Thursday, November 30, 2006

I Did It!

November is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). I don't know who invented it but the idea is for bloggers to commit to posting every single day for the entire month of November. Unwittingly, I began this blog on October 31 and immediately my friend Maria turned me on to NaBloPoMo. In my euphoria to blog, I joined in and I am very proud to say that I have blogged every single day in the month of November.

Moving forward, my intent is to continue to blog daily because, besides being a quilter, I am a writer, and writers write. However, for the next couple of weeks I will be traveling sans laptop, so it's uncertain how much time to write and access to a computer I will have. I will make an effort to write simply because I enjoy how my thoughts crystallize in the blogging process, but if I can't blog every day, I'll resume my daily ramblings when I return to St. Croix in mid-December.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Today is a travel day. I'm heading back to NJ to spend a couple of weeks visiting family and friends. As with all my previous trips, this is an impromptu visit, arranged to coincide with my sister Layla and my nieces Sara and Sasha who are visiting from Colombia.

I'll get to see them and the entire cast of characters that make up my family. We'll even squeeze in a few days in Virginia visiting my brother and his family. And the girls want to spend a day in New York City, which fortunately is only about 20 minutes away.

I've got my IPOD loaded with music and new audible books for the journey. I've bought the requisite St. Croix T-shirts and assorted souvenirs, and I've got my suitcase packed with the few winter clothes that I've kept for such journeys. I'll be getting my feet out of the perennial flip flops and into thick socks and heavy shoes. I'll be wearing layers of clothes and feeling very strange in the dry cold winter air. And just when I'll get used to such a restricted environment, it'll be time to get back and shed all those clothes and slip back into flip flops and start sweating again!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Today I received a package of fabrics from my mother. She sent an assortment of cottons with African motifs. The fabrics are very cool and will work very well together. I think that there's a quilt in that mix waiting for me.

The array of fabrics available to quilters in the US is staggering. Mainstay calico prints now compete for shelf space with increasingly sophisticated collections of fabrics sporting the most ingenious designs and wonderful colors, enough to spin the head of any quilter with all the possibilities these fabrics present. Unfortunately, here in the Virgin Islands, these fabrics are hard to come by. In St. Croix there are three fabric stores, one of which carries no cottons (to my total disbelief), and the other two have very limited selections.

I get the bulk of my fabrics from NJ. When I travel back I make certain to take a trip to the fabric store, and in between trips, my best friend John W. (who enjoys selecting colorful fabrics) goes to a couple of great shops near him and sends me what I need. Now my mom is having fun shopping on my behalf and I'm feeling very fortunate to have this level of support. It's great to open the box and look through the colors and textures of each fabric, knowing that each one is full of potential and somewhere down the road, in the middle of a yet-unforeseen project, I will put it to good use.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Kurt Schindler at the Domino Club

Last night, as we do on the last Sunday of the month, we went to the Domino Club to see Kurt Schindler perform his wonderful flamenco-style music. The Domino Club is also known as the Montpellier Club and as the Home of the Beer Drinking Pigs. Locals usually just refer to it as going to Norma's.

This straw hut in the middle of the rain forest is an institution well loved by tourists and locals alike. Tourists come to see the massive 500 lb. pigs that will almost stand on two legs in their effort to reach out and snatch the can of non-alcoholic beer from your hand. They hold the can between their teeth and guzzle the beer in a couple of big gulps to the amazement of the crowd. At the bar area Norma is usually serving the locals her famous "mammawanna," an infusion of rum and herbs that is drunk as a shot or sipped slowly like a liqueur. I like to sip mine and chase it with a Corona.

When Kurt plays, the dance floor is packed with people of all races and all ages. It's great to sit back and watch everyone having so much fun, but I do little of that because I'm usually busy dancing with my pals Adele and Kim (our husbands join in occasionally). Last night there was one guy dancing his heart out. He was punching the air, twisting, crouching, howling and trying out his idea of sexy moves on all the girls on the floor who good-naturedly danced with him for a spell or two. The rest of us were smiling, knowing that his euphoria was one part Kurt, two parts mammawanna. Kim admitted this was her doing. She'd met him at the beach earlier that afternoon and told him he must come to see Kurt. I imagine that he is probably a very conservative lawyer in a high-stress job, and he was overdue for an opportunity to let it all hang out. But in truth, this is the power of Kurt's music. Mammawannas or not, the music is so infectious that we can't help but have a good time. It is why we go see him every chance we get.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

So Close and Yet so Far...

This afternoon I'm heading to the airport to pick up Bob who is returning from the Bahamas, where he spent the past few days helping our friend Rich turn 40. The birthday bash at the Atlantis Resort was concocted by Jacky, Rich's wife, who managed to keep the surprise attendance of various friends and family members a secret.

