Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cueva Balcones

Today Katrina and I finally did something we have wanted to do since we moved here. We went spelunking with two very gracious members of the Sociedad Espeleológica de Puerto Rico Inc. (SEPRI) group.
Katrina and I have always been interested in the natural environment. We go underwater so why not underground. In Washington State we visited the Ape Cave (1 1/4 mile long lava tube) at Mt St Helen's. A few years back I took a cave diving course in Akumal Mexico and while I was in the class Katrina dove in some connecting caverns. Then after the class we took some tours of some local caves there.
We knew Puerto Rico had some great caves and that was another benefit of moving here. I just wish I didn't wait 8 months to make contact with SEPRI.

A self-portrait of me with Katrina, Ivan, and Julio getting ready in the background.

Katrina protecting her new 'do' with a helmet.

We so happened to park right next to a wasp nest. It was well hidden. I would hate to walk into one!

After a short hike in the forest we arrive at Cueva Balcones. Ivan and Julio are very knowledgeable about the area and the caves. They were very good at explaining how Puerto Rico and the caves were formed.

As soon as you enter the cave bats fly all around. If Katrina hadn't gotten her hair cut last week I am sure she would have caught a few in her hair.

The bats were really neat and they were all over the place. Unfortunately just our presence there with bright lights disturbed them. Hopefully they didn't mind too much. The faces were really cute. What wasn't so cute was the bottom of the cave. With all those bat droppings it made for a muddy mess. I wore shorts and managed to get my legs covered in bat guano.

Only minutes into the cave Katrina needed to be moved aside before she brushed into the above poisonous cave tarantula (ha ha).

Many kinds of beautiful cave formations.

We had a great time. This was a "beginner" cave. I only needed to crawl a couple of times a short way until I could stand up again. We learned a lot and want to go a couple of times a month. No rope work was needed for this cave. We need to learn the rope work so we can go in some more difficult caves. You really need to be careful because it is so slippery.
Thanks again Ivan and Julio. Hope to see you soon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tool Time 2

This looks like a handy feature - handles that slide out to three different lengths. Is it useful? When I have to lean really far to prune the croton hedge maybe, but for day to day the shortest setting gets caught in my shirt and irritates me. I want to go back to a tool I had in Washington that required only one hand to operate, didn't really have handles and had blades that were lighter weight. We'll see if they make them any more and how much it costs to ship here!

Another problem with this tool is that the parts can come apart. Note the upper right screw like thing isn't there anymore. It came out twice - first time I found it and the second time it went to Jeff's "shop" for a repair (diving backplate part added).

Gloves gloves gloves. How many have we had? Everything is terrible. Leather is hot and inflexible. Cloth gets wet and tears easily. The rubberized ones were our favorites (bottom left) except I keep wearing out the fingers. I have determined that all will suck, so now I go with the most comfortable cheapest ones that are $1.24 (upper left). They aren't waterproof, thorns go through them, and they will tear. They are my new favorites unless I am pulling vines or doing cement. Then the bottom left rubberized ones are better.

A good home depot trowel. There was a bigger version that had a neat fulcrum/pivot point but it was too heavy so I got this. Unlike all the others, this one has not bent yet!

My $1 pink plastic rake has been the best tool ever! Light weight, the teeth haven't bent or broken and lets me move a lot of stuff around. Finally the handle bent right in the middle and then snapped. I found a replacement handle for $1 but it snapped the first day I used it. So I went to Mr. Special and replaced my pink rake with a barf brown one. It is no longer $1, it was $3 something and the handle is heavier and wood. Oh well, still more suitable for me than a heavy metal one.

Tool Time 1 - What works and What Doesn't

Spray nozzles - something has to go on the end of the hose. The metal one on the left came with the house and has been working fine. We had another metal one that had a part pop off or rust off so we tried the green, cheap, plastic one on the right. Don't do it - plastic cracks where the metal is and they don't function correctly. My favorite is the nozzle in the middle for a couple reasons. Price is right. It is brass so it doesn't really rust. No parts to hinge or pop off. Easy to operate because you can grip the twisty part with gloves on and it twists to adjust the spray and you don't have to hold it or loop a metal loop (that falls off) to hold it open. It is a hands down winner. Walmart has them for a little over $2.

Rakes (rostrillos) - the one on the left is Jeff's favorite despite the fact that the tines have bent. He pulls vines with it and moves twigs and plant material around. We got the thatch rake on the right first, and it is wonderful for really heavy thatching or "pull everything out of the ground" clearing. Note that the tines are really bent. It has an adjustment so you can adjust the angle the tines are to the ground which is great when you are on a slope. It is too heavy for me but would be a good tool if it were lighter and smaller.

