Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image


How Cold Was It?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the season.

The Weather Outside is Frightful

It’s been another rough weather week for our compatriots up in the northeast. This winter storm, Nemo, certainly fashioned itself after Captain Nemo the tough submarine captain far more than it resembled the cute, little, animated, Disney, clown fish. Unfortunate residents experienced high winds with gusts up to 80+ miles an hour, hundreds of thousands ended up without power, and people found themselves shoveling up to 40 inches of accumulated wet snow. (Hi, Tom and Helen in Hamden, CT.)  A person might just find herself out on her veranda under clear skies and 80 degree temperatures feeling more than a little bit sorry for folks who have to live in such places. 

Of course, as I have mentioned from time to time in the past, it can get pretty chilly in the dead of winter even here at 18 degrees north of the equator. I also realize that there are probably skeptics out there who don’t believe my reports of bone-chilling, tropical evenings. Well, thanks to the good folks at Lime (the telecommunications company previously known as Cable and Wireless) and their time and temperature display at the Valley roundabout, I now have proof. 

Here’s what the display reported the other night at nearly midnight:

And for you persistent doubters who might simply think the thermometer is broken, here’s what it read at 1PM yesterday afternoon:

Brrrrrrr is right! And I can’t even find solace in claiming that it was a ‘dry cold’!

On the other hand, as I’ve taken to exclaiming in the face of any recent adversity, “No matter what, at least it ain’t snowing!” 

Everybody, stay warm out there.

It’s the Holiday Season

I am writing this quick post from the States. We are here soaking up some holiday cheer in various Marriott hotels in California – not exactly a rustic, rural landscape blanketed in newly fallen snow. It’s plenty chilly for me, though, so I get to break from my usual routine. I’m wearing skinny jeans and boots, leather jackets and pashmina scarves. The temperature readings are actually in the 50’s and 60’s, however. That means that to the casual observer I may appear to be just a tad over-dressed. We were getting off the elevator yesterday morning and a woman waiting to get on did question whether it was cold outside. Comfort levels being inherently relative, the answer was, “why, yes, indeed, it is.”

We are here because Michael had a speaking engagement in San Diego so I came along – looping first through northern California to visit the kids. On island, it is difficult and expensive to buy gifts for each other (and nearly impossible to do so in secret). We agreed (and hopefully Michael will adhere to the tenet) that this little trip IS my Christmas present. (The pleasure of my company these 10 days is most certainly HIS!) Even without shopping for each other and although most all of our gifts for family and friends have already been purchased online, it’s still nice to go window-shopping just to enjoy the decorations and music and for Michael to grab an eggnog latte or two or three or four. 🙂

Plus we get to spend hours walking the streets. That’s what we now enjoy the most about being in a big city. We especially like to be up in the morning and out walking (with that latte in hand) as a city comes alive. The other morning before 7am we were strolling along south of Market Street in San Francisco pondering the irony that folks go to great lengths to come to our backyard in order to walk along the beaches while we now relish the opportunity to meander along city sidewalks, busy sidewalks (in this case) dressed in holiday style…

Happy Holidays!

Rarely the Twain Shall Meet

Once again we are glued to the television watching the weather channel tracking a hurricane. Once again that hurricane is not threatening us here on our little Caribbean island but is heading to the northeastern United States. The irony in this is not lost on us. And we can only hope that the predictions of horrific devastation and destruction from this “Frankenstorm” turn out to be overblown and that the impact will not be nearly as bad as the experts fear. 

Meanwhile, we are sitting here enjoying glorious weather. The last storm that passed by a couple of weeks ago brought not only much-needed rain but also a much-appreciated break in the doldrums. Summer seems to have finally given way to Caribbean autumn.  Our walk on the beach yesterday was idyllic: clear sky, pleasant breeze and perfect water.  Life is good.

In fact, it’s nice enough now that I could comfortably put on some real clothes and go out somewhere to celebrate. The only problem is that most restaurants are still closed. The months of September and October are REALLY quiet here on island. This is beyond the ‘off season’. It’s literally the ‘turned off season.” That hurricane risk keeps folks away.  As a result, most resorts and restaurants close down for some part, if not all, of these two months. For weeks on end it’s a challenge to find any place that’s open for business. 

