Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

July, 2011:

Hurricane, hurricane, go away!

For all of our usual praying for weather in the form of rain, today I am glued to the internet hoping for the opposite. A low pressure system is going to become a tropical depression today and has now been given a 100% chance of becoming Tropical Cyclone Emily in the next 24 to 48 hours. A 100% chance seems rather certain. 

It is located southeast of here and is traveling northwest. The question will be how north vs. how west and how quickly. It will likely pass by however near or far tomorrow. Computer models abound on numerous sites mostly tracking south of here but one never knows. Michael is hanging with friends in San Diego and is due to fly on a red-eye to JFK tonight and on to St. Maarten tomorrow morning. Then there is that ferry ride across the water to get home. If the storm passes far enough away, it will be dead calm here as all of the weather is sucked into the storm. If it passes close enough, it will bring rains. And if it passes really close….. 

Meanwhile, to paraphrase Hamlet: to batten or not to batten, that is the question. It is unlikely that it will develop quickly enough to be a significant hurricane when it passes by, but there are no guarantees. Without Michael here, of course, it falls on me to start at least securing outdoor items like chaise lounges and umbrellas and saw horses. (I’ve been bugging him to put those horses away for weeks so look who has to do it now? He can be so devious sometimes.) 

The catch here is that all the while that I am moving things around and storing stuff away, I will be hoping that all of my effort is for naught. There’s a catch-22 for you – hoping that you are wasting your time. The way around that is to realize that this all needs to be done anyway. It is hurricane season until December, and we don’t need six chaise lounges sitting out by the pool. We don’t need any at all in as much as we never sun bathe. Tools left lying about should have been put away. All non-essential items should be stored. 

So that will be my day today: secure outdoors, check the internet, secure outdoors, check the internet. Oh, but don’t ask about that iron, spiral staircase that is erected but not completely secured outside my guest room window. Remember that? No, he never did come back to finish it. Maybe I will put down just that one storm shutter after all. Even if I get lucky and don’t have to protect myself against Hurricane Emily, I probably should be prepared to protect myself against good, old Welder Donald.

Tracking Turtle Tracks

There’s a sea turtle that keeps trying to lay her eggs on our little beach. I’ve never seen her. I’ve only seen her tracks in the sand. I keep trying to see her. And she keeps trying to lay her eggs.

Unfortunately, our beach is not very big. It’s long enough, I imagine. But it’s not very wide (ocean to cliff) so that there really isn’t that much of a safe-for-egg-laying zone above the high tide for a nest.  As I understand these things, though, I assume this turtle (or these turtles since I have no idea if it is one or many coming up on the beach periodically) was born on this beach. If it takes many, many years for turtles to reach sexual maturity, then either this beach is sufficient for nesting or it was a very different beach back in the days of her birth.

In 1995, Anguilla was hit with its first hurricane in decades. Luis was a Category 4 storm when it passed over the island. Apparently, he gathered together a big pile of pieces of dead coral and created a little island that sits off of our beach.  Since I never saw the property before that time, I have no idea what impact that coral pile has had on the shape and size of our beach.  It has either worked to preserve the beach or obstructs the return of sand to this area resulting in a lesser beach than before.

Nevertheless, the turtle keeps coming. I can’t honestly say how often since I don’t go down to check the beach every day. I only know that I have seen tracks there in the spring and in the summer – like I did this week. She always comes up on land on the east end of the beach, so the tracks are not always evident from my perch on the rocks on the western edge of the sand. The other evening, though, I was down looking for the eagle ray, Johnson, that I’ve mentioned before and thought I saw something on the sand. Closer inspection revealed one arcing turtle track coming up on the far side of the beach, going up behind three lounge chairs that a neighbor left on the beach and then back into the water to the west.

There was no evidence of a nest – just the track. Not knowing if the lounge chairs had upset her or if she would try again, I picked the chairs up, stacked them against the rocks, and smoothed out the sand with my feet so I’d be able to tell if she returned.  At 8PM that night, I gathered together a couple of flashlights and a camera and walked down to the beach in the pitch dark to see if she might be there. Michael was off island, so it was just me and the sea. A little creepy and I wasn’t really sure how high I’d jump if I actually stumbled upon a sea turtle. But she wasn’t there then or at 10P when I went back down again.

