How To Make Your Own Sea Salt

It’s not all fun and games here in paradise. I mean, mostly it is- but there are some exceptions. Here’s one.

There’s a very cool thing that happens here when we go through a drought. Just behind an amazingly beautiful beach called Salt Pond, there lies an actual dark and murky saline pond. No idea about the science of this, but probably you can look it up. Anyway, it’s on the South Side of the island and if you’ve ever been here to visit us (and if not, why not?) we’ve probably taken you there for a beach day or to hike up Ram’s Head, which is a breathtaking trail. So usually that’s what we get up to when we head that way- fun and sun and happiness. But, when there’s a drought and enough water evaporates out of the pond behind the beach, the salt crystalizes and all of the locals get giddy and start talking about going over there to “get salt”.  All natural, free, delicious sea salt. Who could resist? We, like many of our neighbors, grabbed a bucket and headed over.

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Salt Pond Beach- where we’d take you if you came to visit.

Here’s the thing: harvesting salt is way harder that you’d think. The pond is like a muddy pool with a hard white crust of salt forming at the edges. Also, because the water table is so low there’s a not-so-delicious sulfur smell going on. You have to carefully pick a spot where you can chip away the crystals (by hand, mostly) and not break through the salt and into the mud.

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Salt Pond Mine- just a short trail away from the beach.

By the way, this is all stuff we figured out after some disasters last year because no one ever tells you how to get salt. They just tell you it’s there. One of the things we learned is not to overfill your bucket. Hiking out with heavy buckets of salt flat-out sucks. All along the path back to the parking lot you can see where people have either started dumping their salt on purpose as a load lightening technique or else they dropped their bucket out of fatigue (hello, last year).

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Salt Down. Bummer.

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Salt Harvesting- not all it’s cracked up to be.

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Huge Crystals

Even if you make it home with your bucket of salt, the work is not over. This salt is not shaker ready. This year we did a combination of processes. We dried it in the sun (excellent way to encourage rain, by the way). We picked out the debris and rinsed it. We put it in a very low oven (last year, we burned it. Did you know you could burn salt? You can.) Then we crushed it with a mortar and pestle.

Then we put it back in the oven until it was bright white and very salt like. Now it’s in jars, ready for use. It actually worked out. We’ve got a stellar end product (not like last time). We probably have 4 or 5 quarts of St. John’s finest sea salt…but it wasn’t easy.

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If any of you reading this have any suggestions on how we could make this easier on ourselves next time (other than just going to the store), we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

Food Fairs and Chainsaws

You might think we spend all of our time here on St. John sunning ourselves on the beach and drowning in Painkillers. Sadly, not true. We do other stuff, too.

Last week was Carnival in St. Thomas and we decided to go check out the Food Fair. It’s a big deal. Government workers get the day off to go. No joke. And it’s just one day, so we jumped on the ferry last Wednesday to check it out and I’m so glad we did.

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Getting back and forth on the car ferry. It’s like our Geo Tracker is amphibious. Sort of.

Normally, I would be skeptical of such an event. I’ve been to things like this over and over, hoping for handmade peach ice-cream and Mrs. So-and-So’s Famous Fried Chicken- you know, like in all the books I read when I was a kid. Like, suddenly I’m going to just walk into the Charlotte’s Web State Fair. Not surprisingly, I’m almost always disappointed by generic funnel cakes, fried snickers bars and maybe some turkey legs from Costco sold by pseudo-professional vendors. (One notable exception is the Pony Swim in Chincoteague, VA where you can get stellar oyster fritters. Really. You should go.)

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Butter Conch Platter. So tasty. So much butter.

Anyway, the St. Thomas Food Fair was phenomenal. Packed with people. Tons of stands set up by church ladies, farmers, families, school groups and small vendors from throughout the Virgin Islands. It was very homespun and very solid. All the food was traditional and everything we had was fabulous. It definitely helped that people were very willing to advise us on which stand had the best whatever while standing in line. We got several excellent steers. It’s like a very frenzied, very caloric scavenger hunt where everyone was actually on the same team.

