Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holidays 2009: Horses, Ducks and Christmas

I might have bought a horse on Christmas day. I don't think so, but the duck definitely did not survive.

The horse comes later in the story. First you have to understand that I apparently look almost exactly like some guy who either lives on St. Croix or used to. I've been mistaken for him four or five times. One guy challenged me rather aggressively when I claimed not to be him, asked me how my two sisters in Phoenix are. For the record, I have seven sisters, none of whom live in Phoenix although when we were kids we visited the Grand Canyon, which is in Arizona but I don't think that counts. Another guy was sure we used to work together. It took me several minutes to convince him we didn't. I've had people yell his name, "Winegar!" as I drove by. So I apparently look exactly like him and that may or may not have anything to do with this. (Winegar, by the way, must be a devilishly handsome fellow.)

On Christmas Eve Tori had gone with a co-worker to another co-worker’s home and killed I think eight ducks, cleaning them and plucking them. She came home with one for Christmas dinner, the hunter gatherer returning with the feast and many gory stories about viscera. Also a bit of blood on her clothes. Our son Jack was visiting us from the Bay Area and Christmas morning was great. Then Tori set about roasting the duck – which apparently involves as many steps as launching a small weather satellite – while I had to work briefly. I walked down to Budhoe Park to cover a Christmas concert that was supposed to happen at 6 p.m. Not a bad walk, mile and a little bit, maybe a mile and a half.

Got there, and there was no one. No one was there. No concert. Nothing. That happens more often than you'd think. Something is planned and then canceled, and everyone just seems to know that it isn't going to happen, but I just don't seem to be hooked into whatever kind of social telegraph would have tipped me off. Disappointing, because I get paid by the story, but I saw a gorgeous sunset in the balmy weather. I hung around for a while, just in case, but it was, after all, Christmas day, and a really good dinner was coming up, so I turned around and started walking home.

Walking up King Street I found myself drawing up on an old woman with a cane who was laboring up the hill a bit slower than me. As I passed her, I said, "Good night," which is required, it's part of living here - Good morning, good afternoon, good night.

Anyway, she answered "Good night," then as I pulling away, she said what sounded like, "Savwok."

I turned. She said it again. I said, "I'm sorry, but what?" She repeated it, then seeing I didn't get it, said, "You're going home, right?" I said yes. She said, drawing it out and over-enunciating as you would to a small child, "Have a safe walk."

"Oh, I've been here over a year, but that's a new one on me, thanks," I said. Merry Christmas."

"You too dahlin."

So I head off, walking down the road, and here comes a guy on a horse. So I stepped back to give him the right of way, but he stops, so his horse is blocking me, and tells me he knows me. Well, maybe. Maybe he knows Winegar. Or maybe he's just stoned, which in fact he was.

I'm told people sometimes talk about the white family in Smithfield who never sleep: “De lights and de noise be on all de time.” That would be us. Definitely not the family Winegar, although they may have curious sleeping habits as well.

Anyway, the stoned horseman – for he was indeed seriously stoned – points to my hat and mentions the race car. No, it's my Seattle Seahawks cap but I decide not to press the point.

The guy starts talking about his horse. I think he said something like, "Next time I bring you one, you see." Then I think he was comparing his horse to a dog, with the dog coming out second best but both rating high in intelligence and loyalty. Or he might not. There seemed to be a part with how the horse is around children although I could have gotten that wrong. It might have been something completely different. The point is, I couldn't understand a word he was saying, but he was saying it in a very friendly, enthusiastic way, and that's always kind of entertaining.

The guy was seriously Crucian, which means his patois is right on the edge of my understanding in the best of circumstances. Others in the family have much less trouble, but this guy also was stoned, so there was that. He might have been comparing horses and boll weevils, or Ukrainians. Or it might have had nothing to do with horses, although he did pat the wiry steed vigorously several times. His sweeping hand gestures, which twice almost toppled him from his mount, weren't helping convey whatever the message was.

At the five-minute mark I was looking hard for a way to end it. Every time there was a slight slowing in the flow of words I'd try, "Well, gotta ..." but that's as far as I got. We shook hands two or three times, fist bumped a few more. He wasn't going to stop until he'd said what he wanted to say. Finally I heard something that again sounded like, "You see. I show you. I bring you one next time." And, smiling and nodding, I thanked him again and finally was back on my way.

It was a safe walk, and an interesting one. And as I neared the house and the fabulous Christmas dinner of roast duck and pork and potatoes and salad and fresh bread rolls, a thought hit me. In my nodding and smiling and all, had I just agreed to buy a horse that the stoned horseman would bring over “next time?”

I don’t think so, but if I did, I hope Winegar has a place to keep it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kind of Cool

There is still no storm activity in the Atlantic basin. With the hurricane season down to its last six weeks, it's been unbelievably mild. Not that we're complaining.

We've had a couple of alerts. This time of year - basically June through November but mostly August and September you keep one eye always on the Atlantic, and try to keep plenty of hurricane stores on hand. We even got a small generator this year.

But so far, nothing. Nothing at all. between the wind shear coming off South America, the heavy Saharan dust and dry air, no big storms have formed up and come marauding into the Caribbean, despite the warm surface temperatures of the ocean.

But this is kind of cool (since it's about a hundred miles away. Otherwise it might be anything from worrisome to terrifying.) The volcano on Montserrat has started erupting again. This is a photo taken by the International Space Station (where they sometimes talk like pirates!) The picture is from the NASA Web site.

To help orient yourself - the ash plume is drifting west, the narrow end of the island points almost due north. Montserrat is south of St. Kitts & Nevis, and Nevis is about a hundred miles due east of us here on St. Croix - where we're still keeping an eye on the Atlantic Basin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A 'tiring' but interesting day

The left front tire on Bertha (our '97 Nissan Pathfinder) was in a bad way. I could feel movement in the steering wheel, could see the belt peeking from the corner, knew it was coming apart.

