Thanksgiving is different this year. In fact, it doesn’t feel like the start of the holiday season at all. The other day I saw a post on Facebook about a tree lighting, and I honestly wondered what kind of tree they were going to light. It definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas is one month away. In some ways, that makes me a little sad. I enjoy decorating our house and trimming the tree. I enjoyed the holiday parties and the process of shopping for new outfits to wear to every event. I’ve always loved the mall and sales and the Black Friday steals and deals.
This year I’ve had more time than ever to really stop and reflect on what I’m thankful for and why. I came up with a list, kind of like a Late Night with Dave Letterman list, but a little more introspective I suppose.
Top Ten Things I’m Grateful For, on this special- albeit different- Thanksgiving:
1. My Health
That sounds really cliche, doesn’t it? Everyone’s health must surely be at the top of their list. I always thought I was grateful for my health, but here, it’s a entirely new level of thankfulness that I never knew existed. St. John is an island full of adventure- hiking, snorkeling, boating, kayaking, fitness classes- and those are just the ones I’m willing to try! What would I do if I couldn’t hike to Ramshead and see spectacular, panoramic views of my surroundings? What would I do to stay fit if I couldn’t attend kickboxing and yoga classes where I not only get a great workout, but I also get to meet new friends? (More on new friends in a bit!) I have been able to start my own Cardio Hip Hop class on island, which is an amazing way to ensure I workout every Sunday as well as multiple times during the week, as I must choreograph new routines.
Also, health is top of mind because we weren’t exactly sure we would have insurance right away. COBRA is prohibitively expensive and most island jobs don’t offer healthcare coverage. And, even if we have the best medical coverage, the thought of being airlifted to the states in case of an emergency doesn’t sound remotely exciting. So, each and every day that we feel healthy, we sleep well, we get proper nutrition, and no emergencies occur, I am beyond thankful.
2. My Marriage (and our babies)
I bet if you asked your spouse of significant other to move to an island with you, he or she may agree, either reluctantly or excitedly. Whatever the response, would the two of you really take the plunge? Would you leave everything you have and everything that makes your life comfortable to begin a whole new life? I’m lucky that my husband said yes and then partnered with me every step of the way to ensure that we made it happen. We worked together (and with our realtor) to get the house sell-ready, we strategically planned how and when we would leave our jobs, we moved twice in six months, we invested in classes to prepare for our island aspirations… the list goes on and on. So, I’m thankful to have someone who shares my passion- or some may say my insanity- and even more so, someone here on the island with me now that we’ve made our dream a reality.
Henry and Logan never cease to amaze me. They will be 11 and 6, respectively, in a couple of weeks. The way that they traveled here, got settled in to their new home, and they love and gratitude that they show us is truly remarkable. And they are the very best of friends, and I’m so thankful for that. There’s nothing like having them to come home to, or, in my case, spend my day with, since I work from home. I highly recommend you try being a “work from home, dog mother.”
3. The Opportunity to Work For Myself
I’ve come to believe something about myself that I never would’ve expected. I think I’ve always been a free spirit, but working in corporate America for so long sort of zapped that out of me. While I was never a box-checker and I never accepted the status quo, I did let the creative part of my brain- the part that dreams big and doesn’t run from those dreams- kind of turn itself off. For so long, I let safety, stability, a solid 401k and pension plan, and the security of direct deposit prevail. It was terrifying to step away from the safety net, don’t get me wrong.
But now, I am thankful that I don’t have to ask for time off when I need a mental health break or just want to spend a day out on the water or on the beach. I have more time to breathe, yet I feel more exhilarated than ever when I wake up each morning because my day is MY day. I structure it how it best suits me, and I never have to wonder if anyone doubts that I’m doing a good job. I am not awaiting goals and quotas set for me by someone who’s never met me or my customers, and I’m not feeling guilty about mid-day naps in my hammock. I’m no longer married to a rank report, which is odd but wonderful. I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur, but the more business owners I meet, I am reconsidering. I’m self-motivated, have a passion for serving others, love connecting with many new people daily, and I’m not okay with mediocrity. Maybe I’m exactly where I’ve needed to be- on my deck, looking at the water, working away!
Like good health, family is right up there on everyone’s list. But do we really fully appreciate our loved ones? When we lived in Charlotte, we were close to most of our family members, close enough that we could drive to see them if needed. That was another nice safety net, but we also found that we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity like we should have. Always having had good jobs, we never really asked anyone for help- financial or otherwise- so we were extremely self-sufficient. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and we were always proud to do things on our own, but I must admit that I have been super appreciative of care packages that our moms have sent. Everything from dish towels and dish scrubbers to beach towels and facial towelettes has been much needed and more valued than almost any gift they could’ve given us before. Thanks Mom and Gloria!
