Reef Madness

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Part III: Now what? page7

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

October 10, 2007

Phew, we’re back, tired as can be... We got up yesterday at 4:30 AM to be on the 6AM ferry and spent the rest of the day in an airport or on a plane. So today’s trip report will be brief. Lots to tell - as always, some good and some not so good... First, the place is moving along – in an island time, turtle like pace, but it seems to be going forwards and occasionally backwards and sideways (a very confused turtle). After a long airplane/airport day last Wednesday, we were on the 11PM Red Hook ferry and arrived at Reef Madness around midnight to find the great room just as we left it a week before – a mess! One notable difference was that all but three of the lighting fixtures were installed. Yes, for the first time we had light in the great room (so much easier to see the mess)! We have a fixture over the dining table (or rather where the dining table would go if the place was in a condition fit to receive such a snooty table). We have a light over the sink. That light over the sink is one ugly mother which we will get changed out (our fault that). We have two glorious identical ceiling light/fans which work great (except they are on two totally different types of switches that work totally differently from one another (so as to be confused even without the assistance of a few rum drinks!). Missing is one light in the laundry room (they installed it under the stairtower – I just don’t get that one…), our track lighting over the kitchen island, and our rope lighting around the great room. Soon come? Things seemed better in the morning after we got some sleep and the room was cleaned up a bit, but here is a picture of what we walked into our first night back after a week of “progress”.

October 11, 2007

Thursday was a “prep” day for a supply run on Friday. Our builder friend, Craig, very efficiently walked around RM looking at what he was going to do and made a list of materials to buy and tools required to do the job (tools which Sunnyrock agreed to loan us). Since we had to go to St Thomas anyway in order to match up some paint we ran out of (that’s another story, but... oh never mind…), pick up a couple of bathroom mirrors we ordered, and buy some pool tile grout, we decided to try and get everything we needed across Pillsbury Sound. This presented some logistical problems. We had rented our vehicle on St. John since we were arriving too late on St. Thomas to catch the car barge which stops running at 7PM. Jose Penn stayed at his car business on St. John until 11:30PM just for us, so that we could have a Jeep to drive to Coral Bay. This guy and his people could give just about any company a lesson in customer service. What a gem! However, there are no car rental companies on St John (that we are aware of) that allow you to take their cars onto the car barge. Since we had many stops to make and much stuff to buy all over St Thomas, taxis weren’t an option. Again, Sunnyrock came to our aid by loaning us one of their trucks for our St Thomas adventure. Friday we were off to St Thomas in a five speed, manual transmission, Sunnyrock truck and it was raining cats and…. donkeys. Traffic, as it always is on St Thomas, was a bitch and finding everything we needed took all day. We got paint from Sherwin Williams, the mirrors from Glassrays, screws and brackets that work on the dreaded concrete as well as shelving material from Home Depot. We got from the St Thomas Appliance Plus store, a washer/drier kit that allows us to stack our formerly side by side machines (how did that get screwed up? Oh never mind…). We went to pick up some special pool grout that can only be purchased at one place (but were sent to three places to look for it… but oh, never mind…). We picked out the grout, but they did not have it in stock so we needed to special order it. We came back from this “adventure” tired, cranky, and wet (‘cause it was raining cats and donkeys donchano). Everything that Craig needed we got and it worked just fine. Everything else… well… The grout color we picked out we are now told has been discontinued, the paint that we got mixed at Sherwin Williams does not match. In the end, the frustrating day spent on St Thomas and the 100 dollar round trip (with gas) bought us a couple of mirrors and some stuff we could have gotten on St. John. We will have to do it all again… but, oh never mind!

October 12, 2007

Starting on Saturday, we were finally able to start working and work we did! Actually most of what was being done was accomplished by Craig. Of course we painted and cleaned (we can do that ya know), but as far as installing stuff, our part of the plan was step ‘n fetchin’ for Craig. “Hold this”, “go get that”, “where’s my…". He has the know how, we have the need, so we worked and worked and worked our islander-wannabe-butts off. We only made it to Maho once – on Monday, our last day. And even then, we returned to do more work after dark. Ahh, the advantage of our newly installed lighting! The weather did not cooperate for having much beach time, which I suppose, for us, was a good thing. We now appreciate a rainy day as blessed water for our cisterns. On the other hand, for Craig, it sucked. Being a manly sort of guy, I put together the new Weber gas grill! OK, I had to be pointed in the right direction once or twice. That slacker Craig, merely put up our under the counter microwave, set the bathroom mirrors inside their tiled frames, mounted the over-the-dresser mirrors and put up the closet rails in both bedrooms as well as the closet shelves. He completed our owner’s/maintenance closet with four layers of L shaped shelves (one can never have too much storage), put in shelves in the laundry area, and hung all the privacy blinds in the bedrooms. PHEW! He did it with such ease too, as if he has been doing it all his life! Wait a minute, he has been doing it all his life! So for the first time on a working trip to RM, we actually got everything done… well not everything. There is still the mismatching paint on the Great Room back wall that needs to be repainted and some crown molding to go up and setting up the Great Room furniture, and the putting away of kitchenware, and… and… I guess we need to go back yet again. Maybe the workers will truly be done inside the villa next time (oink/flap). This needs to be soon as our first guests are arriving in less than a month… Aaaarrrggggghhhh!!!! I’m sure we will be ready for them… please?

