Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

Bella Ciao, Anguilla

It is time.

Inertia is easy. Change is hard. This is very hard.

This is the longest I have called anyplace home in my entire adult life. April 18, 2001 seems like a lifetime ago and like only yesterday at the same time. Today we leave Anguilla after 20 years 109 days.

So Whaddididoallthosedays?

Everything and nothing. There were a billion frustrations. And hopefully a greater number of joys. There was even terror (yes, I am looking at you Irma and Covid.) There were lots of those beach walks that I thought would fill my every day until regular life intruded on my time and bad backs and bad knees made walking on sloping sand a tad less enjoyable. But there was always the house and the view and the weather to make it all worthwhile.

And the full moon light on the Caribbean Sea. That was heaven touching earth every single time.

At the end of the day, though, the thing that I will miss the most will not be the sand or the beach. It will be the people. I will miss the friends we made here. The kinship.

When we first moved here and people asked what it was like living on a tiny island, I always said that it was a bit like living in high school…not always in a good way. Small, clique-y. With everyone knowing you and your business. But it was also like being in school in that it was easy to make friends based on the shared experience.

The easy connection with people on island was surprising especially to a couple of generally anti-social individuals like us. But in retrospect it shouldn’t have been. When we first moved here and met multiple people who came here single and found their soulmates, I marveled. How was that even possible? On an island with a total population of, say, 12,000 back then? How many of those folks are in your target demographic? Of those, how many are single and looking for someone like you? That elimination process alone would leave you with maybe, what? 200 possible matches? If I randomly picked 200 people from JFK airport or all of Miami, what would be the odds of finding THE one in that group? And yet, it happened time and again. In fact, for one woman I met just recently, it happened TWICE.

Over the years, however, I have come to realize that the mere fact that a person comes here, to a tiny desert island in the middle of nowhere naturally selects for a certain kind of person. I would say that people who move here tend to be out-going, hard-working, risk-takers who are open to and even embrace change. If they stay, they have to possess a hefty amount of adaptability, patience and good humor. So friendships here don’t just grow out of the shared experience of being here, but they are all rooted in a lot of common, compatible personality traits.

In our days here, we have made friends, good friends, with people from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds who we would never have met had our lives stayed on that comfy, suburban, California cul-de-sac. Each and every one of them has contributed to the experience of living here by making it fuller, more interesting, more enjoyable and really just ‘more’ than stunning water and fine, white sand would have been. To all of them I am eternally grateful. I will miss them most.

In parting, here is a picture of the tile that Michael hand-painted and hung next to our front door those many days ago. We will leave it for the new owner, but I have amended the image here. We are so lucky.

Packing

Last week and this week and potentially the week after that….what I am/will be doing all day is packing.

About two weeks ago we received an inquiry by phone on behalf of someone who saw the house earlier this year. They made a verbal offer. That would not normally cause a frenzy of activity because if a foreigner buys property here, they have to apply for and be approved for an Alien Land Holding License. That process can take months. However, this buyer is Anguillian. That means we are just a couple of Anguillians transferring property to another Anguillian.  According to the Purchase/Sale Agreement the closing has to occur no later than August 6th.

The buyer arrived on island on July 1st. And at 11:30A on July 2nd we signed the Sale/Purchase agreement. We are only waiting on the bank approval. As soon as that comes through for her, we would prefer to close as quickly as possible. We are very ready to get back to the States and see friends and family that we haven’t seen in forever. Plus the longer we delay the greater the risk of an adverse event such as (1) a tropical storm or (B) another COVID outbreak/lockdown.

Meanwhile, we have been making the rounds every day salvaging boxes from various retail establishments. There is no convenient container store-type source of packing boxes. So we have little ones and big ones and flimsy ones and sturdier ones. And we have to keep track of every box that we pack with a number and contents for both Anguilla (yes apparently we need to ‘clear’ our belonging to leave the island) and US Customs. We will have to get special clearance and pay three different duties and excise taxes (State and Federal) on the wine and liquor we import into the US. (though there will be no duty on the California wines because they were made in the US – duh – nobody goes abroad and then brings back domestic wines!) The cars need to be sold. The business needs to be shut down. And on and on and on.

