Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting Everything in Order in the New Place

The many times we looked at our Moca house before purchasing it it must have been raining or cloudy or something because we did not remember the views. Besides the views, its location on the top of a ridge gives us sunrises, sunsets and rainbows galore since there are valleys east and west of us. It is going to be an awesome storm-watching house as well. So here's another rainbow - look at the base of the rainbow at the row of enormous royal palms to get a sense of scale!

One thing I hope to do better at this house is vegetable gardening. Since we are on top of a ridge instead of down the hillside we don't have a sometimes river that sweeps things away. There is also great drainage (but more rocks). When we moved in (xmas eve) it took a few weeks before I decided to at least start some greens in a pot. Here's the pot now - bushy with some spicy greens!
I planted some zucchini later on in a cement mixing tray.  I have been watching the mini zucchinis form and after the latest 2 inches of rain went out and holy cow their size exploded! Looks like zucchini does well here!
I decided to turn a dog run into a garden area since it is contained already with fencing for climbing stuff and poles that will make it easy to cover with shade cloth at some point. Until then I decided to try gutter gardening. I took one section of vinyl gutter with end caps, drilled holes in the bottom, lined it with screen, filled it with potting soil and planted mixed greens. They are already coming up. They didn't float away in the rain. They didn't get pounded or eaten by birds (or chickens) either. So far so good! Since an S hook hangs it on the fence I can make may tiers of gutter veggies!

Here's the first zucchini. I let it get away from me so it is horse-sized but will still taste great on the BBQ! I found some food covers which will be handy once the deck cover is built (soon!) and we want to have bug free food out. I really just liked the ant on it!

No post is complete without the cat kids. Princess and Bepo have not returned and probably at this point won't. The others are adjusting well and coming in and out of the house. Blanco has even be caught sleeping on the swingy bench at night but he only sprints in and out and prefers meals in the downstairs room. Chicken is adorable and adjusted.

Little Jackie loves Rip (literally - she is getting spayed Tuesday) and plays with Chicken well. Tuca doesn't like her but you know how women are...Yah, look at Rip all full of himself! He is actually getting nice again and hanging around. We think he got beaten up (he was sore and wobbly and had a visit to the vet to get re hydrated) and now wants to hang close. Plus he likes Jackie even though she only wants to play now and isn't in heat any more.

Blanco is the most gorgeous and soft cat in the universe! Pollo has gotten much friendlier and now sleeps with us on the bed. Tuca and Dakota are doing their normal routines. Dakota has dementia and is just getting plain bizarre.
I heard a new bird in the yard and went out and saw this Troupial. Very exciting! It must be nesting nearby since I hear it in the early morning and at sunset. I think there are only one or two and they go from the Flambouyant to the tree in front to the mango and then on the edges of the forest. They are hard to photograph. In the yard I continue to dig up perfectly good lawn in my quest to make a park-like landscape. When I was at the Mayaguez Mall they had plant and food vendors and I found a She Kong Heliconia and this cool rattlesnake Calathea. I am very excited to get them planted. 
The front was pretty boring (lawn and wall) and I have started to tackle it getting the fish tail and bottle palms started. I will dig the "islands" bigger as I add plants and then want some water dishes, rocks, edging, pea gravel and more plants. Ideally I do not want lawn at all and I don't want to see the ground.
I may plant this hibiscus near the wall. I debated about whether or not to line things up like croton or mirto but in the end I think there is enough symmetry with the palms and it can end there.
I got a new camera which is wonderful except that the raw files are NEFS which means my version of photoshop doesn't read them. I am basically illiterate when it comes to computer stuff and this is a huge setback since I know my current "work flow" and don't want to have to learn another one. Here's the moon and then the moon over San Sebastian!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So Many Projects

