Author Archives: Richard Arnold

Will Work for Living Quarters

15 September 2014

I site I follow on Facebook had a link today to an interesting article called “5 Quotes From Billionaire Mark Cuban That Will Inspire You To Work Your Ass Off.” This post is not about Mark Cuban, I just happen to like a lot of what he was quoted as saying in this article.
Mark Cuban

I liked all five quotes. They weren’t just 1-liners – they had explanations of why he said each. I really liked number four. You can read for yourself at the link above but it ended with the following:

“We are trained to interpret “different” as a negative, when in reality, different jobs and opportunities often provide for the greatest potential for us to thrive as individuals. Life is too short for us to live in fear of being different. Be whom you want to be and don’t worry about the haters.”

I like the “different” part. Doing what Sharon and I are doing here on St. Thomas is definitely different. Life really is TOO short for any of us to live in fear of being different. Just go for it. Whatever “it” is.  As you can probably guess, we had many folks who said we were crazy for doing what we did by taking this position at Silk Cotton Villa. But no regrets here.

And part of this lifestyle is having to give X number of hours in return for a nice place to live and extras paid for such as Internet, utilities, and TV service. In other words, “Will Work for Living Quarters.” Many of our friends have ragged us from time to time (since our arrival) about what a great life we have here on a beautiful Caribbean Island. And it is N-I-C-E … no question about it. But we still have to get our work done before we can play.

Frances Bay St. John USVI

Our Spot at Frances Bay, St. John

I did a post earlier called the Project List where I outlined some of the projects on the list and some we had accomplished. And once again I won’t bore you with the details of the list. It’s a living thing. We complete projects and add projects all the time.

A few weeks ago we took a break from projects and spent a wonderful Saturday with some new friends at Frances Bay on St. John island. Our first trip over there since taking this position. You can see more photos of that day at The Working Couple Facebook page.

And this past weekend, we spent a lot of Saturday and some of Sunday knocking out more projects. One was pressure washing the east deck. Yeah, the view is nice and who cares if you get soaking wet in 90° weather …. but it is still work and it has to be done.

But there is a reward for all the hard work we did this weekend and the photos say it all. It could be worse. We Work for Living Quarters (on St. Thomas).

Hurricane Season

03 September 2014

It’s hurricane season here in the USVI. So far, just a couple of Tropical Storms and/orEast Window Hurricane depressions. We already have one of the busiest hurricane months, August, behind us. Maybe it will be a quiet season. But you never know. So, best to be prepared. And we are. The image at right was the last piece of the preparedness projects I completed last weekend. I had to make a new hurricane board for the east window. It mounts over an iron grate that protects that opening. Somehow the last one got used or lost.

One of the greatest natural threats in the Virgin Islands is hurricanes. Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th with the highest occurrences of storms in August and September. (The table below indicates tropical storm and hurricane activity which occurred within two degrees of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico from 1819 to 2001. Source: NOAA)

Hurricane Marilyn 1995

Storm Activity from 1819-2001

  • JAN – 1
  • FEB – 0
  • MAR – 0
  • APR – 0
  • MAY – 0
  • JUN – 0
  • JUL – 9
  • AUG – 34
  • SEPT – 38
  • OCT – 9
  • NOV – 4
  • DEC – 0

We have a very good emergency alert system in place here called VI-Alert which Sharon and I both are signed up for. Plus, between Weather Underground and NOAA, it’s pretty easy to stay abreast of coming storms.

The last major hurricane that affected the islands was Hurricane Marilyn (image above) in September 1995. Previously there was Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. There have been smaller hurricanes that have impacted the USVI like Hurricane Georges in September 1998 and Hurricane Lenny in November 1999, but none as severe in recent years as Marilyn and Hugo.

We shall see what Mother Nature has in store for us in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Liquid Gold

28 Aug 2014

The day after my last post, a tropical depression (the start of what became Hurricane Cristobal) came across the islands and brought a lot of rain (liquid gold) on Friday and Saturday. I don’t know exactly how much but believe it was about 6 inches. We didn’t have a rain gauge at the time … but we do now.