So, as has always been the case in our twenty years on this island, we are doing everything you would be doing to pack up and move all of your earthly possessions after accumulating more and more and more over those two decades….the packing, the sorting, the tossing, the donating….and then some. Always the “and then some” part added to the process here.

And then yesterday we threw in some cleaning and ended up hosting a bit of a party. The buyer emailed in the morning to ask if she could bring a couple of family members and friends by to show them the property. Since the house looked a bit like 5 or 6 bombs had gone off, I spent a couple of hours tidying it up and tossed some (French ‘dutiable” ) wine in the fridge. Mid-afternoon she alerted us to the fact that a few folks might have turned into a bit of a parade as everyone wanted to see it…..and she, like all Anguillians, has a lot of cousins.

What might have seemed like an imposition turned into a blessing. She clearly loves the property with that teary-eyed joy at the thought of owning this house and this view…..just like we always did in those early days of wonderment when we would whisper to each other, “Can you believe we live here?” (I still walk around and think, “I love this house” almost every single day. ) Her friends and family spread out all over the house and the veranda and the deck. And laughed and talked like hasn’t happened here in a long time. They were all lovely and enthusiastic and thrilled for her and thanked us for building the house and for creating the home and for passing it on to her.

So that now as I write this my heart is both melancholy and cheerful at the same time. There is always sadness in leaving something but the one thing that can offset that is knowing that the next person will love it as much as you.

 

Where’s Waldo?

Here we are nearly five months into lockdown, and you might have thought you would hear more from me what with having next to nothing to do but write. However, fiction is not my forte. So without anything happening, there is nothing to write about.

Granted, with our very blessed COVID free status here in Anguilla, I did transition back into saving little dog and cat lives (or more accurately treating their minor ailments). We have been out to eat a few times. We have had a couple of distanced dinner parties on our veranda. And we saw the comet and some meteors. All things that my northern friends would likely be happy to be able to do without worry.  But it has really been pretty quiet down here. And we would very much like to keep it that way in spite of our Government’s recent desire to start opening the island in the midst of what threatens to be a VERY, I mean HISTORICALLY VERY, active peak hurricane season. (Fingers crossed nothing this way comes.)

My current malaise and inertia right now stem mostly from Newton’s Laws of Motion – The first of which states, “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

That’s me. A body at rest. And now a body at rest for so long that it takes a very significant external force to move me. I may grow roots. It remains to be seen.
That’s why last week I found myself looking forward to witnessing lilies opening. Yup. Like watching paint dry but for one brief dynamic second at the end. This is the time of year that Michael and I actually get into our pool. Usually we are not hot enough to warrant getting wet. But August to October, that area of the veranda that is otherwise an architectural water feature earns its keep. At least once a day in the evening, we get in and hang over the infinity edge and contemplate life.Last week the lilies were blooming just on the other side of the overflow. We could watch the petals start to separate, space developing between them, the little orange anthers starting to peek out at the top, and then “sproing” the flowers would open. Not exactly gripping theatre but something to do nonetheless.Now those lilies are taking a break so it is back to staring at the sea. But last night something new caught my attention.  I saw a flash of bright green in a mass of bright green and magenta in one of the bougainvillea. Very hard to distinguish between the plant and the “other”…

But I was dedicated to the task of capturing an image. At least AFTER I (as an external force) convinced Michael to break his inertia to get out of the pool to go get my glasses and the camera.
It should be noted that I am not the photographer in our partnership. And hanging over the infinity edge on my tiptoes with a still healing torn rotator cuff hooked over the side balancing the camera trying to zoom and focus into all that mass and depth of foliage was no small feat. (Self-congratulatory pats on my back with my good arm, thank you.) But smack dab in the middle of that picture, just behind that one 2/3 circle of a tiny dead branch at about 2 o’clock from that center magenta flower was this:Can you see anything yet?  Ok, wait, Mr. DeMille, he’s ready for his close-up.My new COVID friend, Waldo, the baby iguana.

Alone Again

As of noon today, I will have personally been sheltering in place for four weeks. I trust you are all now doing the same so you know the drill.