With Bob and me living right here in the Caribbean, it made perfect sense for at least one of us to attend. A hop, skip and jump, right? Not quite. Traveling out of St. Croix is quite the challenge, even to other islands in the Caribbean. American Airlines has a near-monopoly on air travel here. There is a daily late afternoon flight direct to Miami, and another weekly flight direct to Charlotte by another airline. Otherwise, we are forced to make a pit stop in Puerto Rico before we can go anywhere else in the world.

For this trip, Bob had to fly to San Juan, then Miami, then backtrack to the Bahamas. And it's just as complicated to travel even within the Virgin Islands. On a clear day we can see Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands right from our house. But last January when we planned a trip there, we had to take two taxis, one seaplane and two ferries to get there.

Everyone agrees that the inability to travel direct to St. Croix is one of the major reasons why we don't enjoy the type of tourism seen in other islands. Some people want to change it because it could help the overall St. Croix economy. But I've spoken to some whom, although they'd like to see more direct flights here, don't really want to lose the uncongested, small town feel of the island.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Jump Up and Moko Jumbies

Last night the town of Christiansted threw a huge street party, or "Jump Up" as we actually call it here. The historic streets in the center of town were closed to traffic and full of people enjoying the scene. The shops stayed open late and offered many sales. There were food vendors along the sidewalks, and on many corners bands played music for every taste: Jazz, Soca (an off-shoot of Calypso with rapid percussion), rock and roll, and of course, steel pans. The Ebenezer Methodist Steel Orchestra, an impressive group of about 60 teens and pre-teens, always draws the biggest crowds as they perform anything from church music to Christmas carols to Beethoven.

But the sight that always steals the show is that of the Moko Jumbies. They walk in stilts and wear colorful costumes. They don large hats and masks to cover their faces. These towering apparitions dance their way through the crowds and stop in corners to perform amazing acrobatics with their stilts. They pose for photos and accept tips from their appreciative audience. Dancing to ward off evil, Moko Jumbies, have been a feature of St. Croix celebrations since the slaves brought the tradition from Africa in the plantation era.

When I first saw the Moko Jumbies, I watched them dance down the street in single line formation. Looking up to watch their jerky dance moves, I could feel the awe they must have inspired in the African slaves who had to leave so much behind, but simply couldn't part with this important part of their tradition.

At the end of that first night, Bob and I were walking down a quieter side street and we saw them sitting on top of a van removing their costumes. A few people were milling around them, so we went to take a closer look. It astonished me to discover it was teenagers underneath these breathtaking figures. I asked one of them, "Was it difficult to learn walking on stilts?"
He nodded. "It takes a lot of physical strength. We practice all the time, at least once a week after school."
I mentioned the awe they inspire and wanted to know if they feel it too. "Yes," he said. "Sometimes when we start dancing, it's like something else takes over and we just go nuts."

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Friday, November 24, 2006

A Little Swim

The weather today is perfect here in St. Croix. Despite sporadic rain over the last couple of days, the sun has been shining all afternoon and the breezes have kept the temperature in the low 80's. Looking outside my window after lunch, I began to feel cabin fever so I did the island thing, I went to the beach.

Cane Bay Beach is about a 10-minute drive from our house and is site of "The Wall," a massive coral reef that drops thousands of feet deep and offers the best scuba diving spots on the island. Although I've been making noises for months that I want to give scuba diving a try, I still haven't gotten around to it. Today I just wanted to take a little swim without having to learn a new sport in the process, so I took my snorkeling gear and swam around the shallow coral. I didn't see a sea turtle as I'd hoped, but a large barracuda paid me a visit, and I saw lots of fish and spotted a flounder camouflaged on the sand.

Back on the beach there were about six boys, ages 10 and under, howling as they took turns jumping off the shoulder of their dad or uncle or cousin. Then a man came with his puppy and tried to get him to swim. The doggie could swim, but he was clearly uncomfortable with the whole idea and opted out of the water. The man gave up and headed to a beach bar instead. I was watching them and smiling with empathy for the little guy, and when they walked past me, the pup gave me the most sheepish look I've ever seen on a dog.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to Gaya

The day began today with a huge clap of thunder and a rainstorm that turned everything gray. It briefly felt like an autumn day, and it happened just as I was kneading the dough to make focaccia for today's meal. I was thrilled.

Most of the baking I do usually revolves around quick breads and cakes, and I steer clear of any yeasted breads because of the time it takes and my general reluctance to work with yeast. But today is a special day and I wanted to give this yeasted bread a try. I'm very glad that I did. Watching the dough rise and then pressing my hands to knead that foamy texture was very satisfying. This must be why the magic of bread making has endured through centuries. Although today there are fancy machines to do the job for us, nothing beats a piece of bread that has been nurtured patiently by a baker.