October 15, 2007

The assembly of our new gas grill was time-consuming, but not all that difficult, given all the illustrated, multi-language drawings that Weber included in the packing. No words – just pictures. It’s s good thing I majored in cartoons in college… But it occurred to me that in order to actually use this new grill I needed to fill up the empty tank that we shipped down on the container. Homeland Security wouldn’t allow us to ship it full (where's their spirit of adventure?). After all, those evil-doers may have copies of the Weber grill plan and there’s no telling what they could do with that… So in asking a few local folks where we could go to have our tank filled, we were given the name of Moses. Moses has a business off centerline road, near Paradise Lumber where you can drop your tank off and pick it up the next day, presumably filled with propane. I was told to drop it off at the Laundromat, with my name clearly written on the tank itself. There was a nice lady folding clothes at the Laundromat who confirmed this procedure, but when I told her that I would pick it up there the next morning, she said “No – you pick it up down the road, across from the cement wall”. Hmmmm… OK – well this all should have sounded a bit strange, but in the last couple years my strange index has become somewhat jaded. Besides, what other options did I have? I really wanted to cook a meal on my new gas grill. What did I have to lose except an empty propane tank? So using a Sharpie (thanks Ruth!) I wrote my name and said goodbye to the Laundromat and my tank. I returned the following morning looking for that cement wall “down the road”. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined, as the only cement wall I found was in front of a cement company. I was told there that Moses was “up the road”. So from down the road I went up the road and lo and behold a grizzled old character straight out of some Charlton Heston movie appeared in front of me. “Are you Moses?” “Me, myself, and I.” “Well...ah...I’m here to pick up my propane tank.” “Follow me.” And down a dirt path we went until appearing in front of me was a field of propane tanks. Dozens of them. All of them with someone’s name on it. Moses retrieved the one with my name on it and I paid him $28 for the favor. He smiled and disappeared as quickly as he had materialized. WOW – was that a religious experience or what? Back at Reef Madness I attached the tank to the grill, and doncha know that night we had our first homecooked meal at the villa. And doncha know it tasted better than any meal we’ve had on the island - for a multitude of reasons. Like many things St. Johnian, “the system” is a little different from what we’re used to, but it works – albeit in island time.

October 16, 2007

We’re in a race now. Our first guests arrive 3 weeks from Thursday. Our first paying customers arrive in 6 weeks. Sunnyrock is so close to being done we can almost taste it, but it seems as if everyday there’s a new little stumbling block being thrown in our path. The electrician has told us it will be no problem to finish up their work within the next 10 days. But the plumber has disappeared again and we still don’t have any hot shower water or connected appliances that require running water. Today we were told that there’s a 1 inch gap between the back of the stove and the wall. Whose fault is that? Who knows? We just know now that we’ll have to pay our builder to fix it. The contract has been signed to pave our driveway and access road – they start next week. As soon as that’s complete we’ll ask Josephine to start her landscaping. We know we can depend on Josephine. We’re not so sure about everyone else. VIVA has some new Reef Madness pictures up at their website:
And quite honestly our place is looking pretty sharp. A check of the calendar on that page shows that we have 61 nights rented so far. All for a house that isn’t done yet! Wow! So that’s all pretty good, but we want so much for RM to be perfect for our guests – even those first ones. It still has a good shot at being just that. But to get there we’re on the phone with our builder every day, several times a day, like a jockey whipping a horse down the homestretch. There’s the finish line just ahead. So close, so close…

October 19, 2007

Things have been hectic lately. The race to finish Reef Madness in time for our first guests is only challenged by the effort to finance it. Our primary source of funding was exhausted several months ago. That’s what happens when you go 100% over budget. So now we’ve dipped into more creative ways of acquiring cash. Things like applying for every low-interest credit card we can and then using that one check they give you to pay off some other credit card to pay the Sunnyrock invoices. We now hold so many credit card accounts and owe so many balances I’ve had to create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them all. If you’re of an age when you can remember the guy who used to spin dozens of pie plates on dozens of wooden poles and attempt to keep them all from crashing to the floor you’ll appreciate how we feel right about now. But then there are the “sounds of silence”. When Sunnyrock doesn’t call and we can’t reach them. Like today, and yesterday, and the day before that... what’s going on? Has anyone seen the plumber? Is there water in the pool? Has anyone drank those two beers I left in the fridge? No news is not necessarily good news – but it could be… We just have to keep spinning those plates…