Obviously, we are supremely fortunate in our version of quarantine. While we do not have the convenience of grocery delivery and Amazon, we do have too much house. Plenty of fresh air. Beautiful blue skies. A lovely sea view. Comfortable swimming pool. And the opportunity to go walking on a beach if our bad backs allow. This island has even managed, so far, to limit our cases of Covid-19 to 3– fingers crossed.

If not for the surrounding miasma (sorry I love that word) of stress, life here would be its usual nirvana. But there is stress, of course. And plenty of it. And for me, at least, the deja vu nature of this experience has turned out to be most profound. At first blush, any comparison to being decimated by Hurricane Irma might seem forced, but not in my mind. There are differences, to be sure. But there are far more similarities.

As far as I can tell, the biggest difference is just that this time it isn’t only us. After Irma, there was comfort (if also jealousy) in knowing that most of the rest of the world was going on just the same without us. Not so this time. And there is absolutely no comfort at all in knowing that the entire world is in this particular crisis together.

On the other hand, much is the same. In both circumstances there was the dreadful fear of the arrival of the enemy. For Irma that involved a few very high-intensity days of meteorological tracking. For Covid it was and actually continues to be an unsettled, uncertain, anticipation….like waiting for a Jack-in-the-Box to spring. This time the fear waxes and wanes but never really goes completely away. Some day I know I will meet Covid. I just don’t want it to be now.

In both cases, there was the panic of the sudden isolation. And I am not talking about the staying home part. That came later. I am talking about being cut off from the rest of the world. Acutely and traumatically by Irma vs. purposely as the ports were defensively closed against Covid. Nevertheless, the panic was in the not knowing what that would mean. Would food and supplies arrive? What if we got sick? Or “just” injured? And we couldn’t get away? In both cases, there was even a bit of the Miss Saigon last plane out situation as folks chartered planes after Irma and when the U.S. State Department arranged repatriation flights out after everything was closed here because of Covid. Should we stay or should we go? Always the question. Never a clear answer. But in both cases, we stayed.

After Irma, there was the shock and awe at the devastation and then the long slog through recovery and back to normal. In the midst of Covid, there is only the slog – endless hours filled with yard work and housework. Plenty of things that one could be doing but nothing that is particularly urgent. One day being just like another with no end in sight. There is only today. And tomorrow and the next day. No planning for anything else because how could we then? How can we now?

We were/are personally isolated. After Irma isolated from everyone outside of Anguilla. Oddly those people are now the easier ones to connect with….in the distanced ways that we always have (thanks to still having electricity in this tragedy). We can still call and email and now even Zoom. In those relationships, not much has changed…except maybe that we reach out more in this shared experience.

On the other hand, in this Covid reality, we are far more isolated from everyone else on this little 14 mile-long island. That is somehow even more unnerving. We have no near, let alone immediate, neighbors. Nobody. Nada. Nothing. We can’t even see any of our friends’ houses from the tippy top of our roof. We certainly aren’t close enough to throw a rock or a song or even a driveway cocktail party their way.

After Irma, the world was completely dark. I will always remember the one red beacon light shining on the top of St. Maarten to the south while everything else was black. Now, with Covid, a tree could fall in my virtual forest and nobody else would be anywhere near enough to hear it.     Yes, Irma and Covid are very, very similar in my mind.    Be safe.    Be well.    Until we meet again.

Peas Porridge, Where?

Next month we will make 18 years living here in Anguilla.

We learned our way around this tiny rock back when almost no streets had names and even the ones that did certainly didn’t have signs telling you what they were. The second time we drove to our property we remembered (miraculously) to turn left off of the road to Blowing Point Ferry at the mutli-colored garbage bin and right past the goat hill ( a pile of rocks under a now Irma-toppled Neem tree) to as far as a car could safely travel and then daringly further still on a path mostly walked by those same goats.

Over time we settled into a routine like most folks have in their lives. This is the way to the grocery store. This is the way to the beach. This is the way to our friends’ houses. No reason to venture off of those well-traveled routes. Come and go. Task-oriented and not at all adventurous.

