Tales of Old Wives

As I chewed deeper into Ann and Steve’s adventure on Receta, I couldn’t help but chuckle as Ann recounted conversations with the locals.

Conch (pronounced conk, which was news to me, who has always assumed that final ch sound was intended to be pronounced) is a Bahamian staple. Found in many a dish, eaten cooked or at times raw, Ann shares with her readers how powerful a cultural element this sea delight is in the Bahamas.

When they first arrived in the Bahamas, Ann and her husband Steve were delighted and also perhaps a little red-cheeked when it came to learning more about this fruit of the sea. Locals proclaimed it has “magical” properties; magic most commonly referring to destinations below the belt, if you catch my meaning. Fishermen lavished stories of how the conch was known to make a man “powerful” and “long-lasting”.

Steve and Todd bought the birthday conch from a small Bahamian boat that had pulled into Chub Cay…A dollar a conch, the appreciative divers tell Todd and Steve. “And it will make the dead rise,” one of them remarks, grinning.

Perry and Noel are their names and along with the conch come more – unsolicited – stories of its power. “My wife glad when I go fishin’ for a coupla days ’cause den she get a rest,” Perry says.

Men and women shared tales of a soup – cuckoo soup – that would keep a straying man from sampling other merchandise:

If a woman cooks if for you and you eat it, you won’t want to make love with anyone but her…

As in most things, surveys tend to give us what we really need to know about the matter:

Much later still, I have a chance to ask a trio of sophisticated, stylish Bahamian women for their opinion on the power of conch. Two of them dismiss it scornfully as just male rubbish. The third one smiles. “Anything you believe can work, can work,” she says.

But it was not only tales from the kitchen that found their way into the minds of our traveling Vanderhoofs. It’s well-known that for as long as there have been ships on the sea, there have been tales of epic voyages, mermaids, and sunken treasure. Ann and Steve have with them a book chock full of seafaring lore. And just as those of us on land, even travelers of the sea hold superstitions – when to sail, when not to sail, what to throw on the deck before a storm….

Recently, on YouTube, I was perusing various homemade tutorials on beauty tips including water-marble nail polish techniques, how to cut, grow out, and color your own hair (and let me tell you there are some common sense technique videos, some clever ones and some REALLY bizarre ones out there. Some so painful I couldn’t watch longer than a few seconds), and more. Becoming fascinated with the idea of trimming my own hair, I set to finding a good video to follow. I stumbled across one channel where I was fascinated by the various other techniques. After watching several, I decided I would try one that involved using Vaseline to grow and moisturize your eyelashes.

One evening after reading the last chapter or so of the Receta’s journey toward the Caribbean, I picked up my little jar of Vaseline and stopped. “Good grief”, I thought, “I wonder if this is actually something that is making my lashes grow or is this just another old wives tale?”

And just how many old wives tales do I prescribe to? How many more have I heard of and decided were too absurd or too drastic to follow thru on? How many of these tales are actually things that work? The fact is, whether we believe them or not, they are imbedded in our culture. Someone’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother gave advice she most certainly received from her mother who got it from her mother and so on, and it has been passed down, ignored or followed because it worked for someone or someone someone knows.

It’s like gossip but with advice or tips. It goes around and around. And then it turns into gossip when someone ignores said tip and things go awry.

For the record, here’s a list of old wives tales and superstitions I have heard myself, asked about or quite simply, looked up on the internet:

*Vaseline on your eyelids and lashes will make your lashes grow longer (Trying it. This girl’s lashes were long, figured why not since her hair trim tutorial was so spot on)

*Spill salt? Through some over your shoulder to counteract that bad luck. And while we’re at it, avoid walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, or letting black cats prance across your path.

*Step on a crack, break your mother’s back (I have stepped on cracks before and my mother’s back in still in tact, thank you very much….but I do avoid cracks if I’m paying attention to the sidewalk)

*An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

*There’s a poem about birthdays I remembered pieces of (and had to look up the rest…..I was born on a Wednesday, but this poem makes me sound like I should be in a permanent state of depression. Which is hardly the case.):

Monday’s child is fair of face;
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe;
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving;
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
is fair and wise, good and gay.

If you have more you’d care to share, I’d love to hear them!


In and Out of the Marshes

There is something so beautiful about the prospect of leaving your cares behind and taking off on an incredible journey. Or at least there’s something beautiful about the way that it sounds in theory. As Ann Vanderhoof and her husband hemmed and hawed on the idea of putting professional lives on hold and sailing thru the Caribbean, the proof was in the pudding that dreams such as these are not to be taken lightly in the slightest.

