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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.

 

To Life

In my last post I alluded to some 18 yards of upholstery fabric. That has now taken on a new life. And I’ll get you a photo but first let me run a different tangent.

Many, many, many, many, many years ago (OK, 30) I met Michael when I was a brand new, baby vet, just graduated and looking for my first job. He said that he couldn’t hire me but that I could live with him if I wanted; and the rest, as they say, is history. I didn’t want to seem like a total pushover, though. So after we packed up my things and drove all the way across country to California I did hold out for a total of 10 days sleeping on a college friend’s couch before moving into Michael’s apartment. So I wasn’t actually living with him when I went off to my first day as a bona fide medical professional. That morning, when I walked out to my car I found a note on the windshield. It said, “Happy First Day Saving Lives”. (Awwww.)

Now, I am going to share a closely guarded professional secret with you. Promise you won’t tell. When I was a student in veterinary school, someone told us that medicine is a pretty good odds racket. Animals tend to get better…..and get this….in spite of us. The statistic that was quoted was somewhere in the range of 80-85% of our patients get better even if we do the wrong thing. That’s just the way Mother Nature works. On the other hand, sadly somewhere around 5% will not – even if I am the brilliant veterinary equivalent of Linus Pauling or Michael DeBakey.

That means that I truly make a difference in only about 10-15% of the cases I see. All cynicism aside, the take home message here was not to comfort us in the knowledge that we could just rest on our laurels and count on the odds to get us through but rather that because we could not know which of the cases were which that we had to give every single one of them our very best in order to guarantee that we were taking every opportunity and making every effort to impact the ones that we could. And I have never forgotten that advice not even after these long 30 intervening years. Do I always do everything absolutely right? Not likely. But I sure as hell do try.

And it hasn’t surprised me at all that people out here on this little rock will go to the lengths that they will in order to provide health and well-being for their pets. It surprised me more when the one person told me that I needed to remember where I was practicing. I corrected him immediately. My job, the only way I know how to do it, is to tell my clients what I understand and believe to be the very best course of action to take for their pets’ problems. IF that is not an option, THEN my job is to work with them to find an option that is suitable and to support them in their decisions. But my job is not to offer less from the start.

Might this particular dog or that particular cat get better with a different approach? You betcha. In fact it probably will. I already told you that. But if it doesn’t, if it’s one of the ones that doesn’t, and I haven’t offered my best, then I’m the one that has to live with that. That’s why I end up researching everything from new anti-seborrheal products to cancer treatments, having CTScans run, and battling to bring horribly uncontrolled, hyperthyroid cats back from the edge of the abyss. And that’s why a couple of weeks ago I found myself on a client’s back porch resuscitating an incredibly weak, one pound kitten. The poor little thing desperately wanted to eat but could hardly lift her head. She passed out and her heart stopped beating at least three times. Was she in the 80% or the 15%? I’ll never know. But I do know she wasn’t in the 5% because I vaccinated her on Saturday.

Thanks to her family for literally nursing her back to life. Her name is Ashes but as is the way here in Anguilla, I gave her a nickname. To me she will always be the Phoenix. And I am glad that I could be there with/for her. Because of all of the things “thatIdoallday”, it really is nice to be able to practice medicine again.

So as promised here are the new slipcovers. (all the green and the bar stools are the new bits.) Aren’t they pretty?

slipcovers

But here’s little Ashes, the Phoenix. She’s pretty darn cute, too.

Phoenix

Happy Gazillionth Day Saving Lives.

 

A Drain By Any Other Name

It’s been ages since I wrote. You might have feared that I fell off of the face of the earth. Not exactly – though I have probably traveled as far as if I’d gone all the way around it between a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand followed by a three week trip to South Africa and Portugal. While we were away the last time Hurricane Gonzalo hit. So with Michael gone again a few days later, I was left with the new veterinary business, catching up on mail and bill paying, plus a bunch of little chores in the aftermath of the storm.

As hurricanes tend to do, Gonzalo did a good deal of overdue pruning and cleared a lot of leaves off of the trees. So this week’s rains were a welcome bit of relief for the stressed landscaping. To a point. Friday afternoon another thunderstorm rolled in, and I started to hear water pouring off of the roof. If Michael had been here he would have never let me go up on the roof in a thunderstorm. But he wasn’t here so I went. At least I had the sense not to stand on the roof holding an umbrella. I mean, I’m not a complete idiot. I just threw a beach towel over my head while I cleaned the screens over the drains and got back down.

It rained all night long, and I actually slept in until an unheard of 7AM – what with it being uncharacteristically cool and darker outside. Nice. Then I got the brilliant idea that I should go up and check the roof again. There wasn’t even any lightning, and there was just a light drizzle. So I thought I’d just make a quick check and then relax with my coffee. Hah! At first everything looked good (read: I wasn’t wading through standing water). That is until I found one drain that still wasn’t draining.

