Momma Hen, Hard at Work

And I actually mean that more literally than you might think. I’m hatching chicks faster than a barnyard hen house!

crochet animals

Five chicks and (now three) bunnies ready to go to their new homes!

I posted a notice on the Ross Students’ Facebook page last Tuesday asking how many people might be interested if I decided to make Easter chicks to sell on campus before the April break – just as a feeler for the idea. I was amazed when I had to shut down the post after 18 hours because I had 13 chicks and 12 bunnies ordered in less than a day!

So, needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy ever since. I’m averaging two animals a day, so I hope to have this first batch of orders done by the middle of March. And I already have people wanting to jump in on another batch to be done by the end of finals in April! I am both amazed and honored.

I know I’m not charging enough for them, but it was a special Easter thing, so I can call this first go-round a “sale item.” This morning a launched a Facebook page where people can keep track of their order’s progress and ask about special items (which of course depend on my yarn supply at the moment).

Even though the page says in three different places that I’m working on Easter orders and not accepting new requests at this time, I’ve had three different people ask for specialized animals in the last three hours. Two of them I should be able to fill sometime this year – but one student wanted three green vervet monkeys with the Veterinary Staff of Asclepius on their bellies by the end of the semester. Good grief! I’m not even sure you can do that with crochet stitches! Cross stitch, probably, but I’ve never learned to do that. And by the end of the semester!? No way in the world am I that good, even if I could figure out how to make one by then. Unfortunately, I had to tell the young lady no. Hopefully she’ll find something else equally as special for her departing friends.

green vervet monkey on a face

This is a green vervet, in my backyard actually! So cool that I didn’t have to steal a picture from Google!

Anyway, looks like I may have found a source of income after all! Which is good, since the school PR office has never gotten back to me about freelancing and Thing 1 and Thing 2’s parents are adding Thing 3 soon and won’t be needing me for many months.

Check out the Chesnut Crochet Creations Facebook page through the link above and let me know what you think! Sorry, island orders only.

“Let’s Learn About Our Great Federation”

Last week my housemate, B, and I were entertaining one of the little girls she nannies at our house, and I was letting her play school with my small dry erase board. The first grader grandly announced that I, her student, would be learning about “our great federation.” Obviously a phrase she’s heard used many times in school.

(The fact that the Mister and I are temporarily part of the Federation is a wonderful technicality that seems to be lost on most people, but I love it.)

It was requested a few weeks ago that I have a post about the island itself – what sorts of businesses and activities we have here, what the land is like, etc. So this is that post, albeit probably not as in-depth as some would like.

The Federation of Saint Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis is made up of two islands (obviously called St. Kitts and Nevis). We are located in the upper Antilles islands in the West Indies, also known as the Leeward Islands. The Federation is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, both in land and in population. It was among the first Caribbean islands to be settled by Europeans and was home to the first British and French colonies in the area.

This is where we are in the grand scheme of things.

This is where we are in the grand scheme of things.

The total Federation is approximately 104 square miles, and that is divided between two islands and includes the small amount of water area claimed by the country. The two islands gained independence from Britain on September 19, 1983, and Nevis is still trying to gain its independence from St. Kitts.

The middle portion of the island is mountainous and not many people live there. There are no roads going through the island and only one road – “Island Road” – going around the shoreline. Driving around the main part of the island takes about three hours. Most of the population congregates along the shoreline and a majority of that is at the southern end of the main part of the island (before you go onto the skinny peninsula), because that’s where Basseterre and Frigate Bay are – the two most popular areas of the country. The peninsula is very under-developed, but at least one luxury resort and several high-class condominiums are under construction with the hopes of attracting big spenders. (The cover image at the top of this blog is a view looking down the peninsula. The Atlantic Ocean is on the left and the Caribbean Sea is on the right.)

Doesn't it look like a chicken leg?

Doesn’t it look like a chicken leg?

I’ve been told there are about 40,000 people on the island and approximately 80,000 green vervet monkeys, which are native to the federation and found nowhere else. There are probably about that many centipedes, too. . .  but that’s a different story.

As far as businesses, we have a Subway, a KFC and a Church’s Chicken in Basseterre (the capitol city), but they get mixed reports as to whether or not the food is totally safe. There are no drive-thrus anywhere on the island, which makes sense because a “quick meal” anywhere takes at least 30 minutes between the time that you order and the time you get your food. And that’s when a full staff is focused and attentive, which doesn’t happen often.