The train makes for nice reading…Riding back from Philly (you know, the trip for Oranges), I had a great time delving into this beautiful book. And then life kind of jumped in and threw a lot of things off.

What you readers don’t know (lest you know me of course) is that about a year and a half ago, I lost my aunt to Ovarian Cancer. This February, I lost my uncle to Laryngeal Cancer. Throw in dark winter, a knee injury, work stress and a few common challenges and you have one soggy mush of a mango known as Curly. Many days I would have loved to put my life in a box on the shelf and set sail as the Vanderhoofs did. To leave behind what ailed me.

But you know what they say about what doesn’t kill you….

Thanks to some amazing friends, loving family, a beautiful mountain retreat (where I really DID get to step away from it all!), and a renewed strength and faith, I have finally emerged from the marshes. Perhaps not so gloriously as in a sailboat on the Caribbean (it just sounds like it would be more amazing looking), but with the best grace I can put into anything I do. And as the school year ended and I put my ideas into the world, I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t lost all my creative energy and that I don’t have to be afraid to put my foot in the door. THIS, dear readers, was what probably ailed me most. The fear, the reluctance to share what was in my heart and mind. And now that I have that back, as Stella found her groove, I am ready for whatever – including getting back to my reading and sharing my mango adventure! The water is bluest where you make it – and the water where I’m floating is so crisp and clear, I want to sail on it forever.

And that’s just what I’ll do.

Setting Sail

Hello dear readers!

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone…I had my first fried turkey, in addition to the good ol’ roasted bird. Surprisingly delish! Perhaps made even more exciting by the various videos watched throughout the day about how to fry one’s bird safely and avoid the armageddon style fireball in your backyard, on your deck or in your garage. Did everyone enjoy their turkey? Or chicken (or, if you’re one of my students, “a big chicken”…sorry to break it to you kid, but you probably at Chicken’s big brother named Turkey)? Or goose? (<–I saw geese for sale at Shoppers for $50. $50!! At SHOPPERS. )

Did anyone eat a Turducken? Seriously though, I’d be curious to know from someone else what that’s all about. I’m certainly not one to shy away from trying new things….but that’s just a tad too odd for even me.

Anyway, I digress. My family’s holiday was spent in Illinois this year, in the Chicago suburbs where my Aunt L’s family lives. It was painful to wake at 3 am to catch our 6 am flight, yet worth the whirlwind of hugs, kisses; the thrill of watching the Redskins triumph over the Cowboys (HTTR!);  indulging in the largest Thanksgiving gathering I’d ever been a part of (24 people!). After all was said and done, a beautiful massage appointment the next day, followed by a delicious dinner and then a return flight home. For which we again had to wake up at 3am. Less foot traffic, but perhaps still feeling the interruption of my sleep cycle.

All the traveling seemed to lay the perfect little red carpet for my next mango read:


Another of my delightful finds from the mom & pop book shop several months back, An Embarrassment of Mangoes tells the story of a couple who packed up their lives and set sail on a two year journey along  the east coast of North America into Central America and back again. What a delicious idea, to cross the last T and dot the last i and sail away….

The introduction to the tale opens on the water – Ann and her husband are returning from dinner with friends and navigating their way back to their boat in a small dinghy by . All at once the reader is transported to the next day, where Ann and her husband travel on a bus to the local Caribbean markets to purchase fish and mangoes. Ann describes the hot and balmy drive in such detail that for brief moments, I could have sworn I was right there with her: light cotton shirt sticking to my back, dust whipping in the warm wind against my cheek, the sing-song of hellos as passengers greet each new body to get on board. When they arrive at the market, Ms. Vanderhoof describes seeking those precious, juicy gems by name:

“What are they called?” I ask, because here, a mango is not simply a mango; at least half-a-dozen varieties are available in the market on any one day, and I’m trying to learn the differences. “Sealawn,” she says drawing out the second syllable like a musical refrain, and the name seems fitting, since we’re surrounded by the sea and lush greenness. I know there’s a place called Seamoon toward the north end of the island ; I envision the bountiful Sealawn right next to it, covered with heavily laden mango trees…

On the way back toward our homeward bus, we poke into one more shop. Unlike the market, here the prices are posted, and I see the sign above one of the bins. “Ceylon Mangoes,” it says. Or Sealawn, in the lilting voice of an islander.