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Saltfish Pate

There were people selling johnnycakes, stew chicken, butter conch, whelks, and pates stuffed with shark, conch, saltfish, beef or veggies (pates here are like little fried hand pies with kind of a chewy crust. They are amazing.) There was a roti stand. There was tons of sweet stuff too, the usual suspects like coconut tarts and pineapple tarts but also stew cherries, gooseberry tarts, sugarcakes (which I think are pretty much just sugar), pumpkin fritters, and banana fritters. Of course there were Ital stands and tons of natural juices, drinks and tonics. There’s a guy in St. Croix who apparently sells kallaloo every Saturday in some square there, and he made the trip. It was delicious.  The whole thing was spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in town for STT carnival.

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Chowing down on some seafood kallaloo.

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Lots of high tech signage.

On the way back to the car ferry, we stopped at Home Depot. Because it is a complete sacrilege to go to STT from STJ without going to Home Depot. Also, our internet, which used to be excellent, has been acting shady and we were told we needed to cut back some “bush” (trees), to give our antenna a straight shot to the tower. We were advised we’d need something called a pole saw for this…so we picked one up. Yeah, it turns out that a pole saw is quite literally a chainsaw on a 9′ pole. Did not see that coming. Anyway, now we have a pole saw. A really cheap one. It’s bananas.

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Thought wearing all my clothes at once would count as protective gear.

The chainsaw end is heavier than than you’d think and the pole is pretty flimsy so it just bounces all over the place. You’re supposed to secure it to yourself (according to the directions) with this super shoddy shoulder harness. Once I made it onto our very steep hill, that strap seemed like way more of a commitment than I wanted to make to a chainsaw so I took it off. It was so heavy and so unwieldy I ended up just kind of flailing around wildly in a sea of “catch and keep” which is an almost impenetrable thicket of thorns and prickers. I comforted myself by screaming “Help Me” and “I am not a landscaper” at regular intervals. You know, to relieve the tension. Complete miracle no one was injured.

But at least the internet is moderately better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racing Out Of Egypt. Sort Of.

Happy Passover and happy Easter! This year we decided (kind of at the last minute) to have a Passover seder on one of the actual days we were supposed to have it. We’ve been known to shuffle holidays around to fit our very busy schedules because it’s usually just two of us…and is the specific date for Thanksgiving or my birthday really written in stone? No. But this year Jennifer actually remembered it was Passover at the right time and we decided immediately to seder it up. As a total non-Jew, Passover is one of my favorite holidays. I highly recommend it. I’m not going get into the whole history and significance of the holiday. Probably you know. Or you can google it. What it is for me is The World’s Greatest Dinner Party.  There’s reading, there’s ritual, there are all of these symbolic dishes and there are a mandatory, a required, four glasses of wine. It’s a great time.

The deal is though, there’s some stuff you have to get ahead of time- like matzo. Matzo is an absolute requirement. Gotta have it. This is usually not a big deal because you can buy matzo anywhere this time of year. Salted, un-salted, whole wheat, Organic, Streit’s, Manischewitz, whatever. Except on St. John. There’s no matzo on St. John. We checked. Every store.

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Frances on the prowl for matzo.

We could almost definitely have gotten some on St. Thomas (it’s just a ferry ride away, but still kind of an ordeal-I mean, you can do it, but not at the end of the day for just one thing). So, we did what we always do: we gave up on a timely seder. We figured we’d just pick up some matzo the next time we’re shopping in St. Thomas and do a seder then. As a consolation prize, we decided to watch The Ten Commandments with Charleton Heston and Yul Brynner on our new little projector. I don’t think I ever really watched it before. It’s amazing. I LOVED IT. So weird, so wonderful. Anyway, it tells the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt and it was a reminder that matzo is supposed to be the kind of bread that you can make when you’re a slave with nothing and you are running for your life. So, honestly, how complicated could it be?

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The Ten Commandments. Solid.

 

We had no idea so we looked on the interweb and found out. Turns out matzo is very easy to make. Flour, water, salt, and maybe some olive oil. The big deal is that you can’t have any leavening, and if you are really strict about it you have to have it all baked and finished within 18 minutes of the water hitting the flour. The idea is that there is no possible way of getting any accidental leavening if you’re moving that fast. There was absolutely no reason for us to follow that rule (because nothing about what we were doing was anywhere near Kosher), but we tried it anyway.