A view looking north from Brimstone Fortress, a National World Heritage site originally built by the British to defend the island from the Spanish navy.

A view looking north from Brimstone Fortress, a National World Heritage site originally built by the British to defend the island from the Spanish navy.

There are three “major” (as in, not just a hole in the wall) grocery stores. There are several independent restaurants, including a pizza place, a sushi place, an Indian place and a French place. There are also a couple higher-end restaurants for those who are on luxury vacations and can afford to spend more money. I think there are about five, and two are inside the Marriott Hotel and Casino, which is easily the largest and most extravagant building on the entire island. The largest percentage of restaurants are beach bars, which can be found on almost all of the island’s beaches and typically serve hamburgers, French fries, seafood and alcohol. Mainly alcohol.

Sunset from Timothy Beach - aka "The Strip" - as Friday's cruise ship sails away.

Sunset from Timothy Beach – aka “The Strip” – as Friday’s cruise ship sails away.

Main island activities for those who are interested include going to a beach (we have both black and white sand beaches) or swimming pool, snorkeling, hiking, golfing at the Marriott and, for those who can afford it, going on Catamaran trips (like a large sailboat with an open bar). Key words: open bar. Basically, the main island activity is drinking and the primary food group here is alcohol.

There are three major international schools on the island: Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, Windsor Medical School and the International University of Medical and Health Sciences. (The Ross University Medical School is on Dominica, not Nevis as mentioned earlier. Thanks to Jackie for finding my mistake.)

Let me know if there is any else you would specifically like to read about and I will do my best to find the answers for you.

(All the historical facts and specific statistics I got from Wikipedia, since the St. Kitts tourism site doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.)

Top Ten Thursday – 10 Things to Know Before Going Grocery Shopping in St. Kitts

1. Be prepared for the sticker shock. A package of Charmin toilet paper can be $32EC.

2. Check all expiration dates and examine food through plastic windows whenever possible. If you buy cereal, ask at the register if you can open the box and inspect the bag.

3. Be familiar with the three major grocery stores and their standard prices so you know what items are cheapest where. Rams sells many items in Bulk; Best Buy carries more name-brand things; IGA has weekly sales and is sometimes cheaper.

4. Know that the stores generally restock on Wednesdays. This means go on Thursday mornings whenever you can.

5. Get produce at the markets first, then at the grocery stores. The campus market is small and on Wednesdays; the city market is much larger and on Saturdays.

6. Do not trust the shelf stickers. Compare the sticker item numbers to the bar code numbers on the box/can before trusting that it’s the right sticker. Also, when things don’t have stickers, it’s a gamble. You can’t just estimate based on the prices of similar items on the same shelf.

7. Try not to buy things out of the freezer section if you can help it. First of all, the freezers are never cold enough to actually keep things frozen, which brings the safety of the food into question. And secondly, if it has to be frozen there’s a reason for it, and it will be thawed by the time you get home anyway so there isn’t much point.

8. Sign up for all the shoppers’ numbers and cards, since they do sometimes get you discounts. However, they only process the applications once they have a full “batch” (however many that may be), so you might go shopping for the next three weeks and not be able to benefit from the number. Also, you collect “points” when you shop with your card or use your shoppers’ number, but it’s not like at home where you can redeem them for things. Here, at certain times of the year (I’m told in December), the points will suddenly become redeemable and you can use them on certain products.

9. Put your groceries on the belt in the order you want them bagged, because the cashiers and baggers don’t care how they are sorted. A package of frozen bagels will go right into the bag with bathroom cleaner and hamburger helper if you’re not careful.

10. Call your taxi when you get into the checkout line. It will take the taxi 10 minutes to get back to the store (at least) and you’ll be in line at least that long anyway while the cashier ignores you and talks to her friends at the other register.

(10b. If you’re riding in a taxi, don’t buy more than 3-4 bags of groceries and make sure the tops can be tied. You’ll want to tie them closed and tie them together before putting them in the taxi so you know they are yours and so they won’t roll everywhere. If you’re riding in a bus – good luck with that.)

The Nut House Goes House Hunting

All first semester students here at Ross are given the option of living in the on-campus housing (dorms). And I’m not saying that’s a bad option – it puts you in easy walking distance of the main campus, with its ATM, fitness center and eating options, and you meet a lot more people in your class that way – but for us being a married couple, it has definitely had its challenges. We live in an efficiency room, which means we have about 20 square feet of space that serves as bedroom, living room, study area, kitchen and dining room all at once.

