Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

Fix-it

Reconstructive Surgery

My island physician is a trained plastic surgeon who won’t give me a face lift. Lord knows I have begged. He remains firm (pardon the pun). His sage advice includes a recommendation to gain 5 pounds to fill out my wrinkles – as if that is EVEN an option – and admonitions about how ‘once you’ve had a face lift you always look like you had a face lift’ – duh, isn’t that the point?! – and ‘you have to look older first’ – as if that makes any sense at all. If I didn’t mind looking older I wouldn’t be asking about a face lift in the first place. Apparently, his particular medical school education included an ethics course but not a logic one.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I have become aware of another strong argument against reconstructive surgery. That being: where do you stop? Do your face and then your sagging neck looks not just worse but incongruous. Go ahead and do your neck too and then what about your arms? Your hands? Your stomach? Your knees? I fear that there is no way to create a smooth (again, with the puns, I crack me up) transition between the reworked areas and the ‘natural’ ones.

Sadly, I have not been blessed with this epiphany because I finally successfully cajoled myself an ill-advised brow lift. I realized this because Michael has started us down the apparently never-ending path of home improvement. It’s not that we ever fell into that trap of ‘deferred maintenance’. If you read anything that I write you know that we are constantly fixing things and we’ve done one small remodel (turning an indoor, open courtyard into an actual room). But we haven’t ever found ourselves sucked into this particular kind of vortex.

It all started innocently enough with the thought of putting up some pretty crown moulding around some rooms. This was not my idea, but I will resist the urge to point fingers (opps, too late. I see that I already ratted him out in the previous paragraph.) The problem is that our house has a very open floor plan. One story. Hexagonal rooms linked together in such a fashion that you can stand in one place and see into every single room except the guest bedroom, its en suite bath, and one other bath. And every room has its own vaulted ceiling that starts up from the recessed beam on the top of 10 foot walls.

floorplan

(FYI the skinny lines are not walls. They are just there to define the rooms. In those areas there are only columns on the corners holding up the roof.)

We made a decision to start with our master bedroom, the living room and the dining room. We bought the wood. We prepped the wood. And we set out to get a quote from a guy to hang the stuff. He gave us a quote. $3200U.S. Yes, $1000+ per room. I do not know if he misunderstood and thought we wanted him to hand carve the strips, but there was no way that was happening. So we did it ourselves. Michael already has an air compressor, a nail gun and a compound miter saw. We got ourselves a miter master builder’s protractor and set about learning how to use it. Thank god we did since, as might have been feared, no two walls are the same length. No two angles are the same angle. Nothing is completely smooth. Nothing is actually level. And the degree of variation in the ways that the wood ceiling beams meet the walls defies imagination. (Some beams sit completely above the shelf, some are plastered into the wall at the base, some wall corners are centered on the ceiling beams, other are to one side or another. It is complete and utter insanity. Picasso, himself, would have been impressed.)

However, our creaking, old bodies persevered climbing up and down ladders and scaffolding and in and out to the garage and now, after having done three rooms, we are getting ready to do a few more. I mean once you learn a skill, it’s so tempting to make good use of it. Seriously, here are before and after pics. Wouldn’t you want to do more?

crown before 2

Crown after 2

But deciding to do more crown moulding isn’t even what I was getting at. The plastic surgery addiction only begins with the crown moulding just like a little restylane and botox is just the hook that snares you in. Now that I have sparkling, white crown moulding, my older, white window and door frames look shabby. Clearly I have to slap a coat of fresh paint on those while I have the brush wet. If I am going to do that, though, I should first clean all the rust and corrosion off of the ‘corrosion resistant’ window mechanisms. And then I am going to need to touch up (read paint in their entirety) the walls. But I shouldn’t do that until I finally replace the curtains and the curtain rods because they have needed replacing for quite some time and I will have those holes to patch and to repaint. Not to mention those track lights aren’t low profile enough so we’ll need cool and trendy LED rope lighting instead. And now that we moved the guest room furniture around to get to the ceiling, why don’t we spruce things up by rearranging all of that. After all, we don’t have a television in there anymore so the set up is not dictated by the location of the cable outlet. That means the bed can go on the opposite wall with a better view of the ocean. And that couch is pretty old. And those pictures need moving around. And wouldn’t it be nice to introduce a pop of color here and there….turquoise? Orange? What do you think? Shall we throw that old rug away? Reframe that picture?

Sonofabitch!

Can’t a house simply age gracefully?

