Sunday, May 27, 2012

Owning a Home in St Thomas, USVI - Repairs Part I - 5-17-12

Everyone from stateside tells me I have moved to paradise. Yes, we have moved to paradise, but no place one lives is perfect. Owning a home here has its challenges with regards to maintenance. The humid environment with salt water sea breezes can takes its toll on a home here, and after some years, leads to repairs.
We bought our home in 2009. Of course our view (it is called a down island view) and some flat land for the dogs was important (there is a reason the locals call the island the rock, it is a mountain that literally comes out of the sea).  The main reason for our purchase was the home was built of masonry construction (solid concrete). The home was built in 1969 and probably back then built of West Indian style. We figured if the home was still standing without seeing any past damage of hurricanes, it would be a safe bet. That is true, it is solid, but back in 1969 they must not have had a tape measure, as nothing in this house is lined up with anything. Every slider, arch, doorway, etc. is a different size. And yes some attention to detail was left out and with some deferred maintenance from the old owner, we have spent some time with repairs and remodeling.
After our upstairs tenants moved out in 2010, I spent what was going to be 3 weeks living here, became 3 months. We had a major issue with the old breezeway, which is now a dining room. That whole story is another blog post for the future.
We have been living here now for 3 weeks, and I am somewhat grateful for not working as I await my broker license as there have been some minor repairs needed done. I am very grateful that we have a Home Depot here about 5 minutes away!
We have an office in the rear of the house that had a wood door with glass windows. Well when we opened it when we arrived the lower section of the door fell off.  The side windows were never trimmed out. I had to downsize my old 3 car garage to a small shed on the side of the house as we do not have a garage (not many homes have a garage here as there is not much in the way of flat land). I opened the door on my lower shed and of course it fell off its hinge, wood rotted.
We had a contractor come out and replace the office door (no more wood for me, ALUMINUM!) and the door on the shed.
As it is so humid here and the wood you do get from Home Depot is also wet, I am going to wait a month for the wood to completely dry before painting.
Now on the laundry room. This is essentially a shed on the outside of the home. Now in a previous blog I disccused the power cord and plug for the clothes dryer. Well, that was not the end. Shannon was running the washer and I was on the lower deck and saw water coming out of the door! The drain hose for the washing machine went into the old laundry tub and was tied with a thin plastic cord. The cord had broken. So I got some wire and re-attached it and fixed the problem.
Now we have a bird problem in the laundry room. Every Spring a bird gets under the eaves and starts to build a nest.
The bird that is doing this is a Pealy Eyed Thrasher.
I am not going to have this messy nest, so on to and order some pigeon spikes. I installed them and that seemed to work, except this morning there was a breach in the spikes and now I have to go back into the mosquito laundry room (why do the mosquitoes love black things, they seem to love the black trash cans in there and the black door to the apartment?) and make some adjustments.
So you thought I had the washing machine drain all fixed? Right! Shannon comes up to me the other day and tells me there is a puddle in the laundry room. WTF? So I go and investigate, the water is coming out of the drain of the old sink. I rub my hand underneath where the pipe hooks into the drain and gobs of metal fall on the floor and the pipe is now detached from the sink. The faucet on the sink was rotted so that was shut off at the shut off valve and now this? Who really uses a laundry room sink anyway especially with the mosquitoes in there. Out comes the old sink and now the drain pipe is directly piped into the drain line.
I am off to the Thrasher breach and will continue with Chapter II - Pool/Cistern another day!

First Day On Our New Boat! 5-16-12

One of the reasons for moving here was to spend time boating. We had a boat and RV on our land at Eagle Lake, CA for some years and some of my best down time was being on the water. Well being on the water is really only a 4 month window. Here in the Virgin Islands it is a year round window.

In the past times of coming to our home, we would go out on friends boats or rent a boat from Awesome Boat Rentals. With Awesome, you can captain the boat and they have 26 ft Twin Vee's with twin motors. We have always felt comfortable with this boat and liked the perfomance and utility of room for snorkeling and island hopping. We also liked the fuel economy.