It was a lot more rain than TS Bertha brought back at the beginning of August. How do I know? Because our cisterns collected a lot more water this time. And monitoring the cistern water levels is an important part of our jobs here as caretakers. We have about 60,000 gallon capacity here – fresh water and grey water combined. Without the rain filling up the cisterns during the rainy season, you’re buying water from the desalination plants in town.

The USVI is the only place in the modern world where citizens are required by law to be directly
responsible for their own domestic water supply. Since the early 1930s the US Virgin Islands have a mandatory law requiring private residence and businesses to construct cistern(s) for the storage of rainwater from rooftop or dig a well for domestic water supply.

The building code of the USVI reenacted in 1964 and revised in 1996 has a clause setting a mandatory cistern construction or well for all dwellings except those units that have connection to public water supply system. Most of the lower areas around town and near the waterfront are connected to the water system which is from desalination plants. But most of the island is rural and depends on their cisterns for water needs. So we look forward to any substantial rainfall.

The Virgin Islands does not have a rainy season, however there are month to month differences. The rainiest months are November, October, September, August and May. Rainy months does not mean that there is continuous rainfall every day all month long, in fact most daily rainfall reports are below .10 inches. Rain showers are often short and typically occur early in the morning or at night. On a truly rainy day (like we had the weekend of the 22-23), it will rain off and on for the entire day. All day downpours over numerous days are not common.

So, yes, we had a rainy weekend but no one we know is complaining – especially us!

Where Does The Time Go?

21 August 2014

It’s hard to believe that today is the beginning of our second month at Silk Cotton Villa as caretakers and hosts – one month in the books. It hasn’t flown by and it actually seems to me as if we have been here longer than one month. We have definitely been busy both with our own work-from-home-office jobs and learning the villa routine and knocking out the projects to keep this place in shape and “show ready” for guests.

Speaking of projects, we knocked a number of them off the list last week. Examples: 2 coats of Tung Oil on the front door, fixed some shelves in the owner’s apartment, got the main storage room about 95% organized, fixed all of the guest bedroom’s shutter door and window slat controllers (many had missing connectors), and lots of little things not worth mentioning.

I must say … fixing the shutter slat controllers was tedious and time-consuming (hours!) – something Sharon and I had never done before but before long we had a system – LOL. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we have to fix some of these.

T-storm Aug in  the virgin islands

Here’s the good part of this lifestyle and the position especially when the owners are gone and no guests in the villa. At the end of the work day, we head up to the main villa house from our studio living/office quarters and enjoy a swim before dinner and then dinner on the pool patio looking out to the southern Caribbean Sea. The image to the right was taken earlier this week when a thunder storm blew up about 20 miles out in the ocean. It was a nice show from the patio. Nice way to end another day in paradise.

I think we will enjoy the next 11 months here.

Project List

12 August 2014

Keeping my promise from the end of the last posting, it’s time to talk about the Villa projects. The way a lot of these couple’s positions work is the caretakers/hosts get living quarters with things like utilities, TV, and internet service provided in exchange for a predetermined number of hours of work. Not a bad deal, IMHO. In some of the opportunities we have reviewed on the couple’s job sites we follow, some even offer other compensation such as a monthly stipend (or salary), health benefits, vehicle usage, etc.

Our caretaker/host position at Silk Cotton Villa provides living quarters (an air conditioned 500 SF 1-room, furnished studio apartment with a view of Charlotte Amalie bay), utilities, Dish TV, hi-speed Internet, and use of a work truck along with some compensation for cleaning during and after guest visits, and hourly pay for any work above the agreed upon hours owed for all the above. And if we want to provide Chef services or other Concierge services for guests, we can write our own menu and service offerings and charge whatever the going rate is at villas like this in St. Thomas. We haven’t decided on whether to Chef or not. That’s another topic for another post.