Somebody please tell me what the architectural equivalent of dark glasses, a well placed neck scarf, and some support hose is.

On the up side, all of this stress and hard work just might be the ticket to aging me enough to bring the plastic surgeon around to my side.

 

Eye of the Storm

Sometimes you don’t notice change especially if it is gradual and you are right in the middle of it. Like being in the eye of a hurricane. Lots of stuff goes on all around you but you’d never know. Not until there’s a shift in the atmosphere and the newness washes over you. That’s how it is living here in Anguilla now. Apparently change is happening all the time but we just don’t experience it until it comes to our door.

For instance, we broke with tradition and actually went out to a charity gala the other night. Dinner and dancing. Long speeches and line dancing (apparently the Electric Slide is HUGE here and folks still know the moves to the Macarena!). All requiring dressing up in nice clothes. We tend to shy away from really nice clothes here because they tend to require dry cleaning which always meant letting them sit around dirty and sweaty (dancing does that especially in the Caribbean) until we could take them back to the States for cleaning. In fact, when we first moved here it used to aggravate the heck out of me that Tommy Bahama was ‘purveying the island lifestyle’ by selling ‘dry clean only’ clothes. What kind of cruel insanity was that? But today we can throw caution to the wind, put on our finest, and party like it’s 1999 (or we are on a cruise ship) confident in the knowledge that we now have a dry cleaning establishment on island.

Dry Cleaner

Yes indeed. I took the fancy cocktail dress and the fine men’s slacks in on Monday and picked them up on Wednesday all pretty on their hangers for $20 and &$9, respectively. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong (since I am out of the loop) but that doesn’t seem out of line to me.

We also recently got tired of driving our car into the bush to a guy who works as a mechanic in his backyard. The car was making all kinds of noises (as 14 year old island cars are want to do), and we kept replacing this and replacing that and finally decided to try a new mechanic. Lo and behold there is a big new, state-of-the-artsy car repair facility on island. A real building. With hydraulic lifts and computers and all sorts of impressive gadgets. Impressive invoices at the end, too, of course. But, let’s face it, everybody knows you have to pay more for superior service.

At least that is what we are counting on as we find ourselves in the middle of our own personal whirlwind. I mentioned before that we are now naturalized citizen which means we can easily open a business. Well, easily in that we could get a business license and not need work permits (like green cards). Not so easy in other ways. See I really just want to finally be able to do what I have been trained to do and to get paid for doing it. I just want to do my doctor stuff. What I wasn’t counting on was having to learn so many other things: purchasing (with the added aggravation of ocean transport and duties), pricing (with the added aggravation of ocean transport and duties), shipping of lab samples, merchant services ,and Quickbooks. Not to mention logos and business cards and websites. It’s more than a bit overwhelming especially to my aging mind.

Then again, maybe that’s a good thing. Shaking life up a little bit from time to time. We have been getting a bit complacent. Comfortable. Staid. Settled. I don’t want a hurricane, of course, but maybe a nice little metaphorical, tropical storm to bring some nourishing rain and to stimulate new growth (and brain cells) might just be what the doctor ordered.

Spare Parts, Get Your Spare Parts Here

We’ve all done it. You put together your new Ikea desk and find out that you have an extra washer or an extra screw. The desk seems sturdy enough, though. The drawers don’t fall out. You assume everything is OK. You assume that the manufacturer includes extra pieces just in case you drop one down the furnace grate or something. Maybe someday in the future you are moving or giving the desk away. You take the desk apart again and somewhere back in the back you find a hole with no screw. Clearly it wasn’t important in the first place. And that’s good to know since you’ve long since lost the screw anyway. No harm. No foul. It was just a little screw. What’s the worst that could have happened? It’s not like it was tasked with keeping say a massive garage door from falling on your head, right? 

Speaking of garage doors. (and we were, right?) Recently we’ve been having some issues with ours. Before I elaborate, let me clarify that we do not keep our car in our detached garage. Never have. We are not opening and closing the door several times a day coming and going from work or the grocery store. We don’t enter the house that way like we did in California. It’s a storage room, a tool room, and a work room. As such, if we have to, we can tolerate having to manually open or close the door as needed which, in fact, we had to do when the bolt that holds the arm to the opener rusted out and fell away. No big deal except that when we went to re-secure it we noticed that it had been installed backwards….12 years ago. But obviously it had been working so we invoked the no harm, no foul rule and moved on with our life.  