First thing the next morning I went down to see. Sure enough, turtle tracks straight up from the sea across where the lounge chairs had been. They went right up to the bushes and back down. There wasn’t any gross evidence of a nest but I can’t go digging around right away to check because the eggs have to kind of set up and then you can’t go flipping them over they have to stay in the original orientation to develop. So I’ll wait until Michael comes back and then maybe check.  For now I just smoothed out the sand (having brought a rake along this time to make it easier.) That night, I went down again, stacked up the stupid, lounge chairs and made my flashlight forays again at 8P and 10P. No turtle then and no tracks in the morning. And none again today either.

I do have a theory, however. I’ve been doing some research; and based on the beach conditions and the tracks, I’m going to guess this is a hawksbill turtle. If so, she may well be back again in 2 weeks and this time, I’ll be waiting.

What else do I have to do all day (or night)?

I can see clearly now.

This morning I washed the windows. In general, I actually enjoy washing windows. As odd as that may sound, I always have. It’s one of those mindless tasks that gives me the reward of instant gratification and positive reinforcement. In fact, I’d have to check with the Guinness folks but I may be the only person in history who ever washed her own dorm room window in college. Michael doesn’t get it at all. He cannot understand my penchant for clean sparkling windows. (I, on the other hand, marvel at how he can see anything through his dirty eyeglass lenses.) Nevertheless, he still gets to benefit from my labors.

So, in and of itself, washing windows isn’t a big deal, however, we have approximately 620 square feet of window panes (times two sides). Furthermore, because we live on the sea with brine in the air, I shouldn’t wash my windows just a couple of times a year. I should wash them at least every month! I have plenty of friends on island who have wide open beach houses with no windows and no screens (just shutters and louvered doors and such) who count their blessings that they don’t have to clean windows and screens. On the other hand, whenever I wash my windows I can’t help but count my blessings that all the dirt and salt that is on the windows didn’t just blow right into my house and settle onto my furniture and all of my other stuff. There’s always another way to see things.

Anyway, the windows are clean – today. A few weeks ago I even performed maintenance on all the mechanisms. We had the windows made in Florida because we wanted low maintenance all-vinyl frames, corrosion-resistant hardware and hurricane glass (double pane laminated glass like a car windshield). On the ocean side of the house there are large fixed panes of glass bordered on both sides by large turn-tilt windows. Within six months of moving into the house there was already significant corrosion and rust on the mechanisms. I was shocked and told the manufacturer so when I emailed them images of the deteriorating hardware. Their answer: “Oh, well, you must leave your windows open.” I was dumbfounded. If I wasn’t going to open the windows, I would have just put in all fixed pane glass and saved myself the trouble. I mean, who doesn’t open their windows?

Apparently, lots of people in Florida where they air-condition and keeps their houses closed up the majority of the time. Here our house is always open thus exposing the corrosion-resistant hardware which is apparently NOT corrosion-impervious hardware. That means that once or twice a year I get out my little Dremel tool and a slew of tiny wire brush attachments and I clean all the mechanisms and then recoat them with oily stuff to try to keep them from totally disintegrating. The first time I worked that magic, I noticed the next day that there were bunches of teeny rust spots on the floors and couldn’t figure out why. As it turns out the little wee pieces of the wire brushes broke off and landed on the floor and immediately oxidized. Now when I clean all the mechanisms I have to follow up with a thorough vacuuming of everything within five feet of the windows.

The corrosion of anything metal in our house is so prevalent that one of our fancy Tech pendant lights in the kitchen stopped working within nine months or so of moving in. Michael was on a business trip back to California so he took it back to the lighting store where we bought it. As luck would have it, the Tech lighting representative was in the store. He took one look at the fixture and told Michael, “Man, don’t you know that these aren’t made for outdoor use?” Outdoors? That light hangs in the absolutely most leeward part of our house as far from the sea as you can get in this house.

Imagine if we didn’t have windows and screens!

I Ate the Last Mango on Bastille Day

Granted that is a little poetic license in mixing up two different Jimmy Buffett songs, but it’s true. I ate the last mango off of our tree yesterday.  And I, who doesn’t have an ounce of French in my ancestry, know that it was Bastille Day because that’s one of the nights every year when I watch for the fireworks on the French side of St. Martin just across the channel. And the French love food and gardening so we’ll work our way back.