October 22, 2007

We are going back to St John again this week. For those of you who are building in the islands and are hoping to rent out the finished product, be advised that you will find that at this point in the project, with deadlines approaching, you will be spending a lot of time going back and forth between your stateside life and your island life. This is a very dangerous time period in the building process as the brain strain, stress and general confusion that accompanies this last minute dash to the finish line is likely to cause one to drive on the left side of the road inappropriately. So put a sticker on your car at home saying “Keep Right”. It could save your life! The good news for us is that this is low season and the airline rates are down. Heaven help us if this fell in January or February. This was very good planning on our part. Do make sure to coordinate this part of your project to fall in low season. While you are at it, make sure that you build during a world wide concrete and steel surplus which will happen shortly after Ed McMahon shows up at your door with your certified check! Sunnyrock finally came through with a couple of pictures late Friday, so today is a good picture day as progress can be visually measured with the arrival of a huge milestone – we have a pool! Can't you just hear the blender whirring in the background?

October 23, 2007

Along with the exciting pictures of our beautiful new pool, we also got some not-so exciting pictures of the latest and greatest grading that’s been completed for our road and new driveway. The access road going up our hill and past our driveway, was originally cut by the developer’s road crew in non-compliance with the approved USVI drawings. As I might have explained before, this was allegedly done to preserve a rare and beautiful Mampoo tree which sat in the path of the proposed road. However, no one who has been at the site can identify this rare and beautiful Mampoo tree, not even Josephine. We do not want to suggest that someone screwed up here and hint that the Mampoo tree story is a cover-up, but since no one can find a Mampoo tree… Well anyway, the only tree that appears to have been saved is an old, common, turpentine tree fully stocked with its very own huge termite nest (lucky us). Since so much was done to preserve that very special tree, our contractor, without our knowledge, went another mile to save it yet again, this time from sliding down the hill during out final road re-grading. He put up a retaining wall to protect it (on our dime of course)! The retaining wall is built by using these wire mesh contraptions that look like lobster traps and filling them with stone and rubble. So here are some beautiful pictures of our beautiful Mampoo tree, that isn’t a Mampoo tree, which is being protected by lobster pots! I wonder how much this is going to set us back?

October 24, 2007

And off we go again! We leave tomorrow for another fun-filled whirlwind excursion to our formerly favorite place on earth, St John. I am sure that once all the trauma is over and we return to our former wonderfully dull life, St John will once again regain her enchanting allure. The rum drinks will be consumed for pleasure, not medication; the trips to the beach will include snorkeling not just a leap in the water mere minutes before the sun sets. Once again we will look at colorful scenery not at power poles, talk to locals about their avocation not their vocation. Perhaps we can even once again feed bananaquits and leisurely drink coffee at sunrise. We used to do that once…really we did! WHAT WERE WE THINKING!!!!!
So adieu, until our return next Wednesday. In the mean time, here are some miscellaneous pictures left out of earlier entries.

October 31, 2007

We’re baaaackkk! Did you miss us? I can’t believe I am saying this, but here goes: We did not so much as a put a big toe in our beloved, spirit healing, Caribbean waters. We did not even drive the amazing North Shore road and breathe in its earthy fragrances nor watch the pelican’s lazy swoop down from the sky to feast at their favorite buffet. In fact, we never left Reef Madness other than for work supplies and sustenance – oh yeah, and one very cool gathering at the Beach Bar (more on that later). Did this suck? NO!!!! This was GREAT!!! We have a villa - a real honest to Caribbean god, VILLA! When we left our house in Maryland, we had some serious doubts about how this trip would play out, starting with the departure from our garage. You see, one piece of artwork we purchased for RM missed the Tropical Shipping container by mere days. This is a sizeable piece measuring 45” by 45” by 5” and packaged somewhat like an oversized pizza box. FedEx wanted $250. to ship it and the USPS wouldn’t touch it – too big. But our friendly, frequently flown airline, American, would take it as oversized luggage for a mere $100.00 extra. So being the cheap masochists we are, we decided to schlep this down to St John as luggage. Mind you, this piece would not fit in our car, so we had to use our pickup truck to get to the airport. Did I mention that early Thursday morning it was raining cats and donkeys here in our Nation’s Capital? Did I mention that our wonderful piece of artwork was sitting in cardboard? Did I mention that our truck has no room to carry anything but passengers inside the cab? So at 5AM, off we go down the road with a plastic tarp barely covering our St John bound goods in the truck bed, flapping in the wind, threatening to fly off at any moment thus subjecting all our valuables (that missed our half full, $6000.00 Tropical container) to the elements (will we ever be able to travel with carry on only again?) and looking somewhat like the Beverly Hillbillies. A word about American Airlines: the people at the counter in St Thomas are a pain in the ass. They are rude, they are not the least bit helpful, customer service is a strange and mysterious concept and they, well… they suck! Having said that, let me tell you how great the American agents at National Airport were. Not only did they not even blink when we put this behemoth on the luggage scale, they did not charge us extra for the oversize box (it would not go through their standard x-ray machine), Perhaps that makes the AA experience break even with us. Anyway, we lugged that oversized piece of crap all over airports, motels, ferries, up drive ways too steep and muddy to drive (it was raining cats and donkeys in the VIs dochano) and was it worth it?????