The scenery is so well depicted through Vanderhoof’s voice that when I ended the introduction, I couldn’t help but smile as though I had just stepped into the Caribbean heat myself. But what I really love, aside from her vocabulary, is her clear delight at the sight, smell, taste of the theme of my humble little blog – that magnificent mango. The way she describes those sweet little gems….well, let’s just say it warms my mango-lovin heart.

More to come…

…warms the heart.

I know, I know…..so long between posts. But stay with me folks, I’m gonna get better at this, I promise!
So, A Mango in The Hand. There are many, many, many, many reasons why I love this book. Let me share my top 3:

3 – I can practice reading Spanish so that in future contexts I can sound like I don’t need to practice (because yes, I did sit and reread it about 10 times to get the pronunciation just right).

2 – The premise of the story is just adorable.

1- It takes me back. Waaaaay back. Back into time…

Ok, not THAT far back. But far enough to remember being younger and learning many of the same lessons.

So before I get lost in my review, a little summary: Francisco wakes up on his Saint Day and decides that to conclude the celebration meal, he would like to have some juicy mangoes. He is guided by proverbs from his father and other family members as he makes multiple attempts to retrieve them from the tree. In the end, Francisco learns valuable lessons in patience, perseverance, and love.

Seriously, who wouldn’t love a book like that?

Every step of Francisco’s journey on his Saint Day gives way to an important lesson – and reading it really got me thinking about the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I can’t recall them all for you now….and trust me, I’ve been trying for days to put my finger on even a few….but they’re in my heart, and really that’s all that matters. Little Francisco, were he a real little boy, may not grow up and recall word for word every proverb his father blessed him with, but he would certainly remember climbing that mango tree and that in some way, it would with him because it was significant. Not merely because it was the first time he had climbed the tree, and not because it was on his saint day…he would also remember it because it would remind him of his father – his father’s hat, his father’s patience, his father’s laughter and love. And it would remind him of his aunt, the crabby one, who turns out isn’t so crabby after all.

I think the underlying message here is that our first and best lessons come from home. We are who we are because of the parents that helped to shape our minds and hearts. I cannot imagine being without that original recipe lovin’ in my life, the flavor that has shaped who I am, what I know, and what I aspire to be.

All in all, my humble opinion of A Mango in the Hand: 5 mangoes. A story with such heart, delightful illustrations, and a delicious fruit I fancy deserves no less.

A Mango in the Hand…

Today was deliciously mango-fied!

This morning as I stood in the halls for morning duty, watching students trickle to breakfast or their classrooms, my dear friend A approached me with a little gift. You see, she’d been in the library and had found a book just for me – a mango book!

You have to blog about it!“, she told me. And blog about it I shall!

I love A for a lot of reasons, but I have to give her extra kudos for giving me this little gift today. It feels really good that I have a amassed a small following and that someone went out of their way to contribute to my little project. If anyone else reading cares to make a request, I am happy to take it. I’m sure there are other mango books out there that I cannot find on my own. So I offer this challenge – find me a mango and I’ll peel it. I do love a good book, and I’m happy to tuck in with a fellow reader’s find.

For now, I am curled under a big blanket on the sofa, cracking the spine as I twist off the cap from this delightful treat courtesy of the best sister ever:

That’s right, folks. Mango Pepsi. Paradise Mango Pepsi. And it is SO GOOD!!! Awhile back I invited friends to a shindig to celebrate all the tasty mint I had grown on my balcony. Summer….mint….yes, you guessed it, we had mojitos. Mojito Madness – “bring a mixer, a fruit, whatever, we’ll see if it makes a good mojito”. A good friend of mine who was bartending at the time brought a bottle of mango syrup and happened to leave it in our fridge. Being the curious little monkey that I am, I decided to throw a little mango here and there and see what happened. Well, what happened was a can of coke and some mango syrup. Sorry, Coca-Cola, looks like Pepsi beat you to what in my humble opinion (IMHO), is the tastiest darn thing since vanilla ice cream. A million flavors and no mango? Crying shame…

But enough talk. More mango sips and mango lit.

International Book Week!

Courtesy of Busboys n Poets, I found out that this is International Book Week! Busboys asked its followers to pick up the book nearest them, turn to page 52, and then post the 5th sentence. From my next read, this was what I found:


“Although they’re few, he has his detractors – nobody’s going to call the weather right 100 percent of the time – but we’ve had too many experienced cruisers tell us how he saved their bacon for us to ignore his advice.”


