Latest Trip

Artisans in Paradise

Posted on: Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, 1st Stop: St. John, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

As part of their efforts to bring the past into the present, the Annaberg Ruins host local artisans to demonstrate island crafts several days a week.  The day of our visit, a master gardener took us on a tour of a perfectly maintained plot.  And atop the hill, an old-school chef treated us to fresh johnnycake.  

Bananas, Bay Leaf & Ripe Guava

Of many tastes offered, the sweetest was sugar cane!

It’s not easy maintaining a garden on St. John.  With rocky soil, a long dry season, and steep hills, it takes a patient and persistent master gardener to bring fruits to hard labor.  There are some, though, including the gentleman who helps keep Annaberg in bloom.  The garden there includes papaya, bananas, guava, and mango trees.  And lower on the ground, many herbs like bay leaf (“smells like Old Spice after shave”) and lemon basil flourish.  

There was plenty to taste, including the herbs and sweet guava.  But best of all (especially for the kids) was sliced up stalks of sugar cane.  “You can chew and suck it, but don’t eat it!”  

Fresh Johnnycake Cooked in a Hot-Coal Pot

The chef served up a delicious taste of tradition.

Johnnycake is a local delicacy–a sweet, flat bread that can be cooked or fried.  Our chef prefers to bake it, and the warm, crumbly samples were so delicious I’d not change a thing.  Hot-coal cooking is still popular with locals, perhaps to keep the heat outside the house.  Light coals, spread them out, and then place a large cast-iron pot over it.  You can cook most anything in there, from stews to fritters to, of course, johnnycake.  

This chef added the extra step of putting a cover full of hot coals on top of the pot.  That way, the heat comes from all directions–and makes for a nice, crispy crust.

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Don’t Feed the Donkeys!

Posted on: Monday, December 22nd, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, 1st Stop: St. John, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

Yep, there are wild donkeys on St. John. They’re not that wild, actually, and sometimes look lazier than statues. But they’re feral. And even though most tourists are tempted, it’s best not to to feed them. Or pet them. Or even get close. They’re aggressive and have bad breath.

Beware the feral donkey, and their do-do.

Beware the feral donkeys, and their do-do.

Why are they here? Like so many locals, they arrived long ago and got stuck.  Like being on island time. Not that donkeys have anywhere else to go.  

Most folks say they were used for farming—way back in the 1700s and 1800s, when 75% of this hilly place grew sugar and spices for shipping back to Denmark.

Nowadays, they mostly harangue tourists, nosh on dumpster chow, chomp on landscaping, and have loud sex in the middle of the night. (While two procreate, the others cheer them on.)

They’re not entirely useless. Local “bush doctors” watch them for clues on what bark they chew on when arthritis sets in. St. Croix (USVI) requested and imported some for their own local color. And one enterprising US escapee used to offer rides on a tame one to gullible vacationers.

She went out of business and moved back to New Jersey. As for the donkeys, they’re still here, providing an moving-target driving hazard and making asses of themselves.

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Happy Solstice!

Posted on: Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, 1st Stop: St. John, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

Like so many migratory creatures before us, we’ve fled the north and headed south. There are many benefits to this shift, of course, but the one I am appreciating most today is the extended daylight—a welcome contrast to home, especially on this, the shortest day of the year.

A sweet St. John solstice sunrise...

A sweet St. John solstice sunrise...

For better or worse, I’m usually in Minnesota for the Winter Solstice. The sun rises just shy of 8. It’s down by 4:30. On a cloudy day, the world can seem so dark that the streetlights never turn off. It’s enough to make a large percentage of the population very, very SAD.

Yet lots of people celebrate this Pagan holiday at home. So my mind turns to the commemoration that feels out of place on a tropical island, and I send a toasty-warm toast to my frigid friends Up North, along with this…


Top 11 Reasons I Love the Winter Solstice

  1. Saunas make perfect sense—followed by a jump in the snow.
  2. The Akavit and beer stay cold outside.
  3. You can walk on (frozen) water.
  4. For six months, the days keep getting longer.
  5. For 12 months, they’ll be longer than this one.
  6. Green grass that turned brown is now covered in white.
  7. Full-bodied red wines are fully in season.
  8. No nasty sunburn or skin cancer risk.
  9. Fire (a la candles and fireplaces) bring light into darkness.
  10. You can sleep in and still see the sunrise.
  11. Finally time to give up on last year’s New Year’s Resolutions.
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On St. John…The BreakAway Begins

Posted on: Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, 1st Stop: St. John, Latest Trip | One comment

Face it: 12-hour travel days do not a great BreakAway make. But we survived it, as did the luggage and children. Air travel becomes increasingly bumpy, so to speak, but that’s survivable too. (So far.) It’s all about managing expectations.