When you first move or buy a house you get about 2 years of fast and furious projects done before the excitement wears off.  Here in Moca the list of projects is long but only one really needs doing and it is the roof. I don't think I can name a person here in PR who hasn't had a roof problem at some point. Rain and humidity are constant threats and the stupidity of building flat roofs adds to the problem. The Guama house had sloped roofs but they hadn't been sealed on a regular basis and the conditions here (lots of sun, heat, rain) make it impossible to do something and have it stay done. The Moca roof has a few problems. First off the ceiling of the balcony has flaking paint which means there is moisture. Inside we can see where there has been some moisture (I don't think full blown leaks, just humidity problems) and before I do any painting I want to resolve it the best it can be resolved. I trudged up top (the view is great!) and could find only 4 drainage holes on the entire roof! I sent Jeff up with his hammer drill and the biggest bit he had to make more holes. After a couple little rains the water just poured out those new holes! Next is the pressure washing.I usually do this but Jeff is doing the first pass. It looks like they dumped some cement in low spots, water gets under it and...there's part 2 of the problem. With a shovel we have both been breaking off the thin flaking cement. The next thing, after cleaning, will be to brush some hydraulic cement across the low spots then use leveler and then seal it. I used Crosscoat 5500 at the other house but I did it twice in 4 years and may try a different brand this time. So the roof project is drainage holes, clean, clean again, hydraulic cement, leveler, sealant.

When the roof is done I can take my time painting the inside. That project can be done room by room after the ceiling of course. In the meantime I really want to get vegetables started. I haven't missed this season although I am late planting things. Until I get my covered area I figure I will plant where ever I can and harvest whatever I get! We have a lot of chain link fence which is perfect for parcha and for things like these Red Noodle Yard Long Beans - with a name like that how could I resist (plus they are heat resistant).
I bought a pumpkin and harvested the seeds and chucked them near the chain link fence. Now I have too many and have to move them! I planted wing beans also.
I also got a couple chayotes at the Pulguero and planted them along the fence. I hope they flower and set fruit. The real project is to build beds, get a hold of manure or compost to amend the soil, cover the area and get a permanent area set up for year round veggies. This used-to-be-a-dog run will be perfect! I don't think dogs have been in it for years and years (no poo), it is flat, has water and is fenced. The fence will help support the covered top, provide climbing opportunities for cucumbers, beans, etc, and gives me a contained space to take care of. I have a problem of starting too many projects and when I can't see a clear end things continue on and on. I should be able to finish this since it is contained. (then I'll move out to the rest of the "yard"). Here's another view.

Well, digging in the limestone soil is hard, I ran out of blocks, and had calabaza seedlings that needed to move so...I started digging outside the area to clean up along the parcha-planted part of the fence to make a calabaza area. This area has burrs and rotten weeds that are really difficult to dig out. I need a rototiller! I'd like to get a small one I can handle, which means it won't do the initial bed making probably, but if I make the beds it'd be great to keep them soft with a tiller and churn them up once and a while and add manure/compost. Anyone have a good lightweight one to recommend?
Besides the calabaza I got these cool seeds for a "single serving" sized melon! I don't like cold fruit and it is hard to wait forever watching the melons grow and then getting only a few only to put them in the fridge and not want to eat them a second day because they have been refrigerated. With single serving size ones I hope there are more melons on the vine and that the wait isn't that long! 80 days...I think Mayish should be ok. I planted them here, under the mini Jobo tree near a couple zucchini I moved.
I have tomatoes in the front in a pot and a couple I had seedlings of (from the other house) I put in my new bed in the dog run. Other yard projects aren't as big. I still need to get everything I moved here into the ground. Even if it isn't where I want it they need to be out of their pots. I'd like to get a start of these red bananas - they are very sweet.
The front of the house is another project I started and haven't finished. I am still thinking through what I want. I wanted to get the slow growing structure in - the palms. I put 2 bottle palms and 2 fishtail palms. Nothing else will be symmetrical. I am thinking of an eclectic mix of flowers, herbs, rocks, succulents, shrubs and ferns (you can see I am still thinking). Some of what I want in (like ferns) can't go in until there is some shade. I will probably switch stuff out as things grow. I'd like a bird bath too. Maybe crotons instead of looking at a wall (but far enough away to make painting easy).
So lots of projects which is kind of great fun. I really like the planning/thinking part of things and the doing. Once things are done it is boring even though you get to see things mature. With all our land I will not get bored, and a lot of it is more usable than at the other place. I still need a lemon tree, orange and grapefruit, cashew and flowers. Mainly though I want to focus on food. Another huge project though is to cover the deck. I want to cover about 1/2 of it and make a wind screen on part and drop some stairs out the front of it into the yard. It'd be nice to do it before the rainy season so we can sit out there in the wild weather! Ah well - Saturday we'll cave, Sunday dive and work on the roof and every day I will work on digging and planting! It has only been 2 1/2 months so I think  I've done all right!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Excerpts from the Book: "You Can't Make This Shit Up" Chapter Marbete

