Monday, July 28, 2008

Yesterday's Spearfishing

Yesterday I went spearfishing with a new friend Pucho (thanks Pucho). I am still learning the ropes so I didn't get too many fish. We spent about 4 hours in the water, swimming and swimming. I am not usually the one to get tired but yesterday I got tired. It was a lot of fun but not easy to get fish. At this rate I burned more calories than were in the small fish I got. These fish are fast! I took probably 20 shots and only hit the one. In Washington St spearfishing was much easier. Its much harder here but its more fun. We bought about 10 pounds of fish from Sam's Club today. Hopefully it will be the last time we have to buy fish. Today the weed trimmer broke and we took it back to Sears. Its going to be around 3 weeks to be fixed. Maybe I'll use that time to go spearfishing but now I have to find a good trimmer. Sears and Home depot don't have ones that are good enough. I don't know were to find one.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

3 Things a Day from the Yard and Cat Circus

Since we have been here we have tried to eat 3 things a day from the yard. This isn't difficult. Today however we have outdone ourselves! The day started with cereal and guineos, mango, and coconut on top. Jeff went spearfishing (too bad spearing fish isn't legal on scuba) and after 4 long hours came home with dinner! Dinner consisted of fresh fish, packaged yucky noodles, bread and goodies from the yard - tomato, mint, lemon, aquacate, and mango chutney. The ginger ale was tinted with grenadine which we have growing as a nice shrub now but no pomegranates yet! So today's food total came out to 7 yard things. Yummy and colorful.

So here are some more things from the yard - giant parcha, a tomato and an egg. As I was wandering the property I came across a nest (no chicken in sight) with 6 eggs in it. The next day it had 8 eggs in it. Then it had 11 eggs in it. Not coming from a farming background and not knowing what is safe and what is salmonella I asked the expert Amparo (neighbor lady) who cracked one open on the spot and declared them to be good. We split the bounty (she wouldn't take them all) and I made some cookies and didn't kill us! The eggs were from at least two different hens (different colored eggs) and weren't fertile (nothing would gross me out more) which is why the hen wasn't there. Usually they sit on them for a month.

We had a few parcha from a neighbor when we first got here and were hooked. Unfortunately though it took 5 parcha to make a single glass of juice even diluted. We still wanted some so we went and got 3 1 foot starts from Jardin Eileen just south of Home Depot in Mayaguez. We have fruit already and they are HUGE! One parcha gives us enough juice to make a nice afternoon snack. I take the pulp and press it through a sieve, add the same amount in water and a teaspoon of sugar and it is wonderful. I read that you can throw the pulp in the blender then strain out the seeds and may try that next - I might get even more juice. Anyway, I am surprised by what comes out of that little weird, lightweight orb. It is a beautiful color and is very aromatic. Here I have half the yield of one fruit in my pretty glass. (Any one know where to get women's size 6 work boots locally? Tennis shoes suck.)
In front of the house and at the turnaround part of the driveway there were stumps. The stumps had pots on them with nice shrubs but they were still stumps. Jeff got a chainsaw on sale and we decided to take them out. In front of the house there used to be a large pine and boy was that wood hard! (Now we know why the stump was left there.) Besides being hard it smelled just like hamster bedding when Jeff cut it out. Here is the stump with a plant in it.

We now have to decide what to do with the space. It has a circle of bricks that demand that something be done. We already have a fountain. Do we want a big pot with neat flowers in it? Seems like that isn't much better than the stump-pot-holder. While we wait and hope to come up with ideas we filled it with cement leaving a level spot for some unknown future use. But for now it has become a cat stage! They either all sit around the edge waiting for story time (there once was a cat who was very very good and got to come in the Big House...) or they take turns performing in the center ring.