We have had 3 shovels. The first one had a wood handle that snapped where it joined the metal. We got the one on the right next, with a fiberglass-type handle. I like it because it is light for a normal size shovel. It is about to break though so there are certain things to use it for and other things I don't use it for. Jeff got the one on the left with the beefed up handle. Note that the metal is much longer and puts the stress point in a less stressful spot! Unfortunately it is too heavy for me.

These are great pruners but they have design flaws. On my first pair the handles simply fell off! Yes I was pruning things too big, sure I was swinging them to knock twiggy dead stuff off the orange trees, but the handles? I returned them and got another pair. This time the handles were designed a little differently. The grippy part is shorter (first pair had long ones that pulled out when they shouldn't have). What is nice about these pruners is the gearing. It makes a big difference. You can prune bigger stuff than you should with them and not feel it in your hands as much. Unfortunately the handles still fall off unless you duct tape them!

Good gearing. Bad for the handle to pull out. The shorter grip was an improvement, but come on - the handles still pull out. Even with the problems I can say this is a very useful tool and the gearing is what makes it great.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tom Boy Gone Girl

Look at the new do! I've been feeling kind of frumpy with gray hair starting and really ratty hair from the salt water and sun. Combine that with a no-style hair cut and things were looking bad.
My neighbor said she was going in to have her hair "painted" and I asked to come along for an $8 haircut. Instead I ended up getting my hair painted too for the first time. Jeff loves it because it is red red red. Hard to tell in these photos but it is really really red - a very nice change! Here's the do from the side.

Here it is from the back - note that there is no more hair on my back. Nothing to leave itchy hairs sticking on my back. No hair to tangle in the first stage of the diving gear. No hair to make me sweat. Believe it or not it is long enough to put in a pony tail when we dive or cave or garden.

It's a little longer in the front so when I put it back it stay back. It is so girly !

It is really red so Jeff is happy.
I am happy about it too but this may be the only time it ever looks like this. I don't see myself using the iron, blow drying etc. I don't know if the color is going to become weird or faded in the salt water. My other neighbor told me to wear a hat gardening or my hair would fall out so at least when I garden it will be protected.

So why would a person do this? I wanted hair off my back. I was tired of it tangling in my scuba gear. I just needed a change.

Why coloring it? It was an impulse thing. It started with Mary and Gary (in laws) giving me a gift certificate for having a manicure and pedicure before we moved here - not something I would ever pay for. The manicure was weird - like paying someone to do personal hygiene - but the toes? Ever since then I paint my toenails. I think the hair may be like that - something that makes things a little nicer... so Mary and Gary take a look. I am stepping out into the world of girl. And friends at home...did you ever think you'd see the day? Kind of like the belly button ring. Out of character but fun...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chunky Milk and Other Stuff

This is the refrigerator that came with the house. It is ten years old and has worked great until a month or so ago. We started having chunky milk and figured it was a bad batch that didn't get unloaded quick enough. Then we thought it was Suiza milk and the three nuns kind seemed fresher. Then the calabaza got moldy so I stuck a thermometer in the refrigerator and we knew we had a problem! The ice maker stopped making ice. Then it would work. Then not etc etc. At the coldest setting the refrigerator was still climbing to 48-52 and never going back down despite staying on and on and on. and being on the coldest setting. Jeff is pretty handy so he dismantled things looking at the fan, coils, etc etc. We defrosted etc. Then we went to Sears and got a new one.

Looks the same huh? This one is white (other was almond), same capacity but the energy rating was much better - old one was 830 (used 4 kw hours a day) and the new one is 577 (uses less than 2 1/2 kw hours a day). Nice since the rates just went up from 24 to 28 cents a kw. There happened to be a "sale" which made the refrigerator $899 plus 10 percent off and another 12 % as a rebate if you stuck it on the sears card. Still too much for something you have to have that consumes most of the energy in the house (not counting the 3 times a week use of the compressor to fill scuba tanks). So now the story begins. We have a marginally functioning refrigerator. There is no food around. I am too cheap to eat out all the time and don't want to eat crap. It is scheduled to come in two days. They call (at least they called) and say it arrived at Mayaguez damaged. They don't tell us when it will come. Don't tell us if one will come. Nothing - they hang up! After calling a bunch we finally get another delivery date - a full week after we ordered it! They find the driveway, they make it up, they bring it in and it all looks fine but the doors seem a little non-matched. They don't quite line up. They are fine vertically but the refrigerator side sticks out maybe 1/4 inch or so - just enough to notice. The old one didn't. We measure - yes it is sticking out a little. What to do. The guys say something about "fabricacion de tienda" or something which I figure means they made it that way at the factory, but I have no idea if it is supposed to be that way or if there was a sale in China on mis sized refrigerator doors or something. Then they point to their arms and armpits and I am confused. "Una problema?" I ask. "No problema" they respond. Finally they get someone on the phone at the distribution center or somewhere who tells us that refrigerators in Puerto Rico are made with a bigger seal on the refrigerator side so there is less sweating or something. Seems to make sense. There is more in and out of that side and horrifically the inside temperature goes up about 8 degrees when you open the door even if you are fast. All I know is it cools down and stays cold, ice and cold water pump out of the magic door and it looks fine.