So Thursday I dropped the family off at school, drove gingerly home and went to change it.

Peeled back the cover on the spare mounted on the back and it looked good, hardly worn at all, plenty of tread. So I pulled the cover off and got my first surprise. It would not be the last.

The spare was held on to the frame by three lug nuts – and a big, rusted padlock. I checked all the keys – we had no key for that lock. I don't recall the guy who sold us Bertha last year ever mentioning it and I hadn't checked then or since. Searched the car from top to bottom. Found some interesting thing, but no padlock key.

As fate would have it, I had to drop by Tony's Wrecking Yard that day to pay $30 I owed for something else. (Equally long, convoluted story I won't go into here.) So I gave him a call. "You don't happen to have a bolt cutter I could borrow for two minutes, do you?" Turns out he did. So that problem would soon be solved.

Drove carefully over to Tony's. about five miles. Tony's a funny guy – probably about my age, shorter and rounder than me, bald, and with a crusty exterior that makes him a little off-putting at first. The previous day I'd been there I'd had to wait and watch while he directed his crew in moving some junked cars around the lot to make room for something. It was like one of those wooden Chinese puzzles – pull this one over there, start that one, back it out, slide another past it, then put that back. Etc. Tony stood on the building harassing, shouting, raining out a torrent of colorful invective that blistered paint, but it was all somehow good natured and accepted by everyone.

But when dealing with me he was unfailingly helpful and courteous, and the strongest language he used was comically mild. When I pulled in and he saw the lock and heard that I had no key, he rolled his eyes and said, "Ho-o-o-ly matrimony!"

He had several more opportunities for that one as the day went on.

We were able to snap the lock off without trouble. The tire was just a tad soft, so I figured I'd drive to a service station, put air in it and put it on the car. But Tony said, "You want us to do that for you? We've got air and we can take care of it and get you on your way." I let myself be convinced – fortunately.

Backed the car into the service area and one of the guys had it jacked up and the tire off in no time. Meanwhile Tony himself took the spare, put air in it and ran water over it to make sure no air was bubbling out anywhere. Nope. Looked good. The guy popped it on and with six quick zips of the pneumatic wrench it was ready.

I thanked Tony, offered to pay him, he declined, I gave him the cash I had and he said, "I'll give it to the guys."

I got in, started Bertha up, put it in gear and gave it gas.

Bertha didn't move. Instead there was a horrible grinding noise, which – if I tried to transcribe it here – would be all Gs and Ns and Ks. I got out to check but it wasn't still jacked up and there was nothing blocking any of the wheels. I tried again.

More Gs and Ks.

Tony looked closely at the front end of the car, looked at me and said, "I don't think that wheel's the right size."

He was right. The tire was the same size as the others, but the wheel it was mounted on wasn't quite right. I'm not even sure how you do that.

Now what? Even if I wanted to I couldn't drive it. All I could think was to put the bad tire back on and go down to the nearest tire shop and get it straightened out, as if that was something I could afford.

Tony, however, had other plans. He told me to wait, "We'll get you on the road" – and sent one of the guys out into the lot to find a Pathfinder he was pretty sure was out there. I waited maybe half an hour, and the guy (the one who told me he'd been 9 years old when Woodstock happened a couple of hundred miles from his home and he still hasn't forgiven his parents for not taking him to it) came walking through the rusted hulks with a wheel. The right sized wheel. Then they mounted my tire on the wheel, took another 20 minutes or so – and the new wheel was zapped onto my car. And I was good to go, and Tony wouldn't hear of me paying him for it.

Changing a tire is not rocket science. I've changed more than a few in my life and times and it rarely takes more than about 15 minutes. This had taken about three hours starting from when I'd decided to do it. But I've never been happier about a tire change.

Later I was doing some other chores and mentioned something to the cashier about "the way my day's been going." She commiserated about "the bad day" she assumed I was having.

Not a bad day, I replied. It was certainly an interesting day, and it could have been a very bad one, but it wasn't. Tony is a helluva guy and his crew are really something and they made all the difference.

And I've learned another valuable lesson:

Just because the car you're buying has a spare tire attached to it doesn't mean that the spare actually goes to your car. Check it out.

And go to Tony's.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebration - Part 2

Okay, so apparently I was wrong about how long it would take me to post the next part of the anniversary adventure. Not the next day, but two weeks later.

What can I say, we got very busy. It was, after all, the two weeks leading up to Talk Like a Pirate Day. Which I will discuss in a later post. How much later? Excellent question.

So when last I wrote, the power was out, the rain was pouring down, the room was leaking a little. Time for dinner! The restaurant was supposed to open at 6, but we didn't see how it could without electricity. But no, the woman at the front desk told us it was open. They must have a generator.

The restaurant at Sand Castle is an open air affair, and given the really remarkable rain it was hard to see how that was going to work. There was one small area near the bar under cover, and about nine, ten people were crowded in underneath the canopy at the few little tables. We pulled the last table out of the rain right next to another and sat down.

And that's how we met Larry and Chris. They were a couple vacationing from Nashville. The arrangements made it all very cozy, and when Chris moved around to the other side so he could smoke without bothering Larry, we were all basically having dinner together.

And that was fine. These were two funny, funny guys. Larry does something in banking – he explained it but I couldn't follow it exactly. Chris is in oncology. I have no idea if he is a doctor, a nurse or some kind of technician, but he had some stories. I also found it interesting that he smokes. Just seemed odd.