One day I mentioned to Gary, the owner, after a day renting if he would ever consider selling one. And of course he was willing and we were willing. After my experience in selling everything stateside to move here, I learned a valuable lesson, don't ever buy your toys new, buy used! And to boot, Gary also owns Gary's Marine, which is the Suzuki dealer on the island, which means a captive ear for all my questions and repairs.

We had a name in mind for the boat, "The Funnie Mae".

So we bought the 26 Ft one that is a 2003 with twin 2010 Suzki 115 HP motors. I brought down a new stereo and Gary installed that. He still has some other work to do on the boat before we will have it to ourselves, but we took the boat out this past Sunday over to Water Island and Honeymoon Beach (this is a local's favorite on the weekends with Heidi Burgers cooks on a portable grills with a golf cart, $8 for a 1/2 lb burger! and Joe's Rum Shack with live music.). We invited our friend Lee (Lee was my father's fishing buddy when he lived in Melbourne, FL from 2000 - 2004 and by chance has also moved to St Thomas!).

This is where the cruise ships dock!

Oceana Restaurant in French Town.

Cargo Port in Crown Bay

Honeymoon Beach!

First Two Weeks of Living on St Thomas Fulltime! 5-11-12

The day has come, officially we have been here for two weeks! The weather has been a mixed bag with many cloudy and muggy days with no breeze, which has been ok for unpacking.

Our first few days were busy with various errands. The 4Runner which was already down here, started with no problems. Cistern for water is overflowing. Everything in the house is working. Dogs are adjusting to their new backyard. Made our trip to the mailbox at TuTu, Plaza Extra and Cost U Less for groceries.

We even snuck out on Saturday for Carnival and the adult parade! There were many interesting sites and had my first pate which tasted like a doughnut stuffed with hamburger meat! Click to view movie!

Sunday we snuck off to Sapphire Beach!

We made it to our favorite bar, Island Time Pizza

We went and looked at the boat we were buying and started that process. Tuesday was spent going to the property tax office and pay our quarterly taxes. Taxes here are the same federal tax rules, but we fill out a VI form, that is because all tax money collected here goes to the territorial government.

We stopped by Viking Moving on Wed to see where our container and Tacoma were doing and to drop off the title and much to our surprise, this was in their yard!

Wow that was fast and Tacoma will be there the next day! We choose to have the movers bring their two vans as this container would not fit at the house, there is a reason they call this place the "The Rock", most of the homes are literally built on rock and our home is at the top of a rock. We better get a move on cleaning out the house for our stuff from Reno.

Next off to submit my application for a Real Estate Broker License, change the IPhones to a local # at the AT&T store and then to meet a friend at Tickles. Well he had to test a boat, so we went with him. I love being on the water, but this boat launch may not be the most scenic? This area is known as sub base, which was at one time a submarine base starting with World War I to combat German U-boats, hence the reason for the US buying the islands from Denmark for $25 million in gold. Well now this is the site of our island's power plant, otherwise known as the most expensive electric utility known as WAPA. This plant is a dated diesel powered generator.

We also made many trips to the Humane Society flea market and even had their van come to give them a desk and two beds.

Now the moment we have not been waiting for, the container contents arriving. They filled up our home in no time!

The main thing I was waiting for was my Honda 3000 IU generator as power outages are numerous. After the movers left this come up the driveway.

Friday and Saturday were spent unpacking the kitchen. But of course it is now May 5th. Time for the Chihuahua Races at Yacht Haven Grande. We saw many people we knew there and had a great time. On the way home we got a pizza at Pizza Amore, the BEST NY style pizza I found since leaving New Jersey.

The weather has been muggy and rainy and the next week was spent unpacking and making minor home repairs. We made many trips to the dumpsters. We do not have home trash service here on the island. What we do have is strategically placed dumpsters on the island. I see it also as a place known as "take one, leave one". Whatever you have that is not worthy of donating to the Humane Society, you leave it at the dumpster, and usually when you come back in an hour it is gone. Some of our leave its: old generator, patio table and chairs, old brooms. Notice the wild chickens that make the dumpsters their home?