Then five years ago I started practicing on island and caring for my patients took me to parts of the island that I had never had reason to visit before. Obviously I have become accustomed to receiving directions that start at some mutually recognized marker (a business, a friend’s house, a cell tower) and then proceed from there with turns at colored walls or beat up, abandoned vehicles or onto a surprisingly well-paved road in the middle of nowhere. But still the contacts and accounting programs on my computer are stubbornly resistant to allowing me to enter such nonsense into the address fields of their data files.

We are not without technological aids, however. You can enter the name of my house or my practice into Google Maps and it will show you where I am and give you directions – even if it just says turn left, turn right, unnamed road. At least it gets you there with an accurate line drawn from point A to point B.

But even so….after all this time…..I can still be thoroughly stumped. This morning, for instance, another technological marvel, Facebook, alerted me to the availability, for a limited time only, of healthy porridges for sale today. Here is a copy of the post…see if you could find the location

Let’s see what do we have to go on?

South Hill is not a street. It is a village of many streets. That narrows it down but not too much.

I assume TR. refers to a teacher. Who apparently lives across the street from another teacher. No help at all to the childless.I don’t know a Daphne. I do know a Winifred but not that Winifred. So, not hot, not cold, not nine days old, no porridge for me, today.

 

How Cold Was It?

After all of these years living in Anguilla ( as we say in the islands, “I make 17 next month”), I am completely incapable of conjuring up any sense of cold temperatures anymore…..not unless you count crawling out from under blankets in the morning to stare in awe at The fact that the thermometer reads 70 degrees. This deficiency is not a functional hardship at home, but it makes packing to leave island a real crapshoot. And sadly one at which I fail miserably time and time and time again.

I say this because as I write this I am huddled up in a ball wearing a Jean skirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a cardigan sweater and socks with my pashmina wrapped around my legs like a blanket FREEZING on an American Airlines flight out of San Juan. We are ultimately headed to Las Vegas and Denver; and now hours still away from Charlotte, I already know deep in my cold, old bones that I have not packed appropriately.

I can pull out the easy, go-to excuse for this: we just don’t have the right clothes anymore. And that would, in large part, be true. I have a couple dusty pairs of jeans. And a few lightweight sweaters. But even the cardigan I am wearing now is a fashionable, loosely-crocheted, airy number. These are all items I might wear on one of those rare, brisk, 70 degree nights in Anguilla. I honestly do not own a single thing made of wool! Certainly nothing downy or gortex-y. In fact, my only “coat” is a very weathered,(Sonya when did Michael buy that for me when you and Illinois were in SF during a road show of some sort?) short, leather jacket that wouldn’t keep a cow warm anymore.

What good are these things going to do me in Denver in winter? Because yes, my friends, apparently it is still WINTER. Damn you, four season climates! We completely forget. Even as our English friends delight in visiting us during this recent polar vortex cold snap that hit across the pond. Even as we see the reports of a snow storm in New England. We completely forget. We put it out of our minds. Not that winter exists but what exists during winter.

And that is because cold has become an abstract concept to us. How cold is 60 degrees? How cold is 40 degrees? You may as well ask how cold is -100? How far away is the moon? Or why, why, why did I not at least pack a pair of freakin’ tights instead of tossing in that cute, little, flirty, red dress I bought in Dinan, France?

So really the question should be, How dumb was she?

Relativity

First, I know. It has been ages since I have posted on this site. Life interfered. Irma destroyed the island. I could give you lots of excuses, but they would be just that: excuses not reasons. In reality, I just lost touch. But today brought it all back again.

Especially because this is winter. And we endeavor to try to remember that the world is not Anguilla. That we have friends up north who are out in the cold and dark scraping ice from their windshields and stomping snow and slush from their shoes watching their breath turn to mist in front of their sad, red, frozen faces.

Meanwhile, here in tropical paradise, Michael wanted to introduce me to his newest discovery – the best meat patties on island. We planned on going in to the Valley on errands early anyway. So we headed in for 8AM stopping first for sustenance. No sooner had we stepped foot out of the car but the woman at the little restaurant came out to meet us on the street.

“I suppose you are here for patties,” she said.

“Indeed, we are,” we replied.

“Sorry, but they aren’t ready yet. We got a late start this morning,” she announced.

Our disappointment must have shown because then she went on to offer an explanation.

“It was just sooooooo cold this morning. We couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed.”