While guests are here, we HAVE to be available in case they need anything or something goes wrong or breaks. Otherwise, we stay out of their way so they can enjoy the Villa and their stay. While the villa is empty, that’s when projects get done. That time is now.

The list got started when we did out first full villa cleaning turn the second day we were here. The owners worked with us and showed us how they wanted everything cleaned and checked. As we went room to room cleaning, there were all kind of little details that needed to be addressed and/or fixed. Some as simple as replacing a bathroom drain stopper because it is rusted-looking. Then, all the rooms have shutters over the windows and sliding glass patio doors and as you can imagine, over time and heavy use, the shutter slats need a little TLC. That was the beginning of “The List.”

I won’t go over the entire list as it stands right now and nothing is what I would call “major.” But there’s caulking to do around edges of the patio over our apartment to stop some leaks, replacing 20 metal fixture boxes for embedded “Step Lights” that light up walkways at night (they are rusting due to weather conditions here), painting of walls, pressure washing the patios around the pool, re-attaching some loose hardware, cleaning and organizing some storage closets, Tung Oil the front door, Scotchguard some furniture, and the list goes on and on. Mostly little things but it’s having the little things right that makes a stay here special and enjoyable. We don’t do “shoddy” here at Silk Cotton Villa. Sharon and I have never done “shoddy” and never will.

My plan is to let y’all know what we get checked off as we go forward. I know, boring stuff, huh? So far … remounted a speaker to a wall, got one storage room about 85% organized, ordered one of the Step Light boxes to make sure it’s going to work before we order 20 of them (should be here in a week or so … slow deliveries here), and we’re trying to get all the projects onto one list so we can get a full grasp of what lies in front of us and we can develop a plan and schedule to complete them before guests start arriving again after hurricane season is over (Oct 15th).  Everything doesn’t have to be done by then but it would be nice if they were. Besides, in a place like this, as big as it is, in the environment it is in … there is always something that can be done. I don’t think project lists are ever empty here.

A Good Scout Is Prepared

06 August 2014

I am behind AGAIN on our blog – I apologize. Not much has been going on since I last posted. A couple (friends of the owners who also work at their other business in New Orleans) came in to stay at the villa for 10 days back on Monday, 28 July. They just departed early this morning. Nice couple and the owners used them as a “test” for us – we treated them as if they were paying guests. We did everything we would do for any group – 1 bedroom or 5. We met them at the airport when they arrived to escort them to the villa, did the Welcome and Greet once they got to the villa, and did the mid-week cleaning and changing linens and towels, etc. Plus, we made new friends as a bonus.

Tropical Storm Bertha August 02 2014 St Thomas Virgin Islands

Tropical Storm Bertha blew by last Saturday (02 August) making for an interesting day. All in all, the rain was very welcoming and the winds weren’t too strong. It was a very quiet, relaxing Saturday for Sharon and I – never felt in danger. Actually was very nice to watch the storm bands blow by all day. Had a few leaks in our studio apartment during some of the worst downpours but we now know where we need to do some re-caulking on the patio above us. Just one more item added to the growing villa project list.

Since Bertha, the temps have gone down a bit but it’s still about the same day in and day out …. 78-79 at night and 82-86 during the day. High humidity but there is usually a pretty good southern breeze blowing up from the bay below making it very nice out by the villa pool and patio. Had a little more rain the last few days and the yard has really greened up … was very dry-looking when we arrived. Amazing what a little water can do!

The owners head back to their RV Resort business (Ponchartrain Landing) outside New Orleans this coming Friday so there’s still a few things for all of us to go over before they leave. Today, we went over the “Hurricane Preparedness Procedures” and a few other important issues about the villa. Tomorrow, I suspect there will be some more items to discuss and then we’re on our own for a few months until the owners come back sometime this fall, based on their plans right now.

We are about to head into our “Shut-Down” period – hurricane season – so no guests are scheduled from now until late October. The Scout Motto – Be Prepared – takes on special meaning as we head into the next few months.