One home project I wanted to share was the dryer outlet. We had an old dryer here that was used and abused by the tenants over the years. We brought our newer dryer from Reno. Oh but wait, whomever wired our laundry room shed must have been on island time? The outlet was for a kitchen range, and they even set up the old dryer with a cord for a range? So I decide I am going to need to also wire our dryer for a range? I buy the plug and cut the wire on ours. Well problem is once you open the grey wire there is no inner insulation, just copper. Well that will not fit in the plug unless it is just copper with electrical tape. After sleeping on this theory, those wires are going to get hot? Now I need to get a new dryer cord and get the appropriate outlet. Viola, it wasn't hard as I thought. What cracked me up even more was how they installed the range 30/50A outlet upside down to boot!

Enough of home repairs and unpacking, time for some beach time for the dogs while we have an afternoon with sun! We took the dogs down to Vessup Beach, behind Latitude 18 for a late afternoon swim!

Yes, we sometimes curse ourselves while dripping in sweat, my foot sore, unpacking, repairing, hot and muggy, but at the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves where we are living, and for many living here is just a week for a vacation of a lifetime. We know life will be normal again after these 3 months of moving, but we have a feeling it is all going to be worth it!






Moving to St Thomas, Leaving Stateside Edition - 5-8-12

After spending a nice 4 day break from our drive across country at my father's in Cedar Point, NC where we got the dogs their health certificate and of course our yellow lab got a hot spot from swimming. Good thing we have a vet right down the street there! We spent our days with the "hoodies", the neighbors with some great dinners and conversation.
Tuesday morning we packed up the Tacoma, and off to Miami, Florida, where we are going to catch our flight to St Thomas.
We spent the night in Jacksonville, Florida with our last Popeyes Chicken in the room!
The next day was spent getting the Tacoma off to port and to St Thomas.
We rented a mini van from Hertz and found a Wal Mart to switch everything over. I felt like a soccer mom.
Now off to the Port. All I had from Viking was directions to the Sea Star office. So I plugged that into the GPS and off we go right? Well no, we arrive at the gate with Shannon following me in the mini van and the security tells me we went to the wrong place. They took my driver license and stopped all lanes of traffic to turn us around and told us we need to find someone on the road and have them escort is in that has security clearance?  I was confused and went to another parking lot where they told us we had to go into the admin building and get an escort. So we go back to the building and oh yes they will assign us an escort. Problem is, it is 11:55 and they go on lunch. So off to Wendys and come back. We get back and they are "short staffed" today. 1:30 we get our escort. We get to the fenced Sea Star building and go in, well our escort was pissed and wanted Shannon to go in too (we never told them the dogs were in the van, lord knows what terrorist acts they may commit). The gal at the Sea Star desk says she has no clue that we were coming and we are not in their system even though I am looking at her screen and see our order. After multiple calls to Viking and they calling Sea Star corporate we are good to go.  Our escort has now left and Shannon went back to the van. I am with the lady to go over the condition report. After that I am going back to the office and who do I see, our escort. He yells at me, "where is your wife?!?!". I looked back at him and said, "I don't know maybe it is your day to watch her?". We are now free to go, into the mini van and drive down the flattest state to Miami!
We passed through Melbourne, Fl, where my father used to live. Took the Miami Turnpike (even though I don't know if that was any faster?) to maze of freeways of Miami. We stopped for our last Taco Bell to go for the room in some sketchy neighborhood. Checked in to our Red Roof Inn and got the dogs settled and began the process of asembling the crates for the morning flight.
Now the big day, April 26th. Shannon is a nervous wreck. We load up and off to the airport. We stopped at gate 2 and they told us we had to go to 5. Off to 5, and the porter tells us that they always do that because no one wants to deal with dogs. I load the luggage and get the dogs in their crates and take off to drop the van off. I get back and there are the dogs with Shannon going through the mounds of paperwork with AA customer service agent.