Well, now that I think of it, we did replace it in the proper orientation. And maybe in retrospect that was our first mistake because  next thing we knew one of the cables started slipping. It would slip. Michael would fix it. It would slip again. The door would tweak off balance. The wheels would bind. And the process would repeat itself. It hasn’t worked right for weeks now. We’ve had to push it up and pull it down without even the benefit of working cables. Michael has nearly lost two fingers in the process. So something needed to be done. I did a youtube search for videos on ‘how to balance your garage door’ but the cautions about using special winding bars to safely adjust the tension on the massive spring kind of turned me off to the prospect of a DIY project. 

The electrician was here on Saturday for a different headache. So Michael asked him if he knew anyone who knew how to fix garage doors. He called a friend and they spent hours doing pretty much what Michael had done without any better results. Michael sent them away. We tried to call the guy who installed the door way back when. No luck. We finally got the name and number of another guy who’s done work for a friend. He came by on Monday and looked at the door. 

 garage door

(photo: inside of door, loose cable on top right, abandoned rickety ladder in forefront)

Right off of the bat he was baffled.  

“Well, the first thing is that a door this door size should have TWO springs.”  

Two springs, you say? Not just that one big one? Really? Two? 

So Michael (and remember Michael is a guy and guys never seem to know where they’ve left even the most common, everyday items) goes immediately behind the garage to the generator room, rummages around, comes back, and says, “like this one?”

 Spare Spring

Apparently, this other huge, mongo spring was left lying about when the garage door was originally installed 13 years ago….back when everything was being installed in the house and we had moutains of spare parts piling up around us. So we can forgive Michael for accepting the concept of having an extra backup spring for the garage door….especially given that (1) it has worked up until now and (2) he did have the presence of mind to keep the spare. 

No harm. No foul. 

(At least assuming that once the guy comes back to install the second spring we don’t find out that it is ‘shelf-spoiled’ and the garage door finally works again. We’ll see.)

Everyday Frustrations

Well, things are moving along with the remodel. The painting and staining and cleaning and reorganizing are nearly complete. It’s really looking wonderful and gives the house a completely (and bigger) feel, to be sure. I haven’t had the opportunity to whip up my new accent pillows, though, and those are really going to bring it all together. But I can’t get to my sewing machine and supplies right now since there is an entire deck’s worth of lumber stacked up in the garage against the cabinets that house all of that stuff. I have no idea how Michael has managed to do any woodworking at all without killing himself tripping over 2 x 4’s and 8 x 10’s and power cords and dunes of sawdust. 

I nearly broke my own leg yesterday. I felt some inexplicable need to get out and do some heavy pruning while Michael was in St. Maarten (unsuccessfully) looking for a part for one of the air-conditioners. (No we do not need air-conditioning right now but better to deal with it when you find it rather than when you need it.) Anyway, I braved the obstacle course that is the garage to drag out an electric hedge clipper, power cord and ladder and hauled them around to the pool. Set everything up, climbed up on the ladder and, in the words of Yukon Cornelius, nothing. Tried a different plug. Nothing. Tried a different hedge clipper. Still nothing. 

So, I took a different approach and went rummaging in the garage again for the small pole chain saw. Found it. But the chain was off. Stumbled around for the two screwdrivers and the right socket wrench. Took it apart. Put it back together again. Voila. Took it around to the pool. Nothing. At which point it finally occurred to me that the problem might be the power cord. Got a different one. Voila again. Stretched everything out to reach the sea grapes on the edge of the property. But the chain saw wouldn’t cut. It would spin. It just won’t cut. I have no idea why. I gave up. Took my working power cord over to the hedge clipper, did the originally planned pruning and called it just another day. OK, in all fairness there was an awful lot of colorful language involved so it would be more accurate to say that I called it just another $@&*-in day. 

Even when I just want to relax, life can be hard. Consider watching football. Having cancelled cable at the start of football season, I signed up (read purchased) NFL Gamepass which allows me to watch any game live or later for one year. In a peculiar twist of fate, this service is the polar opposite of other services like Hulu or Netflix in that you can only access it if you are NOT in the United States. That would be perfect, as I am not in the United States except that they also exclude Antigua and my dsl provider is apparently headquartered out of Antigua so that’s where my ip address says I am. And my ip address is dynamic so before every log in I have to call the support people and wait on hold to tell them my new address so they can override the system so I can access the game.  

