Feliz Navidad! Our Dominican Republic Trip

We’re back from our Dominican vacation… what an adventure. I don’t think I’ll actually blog about the entire trip, although I expect Reid will. Here are my personal highlights:

– Some really incredible beaches! One in particular: Playa Rincon, was absolutely gorgeous. Huge long beach, difficult to access, and as a result, very few people about. We saved this for our last day, on the 24th
– Speaking Spanish. I love Spanish. I had been practising for a month, and I was doing pretty well – the first few days, anyway. I lost some of it by the end of the week because I had stopped practising!
– The market: crazy place. Lots of little stalls, stuff strewn about, hustle, bussle. Motor bikes all over – in each others way. Tons of stuff all about. Whole chickens piled high. Pick up trucks full of oranges and pineapples (yum!!)
– Weather: hot and humid. I love hot and humid. Ok, maybe it was a little too humid, but that was ok. Great stuff! Rain would only last about an hour, and then it was all sunshine!
– Reid driving. So it wasn’t quite as bad as Rome, but it was close. Rome and the Dominican were the only times I appreciated Reid’s driving. I wouldn’t dare try driving in either place. (And yes, Reid, despite freaking out so many times: “Slow down!!!”, you were actually a pretty good driver)
– The culture: everything wasn’t all tidy and neat. Construction half started, and never finished (like the bridge to nowhere: a bridge that went from the mainland to a couple of useless islands, and was intended to go further but they never got around to finishing it). Yes, I like this. No “prim and proper” here.

There were some downs, though:
– The first night: car broke down at 11pm in the middle of nowhere, an hour into our 3-hour drive to the place we were staying. A tiny bar across the road that has no phone. A German ex-pat who speaks a little English, tells us we’ve put gasoline into our diesel pickup truck. Tells me about a nice mechanic he knows, and brings me along on the back of his motorbike. Reid and the kids worried – but the mechanic is a wonderful fellow and tows our car (with rope) to his garage, where he locks it up for the night. No hotels around, so he lets us sleep in the room above his garage: Ronnie and I on a little single bed, Michael on a couch only a bit too short for him, and Reid on an air mattress on the floor. The mechanic comes in early the next day (Sunday), fixes our car and we’re on our way by 10 am. Absolutely lovely person.
– Unfortunately, the above experience ruins things for Michael. OK, so I did expect a sullen teenager, but I think it was a little too much for him, and he didn’t really enjoy the rest of the trip.
– Impossible to get a good night’s sleep: incredibly loud music from the disco a half mile away that goes on until 4am almost every night. To be replaced by roosters calling as soon as they’re done. The only night the music stopped early, we were kept awake by a barking dog outside our house. Reid eventually grew tired of it, went out, and dumped some water on it. Silence. (Well, except for the *#$(#& roosters)
– Bugs. Lots of them. And since the houses aren’t air tight, and there are no screens, there’s nothing keeping them out. Tons of mosquitos, but they’re tiny, and don’t seem to itch anything like the ones in Canada do. I suppose this wasn’t much of a problem for Reid and I, but the kids were a bit freaked by it. And Ronnie’s legs were an entire mass of bites (he swells up more than most people)
– Avis. Stupid Avis. Doesn’t have the car we ordered. Gives us a diesel pickup truck (have to throw the luggage in the back). Doesn’t tell us it’s diesel. (Although there’s huge stickers on the gas tank, which the gas attendant seemed to ignore). And they also don’t bother to tell us about the little chip on the key chain which “unlocks” the engine. It shouldn’t get wet. But we don’t realize this until Reid goes swimming with it in his pocket (for safe keeping), and now the damn truck won’t start and we loose a day waiting around for a mechanic who doesn’t show up. But I drove them nuts until they agreed to drive a new car out to us the following day: the Subaru Forester we had originally wanted.

All in all, I think I would go again. I preferred the Dominican to Cuba, but perhaps this was because of the resort we stayed at. I don’t think Michael will want to go again, and I doubt we’d stay at the same place. But if I had the money, I’d buy property there and visit a few times a year.

Bedroom Reno

Well, after saving up for a few years, we finally started Phase II of our bedroom renovation. Phase I was getting rid of the bedroom that had been turned into a huge bathroom with hot tub (not in lovely condition), and turning it into a smaller bathroom. We were left with a weird half room. Phase II was expanding our bedroom into this weird half room, giving us an expanded master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom.

View of weird half room
Weird Half Room

On finding contractors: horrid job. Hate doing it. I must have called 12 or so. Of that, about 6 called me back and made appointments. Of that, 2 actually showed up. We also asked our neighbour (a contractor) to look at it. We decided not to go with our neighbour: if only because I was afraid it would strain relations if something didn’t go well, and I knew he was very busy. One thing I wouldn’t be able to deal with was delays once the job was started. Mostly because Reid and I had to move out of our bedroom, and squeeze into my office.

I had been a little concerned because I knew a supporting wall was coming out. It was actually the back of our closet, which was coming out. I became worried when I took a good look in the attic, and realized that there were 2 supporting walls about 2 feet apart: each side of the closet. I drew out the whole thing out on a piece of paper and showed it to my brother (Mr. Civil Engineer). Then I became REALLY worried when he started shaking his head and giving dire warnings. But the fellow we hired said it was absolutely No Problem. (Ok, at this point, tiny alarms went off because I thought that he might be dismissing me because, well, you know, I’m a girl.) He told me he hated engineers because they freak out over things like this. My neighbour told me the same thing. (Well, maybe there’s a reason engineers freak out over things like this!!)