Sometimes they have to be coaxed by the bathing-suit -tie- on -a -stick toy and sometimes they just nap in the flat spot. Kind of fun.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Random Stuff Around the House

I have discovered breadfruit and it is my new favorite thing (although I am partial to habichuelas guisado). First off you can boil it and it tastes kind of like artichoke hearts. That is what I have done here and I really like the honeycomb pattern the fruit has. I think breadfruit makes the best tostones - they are much flakier than guineos or platanos. Surillos are pretty good but mine sometimes fall apart or stick. My neighbor makes the best ones and they have to have mayo-ketchup to dip in which is something I will never ever understand. When we first got here I had a recipe where you take a maduro breadfruit, pull the stem (and innards) out, stuff the hole with brown sugar and butter and bake it for una hora. When finished it tastes just like a banana. Eating a banana is quicker! But having things taste like what they are not is part of Puerto Rico's magic!
When I was collecting laundry Princess had a new game of "pull the socks down." Only I think this is cute.
Despite all the bugs in the garden the calabaza continues to get bigger and bigger. I just want it to stop and get a little color near the base so I can eat it. I'll probably cube it up and freeze a bunch since it is HUGE and there is more than one!
?Que is eso? When hunting for more horned tomato worms I came across this foamy insect house on a papaya leaf. Maybe this is an egg mass, but the little tunnel suggests something lives inside and is currently out eating my garden! Any ideas?
Outside the kitchen door is the hilly mess that is the new project. I have decided that there will always be grass on it. Jeff can week whack down a little and I can goat-crawl up aways but we can't get it all. My latest thought is to not fight things. Grass is what grows there for a reason. So I am going to make a dividing line of "good" fountain grasses staggered zig zag like half way up and the upper will remain wild and the lower can become flower land! The kitties are not like Wally was, but they are amusing to have around. Any new thing and they mob around like meer cats. Here Princess and Chicken Little are sparring in the fountain grass. Princess thought the flower heads were really fun and in the end all five pots (five out of twenty) were knocked over after a few hours of "obstacle course."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This is Wally. He was the love of our lives and he died a year ago today. Such a beautiful boy and a reject of course! We got him from purebred rescue (I had gotten another mastiff this way) and he had been hit by a car, thrown into dog prison (the pound) and held for a bunch of hours as required so he could then be put up for adoption without being returned to the people who dumped him. He was so good no one knew his knee was dislocated until his post pound check up. Besides the bum leg he only had one eye. He was an absolute jewel - gentle and giant and very much our dog and no one elses.

This is my favorite photo of him - he picked an Asian Pear off the tree. It was his favorite fruit and yes, the entire fruit is in his mouth! Another funny time was when he had an entire bagel in his mouth and he roamed around kind of whining. Hmmmm Hmmmm. "What's wrong" I thought and when I pried open his giant, soft mouth he had an entire bagel speared on his teeth - he couldn't get it out or chew it! Very funny.
Here he is on his giant foam lounging pad. Look at those big, soft mouth!

He didn't like to go on couches (even when we wanted him there) but he would put his head on the foot stool to rest it and liked his ears massaged.

Here he makes sure the de-stuffed porcupine isn't moving anymore! He loved to dismantle stuffed things for the squeaker.

Here is a wonderful trick our friend Rob and his wife Jill taught him - how to eat whip cream from a can! At first the noise scared him but a short slow release of the cream shoots it into his mouth from a foot away!
We loved him more than anything. Unfortunately most mastiffs only live 8 or so years on average. He lived over 9 really wonderful years. If you are a dog lover there is a really good book you should read - when I read it I think of many Wally stories. A Dog''s Life by Peter Mayle. Not a sad story at all, it is a dog's life from his own perspective and involves balls, and chickens, farting and sneaking food. A wonderful read!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating Out...Occasions Occasions Occasions

