Ital (eye'-tal): of or from the earth; vital; life giving; natural.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Domestic Diva

Mondays have become my cleaning and washing days. It's nice to get the apartment in order for the week and spend the other days exploring Kingston. This morning we all woke up extra early which gave us some time for snuggling in bed together. Once Baby Q heard big brother Shine climb into the bed, it did a little happy good morning dance.

After breakfast was cleared away and Mo was off to work, Shine, Baby Q and I were off to the laundry room. I was certain we would be the only ones in the laundry at such an early hour, but Miss Gloria already had two lines strung to dry and was scrubbing some more. "Good morning! How is the little girl this morning?"...Miss Gloria is certain Baby Q is a girl. Shine was excited to help me load up the washer with the dirty clothes but once the machine was running, he was off to play with clothespins which apparently make great swords for transformers...who knew?

When all of our laundry was blowing gently in the bright morning sun, I moved on to cleaning the inside of the apartment. Shhh, don't tell anyone, but I actually like to clean! I make my own cleaning products using distilled white vinegar, baking soda and water...plus a few drops of tea tree oil for its antiseptic properties and lemon oil just because it smells so good and today I added some fresh lime to the mix...oh, it was delightful!

We have these crazy straight from the '80's, Miami-vice style, mirrored closet doors in our bedrooms. Seriously, we just need the waterbed! They will be the bane of my existence because well, they are just tacky and because Mo seems to have an aversion to closing them and because they are constantly full of fingerprints! (And sometimes the fingerprints have a nice extra coating of peanut butter on them!) But today, I conquered them with my super all powerful, yummy smelling All Purpose Cleaner! Boy, you should see how they shine now! After spraying them down with the vinegar and water solution, I wiped them with recycled newspaper which we have in abundance in the laundry room. (Since the move we have gone paperless...meaning no more paper towels...rags, soft cloths, newspaper, cloth towels only!)

Feeling victorious, I moved on to the kitchen. Again, our kitchen has a peculiar layout with random cabinets way out of reach. They are useful only for squirreling away items we never use...which is exactly what I did...after spraying down the counter and stove top and making the tea kettle shine. (Yes, the all purpose cleaner is great for that too...vinegar is a powerful grease combatant!) I tried rearranging a few items in an attempt to make the space more Feng Shui, but the space is just so limiting. Anyway, just as I was finishing up, Shine asked if we could make granola and butter. We had just made butter yesterday, but I figured, what the heck and let him shake away. This time we added raisins to the granola along with some pure cane sugar for some extra sweetness...yum!

By the time the kitchen got re-cleaned and snacks were had, it was time to take the clothes off the line. When they were all neatly folded and put away, it was already time for dinner. Phew! Where had the day gone?! Luckily the fridge was packed with leftovers from the weekend...roasted breadfruit...yum!...among other goodness. I just had to make a quick tomato, cucumber and avocado salad and dress it with...yes, vinegar! But this time I used apple cider vinegar and I left out the tea tree oil of course!!

So now, I'm tired, but happy.
Until soon,
Peace and Wellness

A Glimpse of Me and Baby Q and our Miami-Vice Closet Doors!

For the curious, here are my recipes:

All Purpose Cleaner (and take me seriously when I say all purpose...I use this for everything from cleaning the shower to the kitchen counters and stove top to the windows and floors!)
1 part distilled white vinegar
4 parts water
2 drops tea tree oil
2 drops lemon essential oil or fresh lemon or lime juice
Put it all in a spray bottle and go crazy!
A tip: For streak free windows and mirrors use recycled newspaper instead of paper towels or a rag.

Scouring Powder (for when your sink and tub need a good scrub!)
I keep this mixture in a mason jar and sprinkle as needed.
Baking Soda
2-3 drops of tea tree oil
2 drops of lemon oil
2 drops of juniper berry oil (because I like the piney smell)
I don't add fresh juice to this mix as it can get pasty and gross, but I may squirt half a lemon or lime into my tub/toilet/sink after I've sprinkled the mixture. I then use a gentle scrubbing pad from the grocery store and viola, soap scum be gone!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Lesson in the Circle of Life