As I mentioned before, certain plants like loblolly and palm trees, oleanders and bougainvilleas, buttonwoods and sea grapes thrive here. Farming, however, is not that easy (ask those plantation owners that gave up and went home). It’s a shame really. When I was a young girl growing up in Pennsylvania, my mother always had a vegetable garden. Then as adults living in California, Michael and I grew vegetables, herbs, berries, cherries, plums and apples. It was easy. Good soil, abundantly available fertilizer and few pests. Oh sure, every now and then Michael would have to whack a disgusting tomato hornworm against the wall, but not so often as to take the fun out of gardening. We had such good production in our little raised bed gardens that we even took up canning. We made jams and chutneys, applesauce and apple pie filling and pickled green beans for bloody Mary’s. Heck, in California herbs grew like the weeds they are in the face of abject neglect. Easy peas-y.

Here we fight a perpetual battle against the salt and the pests. Even my hardy herbs are under constant attack from white flies or caterpillars. One day my mint is big and bushy and flourishing and the next day it is a lacy, shadow of its former self. Leaves on cucumbers or melons suddenly look like doilies on a stick. When plants do manage to bear fruit, the salt takes its toll. Just like sea grapes that have big seeds and thick skin but a teeny, tiny fruit layer, our tomatoes stay small and tough. We’ve had no luck at all with melons and are struggling now with some bok choy and radishes.

Apparently the antidote to the ruinous salt is pepper. Hot peppers grow extremely well, and peppery arugula prospers apparently pest-resistant and immune to the salt. But how much of that stuff can a person eat?

So I rely on my papaya trees to keep me happy. Just like bananas, though, they produce in spurts. For months, we have no papayas; but right now I am picking 6 or 7 every couple of days. Of course, I can’t eat that many papayas (though my French island cat, Morbier, LOVES them and comes running to devour her little, wee bowl full in the mornings). And while, coconut papaya muffins with a ginger lime cream cheese frosting are fabulous, and I CAN eat a lot of those, that’s not good for my waistline. I can, however, can papayas. I can make chutney, at least. So that’s what I’m doing today: canning chutney.

But only papaya. Sadly the Edward mango tree we planted turns out to be a notoriously poor producer. We only got one fruit to reach maturity this year so that last mango was the ONLY mango. But what a mango it was: sweet and soft and juicy and simply sublime. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

It’s Five o-clock Somewhere

We decided to have a spiral staircase installed so we can get up to the roof of the house more easily. (Long story. Why is not important though I guess cocktails on the roof at sunset might tie in with the title of this post.)

Ten weeks ago Michael commissioned the work and paid the guy half of the proposed cost.  Numerous unanswered phones calls and unproductive drive-bys later, Michael found him hanging out at the Chinese restaurant and then he became easier to locate. (I also learned some time ago that my pay-as-I-go cell phone isn’t identified by caller ID so that when someone is avoiding me, I use the cell to all them in order to trick them into answering. Ha! Momma didn’t raise no fool!)

Anyway, the staircase was going to be ready Tuesday then Thursday or Saturday or maybe Wednesday. You know this routine. Eventually he delivered it and laid it down in the driveway. Then it rained a little, the color of the sky was wrong. Whatever. We couldn’t get him to come back. Finally, Sunday morning he was due to arrive at 8AM (confirmed by both a phone call and a drive-by). At 8:30A, Michael called. He was on his way. At 9:30A Michael called again. He was on his way. Finally at 10A he showed up with a crew of guys to erect the thing.

What is the first thing they ask for? Beer. I told Michael, “No way!  When they are finished, maybe. But I am not going to get a bunch of guys drunk on a Sunday morning and then have them heft an iron staircase up next to my plate glass windows. Not gonna happen!” So my little moral victory was that I made Michael wait to give the guys their free beers until after the stairs were vertical, but rest assured that they got them.

They always do. Oh, they will bitch about the brand (what? You only got Heiniken? You ain’t got no Red Stripe), but they get them. And if they don’t drink alcohol, you better have calorie-laden, non-diet soda or iced tea or something handy in the pantry. Heck, my gardener calls in for his glass of ice water nearly every day when he comes by.