Amparo my neighbor friend always gets fruits and veggies first. Her secret is abono. I have assessed the situation and decided I cannot compost everything in my yard so off Jeff went to the fertilizer plant in Guanica. $35 bucks later we had a 100 lb bag of abono. Seems like a lot, but each platano, guineo, china, agucate etc needs approximately 2 to 3 cups of fertilizer 4 times a year! Seems like a lot to me but we have mature trees. I will keep compost/mulching to improve soil structure and give abono a whirl. We are still waiting for the wet season so fertilizing will get delayed until the rain comes. Getting the big bag was a real price savings - it is expensive elsewhere and comes in tiny bags.

When we first got here this area was covered in grass and the "bad" trees - all were over Jeff's head. First Jeff weed whacked. Then we hand pruned what we could to the ground. Then a lot or raking to take care of vines. Then more whacking and all of it again. 7 months later it is manageable with stumps cut (thanks to an on sale chain saw) and the beginning of terracing. I have relocated guineos, platanos and we planted papayas from seeds. I had to use hand shears to clear around each 2 inch thing before Jeff would weed whack so he could see them. Now it is a regular fruit factory with little fruits starting already!

I removed green beans and chucked some cut up batatas amarillos. Little sweet potato things are growing under the soil.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

First Fruits!

Didn't I just discover that the papayas were blooming? After taking inventory today we discovered some little fruits tucked in the blossoms. We planted these papaya from seed and are just amazed at how fast they have gone from seed blip to fruiting tree. These are our first watermelon. I planted two seeds directly in the ground and there they stayed without doing anything for what seemed like forever. Then I watered and things went better. There were a lot of little fruits on the two vines but they dropped off. There ended up being 5 watermelons.
Despite my neglect we got a few very very sweet watermelon and a huge amount of seeds to plant and start the cycle all over again.

My calabaza has really sprawled all over and I keep going out the clean up new areas in the direction the vines are headed. There is one plant and a bunch of these tiny pumpkins on it. I am watering (still no rain)f and hope the drop off rate isn't as high as with watermelon. I can't wait to make "barrigas de mujer viejo" (old ladies stomachs). They are delightfully soft little pumpkin fritters made of flour, canela, calabaza and fried of course. Some fried things are just plain good - these are.

Here are our first poblano peppers. I've harvested the aji dulce peppers but not these yet. I think they have some growing to do but they here they are.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Papayas, Cashews and it is a Hibiscus

Going to nurseries here is really fun. If you give yourself 15 or 20 dollars you can have a blast and come home with a lot of new things. On the other hand, 15 dollars is the water bill for the month so it really is a lot. I limited myself to $12 on this last trip and got 3 more of the Brazilian gigantic parcha and this "Pajuil" tree which is a cashew! There is a nursery just south of Home Depot and they have a cashew that has the false fruits and nuts on it right now. I was pretty sure it was a cashew, but they wrote down Pajuil and when I looked it up I was right. They were telling me that you eat the fruit but it is kind of like the "stinky sock" tree they call Hog tree (or hogue tree or something). The flesh is really weird, but out of it comes one hook like little cashew which you have to roast to eat. The tree isn't really pretty, but hey - the fruit is a weird one! For $3? We have space.

When we arrived there was a pathetic little shrub with totally contorted bug eaten leaves. Before cutting things down or digging them out I wait for them to do something. After cutting it back severely it has gotten new leaves and pushed out this double hibiscus! Worth keeping and making cuttings of definitely. It is hard to see, but we planted papayas from seed about 3 months ago on the contour of our lower slope. As they grow I am clearing around them and cutting in terraces so it will be easier to walk and maintain. I am staggering a row of papaya, a row of guineos, row of papayas and zig zagging them to maximize soil holding abilities and keep them from interfering with each other. We have 30 or more papayas and if they all fruit if it is at the same time we will really need a dehydrator. With the bananas it is easy to understand why you do things with them at all stages - green, amarillo, maduro, black spotted etc. They all ripen at once. At night I watch the bats hang on the ripe clusters and fly between the bananas and mango in Coqui Valley. The papayas are starting to bloom so it is time to start figuring out who is who.

