Friday, May 27, 2011

Jamaica: The Jewel of the Caribbean

View from the back of the villa I stayed in at the SeaSand Eco Villas in Negril

I was recently on a trip to Jamaica for a series of work sessions artist management, licensing, royalties and copyright, but it is near impossible to go to Jamaica and not mix work with some R&R!

Jamaica is a beautiful island with beautiful people and a rich and diverse culture. Jamaica has also given the world reggae, dub and dancehall music as well as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh.

Negril has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, up there with some of the beaches I have seen in the Seychelles, Cyprus and the Bahamas. It is awesome to be up to your neck in water and still be able to see your toes. Inside the water looking at the horizon, it feels like a giant, humungous infinity pool. There are no big waves like the beaches on the Atlantic coast of Ghana, for example.

I went parasailing, which is one of my favorite things to do. It is a great spiritual experience for me. It is such a relaxing feeling to be up in the air, wrapped up in silence as you take in breathtaking views of the rugged landscape and the vast ocean and even see fish swimming in the water. You should try it if you ever get the chance!
Sunset in Negril
The sunsets are just amazing! They look like pictures out of a photographer's book - photoshopped and made almost unreal with hues of ochre, magenta, cobalt and a million others, painting an awe-inspiring picture. The waters turn a brilliant copper color reflecting  the residual ambient light.

The evenings are particularly romantic, with the warm breeze blowing, the afterglow of the day hinting at the promise of a wonderful evening. You can always go to Hedonism II for a more adult experience.

Just beware of the driving, though. With the narrow single-lane streets, it sometime becomes necessary to pass (overtake) in the oncoming lane and that can be a terrifying experience. Not unlike my experience with driving in Ghana (read that blog post).

But all in all, I loved Negril and I'll be visiting Kingston on my next trip for a different flavor of Jamaica.  If you're ever headed to Negril and would like to have a non-hotel experience and more of a home-away-from-home experience, check out the SeaSand Eco Villas. That's my plug of the day. Now if you have any ideas on things to do and places to go in Jamaica, feel free to share them with us right here on my blog or on Facebook.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dressing Up - Your Guide to Event Dress Codes

I don't know about you, but I like dressing up. There's something about getting all 'dolled up' that makes one feel glamorous and fabulous. For others, navigating the rules of style for anything more than a casual affair is enough to get all nervous.

Does this sound like you, or someone you know? If you can identify with that or need a little refresher, this is for you.

The first cue to the dress code will be the actual invitation. Apart from the line that says "Dress Code", the formality of the invitation will tell you how formal an event it is.

White tie

This is considered the most formal style of all. Very few people every have to attend such events, which usually include state functions and very prestigious ceremonial events. For men, this will require a jacket with tails and cut to the waist in the front, a white waistcoat, black patent shoes, and, of course, a white bow-tie.

For women, it has to be a full-length evening gown. Anything above the ankles, such as a cocktail dress is inappropriate. For the most formal of balls, the gown might be required to be white. You will find that many women will wear a fur wrap and long gloves as well.

Black tie or Formal

A black tie event is the less formal counterpoint to the white tie event. Tailcoats are not required for men, and a dinner jacket - or a tuxedo in the US - is worn instead. These come in different styles and are worn with a black bow-tie. Even though a white or cream-colored shirt is typically worn to set off the black tie, a man who wants to stand out may wear a light colored shirt of his choice. That would be me!

The rules seem to be changing for women in recent times. Anything formal calls for a floor-length dress. Today, however, a three-quarter length dress is considered acceptable for some events. Typical accessories would include evening sandals and evening bag, usually of silk, velvet, satin or similar fabric. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a floor-length gown for this kind of event.

Black Tie Optional
For this kind of event, a dinner jacket or tuxedo is safe, but a dark suit with a tie will also be totally acceptable. This is usually the case with business event dinners. Women wear long gowns, but other evening dresses and separates are also acceptable. A new trend is dress codes described as "Creative Black Tie". This is a variation of the 'black tie optional' and gives even greater latitude for personal style. A dinner jacket or tuxedo with a black shirt and no tie, for example will be acceptable.