The other day when I called the support guy said that I was the fourth person he had talked to that day from Anguilla. I said, sorry, we are clearly a very demanding bunch. He responded that in fact the opposite was true. He was sorry that we had to be bothered to call every time and that we are all surprisingly nice about it. And I said, aw shucks, you just have no idea how annoyingly difficult our days are normally. At least in this instance, sure I have to call, and then I have to wait, but then you answer, and then you fix it. That’s about as easy as anything gets here. 

Of course we all have our limits. Take last Sunday for instance. I had the Gamepass working well ahead of game time. The computer was hooked up to the TV. The sound bar was working. I was all ready for the game to start when my computer froze. And then it wouldn’t reboot.  It kept freezing. Kickoff came and went.  So I set Michael up watching on his little wee laptop and kept working on my computer. Booting. Rebooting. Safe mode. Unsafe mode. Nothing was working. Finally, it game back to life; and all connections were reestablished. So I went to get a bottle of wine. I picked one from my trusty list, located it in the wine cooler and then………………it would NOT come out! It would not budge. Sure I could have picked a different one, but by then I was obsessed with getting that one out. I had had enough. Come hell or high water, game or no game, in one piece or many, THAT bottle was coming out!

Live and Learn. Today, I get the drinks ready first!

Go Niners!

The Mantra of Maintenance

Lately I have been focused on creating plant life (in the form of my precious dragonfruit) on one hand and the process of our annual, early hurricane season, massive plant pruning process on the other hand. Our property looks less and less junglebook unruly and more and more controlled as dumpster after dumpster hauls away the detritus or our labors. But that’s not all we’ve been doing. We also tackled one ongoing problem that we’ve been avoiding.

It was one of those trivial yet thorn-in-your-side, just can’t stand it anymore kind of issues when the electric ignitor for your gas range just won’t stop clicking once the burner is lit. I know that this is not a problem that is unique to my Caribbean environment. I know this because a quick google search of the problem yields beaucoup results. I am not alone. I am only isolated. The most popular solution is to replace the spark module. We have done this twice before.  And the problem recurs or persists. Who can really tell since it’s sporadic in the beginning anyway?

Nevertheless, the recommendation from the powers that be was once again to replace the $200 module. I was going to do it myself. The helpful guy at the appliance repair place in California had even bestowed upon me (free of charge) one of the special, little metal thingamabobs that helps you unscrew the brass rings that hold down the burners so you can life the top of the range off and get to the module. I was all set except for the small fact that I couldn’t unscrew the damn rings. I was strong enough to bend the metal thingamabob trying, but I couldn’t budge the stupid rings. So I called the repair guy who last put them on assuming this was one of those circumstances like when the guys at the garage put your tire lug nuts on with their fancy hydraulic machine and then you can’t get them off when you have a flat tire. (At least that’s my excuse for never changing my own flat tire.) Anyway, I figured he put the rings on. He would be able to take them off.

I was wrong. I was frustrated. I left the room so I didn’t see what actually transpired, but I gathered that he had managed to unscrew the vertical cylinders (WITH the brass rings attached and the burners still in place) from the elbow pieces down below so he could lift the range top just enough to replace the module and then put everything back together. Great, right? Wrong. The clicking was just the same.  Michael was immediately on to his go-to Plan B: throw the damn thing away and buy another one.  Except that we’re talking about a range that costs about $1500 in the States before shipping and 40% duty. So I wasn’t really onboard with that plan. So, I suggested that maybe it was the wires. Or the middle back burner since that always seemed to be the culprit. And since I could simply unplug the offending electric ignitor and just pretend to be a pioneer woman and light my burners with an old-fashioned match in the interim ….what if we at least tried just ordering new wires and maybe one burner to replace the middle back one that seemed to be the stubborn one?

Good plan except that we would have to get the rings off of the burners in order to accomplish this. So, we unscrewed all of the vertical cylinders and unplugged the burners from their wires and took the top off in situ. Then we carried it out into the garage, set it ever so safely on a cushion of old sheets and towels, and proceeded to beat the shit out of it. No, seriously. We beat the shit out of it. Not where the bruises would show, mind you (hence the cushion), but I sat on the floor clutching the underside cylinder with vice grips and pipe wrenches while Michael stood above (all 250+ pounds of him) armed with a 12” flat screw driver and a hammer and beat on the rings with all of his might. We’d rest. We’d spray the joint with wd-40. We’d position ourselves again, and we’d beat on it some more. Really, what did we have to lose? Once one of the rings actually gave way and unscrewed we were invigorated and just that much more determined to conquer the remaining five. Sweat poured. Curses poured. But damn if they didn’t all give up the fight eventually. We were victorious. So we cleaned that baby up like it had never been cleaned before in its life, lovingly put it temporarily back together,  ordered a set of new wires and only three new brass rings (the other three miraculously survived reasonably unscathed and we decided to even skip getting a new burner), and we waited – handy box of matches nearby.