Now, this might make sense if it weren’t for the fact that the low temperature last night in Anguilla was 73.1 degrees.

Ok, then, at least it was funny and good for a laugh.

In fact, I did laugh. And I tried to convince Michael to overcome his disappointment and frustration and to admit that he thought it was funny, too.

But, in his defense, he had a good point.

It would  be funny if this was a quaint and isolated incident on this charming, little island.

Unfortunately, our lives are chockablock full, every day, of similar little disappointments and frustrations.

And the laughing gets harder and harder.

And that is probably the real reason I haven’t written in a while.

Perhaps, I will see if I can rediscover the humor.

 

What are the odds?

First of all our thoughts go out to all of those individuals and families most impacted by the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. During hurricane season Michael always takes comfort in pointing out that Anguilla is a teeny, tiny island in a very big ocean so that the odds of a hurricane hitting us are very slim. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been struck time and time and time again how connected we really are to so many other places in the world.

First, my good friend, Dianne Norris, sold her home here after 30+ years and moved back to California. This got me thinking about the friends that I have made on this island – people that I would never, ever have met if I had stayed in my suburban life in northern California. In all fairness, some of that would have been my own fault. Back then when Michael and I weren’t working, we were hanging out together – just the two of us. We didn’t hang with our neighbors. We didn’t hang with our coworkers. We didn’t socialize much at all.

Here in Anguilla, however, pretty much the only leisure pastimes that exist are quiet walks on the beach or dinner parties (either at restaurants or at home). The former you can do alone. For the latter it rather helps to be friends with some other people. (When Michael and I eat hotdogs and French fries at home alone it doesn’t really count as a dinner party even if we do pop open a nice merlot.) So now we have a diverse group of friends not only from all over the United States but from all over the world. In addition to enjoying time with them here in the islands, we have visited them in far off places and they have encouraged us to visits still other exotic locations (with and without them).

Which brings me to the second reason I was thinking of how truly amazing my current circle of friends really is….especially in light of the fact that I met them all on a 35 square mile island. Here we are leaving on a one month vacation through Eastern Europe followed by a few nights in northern Norway to hopefully, successfully chase after the Northern Lights, and without any particular effort whatsoever , I have connected with friends who are right now in Austria, other friends from Germany giving more tips on Austria, a brother of a friend living in Prague, and a friend of a friend from little Tromso, Norway.

In fact, Michael was picking up our car at the garage the other day and got to talking to an Indian fellow from Kerala (we have been there) who lived for years in, of all places, Tromso, Norway. What are the odds of that? Well, apparently, mercifully, far greater than for being hit by a hurricane. (Knock wood)

Age Is Not a Disease

Granted, sometimes it feels that way. When my left thumb joint aches from holding pots and pans while my right hand scrubs them. When the first few steps out of bed in the morning are on shuffling, surprisingly stiff feet. When I can’t avoid a glimpse of my sadly lax skin. However cliché it is to say it, though, my age is just a number. It is certainly not a diagnosis.

Medically speaking, age is part of what we call the patient’s signalment. It is a descriptive term. In people that means the patient’s age, sex and race. In veterinary medicine: age, sex, breed and species. We start with the signalment because right away that begins to narrow our focus. For instance, once you know you are dealing with a female, prostate cancer is off the table. No reason to even entertain the possibility. A Doberman isn’t going to have Feline Leukemia but probably has some degree of heart muscle disease. A 12-year old dog with vomiting and a palpable mass in his abdomen is more likely to have cancer while a puppy with those same symptoms and findings is more likely to have eaten a rock.

To illustrate: I will always remember a case in my early years of practice. I was called up to the lobby to triage an emergency because all of the examination rooms were already occupied. The owner was frantically cradling a cat all wrapped up in a towel. What seems to be the problem? All of a sudden he can’t move his back legs. OK, I said. Trauma it is. Let me take him to the treatment area. He was probably hit by a car. The owner protested. Absolutely not, he is 14 years old and never goes outside. Ok, then. Heart disease and a blood clot to his legs. A quick 180 degree turn and I was off and running again. That is why medical professionals are encouraged to obtain the signalment and medical history BEFORE making their diagnosis. Not my finest professional moment, but I think you see my point.

