Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do They Know It's Christmas?

If by 'they' Band Aid meant 'Tim and Mary Byrne' the answer is a resounding NO this year! It's extremely bizarre to live somewhere warm after a lifetime of celebrating Christmas somewhere that has seasons.

I'm sure some if it has to do with not having a 'normal' work routine. Any other year we'd have been looking forward to 'Christmas Break'- taking off the time right before Christmas all the way through the New Year- and making plans for it. Any other year we'd have gone Christmas shopping at malls annoyingly packed with people. Any other year we would have gone to holiday parties, all dressed up and been SO sick of Christmas music by now. Any other year we'd be in St. Louis visiting with old friends before returning to Chicago to celebrate New Year's Eve with our friends. Any other year we'd have put up our tree, wrapped the presents and put them under it, decorated the condo and made Laddie wear the Santa hat she so dearly hates. Any other year we would have certainly shoveled a snowstorm or two by now.

This year we both work on Christmas- there are three cruise ships in so it's a busy day in St. Thomas. This year Christmas shopping was done almost entirely online or over the phone- I mean, do any of you really want something from K-Mart? Yeah, didn't think so. Besides, that place is annoyingly packed any day, any time, all the time. This year I've worked OTHER people's holiday parties and have heard very little Christmas music. This year we are spending the Christmas holidays away from our families and friends. This year we have no Christmas decorations because we really don't need to add to the items we are accumulating here and Laddie's santa hat is in storage. Our gifts sit on an end table under our bugzapper :) This year- snow? Right... This year is just kind of bizarre!

I'm not looking for sympathy because we really do love what we are doing. It's just that Christmas 100% snuck up on us because we didn't have our normal routines prepping us that it was coming. I'm guessing the other 'holidays' we celebrate (St. Patrick's Day, March Madness, etc) will hold the same kind of surprise!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aw man!

Okay, so it's happened: I'm homesick. How did it happen you ask? I got my mail. Yep, that's right. All the Christmas cards and care packages have made me homesick. Don't get me wrong- I love, love, love getting mail!! However, it makes me miss everyone!

Right before we left on our boat trip I picked up a care package from my mom that was all homemade Christmas cookies and fudge (note to mom: chocolate does not make it in the mail, sorry!) as well as a few things she picked up for me. I left it in the car while we are gone but I did have oatmeal cookies for breakfast today. That has to count just like a bowl of oatmeal, right? Maybe a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with a bit of sugar...

This morning I stopped by our PO Box and we had two more care packages from my mom, a small package from my friend Buxton and a BUNCH of Christmas cards. I was anxious to get home and open everything! I couldn't hold out on the small package so I opened it. When Chicago first got snow we asked Jen and Michael to send us some- so they did! It's in the form of a snowglobe with a picture of Chicago on one side and a picture of the four of us on the other. It literally about melted my heart. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. We have the bestest friends ever, I miss you all!

I waited until I got home to open the rest. Lots of cards from our closest friends and family plus those infamous Christmas letters. Normally I tend to skim these (sorry guys!) but this year I read every word- I didn't want to miss a thing. Tim's dad and stepmom sent us pictures from this years Thanksgiving at the farm. I'm not going to lie, it got me a little choked up. The kicker though was a music card from my parents that sings 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. At that point I did cry. It wasn't helped when I opened the care packages from my mom (thanks Uncle Larry for shipping them!) and found she had wrapped everything we asked for in Christmas paper. I really want to put on the slipcovers but I feel like I need to wait until Christmas morning to open them so I think we will! PS- that means you all have to wait for Thank You cards because I believe they are wrapped in one of the packages!