Baking that focaccia has become the gift that I received today, because it turned my thoughts to gratitude for Gaya, Mother Earth, nurturer of us all, creator of the magic around us, and sublimely generous and patient with us, her sometime-inconsiderate children.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Quilting Goes Out the Window

I began the week with anxiety about my ability to spend any significant quality time at the studio with Thanksgiving and other responsibilities to attend to this week. But now I'm at peace with this. There may be no new quilts started this week, but my creativity hasn't stopped because of it. My time in the kitchen today has had the usual improvisational twist that I throw into the recipes I use. This is creativity of a different sort. The final product will be gobbled up but the effort is still worthwhile to me, despite its transient nature. I see it more like the work of the Tibetan Monks who spend days laboring in minute detail over their sand mandalas, only to throw them out into a flowing river once the masterpiece is complete.

A few years ago I got to see a group of monks create one such mandala. I went every day and witnessed their painstaking progress. Although I knew that it would be destroyed in the end, I and the rest of the audience were surprised when the moment came to brush it back into a pile of sand, at how attached we'd become to this breathtaking piece of art. People were snapping photographs, or staring at it as if to commit every detail to memory. I brought my camera and started taking shots of it, and then I realized that I was missing the whole point. The entire process is a powerful reminder of the freedom that comes from practicing non-attachment.

My labors this week won't have a lasting effect, but I'll enjoy every minute in the kitchen, and the studio will still be there, waiting for me when I'm ready to return.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Old Habits Die Hard

When we lived in NJ I went all out and hosted 25 to 40 family and friends every Thanksgiving. T-day, like no other holiday, brings out the obsessive gourmet cook in me.

Every year I would fall into a routine for that week. I'd spend hours reviewing recipes until I made my selection of turkey seasonings, stuffing, sides, appetizers and desserts. Although everyone contributed dishes to the table, I still managed to make one of everything. So, in total I would spend about a day researching recipes, a day food shopping, a day doing prep work in the kitchen, T-day roasting the turkey and hosting the dinner, and the following day cleaning up and resting.

Now I'm here in the tropics where we still celebrate, but it doesn't feel like the holidays. There is no crisp autumn air scented with smoke from the first fires of the season. There is no trip to the orchard for apples and hot apple cider. There are no pumpkins outside people's doors and no wreaths of berries and dried leaves. And there is no family to go to, so we have created our own family of friends.

On Thursday I'm going to Kim and Larry's house with Adele and John. Last Saturday I volunteered to cook the bird and the gravy. But every day I've been sliding down that slippery slope... Now I'm also making cranberry sauce because fresh cranberries are the only way to go, and stuffing because I have apples and bacon I want to throw into it, and apple pie because I have a great recipe, and pumpkin pie because John wants some and why not? Plus I have a bunch of cheese I need to use up, so I'll make a hot cheese dip for appetizer, and that sauce will need some bread, and I just found a recipe for olive focaccia that sounds perfect with that dip... Yikes! And it's only Tuesday!


Monday, November 20, 2006

Drumming with Saku

Mt. Victory Camp is one of my favorite places in St. Croix. It is nestled in the rainforest hills at the northwest end of the island. Here's how Outside Magazine described the camp in 2004 when it was named one of the top 10 eco resorts in the world: "... a 15-acre back-to-the-earth outpost, complete with chickens, horses, and 300 fruit trees. The three platform tents and two bungalows are positioned for ocean and hillside views and built of hurricane-felled teak and mahogany. Each has a kitchenette, and guests share a central pavilion for lounging and a bathhouse with hot running water. "

Throughout the year, owners Bruce and Mathilde host events for the local community, and yesterday's drumming circle was one such event. Olu and his two young companions led the drumming and offered spare drums and an assortment of percussion instruments to the rest of us who showed up without our own drums. My friend Kim and I were eager to join in the drumming despite our lack of training. Olu showed us the way and we were off, beating on those drums with all the passion we had, and grinning in amazement that we could keep up with the beat.

While Olu kept the beat steady, it was his youngest companion who would venture out with new rhythms, like a fearless explorer charting out unmapped territory. He wore a green headwrap and an African tunic-type shirt, and he carried himself with the self-assurance and dignity of a much older person. I asked him his name. "Saku," he said.
"How old are you?"
"You play very well. Is Olu your teacher?"
"Yes, he is my teacher." He pointed to his slightly older companion and said, "He's my teacher too," and then he gave me a beautiful smile and said, "And so are you."

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hoo Doo Cats and Mt Victory Drumming

The Hoo Doo Cats, a rockabilly band, is on island this weekend and last night we went to see them at Chicken Charley's Road House. The drummer was also the singer and it took me a while to figure out that he looks and sings just like the lead singer from The Fabulous Thunderbirds. They have a very fun sound but everyone last night was shy about dancing, including me.

Today I'm heading over to Mt. Victory Camp for an afternoon of drumming and sipping the Haitian Herbal Rum Blend Jouk li Jou, made by co-owner and Hatian native Mathilde. Our friend Kim is coming with me and afterwards we plan to go for a swim at Rainbow beach where the Hoo Doo Cats are playing this afternoon. Maybe after a couple of sips of Jouk li Jou I'll be finally ready for some rockabilly dancing.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted

Last night we got to Sunset Jazz just after dark, missing the great sunset usually in view at the west end of the island in the town of Frederiksted. A group of local musicians was dishing out popular songs and jazz standards to a cheerful crowd sitting on lawn chairs at the beach.

