My Blue Island

If we had more readers, this post might get me in trouble. But we don’t. So here goes.

If you live on a small island in the Caribbean there is a distinct chance that you have some sketchy neighbors. I don’t mean this in a bad way, and I am the first to admit that we are definitely someone else’s sketchy neighbors. What I mean is that living here you meet a lot of people who are…not quite linear. Most of the people we know here are super nice and friendly and we readily throw them into categories and think we know who they are. Like, oh yeah, Scott, he’s a boat guy. Or, oh yeah, the Snyders they’re great, they’re like old hippies. Or, Todd, not sure what his deal is but he seems really classy. They don’t spend much time talking about how they got here or what their story is, which I, for one, appreciate. It makes for an interesting vibe: unbelievably laid back while simultaneously maniacally guarded.

But the other day I started thinking about it. It started like this; somehow, we ended up hanging out with some neighbors of ours who have this amazing house of which I am often somewhat jealous. These are established people who have a finished house that has a name and who don’t sleep on a pullout couch. They’re adults. We went over for drinks, got the tour, went for some dinner, had a blast. Very neighborly. Thoroughly enjoyed myself. Got a glimpse into how the other half lives. Jennifer knows them a bit more than I do, so the next day I asked her what their story was. She said she wasn’t sure, but she thought someone else had mentioned he was in furniture.  Huh. Ok.

But, I mean, their furniture wasn’t really…noteworthy. And, like, when does he do this furniture-ing? I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s not furniture-ing anything here and he’s here like 60% of the time. Whatever. Maybe he secretly invented furniture, built a house here 20 years ago, and called it a day.

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Ok, this is not their house. This is Robin Masters’ estate from the hit tv series, Magnum, PI. But you get the idea.

And what about Scott the boat guy? Late forties. Always friendly. Always helpful. Always a little rumpled. A little sunburnt. Lives on a sailboat of some kind. Always see him at the grocery store, or the mail drop, or the bar. Seems to eat most of his meals out. Not flashy, but not starving. Doesn’t really seem like he has any visible means of support and I’m pretty sure he’s been here for years. I know approximately seventeen Scotts. Seriously. Just off the top of my head. Scott is almost the norm.

Finally, it dawned on me. This is the place where you would go if, say, you figured out how to swipe a big chunk of change from under the nose of the company you worked for and you ACTUALLY DID IT and didn’t get caught. Or, like, if you were a cop and you stumbled on a dead guy in a car with a trunk full of money and only the dead guy got turned in. I think when people do stuff like that, like, take the money and run….this is exactly the place they’d to run to. No passport required, not a lot of scrutiny, just a boat ride away from several other nations. Excellent weather.

I know, I know, I’m being dramatic. Probably you can tell I watch a lot of movies. So, when I had this realization the movie I immediately thought of was My Blue Heaven, starring one Mr. Steve Martin. In this gem of a film from 1990, Steve plays a mob informant from NYC who gets relocated to some All-American suburb courtesy of the Federal witness protection program (supervised by none other than Rick Moranis-you know, Honey I Shrunk the Kids?).  blueheavendvdAnyway, Steve Martin’s character is a zany fish-out-of-water in a very shiny suit. He struggles to adapt. Until…he realizes the old guy at the pet store is one of his old mob buddies who ALSO was relocated to this little slice of heaven. Eventually, he realizes the Feds have “hidden” so many people there that the idyllic suburb houses more criminals than Sing Sing. That might actually be a quote from the movie (which is fabulous, by the way. Embrace the dance sequences). Sorry, I digressed.

 

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Anyway, that’s how I’ve been feeling here on St. John recently. Like everyone has some crazy backstory I don’t know about. Hey listen, I know that most of my fellow island dwellers are not on the lam or in witness protection. I know this. They are just as boring as we are. But a girl can dream.

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. 

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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Adventure Limbo

We’ve heard there’s a lot of satisfaction in carefully planning an adventure, in taking the time to map out a route, buy the necessary supplies, and prepare for all contingencies. We know the excitement of the last minute decision to take off with its frantic packing and unknowable future. But right now our pre-travel state is neither of these. We’re in adventure limbo.

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Our home in St. John

Four months ago we left our home in beautiful St. John to come to Indianapolis to make money. After four months we’d planned to take a trip around the country in an RV. Then we’d leave the RV stateside when we went back to St. John so we’d always have a home and vehicle in the states. In the dreaming phase our trip around the country was purposefully vague-we’d see how much money we had and where it seemed good to go depending on the weather or people we needed to visit.

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Coachese in Florida

We bought an RV in Florida about two months ago. It’s a 19′ 1974 Winnebago Brave we’ve named Coachese. It was in pretty bad shape. It kinda ran and barely stopped. But it’s perfect for us! We love vintage vehicles, its small enough to fit in a parking spot, it has a bathroom, and its exactly as old as we are. So we left it in a shop in Florida for six weeks before it was safe enough to make the 1,000 mile journey to Indianapolis. We’ll write a separate post about the mechanical stuff but in short fixing Coachese was like playing with Russian nesting dolls, every time they worked on one problem another one was uncovered. Now its outside of Cincinnati awaiting a camper overhaul. Nothing fancy, just things like fixing the leaking windows and roof, getting the appliances and plumbing working, and checking the electrical system. You know, everything.

 

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Coachese dinette and toilet.

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Coachese kitchen and toilet.

We have eight days left in Indianapolis. We have no idea when Coachese will be ready. There are tons of things we need to do to get ready for our trip. We have no basic camping supplies, no sheets or towels, no sleeping bag, no pots, no pans, no flashlights. It’s crunch time, or is it? Welcome to the uncertainty of our lives. Stay tuned.