Anyway, they'd been on island about a week, and Larry couldn't wait to move there. Chris seemed more cautious, but everything was funny the way they told it. They asked – and we tried to give – some of our impressions about island living, being transplanted here and making our way in this life that is both similar and foreign to stateside living. But wherever a conversational gambit started it became another joke, or another funny story.

We learned a lot about their lives and families. We learned about their cat and their home and their pool, saw their family photos. We hadn't brought any with us, the house was only half mile away and we hadn't really thought we'd end up sharing time with anyone but ourselves. Still, it was a pleasant dinner. Lot of laughing.

At some point – roughly about the time the waitress brought our prime ribs – the rain stopped. About the time we were asked about dessert, the power came back on. There was general applause.

The cook had something new, an incredibly chocolatey thing served in a martini glass – not pudding but much thicker than mousse, almost like one of those cans of frosting, eaten directly from the can. Tori ordered that (and Larry insisted on paying for it as an anniversary present.) I had a brownie with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce - way too much for my stomach but not nearly as rich as Tori's dessert. I tried hers of course, and I've never had chocolate that burned. I'm telling you, the spoonful I had left a burning chocolate aftertaste that lingered for several minutes before I cooled it down with my own dessert.

Larry and Chris just fell in love with Tori – pretty much everyone does – and when we paid the check we realized we'd been there for three hours. We went back to our room, where I recited the little bit of poetry I could recall – NOT including "The Cremation of Sam Magee." Our book of poetry is still in storage in Oregon.

It wasn't easy to check out the next day. We'd had a nice time, alone with no kids or phone or anything. Just us. And now the sun was out and there was the beach. Oh well, that's the nice thing about living here. The beach is ALWAYS there. But we had to admit we were a little worried bout the family – they'd been without power too – so we loaded up our one small bag and drove home.

It had been a nice getaway, and we'll be doing some more of those soon, I think. In the meantime, I'm going to finish with the sonnet that I always recite to her every year on Sept. 5 – the most important day in my life.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Ah, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on storms and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with its brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be folly, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Explosive Celebration

Last Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the best day of my life – the day I married Tori.

In Oregon we always spent our anniversary sitting under the same tree, one we'd carved our initials in, and read poetry while sipping wine and eating bread. Now, partly we did that every year because it was romantic, and because our schedules were so hectic. Sometimes we'd have no more than a half hour or so before one of us, or one of the kids, had to be somewhere. But I have to admit, part of it was that we were kind of broke when we first got married. This was both romantic and inexpensive.

But I always thought Tori deserved a better anniversary than that, and when the city of Albany cut down that tree a couple of years ao, we knew it was time to go.

We're hardly rich now, seriously that's just laughable. But this year we were able to do a little better. (Tori got a great new job. I'll let her tell you about that another time.) I thought it would be nice this year to have some time for us, without having to worry about the kids or the schedule, making dinner or anything like that. So, without telling Tori, I made a reservation for a room at Sand Castles on the Beach, a resort not more half a mile from here, right on our favorite stretch of beach. We'd be right at hand if anything went wrong at home, but we'd be alone. We'd walk on the beach, maybe swim, maybe use the resort's pool. Not worry about anyone but us. We didn't bring the cell phone, didn't bring the laptop. We'd have a sort of island getaway vacation without actually going anywhere.

The weather was dicey that day, cloudy all day with some light sprinkles. Mind you, this was the day after what was left of Tropical Storm Erika had already passed by, and there was nothing on the weather horizon. But instead of sun, we got clouds, gray skies and a little rain.

No problem, I was sure we'd find something to do indoors. And we did.

The room was nice, a suite actually, with a living room, bedroom and small kitchen off the patio. The patio was covered, so even a little rain wouldn't be a problem.

But a little rain was not what we got. After we'd been there a couple of hours we were, sitting in the living room, resting and watching the Notre Dame game (Go Irish!) when there was a flash of light outside. Then a boom. Then more light. Then the roar of rain.

Understand that when we get rain here it's usually brief. Even when it's intense, it's rarely as long as 15 minutes. But this was amazing, a downpour like we haven't seen since Hurricane Omar. Lightning and thunder right on top of us – literally. There'd be the flash and the boom almost simultaneously, which means it's close. And the rain pouring down.

That's when we discovered the kitchen window couldn't be closed. There was a screen, but no glass. It shouldn't have been a problem since the window was perpendicular to the open end of the covered patio, where the rain was coming from. In a typical cloudburst, not even an issue.

But this rain was coming down so hard for so long and blowing so hard that it flooded the kitchen, water pooling up on the floor. We had to run down to the desk and get a lot more towels.

The rain, the thunder, the lightning. It was spectacular. Naturally, the power went out, so we never did see the end of the game (which Notre Dame won, we found out later, 35-0.) And it went on more than two hours. I mean, this was a storm like I hadn't seen here without a hurricane warning attached to it.

Dramatic doesn't begin to describe it. It as an amazing experience, and a spectacular backdrop for our anniversary. And it wasn't the last amazing experience we'd have that weekend.

But we'll tell the rest of the story tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Weather Watch

Last week we had our eye on Erika. It was kind of funny, the hurricane reporting sites we monitor had all been predicting that system would turn into something potentially serious, and as the week wore on they all sounded really annoyed that it wasn't. It's like they were blaming Erika. By the time Erika rolled through the Caribbean it had pretty much dissipated into nothing. Ironically, it was the day after what was left of Erika rolled through that we got quite a bit of rain with some pretty cool lightning and thunder.

Now Fred has formed up off the African coast and is lumbering across the Atlantic at 13 miles an hour. Unlike Erika, Fred has gone from tropical wave to depression to storm to hurricane very quickly, and is continuing to build up steam. But, as is often the case, when a storm builds up a lot of strength early, the rotation causes it to veer north. Also, there's plenty of wind shear blowing from the southwest, which tends to break up storms, and dry air and Saharan dust. So right now we're cautious, but not worried.