For us it’s not a big problem since we really don’t go out that much anyway. We love our house. We have a gorgeous view, a typically lovely breeze, and we enjoy cooking. The drinks are cheaper at our house, and we can listen to our own playlists. So we tend to just have folks over for dinner rather than go out and split a check. That means that even when every place on island is open for business you won’t see us out and about all that often. We might want to consider making an effort to venture out a wee bit more, however, as we may be taking the hermit existence to a bit of an extreme. It’s always been the case that we would occasionally run into somebody who would ask us when we got back on island – assuming that since they hadn’t seen us we must have been away. 

The other day, however, we were running errands and ran into an acquaintance who was clearly surprised to see us.  It had been so long since she’d seen us that she had apparently concluded that we must have left the island for good! That was certainly a new twist, but she wasn’t a close friend (obviously)so we pretty much dismissed the comment. That is until we went to the grocery store and ran right into someone else who said the same thing. Now we had a disturbing coincidence. Of course, as you know it is really unusual for us to find everything on our grocery list in only one store. So we had to make one more stop at another store. Sure enough, there was someone else we hadn’t seen in a while, and darn if he didn’t voice the same surprise at finding us still living on island. 

It was just a bit disconcerting having to explain our existence at every turn. That must have been how Mark Twain felt when a reporter came to his house to do research for his obituary and Twain was put in the peculiar position of having to proclaim, “the report of my death was an exaggeration.”  So as a new day dawns, I’d just like to point out that, like tropical storm winds, you may not be able to see us, but we are still here.  

In the meantime, stay safe everyone.

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

It has been unbelievably dry here lately. Sure this is a semi-arid island so nobody is expecting monsoons, but still. Last year we had over 50 inches of rain. This year we were registering less than 20. So in the midst of the hottest time of the year, we’ve also been suffering through a relative drought. In addition, it has been so hot that I could be sitting on the couch, wearing next to nothing, barely moving a single muscle, with a fan blowing directly on me, and I would still be sweating.  Even jumping in the swimming pool provided pathetically marginal relief in as much as the water temperature in the pool has been running well into the mid-90’s. Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and as uncomfortable as a Caribbean October can be this also happens to be the season when a look at the difference between life at 18 degrees north and life at other latitudes reveals a much starker contrast – a contrast that makes us honor-bound to acknowledge our blessings. 

First of all, we took that trip to Florida last week….the one where I thought I was going to dress up in layers and slip on heels and wear my hair down.  Well, it turns out that it is pretty beastly hot and still miserably humid in Florida this time of year, and the sun doesn’t rise until after 7AM which is totally uncivilized. So that trip didn’t turn out particularly well as a break from our norm (though I did see a movie in an air-conditioned theater and got to shop at big, air-conditioned, box stores), but it did relieve me of any unfounded envy for folks living in southern Florida’s climate. (I still covet their roads and shopping and restaurants and affordable air-conditioning. I just don’t envy their weather.) 

Having returned home we are starting to catch little glimpses of real life even further north. We have noticed that the folks outside on the plaza at the Today Show are already bundling up in the mornings to stand vigil hoping to meet Matt Lauer or to see themselves on tv.  Then I read a facebook post from a friend in Vermont happily(?) announcing that it was SNOWING while other friends emailed during a trip to Tucson overjoyed that they were missing a snow storm back home in Denver, and my niece in Maryland emailed whining about her weather asking what mine was like. And that’s all it takes to remind me that there are many worse places and few better places to be weather-wise than right where I am: heat or no heat, rain or no rain. 

We still desperately needed some rain, though. So we were really happy to find the weather satellite indicating a front or a depression (or whatever all those pretty colors on the image mean) brewing to the southeast of us and heading to the northwest. Contrary to our usual tendency to pray that the weather misses us, this time I was telepathically urging it on as it drifted west and then jogged east again until finally it brought us our much-needed precipitation. I am now happy to report that over the last few days we have enjoyed cloudy, breezy (sometimes quite blustery), rainy weather with nearly four inches of accumulated rain! And it is still raining off and on as I type. The plants are ecstatic. The cisterns are filling up. And I am downright chilly in the house even with all of the fans turned off. (Take THAT Electrical Company!) 