Yes, we’re married, and we’re close, but there comes a point where you get TOO close. . .

There are other types of dorm rooms – two bedrooms, and even split-level townhouse-type apartments – but everything is first-come, first-serve. So we have an efficiency. It is what it is.

But everyone has to move off campus for second semester, so we’re house hunting! I think it’s a lot of fun to go around and look at all these places with the realtors, although it would be more fun if we had our own car and didn’t have to call a taxi every time. (Cross your fingers and toes – we should have possession of our car within the next two weeks!)

Our future roommates (M and B) and the Mister and I have looked at a few options with a lot of potential and have our eyes on one in particular, if we can work out some kinks in the rental agreement. I won’t post any pictures or give any real details until we settle on something, since there may be other Rossies reading this trying to hijack our house, but let’s just say the one I like best is a real catch. (I know you’ve already got your fingers and toes crossed, so go ahead and cross those arms and legs too while you’re at it.)

We’ve looked at three so far: two in quiet neighborhood-type areas and one up on the tippy-tip top of a mountain overlooking basically the entire island. The view is breath-taking! But the drive up is pretty frightening, so we’ll have to see how that one goes.

Ross is really good about helping students find housing, and they have an entire website dedicated to listing the available units and showing extensive pictures and details about each one. The school is really good about understanding exactly how much students can be expected to tackle alone in this brand new area and new culture. They conduct security checks on all the properties and list the approved units on the student housing site; they include all student housing in the safety rounds and help write the lease agreements on whatever units we choose. However we are still responsible for setting up our own appointments with the realtors, finding our own roommates and making our own final decisions. You can choose to live somewhere that’s not Ross-approved, but it’s a decision you make at your own risk. And even then, if you ask, they will still send out a security team to conduct the check on your unit and give their professional opinions.

So we’re on another leg of this continuing adventure. But at least we are making friends, learning our way around, testing our wings and trying to make the best of it. So wish us luck in the house hunt. I will soon have an oven again, hallelujah!

 

 

**NOTE: I am trying to start a weekly blog theme called “Top Ten Thursday,” and I am open to any and all topic suggestions you may have. The Top Ten lists can be cultural, like local customs we’ve seen; they can be photographic, like local flowers, birds, colorful headdresses, etc.; they can be personal, like marriage lessons; or they can be how-to tips we’ve used, like about flying internationally or driving on the left side of the road. Anything really. realLeave your suggestions in comments and I’d appreciate it. 🙂

So you wanna go limin?

The Nut House’s Top Ten Things Learned in the First Two Weeks

1. “To Lime” means to hang out.

2. Do not wear jeans before 6 p.m. or you may very well die of a heat stroke.

3. There are approximately 40,000 people living on St. Kitts. There are 80,000 monkeys. And they are not afraid of you.

4. Drive on the LEFT side of the road!! And don’t watch when your taxi/bus driver drives. . . they are vicious.

5. Sticker shock is a real disease and should not be taken lightly. To minimize the side effects, divide all store prices by 3 (or by 2.6, if you’re good at math) to estimate the U.S. dollar amount. Prepare yourself, because it still will not be pleasant.

6. Check expiration dates on everything you buy and examine all boxes and bags for signs of holes and bugs.

7. Go out to eat before you are hungry, because by the time you get your food, you will be hungry. Don’t expect dinner to take less than 2.5-3 hours.

8. Expect there to be sand everywhere. Even when you didn’t walk through any sand, touch any sand or bring any sand into the house, it will still somehow end up in your bed.

9. Do not swim in unmarked areas. Yes, the beach and the water are beautiful, but the bottom is guarded by sea urchins and fire coral. (9b. Do not touch the fire coral.)

10. Ross University is kind of like Fort Knox. If you do not have your I.D., you will not get in. (Unless you get the nice security guard that knows you and likes you and will take your ridiculous story about losing your I.D. card to a monkey.)

[11. Because this needs to be said for the sake of all who may someday come to visit us – everything down here involves alcohol. All the restaurants serve alcohol. All the beaches have bars. All the locals and students get drunk everywhere. It’s just something you’re all going to have to deal with and work around when/if you come. If you can’t deal with it, you might as well not waste the money.]

And so the journey begins

Well it’s been a rollercoaster week for the Nut House. We left my parents’ house at 5:30 a.m. last Saturday, with me not having slept in 48 hours from nerves and stress. Our plane left Nashville at 8 and then our connection left Charlotte, NC, at 11 without any problems. We actually got to the island a bit earlier than planned, even though the flight was long and boring. We did end up sitting next to a very nice lady and her husband who were headed to the island on vacation, and got to talk to several other new Ross students while waiting in the immigration line. The airport here is just a tarmac and one room where you wait to go through customs.