After another wonderful Saturday spent at our favorite Farm Market, JoJo's , we returned home, our bags laden with fresh goodness and our bellies full of sweet fruit juice. While Mo finished up his lively conversation with our Rasta cabbie, Joshy, Shine discovered a caterpillar attempting to climb up the steps of our building. He was immediately infatuated. "Mommy, Mommy, look a caterpillar!" he exclaimed. I walked over to squat down next to him. We admired his tiny red head, his many legs as well as his long black spines. Shine asked why he was trying to climb up the steps and giggled at the thought of a caterpillar taking up residence in our building. I suggested we look for a nice leaf for him and move him to a more caterpillar friendly part of yard. Shine agreed and jumped up to find the perfect leaf. He came running back with a tiny dried up thing which he assured me the caterpillar would love. We then proceeded to encourage him on board. Once on the leaf, we picked out a nice spot under one of the mango trees that we would have surely liked if we were caterpillars. It had a nice patch of grass, some dirt, some Jamaican heather as well as a few small leafy plants. Perfect we thought and we settled in to watch the caterpillar settle in. We watched him explore a few blades of grass, mosey over a leaf and crawl across some dirt. He certainly seemed to be enjoying his new home and Shine was ever engrossed in watching his every move.

Not wanting Mo to miss out on the spectacular caterpillar watching, Shine rushed over to the other part of the yard where Mo was engrossed in his own activity...mango picking. "Daddy come look at our caterpillar!", for now it had become family. We made our way back over to caterpillar paradise only to discover that the little guy was not where we last left him...on a blade of grass. Shine and I carefully brushed through the leaves looking for him when suddenly Mo says, "Hey look at that lizard on the plant, he's got a fly in his mouth! That's cool!" Shine looked up at the plant only to exclaim in horror, "That's the caterpillar!" Tears instantly welled up in his eyes as we watched the lizard gobble down the last bit of his friend. Next, "But why would the lizard eat the caterpillar?" between sniffles and tears. "Well, it's all about the circle of life, Shine. Like on the Lion King movie," I explained. There was a brief diversion as Shine recounted his favorite parts of movie and then, "But why do lizards eat bugs and caterpillars?" Mo tried, "Things in life move in cycles and that's what makes life beautiful. For the lizard to eat the caterpillar and the caterpillar to give his life to the lizard, well that's beauty. Now the lizard has a full belly and can go on living a happy lizard life." I don't know if Shine agreed or not. He was still pretty bummed about the loss of his friend, but by the time I came back from fetching the camera, he had moved on to lizard watching. "Now what's he doing?," he asked. "What's he looking at? Why is he on the plant? What else do lizards eat? Do they make any noise?..."

Full Belly
Having grown up surrounded by nature, I remember watching all kinds of insects and animals and being fascinated with their lives. I'm glad that Shine is able to experience these unscripted scenes. He will make so many discoveries and I'm sure he will have deep thoughts about what he is observing. I'm excited for him...

And to top it off, there is a full moon tonight which we watched rise over the mountains reminding us again of life's constant cycles. More fullness, more life, more love, more peace...

Full Moon

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

De Pickney Dem

Pickney: patois for children

Warrior was just three years old and Earth Mother was about to turn one when I first met Mo. Instead of running away at the thought of getting into a relationship with a father of two, like he anticipated, I fell in love with him. "It was because of your children that I married you," I tell him. He grins sheepishly whenever I say it. His entire demeanor would change when he talked about them. He was so thoughtful and caring. I kept thinking, "Wow, this is a deeply loving man."

Ten years later, I'm trying to figure out where all the time went! We now have an official teen in our midst as well as a tween! To say that it was difficult to be so far away for so long would be an understatement. We missed out on so many milestones. It's heartbreaking to think about. But the past is the past and we are focusing on the present. We are(finally) here! And we are here with an ever expanding family!

If you would have asked me growing up how many children I was going to have, I would have told you, zero. I had every intention of being the eccentric Auntie to my siblings' broods who would be welcomed at my farm every summer to run up and down and chase the dogs and clamor through the fields but who would not stay on indefinitely. I had my art to envelope me and thoughts of traveling the world. "So what changed?" you ask. To be honest, my reply may seem dull...I fell in love.That's it in a nutshell. That and I met a few women along the way who showed me what joy families (particularly large families) can be. One was a college professor who became a friend and mentor. The other, the director of a non-profit organization that I worked for in NYC. Both phenomenal women were well accomplished, well traveled, well respected, joyful mothers of five. They inspired me!