June 30 was our 12th anniversary and we ate out. We headed to Cilantros in Hormigueros and drove around until we realized we couldn't find it (like maps help...right)? When we called the number had been temporarily disconnected...whatever that means. We ended up at Joyuda watching Tarpon swim around and eating some nicely prepared grouper and snapper. This time the occasion was my 48th birthday - how did THAT happen? I wanted to eat at a roadside stand so after diving we headed to the Carbon Pollo on the way from Ramey to highway 2 through Aquadilla. We each had a half a chicken and a bunch of viandas. There were onions, yucca, name, sweet batata and regular potatoes. It was all very very yum. We drove it to the observation turnout off 2 and looked out on calm waters while we ate the stash. I am pleased to say we will be dining "roadside" more often! It was not 4 or 5 bucks like we had heard, it was 14 for 2 people. We'll have to sample some other ones. We picked this one because there are always people lined up and the little birds are always spinning on their rotisserie when we pass it on the way to Shacks - looks like 20 or so chickens. High turnover at a roadside place seems like a good thing. When I was doing art fairs I sometimes (out of desperation) had to eat fair food. I had a rule - "only eat fried - at least it has been cooked at a temperature hot enough to kill everything!"

Friday, July 18, 2008

Big Mess...Small Project...and a New Fruit

The door to the left of the LPG tank is the kitchen door and it opens to this side yard which is a big mess. It is a pretty little spot, but the hill was cut to put the house in and the slope is big and covered with grass currently and little "bad" trees. When we first got here it was all trees and I have made some headway by climbing like a goat and taking out grass and seedlings and loping off 1/2 inch trees. But still it is in need of something.

We can mow up to a point. Jeff can weed whack down to a point from up top but that leaves a large area to figure something out about. My latest thought is to tidy up the bottom, let the top be wild and slowly replace tall green grass with ornamental grasses to stabilize and prettify the slope. It is a daunting task so we are doing what we can. I originally moved the red pots from elsewhere and located them on the slope. This has let soil pool up behind them, and one pot had its ground cover sneak out (what I intended) and you can't see the pot anymore!

I moved plants from elsewhere (plant musical chairs) and Amparo gave me 3 little orange flower starts which have now taken over. Exactly what I'll go with - the thing that works! The tree to the left is a Tamarind tree which has really neat bark, a nice leaf and the paste from the pods makes a good juice. The tree to the right is yet another avocado that is too young to bear fruit.

Here are some Tamarind blooms. They are like little orchids! Very delicate and first noticed when I heard the buzzing of bees.

So here is the plan (any ideas welcome): I have laid out landscape blocks in a slow, easy to mow along curve following the hill contour. I have weeded. We will build a little wall (walls are fun) about 2-3 blocks tall to help hold back tumbling soil when the rain makes it a water feature. I'll keep little pots for herbs and some veggies (out of the way of chickens and cats). At the base of the hill behind the Carambola, Tamarind, Avocado, orchid and Corazone trees I'll plant a line of ornamental grass. In front of that under the trees...gingers and flowers. Then I'll progress in tiers up the hill and see how far I can get! I'll alternate between pretty grass and flowers. I don't think I can fight grass unless I fight it with grass. The top may just stay kind of irritating and wild. Even now though with the dry layout it looks soooo much better!

We went to Enaidas to pick up a lime tree. We picked out a Tahiti Lime (the limes turn yellow when ripe - typical Puerto Rico) and a couple avocados (we already have 6 trees but 2 are very old) and a peanut butter tree. We always look in the fruit bins for fruit to try and Jeff found his new favorite - Mamey Sapote. It has the texture of a Canisteel (which I love) but is very very sweet. I don't like it but Jeff does. They didn't have the plant though so we will have to try Montoso or somewhere else! This is a large, 5 pound fruit! So it'll be nice to clean up this area. Probably in a month it will be tidied up!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

CRIM is Crappy...Another Tale of Mystery

Well we opened some mail and got a bill from CRIM for $450 for taxes. We thought we took care of this back in February in Mayaguez. To make a long long story shorter we bought our house in December 2007, it closed May 2007 and we moved here in October 2007. When we got here we went to Oriental Mortgage to tell them we were here permanently and they sent us to CRIM to get the property tax exemption. They sent us to the Mayaguez office (we /they didn't know there was an office in San German) and we went, bumbled through all the paperwork, got the stamps and did all the other mysterious things you need to do.