After getting approval with all their paperwork at the dog check in counter (Shannon spent months on what is required and the CSR even made a compliment that everything was in order, what would I do without Shannon?). Now they go to TSA back room to make sure we didn't hide a bomb on them. After they got patted down, back in their crates and off they went, Shannon was on the verge of tears. We now have to get going as we have 1 hour and ten minutes to get to our gate (one hour was spent on paperwork). We get to one TSA checkpoint and I am told by the non-English speaking security woman that my carry on is too big (well duh I had stuffed my belt and other items in the front pocket. So I get that all out and then she says we need to go to security gate 1. Off we go to 1 where there is also a huge line. We are now down to one hour. So here we are standing in line for over 30 minutes now, not moving, as there are two express lines where those who have a close flight are getting to cut the line? I tell Shannon we are going to miss our flight and the dogs are going to be in St Thomas without us. Shannon goes to the security woman to plea our case to cut the line, she didn't speak English, next thing I see is Shannon coming down the express line and yells to me, "Kennnnn, we have permission to cut the line!". Everyone around us knew our predicament and gave us the encouragement.
Now TSA, can I tell is the biggest joke? I really don't think anything they do stops terrorism, they are just another useless government entity. So after you disrobe and get your bags through the x-ray machine, there is the old pass through detector or you can get pushed over to the complete body scanner. I can see that there is now a 10 min line for the full body and no line for the old shcool. I can't believe it, I am getting chosen for the old school!!! Not so fast, I am asked if I had anything in my pockets, well yes, I have my bording pass. Nope off to the full body scanner! WTF? So I cut that line next Shannon.
We get through all that, get dressed again and I look up and see Shannon running down the gate area, with or without me! She is not going to miss that plane. I walked fast, and thank goodness they had just started boarding. WE MADE IT!!!
Shannon had assembled a picture of the dogs with a note to the captain of who they are and if he could tell us if they made it on the plane. She also attached a box of Peppridge Farms Milano cookies (we were at the grocery store in NC with my dad and I wanted to get a small box of cookies and gold fish, I was poo pooed with the gold fish and was told that they wouldn't like goldfish? Really? Who doesn't like gold fish?). Shannon came back from the flight deck and told me the captain had already seen the dogs (he mentioned he was going to take a picture for his daughter as he has two labs himself) and they were loaded. Time to buckle up and let's get this tube in the air! As we were pulling back, the flight attendant announced that Bristol and Bo Peep were on board joining us on our flight!
Five more planes in front of us and we can take off, I am hoping it doesn't get to much hotter. Yes, we are in the air, the last leg of our journey! As the beverage truck came by we both ordered a bloody mary. The FA never charge us? Then the head FA came back and asked if we wanted another drink, well yes, he brings back enough for 4 more drinks? Did we look stressed and exhausted? Just before landing they mentioned they made coffee and all had the cookies with coffee and how what manners Shannon had!
We land in St Thomas and I left Shannon with the task of watching the dogs come off the cargo belt (in STT the airport doesn't have jet ways, old fashioned stairs, so she could wait.). I ran off (had my complimentary shot of Cruzan Rum) and off to the snack bar to buy my $3.95 bottle of water for when the dogs come out as it was about 83 degrees and sunny. Shannon shows up, says they are off, but where are the dogs going to come out? I told her to go over to the curtain where the conveyor belt goes out and stick your head out and see where they are? She went over there and there they were in their own little trailer with the curtain closed (gotta love the culture here with repsect to dogs?). She told them to get them out!!! And here is next what we saw!
The look on Bo Peeps face! I will never forget it! Gave them some water. Get them on to the porter cart and now let's find a taxi (we tried renting a mini van but they were all sold out due to Carnival). Once again, no one wanted to help us. We finally had our taxi van! Well not so fast, once again culture comes into play. Bo Peep is loaded into the back of the van behind the seats and then the taxi driver and porter begin to pile bags on and around her!!! Shannon pulled some off to give her some air. Then poor Bristol, she was tilted (her head now smshed to the side of the crate) and shoved to first bench seat.
Finally after a 30 min cab ride we arrive! We were all exhausted and ready to relax!!!