They inspired me and so did Mo's children. When I first got to meet them and look into their shiny bright eyes, my heart melted. Our first meeting happened at Mo's father's office. I remember chasing them under drafting tables and behind filing cabinets then eating ice cream on the front porch while we watched a thunderstorm roll in. Warrior was full of questions. Why did I sound like I came from England? Why did I have spots (freckles) on my arms? Why did I come to Jamaica? Then a declaration, "I like you" and a hug. Earth Mother just wanted to brush my hair over and over and over again and sit in my lap. Her smile spoke a thousand words.

As a stepmother, I feel blessed that Warrior and Earth Mother have openly accepted me in their lives. They are comfortable enough to call me on their own to talk or email me their thoughts. When we are together, it is as if we have always been. It helps that we were introduced when they were so young. I've essentially been a presence their entire lives. Mo too, has been great in being open and honest with them about all that goes on between us, be it sunshine or rain. While very young they have had to face some harsh realities that most adults struggle to accept. And they have done so with remarkable grace and understanding.

For now, Warrior and Earth Mother continue to live between Mo's parents and their mother. Mo's parents have been instrumental in raising them to be such conscious and considerate children. Their influence, care and support have helped us all to reach this stage of unity. Without it, I'm not sure where we would be. I would like to say that our relationship with their mother is like Will and Jada Smith's sitcom, All of Us, (or their real life for that matter) but it's not. There is only animosity between us. The years we were abroad were even more challenging because communication with the children was only consistent when they were with Mo's parents. We were often left in the dark or with just bits and pieces of information about their well being. But I don't wish to dwell on what was or has been...only what is...

What is, is that we are thrilled to be in the same place...together...finally! Both Warrior and Earth Mother have excitedly embraced their younger brother Shine. And Shine is in heaven when he has his big brother and sister around. The much anticipated Baby Q is sure to receive a similar welcome!

We are far from a perfect family, but a family we are with all the laughter and tears that come along with it. I anticipate bumps in the road as any family encounters (especially as we are on the cusp of the teen years), but I think we will manage to get through. We have come this far together.

Peace and Wellness,

Friday, July 16, 2010

State of Emergency

About a month before our flight was to depart from JFK International, the headlines in all the international newspapers and media outlets were,"Kingston under Siege"...or something to the same effect. Our phone rang off the hook, "Are you postponing your plans?" "You aren't really going to move now are you?!" "Will you be near where the attacks are taking place?". Our email inboxes were filled with similar inquiries and exclamations. We were patient and kind in our replies...they were just concerned friends and family members after all. But trying to explain what was happening and why and more importantly why we were still moving forward with our plans was more difficult. The political situation that brought Kingston to a State of Emergency is deeply rooted and very complex.

Similarly, the reasons for our move are also deep and complicated. You see, we had reached what could only be described as rock bottom. We were without stable jobs, without savings, without medical insurance; carrying a heavy debt burden along with a four year old and another baby on the way AND living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. So something drastic had to happen or we would have crumbled under the pressure. Like the JDF, we took control of the situation and called our own State of Emergency. We began making calls to friends and family abroad to find out what the cost of living was like. We also researched medical care (which is universal, affordable, accessible, and great!), education, employment and taxes. Mo diligently created an outline for a budget comparing our US expenses with those in JA. We established that we could afford to live in a nice neighborhood in the nation's capital, pay for a great education for Shine, have outdoor space for the kids to play and still have something left for a "rainy day" at the end of the month. (And Baby Q could be born without having to pay tens of thousands of US dollars. )(And Warrior and Earth Mother would finally have their father near by as well as a loving extended family...)

Signs began to appear everywhere telling us that this would be the best decision for us. From Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" playing in the coffee shop on my way back to work one day after a long lunch break of discussing our plan, to Damian Marley's "Welcome to JamRock" blasting from a studio window on an otherwise empty winter campus, to finding the suitcase we so desperately needed in our building's recycling room just an hour after saying, "We really need another suitcase". But the biggest sign by far, was Mo's serendipitous job offer at a prestigious firm in downtown Kingston. What began as a casual phone call to explore the kinds of job opportunities available, Mo was transferred to the chief architect who just happened to be coming to New York City the next day for a conference at Columbia. They met for coffee and Mo took his portfolio and came back with a job offer.