I love it here but I'd love it even more if we could have wrapped everyone up and taken them with us. Don't worry- I will be fine. Keep the mail coming- I've listed our address again in this post hint, hint ;)

The Byrnes
9715 Estate Thomas, PMB #127
St. Thomas, VI 00802

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kate's Birthday Boating Bonanza

For Kate's birthday she wanted to do a boat trip to Culebra, an island just off the coast of Puerto Rico. Nine of us headed out late Saturday afternoon for a three day adventure on Cameron's 65' catamaran. Unfortunately, Tim was going to be in Florida for some PGA stuff so he couldn't go :(

After a sunset sail to Culebra we anchored in the harbor and sat around talking/eating/drinking. After going to bed in the wee hours of the morning we got up the next day to figure out what to do next. Kate and I dingy-ed ourselves ashore to walk around Culebra. We learned quickly that we have no idea how to tie a knot and learned the phrase 'If you can't tie a knot, tie a lot' so we did and crossed our fingers hoping the dingy would be there when we got back. Being Sunday and early at that, not much was going in Culebra so we decided to set sail to Culebrita which is basically one big, beautiful beach. One side of the beach is totally calm and the other is rough, it's so amazing!

Instead of going back to Culebra, we decided to head to Vieques which is another island off the coast of Puerto Rico. It was a ROUGH ride into Vieques and we were bouncing all over the place- literally. I wish I could have taken video with my camera because it was insanely funny! The ocean definitely owned us! We headed into Vieques for some dinner. It was at this point that I determined I was a little seasick. Who knew? I guess it's different being out in the ocean vs. at the Lake of the Ozarks! We had a great dinner and were trying to find an open bar to watch the Phillies/Giants game at. The closest thing we found was an open bar showing the Food Network. Oh well- we got half of it covered!
Monday we woke up and headed back to land to rent Jeeps so we could drive around the island. It's such a beautiful place- so much of it has been undiscovered and is just lush and overgrown. Or maybe it's because the US Navy had control of it until 2003 and used to bomb it! We ventured out to several beaches, trying to hit as many as we could in the time we had there. We had planned on leaving around sunset and getting back into St. Thomas around mid-night. While sitting at Lazy Jack's bar, we decided we really wanted to try the Bio Bay excursion. Basically, there's this bay there that glows. You can read more about it here- there's a lot of big words that I'd likely misuse and mispell!


Catch is that you have to wait until it is pitch black to go see it- the tour we were looking at would be over at 8:15 PM which wouldn't put us sailing until 10 or so, getting us into St. Thomas around 4 AM. We decided to go for it and I got Laddie covered (thanks, Amy!). The Bio Bay tour was amazing! I must admit, it was a bit different that I thought. I kind of pictured it Simpson-esque and glowing instead it glows when anything moves in the water. We kayaked out to the center and got out and swam for about half an hour. Poor Dawn got stung by a jellyfish :( That was definitely not mentioned as a possibility and likely a good thing I wasn't aware until then! The picture below was taken at night yet it looks like the water is clear as day- that's the organisms glowing!

After the tour we set sail home :( What should have been a 5-6 hour sail back hit a little snag when we snapped a chain that steers a boat. Luckily, Cameron knows his way around boats a little. He sailed the boat all the way from Maine to St. Thomas by himself. He actually knows more about his boat than anyone I've ever met (sorry, Mike!) and it's amazing. We finally pulled into Yacht Haven around 9AM - just a few hours late! We were certainly given the full sailing experience and I can't think of a better weekend here so far! Great times in great locations with great friends!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Deep Breaths...

Okay, I'll be honest. I love the lifestyle here- laidback, relaxed, etc. But sometimes I just want things to WORK and to HAPPEN! The last 24 hours has been a whirlwind of just crap. Does anyone remember the 'terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day' speech from grade school? I know some of you do b/c/ I saw it posted in your Facebook status! Well, that has been my last 24 hours.

First, last night while bartending a private party, ice cubes found their way to where my phone was and melted rendering my iPhone (note: 2 months old) useless. Grrrrr... I had JUST saved it from water 2 days earlier when a bottle of water I had in my purse became uncapped. You don't realize how much you rely on your phone until it's gone. AT&T has given me a phone to use until they can get a new iPhone in from St. Croix for me and it is totally old school. Oh- and they will have it after 2:30 PM.... I leave on a boat trip at 9 AM... I think. At least I am back on the grid!
This morning I left the house without several things: (1) a key for Amy to walk the dog while I'm in Calebra and Tim is in Florida (2) the phone number for my Jeep guy (since he was in my phone...) and (3) black clothes to wear for the private party we were having up at work tonight. Luckily I'm married to the world's best guy and he stopped at home and got all of them for me. (He also braved hellish St. Thomas traffic to get to the AT&T store to get my phone, thanks honey!)