Today started with a wonderful double rainbow at my house. I thought it was a sign I'd be able to do 2 things in Puerto Rico doing 2 things in one day is almost a miracle. The saga started when I realized the marbete on the truck was about to expire. My friends were coming from the states and I had a lot to do to make their stay enjoyable and I figured I would take care of it after they left since it would be a week before it expired. Then Jeff got sent to the states with work and left a day before my friends left and I realized my critical error. A little background is necessary to fully appreciate this chapter of the book. Around a month before your mandatory Puerto Rico car insurance expires you get a 4-plicate paperwork thing in the mail....wait...rewind. You are SUPPOSED to get something in the mail. When we bought the truck we didn't get the title for 8 or 9 months and had to go to the dealer when the marbete was up. Year 2 it came in the mail. Year 3 it didn't and we had a problem - if it doesn't come you can't get an inspection (exhaust sniffer) and without the inspection you don't have the papers to take to the collectoria (money taking place) to get the sticker to prove you have paid. Last year the problem was that they didn't have the weight of the truck in one of the boxes (the inspection guy's oversight? who knows). Do they alert you there is a problem? No. Is there any way to know what the problem is or could even be? No. After asking around I was told to go to the Department of Transportation equivalent here which is essentially a death sentence (meaning long lines and no one can do anything). So LAST YEAR off I went, waited in line, and was told I couldn't get the form printed out because the truck was in Jeff's name. Yeah. He had to take time off work to go wait in line to get a paper printed out. Not a title, not to pay anything, not because we didn't do something but because THEY didn't send it. A paper. Flash forward.

So my critical error is that Jeff is in the states, the marbete is expiring and I am not on the title. I can't do it. No big deal, I'll cruise around in the car until he gets back. He gets back and now I have figured out what has to be done. I have to get a letter (a permission slip like I am 10 and going on a field trip) that says I am allowed to pick up the paper for the truck. I also need his driver's license to do this. I head out, get there (at least it is Aguadilla and not Mayaguez) and there isn't a line!!! I am excited and imagine my rainbow day is giving me great luck and everything is going to go my way!!!!! Wrong.

The guy I go to can print out the paper for me but he isn't authorized to change the address. (Even though we changed everything and did a change of address form with the postal service I wanted it on record AGAIN so we get it next time.)  Lucky for me he hands it off to a gal and she calls me over (no waiting), gets it changed efficiently and I am done with that part (I think). I try my luck at getting the paper for the new car since it will be due in 2 months and I assume I won't be getting anything in the mail for that one. I don't have the title yet so I inquire. I am told the car is not in the system and to call the dealer (whom I have already called with an address change since we didn't get the title). Great. No title, no marbete, I can look forward to a repeat of this in a couple months. I am pleased one thing is done, go to the truck and discover that she changed my mailing address to Aguadilla (our post office box) but she left the physical address as San German. I go back in and am told it is a different line to change that and I will need a water or electricity bill to do it. Imagine what a shock that was. An electricity bill to change your truck registration? Oh, wait, not a shock if you live here. I go on to the next step and skip that one because....1) I don't want to go to another line 2) I don't carry water and power bills or house deeds around with me 3) if I had the bills my name isn't on them (Jeff's is) and I will need another permission slip! They probably will even make me get another license! I will wait another year until my license expires thank you. So is it done yet? No.