Remember all those leaves that were ripped from the trees. Well, while we were away our gardener was good enough to go up on the roof to ‘clear’ the drains. He admitted to us that he pulled all of the plugs and let everything run into the cistern. (Another story.) But apparently not everything made it that far, and this one pipe was obviously plugged with leaves and debris. I needed to feed a snake or a hose or something into the drain to unplug it. Logically I figured I should try to feed it UP the pipe rather than risk further tamping the clog down from the top. Luckily there are outlet plugs in the drains around the house that, when open, allow the water to flow out along the foundation rather than into the cistern. I’d just open the plug and feed a pipe up….or so I thought. (Of course, I’d been wrong once before already that morning and it was still early.)

Unfortunately, this particular diverter plug is right at ground level (which from the get go made little sense given that the water needs to drain out and away). Then over the years matters have only gotten worse as plants sent out roots and not only buried the opening but completely encased the cap like the roots on those ancient buildings from Angkor Wat you saw in Laura Croft, Tomb Raider. Now the stupid thing ends up so deeply buried that if you didn’t know it was there (and really, who would besides me?) you would never know it was there. As it was, I had to crawl in the mud, cut roots, dig out rocks, and create a canal in muck so the water could drain away…well, in anticipation of having the water drain. Here’s my handiwork:

drain

The next hour or so was spent feeding a fairly rigid hose that I found in the garage 11ft up the pipe until I hit whatever I hit. When it wouldn’t dislodge and drain, I’d go up on the roof to feed the hose down about 3 ft until I hit whatever I hit. Climb up to shove the hose down. Climb down to shove the hose up. Repeat. That would have been hard enough if the pipe had been straight. But it isn’t. There are apparently elbows and bends at both ends. Maybe that’s standard maybe it’s not but it’s how it is….who knows maybe it is wise to put a trap in a roof drain…I mean maybe somebody predicted that I might drop my wedding ring down the pipe when I’m up there unplugging it which could make sense except that (1) I can’t wear my wedding ring because I can’t insure it here (which is yet another story) and (2) even if I did wear my uninsured wedding ring and was stupid enough to drop it down the roof drain…what good would the trap do me? After all it’s not like it’s accessible like it is under the sink…it’s encased in a concrete roof with absolutely no way to get to it……but I digress.

Where was I? Ah yes. Up and down and down and up. Getting wetter and muddier and more frustrated every minute. Then at one point I was reaching down into the drain from the roof to see if I could even feel any loose debris when my arm got a wee bit stuck. When I pulled it out the released suction created a bit of a vortex. But just for a second. Then the pipe just filled again. So I stuck my arm in again (not taking any chances, my right arm – the one devoid of even cheap jewelry) and tried to create a stronger suction. It occurred to me at that point that IF I was going to continue jamming my arm into a storm drain in the middle of a storm maybe I should get my cellphone or at least leave a note on the front door so the search party would know where to find my dead body. And that’s when it hit me….what I really needed was a real plunger – something specifically made for this task.

One more trip down to get one. One more trip up to try it. A few unsuccessful attempts and then just when I thought it wouldn’t work after all – whoosh. Bazinga! Relief all around.

 

 

Crime and Punishment

You can’t really get away from crime. Anywhere you go in the world, some amount of crime exists. Thankfully, though, there are places where things are not as bad. Anguilla is certainly one of the better places. That is not to say that we have not seen an increase in crime since we arrived on island, but this little island is still no New York City and the majority of incidents are not violent. Years ago, shortly after we moved into our house, we did have a break-in at our home. It happened in the middle of the day. We had gone into the Valley on errands and came back to that sinking feeling that something was not quite right – just little nagging impressions that things were not exactly where I remembered. Once I got to our bedroom, it was obvious. The closet was a mess. Someone had been in there tossing through things. I ran to Michael and told him to call the police. While we waited for them, we took visual stock of things.

No electronics were taken. All the computers and televisions were in their places. Michael’s wallet was still on his desk while a $10 roll of quarters was missing. Apparently, the real ‘valuables’  had been discovered in a cardboard box of bathroom junk, ponytail holders and old makeup and such, that I just hadn’t bothered to dump into the vanity drawers. Amongst the castoffs, however, was
some old rhinestone jewelry my mother gave me when I was a teenager. The thief must have thought he found my well-hidden (who would look there?) stash of diamonds and run off with the take.

It was when the inspector showed up, however, that the situation really got interesting. We showed him where the screen was cut to allow entry. We showed him every place we knew the intruder had been and told him what we knew to be missing. Then I realized that the clock radio on my nightstand was flashing as if there had been a power outage while no other electronics indicated that one had occurred. Since the outlet the radio plugged into was inexplicably wired to a switch, I quickly deduced that the thief must have touched that light switch. I felt that little mental, electrical jolt that told me I was on to something and eagerly encouraged the inspector to dust for fingerprints. (How very CSI!)

Being oh so professional, he pulled out his kit and dusted away and lo and behold, there was a beautiful print on the nice flat surface of the rocker switch. Eureka! I was really excited then until the inspector dismissed it by pointing out that the print was mine. How could he tell?, I asked.  Just look at the size of your hand, he said. The print was small so it must be mine. (Even though the access hole in the screen wasn’t exactly large enough to squeeze through a behemoth.) I was stunned and said so. Wow, I marveled, you know in the States they need fancy computers or at least big magnifying glasses and comparison prints to make that kind of determination, yet here you are able to just tell by looking. That’s amazing.