Sure enough, all the computer models and tracking maps show Fred heading almost due north, where it will rage out without ever seeing land. So that's a good thing.

Of course you can never be sure. These storms sometimes have a mind of their own. So you keep prepared, with a supply of food and water and flashlights and candles and plenty of books. And you hold your breath until the end of the hurricane season, Nov. 30.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Island Living

Max couldn't get the game cartridge into his Nintendo DS this morning. We tried shoving it in, vigorously, but it wouldn't catch.

Tori – who is both smarter than me and has significantly better eyesight than me – peered into the slot. A tiny – barely an inch long - lizard had crawled in, and when we shoved in the cartridge we'd impaled it on the prongs.

We have written Nintendo customer support (I think this will be a first for them) seeking advice on how to extract the former lizard in a relatively non-gooey and less disgusting way and how to clean lizard entrails off the contacts. I suspect we may have to wait a few days for it to mummify a bit, and perhaps pick up some barf bags.

Because, Damn!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chicken in a Hole- Not a Recipe

A Caribbean math problem:

How do you get a baby chick out of a three-feet deep, two-inch wide fence post hole?

That's the dilemma we faced recently when a newborn chick fell into a hole in our yard and proceeded to cheep, cheep, cheep for dear life.

My daughter Alex heard it first. As this is St. Croix, chickens roam freely everywhere. That is one thing that surprised me most about living here. Chickens. Everywhere. In the streets, in yards, on the beach, in the cities, behind businesses, in front of businesses, even in the trees. Yes, chickens have been spotted in the trees. I am reminded of a jaunty, animated Sesame Street ditty:

"There are chickens in the trees,
Chickens in the trees...

At the end of the animated song a small voice proclaims ' silly man, chickens do not climb trees.'

Yes they do. Virgin Island chickens climb trees, poles, roofs, fences, cars, small children, large children and horses.

And while Virgin Island chickens climb trees, poles, roofs, fences, cars, small children, large children and horses, they also fall into holes.

All year long mother hens strut around with baby chicks in tow. Sometimes the hens will have a dozen babies following them around, pecking and scraping their tiny little feet at the ground looking for bugs. But it is a good thing they have a lot of babies, as chickens have no natural defenses and there are a lot of predators: Cats, mongoose, (or is it mongeese? Mongooses? Mongi?) cars, the weather, young Crucian boys who have to bring dinner home or face the wrath of mother, and the big damn Rottweiler next door who has used chickens as chew toys on more than one occasion, and three-feet deep, two-inch wide fence post poles that have been cut off at the base and left as a trap for poor little chicks to fall into.

When Alex heard the sound of a muffled chick squealing, she had to investigate and soon found that a chick had, indeed, fallen and could not get out. This little guy was jammed in. He was small enough to fall all the way to the bottom, but tight enough that we couldn't get anything under him to lift him without crushing his fragile body. We couldn't dig him out as the pole was set in concrete. We tried a curved stick, a coat hanger, two sticks used as chopsticks, a rope on a stick, a rope on two sticks, but to no avail. We even talked of flooding him out with the garden hose, but rejected that idea, as despite being Monty Python fans, we didn't really know if the chick would float. (And if it didn't float, it'd be a witch and we'd have to burn it. Too much trouble. Better not to know.)

We were frustrated in our failed attempts to save this poor baby chick. We couldn't think. It seemed hopeless, the chicks cries were slowing down. He'd been in the hole for an hour or more and we nearly gave him up as a casualty to the bitch of nature, when suddenly, along came a spider.

We had a flashlight beam shining down the hole on the chick and suddenly, the light picked up a curious glare on top of the chicks head. Two curious pinpricks of light, only it wasn't exactly pinpricks of light, it was more like pea-sized, giant pea-sized points of light reflected back to us at the top of the hole. And dear, sweet, God, I can't describe how freaked out we were to realize that a huge, giant, enormous spider had crawled on top of the baby chicks head. I kid you not, a big damn spider was covering the baby chick's head. Bad to worse.

There is nothing like a super creepy arachnid with glowing eyes perched on top of an innocent, fluffy, chick to inspire some creativity! The stakes had immediately gone up. Now we weren't just facing an unsolvable dilemma of nature, we were the good guys battling evil. If we failed, then all of mankind would fall into the darkest depths of chaos. The forces of evil would win. The spiders would win. But oh! How terribly creepy it was. I am not generally afraid of spiders, but this scene made me feel sick to my stomach. My creep-o-meter was on full tilt. What to do? What to do? We just knew Shelob was waiting for us to go away so he could inject his venom, wrap his victim in silk and claim his prize, his precious.

We had to defeat the spider.

Our sticks prodded the hole with a new fervor. We'd poke the spider, he'd fight back, lifting his legs up to ward off our wooden swords. We prodded, Shelob rallied, we screamed feeling particularly oogie. Finally, my husband John joined Alex and I in battle, and when he thrust his stick, er, sword at the venomous monster, it fought back aggressively, raced up the shaft of the stick and out into the open, but before it could attack, John hurled the minion of Sauron into the street and crushed him, stomped him again and again under his mighty Rockport tennis shoes.

Our hearts were racing! We triumphed over evil! If only we could save our symbol of hope and purity!

Damn it! We are Theater People. Surely we can think of something. And out came the duct tape. Within minutes of defeating the spider, Alex had rigged a long stick with a wad of inside out duct tape. She fished into the hole, gently, gently, gently and suddenly, hopefully, felt the chick stick to the tape. She lifted him up, slowly, slowly, carefully. We held our breaths. Stuck to the end of a stick in a wad of duct tape was our baby chick.