Today we took all the CRIM crap (papers with stamps and dates and exemption form certified etc) to the San German office to find out how we could be "exempt" AND owe all on the same paper! Here is the story we got: We went in February. To be exempt we had to have gone before December 31, 2007. We were here, but didn't know this and thought things would be prorated...there is kind of a language problem and some trouble figuring out how all things work (or don't) here. No no, we are stuck owing for this half year and the next (the papers Mayaguez did were for exemption for 2009 -2010). They collect taxes "ahead" of time they say so we don't really know if what we owe is for when we WEREN'T here or when we were here.

What we were told we could try to do is: Go to "triple A" (no this isn't the travel map place, it is the water authority) and ask for the "certificacion de servicio". Go to the power authority and ask for a "certificacion de servicio," sign an affidavit stating when we moved here permanently and that we do not own any other property any other place, go back to Mayaguez and wait for days to see someone who may or may not get the exemption thing correct anyway all the while accruing interest on something we don't want to pay because then we would never see any of it back!

So we went to the water place and in under 10 minutes got the certificacion de servicio showing when we started water service. I asked if we needed any "stamps" or seals or signatures or anything and supposedly we don't (we shall see). We went to the power place and it was the same thing - under 10 minutes (helpful hint is to go 15 minutes before closing?). Our diving friend David is a lawyer and hopefully we can pay him to whip up this affidavit thing and then spin the wheel of fortune at CRIM in the next couple weeks and pay up or have it fixed!

So as I am ranting I am thinking back to similar CRAP regarding property taxes in Duvall WA that weren't $450, they were over $3000 a year. When we bought our house there we had our house and the 3 lots it was on and two extra lots next door (my garden) on a separate tax number. We moved into the house in April (tax time) and tax notifications of course didn't make it to us....we had escrow and a mortgage (you figure they take care of this) and you figure these extra two lots have been there and been taxed for many years prior to us. Well the next year, at tax time I am looking at what we are paying for our "garden" and it just doesn't look right. I look at the previous year and it was the same - still looked high. After inquiring with the County I figured out that we were charged as if these lots were "build able." They weren't. So guess what - I had to find "comparables" in the city (our extra lots were not really comparable in size and zoning to much else in town), get a letter from the city planning commission saying the lot was not build able, I had to set up a court date to plead my case in front of the county to get the $ reduced. So I go though all the stuff thoughtfully, have a court date and everything and then the county decides to cut the $ amount to a reasonable (but not as low as it was) number if I sign away rights to argue it some more - a couple days before the court date! So YES I got the tax burden reduced BUT did we get reimbursed for the unlawful, incorrect amount we paid previously? Of course NOT. So I am expecting this could be the same. Wouldn't surprise me a bit but we will give it a go!

As a side note, When we decided to move here we sold our "yard" as a build able lot (rules changed) and that is what helped us get here! So in the end all the irritations work out I suppose...

But if you own something here...get your CRIM stuff organized! The banks aren't "responsible" according to CRIM. If it is your only house anywhere and you live in it you do not pay taxes. If you bought it and moved here later they will get you. Go to CRIM.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Startling Statistics or Give Fried Food a Chance!

Jeff and I had dinner in Joyuda for our 12th anniversary on June 30th. It is difficult to know where to go around here since we really don't care for fried stuff and I don't really like meat all that much (fish I love, chicken ok and the rest kind of yuck). We had gone to Joyuda before and spent too much money on lobster and fish swimming in a pool of artery hardening aceite. This time we went to the southern most place, Bahia something or other, and had grouper and snapper simply grilled with tostones and boiled name. It was very good and fairly reasonable and we sat in the warm night air chucking bits of stuff down to the tarpon that were swimming back and forth below us! Pretty neat. But back to the topic.