Anyway, we were told they could start fairly soon. A couple of days later, two guys came by and I explained the whole reno. I showed them my sketch, they took a quick look, and flipped. One of them seemed quite upset (although I think that must be his personality). He started saying the only way to do it was to replace all the beams in our attic. Ya, right. They said they’d go back and talk to an architect. OK – now I was upset.

But our contractor decided to give the job to a different crew, reassuring me that these new guys were really good. Meanwhile, I had a sudden inspiration and realized there was a fairly simple way to support the whole thing. A few weeks went by before they could start. I hated that waiting period. Most of our stuff was out of our bedroom, and we were poised to move the rest out on a moment’s notice when we heard they were ready to start. As it turned out, I’m glad we had a whole Sunday to do it. That last little bit of moving took the whole day. Sunday night, we spent the evening playing racquet ball in my empty bedroom (with those tiny incredibly bouncy balls).

Reid and Ronnie -- see the ball?
Bedroom racquet ball

When the crew showed up a week ago Monday, I delayed going to work so that I could speak to them. Ten minutes into meeting the fellow in charge, I was happy as a lark. He told me it would be no problem, and obviously, he would work the supports into the ceiling and walls using the same idea I had. (This is not meant to be impressive – I don’t know enough about supports. Rather, it’s a comment on how relieved I was not to have the first crew.)

I went to work and less then 2 hours later, around 10am, Reid e-mailed pictures. All the walls had already come down. By the time I came home that evening, the walls were completely removed, the supports were in, buried in the ceiling and walls. During the day, the fellow showed Reid how strong the supports were by jumping up, and doing a chin up. Reid said they didn’t budge.

The roof is actually supported almost completely by the outer walls, and not by the beams running in the attic. So these 2 supporting walls were only holding up the ceiling drywall. Kind of overkill. I think I know exactly why there were 2 supporting walls 2 feet apart, but I’m sure I’ve bored enough people. If you’ve read this far and are curious, ask me.

Closet walls gone
Closet walls gone (looking in the same door as the top pic)

Last week went by quickly, and we’re nearing the end of the icky drywall phase. I understand tomorrow is the major drywall sanding day. I’m so glad Reid’s home: especially when he vacuums before I get home!

My Cool Niece

Just got an e-mail from my niece, Lisa, who’s studying history in Ottawa. Here’s short excerpt:

“My whole project for the museum is going quite well, my only problem has been not knowing where to look for books that deal with space and robotics as I’m much more used to finding books that deal with medieval church history or the foreign policies of Cuba, but I’m slowly getting used to it.”

Whew. That sounds so impressive to me. Now space and robotics I could cope with. Gee, maybe she won’t need all that math my brother used to go on about. (I would have gone on about math, too. My brother and I are wired the same way: maths/sciences. Ok, so maybe he’s smarter: just don’t tell him I said so.)

Continuing saga of pool problems

Me under our deck
Woman size 8 shoes

In step two of “How Luisa can f*ck up the pool”, I accidentally cut through the electrical supply to the pool shed, which of course, means I turned off power to the pump. I was trying to finish up my work in laying interlocking bricks near the pool shed, and saw what I thought was a cedar root in my way. As I started to cut through it, the pump turned off, and I realized my horrible mistake. The wire was white, but encrusted in mud.

As Ronnie and his friend Andy were in the pool at the time, I didn’t let out my usual steady stream of swearing. Only a few weeks before, while working on the bricks in the same area, I accidentally put my square shovel through the water pipe feeding the pump.

So, as usual I went screaming for Reid, and then called my brother in a panic. He patiently explained that no, I could not simply tape it back together considering the wire was running along the ground and water would seep in. I’d have to replace it. Horror upon horrors for me: the wire was buried, and I had no idea how to get to it. Reid wanted to get an electrician, but Tony told me it was easy, so off I went and bought wire (and 3/4 inch pvc pipe so I wouldn’t make the same mistake again years from now!!)

I’m not very good with electrical principles, and although Reid claims he’s not, he certainly helped — since the wire we were replacing had a red, black and white wire, and the one I bought only had a black and white. Anyway, since the red wire had been grounded in the garage, we felt we could do without it. And in the end, Tony came by to make sure we hadn’t screwed things up. (We hadn’t!!)

The worst of it was laying down the blasted wire from garage to the other side of the deck. I considered trying to drill new holes, but in the end, decided it was best to crawl under the deck. I now know exactly where my body is widest while lying on my back.

I went under on my back, and thank goodness I rolled out plastic ahead of me. It made it simple to slide out. As I went under, my progress was halted at my pelvic bone. Reid was rather alarmed, but he was just being silly. I knew I only needed a milimetre or two to keep going, and it looked like the other boards weren’t quite so low. When I felt him walking along the deck, I could feel it pressing down on my pelvic bone, so we realized we had some play, and he used a shovel to lever the deck up a tiny bit so I could slide in. The rest was a piece of cake. We were able to feed the new wire through by using the old wire as a guide. Once we got the wiring laid down, Reid had to lever the deck up again to let me out. No racoons came to scratch my eyes out. All in all a cool experience. (I admit that for years, I was curious about going under there.)

I hesitate to put this picture up, but what the heck. It gives me joy to give people something to laugh at…

Frog legs

“… can’t … quite… fit … dammit”