Finally.  We made it.  The journey has begun.

Finally. We made it. The journey has begun.

That said, a Sabbatical-taker or schemer might be well advised to repeat those five words often. I’m just happy to be HERE, on the isle of St. John (and yes, I Love St. John), in tranquil Coral Bay—overlooking gumdrop mountains and islands, feeling cool breezes and soaking up the sun. Did I mention the popcorn clouds and bobbing sailboats?

I’ve got a feeling (“a feeling deep inside”) we’re not in Minnesota any more. But like life in Minnesota, an escape like this still features pesky “to do” lists…

  • Work. There’s always work to do, of all kinds: Job work; Life’s work; house work; parenting work; home-school work. Most of that is more challenging here, and can seem out of place.
  • Mission. Modern BreakAway theory holds that a hiatus holds some responsibility to self: Why ARE you here? In my case, the Mission list is long. This site tops it.
  • R&R. After unpacking, meal plans, grocery runs, and internet grapplings, each day should hold some “down” time. Wa-a-a-a-y down. Read. Do music. Talk. Listen. Chill (but not in a Feeling Minnesota way.)
  • Learn. Most days in most places have much to teach. Here, the observant participant can experience nature, culture, history, new friends, and maybe a little local libation and color.

A popular t-shirt here says, “Coral Bay…2,000 miles from reality.” While that’s true, everyone knows that Reality actually follows you wherever you roam. As troubador Harry Chapin sang,

You can travel on 10,000 miles, and still stay where you are.

So you can’t run away, really. But you can get away. Even BreakAway. A respite is a time set aside for revering reality—while re-creating it too. The journey has begun.

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Up, Up, and Breaking Away!

Posted on: Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, In Transit, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

Time to get UP! That alarm sure sounds rude at 4:30. Especially when you were packing past midnight. Particularly when the slumbers weren’t golden anyhow. And most of all when the guy who is supposed to drive you to the airport doesn’t show up—making you wonder why am I up? Hate to say it, but…

Traveling Ain’t What It Used To Be

Oh sure, we’re schlepping 8 bags and 2 kids—and going away for 69 days to five faraway islands. Still, shouldn’t this be, like, exciting? Not just exhausting? Wishful thinking. But there’s too much beyond your control.

Hiring “A Driver” Ain’t What It Used To Be

Like our driver. Let’s call him Dean; he owns an airport service and has been slightly more dependable than the utterly erratic cabbies we’ve called in the past. Today, he sent “an associate.”  Who came late. In a too-small car. Amidst an icy snowstorm.

Once we realized that the Associate couldn’t possibly carry all of us and our baggage (physical and metaphorical), we called and ranted to Dean…who offered all kinds of lame excuses–but no adequate transportation to the airport.  

Now, Dean used to arrive in a big fat Town Car. Cool! Then he moved on to a Lincoln Navigator. Fine! Now? Who knows. Wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up next time in a K-Car, just for Kicks. We’ll never know. We’re done with Dean. And after the the requisite cell phone yellfest, I reckon he’s done with us too.

Anyway, Dean put on his problem-solving hat and did what we should have done in the first place:  He called a cab. So two of us went ahead to the airport with the Associate, already dangerously late, to check in the luggage and start schmoozing the airline. The children and I awaited the cabbie. This forced me to feign calm, since the kids were picking up on our peaky freakiness.

Cabbie did come and was charming, albeit even dangerously later. Thank goodness he liked to drive fast. And pass. Never mind the ice on the roads and the cars in the ditch.

Flying Ain’t What It Used To Be

Luck happens. So we made it through Security (even all the metal in my left leg), hijacked a ride on a too-small cart, and wheeled our way to the gate—where we were well past last call. They let us on anyway, on to a flight that was oversold and bursting at the seams with carry-on luggage.

Back in the day, traveling by airplane seemed exotic and exciting. It’s still exciting—but for all the wrong reasons. What happened? I mean, flight attendants don’t even referree arguments about whose seat is whose. Food is lousy and expensive or, worse, nonexistent. No breakfast for a 7 am flight? Come on!

We’ve learned to carry sacks of food for the kids. Fruit, nuts, granola bars, cheese sticks, whatever. They have a knack for being irrationally ravenous at innopportune times. Heck, everyone carts their own meals onto planes anymore. Somebody’s “meal” always smells better than mine.

Note to self:  Business Idea:  Bring on lots of excellent food with aroma-appeal and auction it off to famished flyers.


The plane was held together by duct tape.

The plane was held together by duct tape.

Lunch came, though, sort of. But they quickly ran out of the “entrees” they’d been describing ad nauseum. “Always our most popular lunch!” one steward beamed at me (for the only time). Paint was peeling. Carpets too. The 1970s TVs that hung from the ceiling not only didn’t work, but were held together with duct tape. See for yourself! 