When talking to our friend David about fried food he brought up the idea that Puerto Ricans have a longer life span than those in the U.S. How could this be? Fried everything, sugar everywhere. That got me thinking about the whole fried thing. I admit I love potato chips - tostones have less surface area, are thicker and probably have less fat. So what is fried in the US? All the same fast food restaurants. Chips. French fries. What about the really good restaurants....butter, frois gras (not an organ eater), bread and butter, meat in general and all their tasty sauces. I am not saying we eat like most people...we prefer "clean" food like sushi, BBQ fish, potatoes, zucchini (unfortunately brushed with real butter that Jeff thinks "cooks off"). But we also like lots of cheesy things like zucchini-sour cream-cheddar cheese bake, enchiladas, eggplant or regular lasagna, brie and pear quesadillas, homemade pizza - hello fat (just not of the fried variety).

So what is the statistic? For men: U.S. 75.15 and PR 74.6 (pretty close) and for women: US 75.15 and PR 80.97 (glad to be a woman ). So now I am thinking of fried things in a different way. It is just a different fat delivery system. The Barrigas de vieja (little fried pumpkin balls) are a favorite of mine and have flour and calabaza puree and canela in them - that's it, no sugar. How can something with so few ingredients and such a soft, warm, delightful taste be bad? How about tostones - I've had plantano and pan tostones (prefer the pan ones)? Any worse than chips?

Much of the diet here I am starting to like. I love habichuelas y arroz but need to see Amparo make the sofrito to get the flavors right. Today she brought over white beans and green guineos (we just gave her some green guineos) and the guineos were made into little dumpling-like things. Yummy. I think a large part of the diet isn't fried, it is viandas. The problem I do have is that almost everything is white - white yucca, name, yautia, batatas, rice, guineos, platanos, breadfruit, bread. I have a difficult time with all white. When things are fried they are usually double fried. But most everything else you can eat with no or little oil depending on how you make it. Sometimes fat is good. Sobado bread is a little softer than the pan de agua. I like both. So anyway, I have low bad cholesterol and super high good cholesterol. Body weight isn't bad. Blood pressure is low. My ass slumps but I'm not 40 anymore so I don't care. I say give fat a chance. If you can, go ahead and eat the crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside treats of your choice (Mr. Pretzel). Just add some colorful organic goods from the yard and enjoy!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cat Colony - Better Than Internet or TV

Here is another potential member of our cat colony. We decided "no more" and then he showed up! Jeff can twiddle on the internet or watch TV for hours but I've got to be doing something. Usually I prefer physical stuff but the body can only work for so many hours so my past times are touring the yard, counting the fruit, watching the chickens and playing with the cats!

This little guy looks a lot like Chicken Little but is smaller and has green eyes instead of golden ones. The temporary name is Pollo Pequeno (small Chicken). This won't be his real name if he sticks around.

Chicken Little has gotten bigger (the neighbor thinks he looks pregnant). Here he is with Pollo Pequeno giving him a sniff and a little jostling. Chicken Little is the welcoming committee and is very sociable. All the cats like this little guy so maybe he can join in.

Here is Junior (his balls have dropped so we will bring him in soon) and Chicken Little and Princess. There is a little dirt patch under the Maria Tree that they all seem to like. It is also the killing area for gecko eating and playing. We think we found a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Mayaguez - more on that later.

Princess is getting a little larger I think and is definitely a happier, healthier kitty! She has a lot more energy and really tears around playing and hunting geckos. We still can't touch her though which is disappointing. If I sit in a chair with my legs horizontal on the bench together she will sometimes crawl onto my legs and bite my knee, rub on my calves, and bear hug my legs. Then she'll bite my shoes and undo the laces. She'll come in the house to chase balls with bells in them but we can't pick her up or pet her ...yet. Someday!