We measured everything out in advance (but kept it all separate), hauled out our pasta roller (because we’re not actually fleeing Egypt), and cranked up the oven.

Then we set the timer for 18 minutes and started mixing. And rolling. And congratulating ourselves on how much time we had.

And then it fell apart. Somehow we went from a carefully executed, nearly professional set-up to a ridiculous episode of I Love Lucy. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the fact that we only have one little cookie sheet.

And the whole time we’re yelling, “We have to go now! Pharoah is coming!”  It was a little intense. We successfully completed the first batch within the time limit, but on the second batch we got beat at the buzzer. We went ahead and baked off the last two batches we’d rolled out, so all in all the whole process probably took 30 minutes.

It was totally worth it. The matzo worked out.

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Homemade matzo!

It was thinner than normal commercial matzo because I think we rolled it a little too thin, but it was definitely matzo. It did the trick for seder and a little extra for snacking. And I have a feeling we’re going to do this every year now, even if we have regular matzo available. I mean, I know we can get faster…

We’re Baaaaaaack!

So, yeah, it’s been a while. We’re back at home in St. John. We’ve been back for about 6 weeks. We put aside our dreams of an epic road trip this year, tucked Coachese into a storage space in Indianapolis and got the hell out of there. We’ve done a lot of harebrained stuff over the years, and most of the time it’s pretty much worked out. Not so much with Coachese. Not yet. Anyway, on the way home we spent a few more weeks in Florida, visiting family and gathering a bunch of stuff to take back with us to the Virgin Islands. This time the bulk of our luggage consisted of 175 lbs of bumper plates (weights) for our barbells. Not even kidding. We are fairly ridiculous.

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This is Frances. All suited up from our flight. At this point we’re in a car on a boat and we’re almost home. Wembley is in the back, drugged senseless.

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This is what happened when we finally got home.

Having abandoned our house in the tropics for the better part of a year, it should not be surprising to learn that we came home to quite a mess. This was enhanced by the fact that our house was a disaster even before we left. More on that here.
Now that we’re back we’re trying to make the house more livable and settle into our island routine. We’ve made some progress…cleaning, painting…finding, buying and installing some actual appliances (beat it, hot plate). We built a makeshift plywood kitchen counter that should be temporary but that I’m sure we’ll be stuck with for years to come. Also, more cleaning.

Somehow, while we were gone, our toilet broke. That was a pretty big drag for a while, as I’m sure you can imagine. The house came with this crazy, power-flush toilet which is apparently really water efficient but for which no one on island had any parts. So now we have a brand new toilet. Go us. Cross that one off the list. To give you a glimpse of our glamorous life in the tropics, here are a few of the things that are still on the list:

  • Figure out why our water tanks seem so empty. Like almost everyone here, we collect the rainwater from our roof to use in our house. For everything. There is no city water. So the rain falls on the roof, flows through our gutters and collects in these big tanks outside. Theoretically, unless there’d been a crazy drought, our tanks should be brimming with water because it’s been raining and we haven’t been using the water for a year, right? But when I bang on our tanks they seem mostly empty. I’m not a scientist, but I think somewhere, somehow, we have a problem.
  • Get the pool refilled. We drained it to deter squatters while we were away. Also, we switched to a saltwater system because buying chlorine and chemicals is horrible and I was always turning our pool green. Again, not a scientist. Apparently, we are missing a part from this new system and we need to buy either a mysterious part or a whole new salt system. Plus, we have to talk a water delivery guy into driving a tank truck up our road. Also we have to find the water delivery guy before we can talk to him. Here’s the thing, the pool is tiny and we never used it much (partly because it was always green and very scary) so it’s kind of tempting to just forget about it, but looking at an empty pool is way more depressing than you think it would be. Let’s hear it for first world problems.

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    Beautiful, no?

  • Get our driveway paved or at least graded. Our driveway is a little treacherous in the best of times. Last year, no shit, some tourists in an SUV mistook our driveway for the road and skidded down our hill and almost into our house, taking out a couple of trees in the process. They were fine, don’t worry. The best and weirdest part? It was actually a bride IN HER DRESS with all her bridesmaids on their way to her wedding. It was a very surreal morning. Anyway, the driveway is much worse now, so we really need to get on that. We know a guy who will help us with this but he has to get his ‘dozer back from the country. So…no idea.