Staffers did, though, aggressively sell $7 drinks, Skymag schwag, and their very own Mastercard. Who needs TV when the flight sounds like QVC?

Island Service Ain’t What It Used To Be

Still sane, we made it to St. Thomas, found our luggage (eventually), tipped the porter and were plopped into a crowded cab/van to rush to the ferry. Now, please understand that the routine to get into a cab at this airport typically includes much yelling by the porters, expediters, and cabbies, and others. In thick Island Patois.

It scares first-timers and children. It entertains veterans like ourselves.

They will send you back and forth while a van driver wants you, then says he has no room, then makes room and insists you return. But by then, another cabbie may have started loading you into his van, so they yell at you and even tussle over your suitcase. It can go on and on, while you wonder if you’ll make the ferry dock in time.  It’s hurry, then wait.  Welcome to island time.  

(One time, a driver told me to unload the luggage of a couple getting off at a resort, so he could take a pee. Which he did, about five feet in front of the vehicle. He then barked at me to fasten my seat belt, though he refused to wear his own. He told me how pumped he was that we were his last ride, “Gonna drink me some rum tonight!” Ya mon!  {My reply.}  We exchanged the island handshake.  Get the picture?)

No worries. As usual, we made the ferry. Dudes drive like NASCAR wanna-bes, and are colorblind when it comes to stoplights. Fortunately, locals know to get out of their way. Ours parked in the middle of a busy street, dumped our luggage, and overcharged us by at least $10. We couldn’t hand over that extortion fast enough.

Ferries, Jeeps, Left-Lane Driving, and Finally…“Home”

The ferry ride was uneventful, but only because we sat indoors instead of on the roof, where a serious sundown squall drenched everything. We + luggage barely fit into our Jeep, but after enough re-puzzling, we did. The drive across the dark island and its hairpin, mountainous roads was gut-wrenching. But soon, we were “home.” Sweet home.

By the way, you drive in the left lane on St. John. Ask a local “why?” and know what he’ll say?

Because everyone else does.

Home now is Coral Bay. “Where tired angels go to rest.” I’m no angel (to quote Bob Seeger). But we could all use some rest. After a burger and a beer at the closest joint, we all headed back up the hill. And straight to bed, where–despite the cacophony of chickens, frogs, donkeys, and goats–the slumber would last for 9.5 hours.

Can’t remember the last time that happened. May it be the start of a trend.

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Best Reason to Go: 25 Below…

Posted on: Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip, Prep & Planning | Leave a comment

Need I write more?  Can’t.  My fingers are too frozen.

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The Storm Before the Calm

Posted on: Monday, December 15th, 2008
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Travelog, Latest Trip, Prep & Planning | Leave a comment

It’s dang cold and snowy here.  That makes escaping to warmth more inviting, but also complicates the daily grind and last-minute errand runs.  Two days before take-off.  HELP!  I’d like to fall on the floor and cry in my beer, but there’s no time, and not much beer, and beer would only slow me down and we CAN’T have that.  Okay, maybe just one…

The snow is pretty, but makes getting around a slippery slope.

Snow is pretty, but makes for slippery slopes.


Ever have one of those days when everyone in your family is snitty?  (And nobody is volunteering to shovel the new snow?)  Tempers flare; the house is a train wreck; nothing works?  That’s us.  Except, it’s been that way for about a week.  There is this sense of chaotic desperation in the air.  And it’s amazing the things that choose to break down NOW of all times…



  • The kitchen sink backed up, and needed a thorough roto-rooting.  Gross!
  • The freezer ceased.  As in, melted ice cream and al dente ‘frozen’ vegetables.  Ish!  
  • The security system went nuts.  Decided there was CO2 in the air and the alarms refused to stop.  (I think it was wrong, but it’s hard to tell exactly what is killing all the brain cells these days.)
  • The Apples have been rotting.  Needing new batteries, more RAM, updated iLife, iTunes triage.  
  • More, but who cares?  Thank goodness for supportive friends and Angie’s List.  

The kids are excited, hyper really.  Cute, but it can make things worse.  AllBoy is bouncing basketballs, like our heads, off the walls–which just ain’t right when the snorkelware and Nikon gear is underfoot and M and D’s patience is kaput.  CurlyGirl is packing 16 tons of Polly Pockets.  Things are getting lost.  Lists are getting longer.  Breaths are getting shorter.  