New town, new locations of collectorias, government offices etc. I found a place to get the inspection earlier and that is when I discovered I couldn't get it done (you would think a 12 year old car's VIN would be in the system by now). This place was great since it was close to home AND not only could you get the inspection but you could pay him 5 bucks and avoid the collectoria. One stop for 2 things. How efficient! I went there with my 1/2 corrected paper in hand, gave him that and our "voucher" from CAICO insurance that says we have real car insurance and it is beyond the mandatory stuff. This means we essentially prepaid the mandatory stuff. He gets it done, goes to enter the "voucher" and it isn't in there. I have to pay him the 11 bucks for the inspection but now am stuck with a few choices: 1) pay him the $244 bucks and get reimbursed $96 from my insurance (cash only and I didn't have that much plus then the hassle of getting back from the insurance place - like that's gonna happen), 2) take it to the collectoria (don't know where it is and there are always lines because you have to do everything there), 3) pay $5 and wait in line at a bank.
I opt for #3. I pick a bank across the street on the same side I am on. Banks here are also like made-up movie banks: You stand like an idiot in a line outside. A green light goes on and one person goes in between a set of doors. They wait for a green light there. They go into the bank and now the space is open and you can do the same. I get in line. Finally it is my turn and luckily the voucher IS in their system, I pay my money and I am free! Then I wait for the green light. Stand in the holding zone awaiting teletransport to a better place, get the green light and I am fu#$^ on my way! So now I am staying close to the phone writing this blog while I wait for the car dealer to call me back regarding the title to the car we bought with the credit card 9 months ago. Maybe if they send it again...with the new will get into the system on time to send the paperwork to my mail place and it will be smooth sailing? Yeah, right. Write that up in a movie script!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Trip to Lares

Last week friend Liz and I went on a day trip to the city of Lares. For years I have wanted to go to the famed ice cream place that has bizarre flavors like arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), plantain etc. Jeff and I are always passing Lares late at night after caving and so far haven't bothered trying to stop in. I am not a huge ice cream fan but some things deserve a try! We met on 111and did the short drive to town. We headed toward the plaza, locating it by looking upward for the tell-tale church that is always at the town center. Lares has a dismal little plaza that is brick,with a rebel head in the middle of it and absolutely no one around. We found the ice cream place and there were a few unusual flavors but nothing was really extraordinary. I tried a sample of the rice and beans and a couple others before settling on tamarind. The ice cream didn't have any cream in it, just loads and loads of sugar and a funny texture/taste from evaporated milk or condensed milk maybe? Really awful but...the church was not a disappointment!
A church always anchors the plaza - kind of the way Sears anchors a modern mall. The church is the Iglesia San Jose.
I am not the religious sort but enjoy looking at the creepy statues and displays I find in and around churches. I guess this chick is pretty important since she is larger than life, larger than the guy on the cross and has her foot squashing some poor creature that doesn't quite look like a dog with a ball but doesn't look like a serpent with an apple either. Like I said- creepy.Then there are always the figures gazing upward with exaggerated features - in this case huge hands.

After that I started to see some beauty. The stained glass arched windows were lovely and there was a series of chandeliers on either side of the room. The chandeliers had a single glass ball hanging downward from some ornate ironwork. When I looked closer I could see the upside down reflection of parts of the room in the ball. In this case I could see the twin trees outside the door and the stained glass and doorway. There are also a couple columns there as well.
I continued down the aisle and caught the reflection of many of the upper stained glass windows and chandeliers and lovely ceiling in this one. This made my day! You never know where you will find beauty. My camera was not working all that well but thankfully some of what I did got recorded. We wandered around to try to find a couple museums and when we did they were closed. Of course. The doors had chain on them and a lock like you had when you were 10 years old with your first 10-speed bike. Oh well, I have come to expect this from Puerto Rico! As we were getting into the car these gentlemen came by with their cart of who-knows-what! Probably brown hairy roots!

The day concluded with a lunch and on the way home I saw this large cow alongside the road. Cows in the road are not unusual, but this one wasn't real! That was the surprise.