Sadly, however, the title of this post is not a mistype. The silver lining that is the rain did come with more than just its requisite, meteorological cloud. It brought with it a metaphysical cloud as well. While enjoying the coolness and the rain and the 49ers football game yesterday, our newest, HDTV, flat-screen, plasma television shorted out.  Not due to any apparent electrical storm activity. It just died. Perhaps from the damp. I don’t know. (Panasonic support said, in essence, ‘sucks to be you;’ and the internet is awash with references to the ‘blinking red light of death’ that is now the only pulsing sign of life on the unit.) Not to be deterred, though, we moved into the bedroom to watch on an old, big, boxy tv when the picture just up and died on that set, too. 

So now, just as the local cable company is finally completing the process of switching over from analog to digital feeds….the two televisions I have (or HAD) that were newer, digital-ready versions are dead.  That’s a proverbial cloud if there ever were one. At least I’ve got plenty of water to wash away my tears.

A Perfect Day for Soup

Perfect soup days are few and far between on the islands. That’s a good thing, of course, because we didn’t exactly come here looking to cuddle up in Snuggies and to sip hot liquids by a roaring fire. Bathing suits and cold beverages are more the norm.

That said, this time of year we can have runs of some pretty warm days. I’m not talking about 100-plus temperatures like you’ve found this year in plenty of places in the States, but during peak hurricane season it can get pretty uncomfortable. This is when the seas warm up, our swimming pool water creeps into the mid-90’s, and the trade winds can literally disappear into thin air. On the other hand, hurricane season can provide a bit of distraction in the form of a serious guessing game. Following each weather disturbance from its inception off the coast of Africa to its arrival or passing involves days of speculation and analysis centered on predicting the ultimate path the storm will take.  Just watch the weather channel.  Storm-tracking is big news and high drama. The dilemma for us, though, is that we’d kind of like some rain; but we’d rather not have any significant wind or destruction. Have the storm pass too far away and you get nothing. Have it pass by with your location just beyond the cone of disturbed weather and you can get the meteorological equivalent of less than nothing where all of your breeze is sucked into the storm and you have dead calm. But wish for the storm to bring you just a little bit of rain and you’re asking for trouble. (See my previous post Hurricane, Hurricane, Go Away )

We were playing that guessing game last week as Tropical Storm Isaac passed through the Caribbean speeding up, slowing down, jogging left, and listing right. The uncertainty was compounded by the fact that Michael was supposed to fly to the States early Thursday morning so he ventured over to St. Maarten Wednesday morning to do some shopping and to spend the night hoping he would be able to travel. Unfortunately, about two hours after he left, American Airlines cancelled his flight and couldn’t rebook him before Friday afternoon. His cell phone wasn’t working, and I was frantic to reach him to have him come back home so he wouldn’t get stuck in St. Maarten for two days if the ferries quit running. He’d already come and gone at the two places I knew he was heading on his way, and while he had already checked in at the hotel, he wasn’t in his room. Luckily he had only gone across the street to a little café with free wi-fi and got my email. He made it back on the very last boat as the winds and the seas were really picking up. 

As it turned out, it was luckier still that we had those two days for things to calm down before he had to return to catch his next flight. I spent a great deal of that time changing all the flights on his calendar and cancelling and rebooking rooms at four different hotels while he rescheduled meetings and dealt with shuttles and rental cars. And all the while, the wind just kept blowing. I’ve only experienced a couple of hurricanes before, and they blew through really quickly. In fact, when Omar hit Anguilla in 2008 around 2 o’clock in the morning it was a Category 4 hurricane yet we were outside cleaning up at first light. In comparison, Isaac may have been ‘just’ a tropical storm but he was a big one and carried on for almost two days. The relentless sound of the wind through the trees on top of the waves’ crashing against the rocks was actually physically exhausting. Even the cats took to sleeping (hiding) under blankets. That was the upside, of course. It was overcast and cool and occasionally rainy. So I made soup. We sat out on the leeward side of the veranda and enjoyed a nice, little, spicy, Vietnamese, noodle soup while we watched the storm roll by. Oh, and we took our cue from the cats and snuggled under blankets in bed, too. That was also a very, nice change. 