It might be too early to tell, but I believe these are female flowers. They are close to the stalk and are opening.

These are male flowers, hanging on a long stem in clusters. We cut this one and it did not change sex but I am keeping it because it is green, not interfering with anything and the flowers are very fragrant!

We planted papayas from the seeds of three different papayas that all had a different color flesh and different taste. To our surprise just about everything germinated. How many papayas does a person need? Not this many, but we'll cull them when they do or don't do something. In the beginning I water things every day for the first week, every few days after that and then I don't unless I happen to be watering a new thing nearby. We are still waiting for the "rainy season." In the dry season we had rain every day around 2 or 3 for an hour or two. Right now? De nada. So out I go to water the vetiver grass, the watermelon, peppers, and batata amarilla...

A word on spacing...I didn't expect a lot of the seeds to grow so I planted things too close. Nothing here should be closer than 5 feet and "little" trees and shrubs I suggest a 15 foot at center minimum. Our mature trees overlap and merge at this spacing. Overlapping and the understory thing is great unless you want heavy fruiting. But hey, how much fruit can two people and neighbors eat?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stuff from Around the Yard

It is wonderful to have flowers to cut and bring in. Sometimes I just use foliage from the crotons and it makes a really nice display.

This tiny fruit is an acerola. It has more vitamin C in it than any other fruit. You can chuck it into a smoothie or just nibble when cruising around the yard.

This is a new one for us. It looks like some kind of annon...same family as corazons and llang llang. The fruit has very interesting scale like skin...wonder what it will taste like?
Plop plop, down go the breadfruit - the seed ones. I was watching them and checked just yesterday and they were hard. Today they plopped on their own and I got them before the bugs did!

Here are the seeds cleaned up. Next stop is the boiling water, then the fridge, then under the knife to get the outer coating off and then the salt. They taste like little potatoes and are good to snack on!

Los Animales Cerca Mi Casa...

Finally we have got everything painted and the guardian toads installed. Makes me smile when I drive up...
Chicken the cat (and all the others) just love to play and this is their favorite play toy - a stick with a piece of metal and part of a bathing suit tie on it! I can amuse myself (I mean them) for hours twirling in a circle with the little cats chasing the stick like greyhounds! Great fun.

These guys have decided they live here. So I guess we are pseudo responsible for a tumble of kitties! They are really good friends or family...who knows?

This is another neighborhood animal at the bottom of the driveway. Sometimes it is "moo-fest" with all kinds of racket but today was just grass munching.

This is Princess (aka Holstein Junior). She survived her surgeries just fine. We survived her surgeries as well. She is really feral and Jeff got pretty scratched up trying to catch her. She was cleaning herself and I saw that she had a large open gash under her arm - not something a little kitty should have. I wanted it taken care of and since we'd never be able to catch her again we had her spayed as well. She lived in the shower for 7 long nights and hissed at us, meowed, and recovered. Getting her out of the shower was the hard part. We popped open the doors and she climbed INTO the medicine cabinet (she is very very small), then up on top of it. She wouldn't come for food, didn't run for her cat friend voices, it was difficult but she was finally freed! Now she hangs out in the yard but we still can't touch her.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mmmm, Fresh Fish

I have been trying to get out and go free diving and spearfishing since we moved here. Yesterday I finally got out and got a fish. I met a fellow free diver through Spear board on the Internet. He also just moved to PR a few months ago. He was kind enough to take me out and teach me a few things. I had a great time and we plan on going frequently. I am not big on killing things but I do enjoy the hunt. I love eating fish and lobster. I can't kill a chicken for dinner but I will spear a fish or boil a lobster. As we snorkeled out to the reef a large school of Yellowtail Jack swam past us. Julio picked out a nice one and shot it. I shot at one and missed. These fish are fast! I am used to spearing fish that don't move! We went back to the boat to put some fish in the cooler. You don't want to drag bloody fish around with you for longer than you need to. On the way back out again I managed to shoot a cero mackerel. Again, these fish are fast. I got in a great shot. It's a small fish but tastes great. In the picture I am holding the fish Julio speared. The picture of the silver fish in the cooler is the one I shot.

And this is what it looks like all cooked up. The fish tasted great! We are very happy with it. Katrina made a nice mango sauce from the mangoes in the yard. The limes are also from the yard.

I took a picture as we were leaving. What a nice area.
I had great fun and look forward to doing it again. Thanks Julio!