Once the new parts arrived, we easily took the range apart again, replaced the wires (having labeled the old wires from the spark module to each burner), put it all back together again, and turned on a burner only to be rewarded with incessant clicking. I nearly cried. But anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am stubborn to a fault and cynical ‘to infinity and beyond’. So undeterred and never one to totally trust even those whom I hire as experts, I pulled out the wiring diagram that I had found for the old spark module. Not exactly the same model we now had but close enough for jazz. And I replaced the wires in the way I interpreted the diagram (two were switched). And it worked. My scientific nature would require that I put the wires back the original way again just to be sure that was the problem and not just that we pushed them on more firmly when we moved them, but I didn’t actually have it in me to fool with success. So it is what it is which is working.

But that’s why, I wasn’t surprised to find what I found when the garage door opener broke. It was halfway open when the arm came off of the door. The bolts had disappeared, literally. I mean it’s not that they were rusting and broke into pieces and fell to the ground. Simply, suddenly, one minute, there was no trace of them. So Michael bought new bolts and was in the process of reattaching the arm while I was thumbing through the instruction manual figuring that we should probably do maintenance cleaning and lubricating while he was up on the ladder when I saw it. The arm was attached upside down – quite clearly upside down. It had been for 12 years. Don’t get me wrong, unlike the range ignitor, it’s been working (for the most part) all of that time in spite of never having been installed properly in the first place. I guess sometimes you just get lucky.

Out, Damned Spot!

Absolutely, perfectly idyllic weather aside (the lows have been dipping just below 70 degrees at night lately), life in the tropics can be harsh – especially if you are living right on the sea. The otherwise blessed sunlight permeates everywhere (as sunlight is wont to do) and fades everything. Any claims to the contrary, even Sunbrella® fades – though in all fairness at a slower rate than your average cotton blends. And whatever the sun doesn’t bleach out, it browns. Friends back in the States always comment on my tan. Whatever tan I have, though, I must be acquiring in the brief exposures between the house and the car or the car and the grocery store because I never just sit still basking in the sun anymore. The sun’s rays simply find you wherever you are. 

Just like the salt in the air that settles on anything and everything: mirrors, table tops, fabrics and floors. As a result, everything (even glass) corrodes. The impact on metal is just the most dramatic. I’ve mentioned before that our corrosion-resistant window mechanisms were ridiculously rusted within months of moving in to the house; and the fashionable, hi-tech pendant lights hanging in the kitchen in the back of our house were quickly so badly pitted that the company representative in California assumed we have mistakenly installed them outdoors! Stainless steel, galvanized steel, it makes no difference.  Towel rods, bathroom faucets, light fixtures all succumb. An overlooked screw out on the veranda overnight will be rusted on the stone tile by morning. 

Of course, you would expect fading and rusting to be issues in this environment even if you couldn’t begin to imagine just how much trouble they would cause. What about spots, though? What about those strange, orange spots that mysteriously show up on white linens and towels that are safely tucked away in cupboards. Not on white furniture or even on white shirts hung on hangers in my closet….only on folded sheets and towels. There are numerous theories as to what causes these spots. Some folks claim they are the result of cockroach droppings, but I hardly ever see a cockroach in my house and why wouldn’t the spots show up on furniture or hanging clothes. Other people blame gecko eggs, but if that were the case wouldn’t I find remnants of little broken eggs? Personally I subscribe to a mold theory. But whatever causes them, nobody seems to know how to get them out of the fabric. Bleach doesn’t help. Oxyclean does precious little. Nothing works reliably to get rid of them. 

I’ve been fighting these spots this week. This is the time of year when folks tend to come to visit us (reference that opening statement about the weather). So I’ve been getting out the good sheets and towels – some of which have never ever been used. And sure enough, there they are….stupid orange spots.  In my frustration, I was asking the guy at the grocery store what causes the spots and what takes them out. Well, according to him the staining is not from geckos or roaches or mold. What causes it then? It’s just what happens to white fabrics  – like a natural aging process, like going gray. It happens to everyone (or every linen in this case) so his recommendation was to just not fret about it anymore. 