(Note: As I am writing this, Michael is out of harm’s way in Kansas City, but Isaac is nearing the Keys and threatening to become a hurricane as it reaches the United States. Here’s hoping that everyone stays safe.)

How do you like them apples?

It’s not often that I find myself sitting in the lap of luxury while my friends or family back in the States go without creature comforts. It’s most typically the other way around. However, the storms that ran through the States at the end of last week have changed all of that. Sadly, parts of the country have suffered horrible devastation resulting in the tragic loss of lives and widespread power outages in the face of triple digit temperatures. 

My brother in Maryland has been affected. So here I am quite comfortable in Anguilla enjoying cooler temperatures than he is with the added benefit of electricity and fans. I’d feel really badly except that he could just get in his Prius and drive a little way to find comfort. He wouldn’t even have to get on a plane to do that. Nevertheless, he is sitting at home watching food spoil while I text him situational updates from his electric company’s website and tell him what his current and predicted high temperatures are. He, for his part, is making comparisons between his condition and the trials of Job from the bible. Of course, Job didn’t whine so much – suffering in silence was his thing. 

Meanwhile, in the spirit of full disclosure, we have been really lucky here on island. Yes, we have plenty of power outages, many of them planned maintenance outages; but even with two hurricanes and one nearby volcanic eruption, we have never been without power for longer than 24 hours. The thought of people living in civilization and going without for a week is startling. We even now have relatively reliable internet access with a whopping 3MB (yes, 3 whole MB) download speed. We are living the good life. 

What is annoying, however, is the fact that while I have virtual access to the world via my computer, the world often blocks me out. For instance, I was ordering a little gift for my granddaughter’s birthday online. I was offered free two-day shipping (which was good because I’m a little late in ordering) if I signed up for a 30-day free trial for a shopping service. So I did. My US billing address on my credit card is our son’s address. So the US credit card bills to a US address which is the same address where the gift is going, BUT the next day the shopping service told me that they had to cancel my membership because I executed the transaction from a foreign IP Address and they can’t have that. It’s not a big deal because I was going to cancel my membership within the 30 days anyway, but this isn’t the only time my location has caused me headaches.

 Hulu? Can’t get it. Full-on Netflix? No way. Free episodes of NCIS on the CBS website? Can’t access them because they know I am out of the country. OK, fine. Maybe they think I am in China or Iran or something. They have to draw the line somewhere, I suppose. However, explain this one to me: I can go to yahoo.com. (It’s not even yahoo.com.ai like typing in google.com takes me to google.com.ai for google, anguilla rather than ‘real’ google. This is yahoo.com.) I can click on a ‘news’ story in their scrolling display of video clips. They will let me watch the paid advertising clip and then, every now and again, after I have patiently waited through the commercial, they will tell me that the actual, of-interest video is not available to me in my location. The commercial message is. The video is not.  

 I guess my brother is really lucky that www.pepco.com lets me access their outage maps. Otherwise, he’d really be in the dark.

Too much rain, too little island.

The past couple of weeks have been uncharacteristically wet – especially now during what is supposed to be the driest time of year. The rain just keeps on coming. Not constantly but daily. The cisterns are overflowing. The chemicals are being washed out of the swimming pool. And the bush, normally struggling simply to survive in the semi-arid environment, is flourishing in the face of consistent irrigation and is threatening to overtake the roads, quite literally, at every turn.

Sunday, the 27th of November, was exceptionally bad. We were having lunch with friends and specifically chose the location based on the amount of foul weather protection that the restaurant’s structure would afford. That is not something we typically have to consider, but we made a good choice because it rained and rained and rained. Under normal circumstances, I imagine that we would have never ventured out in the first place, but this was a birthday celebration so the timing of the gathering was kind of important.

We live on the southern coast towards the center of the island. The restaurant was to the west of us, and the drive there and back was rainy but not really a problem. The birthday girl, however, lives about as far to the east as one can go. I had baked a cake for the celebration; and the plan was for us to stop by our house, pick up the cake, and head to her house for the ‘party’. So, we swung by the house, grabbed the cake, balanced it on my knees and headed west – up a little hill and down the other side – and then ran smack dab into a newly-formed lake at the bottom.

