Eleuthera Bound

Downsizing for a Dream


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Caribbean Car Rental

Renting a car for our first trip to Eleuthera was the first indication that island life is different.   The vacation rental owner gave us the name and email of a car rental guy, Stanton Cooper.  I promptly emailed Mr. Cooper with the dates we needed and he responded a few days later with a simple “ok.”

Clearly, this was not Avis. With a few more emails, I learned that our rental would be $60 a day, we could pay with credit, and that all we needed to do was ask for “Stanton Cooper” when we walked out of the door of the airport.

Sure enough, we found Mr. Cooper very quickly.  He walked us out the the parking lot where he had a random collection of cars, eyed us, then chose a burgundy Impala as our ride for the week.  He filled out a carbon copy sales receipt with our credit card number and name, then instructed us to put the copy in the glove compartment.  We dutifully placed ours on top of a pile of receipts, filled with names and credit card numbers from people all over the world.

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Our Impala was a well-loved beauty.  Multiple warning lights flashed unheeded reminders from the dash, the empty c.d. player refused to turn off, and there were no working seat belts.   We loved this car.  With the windows rolled down and scratchy tunes from the A.M. radio, we had found instant summer, circa 1980.

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The week that followed was unbridled, family-island adventure.  Stanton Cooper’s Impala took us past the most beautiful turquoise water in the world. FullSizeRender (4) I wonder if the island-wide 45 mph speed limit is imposed knowing that drivers are distracted with the stark beauty of this place.

That Impala took us to the most amazing, and nearly empty white sand beaches.

Of course, those beaches are the reward after taking some back roads better suited for SUVs. Nonetheless, our Impala persevered.  To prevent very bad things from happening to the transmission, we did get out every now and then to provide a bit more clearance.  In all our adventures, she only lost a bit of side mirror.

 

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It’s true that the residents of Eleuthera are as beautiful as the water. In fact, headed back home, we dropped the car off with Stanton Cooper in the airport parking lot. We were settling down to wait for our flight when I realized I had left our passports back in the vacation rental, 20 miles away. Holy crap.

I ran back out to Stanton, who was busy with a bucket and rags, washing returned rental cars.  I was panicked and told him what happened.  He’s a robust man, with a kind face and so genuinely replied, “Well, you’d better get back in that car and get them.”

Nevermind the 45 mph speed limit.  I flew.  Smartly, I counted the James Cistern speed bumps on the route north so I could maximize my speed on my return.  In a mad panic, I arrived, passports in hand, to the airport parking lot.  I could see the plane, still parked (it was the only jet that morning) and exclaimed to Stanton that I was so relieved that it hadn’t yet left.   His reply? “Honey, they weren’t going to leave without you!”  Actually, there’s a chance that’s true.  Island life really is different and we love it.

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In the Governor’s Harbor Airport, mere seconds before panic ensued.


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Downsizing for a Dream

It’s true, we made a pretty dramatic change. For most people. including close friends, family, and underwriters at the bank, it was hard to understand.  Honestly, from an outsider’s perspective, I totally see the confusion.  We had achieved the American dream. We had two children, a beautiful home, wooded acreage, were close to the Lake Michigan shore, and our jobs.  It was truly wonderful.

Kitchen Before:                                                         Kitchen After:

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A big house and property is an investment in more than just money. For me, the housekeeping, alone, was daunting, and then came the annual West Michigan snowfall. Maintenance of an especially long (but beautiful) driveway, and roof that needed regular raking and shoveling of snow, left us feeling hardy, but exhausted.

Before:

Winter, 2014 (from the roof):      Winter, 2015:

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After:

Winter 2017:

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Although we were SO lucky, I had to continually remind myself how lucky we were to have such a beautiful place. We had raised our kids in a wonderful, wooded play land. However, time spent enjoying that place had been taken over with busy lives, leaving us feeling like bees continually leaving the hive, returning to the hive, leaving the hive… never around long enough to enjoy it.

When the kids were younger, we were home all the time.

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This was all on my mind when, three things happened: First, I went on a home tour of second floor apartments over the adorable and vibrant downtown, in nearby Holland, Michigan.  The apartments were small, but close to cool stuff like restaurants and micro breweries that we love.  There were no yards to mow, or roofs to rake.  By living in town, we could walk to meet friends and enjoy all these fun places.

Second, we took a much needed family vacation to the beautiful island of Eleuthera. It was the catalyst to the change we needed. Usually, when visiting a place we love, we’ll check out real estate listings, just for fun. Holy smokes.  There were homes here, much more affordable than similar homes in Michigan. Owning waterfront property was not out of the question.