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    This is a shot from when the Wedding Crashers crashed last year. That’s their car hanging perilously by a tree. Jennifer’s expression is completely unscripted.

  • We need to build a fence to keep the donkeys, goats, and deer out of the yard. They eat everything, they poop everywhere, and Wembley hates them. It looks like there used to be a fence around the property so I’m thinking this might not be a huge deal. I’ve been wrong before. In the meantime, we built a very ramshackle contraption out of pvc pipes and chicken wire to grow a few vegetables on our own. You know, so we don’t get scurvy. It was very flimsy so we spray painted it black. Now it looks sturdy. I think we’ve got a solid 7% chance that we’ll actually get to eat some of these things before the animals destroy them.
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    Flimsy.

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    Sturdy.

  • Replace the shack deck. We have a little rental cottage/shack and we actually have a lovely lady renting it as is, which is nice. She’s very brave. But it has a deck that is about to fall over and we are determined to replace it before we have to hide her body in the woods after she falls off and kills herself. The soil here is very rocky and I can only imagine what a pain in the ass grave-digging is. Plans are actually kind of underway for this project (the deck, not the grave). We’ve talked to people. We’ve tracked down a dumpster. We’re hopeful. This could be a win.

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    The dumpster is here!

  • Find a better place to sleep. Our house is super weird. It’s like a studio with a sleeping loft that you need a ladder to access and can’t really stand up in. So we don’t sleep up there. There’s a bedroom on the pool level, but you have to go outside to get down there and there’s this weird platform thing that’s built in and the space isn’t that usable. Like, for instance, you can’t actually fit a bed in there. So we just keep all of our freak show fitness stuff down there. Also, there’s no bathroom down there, so if you have to pee in the night you have to go outside, up the stairs and into the main house. It’s not horrible, it’s just not ideal. So we don’t sleep down there, either. We sleep on the pull-out couch in the living room. Which is next to the bathroom. Because we have priorities. We need to do something about this whole situation. Ideally, we’d like to build a little workout area with a shed, tucked somewhere out of the way. And add a bathroom downstairs. We live in hope.
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    This should be our bedroom. What? Doesn’t your bedroom look like this?                  CrossFit St. John Sweet Spice. Membership: 2

     

Probably you can tell this list is really more for us than for you. I’ve heard it’s good to make lists. Apparently it helps you be more productive. Fingers crossed on that one. In the meantime, we’ve been having a good time catching up with our neighbors, taking the pups around the island, getting used to driving on the left again, and making everything from scratch because the food situation here is pretty grim*. We remain amused at how beautiful and kind of ridiculous it is to live here.

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Sunday morning hike.

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Sunday morning water break at the ruins on the Leinster Trail.

*These are our attempts at preserving some West Indian limes in salt. Why? Scurvy. I am needlessly obsessed with scurvy. Also, we got a very cool cookbook from Jennifer’s Aunt Lynn (thanks, Lynn!) and they use a lot of preserved lemons, which are not available here so we’re doing limes. 

Happy Holidays. All of Them.

Hello!!! Sorry we’ve been out of touch for so long. Living in a hotel can be (among other things) uneventful. We had to wait to accumulate enough stuff to post about. Also, up until about a week ago, we couldn’t find the charger for our camera. So here goes:

We’re still living in the hotel in Indy.  Jennifer signed up to work through January so that we can fill the coffers enough to stay in St. John as long as possible. Also…Coachese is ready!!! We picked him up from the mechanic and drove him here from St. Louis last month. He’s currently a main attraction in the parking lot behind the hotel. He’s running well but has no heat so a winter camping trip is not in the cards. Plus, let’s be honest. The election kind of  knocked the wind out our urge to tour more of the USA right now. And we’re not sure how well Coachese would do in long-term storage so, wait for it, we’re thinking about selling him. I know. You’re shocked. I don’t really want to talk about it. Nothing is final.