Yesterday's event was subdued compared to the last Sunset Jazz about a month ago. It was held in celebration of Hovensa's 40 years operating on the island. Hovensa is the local oil refinery, originally started by Hess and now a joint venture between Hess and the government of Venezuela. Hovensa is the largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest employer on the island (the Virgin Islands Government is the largest).

For the Hovensa-sponsored Sunset Jazz last month they presented world-renowned jazz flutist Dave Valentin and a post-concert fireworks display, followed by a festival along the harbor with about a dozen more local musical acts sprinkled throughout the town. We enjoyed the Valentin concert, but the harbor festival was too crowded for strolling along the vendor booths. We were awed at such a great turnout, and then we saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt that read "40 years of what??"

Sunset Jazz is the equivalent of the summer concert at the small-town square where people come out as much for the music as to see and greet friends. Last night we did just that, and because Sunset Jazz happens every third Friday of the month, we look forward to watching the sunset to good music and good fellowship next month, and the next...

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Friday, November 17, 2006

School of Fish

Here's another quilt that I submitted for the Good Hope Exhibit. I created a mosaic effect for the water with basic patchwork and then I raw-appliqued the fish and the coral. That's as far as I had conceived the design because I thought the water patches would make the whole thing busy enough. But when I looked at the quilt, it needed something else. Maybe because the fish were in horizontal formation and the coral was vertical, the entire effect felt constricted. I sat with this quilt for about a month trying to figure out what else it needed. I showed it to Bob and he suggested air bubbles for the fish, then I added the algae, both at an angle to balance the rigidness of the other elements.
This quilt was a good experiment in combining a couple of different techniques. I'm looking forward to taking the lessons I learned from this project and applying them to a more complex quilt in the future.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Rainy Season

The other day our villa guests asked about the rain and Bob said, "Keep your plans and don't worry about the rain. It usually rains for five minutes and then the sun comes out again." Immediately after he said it, we were hit with a tropical wave that brought heavy downpours for most of the day. Still, what Bob said is true, and the weather report will call for "scattered showers" on just about any day of the week.

But when a tropical wave flows in from Africa, we get to enjoy cloudy days, rain showers and the occasional thunderstorm for a day or two. From our house we can see the dark clouds flowing in from the east and we can calculate that the rain will get to us about 10 minutes after it has obscured Buck Island. Sometimes the clouds come and blow right past us, and we can see the rain falling into the ocean just a short distance away to our North while we remain dry.

November is the rainy season here in St. Croix, and we have been getting lots of rain. On the not so positive side, our walks in the morning down our unpaved hill are muddy experiences, and the mosquitoes are breeding happily and come out with a vengeance in the late afternoons. Every outing requires a dousing of OFF. But these are minor discomforts that we don't give much thought to. On the positive side, our cisterns (huge tanks under the house that hold our water supply) are full. Everything is green and lush, and the rainbows are a common feature of the landscape.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Walkabout in the Desert

The emptying today took me on an Australian desert walkabout with Bruce Chatwin in The Songlines, a book that I read about 10 years ago and that yesterday fell magically back on my lap. I'd thought of that book a couple of days ago and felt the desire to read it again, but couldn't imagine finding it in any bookstore in St. Croix. Then yesterday afternoon I stopped in to say hello to Beth at Beachside Used Books and there it was, waiting for me on her counter. My eyes popped in disbelief and Beth said that someone had just dropped it off and she hadn't yet gotten around to shelving it in the proper section. "It's fate," she said and I believed her.

Now, I had not intended to do much of anything today, including reading, but this book was irresistible. And as I sat with it, traveling in my mind to that expanse of desert in the heart of Australia, I understood why this book was calling to me: The Australian outback is one of the most barren lands in the world, a place where emptiness takes on a physical, tangible form.

I've always been in love with the desert. Perhaps this love is genetic, coming all the way from my nomadic forefathers who centuries ago traveled in the great deserts of Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps this love is simply an understanding that the emptiness of the desert is not emptiness at all, but a place brimming with a life that is unseen to the naked eye. Its mystique is only visible to those who would stop long enough to open their hearts and eyes and ears and attune themselves to the land.

A man can only be free in the desert, says an Arab proverb. Today I didn't stray away from home, but in my mind I sensed the freedom that Bruce Chatwin felt in the Australian outback, and I relished my own freedom at dropping out of the world and living in my own personal desert for a little while.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And now the emptying...

These past few weeks have been fun, exhilarating at times, and very empowering as I've watched my dream of having my own art studio come alive. I've been on overdrive with the studio, quilting, blogging, getting ready for guests at the villa, and participating in our active social life. But the time has come for slowing down the pace and entering a period of introspection and renewal. This is not a choice that I make arbitrarily, but one that my body and soul demand of me if I pay attention to the signs.