Elation! Shrieks of joy!

We had to unstick him from the duct tape, and the little guy lost some bits of fluff on his back, but he was alive and intact. Nothing broken, no spider bites. We raced the chick to the back yard where his mother was pecking and scratching at the ground with about a half a dozen babies all around. We set him down and watched this adorable, innocent symbol of Easter, run towards the hen and the other chicks cheep, cheep, cheeping all the way.

We spent the next ten minutes gathering small stones and with a last burst of heroic adrenaline, we filled in the three-feet deep, two-inch wide fence-post hole and capped it off with a coconut shell. We sealed the slippery gates of hell.

The lucky little chick cheated death. Today. Tomorrow? That's a different story. I can report that I have seen the chick with the bald spot pecking and scratching and chirping days after his big ordeal. So the answer to the math problem, how do you get a baby chick out of a three-feet deep, two-inch wide fence post hole is easy: duct tape and a stick. Of course, the motivational spider is optional.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Tori went out back this morning, as she does most mornings because the mosquitoes tend to congregate out front in the a.m., and came back in looking quizzical.

She was wondering what the horses were doing in the back yard.

Two horses. Can't say I've seen them before. We've got a couple of horses that live in a lot down the street and wander a bit, quite a lot actually, but these two are new to me.

We often have chickens in the yard - there are chickens all over the island that don't seem to belong to anyone, they just wander around making more chickens (and roosters do crow at sunrise, but only because roosters crow all the damn time, sunrise, sunset, 2 in the afternoon, 2 in the morning) and we get iguanas back there, big ugly guys, sometimes as many as four at a time. I often wonder how iguanas ever reproduce because they're so ugly they must be ugly even to other iguanas. And other birds, lot of white egrets. No goats – the goats seem to congregate on the center of the island, not so much here on the west.

Oh, and two night ago, around 10 p.m., I was driving Millie home from the theater down the island's one multi-lane highway. We glanced over the divider and there were about half a dozen cows and a bull wandering east down the road while we headed west. I hope they stayed in the slow lane.

But these are the first horses we've had actually in the yard - that I know of. All I can guess is, I was up late last night and didn't close the gate until after 2 a.m. They must have wandered into the yard, and then got caught when I locked up. Either that, or they wandered in and don't really care where they are. One place is as good as another to horses.

I'll keep an eye on them, because what the hell am I supposed to do with them?

Max, of course, wanted to ride them to school.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Extreme Frustration

Sorry about being gone so long. We've been extremely busy between work and school and the theater and stuff.

I'll talk about those next week – promise. Right now I just need to vent.

I knew I had a car problem, Bertha was dripping brake fluid for a couple of weeks – not a lot but noticeable. I planned to nurse it along until the end of the month. Keep a close eye on the fluid level, watch the drips in the carport.

That's not the frustrating part. A week ago Wednesday, on April 15, Tori got in and the brake pedal went down to the floor. Not because she has such powerful leg muscles (although she does) but because the slow leak had suddenly become a really bad one. You could sorta pump up the brakes, but it wasn't what you'd call a safe ride.

Last Friday I took the car down to the shop – THAT was an exciting ride, let me tell you. I got there, the guy said the calipers were shot. Not a surprise, I'd seen fluid leaking out from inside the brake unit. Had to be something like that. The problem - the part did not exist on the island. The part is never on the island. It had to be ordered. It would be in Monday.

It is now Friday and the part is still not here. It got shipped, it went through Miami, it got as far as San Juan and then disappeared off the face of the planet. Puerto Rico is the bottleneck where mail to and from the Virgin Islands goes to die, and this is gone. So they've re-ordered the part and with luck and help from the post office we'll have a car – next week. Which, not that I think about it, is just about the end of the month, which was my original plan but no real help.

Talking on the phone wth the guy at the mechanics, I could tell he felt awful, and I apparently was not the only customer who had this problem this week. So yelling wasn't going to do any good. But man, it's frustrating.

Meanwhile Tori and the family have had to get too and from school every day in a cab, which is not money we'd planned on spending. And I've been walking everywhere, taking the island's taxi vans (they're actually kind of cool, you can get anywhere on the island for $2.50, if you're not picky about when you get there.) Can't get to the major grocery store. This is getting old. Old old old.

There. Needed to get that off my chest. No, I don't feel one bit better, but at least I got the chance to vent.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Plenty of daylight here

So back there on the mainland, you've all switched over to Daylight Savings Time. You're getting up in the dark for the sake of squeezing a little extra sunlight out of the late afternoon. Either that or you've been an hour late for everything today.

Here in the U.S.V.I. we don't worry about DST. People here are too relaxed to get all excited about the clock, which explains why islanders can be late for something without having daylight savings to use as an excuse.

Here, this close to the equator, the sun rises every morning right around six, and in the evening it sets right around six. And that's good enough for everybody.

From our perspective all your switch to DST means is that instead of being one hour ahead of the East Coast, we're at the same time. And instead of being four hours ahead of our friends and family on the West Coast, we're only three hours ahead. And all that means is when sending an e-mail you have to adjust when you send an e-mail how long you expect to wait for a reply. it also changes the calculations when making a phone call.

And it makes watching TV a little more convenient. I love "The Daily Show," but waiting until midnight is just too much. 11 to 11:30 I can do.

Enjoy your new schedule.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

There'll Always Be An England

SPORTS UPDATE: You will be relieved, no doubt, to learn that England has regained its cricket form and now beaten the West Indies team twice in a row after losing the opener of the series, which I wrote about here.

Or, as the AP has it, "Swann helped dismiss the home team for 285 in reply to the visitor's first innings of 566-9." Actually, the more I think about it, the more comprehensible that becomes. Quick! Must stop thinking!