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Moving on, other bright spots of the past couple of months include a roadtrip we took last week which we nicknamed, in advance, “vaycaca”, a loving mashup of vacation and poop. Basically, Jennifer took a week off so that we could drive a rental car from Indianapolis to Philadelphia for her sister’s daughter’s first birthday (Happy Birthday V!), then on to Delaware to finally close out our storage unit (Never get a storage unit. It’s like a reverse pawnshop. You give them money and your stuff and then you pay and pay and end up donating all your shit anyway), then back to Pennsylvania for one night, then on to DC to spend Hanukkah and Christmas with my family, then back to Indianapolis. All in a week. You can probably see how this seemed like a heaping pile of mandatory crap disguised as a vacation, no? Here’s the thing: It was great!!!

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Wembley, captured on film on the streets of Philadelphia.

We had a good time seeing Jennifer’s family (especially V), and we got to kick it at our favorite hotel in Philly. Rittenhouse Square was all decked out and really got us into the holiday spirit. Going back to Lewes, DE was actually one of the highlights of our trip, even though we were dreading dealing with our stored stuff . Not only did we successfully cut ties with the storage Nazis, we got to see a bunch of amazing people and get our asses handed to us working out at CrossFit Lewes. Turns out we were a lot more fit when we lived there. The big bummer was we really didn’t have enough time to visit with everyone, an oversight we are hoping to overcome by encouraging everyone to visit us in STJ! And, finally, we ended the week at my brother’s place in DC.

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Check out Santa.

It was a super-happy coincidence that the first night of Hanukkah was on Christmas Eve this year, since my brother and I both married Chosen People. Also, for the past several years, we have kept Christmas interesting by picking a different theme every year. These themes are more celebratory than authentic. Think grade school book report, not senior thesis. We’ve done French, Caribbean, Russian, Chinese, Italian, you get the picture. Everything from french fries and berets to the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Some years have been really successful and some have been a little half-assed. I am happy to report that this year’s theme was Mexico and my brother and his wife KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK.

 

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Tablescapes just don’t get better than this.

It was a crazy Hanukkah-Meximas smash. We had festive decor. We made tamales. We had brisket, latkes, and jelly doughnuts. We had ponchos. And beer ponchos. We had chicken enchiladas, lamb tacos, and multiple tablescapes. We had an incredible playlist. We also had a traditional roast turkey, stuffing, homemade rolls, and  a custom-made holiday movie trivia game involving dreidels.  Thanks, Mom! And congratulations on the win, Will and Olivia. We’re going to kick your ass next year. We even had a custom-made prank gift. Did you know that if you wrap a couple of rectangular ceramic tiles in duct tape, put an Apple sticker on it, and wrap it in bubble-wrap it looks a lot like a MacBook Pro?  Well, we do. Thanks, Dad.

Never a dull moment.

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Game on.

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Hola. Me llamo Bernie. Feliz Navidad.

And now we’re back in The Suites with a month more to go. I have to say, we were pretty down and out in the weeks before Hanukkah/Christmas. We were crushed by the election. Obviously. And, in general, 2016 has been pretty fucking crappy all around. But that trip (and literally watching about 35 Hallmark Holiday movies in our hotel home) saved our holiday season. So, in the final hours of this year, barring further tragedy, Happy New Year, guys. Cheers. Oh, and if you’re in the market for a vintage RV we can make that happen…

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Happy Hanukkah.

Home Suite Home

House burn down? Messy divorce? Shitty sales route? Immigration problems? Welcome to the world of the extended stay hotel. Welcome home.

Actually, I love it here. We’re camped out in a Marriott extended stay hotel in Indianapolis and it’s kicking Airbnb’s ass. Here’s why:

  • There’s maid service.
  • There’s a very useful guy we’ve been calling Alan at the Front Desk.
  • Everything works. And if it doesn’t, just go see Alan.
  • There’s always free coffee, cookies, newspapers, and fresh fruit in the lobby.
  • There’s a workout room.
  • There’s a “business center.” I’ve never printed so many pages!
  • There’s free breakfast every day.
  • There’s an outdoor grilling pavilion next to the parking lot. Shockingly popular.

All of that sounds pretty fancy, right? But this is not a fancy place. We call it The Suites, but it’s really like a block of student-housing apartments disguised as townhouses, right behind a stripmall next to the highway. Not even a good stripmall. The one directly next to us is anchored by a Kohl’s. If you’re familiar with Motel 6, imagine Motel 9. That’s where we are.