Today, not having the deadline of the art exhibit hanging over me, I began to relax. I let myself sleep late and then I moved in slow motion throughout the day, doing only the most basic chores and thinking about nothing in particular. I went to the beach and sat by the water, taking in the cleansing magnetism of the waves. I closed my eyes and imagined myself taking off layer after layer of responsibility, of attachment, of wants, of fears, of anything that was cluttering my thoughts and emotions. I didn't stop until I felt good and empty.

I plan to stay this way, empty, silent, slow, for a while longer. I need this emptiness right now to balance all the activity of the recent past. Soon, I will be recharged again, but there will also be lots of room for new creativity, new ideas, new quilts...


Monday, November 13, 2006

Parrotfish for Good Hope

It was pouring rain today as I drove down to the west end of the island to the Good Hope School to deliver four art quilts that I am submitting in application for the annual Caribbean Art Exhibit at the school in February. It's the largest and best-attended exhibit on the island. This past February when I went to see it, there wasn't a single art quilt in the exhibit, and I set myself the goal of entering their next exhibit. If I am accepted it will be the first time that I will exhibit my work anywhere, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

It was the August sailing trip this year that inspired me to create art quilts with the coral reef as a theme. In September I completed two small quilts and almost finished one more. Then October found me busy preparing my new studio and no quilts were created in that month. But since the studio was ready for work two weeks ago, I've been busy finishing the third quilt and creating a new one. This last one I called Parrotfish because I used the lovely Parrotfish as my inspiration.

The style of this quilt is one that I developed on my own, and it took three tries before I got it to work. All this trial and error took time, and all along I could feel the clock ticking towards today's deadline for the Good Hope Exhibit. I could have let it go and submitted the other quilts, but I really wanted to finish this quilt in time, so I worked at it until this afternoon, and delivered my goods just two hours before the deadline. Phew!

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Where's the Beach???

Outside of the tropics there is this idea that people who live here spend the bulk of their time "liming it," that is, with drink in hand poolside on a chaise lounge or under a palm tree at the beach. It's been weeks since I've actually been to the beach to swim and relax. It's not for lack of interest but simply because I haven't had the time.

Take this weekend, for instance. My husband and I are property managers of a villa here in St. Croix that is rented out to private groups for vacation. We had guests arriving yesterday (Saturday), so the entire day was devoted to overseeing the cleaning crew and taking care of the many details in preparation for the guest arrival. The guests were scheduled to arrive at 6:00 p.m. on the seaplane from St. Thomas. As is customary, I drove over to the seaplane to meet them and escort them back to the villa. When I got there I discovered that the flight had been canceled and my guests would be arriving at 7:30 p.m. on the ferry. I went home, had dinner and cancelled our plans to meet our friends at Chicken Charlie's Road House to watch Outlaw Bressie James perform. They are a great bluesy/southern rock type band that we very much enjoy seeing.

Today I was busy most of the day putting the final stitches on 2 quilts that I plan to submit tomorrow to an exhibit (more on that later). In a few minutes we will be off to drop off John and Adele at the airport and then we're going to meet other friends for dinner.

Life goes on just as fast in the tropics as anywhere else. But here, and this makes all the difference, at any moment we can bring it all to a screeching halt, put on our bathing suits and in a matter of minutes we could be under that palm tree with a rum cocktail in hand.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Concert by Candlelight

Last night dozens of candles were aglow in the brass chandelier that lights the great room of the 1730's plantation house that is the Whim Museum. About 50 of us gathered in this great room, just as people in 1730's Europe might have done, to listen to an intimate piano performance accompanied by clarinet or saxophone. The two performers were talented world-class musicians flown in from the States to showcase their talents in this exquisite setting. Six times per year, from October till April, the Whim Museum hosts such performances as part of their Candlelight Concert Series.

Nobody had to twist my arm to go last year when I first heard about these concerts, but my husband Bob, who is not very interested in classical music, reluctantly came with me to the first one and was immediately hooked. He says, "I was dragged by my parents to classical music concerts when I was a kid and I'd just sit there nodding off to sleep. But here, we sit in the first row and we are so close to the musicians that when I stretch my legs I have to be careful not to kick the musicians. It's fascinating to watch great music being made, up close and personal."

The performers usually spend time before each selection offering interesting details about the composer and the significance of the piece. These tidbits add depth to the performance and enhance the synergy between the artists and the audience.

Last night during intermission we strolled through the grounds enjoying a glass of wine and the pleasant tropical night air while chatting with our friends Viktor and Olga. And I remembered that when we lived in NJ, New York City was close enough to drive to if we wanted to catch any event, but the drive was an hour and a half each way, so that a great show was sandwiched between two long, traffic-congested drives. By contrast, this event here was relaxed, casual and thoroughly enjoyable, and the easy 20-minute drive home at the end of the night was a sweet way to end a great evening.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

My Design Wall

Today our friend John B. helped me put up my new design wall. For art quilters a design wall is a must. It is a wall space to temporarily attach fabrics in order to try out new designs in progress. Laying things out flat on a table gives you one perspective, but looking at a design as it would hang on a wall, from near and far, gives you the various viewpoints needed to create a successful piece.