Just a taste of the next mango. I admit, I’ve been holding off because I really wanted to fix a tasty dish to close off TBM. But its time to read on, my sweets. I’ll try and get that made this week.

In the meantime: will you, dear readers, take the Busboys challenge and post the nearest page 52 5th sentence here at peel & read??? I look forward to seeing what words are floating out there in your world. 🙂


peel on…

A taste of what’s to come….

This week, I am without a vehicle to drive myself to work. So, my sister has been ever so kindly dropping me off at my summer job. This morning, no one was there to open the building at 8:30, so I had a few minutes (15 to be exact, in weather that had me looking to the sky every few seconds begging it not to downpour as it had been when I woke up) to spare. Luckily, I was carrying around my second mango novel.

I still had a few thoughts to jot down about TBM, and – as other people started to show up – I thought I might have to have a conversation with someone, so I was tentative about getting right into the meat of it. So I decided to skim the table of contents. And as I looked at the title of chapter one and beneath that, Chesapeake Bay Crabcakes, I immediately turned to page 30 to see what that was all about.

And my heart – much like the Grinch – grew 10 sizes.


Can’t wait to get started!

Stay tuned for the final segment on TBM.

Holy Smokes…. I mean, Mango!

Hello readers,

So, just when I thought this book was never going to stop going in the same dry direction, the author threw a loop at me. And so I say,

Holy Mango!

So, when I last left you, Nina had been nearly assaulted outside of her hotel (which I didn’t realize at first…probably because I think I’m having a hard time remaining focused on this novel…) and the proprietor – Esperanza – stepped out and saved her life. Later that evening, Nina and Anna (her female-favoring art dealing best friend) watch Esperanza perform at the hotel and Nina gets a phone call asking her to come to another night spot to get more information on the crime(s) she is there in Misericordia to unravel.

Nina goes to this hotel and is nearly shot in the bathroom by an assassin sent from her family’s killer. After she kicks the crap out of him and emerges victorious, albeit exhausted, a bomb goes off in a building across the street. Mere moments after she sees Luc and a woman she thinks is her sister in law (who was how she got involved in all this nonsense in the first place) getting into a car together. So now, Nina is EXTRA pissed.

Flash forward to bidding adieu to Anna and Esperanza who are going to “look at art” (you guessed it, they’re hot for each other), Nina goes to investigate details on a company that is the primary reason the States are involved in this miserable country and runs into the gal who Luc was smooching in the magazine. Nina learns that this gal and Luc will likely marry to form a political union, which is very difficult for Luc according to the girl…whose name is La Bomba…hehe. Nina is furious and La Bomba insists Nina has to understand the sensitivity of the situation.

That afternoon Luc is murdered on LIVE television. I KID YOU NOT! By his own father! And do you want to know WHY he gets an entire clip put into his skull???? Because he tried to have his father assassinated! For the good of the country! I TOTALLY understand now why Misericordia was chosen to be the name of this fictional country (see details of the meaning of the word here) This place is MESSED UP. I can’t even imagine…sitting at the bar wondering where your friend is (who, by the way, was kidnapped by the very man Nina came down to exact her revenge upon) and having whatever afternoon popular television interrupted by such a violent image. Now the country is in uproar and Nina is headed straight for Peltrano (who murdered her family) and Anna, whose captivity was confirmed at the foot of the steps of General Malmundo’s (Luc’s father) residence, when Peltrano blew the General away as well!

One chapter to go…Needless to say I have NO trouble focusing now. I’m just a little disappointed that all this action is happening in the LAST TWO chapters. Good way to throw a wrench in it though, Mr. Kelley – I had almost forgotten Nina has a knack for having violence follow her and nip off loved ones. And right there in the end, you sucked the last of the life right out of her.

If I were Nina, honestly, I would sit at home, in my room, and not bother anyone. Fewer people would die. But I’m not Nina and I suppose that would make for a much less interesting story.

Just a few pages to go…

I read today!

Go me!

While I let my students work on an independent project, I took the opportunity to read 2 chapters of TBM. See folks, I am sticking to it!

And I would like to know this…..Nina Halligan, what the HECK are you REALLY doing in this country? Other than emulating “hood speak” then dissing Ebonics (ps, did anyone else know that the justification for this course was to teach proper English??? i need to read the report….where did I find this out? In this book. IN THIS BOOK. good grief….), debate whether to get it on with the hot guy (who keeps running off to secret meetings) or go ahead and get your revenge, or give attitude to the local police who don’t give a darn who you are and who have a gun practically up your nose?