You know, I really wish I could because he’s right, of course. The discoloration isn’t hurting anything. The best thing would be to simply quit worrying. But I can’t. I know I’ll keep fighting the stupid spots just like I know I’ll keep coloring my gray.

Labor Day is Every Day

That’s an interesting thing about my life here. Every day could be just about every other day. But every day includes some work. I used to work at my job all week, spend one day on the weekend doing household chores, gardening and/or errands and always had one day to just bum around and do nothing. Here the lack of externally applied structure leaves me doing a little (or a lot) of work every single day. There’s rarely a day that I roll out of bed, start on my to-do list, and then keep at it straight until bedtime. So I’m not doing important or necessary tasks all day every day, but every day I’m doing something. 

Last week I spent one morning unplugging the refrigerator drain. Yes, your refrigerator has a drain. It directs the defrost liquid into a pan that you have probably never seen because your climate is such that the water quickly evaporates out of the pan and/or the evaporator fan under the fridge blowing on the water hastens its dissipation. Our evaporator fan got so rusty and noisy that we couldn’t stand it anymore, but we didn’t care enough to spend $500 (plus shipping and duty and installation) on another one, so the repair guy just unplugged it. Now the tray under my bottom mount freezer fills with defrost water so fast that I have to empty it a couple times a week. Of course, I have more time than money now, and I get in a couple of squats reaching under there to pull out the tray. Plus I like to consider that I’m sort of making my own water this way, and water isn’t exactly cheap either, so it’s all good. 

Anyway, I noticed recently that the tray was staying dry but I ignored the possibility that this was not a stroke of good fortune but rather an early warning sign and didn’t wise up until I couldn’t get the freezer drawer to close properly. Turns out that if the defrost water can’t drain down into the pan, it just accumulates in the bottom of the freezer, freezes (go figure) and forms a solid, little ice skating rink. This happened once before so at least I knew what the problem was.  And having watched the appliance repair guy unplug the offending drain that time, I was sure that I could fix it myself this time.  

So, I flipped the circuit breaker. (You know, I don’t think I even knew where the circuit breakers were in our California house let alone which circuit fed my refrigerator.) I got a big cooler from the garage and emptied all the frozen food out of the freezer. I took off the door and removed the drawers. Then I got a hair dryer, an extension cord and a spatula and removed the accumulated block of ice. Then I set about removing the back panel pieces from over the defrost coils. A dozen screws later, I could pull the panel a bit away from the back to get to the drain opening. Now this is a tiny little drain. It’s probably ½” diameter and just directs accumulated water through the bottom of the freezer to the tray directly below. I’m thinking the actual distance between the two points IF connected in a STRAIGHT line would be about 3” BUT someone in their infinite wisdom put in an s-trap like under your sink as if ANYBODY drops a diamond ring down the drain in the back of their freezer and it must be stopped from making its way to the sewer system. Seriously, even if I dropped a ring down the drain in the back of my freezer it would just fall into the pan below. 

But I digress. The point is that I can’t just feed a pipe cleaner through this little pipe to clean it out because it’s got this stupid s-trap maneuver going on. So I have to go back out to the garage and wheel the huge air compressor tank to the front steps. Lock up the cats. Leave the front door open and run the cord into the entry way to plug it in. Then pop a screen out of the kitchen window and feed the air hose through the opening into the kitchen so it reaches the back of the freezer in order to forcibly blow the obstruction out of the drain and into the pan below. All of which I successfully do. At which point I get to put everything back in place and then clean up my mess.

Meanwhile you are probably wondering what had dropped down into this drain in the far reaches of my freezer that has plugged it up in the first place. No wedding rings. No potato peels. Nothing like that. Little tiny bits of peeling, rusting, white, enamel, appliance paint build up in the trap like a little beaver dam. Why? I have no idea why. I mean, I understand why they pile up in there and plug the drain; but I do not understand why, even in this highly corrosive environment on the sea, the INSIDE of my freezer is managing to rust. 

But it gave me something to do that day

I Hate Electricity!