Quilters have fashioned design walls from a variety of materials, such as cork or insulation or foam board, or some just hang a plastic tablecloth with the felt backing facing out. The main requirement is the ability to insert pins easily and without damaging the surface area. Cork was too expensive, insulation impossible to find and a felt-backed tablecloth was too flimsy.

The fabric store here had what I needed. I found two half-inch thick pieces of foam that I could glue to the wall. I could place white felt over the foam to keep the pins from disintegrating the foam. My friend John W. from NJ sent me 6 yards of white felt to cover the whole expanse of foam, and John B. advised me to buy and paint 4 pieces of molding with which to frame it all.

It took about a month to gather all the materials and today in a couple of hours, we glued the foam to the wall and spread the white felt over the foam. John B. nailed the molding around it and (as they say in Australia) Bob's your uncle!

So now I have a wonderfully expansive design wall that's 9 feet wide by about 5 feet high. I can now work on more than one project at a time, leaving one piece up on the design wall while I work on something else, as inspiration dictates.

To say that I'm giddy today is an understatement. I can just about cartwheel my way down the street for the excitement I feel at having this wonderful tool now at my disposal. Thank you, John B., for your time and work and your willingness to help me out. Thank you, John W., for going the extra mile for me whenever I need you and always being there for me.

One last thought: quilting is considered a woman's activity (although I've seen the work of a few darn good male quilters), but I'm certain that behind every great quilter there's a male support group that steps up to the plate when needed and is instrumental in helping make wonderful things happen.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Writing Cell

My first love is writing. It is the form of expression that gives me the greatest satisfaction and the greatest frustration because I have a talent for creating obstacles around it. A few years ago I left my corporate career to write a novel. I did write it, and then came the agent letters and the subsequent rejections that took the wind out of my sails. Then life got in the way and I put the novel away and have made little effort in the past two years to get it published. I keep a journal and this has been my way of flexing the writing muscles. Starting this blog is another way.

In the meantime, quilting has come to take center stage in my life. But to me, quilting and writing go hand in hand. The art of quilting allows me to tap into that well of inspiration from which all creativity flows, and I know that quilting is leading me back to writing.

Some people say, "Writing is in my blood." I say writing is in my cells. One afternoon a few weeks ago, I created a tiny quilt that was a meditation on writing expressed through quilting, and what my own writing cell might look like. I called it The Writing Cell.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Day Well Spent

Today I feel as if I might be getting a cold. My body aches and the idea of getting up and going to the studio seems arduous. But I will go because I know that when I get there I'll come to life. I'll enter the sunlit room and I'll open the windows and the easterly breezes will begin to flow, and in the distance I'll look at the blue ocean and at Buck Island and I'll begin to feel better.

Then I'll study this new quilt I'm creating and I'll assess the work I did yesterday and I'll take it to the sewing machine and pick up where I left off. And as I start machine stitching, all thoughts will drift by, like those easterly breezes, and I'll forget about the aches. And before I know it, the afternoon will be ending and with it, my session for the day. And the 10-minute drive home will be the time to get back to regular living and feeding the cat and making dinner. And sometime while getting ready for bed, I'll be amazed at how fast the day went, but also at how every minute of it was well spent.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Vote or Not To Vote...

Today is Election Day across the US and here in the Virgin Islands. Because the US Virgin Islands is a US territory and not an actual state, we are not allowed to vote for president. But today we do vote for governor and lieutenant governor, for a number of territorial senate seats including one "senate-at-large" seat, and for the single Virgin Islands representative to the US Congress.

As fairly new residents here, Bob and I are experiencing our first "Crucian" election. We have attempted to become as informed as possible about the issues and the candidates, but the experience is still baffling. A couple of weeks ago we attended "The Great Debate" in which the three running teams for governor/lt. governor faced each other. It was more like a sporting event with supporters for each team cheering and howling and jumping in their seats. Because the majority of people here vote Democrat, there is no running team for the Republican Party. There is the official Democrat team and two independents, and in their answers they all sound like they would pretty much handle the office of governor the same way.

Candidates have been hosting fish fries for the past few weeks, and across the island, cars rigged with loudspeakers drive slowly around neighborhoods while playing political jingles at top volume. In general, the native Crucian community seems to be fairly enthusiastic about the elections. However, every conversation I've had with long-time residents who are originally from the States, shows deep apathy and mistrust of all political candidates. It is common knowledge that the political system here is very corrupt and there is little hope that any one candidate will rise above the corruption and do right by the people.