Next post we will begin to discuss the “Project List” and how we plan to get the items completed and checked off the list.  Believe me, we will not run out of anything to do – LOL.

Hull Bay Hideaway

Sunday 27 July 2014

So, after Wednesday’s full day of cleaning training, we finished up washing all of the villa linens and towels. Clean linens are in all the bedrooms, either on the bed or in the closets since we don’t have any bookings in most bedrooms until late October. Plus, there is a clean spare of everything that has to be ready for the mid-week cleaning on any stays over 7 days. That’s all done and ready. We’re on top of it for now. We do have one couple coming in on Monday. They are friends and work for the owners at their other business venture in New Orleans. So their stay of 9 days will be a test run for us with “real” guests.

The last few days were spent doing odds and ends around the villa like watering plants and skimming the pool (regular schedule) but nothing major.  Spent some time with Carol going over the “Host” book which covers pretty much anything we need to know. There is also a “Guest” book that helps them plan their stay and provides information on things to do while on the island.

We spent Saturday getting caught up on some of our own business work so we can start the week off not too far behind.  Yes, we’re both still working at our “real” jobs since the villa work is not full time. Maybe we’ll discuss that in a future blog – but not today.Hull Bay 14.07.27-02

Sunday evening we decided to go do a little exploring at Hull Bay – a place Scott showed us earlier in the week – one of his favorite places. Only about 10 minutes from the Villa – over on the north side of the island. It’s a pretty cool place …. nice secluded bay with a small restaurant and two bars – Hull Bay Hideaway … mine and Sharon’s kind of place. Supposedly more of a local place versus a tourist place. Our kind of place.

Hull Bay 14.07.27-01The beach isn’t big and there is sand but the water’s edge is not shells, it’s small pebbles and rocks and very interesting shapes, sizes, and colors. We spent some time walking the beach and looking for cool rocks. A fun late afternoon and evening. Once we tired of that, we decided to grab something to eat. Hull Bay 14.07.27-05

Sunday night special menu item is what they called Brisket. More like pot roast to us but damn, it was good! Served with fresh veggies and mashed potatoes … it hit the spot. We shared an order and it was more than plenty. Check out their menu, they have a special every night. Our first “Date Night” on STT.  We will be back!

Wax On, Wax Off

Wednesday 23 July 2014

It’s training day for cleaning the villa – top to bottom, end to end. Today Carol and Scott show us how they want it done. The day begins at 0800. 

This training is to show us what a full turn would involve once a full house departs. Full house is 4 King bedrooms AND the owner’s 2-room apartment.  The reason it is dirty and needs cleaning is the owner’s family departed right before we arrived a few days ago.

I won’t go into the details but the cleaning involves spit-shining the bathrooms, all with tile floors and showers, vacuuming wooden floors, clean sheets and bathroom towels, packing up the dirty linens for washing, cleaning sliding door screens, wiping off porch rails and porch furniture, inspecting and making sure all AC units and TVs are in working order, cleaning and shining the great rooms and common areas, large kitchen, skimming the pool and surrounding decks, and various other odds and end that need checking. And then there’s the washing to do later. Whew.

Oh look. It’s 5 pm. Where did this day go?

Yes, it took us all day and we stopped for lunch. But there was a lot of discussion with the owners and taking time to explain everything that needs to cleaned and checked to make sure the entire villa is “Show Ready” for the next guests. It’s not hard. But a full house turn will need to be done in 5 hours or less if we have a back-to-back booking in the future. But that is not the norm so we’ll usually have plenty of time to get the villa in A-1 condition.

All in all a very informative day and I believe we now know what the owner’s expect as it relates to cleaning. We can do this. We got it covered.

Villa Caretaker/Host Training Begins

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Today is shopping day for our groceries and other odds and ends we need to set up home here in our apartment. We already know the prices are going to be higher than the U.S.