Well, surprising or not, they never did catch the crooks or recover my rhinestones.We repaired the screen, dealt with our loss, and moved on with our lives. I do hold out hope, however, that investigative techniques have improved over the years especially when I read the following installment of the weekly crime report that ran in the local newspaper recently. Consider the individual who had to file the last police report in the list:

 

At first blush (and I would definitely be blushing), I don’t know that I would report the loss of those last particular two items. Then again, what with the duty rates on imported electrical goods, the true replacement cost could be substantial. I just don’t know. That would still make it a tough call. And then, even so, would I really want them back?

 

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.

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!

Do I look like Picasso?

When Michael and I were building the house, we were pretty tight on funds so we did a lot of the finish work on the house ourselves. The guys who were working on the house were clearly baffled by both our initiative and our talent. They were constantly pointing out to Michael that he had ‘one hard-working woman’ on his hands. They were amazed that I could varnish a piece of wood , put together a small bathroom vanity from Home Depot, or heaven forbid carry a bag of potting soil. When I started painting the walls it was apparently just too much. “Georgia, you can paint?” they cried. I was past being flattered by my ability to amaze them so I replied, “It’s just a wall, for heaven’s sake. It’s not a Picasso.”

I was painting ten years ago. I am still painting today. Inside. Outside. Constantly it seems. In California, we lived in our house for 10 years and had it painted (note the HAD IT painted, not PAINTED it part of this sentence) not because it really needed it but just to spruce it up a little to sell it in a tepid real estate market. Here in the islands keeping up the exterior of the house is like maintaining the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems that I start at one end and work around just to start over again. And if I am not quick enough, my gardener will gently nudge me by pointing out that I need to get back to it.

When we chose our paint and colors originally, we were trying to find that stunning yellow/orange/pink color that exists on houses in Tuscany. That color that veritably glows at twilight. Sadly, the intense, nearly equatorial sun in the Caribbean does not seem to be conducive to that phenomenon. Even so we chose a color called Whispy Peach. We bought it in an elastomeric, outdoor paint that was touted to hold up well even in tropical, coastal locations. And it has. The paint itself has held up wonderfully.  It doesn’t peel or flake at all. However, it does fade. When it does, it’s not that it looks awful. It just doesn’t look beautiful which is apparently, in retrospect, why many island homes are simply white. So I keep re-painting: the ocean side, the street side, the garage, and around again.

Then there is the roof. The roof is concrete and painted white. We collect rain water off of the roof into our cisterns for use in the house so we want the roof to stay clean and in good shape. So every 2-3 years, Michael and I pressure wash it and clean it and paint it again. In some ways painting the roof is easier (mostly painting at your feet or slightly above rather than painting higher than your head while standing on a ladder). In some ways painting the roof is harder (hauling everything up and down, working in the sun, and going ‘snow blind’ from the glare of the whiteness). As a result, we have attempted to hire someone to paint the roof.

A few years ago, we had someone come out to give us a quote. Now first, let me explain how quoting for jobs works in the islands. It’s like the worst version of trying to buy a rug in Morocco. Michael starts the conversation by explaining that he is not going to bargain. The guy can give him one price, his best price, and Michael will say yes or no and then that’s it. There will be no counteroffers and counter-counteroffers. Period. So first the guy says, “Hey, don’t worry, man. Trust me. It ain’t gonna kill ya.” Michael says, “Yeah, just the same, I’d like a price before you start.” So the guy says he wants $3000US, United States money, to paint the roof. (Oh wait, let me clarify – this is labor only. I’ll have to buy the all the paint, the rollers, and the beer.) Michael says, ‘No thank you very much. That’s ridiculous. I’ll paint it myself.’ And the guy leaves. An hour later he calls, “How about I paint the roof for $2000?” Michael says, “Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You got one chance to give me a fair price. I said no. That’s that.” So the next day the guy comes by. “Ok. Ok. Ok. I’ll paint the roof for $1000.” We painted the roof ourselves.

Now a few years later the roof needed painting again. Now we are a few years older and starting to think that we really shouldn’t be climbing up on the roof so much anymore. As a result, we tried again to find someone else to do it. We’re in the midst of a horrible, global recession. Certainly somebody out there must be interested in making some money by painting our roof. Michael asked three people to come by to give him a price. Only one came. He stood in the driveway, kicked the gravel, and went on and on about how this was gonna be a tough job (we know we’ve done it ourselves); how getting the paint up there was gonna be really hard (sure, but my ‘hard-working’ woman/beyond middle-aged wife can do it so how tough can it be?); and how he’d have to be out in the sun working (of course, this is a roof after all and you’d hardly want to be painting in the rain). He said he’d work out the numbers and get back to us. That was the last we heard from him.

That’s why the two of us spent a good long week last month cleaning and scraping and sealing and painting our own roof again. It’s not Guernica by any stretch. But it was good, honest labor done well. Plus I figure it’s worth at least $3,000US.