Nevertheless, Bob and I are going to vote, for whatever it is worth. And then I'm going to go to the studio and forget about politics and get back to a sweet little quilt I've been working on and that I hope to finish and post here very soon.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Jazz Vespers and More

On the first Sunday of every month at 5:30 p.m, the St. Croix Reformed Church hosts an event called Jazz Vespers. Talented local musicians play jazz for an hour and in between there is a short scripture reading and a simple prayer. It has become one of our favorite events on the island because it is a wonderful showcase for some of St. Croix's impressive musical talent. Last night's group, the V.I. Art Ensemble is a perfect example.

Freddie Williams, the founder, plays bass and has performed with the likes of Ornette Coleman. He has also completed a music textbook entitled "Our Heritage" for elementary school. Dimitry "Pikey" Copemann plays tenor saxophone and has performed with Mighty Duke and Lord Nelson. He is also an art teacher at a local elementary school. Afra Dailey plays drums, has toured with Grover Washington, Jr. and comes from Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where the "Philly" sound originated. Rene Encarnacion plays the conga and has worked with Tito Puente. His son, Mark Encarnacion, plays some mean bongos and looks like he following in his dad's footsteps. And lastly Tony Richards plays the keyboards and is also the principal at Central High School here in St. Croix. And how do they sound? Wonderful. Their rendition of My Favorite Things, syncopated with congas and bongos, would have done John Coltrane proud.

When the performance ended, Bob and I left the church truly "jazzed up" and headed west to Frederiksted to the full moon beach party with Kurt Schindler. Despite a bout of laryngitis, Kurt had the place in full swing, and I was dancing with Kim and Adele about three minutes into our arrival. The moon was so lovely that I instigated a moon-howling session at the beach with Bob and our friends John and Larry. Things got even nuttier after that. When Kurt finished his performance, we went up the road to Sunset Grill for a late dinner, but we were still so hyper that Kim and I finally dashed off to a secluded corner of the beach and went skinny dipping. Although it was about 11 at night, the water was warm and so clear that we could see our feet in the water. We managed to come out of the water and dress before getting caught by our fellow diners, and only our sopping wet hair and our sandy clothes gave us away. I must point out that all this howling and skinny dipping was inspired by pure musical and full-moon euphoria, and not the two beers I had the entire evening. Alcohol flows freely at these fun parties, but the aftermath is not fun, so I've learned to enjoy everything else and keep the drinks to a minimum.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gone Bush... To The Maroons

Last night we hiked under a bright moon to the Ham's Bluff Lighthouse on the northwest corner of St. Croix. To get to the lighthouse at an elevation of 394 feet, we had to hike uphill through thick rain forest, all the while hearing the waves crashing below the nearby cliffs. When we finally came out to the clearing where the lighthouse sits, the views were majestic. We could see the rugged, undeveloped hills of Maroon Ridge and the shore line of Annaly Bay, Wills Bay and Davis Bay. And across the silvery expanse of moonlit ocean, we could see the lights of St. Thomas, a 40-mile distance to the north.

As we looked on from Ham's Bluff to Maroon Ridge, our guide Olasee Davis told us of the historic significance of these hills. When Denmark purchased St. Croix in 1733, a community of runaway enslaved Africans known as the Maroons took to these hills and hid in caves, determined not to be under slavery. Many of them jumped over these dramatic cliffs to freedom, either to their death, or to escape routes on stolen vessels to nearby Puerto Rico or other Caribbean islands.

Today, while the local government is entertaining plans to develop this last frontier of St. Croix, there is opposition here to this idea, and our guide Olasee Davis is a leader of the movement to preserve this area for its natural beauty, cultural heritage and ecological significance in the Caribbean.

I am looking forward to enjoying more hikes like this one. Fortunately the St. Croix Hiking Association, which hosted last night's event, is an active group that offers hiking activities at least once a month throughout the year.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Full Moon in St. Croix

For the past couple of nights, the full moon has lit the sky so bright making everything glow with a silver aura that is pure magic. As is the tradition here in St. Croix, this weekend offers plenty of full moon celebrations to pick from. Most beach restaurants host full moon parties that are serious fun. Or if you time it right, you can go over to Point Udall, which is the easternmost point of the island (and the U.S.), and watch the moon rise over the water. I got to see the moon rise at Pt. Udall a year ago and it took my breath away. As the moon cleared the horizon it was so huge that we were dwarfed, and so bright that you could see with the naked eye the moon craters in fine detail.

Of the many activities, tonight we've selected a moonlight hike to the Ham's Bluff lighthouse, located on the northwest end of the island. Our guide is Olasee Davis, a renowned ecologist who is a walking encyclopedia about the history, culture, ecology, botany and conservation of St. Croix. I'm looking forward to this hike.

Tomorrow we'll attend a full moon party at Rainbow Beach with Kurt Schindler, our favorite island musician. From his website ( bio: "Noted for his live show which consists of him playing numerous instruments. He may start off with the guitar rhythm track, and then add a bass line, then some mouth percussion, vocals, flute, dijereedoo, etc. All of this is done live with nothing ever pre-recorded to the amazement of the audience." He does amaze and pack the house. There's a very strong flamenco influence in his guitar playing which makes his songs irresistible, so the dance floor is always hopping with people of all ages.

