FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Do you remember where you were at 4:00 a.m. on August 6, 2009? I do. I was popping a squat in my new driveway, grateful for the light from the full moon. It was our first night sleeping in our unfinished house and we didn't have a toilet yet. I figured the driveway was the safest place to relieve myself, as it was cleared, so I could scan for critters while engaged in a position of extreme vulnerability.

There's nothing quite like moving into an unfinished house with no electricity in the middle of the wilderness in a foreign country to make you feel young. Bill and I were giddy with excitement, not having lived in a construction site since we built our first house 40 years ago. Soon after we fired our original crew we decided to move in, ready or not, to push things along.

Here's what my new kitchen looked like at the time:

You can see my two gas burners on the "counter," next to the battery we charged with a generator during the day so we'd have a couple hours' worth of light from one lamp for the evening. I had a gas grill as well as the burners on which to cook, so that wasn't so bad. It was the lack of refrigeration that was tricky. We bought a chest-style freezer and ran it with a generator all day and then turned it off at night so it would keep things cold but not freeze them. That system was certainly less than perfect. Basically, I had to buy fresh food every day.

I had wondered if, when we finally did sleep at our own property, I'd be scared surrounded by so much wilderness. Hell, no! It was exhilarating beyond my expectations. The crazy sounds of the jungle at night were a lullaby to me, which was a very good thing because if I'd been the type to get scared, I would have had a heart attack. We had no doors or windows, and it's a hundred times spookier to hear a strange sound at night when you can't switch on a light to see what it is.

The unnervingly noisy generators, needed to power tools, run the freezer, charge batteries, and pump water got cranked up by 7:00 each morning. When we turned the generators off as the sun went down and our new crew went home, the silence left behind was as comforting as any spa treatment. In that silence we would marvel (and giggle) at finding ourselves living in a construction site once again at our ages.

Our main concern was getting electricity by December 17th, when our daughters in the U.S. would start arriving for Christmas. With no refrigerator I could manage making meals for two, but not for eight. Once again, Chan came to our rescue. His friend, who had worked for the electric company, offered to help him put in the 36 poles we needed to tap into the electric line in Javilla, 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) away. Those in the know scoffed, insisting that we couldn't possibly put in a line and get it connected in such a short time. (remember, this is Central America, where Nothing happens fast) On December 11, after living in darkness for four months, we plugged in appliances and switched on every light in the house, whooping maniacally. On December 12, we put ice cubes in our drinks:)

Our original plan for a small, simple beach house off the grid had somehow morphed into a veritable estate with 36 poles' worth of electricity. Solar power would have cost just as much as bringing in the line and then we wouldn't have had enough power for a full-size refrigerator and a pool, two things I've discovered I don't want to live without.

A far cry from Christmas in New England, our first Christmas in our new house was not without a strong undercurrent of weirdness, but we hugged our way through it. Actually, that was the last Christmas we were all together; one more tradition laid aside in exchange for a life of adventure. I can't have both this life I've chosen and Christmas with my whole family, but at this point, a date on the calendar means very little to me. Whenever we can all get together feels like Christmas to me.

A hose hanging over the edge of our yet-to-be-tiled-and-filled swimming pool made a fine shower until we got our bathrooms functioning . . . a fountain of youth!