Yes, yes it was…

November 1, 2007

Did I mention that our villa looks amazing? Did I mention that our villa is the most beautiful villa I have ever seen? Peter Bay - patooey (OK a little biased parental pride speaking here). It is amazing how a little soap and water fixes things – not to mention electricity, air-conditioning, hot water, a washer/dryer, dishwasher, ice maker and a pool full of water helps. Ahhhh… it’s the simple things in life! We decided on the décor of Reef Madness after an unexpected trip to South Africa in 2006. We fell in love with the country, the people, the wildlife, the smells, the very complex simplicities of this remarkable land. Like its people, the colors are bold, shapes and sizes are simple yet grand, modernly geometric with an ancient elegance. We wanted to bring that into RM as so much of the Caribbean is an African hybrid. Now places like the Four Seasons and the Westin Hotel conglomerates have some very talented people who can pull off unusual international decors with artistic perfection. Could a couple of neophytes from Maryland (and Seattle) pull it off as well or would this all end up in one huge decorative disaster? I will give you that RM will not be to everyone’s liking. Our property manager said, “keep it light”. We didn’t. Our builder told us our walls should be white not “baby poop yellow”… Did we listen? Nope. I guess that the truth is, we built this place for us, not for anyone else. The good news for our renters is, like it or hate it, we pretty much got the finest stuff out there. We hope those that stay here have eclectic tastes, because Reef Madness is not like anything else. While in Africa, we bought a lot of hand made items in the street bazaars with the thought of placing them around our villa. We bought quite a few baskets hand woven by the Zulu natives. Here is what we did with those extraordinary baskets in our kitchen. Oh and let’s throw in pictures of the dining room just for fun!

November 2, 2007

Have we mentioned our beautiful new pool that actually has water in it; real, clean (not that muddy brown stuff that slides down and oozes out of our steep dirt embankment and puddles inside a hole in the ground) water? The pool went from one ugly looking concrete pit, filled with all the construction site trash and anything else that the trade winds blew our way, to a serene, gently lapping, work of art, almost overnight. I believe in a prior instructional blog entry (written because nothing else was going on and we had no new villa pictures), I mentioned that with the exception of island bats, there are no native mammals resident on St John. However, while we were there, we did spot a seldom seen, non-resident mammal lurking around the pool, and low and behold, right before our very eyes, this creature slid into the pool and started swimming around! I captured it on film to confirm its existence to all doubters. Click here to view!

We also have some great pictures showing the infinity edge feature of the pool.

November 5, 2007

I suppose you are tired of hearing how fast everything is moving along right now. We can’t say it enough. We are totally blown away by the day to day changes going on at Reef Madness. For the longest time, there was nothing happening, nothing to write about, no pictures showing the slightest hint of differences from one day to the next. What am I saying “one day to the next”; no changes from one month to the next, just one big ugly gash in the side of the hillside day after day, week after week, month in, month out! Now, phew, it’s amazing. We have Josephine working on the landscaping, we have Majestic Concrete putting in our driveway and paving our access road! We have Rudette adding all the finishing touches inside and out. Julie is painting our storm shutters while Jerry Daley is keeping our pool crystal clear, and soon we shall meet with the house keeper that will ensure all our guests are comfy and cozy. Our first guests will be our parents. They will critique us and show no mercy. That is why all of this must be done this week. We shall see...