Ok. That was unexpected but not entirely beyond reason. There’s no established drainage on this island – no drains or sewers, etc. The run-off water has to just find its way to the sea and often times the easiest way to do that is to use the paved roads. That particular stretch is in a narrow, low point between hills on all sides. I had never seen it completely under water before but with any rain at all you have to drive a bit of a slalom because the water builds up alternately side to side as you drive along the curves. This time there was no path. There was just water. So, we turned around and headed back west to drive north and then onto the old highway into the Valley. That is when the real impact of the rain became apparent.

Everywhere we went we found more water – covering the roads, pooling beside the roads, spraying out from under car tires, pouring down from the sky. We considered turning back and returning home, but I didn’t have the cell phone and didn’t want to disappoint the birthday girl so we plodded on at a snail’s pace until we reached the East End Salt Pond and found that it, too, had turned into a lake. We headed back west again and made one last attempt to head north. No luck. We ran into another impassable, flooded road and finally had to give up. (Photos we saw after the fact showed chest-deep water in some places with the worst flooding on island since Hurricane Lenny back in 1999. )

It was still raining heavily; and we were starting to worry that while we were out wandering the water had blocked our return. Luckily it didn’t, and we made it back to our house only to find that the birthday girl never made it to hers; and other folks were trapped there unable to get out. All in all, it took us a little over 2 hours to not get where we were going. That’s quite an accomplishment on a teeny, tiny island that is only 18 miles long. Retaining water the way it did that day, though, it certainly felt a lot bigger.

It’s official!

It’s winter here in the islands.

I know this for many reasons – the least of which is the calendar. The calendar tells me that the seasons are changing elsewhere. My brothers complain about the cold via email from their homes in Maryland and Illinois. And one morning I notice that all the folks out on Rockefeller plaza waving at the camera on the Today Show are bundled up in heavy coats and scarves and hats.  That is the rest of the world. Here in Anguilla the changing of the season can be rather subtle, but there are indicators.

The earth tilting means that the rising sun now shines directly into my southeast facing bedroom window instead of north of my house like it does the rest of year. Luckily it doesn’t wake me up until about 6:15A since the days are also shorter now. In June we have about 13 hours between sunrise and sunset whereas now we only have 11 hours of daylight. Granted, that is not as dramatic as the five hour difference in hours of sun my northern brothers experience throughout the year, but we notice the change. Heck, when I lived in California, I could never have told you the position of the sun in the sky, but here I know.

Even when we returned from Africa 2-1/2 weeks ago in early November, it still felt like summertime. At that point the temperatures remained in the upper 80’s and the winds were calm at only about 2-3mph which made for some pretty warm days. One week later, however, the cold front moved in. It was so noticeable that I went back and looked up those stats for the week before. That’s why I know that conditions changed to high temperatures of only 82 or 83 and more reasonable, seasonable wind speeds of 8-9mph. We started thinking about dragging out the sweaters and blankets!

That’s how much a few degrees difference can impact your life when you live on a desert island. The breeze changes a smidge, the humidity level rises, or the position of the sun shifts and the effect on your comfort level is disproportionately dramatic especially given that we have become soft. When I grew up in Pennsylvania, I hardly ever even buttoned my coat. When I moved to northern California, I thought that was warm, but by the time I moved away I had driving gloves for chilly winter commutes. Now, 82 degrees is cause for cashmere.

In fact, last year during the hottest days of October, we broke down and decided to turn on the air-conditioner in our bedroom. We closed up the room, turned on the unit and went to dinner. When we returned, the room was freezing cold. We turned up the temperature a couple of clicks and settled in to watch TV. Still cold, we turned up the temperature some more – not really paying attention to where it was set since the remote reads in Celsius. Finally we felt comfortable and went to sleep. In the morning I did the conversion to Farenheit. We had incrementally raised the temperature setting on the air-conditioner to 84 degrees. Who does that? Obviously, we do.

So how do I know, unequivocally, that it is now winter in Anguilla? I know because last night, sometime while we slept, Michael took possession of half of the sheet. The down comforter can’t be far behind.