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Third, we visited my husband’s sister and her husband in Harlem, New York. They gave up a beautiful Hastings, New York home with woods, and great neighbors for the convenience and excitement of city living.  Walking everywhere, and for everything was awesome.  Witnessing the payoff of giving up stuff you love for a life you love, was inspiring.

Within a week from returning from Harlem, over a beer at a favorite brewery, I had my husband on board for selling our house, and moving to a smaller, less expensive place in town.  This would allow us walk to shops and restaurants, be part of a community, and (hopefully) the financial independence to own a small home on the island of our dreams.

Within months of this conversation, we were moving into a new (to us) home in town and readying our home of 15 years, the only home we had ever purchased, for the market.  Our new home was more than half the living space of our previous place, and down to one bathroom, a drastic reduction from the three we had before.

Even more of a surprise to everyone, including us, is that we purchased an owner occupied rental. So, along with adjusting to town life, and living in a smaller space, we were learning how to be property managers. While this is not what we set out to do, keeping our minds open to this may have lead us to the very component of this move that will help make our dream a reality.

For many reasons, having a person we like and trust in the flat upstairs, has been one of the best parts of our move. Not only is it a financial help, we now have someone around when we travel.  We love new experiences, and meeting new people, so this was the unexpected twist that might prove to be the best decision of all, no matter what path our future plans take.

Home Before:                                               Home After:

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The Spring Break That Changed Everything

In Michigan, its very common for people with the financial means to take a break from the long winter for a sunnier, warmer place each spring. The steady stream of cars headed to Florida the first week of every April causes traffic jams around Atlanta and gives snowbirds incentive to drive all night long, checking Facebook posts giving traffic reports from friends further down the road.

We had never been those people. Our children had never been to Disney, Sea World, or any of the sandy beaches of the Southern U.S.  After the urging of a friend, we finally planned a trip to San Francisco. It was so fun that we decided to combine everyone’s birthday and Christmas gifts the next year to finance a trip to Costa Rica.

We were hooked. The third year, while looking for affordable flights, I was taunted by a great deal to Nassau. Our daughter, Hana, had always wanted to swim in clear, turquoise water and our son, Jesse, had taken surfing lessons in Costa Rica, so this was a perfect plan.

It WAS a perfect plan…except that conditions on Nassau are not good for surfing. With extra research, I learned the place for surfing in the Bahamas is on the Family Island (or Out Island) of Eleuthera.  The connecting flight would be an extra $600 for all four of us, but I found a 3 bedroom vacation rental in Gregory Town for only $112 a night, making the trip affordable. We didn’t know exactly what was ahead, but were excited to find out.

Making the connection in Nassau, we were thrilled to walk out onto the runway to board a propeller plane for our flight to Governor’s Harbor.  The plane was older, but felt nostalgic, like boarding an old school bus.  A group of school children were on the same flight, adding to the realization that we were in a totally new kind of place.

Our first week in Eleuthera was amazing! The worries of not knowing how we were going to find our rental car contact, and then our house, fell away as we learned that life is quiet, slow, and personal here.  As directed, we asked for “Stanton Cooper” upon walking out the airport.  He appeared immediately and walked us out to our burgundy Impala.  He filled out the receipt with our credit card number on it, we stuck it in the glove compartment as instructed, adding it to the pile of previous receipts. With instructions to keep on the left hand side, a dash board of warning lights blinking, and no working seat belts, we were off.

The week that followed was epic.  We snorkeled in the harbor in front of our apartment, and were stopped mid-swim when a resident hollered that a shark was nearby.  When we got back to the edge of the water, she followed up with “Please swim any of our beautiful beaches, just not here today.”

We drove up and down the Queen’s highway, and sandy two tracks, with the windows wide open, and static-filled tunes from the A.M. radio.  We discovered where we could get groceries, found beautiful and completely empty beaches, discovered a love for conch and grouper fingers.  Hana and I, watching people file into church for Easter services, put on the best clothes we had and joined in at the last minute.  Walking in town, days later, a gentleman brought it to our attention with a smile, that he had seen us in church.

Except for camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we had never experienced so much time without the clutter of traffic, advertisements, and other aspects of mass-consumerism. It was a magical week of the simple life I remembered from growing up in rural Michigan. People in Eleuthera still wave when you drive by.  When the water plant is down, waiting for  a part, neighbors help neighbors, and share what they have. Everyone was friendly, even to us outsiders. It’s the kind of thing that never left my heart from childhood and, here, I can share the same with my children.