And getting back to that point, age is a starting place. It should not be the final conclusion. Yet I find people using age that way here in the islands. From other medical professionals asking me, “Do you really want to put an old dog through that?” (whether ‘that’ is surgery or a simple blood test) To owners debating, “Is it really worth doing – fill in the blank – at her age?” To the casual conversation with someone on the street discussing their sick pet and concluding with “Well, my wife says he’s just old.” (And here pets can be considered old at the ripe age of 7.) I honestly don’t remember this being the case in my previous practice life in the States. Of course, in all fairness that was 15 years ago. I am older myself now so it might be that (1) I am more sensitive to the inherent gravity (pun intended) of aging and/or (b) I am losing my memory. Nevertheless it bears repeating.

Age is not a disease.

Furthermore, age is absolutely not a death sentence. Contrary to popular opinion, nobody ever actually dies of old age. Something else happens. At the very least, their heart stops beating. Even dying of natural causes is the manner of death (as in not a homicide, for instance), but there still has to be a cause. Aging simply shifts the diagnostic focus. Again, it makes certain diseases less likely and makes others more likely; and, as ridiculously frustrating as it may be, as we age there are more diagnoses that don’t have ‘cures’ but only the hope of management and mitigation.

Let’s face it, as the years go by most everything gets harder…. scrubbing my pots and simply living another day included. But age is not, in and of itself, reason not to look or to treat or to try. One might find plenty of other such reasons, but age is not one of them. And as I am lucky enough to get older and older and hopefully older, I personally take comfort in that. Consider that I have been with Michael through lots of doctors’ visits and even two weeks of serious illness in a hospital in New York. Doctors recommended myriad numbers of tests, a few surgeries and prescribed beaucoup different medications, and never once did I take one of those physicians aside and not-so-subtly suggest, “yeah, well, but he is pretty old……..” I’m just saying.Birthday cake

 

Summertime

OK. So it’s summer now. We just enjoyed the longest day of the year. It’s not that much of a variation over the shortest day of the year here near the equator, but one of my brothers lives near Chicago. His defeatist email response to that milestone was to note that he is now ‘on the long, inevitable slog to winter.’ I think he was being sarcastic. I mean, he must have been. After all, my northern friends always tell me that they simply LOVE living where they can enjoy all four seasons. (I could say the same thing too but I would be talking about the hospitality chain.)

Of course, everything is relative. (not just one’s relatives) And nothing is more so than one’s comfort level when it comes to temperature. If this were not true, there wouldn’t be a market for thermostat guards that urge you to: ‘protect your thermostat from undesirable environmental conditions and unauthorized personnel’. The Wall Street Journal even published an article earlier this month entitled “Let the Office Thermostat Wars Begin” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/let-the-office-thermostat-wars-begin-1465319614 ) claiming that “No workplace dispute is as divisive as where to set the office thermostat.’

Some people just run hot while other people run cold. Add in acclimation to your environment and you end up with my Chicago brother happily running around in shorts and shirt sleeves when the mercury crawls up to 50 degrees while I am searching for a sweater if the thermometer drops below 70. You would think, though, that here in the relatively unchanging environment of the tropics, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, average monthly temperatures don’t vary that much here with highs and lows running between 80/70 degrees in the ‘winter’ time and 90/80 degrees in the ‘summer’. It never hits 60. It never hits 100. (Hello, Phoenix!)

Yet, just the other day I was talking to an Anguillian who commented that one of my friend’s dogs didn’t seem to be as stiff in his sad, little, cartilage-challenged, hind legs. I didn’t see the difference myself. But he was adamant. It’s the weather he said. The weather? Sure, the dog’s joints are less stiff because it’s summer time. In the winter when it is cold, he can tell that the dog is more painful and uncomfortable. And he knows this because his own joints bother him more in the winter. In the winter? Here? In Anguilla? (See average temperatures listed in the above paragraph…) Here? At 18 degrees north of the equator?

It makes me wonder if he has a space heater stashed away at home to get him through those cold, tropical, winter nights. If so, I am pretty sure his wife battles with him over where to set the thermostat!

Enjoy the season.