But first, Scott and I have to go into town to pick up a couple of recliner chairs that go in our apartment. They are at an upholstery shop they have been using for years. They tell us you make things last down here any way you can – just too hard and expensive to get good furniture. The trip to this guy’s shop was enlightening, to say the least. A very nice, local fellow he was who also asked Scott to take him to a gas station to get some fuel in some gas cans for his vehicle that was soon to be out of the shop. We did. Then returned to his shop and loaded the two recliners in the bed and headed back to the villa.

Around lunch, Sharon and I headed out with Carol for the shopping trip. She requested I drive and Sharon navigate from some pre-printed directions they provide to guests so they can get around the island without getting lost. Since I had been out with Scott earlier, I knew a little about the general direction we were headed and had had a chance to see how folks drive down here. A little scary at first but the trip with Carol went fine as far as my driving was concerned. Even Sharon said I did fine.

After 3-4 stops at various shops and stores, we completed our shopping and headed back up to the villa. I say up as it is located at about 700 feet above sea level, perched on a hill, overlooking Charlotte Amalie and the bay where the cruise ships dock. There are some pretty sharp curves and blind spots but as long as you’re careful, you’re OK. Generally, the drivers on the island are courteous, so far.

Later that afternoon Scott requested we take another ride to let Sharon get some practice driving but she just wasn’t ready yet, so I drove again. This time, we went down to the water’s edge, drove along there for awhile, then headed east by the cruise ship port then on out to Red Hook, which is as far east as you can go by car. Then headed to the north side by Megan’s Bay where we learned where we have to take the trash and garbage. Then on to Hull’s Bay which is a very lovely and secluded place we plan to visit often. I have a feeling it will become our little hideaway. Even has a bar and restaurant. Departed Hull Bay and headed back over the top of the mountain to the villa. Nice driving learning trip and got oriented to most of the eastern and northern parts of the island.

We still have a lot of exploring to do. It should be fun in the coming months. Click the map below for a larger version. The general location of the Villa is: find the words “Charlotte Amalie” in the middle of the map, then go up/north where you see “Hotel Mafolie”, see the little white road off the yellow road, leading to the red road? We’re off that white road.

Welcome to Silk Cotton Villa

Monday, 21 July 2014

Our flight departed on time from Atlanta and arrived on time in St. Thomas. Uneventful – the way we like ’em. And waiting in the lobby were the owners (Scott & Carol) of Silk Cotton Villa and they recognized us right away from images we had sent them and from Facebook postings. Next we headed over to baggage claim and grabbed our luggage – it arrived safely, too. That’s always a good start to a trip.

Right away, Scott starts training us by explaining this is where you meet the arriving guests, showed us where the rental car agencies are located and explained the importance of getting whomever rented the vehicle to go ahead and get the vehicle because sometimes they run out … oops, that would suck.  Once we grabbed our luggage we headed out to the parking lot and they showed us where and how to explain the escort service to the guests so they can follow us back to the villa. The escort is a valuable service, especially for Americans, since in the Virgin Islands, they drive on the left side of the roads. Freaks most folks out.

Once we arrived at the villa it was getting to be late afternoon. They assisted us in getting our luggage down to the caretaker’s studio apartment and said once we got settled in to come on up to the villa for our little “Welcoming.”

Shortly, we headed up to the main villa and they had some light snacks for us and adult beverages. We sat around and chatted for awhile and then they gave us a tour of all the bedrooms and guest areas. It’s big. 7600 SF big. And everything, including the view, is even better than on the website.

After snacks and the tour, they invited us to have diner with them a few hours later. We went down to our apartment to freshen up and rest a bit. At the appointed time, we arrived for dinner and we had a very nice meal out on the patio next to the beautiful pool. We talked more and generally got to know each other a little more. Before we knew it, 10 pm had rolled around and we were pooped – time to get some shut eye.

Tomorrow we go do a little shopping and get acquainted with the area.

PS: Below are a few images of the caretaker studio apartment. About 500-600 SF.

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