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Breakfast at The Suites

 

I always look forward to seeing what the neighbors got up to last night. You can’t hide from the trashcan.

But it’s not just about the amenities here at The Suites. It’s the community. People here keep their heads down. No one is trying to tell you about some farmer’s market. Everyone is trying to scam the breakfast bar. I’m not judging, I’m doing it too. Did I sneak my own homemade yeasted waffle batter downstairs and cook  it in the communal waffle iron instead of using the gross Golden Malted batter they supply? Yes ma’am, I did. I live here. Did I try to use hotel fruit in virtually every meal for the first week? Yep, did that too. Apple slaw. Apple crumble. Orange crepes. Banana cookies (sounds gross but SO amazing). It’s kind of turning into a game. I’d actually love to compare notes with the guy I’ve seen packing up like 6 hard-boiled eggs, 8 pieces of bread, two yogurts, seven catsup packets and a coffee cup full of pancake syrup. I want to know what magic he’s going to work with that stuff. But I’m pretty sure talking about it is against the rules.

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Flaming crepes with oranges fresh picked from the lobby. Disabled the smoke detector long ago.

I could live here forever.

Back At Square One

Okay, okay. We learned our lesson about blog procrastination. While our last post made it seem like we’re still in Florida, that is not actually the case. We left Florida almost two weeks ago. It just took us forever to do the post on Gulfport. Whoops. Here’s what happened (approximately in order):

  • We got word from the mechanic that Coachese was STILL NOT READY.
  • Jennifer accepted an offer to work another month back in Indianapolis which is pretty close to St. Louis where we eventually (hopefully) will have to pick up the Winnebago.
  • We packed up the Chevy Cruze and raced (through the Hurricane Matthew evacuation zone) up the East Coast to Washington, DC. Why? To attend the All Things Go Fall Classic. It’s a music festival. It was amazing. Totally worth it. Sadly, I was worried about drunkenly losing my camera so we don’t have any photos. But they do. As an added bonus, we got to kick it with family/friends in DC for a couple of days. Killer.
  • From there, we drove onward to Indy. We got a flat tire somewhere in Ohio but eventually made it to the fabulous extended stay hotel we’ll be calling home for the next few weeks. So glamorous!

 

  • Got another call from the mechanic. Three miles into the post-repair test drive, a totally different part of Coachese almost caught on fire and he had to be towed back to the garage.* Stellar.
  • Saw a terrible movie called American Honey. It was so bad, I had to mention it. Don’t ever see it. (See Hell or High Water instead. Now.)

Looks like you’re all caught up.

 

 

 

*For those of you who are interested: we are now in the market for a new rear differential after the un-lubricated wheel bearings “burnt up” and caused all kinds of automotive chaos.

 

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Gulfport, Fl. In Excruciating Detail.

We’re spending quite a bit of time in Gulfport trying to decide what our next move will be, road trip-wise. We’re having a pretty good time down here so we thought we would share the hits with you guys, in case you ever end up in the Gulfport/St. Petersburg/ Tampa area of Florida. Basically, Will and Olivia, this one’s for you for the next time you visit Mom and Dad. You’re welcome.

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Gulfport

Things to know. Gulfport is a quirky little town on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s basically right next to St. Petersburg which is extremely close to Tampa. Very confusing. Anyway, it’s a beach town with a sort of shabby-chic Golden Girls vibe. Think hippie-meets-hip-hop-meets-hip replacement. With lots of random strip malls, gorgeous bays, carpet stores, independent motels and palm trees. Needless to say, I can’t get enough of it. Here’s some stuff to do and/or eat:

Dali Museum: Yes, as in Salvador Dali. So random that it’s here- but it is. It’s right on the water in downtown St. Petersburg and the building itself is incredible. We’ve seen the permanent collection, which is impressive, as well as a temporary exhibit about the relationship between Dali and Disney. Totally fascinating. Next up is an exhibit revolving around  the food of Ferran Adria (El Bulli) and how he transformed gastronomy in the way Dali transformed art. You see how this works. They’re doing a good job over there, keeping it interesting.  Plus, there’s a very solid Spanish-centered cafe on the ground floor.