Then, the private party at work just wouldn't leave! It was supposed to be 5-7 and they didn't leave until just before 9. Not good for someone who hasn't packed for a 3 day boat trip and has no idea what time they are actually leaving. Oh and did I mention I spilled a good deal of Bushwacker on me (Kaluha, Bailey's, Amaretto, Vodka, Rum, Creme de Caco and Coconut Cream drink) as the party was starting rendering me a sticky mess??

To top it off, Romeo picked my car up to do some inspecting and to change my oil. When he brought it back he said that it was being sensitive about reversing and it's likely we need to rebuild my transmission. Great! Just what I was looking forward to paying for! Oh- and he was right. My car did NOT reverse when leaving work. Luckily I was parked on an incline and I just kind of coasted backwards until I could pull forward. However, it is now parked at the top of the driveway and I have no idea if it's going to work tomorrow....

As if this wasn't enough- the cable is out. The only channel we are getting is the TV Guide Channel which is showing the Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights movie. Blech. Let's just say I'm glad this 24 hour period is almost up because I really have nowhere to go but up!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Timeline of an Island Car

Finding a car down here? Not so bad. Actually receiving it, making it work, etc. Not so good. Here is a look at how we came to own our cars!

Saturday, November 7th: We land in STT and rent a Jeep to get all of our crap from the airport to Kates.

Sunday, November 8th: We return the Jeep and rent a bright blue Dodge Calibur for a week so we can run errands and look for cars. It is due back on the 15th.

Monday, November 9th: We drive past a house that has two Jeep Cherokees in the front yard for sale so we call the number on the car and are told one is a '99 for $5K and one is a '97 for $4500. We say thanks and ponder.

Wednesday, November 11th : We drive past again, pull over and call. Antonio says he can be there in 5 minutes, we wait 20 with the family that lives in the house- clearly not related to Antonio. He comes, tells us the '97 is alread sold but we can take the '99 out for a test drive. At this point he realizes he only has the keys for the '97 and we decide to meet the next day.

Thursday, November 12th: We drive to meet Antonio at 11 AM, he decides he can't meet us then, ,how about 530 PM? So we have 6.5 hours to kill... We meet him at 530 (correct keys!) and Tim goes to start the car and it won't turn over. Antonio goes away somewhere and returns with the keys for the '97, switches the battery and we drive the car. It drives just fine for an island car and we tell Antonio we will call him tomorrow.

Friday, November 13th: We call Antonio and ask him to meet us at the 'lot'. He pulls up in a green Ford Escort we had seen around the island. It is also for sale. Tim asks him how much he wants for it and he says $2800. Tim offers him $6K for both cars, he thinks for 30 seconds and says okay. There are a few things that need to be done on the cars- Escort needs a new tire and the Jeep needs a mirror. Oh- and let's not forget titles, plates, etc. Antonio says 3 business days- Wednesday- so we follow him to his shop and give him a $500 deposit. Then we extend our rental car through the 18th.

Wednesday, November 18th: First things first- we are trying to figure out how to drive three cars with two people and make it to our jobs when we need to. Guess it doesn't matter because when we call Antonio- he doesn't have the paperwork. Oooookay. So we call and extend the rental car until the 19th.

Thursday, November 19th: Yeah! We get the Jeep (complete with tags, plates and insurance) and I follow Tim to return the rental car. We leave the rental car place only to find that the car is pulling like we have a flat. Really? I've had this car all of an hour. Luckily we are right by a tire place so we pull in. He replaces the stem. Okay, $20 fix. No biggie. Oh yeah- and the Escort isn't ready yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, November 20th: We go back to Antonio who gives us the keys to the Escort. While Tim is writing the check I happen to ask where the title is for each car. He said in the glove compartment. I go back and check the Jeep- yeah... it's in his name, not ours. So, we have to leave the Jeep with him and keep our check with us. At this point, you can tell he's getting frustrated with his guy who did the licensing. Luckily he gives us his Trailblazer so we have two cars and tells us to come back on Monday.