Ok, it’s not so much that I hate electricity. Obviously I love the benefits of electricity as I sit here with the fan spinning and the lights on with my computer in my lap accessing the internet to watch videos.  I hate working on electrical things due to a deep-seated fear of electrocution which dates back to my childhood. Oh sure, everybody touches the occasional outlet with something metallic or comes in contact with a wonky electrical plug. That’s always a shock (ha ha) but that’s nothing. I was probably nine or ten years old when I had my close encounter. My siblings and I had come in from a day playing in the snow and were piling up our cold, wet outerwear in the basement before running upstairs to sit in front of the furnace grates sipping hot chocolate.  The light above the sink didn’t come on. More specifically, the bare bulb in the dangling socket with the metal chain pull hanging above the enamel- coated, steel, utility sink wouldn’t come on. So, I, a wee, wet person in my bare feet, crawled into the tub and reached up to tighten the loose bulb. 

That is all I remember until I regained consciousness to see my mother’s terrified face begging me to wake up and then screaming at me to never ever do anything that stupid again. I have spent the rest of my life trying to avoid coming in direct contact with current.  That all falls on Michael. He replaces switches and ceiling fan motors, runs wires, and does everything else electrical while I stand nearby chanting “kick him away, don’t grab him, kick him away” so I’ll hopefully do the right thing if he starts to twitch.  Sure, I rewired that pool pump last year, but I had to. Nobody else could seem to figure it out. And don’t think for a minute that unplugging the rusted, 220V plug from the outlet under the house in the damp, poorly ventilated pool pump room was easy for me. I don’t even know what will happen if a storm blows through when Michael is gone, we lose power, and I have to switch over to the generator. I’ve got detailed, labeled and color-coded diagrams to take me through the process step-by-step, but I’m still not sure I’ll have the guts to flip the last switch. I’ll probably just sit in the dark and start eating food out of the freezer. 

Last week, though, I had to step up to the plate. The car battery died. Michael was off island. There is no AAA here. Unfortunately, I have never touched jumper cables before except to hand them over to another person. I googled. I researched. I watch videos on how to unhook the battery, how to clean the contacts, how NOT to inadvertently touch the cables to the wrong thing, and finally how to jump a battery. I took copious notes. And I was more than a little bit dismayed to find that the order for applying and then removing the jumper cable clamps is a matter of opinion. Different helpful ‘instructors’ did it differently – more like medicine and less like math. Who should I trust? The burly guy in the mechanics coveralls or the nicely dressed, young woman making the not-so-subtle point that car maintenance is easy? 

Then, to top it all off,  I had Michael on the phone from 3,000 miles away urging me NOT to attempt to jump start the car. What if it explodes? I’m sorry, what if it explodes???? I hadn’t even considered an explosion! The internet hadn’t said anything about explosions. If I was going to be so foolhardy as to attempt this myself, he felt I needed to at least call somebody at 8AM on a Sunday morning to be with me. Someone to chant “kick her away”, I guess. So I tried. But the surrounding houses here are rentals. They were empty and nobody answered the phone. But I heard someone next door. So I walked over and knocked on the door. Nothing. So I pounded on the door. Finally, the housekeeper answered.  I have to say that I felt pretty stupid as I explained to her that I was going to attempt to jump start my car and in the case of an explosion I would appreciate it if she would come to check on me. But Michael had me scared enough to swallow my pride. 

There’s a happy ending to the story, of course. I managed to jump start the battery without killing myself or causing a fire. (I think I fell to stereotypes, though, and went with the grizzled, old mechanic’s instructions.) While the cars were still running to charge the dead battery, I went back into the house to “review” the procedures for removing the clamps…one more time; and when I came back out, the very pregnant, bare-footed, housekeeper from next door was standing in my gravel driveway. No, she hadn’t imagined an explosion. She just wanted to be sure I was OK. I don’t know what that says about how nervous I must have appeared when I asked for her help – at least as nervous as I actually was, I suppose. But bless her little, electrical-conducting heart for caring. That was as sweet as the hot cocoa my mom used to make.

I used to be….

The other day I was feeling blue. Don’t get me wrong. I like living on an island. I appreciate how fortunate I have been to be able to realize this particular dream in my life. The perfect weather. The gorgeous view. Good friends and quiet contemplation. Sometimes, though, I do feel stifled. Not by the heat. Not even by the geographic constraints of living on only 35 square miles of solid ground. But by the personal/professional constraints that hobble me here.

I know foreigners who are accountants and secretaries who find work here. I know of a woman who got a work permit to be a nanny and has managed to stay and to continue to work in numerous other jobs for years. There is even a completely unqualified ( i.e. not medically educated) foreigner who worked for the veterinarian on island for long enough that she became a Belonger and now she is allowed to examine, diagnose, prescribe and sell drugs on the island as if she is a veterinarian.  But I, a veterinarian, cannot work here.