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Inter-species love in downtown St. Pete (near the Dali museum, of which we have no pictures). Whoops.

Tarpon Springs: This is a little cuckoo. It’s a town settled by Greek sponge-divers. It’s still very Greek. People speaking Greek, Greek restaurants everywhere, Greek coffee. It’s like a legit, cheesy, tourist town in Greece with no passport required. Not a bad little day-trip. We heard good things about the whole fish dinner at a place called Hellas, but didn’t get a chance to try it. About an hour away from Gulfport. Take alternate Rt. 19 for a nice drive.

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Not one passport.

Ringling Museum: Yes, Ringling as in  The Circus. This place is so spectacular I don’t even know where to begin. We actually became members. Not even kidding. There are basically three attractions at the Ringling campus: The Circus Museum, The Art Museum, and John and Mabel Ringling’s fully-restored 1920’s palacial Florida home which is called Ca’D’Zan. It’s bananas. In case you were wondering, Ca’D’Zan means John’s House in some obscure Italian dialect. John Ringling was a big fan of naming everything after himself, which I enjoy immensely.

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The basics.

Anyway, make Ca’D’Zan your focus and do it first. Definitely do the tours (get the whole package so you get into the third floor and onto the roof). This is not a huge commitment, maybe an hour and a half total, but you get the whole history of the Ringlings (who are now solidly placed on my mental list of  The World’s Greatest Childless Couples) and really sets you up to appreciate the whole campus.The guides are stellar. Ours was dressed up and kept insisting it was 1924, which was a little awkward because the only other couple on the tour clearly wasn’t that into him. Luckily, they cheaped out on the extended tour so we ended up with a private guide after the 2nd floor.This happens to us a lot. Don’t cheap out.

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Ca’D’Zan. Yep.Craziness.

After Ca’D’Zan, definitely walk over and check out the art museum, it’s beautiful. It’s another John Ringling creation. He built a world-class art museum in a swamp in the twenties, basically as a gimmick to get people to buy real estate in Sarasota (my interpretation). I love everything about that.

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Art museum. Very subtle.

Finally, swing by the Circus museum. I thought this would be my favorite part of the whole thing, and it definitely is cool, but it kind of gets overshadowed by the other stuff. (This might be because part of the Circus museum was closed when were there because of some HVAC crisis.) The one real “can’t-miss” exhibit at the Circus Museum is the miniature circus. It sounds ridiculous and boring, but it’s weirdly fascinating. This guy, who’s name I forgot, has devoted many years of his life to building a complete model depiction of the circus in it’s heyday. Every detail is covered. The big tops. The stables. The commissary. The backlot. I know this is a tough-sell, but really- go.

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Partial view of mini-circus, from above. For a mini-circus, it’s enormous.

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My brother was the World’s Biggest Gunther Gebel-Williams fan when he was a kid. So fabulous, so odd. Here you go, Will.

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Jennifer kicking it with some depression-era clowns. I laugh every time I see this one. Very convincing.

Bodega on Central: Cuban coffee and sandwiches served from a walk-up window in the very cool Central Arts District of St. Petersburg. Definitely trendy (there’s a juice bar), but the Cuban sandwiches are Sofa King amazing and the staff is top-notch. Seriously. They know what they’re doing and they crank it out. I love it. I’m very tired of going to too-cool-for-school places that have great food and an absolute inability to make change, keep a line moving, or wipe a counter. Also, all the seating is outside and it’s dog-friendly.

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World’s Best Cuban Sandwich in St. Petersburg

Mangia: healthy lunch option in Gulfport. Good salads, lots of vegetarian options, dog-friendly patio. It is our go-to lunch pick because it’s close to home and we never feel gross after eating here. This can be sort of a french fries and cole slaw town, and after a while those just don’t count as vegetables. Mangia is our solution.

Locale Market: This place is basically a gourmet food-court/grocery store combo. My suspicion is 95% of their patrons are there for the prepared food and the groceries are mostly for decoration. It is very hip, and very confusing and almost impossible to actually buy something. Still, we went a bunch. High quality meats and seafood. Also, it’s right next to the movie theater.

Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish: Weird roadside fish stand, very close to Gulfport. Apparently, it’s a Florida tradition. They basically have platters of smoked fish, german potato salad, and beer. You should have lunch here.

Fort DeSoto State Park: Huge state park with an amazing dog beach. They have very nice human beaches, too. And an interesting fort. But really, it’s like dog paradise. In addition to the dedicated dog beach, there are couple of enormous, fenced dog parks with dog showers. Love it.

 

We had a lot of fun. Thanks Mom and Dad!

*Sorry for the long post. Turns out we probably should have posted as went. The youth are trying to sell us on using Instagram. We’re considering it.

 

Squatter-Proofing

No one will be shocked to hear the Winnebago’s still not ready, right? Truthfully, we’ve almost forgotten about Coachese. It seems like we’ve been in Florida forever. There’s a lot of great stuff going on here, so we’re not complaining. But, sadly, our much anticipated, genre-defining guide to Gulfport is not quite ready yet because, well, we’re still here working on it.

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Coachese, who?

 

As you may know, we’ve been away from our island paradise for more than seven months. We didn’t plan to be gone for that long and were starting to get the feeling maybe things weren’t going so well at our house in St. John. We came to this conclusion because we are thoughtful, intuitive people with loads of good, common sense. Also, we were getting distressing texts from our island neighbors. So, last week, we left the pups here in Florida with my parents and flew down to STJ to check on things. We were not optimistic.

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Donkey poop. We hope.

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Grill down.

Things degrade quickly in the tropics. And seven months is a long time. But, I have to say, things could definitely have been worse. Apparently, the drought is over so everything was pretty overgrown. It also looked like someone had been squatting in our shack. But the main house (although covered in dust and lizard poop) was pretty much OK. We’d had the pool recently drained after we heard it turned green when the power got shut off. We didn’t bother refilling it. I think not having a pool will make the place less attractive to squatters. I mean, people have standards, no?

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Jennifer, armed and dangerous, tackles the yard.

So we spent a few days cleaning up, sorting out the power situation (in person, because nothing ever happens if you just call in-trust me on this), cutting back weeds, hiring a property management company to keep the place secured, trying to find contractors (which is harder than you’d think-more on that later) and putting big padlocks on everything. We also took this opportunity to transport even more IKEA furniture. If you live on a small island your luggage gets pretty sketchy, pretty quickly. Who gives a shit  about underwear? We checked six chairs, a bench, and an outdoor table that seats four. For free. Not even kidding. We’ve accumulated like 90% of our furniture this way. Which is less impressive than it sounds if you saw how much furniture we actually have.

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Luxury luggage. Classy.

 

The reality is our house in STJ is still very much a work in progress. Or a disaster zone, depending on your mindset. The Winnebago’s interior is way nicer than our house right now. Zero  exaggeration, friends. But it is an amazing place and we absolutely love it. Yes, there are squatters, and droughts, and donkey poop, and ridiculous obstacles to accomplishing basic things. But there’s also so much beauty and so little marketing and crazy stuff just happens all the time. I mean, while we were gone our friend Hugo, a huge Wembley fan, somehow planted all these orchids on our trees so we’ll eventually have an orchid alley leading to our house. Who does that? That’s wonderful. I mean, probably our negligence and general irresponsibility shouldn’t be rewarded, but fuck it, we’ll take it. Thank you!

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Orchids for Wembley!

 

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Thanks Hugo!

 

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The Real Cost of a Vintage RV

We’ve been in Gulfport, Florida for about two weeks waiting on the all-clear to pick up our 1974 Winnebago Brave, Coachese, in St. Louis. We still haven’t figured out what to do next, but we’re having a good time in the sunshine state and we’ll definitely post the highlights soon. This morning, as I was sitting in my parents’ house at age 41, I decided to do a little digging into the financial aspect of this trip. Not a very encouraging thing to do but who are we to shy away from reality, right? So here go some figures to ponder which will hopefully make you feel better about any possibly shady decisions you’ve ever made in your life:

 

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Disclaimer: I’m not a mathemagician and these might not be the world’s most well-researched numbers, but they are for sure in the ballpark. Sadly.

Enjoy your day.