place. These days I’m glued once again to the provocative, gallows-humor-filled Rescue Me, featuring Denis Leary as Tommy, a New York City firefighter and alcoholic whose extended family puts the dis in dysfunctional.

Because of that multigenerational dysfunction, as well as Tommy’s frequently self-destructive behavior, the series can be difficult to watch at times. But like FNL, this FX program is well written and the acting is first-rate.

I’ve set my DVR to record every episode of the final season, which is timed to wind up as the nation marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the event that is a dark undercurrent to the show’s story lines and Tommy’s many nightmares and hallucinations. My guess is that the finale of Rescue Me will treat the occasion with passion and clear-eyed reverence, but without the sentimentality and pandering that many TV specials are sure to employ when commemorating that day.

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Slowing down for a closer look

July 17, 2011

The little things in life came into sharper focus last year, when I found myself with a lot more free time. My weekdays shifted from turbo to Sunday-drive pace (a fringe benefit of suddenly being “downsized”) and I began to notice and experience things that I had taken for granted or never seemed to have time for. I also felt a renewed appreciation for the beauty and diversity of my surroundings.

I became more attuned to the animals and plants in my own yard and the woods that border it. I felt the exhilaration of hiking on unfamiliar trails along local rivers, ridges and mountainsides, and had fun exploring new places during day trips.

There were other simple pleasures, such as working on my computer while sitting on my patio on a breezy summer day, at a time when I normally would be in an air-conditioned office with sealed windows. And relaxing on that same patio while watching the cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees and nuthatches pecking at a bird feeder hanging from the red maple a few yards away.

Some other highlights of my slowed-down world:

  • The red-headed and pileated woodpeckers tapping at the bark of the towering tulip tree outside my home office window
  • The sight and scent of lilacs, tulips and daffodils in full bloom at a greenhouse flower show on a chilly day during the first weekend of spring

  • Leaning into a lilac bush to inhale an aroma rush that helps propel me up a hill as I walk through my neighborhood
  • The bird sanctuary and hidden network of hiking trails in the new community park that on first look seems to offer only the usual mix of playgrounds and soccer fields
  • On the other hand, the perfectly nice park just down the street from my home — a place I hadn’t visited for several years, opting instead to drive to recreation areas with amenities that this neighborhood spot lacked
  • The hundreds of exotic butterflies that fluttered around me and landed at eye level on vegetation in a butterfly conservatory. The winged insects came from Asia, Central and South America and had poetic names like blue morpho, glasswing, piano key and cattleheart.

  • The vivid periwinkle-colored hydrangeas showing off in my neighborhood
  • Buying fresh garlic, red leaf lettuce and crisp McIntosh apples at the farmer’s market held every Saturday in my town from May through mid-December
  • Afterward, stopping for strong coffee with steamed milk or cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate at a café run by Columbian immigrants
  • Picking curly lettuce, basil, green beans and yellow squash from the garden and planters out back and eating them for dinner an hour later

  • Laughing as a chipmunk dives into his hole in the grass, one of his hind legs entwined with a maple leaf twice his size. The leaf, now disengaged, covering the hole like a hatch cover.
  • The thrill of watching a well-orchestrated fireworks display over the Hudson River on a late summer day

Although I’ve returned to full-time work in a city office, my day-to-day pace remains slower in important ways.

I listen and watch more closely for the birds, rabbits, chipmunks and deer that fly and scramble through my yard…I take time to notice the subtle seasonal changes in the trees and flowering plants in my environment…I have a more Zen approach to rush hour driving…and I continue to explore new places and experiences in the world of little things just within my reach.

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

New bird on the block — Chapter 3

April 28, 2011

Peck, peck, peck, peck…peck, peck. I heard this sound while eating breakfast the other day and went to my front door to investigate. There he was — Ghedi the Guinea fowl —rapping his beak against the glass door as if to say, “Come on already — let me in!”

The white-faced, black-eyed creature has become a much bolder bird since adopting my neighborhood a year ago. He now visits often, regularly hopping up the front steps to check out his visage in the storm door, tooling around the yard at all times of day — even flying up to the roof of my house to hang out in the evening.

When I last wrote about Ghedi (GEH-dee), I noted that he had survived the first few snowstorms of the winter and that he probably was taking shelter in the lower branches of fir trees in the local woods. It turns out that the bird had been staying next door, where he first roosted in a tall maple tree, then moved to cozier lodgings in a spruce that borders my property and that of my neighbor, Joe.

Just before sunset one day, I watched as Joe chased Ghedi into his garage — a task that made herding ferrets look easy. When the temperatures started dropping and the snow accumulated, Joe and his family decided that it was time to take in the bird. They would let Ghedi out to wander during daylight, provided the weather was clear and the temperature was above freezing.

When Joe checked on Ghedi each morning, he would find the chubby fowl nestled on top of the front wheel of his motorcycle. (Does this mean that Ghedi is a biker bird? I can picture him riding in a motorcycle sidecar, his red and white wattles peeking out from his helmet…)

We began calling him “Garage Ghedi” and thanked Joe for turning his home into a Guinea fowl haven for the rest of the winter. Once the weather warmed up, the bird was back on the prowl — and noticeably tamer and more adventurous than he was last spring.

Ghedi occasionally wanders into my garage and stays for several minutes before it dawns on him that there’s no Harley to perch on. One day he tried to roost on a narrow handrail that borders my front steps, but every time he closed his eyes to snooze, he would lose his balance and wake with a startled look on his face. So much for that experiment.

One of his favorite pastimes is squatting in front of the glass doors and low-level windows of neighborhood homes so he can gaze at his reflection. While admiring himself one day, Ghedi came beak-to-nose with my cat, Lupe, who watched warily as the bird unflappably stood his ground on the top step.

While most of my neighbors are as charmed by this helmeted Guinea fowl as I am, there are exceptions. One man, who calls the bird “Guido,” considers him a noisy nuisance that should be captured and carted off to a farm.

But evicting Ghedi would mean losing a daily source of amusement for me, my husband and other residents who have grown to love the odd-looking animal.

True, he still wakes us sometimes with his raucous cackling (or as my husband puts it, his “cackle-honk”). But it’s a sound that, like Ghedi, has become familiar and comforting in its own quirky way.

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