Worse than that. I can’t even GIVE my expertise away.  When we first moved on island, we were called into a meeting by the Labor Commissioner and accused of practicing medicine without a license because friends would call us for advice when they couldn’t reach the island veterinarian. We had no drugs to sell, no way to run tests, nothing to do but give out free advice and still our wrists were slapped. So we asked the Commissioner if we are driving down the road and someone has a flat tire can we stop to help them change it or would we be working as mechanics without a license? What if we pick up a hitchhiker, are we working a free taxi service without a license? Ridiculous.

Bottom line is that I can’t work here. That’s why, rather than earning a living doing what I am trained to do and then paying other people to do what they are trained to do, you may have noticed that whenever possible I do it all myself. Sometimes that happens because I am forced to fix things myself (such as the wiring on that two-speed pool pump I mentioned before) and sometimes it is because I choose to (such as sewing all the slipcovers for my furniture).

It still surprises me, though, how astonished other people on island are by any level of self-sufficiency – even for the very littlest of things. For example, today I bought a new bulb for the headlight in our Subaru at the auto parts store.  The salesman asked me who the mechanic was who was going to change it for me. A light bulb? Is that some kind of joke? Hey, Bob, how many Polish veterinarians does it take to change a headlight? I didn’t know what to say so I just had to laugh. Heck, light bulbs I changed even when I lived in the States.

Anyway, back to my feeling blue. I was whining to Michael about feeling unappreciated and useless and uninspired and about how sometimes I think it would be nice to get the house sold and to move back to the States. He asked, “Why? It’s not like you are going to go back to being a veterinarian.”  Well, my little eyes welled up and I got a little catch in my throat; and I said, “Hey, I still AM a veterinarian.”

So, I don’t know. It got me to thinking. He keeps bugging me to get a tattoo. Maybe I’ll get that tattooed somewhere just so I don’t forget.

Gravel Angels

I know that I must sound like a broken record always talking about home maintenance and repairs. Then again, the question for this blog is ‘whaddyadoallday’? And the number one answer is ‘take care of the damn house’. Michael says that every morning when he opens his eyes, the first thing he thinks to himself is, “what am I going to have to fix today?” Sometimes it’s just something that happens to break on that particular day. Usually, though, it’s something in the routine maintenance, honey-do list department.

This week it was cleaning the roof and painting some areas that need repainting. It may seem like we spend an inordinate amount of time fixating on the general hygiene of our roof, but remember that the rain water  we collect off of that roof is what comes out when you turn on the tap in our house. If you are ever going to come to visit us here, you will be comforted by the knowledge that we work so tirelessly to maintain the roof. This week we were at it again.

Well, in all fairness, Michael was at it again. But to be absolutely clear, it is not that I won’t get up on the roof and do maintenance. I would. Michael, in his adorably, protective macho way, however, doesn’t want me up on the roof. So I provide ground support. While he is up there hatless, shirtless, and going snow-blind from the glare off of the white roof working at scraping paint and pressure washing, I am down below, moving the pressure washer, reconnecting hoses, or – my personal favorite – redirecting the waste water off of the veranda away from the pool. See, there are diverter valves that we unplug that allow us to keep the water out of the cistern (at times like these). Most of them conveniently pour the water out at the base of the foundation. However, our builder, in one of his many lapses in judgment, placed two of them right outside our living room where they pour out onto the veranda some ten feet from the swimming pool.

That means that while Michael is pressure washing the areas of the roof that drain through those pipes, I am down below, like the Canadian curling team, furiously sweeping dirty water away from the pool. I chase the water away from the pool and off of the edge of the veranda and then scurry back to the pipes to catch the next wave – over and over and over again until I am exhausted.

This time, just when I was going to complain that I have the physically harder job, what did my attention-getter, husband do? He fell off the ladder.  Well, apparently he fell WITH the ladder. (No, that spiral staircase to the roof that we are having installed still is not finished, but the guy swears he’s coming back tomorrow!) Anyway, Michael was coming down off of the roof; and the ladder floated away from the roof beam; and Michael floated with it in an arc to land in the bocce court below. (Probably 15 feet in altitude so let’s see 2piR for the perimeter of the circle and he went ¼ of the way so what? about 24 feet of flying.)

You can see where he landed. It looks like he made a little, snow-angel in the gravel. It’s a miracle he wasn’t hurt. But let’s face it. We are getting too old for such foolishness. From now on he’s taking the cell phone up on the roof so he can call me to come hold the ladder.