No stunning yorkers or nudging to second slip in the AP report, but I was delighted to read that "the seamers did such a good job with the reverse swing ..." I imagine you're delighted, too.

Just thought you should know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Physics update

A friend writes to say that St Croix must be "an entropical island."

Wish I'd thought of that.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Today's physics lesson and what it means

"As entropy increases, order decreases."

That's physics. Some rule or something. I heard it in college a gazillion years ago, although what I was doing in a class where someone was talking about physics I can't now recall. There must have been a reason.

But that little kernel of information remains with me, one of a small handful of facts that I have unaccountably retained over the years, stubbornly clinging to the inside of my head like a sodden Wheaties flake that dried on the table and now can't be scraped off. What it means, if I remember rightly and that's almost certainly not the case, is that entropy is a measure of order or organization, the lower the entropy the higher the organization. A heavy element, with it's cloud of electrons and it's massive nucleus has more order than a hydrogen atom. A molecule represents more order than an atom. A galaxy has more order than a diffuse cloud of gas. (I'm almost certain I'm getting this wrong, because I don’t think I understood it completely in college and that was a long time ago.)

And, in this universe we live in, the tendency is for entropy to increase. Order is always breaking down, big things slowly devolving into their constituent parts until someday (hopefully not soon but you never know) the entire universe (including all of us) will be one evenly spaced field of sub-atomic particles a tiny flicker of a degree above absolute zero.

Something like that.

And what in the world am I writing this for? Even if I'm right, and that seems highly unlikely, what could possibly be the point of wasting blog space on it?

Another way of stating that law - As entropy increases, order decreases – would be this simpler statement: Stuff breaks. A new law of physics! Call it Baur's Universal Constant.

That seems particularly apropos today. As I've noted, we had car trouble the last couple of months. We've had water problems. And those problems have redoubled this week. The water went out Wednesday, here it is Friday and we still don't have running water in the house. The plumber (nice guy, moved here four months ago from Texas) is here again and has tracked down three leaks in the supply line that feeds from the cistern to the pump. It doesn't mean water's leaking out, it means air is leaking in, the pump can't hold the prime and I can't take a shower. And I really need a shower by now. Three days without running water. I think I've told you the process I have to go through to flush the toilet, I won't belabor the point.

What's weird is (and here's where the physics lesson comes in,) nothing happened to suddenly cause these leaks. It's not like I ran over the pipe with the car, or a meteor hit or something. Tuesday everything worked fine. Wednesday, not. I can only think it has to do with a sudden, localized burst of entropy.

Bertha (our car) is similar. We bought her from a guy moving back to the states, so it's not like he was dumping a lemon. She's been a good rig for us. Until the ignition problem started in December. Then a brake problem in January. And a tiny leak in the cooling system the mechanic couldn't find, but he told us to keep an eye on the radiator level and carry a jug of coolant with us at all times. That's how it is with cars, they run great, but once a problem starts, there's a cascade effect.

Tori was driving to school yesterday morning with Max and Millie in the car. They had just turned off the highway (the island's only four-lane road) and were heading up East Airport Road when there was a tremendous crashing/grinding sound, as if they'd been hit. Tori pulled over and looked. No damage. She got back in and started driving - and immediately the car started shaking violently. It was barely controllable. She pulled into the gas station just up the road and looked underneath. The rear torsion bar had snapped like a twig. Had it happened 10 minutes earlier, when she was driving 60 on the highway, it's horrifying to think what might have happened.

As luck would have it, the gas station she pulled in at was not more than 200 yards from an auto repair place. She VERY slowly drove to it, then called school and got someone to come out and pick them up.

The guys at Unique Auto Repair were able to fix it at a fraction of what I thought it would cost. There was no replacement part on the island (that's often the case) but a torsion bar isn't a big, complicated thing - it's a bar that essentially holds the rear wheels in place while you drive. No big deal. They welded it back together, reinforced it, and charged us very little. When school was over she was able to get back out there, pick it up and drive home, rattled but otherwise safe and sound.

So that story has a happy ending. Considering how it could have ended, we'll take it.

But it's just another warning to be on the lookout for entropy in your life. I've got a birthday coming up, and ever since I turned 50 I've felt my personal entropy rising exponentially. Here on St. Croix, it's even more so. This is a high-entropy part of the universe. So perhaps for my birthday I'm going to see if anybody sells an entropy meter. Probably Radio Shack. Or Kmart. Or Mr. Dollar - one of our favorite stores on the island. He sells everything, and like the sign out front says, "If we don't have it, you don't need it." Since I need a personal entropy meter, it stands to reason that he must have it. Although I recall vaguely from another college class (Logic) that "universal affirmatives can be only partly converted" - whatever that means - so I should probably call ahead first and ask.

But that'd be a really useful tool to have. It wouldn't stop entropy from increasing, but at least it'd give me a warning. That's all I ask. Although, given local entropic conditions, the meter would be the next thing to break.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for the Plumber

Here's the thing about water on St. Croix and most Caribbean islands - There isn't any.

Oh sure, we're surrounded by water - we're on an island, after all, and from almost any vantage point we get views of some of the most spectacularly blue waters on Earth. But it's like in the Coleridge poem:

Water, water everywhere,
and all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

(Yes, I know most people think it's "but not a drop to drink." Tell them to look it up.)

But all that water is, of course, salt water. You can't drink it. St. Croix doesn't have any huge freshwater aquifer to drill for, no rolling rivers or reservoirs to draw from. We've got -

The rain. Virtually all the drinking water on St,. Croix falls from the sky, runs down your roof and is funneled into a cistern below the house. Then it's pumped up by your water pump and that's your water supply. So rain from time to time is a very good thing. (And by the way, rainwater doesn't have any minerals in it, so residents are advised to take a vitamin supplement with minerals. Just thought that was interesting.)