Event dress codes variably called "Cocktail", "Business Formal", or "Semi-Formal" call for dark suits for men, and cocktail dresses for women. These are usually events that begin around 6pm and usually go on for no longer than a couple of hours, but could include social events such as upscale parties and going to a nightclub. The cut of suits for men can be more fashion forward than businesslike. Cocktail dresses for women can emphasize figure.

So there you are! Not too complicated, I hope. If you have any specific questions, feel free to send me an email at or post your question right here on this blog.

If you have any funny faux-pas stories you'd like to share, I'd like to hear them too! Join the conversation on Twitter @thelfstylemaven or on Facebook

Friday, May 6, 2011

Finding Big Messages in the Small Things

Photo credit:
On a recent trip back home, I decided to put myself to use and help my mother de-clutter her home - and in particular, a certain room dividing unit - a la Oprah. You see, mother, bless her heart, loves to keep all sorts of objects as souvenirs and mementoes of bygone years. In this piece of furniture, I found all sorts of things I had no idea she had - class registers from when she run a pre-school, circulars, baby shower and engagement party favors and so much more. As I carefully wrapped and boxed away the fragile objects it seemed like there had been more that I boxed than this cabinet was capable of holding. When it came to the things in the 'throw away' pile, my heart went out to this cabinet!

The cabinet, along with the furniture in the house, holds a very dear place in the story of my family. They were a symbol of overcoming. After my father lost his job as a diplomat, our fortunes changed rather dramatically and we lived a very frugal lifestyle until my father got another job many years later. Changing the furniture, for us, was a new start for us. We were Ponce again able to buy furniture, albeit cheap, but it was very symbolic. As I unloaded this piece of family history, all of this was not lost on me. I remembered how we proudly picked out objects to put in it. It also had a lot of storage, so it was very useful for tucking away the not-so-nice stuff we didn't want guests seeing.

With everything emptied out of it, the cabinet seemed like a ghost of itself: sagging shelves, peeling veneer, doors that fell off their hinges and joints coming apart. I asked some strapping young men to come help me take it out of the house, but that was unnecessary - the cabinet collapsed with one push. Emptied of all its baggage, the cabinet gave up the ghost like a house of cards. It was a very sad and poignant moment.

It made me think of the parallels in our own lives. We accumulate a lot of baggage over the years and struggle under their weight, but we keep chugging along like the little engine that could. We hold on to a lot of emotions, experiences, and perceptions both negative and positive. Sometimes, this spills over into our physical lives in the form of clutter. We jealously guard them, straining under their pressures, but refusing to let go.

Sometimes it helps to remove ourselves from our attachments and objectively purging ourselves of everything and keeping only that which we need for the way forward. It is always feels good to know we can go back to some object or the memory of an event for comfort, but we should pick wisely. We need to occasionally take inventory of our lives and run an audit to make us leaner and lighter for the journey of life. This may mean changing our attitudes, correcting self-defeating behaviors or forgiveness - forgiving others who may have offended us, but also, believe it or not, forgiving ourselves. We can only love ourselves unconditionally after we forgive ourselves for whatever it is we blame ourselves for. And we can't love another person without loving ourselves first. And we are surprised when our human relationships are painful.

Carrying around our heavy baggage affects not just us as individuals, but also everyone else who shares our life in some way. Without realizing it, and by default, we force others to carry our baggage just as we carry others' baggage whether we realize it or not. That is why sometimes when we feel our loads are too heavy, it's because of the other people's loads we share.

Whatever your clean out is - whether it is forgiveness, changing your attitude to someone or a situation - renewing your spirit makes room for newness and positivity in your life. Much as it hurts to let go of things that have, in some twisted way, provided comfort in the past, it is necessary for our growth and forward movement. Unclench your fists. Let go. Release. Submit to the now.

This is what I learnt in the moment that cabinet folded up with almost no help in my mother's living room. It no longer had to be strong and keep it together. But it had to go to make room for new furniture. Look into your life and find those things you're holding on to that do not serve any real purpose. Release them so you can embrace your new life. Remember, it's a good life!