  • 5 words:  We’ll be on that plane.  (That we just learned serves NO food and charges for ALL luggage AND beverages). 
  • Countdown:  29 hours (til we leave the house).  
  • Ostacles:  At least 2 of us are sick; one goes to an eye specialist for an infection in the morning.
  • Biggest Scream:  Airlines.  They just keep changing the rules, and I don’t mean lifehacking.
  • Biggest loss:  Holiday merriment.  What holidays?  What merriment?  Maybe later?
  • Last night of good sleep:  I can’t recall.  
  • First thing I’ll do on the islands:  A big Iowa Yee-ha scream and seek a Heineken.  
  • Soundtrack ahead:  Reggae.  Tree frogs.  Men yelling in Island Patois.  Drunk tourists.  Goats and donkeys.  Roosters (all night long).  Wind.  Waves.  
  • Note to self:  Keep the faith.  (“It’s all small stuff.”)
  • ODDS OF GOING TODAY:  98%  (a new high).
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A Blizzard of Emotion & Panic

Posted on: Saturday, December 13th, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip, Prep & Planning | Leave a comment

With just four days left until we depart, now is a good time to invoke one of the five five-word Sabbatical mantras,

Everything is right on schedule.

Brazen optimism? You betcha. Pollyanna poppycock? No doubt. But I know this much: I’ll be on a plane, God willing, four days from now–no matter what. Still, these are NOT the good times.

The kids’ Christmas and other holiday specialness are nearly nonexistent. Guilt swoons. My childhood Christmas simple memories are priceless. Here, not one ornament hangs.

What we are leaving—friends, school, community, CurlyGirl’s gymnastics passion, AllBoy’s emerging basketball wowness—stares in the face and asks, “What are you thinking!?!”

The house is perhaps the worst mess ever. (And that’s sayin’ somethin’!) Where does one begin to organize and pack?

Still, these dark, inevitable moments are part of the price of admission. As are the reactions of acquaintances which have ranged of late from raging jealousy (I like the honesty) to rock-star awe to snarky scorn. When e-sharing my fears and frustrations with a friend the other day, the response was,

Next time you’re having a bad day, don’t e-mail me!

On that note, I’ll shut up. This is the hard part. But like raking 55 bags of leaves before autumn’s first snowfall arrives, you gotta slog through it. The joy of this BreakAway is nearly nonexistent. The anxiety relentless. Yet the odds of going are at a new high.

Once we get settled on a faraway island, perhaps I will be too.

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High Anxiety: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Posted on: Saturday, November 29th, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip, Prep & Planning | Leave a comment

Okay, let’s be frank. Does anybody want to read rants about a guy who’s trying to get 555 things done before running away for the winter? Probably not. That kind of ‘journal’ writing best be kept by the bedside, along with the Mylanta, the Trojans, and the Bible.

Those rants and lists, by the way, kept me awake most of the night while the crazybusy brain labored away in fruitless tedium.

Today’s sunrise, oh-so forced Yoga regimen (outside, where it’s covered with slippery frost) did NOT quiet the mind. I just froze the belly and teased the to-do list. A slip-and-fall seemed likely. Yoga has risks. Do they practice yoga on snow in India?


  • What about finding a new gear bag to haul the snorkel stuff and the new Martin mini-guitar and all? (And what good is a trip without those non-digital toys? How will AllBoy keep up his music learning without a musical instrument?)
  • What about the complex list of chores that must occur to launch this website—and who’s the sick dominatrix who created that Responsibility-Hell program called BaseCamp?
  • Why do people, as they find out about the Sabbatical, tend to ask a really good question that I’ve yet to worry about, like, “Who’s going to take care of your snow shoveling?”
  • Why aren’t the kids helping? I mean, do they ever? No! But….HELP!
  • How come the 2 Heads duties don’t stop? IRS red tape (that can feel like a thug who ties you to your desk chair)…payroll and expense and pointless paperwork up the wazoo?

This will be worth it, right?

I suddenly have a deep, huggable respect for the many folks who, upon learning of our brilliant scheme, simply laugh and offer,

“Oh, I could NEVER do THAT!?!”

Kudos to Common Sense. Bravo for loving what you got. Let us now praise unfamous men (and women).

Alrighty. I feel better now. NOT! So obviously, it’s time to seek silence. And try to make my bossy brain do the same.

“Silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation.” –Thomas Keating, Cisterian Monk

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The Itinerary Is Set!

Posted on: Saturday, November 22nd, 2008
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip, Prep & Planning | Leave a comment

In record time, the Accommodations Kommittee has reached consensus. All nights are booked; all travel legs are known.

Now we shall learn time and time again that “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” But absent that, we’ll have…

St. John 19 days
St. Vincent 3 days
Bequia 17 days
Grenada 27 days
San Juan 3 days

TOTAL 69 days

Has it been fun planning this?  Not really.  (Okay:  Occasionally.)  Still, I’m thankful we’ve come this far.  Yet we have so-o-o-o-o far to go…

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