So fresh water is a pretty valuable commodity, and a Crucian takes pride and/or comfort in a large, brimming reservoir the way friends of mine back in Oregon take comfort and pride in a huge wood pile for the stove or fireplace.

This all comes to mind because there's something wrong with our pump today. We actually have two cisterns - one under the front porch and another under the kitchen, with pipes and valves to switch from one to the other. Between them we can probably store around 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water. But the back one is empty, and the front one is kinda low. But more to the point, the pump is not drawing water out of the cistern (yes, I've checked, the valves are set for the front cistern, but thanks for the suggestion.)

To flush the toilets while waiting for the plumber (due in about another hour) I have to open the cistern (the concrete lid of the thing is heavy, maybe 80 pounds or more,) drop a bucket down on a rope to pull up a couple of gallons to pour into the tanks. Same for washing dishes last night.

It doesn't pay to look too closely into the reservoir. A big concrete space, and when they're empty a kind of creepy nothing. They are not particularly clean. The water is clear, but there's "stuff" in there. That's why we have a filter on the kitchen tap, and buy bottled water for drinking. Showers are short - Navy showers, where you get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn on the water and rinse off. And you don't flush for just anything. In fact, there are actually restaurants down here with this little jingle posted on the walls:

In this land of fun and sun
We never flush for Number One.

Just to keep the poetic theme going.

I also suspect our gutters may be plugged, which would explain why the cisterns don't seem to charge the way I'd expect despite the fact that we've had a couple of good rainfalls. But that's a different problem for a different day and a different blog post.

Right now I'm just waiting for the plumber, because I tried everything I know and there's still no water running in the house.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Very Wide World of Sports

Out here in the Caribbean, surprisingly (to me) cricket is pretty popular. It's not like you see kids playing it on the streets, but the papers cover it all the time. Most of the words seems normal, and the sentences seem to be saying something, but then all of a sudden the writer just starts making stuff up!

The British national side is touring the region, and here's some excerpts from the lead story on the St. Croix Avis sports section, of the match in Jamaica.

KINGSTON, Jamaica - West Indies bowled England for 51 to sweep to an incredible win by an inning and 23 runs just before tea on the fourth day Saturday of the opening cricket test.
Taylor continued his destruction after the break as he bowled champion batsman Kevin Pietersen with a stunning outswinging yorker for 1.
Benn broke the stand when Sidebottom was leg before wicket on 6.
Cook snicked to second slip where Devon Smith held a juggled catch while Bell chased a wide one and edged to wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin.
Benn reduced England to 26-7 when Broad nudged to short leg for a duck in the next over.

I think the "stunning outswinging yorker" and "snicked to second slip" were my two favorites. Or perhaps I should say favourites.

And "leg before wicket?" It sounds as if it means something, but there you go. It almost sounds like the start of some mnenomic or something - Leg before wicket except after tea, when snick leaves a duck in the Caribbean Sea.


I have been remiss, I know, not posting in a month. My bad - we've been very busy. Besides more car woes and some plumbing problems and work and things, we've also been involved in a play at the local theater. We'll write about all those in the next two weeks, I promise.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tying Up Loose Ends

I have been remiss, I admit it, and not followed up on a couple of things. Here they are.

Christmas on the island: We enjoyed the holiday. Didn't do everythin we might have, there were parades and events all over, and we didn't get to many of them. Partly it was the car, which was giving us fits. On a good day it would start in three or four tries. There weren't many good days. Then we'd go and run errands, including shopping trips, and I'd be afraid to turn it off for fear of the hassle of starting it again, so I'd circle the parking lot while Tori shopped. We also had shopping to do, kids to ferry, work, and rehearsals. Tori is stage managing "Evita" at Caribbean Community theatre, and Millie and I are in the show. So that's taking a chunk of our time as well.

But we had a nice holiday, and being together in a new place reinforced the feeling of family.

Max made people Christmas gifts. He took a couple of odd-shaped rocks and turned one into a cat for Alex and another into a puppy for Millie. He got me a backscratcher (always a great gift for dads - that's a shopping tip for you kids out there) put a face on it including glued-on googly eyes and wrote, "Mr. Scratchy, (copyright sign, which I can't find on my keyboard) Max, 2008.

We shopped at the Annaly Farms (pronounced Anna Lee, but a couple of our number insist on using a ruder pronunciation, thinking it funny) butcher market for Christmas dinner and got a pork roast that was - literally - the entire leg of a pig. The butcher cut the hoof off because it was kind of unsettling, and cut it in half so that we ended up with two seven-pound roasts. It was delicious., if unwieldy.

Shopping for gifts on the island is sometimes tricky. Some things you'd think anyone would have, no one did. You had to be lucky, and the first in line. We're still waiting for one gift that was ordered two weeks before Christmas. I can hardly wait. It drags the holiday out a bit, and that's always nice. It ought to arrive in time for my birthday in February.

Festival: I promised more on the festival parade. The best thing I can offer is this link to the story I wrote for The Source. And I'll get some of the photos over to the Web Wench for posting on the Talk Like a Pirate Day Flicker page.

The parade start time was posted as 10 a.m. It stepped off just before noon. Several people mentioned they were happy it started a little early this year. It ran about four hours and it was amazing. Moko Jumbies, steel pan bands, masqueraders, soca bands, calypso, dancing troupes with wild colorful costumes. Think Mardi Gras with a Jamaican rhythm. There was also some kind of cowboy group that performed what had to be the longest line dance in the history of St. Croix. But not a single pirate in the whole thing! This cannot stand, I sez to meself. I'm going to rally the local crews and see if we can't right this travesty next year.