November 6, 2007

We had been trying to set up a meeting with Josephine for a long, long time, but every time we called her, she was out and about and when she returned our calls, we were out. On our trip last week, we knew we had to talk to her – we were running out of time, so meeting with Josephine became a priority. We landed at St Thomas airport late, spent the night near the airport and rented a vehicle large enough to carry this huge wall art thingy the following day. We blew off breakfast, picked up some more paint supplies and headed to the car barge. It was approaching 11 o’clock and our stomachs were starting to make embarrassing noises so we decided to pick up sandwiches at the Marina Market Deli in Red Hook (they make great sandwiches). Outside the store, who should we run into but the organic gardener herself, Josephine, making produce deliveries on the St Thomas side of the sound! Well that was easy! We made arrangements to meet at Reef Madness and go over her design. We also chatted about a payment plan (as we are broke donchano). She was willing to do all the work up front and graciously put us on a payment plan. I guess her business is really going well which allows her to deal with deadbeats like us! I also think she gets a kick out of watching her visions take hold, turning ugly gashes in the sides of hills to enchanting gardens. Besides, she can see our place from her garden center and I think she wants to improve her view… And the day after we departed, she was already at work at RM. We thank her, and the Bananaquits and “Hummers” thank her too!

November 7, 2007

Dare I say the word…? Concrete… We have more CONCRETE!!! Beautiful, expensive, rare as an on time, under budget villa… concrete! This is concrete in the form of a driveway and yes, an access road. Not that our beautiful little gash in the side of Seagrape Hill was hard to get to; au contraire, mon ami. The goats and the donkeys didn’t seem to mind it in the least, but now, it is all PAVED. Wahoo! The really surprising thing is it was sooooo easy. We, not Sunnyrock, got the quote and dealt with the company (Majestic Concrete), directly and they came on time, and hopefully on budget as well. Perhaps the building trade is slowing on St John and those involved are getting hungrier, or perhaps this was merely beginner’s luck, but whatever it was, it is done and the reports and the few pictures we have so far say that it is a great improvement on a four wheel drive challenging dirt/mud/rock road. Ahhhh, life is good!

So adieu. Once again we are traveling to St John, this time with people who will not be afraid to tell us the good, the bad, or the ugly truth about our Madness. We have three weeks to prepare for our first paying guests and we will do our best to make it puuurrrrrrfect. I will be dragging down my laptop and will try out our RM internet connection. If all goes well, you should get a posting before our return on the 19th of November. If you don’t hear from us, something has gone horribly wrong and we might have to call Bill Gates to bale us out… Either that or buy another bottle of rum…

November 15, 2007

YES, we have internet access! I am typing this entry from the great room of Reef Madness. How cool is this! We have had some trials and tribulations during our stay here. This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation to show off Reef Madness to our Dad and Mother, but of course the gods had other ideas. The place was a wreck when we got here and I am told that it would have been worse had not Lewis showed up at dusk and started to put some of the workers stuff away and begin sweeping out the mess. Some how the word got out that we would not be here until Tuesday of this week. Tuesday (of course) was the day that our parents were leaving to go back home leaving us “kids” behind to keep on working. I believe English (and Patois) is the language spoken here, but based on our experience, communications of any sort has not found its way to Seagrape Hill. Funny, this place is such a small town, rumors and stories seem to flash down the grapevine at warp speed... Oh…never mind. Anyway, our folks are real troopers and insisted on pitching in to move furniture (as we painted the crown molding in the lower bedroom), sweep floors, clean windows and just tolerate (very gracefully) our impatience at setting up bulky TV and sound system connections. Not to say that their visit was all work. There were several great dining experiences, and after a little coaxing, they took to the RM pool like native species!

November 16, 2007

Our guests have departed and we are in serious overdrive getting everything ready. Will it be “puuuurrrfect”? Hell no. But we are doing the best we can. The internet connection is in the wrong place, but it’s usable if only in the great room and perhaps a few places on the deck, but hey, we can live with that for now, but it is on our “punch list” of things that need to get done over the coming months (between renters). We also do not have covers over the AC vents. We told one of the Bongo boys this and he exploded in laughter. I hear he went months holding onto a promise that the covers would “soon come”. They never did. They put them up themselves. We have great TV satellite reception and an excellent sound system - that’s cool! The antenna for the internet is very, very small. The dish for the satellite TV is huge, but Josephine is a master at camouflaging everything inside a lush jungle of green. Actually the plantings are a tad bit small right now, but we have been given assurances that the garden will explode and grow like crazy!