5. New Friends
Because we were very social in Charlotte, finding new friends was at the top of our “Things to Do” list when we arrived on island. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to connect with people here, because at any given time, there are only about 4,000 people (maybe less) in the world who’ve moved themselves to St. John, USVI. We are finding that it’s easiest to connect with others who arrived around the same time and a little more difficult to befriend some of the seasoned residents. It’s not impossible though, by any means. This morning I played tennis with a realtor who’s lived on St. John for almost 25 years. Yesterday, I got invited to paddle board with someone I met at a restaurant. My kickboxing instructor and I have been trying to make a plan to hangout. And recently, Shaun and I were invited to a 50th birthday party of a long-time resident of St. John. It’s awesome to meet new friends even as I am cautious that these friendships may be a little more transient in nature. That doesn’t make them less special, as I am appreciating each day that I spend with my new friends taking in the beauty of our island.
6. Old Friends
Leaving Charlotte, especially saying good-bye to the friends we dearly love, was hard. It was one of the worst parts of moving. But with social media- and the fact that calls to and from St. John to the states are local- there is no reason to lose touch with old friends. Last night, during Friendsgiving, we got a FaceTime call from some of the best friends we will ever have. It was so special to catch up that way- to see their smiling faces and the festive hats Mary designed while laughing about island life and city life. It was 9 degrees one morning, they told us, and we told them how hot and sweaty we have been. One of my friends has an ear infection and I mentioned that all of the snorkeling I’d been doing was bothering my ear as well. They were not sympathetic! In any case, it has been awesome to see Instagram and Facebook updates, to talk live, and to text with our friends on the mainland. It takes effort from everyone, but it’s worth it to maintain important relationships that mean so much.
7. Rayon Dresses
As a patron of Neiman Marcus and retail boutiques in Charlotte, I never thought I would love cheap, rayon dresses the way I do now. My mom said she never expected it either. I’ve been requesting she visit Marshalls or Target and look for dresses that are soft, require little to no care, and are inexpensive. She sent the cutest one yesterday! Going back to old friends, I am thankful for my best friend Kelli who mailed me five- yes five- of my own dresses that I gave her years ago. At first I was ashamed to mention that they may come in handy and have her to go to the trouble of mailing them, but hey- it’s freezing in NC where she lives, so she doesn’t need them now. And with flat rate shipping, it only cost her $12.65 to mail them to me. Same for all the things my mom has sent. Rayon is breathable, I can hand wash or machine wash it, hang it to dry, and actually feel like I am cute in an island-y way. Thank God for rayon.
8. Stepping Away from the Grind
Do you ever feel like you’re in the proverbial rat race? We unfortunately had let ourselves fall into the grind- Shaun less so than me. I can admit now that I was anxious to move to a nicer home, anxious to make more money, and feeling the pressure to take things to the next level. What the hell was the next level, really? Was 2000 square feel not enough? Clearly it was, because now we have half the space and double the joy. Did I really need a new outfit for every event? Was I trying to impress my friends who already loved me? Maybe I was trying to impress people whose opinion of me didn’t matter at all. I have no idea, but between the stress of money, finding ways to spend the money, and the desire to acquire more things with our money, it felt very much like a grind. I’m grateful this year to have the opportunity to appreciate what I have without the desire to acquire more dust-collecting things that only made me happy for a very temporary period of time anyway.
9. Feeling Like There’s Nothing Wrong With Me
This goes hand in hand with the grind. My friends- the old ones and some of the new ones- know that I don’t desire to have children. While in the rat race, that posed quite a problem. Granted, it was probably more of a self-imposed pressure, but I felt like there must be something wrong with me. When almost everyone else was desperately trying to have a baby, or desperately trying to have a second baby, I constantly felt like I wasn’t normal. And maybe I’m not. But I have friends who accept my decision, I have a husband and two adorable fur babies, I have some cute rayon dresses (joke), and all of a sudden, I’m not only thankful for the decisions I’ve made, but I’m equally thankful that I don’t feel guilty for being thankful for those choices. I must say it’s been a pretty cool phenomenon for me.
10. Our 2015 Guest Calendar
You better book now! The aforementioned friends and family members are filling up the calendar we lovingly hung on our fridge so that we can count the days until we have visitors. We can’t wait for the honor of sharing the island we love with the people we love! I’m curious if our friends and family will be surprised at the “new us”… will they be amazed at how little we have and how fulfilled we are? At the end of their visit, will they be happy to return back to the states and bid farewell to this rock we live on? It doesn’t matter, because we can’t wait to hug them and show them our favorite spots and introduce them to our friends.
I openly accept that this life we have here- this break from the grind- isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to book your ticket and come check it out anyway just for kicks! I am excited to show you some of the things I’m most thankful for in person, starting with Salomon, Denis, Oppenheimer… and no these are not my island boyfriends!
Happy Thanksgiving! May your time with loved ones fill your hearts with gratitude and joy! We love and miss you all!
Ashley Cates, St. John USVI blogger.