So, here we are. On what was essentially, a wing and a prayer, we took the leap as a last ditch effort to try to save our selves. I think it is fitting that we have landed in Kingston at a time when the city is going through it's own purging and rebuilding. The sentiments of the people here are that "it was about time this happened" and "now Jamaica can rebuild and be stronger and more secure". I'm feeling the same way about us. We now have the opportunity to put back our foundation and really grow and thrive like the lush vegetation that is all around us.

Until soon...
Peace and Wellness,

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Rituals

We have always tried to keep Sunday as a quiet kind of family day. And we have always kept some sort of Sunday ritual. In Brooklyn, we would tune in to a local independent radio station and listen to old time blue grass and country music while pancakes were cooked in the kitchen. If it was a nice afternoon, we would head to one of our favorite parks to enjoy the outdoors. Or we would visit with friends and share good food and good conversation.

We are finding that Sundays here are similar. Most of the shops and businesses are closed and unless folks are heading out to church, well they stay in and relax. We found a radio station this morning that was playing some great mellow R & B from the '50's. I'm sure pancakes would have been cooking in the kitchen, if we had our pancake pan. (Mo has a very particular frying pan that he must make the pancakes in and it's being shipped along with our other belongings.) Although, we are going to have to find a topping other than pure maple syrup to dress them. Sadly there are no maple trees down yonder and the imported maple syrup is exorbitant! I vote for honey, which is yummy and there are many local bee keepers, but we are open to suggestions!

But back to what was cooking in the kitchen. We decided it was the perfect day to try our hands at butter making. I think the one and only time I made it was in second grade as part of class project. I just remembered a lot of shaking...which is really all there is to it. Get some heavy cream, pour it in a jar with a lid and shake until you can't shake it any more! Shine thought it was a hysterical process and giggled hysterically as we each took a turn shakin' it up. Even Baby Q got in on the action. Shaking the cream in a jar takes a bit of time and a lot of energy, but it is certainly a lot of fun too! A speedier way to reach butter is by using an electric mixer, which is good I guess for making larger quantities. But for our first time, I think we enjoyed watching everyone dance around and laugh out loud.

Shine's Butter Churnin' Groove

After we could shake no more, we opened the lid to reveal a solid ball of butter floating in buttermilk. We drained off the buttermilk, rinsed the solid butter in cold water to empty it of buttermilk and then transferred it to a tuperware container.


The next step of course was to toast some yummy whole wheat bread from JoJo's and spread our delicious creation all over it.


After getting our grooves on, we settled in for some granola making goodness. This used to be one of my favorite things to make when I was in college living in a quaint little house on the edge of campus. I shared the house with 4 other students who were devoted to living a more simple and sustainable life style. We were all vegetarians and shared the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning. Sundays were our big days to bake and cook together. The kitchen was filled with music, laughter and delicious aromas. In the evening, we would all sit down together for a home cooked meal. I couldn't imagine Sundays being any other way...

For the granola, we used coconut oil, agave nectar, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and dried cranberries. Oh and oats of course. Everything was progressing smoothly until it came time to toast it in the oven. The pilot light is not lit continuously so we have to light it manually whenever we want to use the oven or the burners. Apparently the oven has not been used often because our first attempt came up cold after a half hour of waiting. Mo crawled under the broiler for a second time and finally got the pilot lit in a blaze of glory but it took an awful long time to get warm. Finally, after about 2 hours of patiently waiting and stirring and waiting, we got this:

In the end, it was worth the wait. But I think next time, I'll just forgo the oven and toast it in a shallow pan on the burner!

Until soon...
Peace and Wellness,

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I love Farmer's Markets. Fresh food, friendly faces, supporting the local growers...it's all good, good, good. So one of my first missions once we got settled here was to seek out a nearby market where we could purchase our produce and meet some locals. I knew about the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) from some internet research I did before we landed, so I thought I'd call them first to get some recommendations. JoJo's was at the top of their list. I was sold when they told me that they also have a recycling drop off point there.