November 19, 2007

Good fortune is sometimes a byproduct of dumb luck. You see, I was hooking up my satellite/TV/stereo/dvd/surround-sound/tuner/speakers when I had an epiphany. An electronics-data nerd I am not! I come from the vinyl records era. I was already in my thirties when PCs reached an amazing 386, and a gig was a live performance at a local bar! You plugged in a TV and just turned it on, perhaps adjusting the rabbit ears a smidge. Things have gotten slightly more complicated since those days – and I haven’t. After two days of cursing (mostly out of Dad’s hearing range of course), I decided what I needed was a pizza (and several cold ones) from the Donkey Diner . It was there I ran into Jack. No, not that Jack but I admit he could have put an end to my troubles. This Jack is Anna’s (Anna Banana) brother (see blog entry February 28, 2007) and a techno weenie extraordinaire. He was picking up a pizza and told me he had just started a new venture with Donkey Diner owner Doug, called “Coral Bay Computers”. He works out of the Donkey Diner Mondays and Tuesdays. Jack is a wiz when it comes to anything electronic and agreed to help put an end to my electronic nightmare. The guy is one sharp dude. He had it all connected and working great in a few hours time. I am no longer dreaming of wires strangling me in the dark or plugs coming at me from all directions. No, I now sit back and listen to the sweet sounds of Inner Visions sippin’ on a Mango daiquiri. Ain’t life grand?

November 20, 2007

Tuesday we took the folks back to the St Thomas airport for their return flight home. We spent the rest of the day shopping – my favorite on-island activity (not). The big winners in this outlay of cash were K-Mart, Cost-You-Less, and again, Home Depot. You see, we had a visit from our management company and they (Corine, the VIVA Field Manager and our new RM housekeeper) requested we stock up on house supplies. I am not sure if this was meant to save us money (which I am all for) or save them the extra work. At any rate we agreed to do a supply run and bought paper towels (boxes of them) and toilet paper (boxes of that too) and laundry detergent and cleaning supplies and buckets and squeegees and on and on and on. The housekeeper wanted three bottles of Fabuloso. What the hell is Fabuloso? This had better last for years, ‘cause I know it would take years (except for the toilet paper perhaps) for us to go through this much stuff at our house in Maryland, and we keep our place pretty darn clean. Are villa guests dirtier than the rest of mankind? Wait a minute, I have spent my St John career as a villa guest and I’m not that dirty so what’s the deal? Are we an anomaly? Is the villa housekeeper attempting to make RM surgery room clean? Is Dr. Jarvik booking a week? There goes our profit (or rather our credit card and mortgage payments)! We have this “owner’s closet” set up for the villa housekeeper and for us and our portion of the closet went from two of the shelves (out of 5) to one. The rest, VIVA took over as there was no room remaining to store all this stuff. One thing we did buy (on our own) was a couple of cases of rum so we could gift the renters a bottle of Cruzan (and a VIVA provided snack basket) to start our guest's vacation off on the right note. Seems a bit magnanimous until you realize that the mixer costs more than the rum. Heck, the Fabuloso costs more than the rum (and they ask me why I drink!)

November 21, 2007

…and we’re off…again…another trip…to St John and Reef Madness. People look at me strangely when I moan about “another trip to St John”. They say, “Oh yeah, hurt me that bad. I’d love it.”, but they just don’t get it. This is real work. Airports and the general commuting by taxi, ferry, car barge, what have you, gets old. It’s not like the good old days when it all was one great big glorious adventure, giddy coming in, grieving going back. No, now the travel is all one great, glorious pain in the rump. And this is before we even arrive on-island; before all the real work comes to play. OK, I’ll quit my whining, (or maybe not) but we are both looking forward to a real vacation someday and, sadly we want one that does not include St John. Perhaps a ski trip? Wait, I can’t ski! What the hell, I’ll learn. This trip will be our last trip to St. John before Reef Madness begins its new life as a “short term rental”. We leave tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day) and return on Tuesday morning, the same Tuesday that our very first paying guests arrive in the afternoon. We have accomplished so much in such a short time, but there is still a lot of unfinished business left. The biggest item is: (you know this has got to have something to do with either a stone mason or WAPA) permanent power - yes WAPA. (Damn you’re good and yes, we believe the stone masons are finally finished!) We have “construction power” at the house and with construction power, you can do everything you can do with permanent power. You just can’t do it all at the same time. No air conditioning while the drier runs; if all three air conditioning units are running, don’t flush, etc… How do you explain this to a renter? I think we’ll need a flow-chart of some kind. This villa was supposed to be done in September (of 2006). Then we were guaranteed February of 07 would be a realistic time for our furniture to arrive. July was the drop dead due date. We delayed an October opening to November just to give us some wiggle room. Here we are nearly to December and we do not have permanent power. I hope we have understanding guests who will trade inconvenience for that which is new and pristine. If not – just shoot me. Perhaps you notice a touch of sadness in this entry. Yes, there is. This project became more than a project. It was a dream that took on a life of its own. Despite our best efforts to play it smart, we became parents to this former ugly gash in the side of a hill on this jewel of an island in the USVI. We planned her; we nurtured her; we watched her grow from a caterpillar to a butterfly. And over the last four months we’ve poured our own sweat equity into her. And now on Tuesday, we give her up for adoption. She’s beautiful and we are very proud, and not just a little…sad.