I’m also pretty convinced at this point that this book may be some seriously dark attempt at discussing “blackness” with the reader. I wish I had taken better notes while reading. Must buy sticky notes…

to be continued……

This mango’s been beach side….

Dear, sweet readers –

Please accept my hiatus. I was on vacation at the beach. Ocean City to be exact. The weather was great, the internet was not so, and thus, I was not able to make more frequent posts. But you know how it is right? Sun, sand and fun? Yeah, I thought so.

Love, Curly.

Anyway, on to the book.

So, since we last met across the pages of The Big Mango, I have managed to read through over 10 chapters. I have griped about the contents of the story on more than one occasion. My mother has asked me on each occasion why in heaven’s name I am still reading this thing if I don’t like it. Each time, I offer two answers:

  1. I’m writing a blog. What kind of blogger would I be if I abandon this fresh new idea on the FIRST book???
  2. I’m not entirely sure I don’t like it. It has certainly gotten under my skin on more than one occasion, but it has also managed to captivate me.

How so, you ask?

I shall tell you:

  1. The characters, though increasingly questionable in their ability to hold conversation without profanity, insult, or racial or sexual undertones, show blips of depth that I can’t help but want to follow.
  2. Shortly after my previous post, between chapters 4 and 5, the author finally got into the meat of the matter – he killed off Nina’s friend Michael. Upon reading this, I felt certain the plot would finally thicken. I was mostly right.
  3. I find the seemingly endless supply of controversial lingo astounding. For example, in chapter 7, Mr. Kelley describes Nina’s interrupted incognito status as such:

“I stood at the door and listened to the faint voices inside. I was about to pull a listening scope from the small purse that was slung across my shoulder, but the sudden appearance of a pair of young zebras, a black-white couple who were leaving their apartment, prompted me to knock on the door instead.”

I have never heard this phrase – “young zebras”. I admit in fact that I was so surprised by the phrase (which perhaps should not have startled me, having grown up in the generation that was familiar with such terms as oreo, and twinkie in reference to people of color who were “white on the inside”) that I informally surveyed my family at the beach – right there on the sand – inquiring if anyone had heard it. The phrase SOUNDED “retro” enough….in fact, I was expecting that if anyone would have heard it, it may have been the more seasoned in our group (aka, my parents). But the only person who had heard the phrase was my younger brother. <– While drafting, I have since been corrected. My dad had in fact heard the phrase as well, but perhaps he did not hear me clearly (I blame the ocean waves acting as my background music while I posed the question….nevermind the fact that I have a ridiculous tendency – according to my family anyway – to mumble) I still find it interesting that my brother seemed shocked that I hadn’t heard it.

I dunno, it was interesting to me.

And while we’re on the topic of interesting and often controversial phrases…. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a tale in which there were more eye-widening, jaw-dropping catch phrases. After popping back through the last 15 chapters, I determined that the phrases in question fell into one of 3 overall categories: political, racial, and sexual (and, often, combinations of these categories). And let me tell you, some of them are some WHOPPERS. Nina and much of the company she keeps swear like sailors and keep it real about their sexual habits to the point where I almost have to stop and wonder if this is really a political mystery….or if I peel back some tiny corner of the cover what I’ll find what I’ve actually picked up is an espionage porno.

Anyway, Nina has made it to Misericordia….and in the first hour of her arrival she is nearly a kidnapping victim because of her association with the son of the new political figurehead. WHOM, she is very, very hot for. I mean, come on, you’re flying down the road of a foreign country with a radical liberation army chasing after you with a BAZOOKA and pause before firing back to ask what’s up with the hottie and some girl he was kissing in a magazine???? BULLETS AND MISSILES ARE FLYING PAST YOUR HEAD!!! And in what could be only moments after danger is averted, Nina’s gal pal is sent inside the airport (where the drama all started) to face certain grim aftermath while Nina and Luc (her contact in Misericordia) are pulling on each other like middle school kids in a corner stairwell who have skipped class to swap spit.

I mean, does that seem misplaced to anyone else?

Nina traveled to this country with the intent to avenge the deaths of her own loved ones…but has promised Luc she would do no such thing in exchanged for some ‘private time’ (you know, you know…bow chica bow bow!). However, now she is racked with guilt and is trying to decide what exactly her purpose should be. Could it be that hard-ass Nina Halligan may show her vulnerable, emotional feminine side? <– See now…it’s questions like this that keep me reading….

I’ll keep you posted. I’m off to take another bite of this mango