A few months ago during a full moon party at another west-end beach bar, we got to see the simultaneous feat of the sun setting over the ocean and the moon rising over the hills, all flawlessly coreographed to the rhythm of Kurt's flamenco guitar. It was the best show I've seen yet.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Anything Goes

When I tried making my first art quilt, I soon realized that I had a lot to learn about the myriad styles and techniques. I'm still in the process of educating myself. There's a quilting show on cable (HGTV) called Simply Quilts that I watch religiously every morning (perhaps as part of the viewing audience of this show, I belong to a greater quilting guild). I'm always amazed and inspired by what women (and a few men) all over the country are doing with fabric.

And that's the beauty of quilting, there's no wrong way of doing it and so many ways to express yourself that the possibilities are endless. The other thing that I love about it is that there are no timetables to follow. You can take as long as you want. Some people come on the cable show and talk about how one quilt may have taken years to complete. They get to it when they can, and that's alright. And other people are not so patient and so they've developed ways to make quick creations to satisfy their craving for instant gratification.

I like the traditional techniques because they require you to slow down and pay attention to detail, to take exact measurements and to work within certain guidelines, much like playing classical music. But the new techniques are like jazz because they are vibrant and dynamic and forgiving. I believe my friend John is quoting Miles Davis when he says "two mistakes make jazz." That's what it feels like to me when I'm experimenting with something new and I go down a path that doesn't quite work out, but somehow I recover and the piece improves from my mistake. Perhaps it's no coincidence that my preferred music to quilt to is straight up jazz.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Going Solo

There's a tradition in quilting in which women form quilting guilds to get together and socialize while quilting. It must have worked very well when all quilting was done by hand and you needed as many extra able hands as were available to cover the innumerable hours and stitches needed to finish a king-size quilt. I've always found the idea comforting and appealing. What a great way to provide for your household while enjoying the support and companionship of your women friends.

Today, despite machines having taken over the quilting world, quilting guilds are still very popular. Women get together and teach each other new techniques, or they challenge each other to create new designs, or each member contributes a block and the guild creates a group-effort quilt that often gets donated to a good cause and/or gets entered in a quilting contest. I have never been a member of one such group.

There are two quilting groups here in St. Croix. Membership expands and shrinks with the comings and goings of the many snowbirds that winter here. I was invited to join one group recently, and I attended one of their luncheons. I enjoyed meeting everyone and seeing some of their work in progress. I learned that as a group they have created a number of quilts over the years, which they have donated to local charities for fund-raising auctions. I left the luncheon thinking that I might return to the group, but wondering if I could really commit to attending every week.

Well, it's been about six weeks since that luncheon and I have not returned. A part of me says, "You're a quilter, it'll be good for you to be part of such a nice tradition and to enjoy the companionship of other quilters." But because there's very little that I can physically do in terms of quilting while sitting at a restaurant, another part of me responds, "Those two hours are better spent at the studio doing more productive work." So far, this part has won out every week.

Maybe there will come a time when I'll be ready to become an active guild member, but right now my strongest instinct tells me that this is a time I need to go solo. I'm still in the process of shaping my creative vision, of discovering the many ways I can flex my creative muscles. For me this discovery process must be done alone, in the cocoon of my creative space, where there is stillness to tap into that inner guidance that knows the way.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ode to Poseidon

It's hard to live on a tropical island and not be in love with the ocean. As for me, I'm on a first name basis with Poseidon. I see him from my window at home and I hear his waves calling to me when all is quiet in the middle of the night. I also see him from my studio, calm and impossibly blue, off in the distance. I call the ocean Poseidon because calling him "it" doesn't do justice to such a magnificent living being.

This past August I had the good fortune of spending one week up close and personal with Poseidon during a sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands. To be on a boat surrounded by water creates a magnetism that changes everything. I always pack for these sailing trips a journal and art supplies with the ambitious plan of spending a great deal of my time drawing the natural beauty around me and writing very inspired thoughts. But when I get there, just being there is enough. Just sitting and looking at the water and the clouds and the pelicans diving for fish offers plenty to do. The mind shifts gears and many thoughts that seemed so pressing on land, become meaningless at sea. They can wait because watching that pelican is far more important at that moment. Life gets reduced to its bare essence and I am reminded of how little I really need to enjoy simple happiness.

During this August sailing trip I fell in love with Poseidon all over again. On the last morning of our trip, we snorkeled in a secluded cove and I followed a turtle around a coral reef. She took no offense to my being there so we swam together for a while. It was with a heavy heart that I left the water and prepared to return to our lives on land. But I took away with me all the magic of the reef and the turtle and the ocean. I came home with a focus for my quilting and I began by making a quilt to remember the wonder I felt swimming alongside that sweet turtle.

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