From there our orientation leader (Caitlin, who is wonderful, by the way) took our orientation group to the grocery store to pick up some snacks and a few basic things for our new apartments. On the way there, Caitlin advised us to check the expiration dates on everything, open cereal boxes to check for bugs in the bags, and remember to divide by three to estimate the US dollar value of items. That was definitely a culture shock. We had been warned that shopping would be expensive, but when the sticker by the toilet paper says 32.75 for six rolls…. that was a shocker. Granted, that’s about 10 US dollars, which is better than 32 but still very expensive. (Prices are all listed in Eastern Caribbean dollars, which are about 2.6 to one US dollar.) Then our group went to dinner and saw some of the other groups out as well, which was very disheartening because everyone here drinks. A LOT. The Mister and I are not drinkers, so that has made for several uncomfortable meals since we’ve arrived.

Sunday we were not able to go to church services, since we don’t yet know how to find addresses here or how to navigate the public transportation. We hope to start attending somewhere in the next week or so once we can figure all that out. Instead, Sunday was IT day, where all the students got their electronic devices set up on the school wireless network. This was the first instance where I realized that my status as a VIP (a spouse, child or significant other) is very different from the Mister’s status as a student. I had been told I would be able to attend all the orientation sessions with him and move through the process as a couple. Well, that is not entirely true. The IT workers were not able to add my laptop to any of the wireless networks because I am not a student, and I had to beg them to add my iPad. Even then, I’m not allowed to have my own log in information; I have to use the Mister’s student information.

This has been true at all the orientation sessions I have attended. The school employees have, for the most part, been nice to me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am constantly hearing, “This is not for you,” “You can’t do that,” “You can’t use this building,” etc. I know there must be other VIPs here with students, but I have only met one in passing. He is a fiancé to a student and was running against many of the same walls. So at least it’s not just me.

I did have one unpleasant encounter though at the immigration table. All the students were able to process their student visa paperwork at “one stop” on Monday, and I had never been told I couldn’t process my paperwork there as well. (I will not have a student visa, but I do have to apply for a visitor’s extension.) I had all my paperwork filled out, signed and in the order listed in our welcome packet. I approached the table and let them know I am a VIP, and the woman asked for the paperwork from my packet when I arrived on the island. I gave her the forms I had filled out that morning, and she insisted that I did not have them all. However she would not tell me which form I was missing so I could look for it in my stack. Then she saw my other paperwork and started yelling that none of that was for me, I had done everything wrong and I hadn’t read any of the instructions. Which is not true, I followed the instructions backwards and forwards. So when I finally convinced her that I did have everything in order, she yelled at me to pick up my papers and stop cluttering her desk (I only had my one neat pile). Apparently VIPs can’t be processed until next week. She could have just told me that instead of making me feel and look stupid in front of a whole line of people.

Unfortunately this is the same woman who runs the VIP program. Needless to say, it was not a good first impression. Maybe she will make up for it at the meeting next Monday.

I have had fun on our two trips to various beaches this week, however. I am adjusting to the presence of sand on everything and have even managed to avoid much of a sunburn. Which for me is a small miracle in and of itself. Last night our group met the other groups on “The Strip,” which is a length of each where all the beach bars are, and played sand volleyball until the sun went down. I like volleyball, but I chose to walk along the beach and recharge my solitary batteries instead; but the Mister’s team won the orientation group tournament. We have gotten to know and like the members of our group pretty well, and we generally have fun together.

Right now I am in our apartment while the Mister is in some sort of leadership training seminar. I’ve been going to the orientation seminars for fear of missing some important piece of useful information, but so far nothing has applied to me. Hopefully this will improve next week when I’m able to meet other VIPs and start making friends who don’t talk about emergency surgery procedures all the time. It’s definitely a downer to be the only person at a table of eleven who doesn’t understand what the conversation is about.

Prayers for both of us are appreciated. The Mister starts classes on Monday and receives his white coat and takes the veterinary oath that night, a ceremony which will be broadcast live over the internet. Anyone who is interested can go to http://www.rossu.edu, select ross veterinary school across the top, click the academic events calendar on the left, and then look for “white coat ceremony” under Monday, May 6 from 4-6 eastern, 3-5 central time.