Monday, November 23rd: We call Antonio, not ready.

Tuesday, November 24th: Jeep is not ready still. Tim's car won't start. Buy a new battery and still won't start. Some cords are loose according to a guy Tim works with. They jimmy it as a quick fix.

Wednesday, November 25th: Jeep is ready! We give him the Trailblazer, have him fix the battery cord issue in the Escort, deduct the cost of the battery and are on our way.

Sunday, November 29th: Tim's car has a flat tire at work which he alleviates by filling with air from the golf cart air supply!

Wednesday, December 2nd: Busy car day! We drive to Stumpy Beach, rough road to say the least, and the same thing that happened to my tire (pulling right but not looking flat) happens again. It occurs to us this happens when you switch out of 4WD into 2WD- great. Put Fix a Flat in it and it's fine. Text Kate to get her friend's contact info who works on Jeeps. Take Tim's car to Western Auto for an 'inspection' of sorts to see if anything is wrong and to figure out his tire situation. He has a screw in the wall making it unpluggable. Buy tire. I go to work, security goes to move my car- it no longer reverses! Call Romeo, my new car guy, he comes up to me and magically makes it work. For now he says- transmission fluid was burnt. He will try and flush it in hopes that will fix it and I won't need to rebuild my transmission. We make arrangements for him to come get my car on Friday.

Friday, December 4th: Romeo takes my car and does a transmission flush. He said all is good and I tell him he can have the car again next week to look at the tire/4WD thingee, wondering if this will ever end!

All quiet on the car front.... for now!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Laddie's Day at the Beach

Sigh... it's been two years or more since the last time Laddie tried to eat another doggie. Well, that streak is over and I'm the one that has the battlescars. Kristin- I now know EXACTLY how you felt that night, except I'm not getting married next week!

On Wednesday, neither of us had to work until the evening so we decided to join Kate, her friend, Mark, and his dogs at a place called Stumpy Beach. It's very secluded and we were looking forward for a place to run Laddie around. Unfortunately, since the terrain around our place is pretty steep she doesn't get out much. Even her trips to the bathroom are short- just down to the bottom of the hill. We try to through her ball in the breezeway but it is only so long!

(For those of you that don't know Laddie's background I'll make it short and sweet or you are going to think we have a monster dog! She was adopted from the Anti-Cruelty Society when she was about 6 months old. They thought she was abused or a bait dog or something along those line. She was terrified of most things bigger than her and water. Yes, we own possibly the only labrador who hates the water. We used to take her to the dog park and dog beach in Chicago until, around 2 years old, she started not liking other female dogs. So no more doggie interaction for Laddie! That lasted until about 2 years ago when, suddenly, she really didn't mind them anymore. I'm sure it's because she's older!)

So anyways, back to the story. We thought it wouldn't be a problem with Mark's dog. Yeah, not so much. The minute we got there she and one of them went at it. In her defense, she didn't start it. She was put on her leash for a little time out and then we tried to coax her into the water. She got sooooo close! She would run at the shoreline, get her feet wet and then run away from the ensuing wave. It was absolutely adorable! At one point she got all the way up past her stomach. I'm really thinking she has no clue how to swim though... After about an hour, I was on the shore with her and the other dog when all of the sudden she was nipped at and it was Round 2! This time I was literally in the middle and able to grab both collars except as I did that Laddie was lunging at the dog and got me. I now look like a wife beaten heroin addict.

On a positive note, for the first time, we gave Laddie a bath! She's been a PetSmart bathed dog forever but that is just not an option down here. She was very good and the Pert Plus left her fluffy and smelling good! Now, on to brushing her teeth and clipping her nails ourselves...