Now I will grant you that it is polite to keep the workers from falling prostrate from heat stroke or dehydration. But what about all of the other ‘stuff’ they always need? It’s bad enough that I’ve had workers ask me for buckets and ladders and drills. (what? You ain’t got a hammer drill? You only got this one?) But I’ve had Corian countertop installers ask ME if I have a 1-1/2 inch hole cutter. I’ve had tilers ask ME if I have a tile float. The electrician came just the other day to install our new pool pump and asked if WE had wire? I’m sorry, but shouldn’t the specialized workman have the specialized tools of his own trade? Wouldn’t that be just a little like you bringing your dog to me to be spayed, my saying sure, giving you a price and then asking YOU if you have a scalpel blade?

It does grow a little bit old and I do get a little bit snarky. Like last week. The phones were out. I had to call customer service on my other-provider’s cell phone. I pointed this out to the customer service rep at the outset explaining that I wanted to expedite the complaint process. I ran right through: name, rank, serial number. Just give me the fault report number and let me off the line. She kept putting me on hold and coming back and ultimately she asked me if I had another phone in the house. I said, “I have three phones. None of them work. Unplugging any of them doesn’t help (there was a short in one of the connections once so I wanted to nip that line of questioning in the bud).” No, that’s not what she meant. She wanted to know if I had another phone besides the three that were currently plugged in so that I could plug in a ‘fresh’ phone and see if it worked. I was shocked. “I’m sorry. Are you asking me if I own a fourth, backup phone? No, I do not. Please just put in the complaint.”

Seriously? A fourth phone? An extra one? Just sitting around waiting for the possibility of this situation? Are you kidding me? But you know what? Here’s a little secret….. I do have another phone. Just like I do have a 1-1/2” hole cutter and a tile float, and some electrical wire and sadly enough nearly every other obscure item workers have ever asked me for.  We just don’t necessarily have to tell them that. It’s bad enough I have to keep them in beer.

Meanwhile, that’s an idea. A beer. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Let them eat (coconut) cake.

Today, for the very first time, we cracked open a couple of our very own coconuts. Sure we live in the tropics and probably should have eaten fresh coconut before now, but it’s not like they just grow on trees or something. Well, actually they do but not right from the start. It takes at least five years before coconut palms start producing coconuts. That means that the biggest coconut palm we have has probably been producing coconuts for maybe three years.  So we’ve really only been ignoring our coconuts for about three years.      

It was actually the post on this blog about the variable growth rates of the three coconut palms out by our pool that got me thinking about the coconuts. There are so many coconuts on the biggest palm in that photo that I started thinking that maybe we should consider grating fresh coconut rather than buying five pound bags of shredded coconut in Asian markets in Kansas City while on business trips and then hauling them home in our luggage (see previous posts).

So  I set about doing internet research about how best to peel the surrounding fruit from off of the coconut (my options apparently are to use a spear or a pick ax – so a pick ax it is). Cracking the actual nut can be accomplished by holding it in one hand and whacking it around the middle with the back side of a meat cleaver or a machete. Luckily, we have one of each. If you crack it open over a bowl, you can catch the water inside and drink it. It tastes like really dilute coconut, but my gardener says it’s great mixed with vodka! Next you peel the meat of the coconut out of the shells with a flexible knife like a grapefruit knife. And we happen to have one of those, too. Then once you’ve got the chunks of coconut you can either find a traditional, coconut grating stool (I do not have one of those) or use a cheese grater, a microplane, a blender or a food processor.

So today we picked and peeled and cracked and grated two coconuts. It was really kind of fun. And it answered the question of why I haven’t been picking and peeling and cracking and grating coconuts every day of my life. It’s not because it’s that hard. It turns out it isn’t. I haven’t been picking and peeling and cracking and grating coconuts every day of my life because I don’t really care for coconut. I certainly don’t have any interest in just chewing on huge chunks of coconut. I’ve got to mix it with something else – preferably something sweet and/or chocolate. So that’s why  on one hand I don’t hesitate to haul out the apple picking pole to pull down ripe papayas at every turn but on the other hand I spent years walking past coconuts piled up on the ground and just left them there.

Today, however, I ended up with almost four cups of grated coconut. What to do? What to do?  Tonight we ate coconut shrimp and coconut Madeline cookies.  The problem is, I still have three cups of coconut left. So, tomorrow, I’m thinking coconut cake. And in the future, I’m predicting piles and piles of unused coconuts just sprouting on the ground.