November 26, 2007

This is our last day at Reef Madness before our first guests arrive. This has been a good trip, a healing, St. John kind of trip. For the first time in ages we relaxed as well as worked. Early on, we came down with a major case of “villa gravity” and did not want to leave RM even to go out to dinner. With no one around we were able to play a bit with…well…stuff! Found a great station on satellite radio and played with the indoor and the outdoor speakers. It was so incredibly decadent to paddle about in the pool with rum drinks at pool edge and very cool music softly wafting in the background. This was what St. John used to be like before the “madness” set in. We got a call yesterday from Ruth at St. John Spice, wondering why we hadn’t shown up for the VI Forum bash at the Beach Bar. She understood completely about the “gravity thing” going on. We were able to help her out by getting a group photo from the dockside web cam at our PC (yes our internet still works) and send it off to her. This morning the appliance guy, Patrick, showed up with parts to fix the damaged stove top. Good, now our guests have four burners to play with instead of two. We also had our first good fortune with Innovative. They actually took our request for a phone line! Don’t laugh - this was visit number four to their office and each time they required something more from us that they failed to mention on previous endeavors. Now I am sure we should have a phone line at any moment (that’s within the next five years in island time), but at least we are in line. In the mean time, VIVA will supply a cell phone to renters to get by with. Not done – oh the list is veeeerrrrrry looonnnggg! Except for Patrick, no one else has shown up to get things fixed. Sunnyrock, where are you? Rudette, you promised!!!! Have you abandoned us? Do you think you are done? NO! Remember that “punch list” you told us to get together? We did – now where are you? And WAPA…what about our permanent power? “Soon Come”… and Jeff, here…laugh your ass off!!!!

December 2, 2007


So where have we been? Now that Reef Madness is rented is this blog just going to disappear? Good questions… After our 21 hour trip home on Tuesday and an immediate return to our working lives in DC it took us awhile to get our bearings and figure out which world we were now living in. It sure isn’t St. John. With a cold rain outside and a fire in the fireplace inside there isn’t a donkey in sight. But the tundra swans have returned to the Chesapeake and we’ve resumed our morning feedings that make us feel warm inside despite the chill. So what’s happening back on Seagrape Hill? That’s what we want to know. We heard that Josephine was there on Tuesday and she did some additional sprucing up of our property, and that our builder was there to do a few things and talk to her about our non-functional gray-water system. “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FIRST RENTERS? DID THEY ARRIVE, DID THEY LIKE IT?” Beats me… I know they arrived, but the only word I heard so far from VIVA is that their comments were “positive”. Well positive is good, but could they elaborate a little? Can VIVA scan their guestbook entry for us? Today was our first transition day – Group 1 departed and Group 2 is settling in for a week. Hey Group 2 – if you’re on the RM wifi, write us! Tell us what you think! Have you seen our donkeys?

So… we’ll be back, just not everyday like before. I suspect we won’t be getting any fresh pictures for awhile, so we may have to be a bit ah, creative in our posts in keeping you visually amused. Hang with us for a little longer. The construction story may be over but surely there’s an epilog. All my favorite books have epilogs. And of course there are a few pieces of unfinished business – like WAPA. And how we’re going to pay off all these debts. Oh yes – there is more…

December 6, 2007

NEWSFLASH!!! We’ve been awakened from our snowy slumber by an e-mail that arrived last night from the folks who are actually staying at Reef Madness right now. After sharing this e-mail with VIVA they sent us an e-mail they received from our first renters. Allow us to spread our porcine wings a little as we reprint these messages.

From our current renters:

Hi, We have been so busy enjoying Reef Madness that I forgot to check your

After the terrifying ride up your driveway, we settled in without much effort.
Now, of course, I go up and down the road and driveway like it is flat. I am
somewhat relieved that the vegetation has grown up along the edges, even though I
know the view is fantastic, it helps me to keep my eyes on the drive and my mind
off the dropoff.

Everything is great! After 24 hours we mastered all the electronics and it all
works beautifully and the outside sound is great. Your instructions were very
helpful and complete.

We love the house, the view, the comfortable bed, and the great kitchen. So
far, we have only eaten breakfast in house and your waffle maker is the best
along with the 30# mixer. The pool is perfect. The thoughtfulness you have
put into the house is apparent everywhere. We have similar taste in music also.
We have been experiencing island inertia and can't seem to tear ourselves away
from the pool in the mornings. Today, we also enjoyed a late afternoon time
with the pool as well. One of the small birds landed on Dede's head while she
was in the pool. That was an exciting and unexpected moment.