So on this lovely Saturday with the sun shining in the bright blue sky and a cool breeze blowing, we decided to venture out to JoJo's to see what we would find. We found more than we expected and we were certainly not disappointed! Not onlywere there veggies galore, but there were health food items, local eggs and meats, a fresh fish stand featuring the catch of the day, fresh squeezed juices and a jerk center with home cooked goodness, live music on Saturdays and a fully stocked bar! Oh yeah, and the recycling center and reusable shopping bags!

After picking out our groceries, we decided to sit under a shade tree and have some lunch at the jerk center and enjoyed the fresh food and lively atmosphere! I can certainly see this becoming a Saturday ritual. And I think we would all very much enjoy it!

Stay tuned to see what we cook with our bounty!
Peace and wellness,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wash Day

Never have I been more excited about doing laundry! Not only do I find the outdoor laundry room enchanting with it's louvered windows and purple bougainvillea cascading from the roof,

but there is a clothesline!! That's right! My clothes can be kissed by the sun! Oh, to sleep in sheets that have been bathed in sun all day! I'm simply ecstatic! Plus, I get to use clothespins, for which I have a great fondness...

I'm also happy because the laundry room seems to be a gathering place. Unlike Brooklyn where most people couldn't wait to escape the dingy basement where the laundry room was located, people here relax, read the newspaper, swap stain battling methods...just plain chat while waiting for their clothes! It's quite refreshing and I'm sure the other women doing laundry are just as bemused by me and my methods as I am about them and theirs. I confess to being one of those drop and run characters who never took much time with the laundry in Brooklyn, so to see the women scrubbing with brushes and using this seemingly magical product--cake soap--
is fascinating to me. (Cake soap by the way, is this super industrial strength soap which is used on whites to get them looking crisp and fresh...probably not very eco-friendly...but it certainly does make your whites lovely.) The women were shocked that I had never heard of it. They were also stunned that I didn't add any fabric softener to my wash. "It's a must!" they told me.

Most people use powdered detergent, including us, because it is cheaper than the liquid detergent...however, it makes the clothes feel very stiff and rough. I'm still researching products and retailers where we can purchase more environmentally friendly products. I have also been reading about making your own laundry detergent. I want to do some shopping around to see if we could save money this way. I figure, I have the time and the space, so why not give it a try! If it works out, then I'll have my own laundry tip to share with the other washing ladies...

Peace and Wellness,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Few Things to Remember about Our New Home

We are learning a lot about the intricacies of this place...and here is a list of what we have learned so far:
1. They drive on the left here. So don't be alarmed when a car sneaks up behind you while you are trying to cross the street. On the subject of street crossing...
2. Cross the street at your own risk!! Although there are plenty of traffic lights, there are no crosswalks. Also many of the intersections merge into traffic circles and/or are places where many roads converge. It's best to cross the street before you get to the intersection! Jaywalking is the only way!
3. Pedestrians...there are lots of them...the sidewalks however, are not the wide thoroughfares we were used to in Brooklyn. It is sometimes necessary to walk on what looks like the curb of the road or someone's yard...it is in fact the "sidewalk" or the "path".
4. Remember to close the sliding glass door once the sun begins to set or you will be chasing croaking lizards and mosquitoes out of your house in the morning!
5. Turn the hot water heater on while making dinner or it's a cold bath for everyone before bed!
6. Turn the hot water heater off before going to bed or your electric bill will be through the roof!
7. While in the kitchen turning off the hot water heater, remember to disconnect the cooking gas so as not to have a "flare-up" in the morning when putting the kettle on for tea.
8. Speaking of tea, now is a good time to explain that it is any hot beverage including coffee, cocoa (brown tea), actual tea and even soup! For example: fish soup is fish tea.
9. Be sure to wipe down the dining table with soap and water after dinner or you will be eating breakfast with the ants in the morning.
10. Despite the beach/reggae/rasta culture, people are surprisingly formal here and titles are always used be it Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., Colonel, Admiral or Mas (short for Master). Ms. hasn't quite entered the vernacular and it is quite unusual for a married woman not to take her husband's last name. (Although more and more women are hyphenating.)
11. A machete is needed to open a coconut. Not even your best kitchen hatchet will crack that nut!
12. Mango eating the "natural" way, meaning straight off the tree, washed with pipe water and bitten in to, is messy business. And it is sure to leave you picking strands of mango from your teeth for at least 2 days!

We will be adding to the list as we learn more of course...
Until soon...
Peace and Wellness