The Moko Jumbies I mentioned are stilt dancers, a West African tradition that came to the islands via Trinidad. Costumed, towering above the crowds, strangely articulated as they dance, they're an amazing sight. They represent spirits that look after the village. Their height lets them see problems approaching before they get there. And makes them an awesome sight in a parade.

Time flies: Two weeks ago marked our six-month anniversary on the island. We didn't even notice it as some sort of milestone. We're too busy living our lives.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Perfect Wasted Day

A wasted day in paradise, and what could be better than that?

I was supposed to cover a trial at the federal courthouse. It was tricky, because Bertha is in the shop until this afternoon, when her longstanding problems will be all cleared up at last. (Please, God, please.)

So I took the cab with Tori and Max and Millie to school, the courthouse is just about a mile or so beyond that, so I walked.

Got there and found that the trial I was supposed to be covering was continued to an unspecified future date. Nothing "island" about that, I've covered a lot of trials that never happened. So I had the day free.

Walking back to the school, I could glance to my right and see the incredibly blue Caribbean shining between the buildings. A sunny day, 80 degrees with a good breeze to keep the heat at bay. Someone had taken a horse down the sidewalk, so I had to keep my eyes open and tiptoe through the tulips, as it were.

I heard a buzzing noise and glanced up - a small float plane was lazily swinging in the sky, making its approach to Christiansted harbor. But no, glancing up did not cause a misstep that made my feet fragrant,

The businesses to my left were all fronted by and/or separated by palm trees, their fronds blowing in the breeze, and bougainvillea.

I've got some business I can take care of by phone while waiting for the garage to call to tell me that Bertha's all better. I found the mechanic by asking around, and everyone swears by him. He's got the perfect name for his job - Mike P. Huebner. He uses his initials for the business name - MPH Automotive.

But he's not in the phone book, you just have to know that he's there.

Anyway, I'll be sitting out in the sun making a few phone calls now. Hope you're having a good day too.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Just home from the Crucian Christmas Festival Parade and that pretty much says it all. Wow.

I will say more of course, but not right now. Have to write it up for The Source, after I do something about what I assume is a case of heat stroke. Out in the sun all day, and working.

I will have something to say, of course. And many, many pictures. Many of which we will post, plus some video for youtube. Just let me catch my breath.


(Oh yeah. And Tori danced with a Moko Jumbie. Just so you know.)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy (Warm) Holidays

The Christmas Boat Parade was just what the name promised - and more.

Twenty one boats decorated with lights and manned crews of revelers dancing and partying (and with enough Santa Clauses to take care of a LOT of shopping malls) looped around and around Christiansted Harbor. The shore was lined by about 4,000 revelers and everyone had a great time. Max found some other kids to play with (Max always finds some other kids to play with) and Janet came and enjoyed the spectacle.

And it finished with fireworks - a really good show of them over the water. Anything that concludes with fireworks is okay in my book.

The traffic getting out of town was impossible, so we went east, cut across the island and took the South Shore road back to the highway and home. And yes, we're very excited about the fact that we knew how to do that. We almost never get lost anymore.


Our decorations were modest this year. We have two boxes stuffed with Christmas decorations, but they're still in storage in Oregon waiting for us to ransom them.

One thing I insisted on getting, something I wouldd have scoffed at back in Oregon, was a three-foot-tall plastic snowman, lit from inside, with a kind of scary leer on his face. I think that's supposed to be a smile. I don't know, but we immediately dubbed him Ugly the Snowman.

In a snowy, cold locale the thing would be beyond kitsch. But here it's wonderfully ironic, and it made me smile every time I plugged it in.


Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Your palm fronds delight us.

Oh yeah, we went with the palm tree for our Tannenbaum. You can get traditional trees here, shipped in refrigerated containers, but they range from badly overpriced for scraggly, four-foot trees, to hideously overpriced for five and six foot trees. Remember, living in Oregon we had never paid more than twenty five bucks for a tree, full, tall and lush. We just couldn't, although Tori did bring home a few lopped off branches so we could sell the "Doug fir smell. Instead, for sixty bucks we got a six-foot live potted palm that carried the few ornaments and lights we've bought. It's beautiful, and it's alive - we'll have this tree for ages.


If you've been watching this blog at all, you've already seen the picture of Tori on the beach three days before Christmas. On Christmas day we went down to the beach so she could try out the new snorkeling mask she got for Christmas.

The water was a little choppy, she said, but the mask worked beautifully, no leaking and better visibility than she had with her old Kmart special. And considering that back in Oregon there was snow and ice and all manner of crap all over the ground, complaining that the water was a little choppy seems sort of rude.


We have been watching the weather back north, and we try not to taunt people, but it's hard. I mean, one of the main reasons for moving here is the weather. And I remember how cold and miserable we were every winter. So I hope you'll forgive us for a little taunting.

People keep sending us pictures of the snowfall on the streets, houses and landscape with notes saying, "Isn't it pretty?" "Isn't it beautiful?"

Sorry, but no it's not. I have driven and walked and suffered through enough of that in my life to say no. What's beautiful is that stretch of beach three minutes from my front door.


Christmas morning was good. The kids seemed to enjoy things, everyone got something they really liked, even though sometimes choices here on the island are limited. Even better - the kids all seemed to feel really good about things they got other people. As a parent you always like to see when they get it, you know?

Lots of books under the tree. I'm now working my way through "American Lion," the bio of Andrew Jackson, Tori already whipped through the New Toni Morrison, and Millie flew through the four boo she got.

We'll have a little more before we wrap up the holidays, but this is getting too long.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all the other joys of the season (no matter which season you celebrate) to all our friends, from the Baurs tucked away warm on their island.