The outside area is very special and the lighting is great. We love looking up
at the house from everywhere in Coral Bay. Thanks for making such a special
place for us to come. I have followed your pain and expense since July and I
hope in the end, it will prove worth it for you. For us, we appreciate it and if
we come back to St. John, this will be the place.

We have experienced no problems in dealing with the temporary power issue just
by being careful. Everything seems to work well which is amazing to me having
followed your trials and tribulations. Let me know if there is anything you
would like me to check out for you while we are here at your house.

Charlie and Dede

And from our first renters:

Dear Christine,
We want to thank you for the lovely stay we had at Reef Madness. It was the perfect spot to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The view was staggering, the kitchen was more than well-equipped, the rooms were incredibly comfortable. We appreciated all the little touches -- the tote bags and extra towels, the coolers and chairs, the "goodie basket" and bottle of rum, and most especially, the clear and detailed instruction notebook telling us how everything worked. Please extend our appreciation and compliments to the owners. Reef Madness is a wonderful villa -- it made our stay at St. John's spectacular. Our Best, Cathy and Bruce

These kind folks made our day. In fact they may have made our year...

January 2, 2008

My bad... So where have we been? Pain, surgery, hospital, holidays, lack of information, all conspired together to hold our blog hostage. We are back (more or less)! One of the things that prompted this posting is that we got another bill from Sunnyrock. Oh yes, there was a “Happy Holidays!” greeting as well - to soften the blow. Are we done yet? No, of course not. The punch list goes on and on and the permanent power (or lack there of) stays elusively the same. Do we have renters? Yes! And so far they have been very kind to us even though they can’t run the drier and the air conditioner at the same time. They must have inhaled the island spirit early on. Perhaps it’s the rum drinks they offer you as soon as you step off the airplane. As we mentioned earlier, we got an e-mail from Charlie and Dede, who were the second guests to stay at Reef Madness, and they kindly sent some great pictures from their visit along with some helpful suggestions. Since their pictures are newer than any we have, I thought I would share some of them.  They take great pictures!  Notice the 200 lb waffle maker and the 199 lb mixer! Nothing like a workout while one is on vacation!

Relaxing after all that heavy lifting!

January 4, 2008

As do most rental companies on St John, ours (VIVA) leaves a gift basket so that late arriving guests have something to eat should they arrive after everything shuts down. We are not talking about caviar and truffles here, but your basic munchies. In order to class the place up a bit, we added a monkey statue displaying a fine bottle of Cruzan Rum (for medicinal purposes only, of course). Now originally this monkey was intended to display fine wine, perhaps a Romanee Conte or a Chateau Lafite. The monkey had been given the appropriate moniker of “Rothchild”.  Well come on now, this is Coral Bay on St John. The name “Rothchild” would never do. Our wine steward …ah… rather rum steward is politically incorrectly called “Rumsfeld”. We were somewhat shocked that our rum steward was not shown his due respect by our guests. Here is our beloved Rumsfeld as he is correctly performing his medicinal purposes.

Here is Rumsfeld caught on camera performing degrading simian duties

January 7, 2008

Only the finest at Reef Madness I always say, whether it works or not, whether we requested it or not, mostly, whether it makes sense or not. We have the finest doors available at RM, beautiful mahogany and glass with locking devices meant to stave off tropical storms, the fury of a hurricane, thwarting the persistence of would be thieves and ne’er-do-wells, keeping Americans and St Johnnians alike, safe from evil-doers. The problem is, not only are the bad guys baffled by this locking system, so are the owners and renters. You need a degree in mechanical engineering to figure out how these things work. Even then, the humidity, the position of the stars, and the mood of the Caribe gods, must all be in alignment for these locks to easily function. I mean what good is a lock if you can’t figure it out?  And why do we need such a lock in the first place? Hurricanes? Isn’t that what storm shutters are for? It rather reminds me of the safety locks on medication for, oh… say arthritis, which people with arthritis can’t open because they hurt so bad and need the medication so much! So we, the experts in all things Reef Madness crawl in after spending hours and hours in airline check in lines, TSA security lines, waiting for the airline mechanic to fill out his paper work because the airplane toilet won’t flush right, missing all connecting flights, yearning for nothing more than to fall into a soft comfy bed, only to be thwarted at the RM locked door. Oh cruelty. Oh torture. Now if it is that hard for us - we who have gone in and out of these doors dozens of times, one cannot even imagine the frustration of our newbie, naive guests. Well, maybe when we can afford it we will replace these wunder-locks with something that a person who has spent way too much time at Island Blues consuming adequate quantities of rum, can somehow manage to open before needing to find a bush to drown. I have a dream…

Tomorrow, a new page (page 8)


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