So the kitties are endless hours of amusement for me. They trail me around the yard "helping" when I sweep, trim things etc. They chase rakes, trowels, hedge trimmers etc and like to be underfoot. When I need a break they are usually hanging out and I drag a stick with a piece of bathing suit on the end of it around and we play race track. Yes - kitties are fun.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Favorite Fourth and Favorite Expressions

This is the best fourth of July ever! No frightened animals, no M80s, no fireworks, nothing. It is a pleasant surprise in the land of surprises where every holiday is celebrated and celebrated and celebrated. So what do Puerto Ricans do on the fourth? Go to "la playa" (the beach) of course. Jeff and I went diving at the "almond wall" in Corseca, Rincon last night. We were there at around 5 pm and it had been raining. When we went to park there were a gillion cars driving stuff in and out. People were claiming their spots on the night of the 3rd so they could enjoy family and swimming and sunshine on the fourth! There were tents, BBQs, bags of food, kayaks, umbrellas, ice chests etc. and loads of people out swimming. The coveted spots are under the few trees or close to the entrance for easy loading purposes. We did our dive and it was pretty murky. After 75 minutes we came in and in 6 feet of water thought we heard a jet ski over us. We hugged the bottom and surfaced along shore amidst legs and arms of nighttime swimmers! The sun set and we headed home while everyone else headed to the tents. Expressions: I've never been one to really appreciate "expressions" much. The only expression that made me smile was from a good friend in Washington, Ron Hammond. When something was REALLY intriguing or had a useful feature he would say it was "the bees knees." I don't know what that means, but I still see his eyes twinkle and the light bulb in his head blinking when I hear it!

Here in Puerto Rico we have picked up a few interesting expressions that make us smile or think in some way. Part of the interest is the question of whether this is really an expression or just a mis-communication. What ever it is we enjoy them. Whenever I talk to anyone about gardening they grab a piece of something and say, "cut it, stick it in." (which works by the way) When talking about plans for the yard: "you can't eat flowers." People here are practical. When we dive at the cuevas (caves) there are times when it is scary or difficult to get back through the reef because the tunnels have "rip-your-mask-off current" in them. Sometimes the thought of entering the little hole just creeps people out and they go up. Well a friend told us of someone who did just that - came up and tried to cross the top of the reef in bad conditions instead of going through the tunnels. When they rounded up with their friend they found that he had "left his eggs on the beach." At another dive site one of the owners of the property comes out and for $3 will watch your car (a useful thing at night in the middle of nowhere). One time our friend David came for a dive and this guy was having delusions or something and roped David and his friend into hauling large rocks around and putting them in a special place. This guy was "not quite right in his ceiling." (a useful expression and one of my favorites - that and the turtle reference). So that's it for the fourth. 11 pm and still quiet except for the orchestra of a billion bugs harmonizing!

Painting and Propagating

The hair "painting" adventure went well enough so I decided everything must look better painted! We had some floor paint that was left with the house and used for the upper deck and benches in the front. I put it to good use painting unfinished things around the yard. First I painted the cement bench we made. It is still kind of a crudely made bench but works better than blocks and boards, won't blow away in the wind and looks pretty darned good painted!
Next I moved on to the troll bridge. It is pressure treated wood, but I figure a coat or two of paint will extend its life and make it look more finished!

Finally the redone "Mad Max" shade bed. It looked a little plain in bare cement and now it looks really really good! It is near the troll bridge and cement table so the paint just ties it all together.

So here's a ginger bloom that is basically spent. Note the little sprouts coming vertically off the base of the flower. When I first got here I didn't know how to propagate these and now I do. I noticed that the bloom would weigh things down so my first attempt was to clip the bloom down and hope the shoots would root. I had partial success. The I tried snapping off the shoots and planting them but many did not survive.

Cut the flower stalk off at the base and then cut the shoots off.

I separate the shoots, stick them in water until they root, plant them in pots for a bit and then plant them out! So now instead of the plant sending up new shoots I have the new shoots and a bunch of suckers to propagate as well! A ginger factory of sorts...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More Blogs and an Arte y Pico Award

It seems like every now and then we stumble on to a blog of someone who for one reason or another has decided to move to PR. There definitely is a common thread in all these blogs. We have different perspectives but we all go through the same experiences moving here.

Minerva just awarded us the Arte y pico award. Thank you Minerva. Her blog is  Although shes not in PR right now her cats are and she will be coming back.

I will put this blog in the Links block on the right hand side of our blog. It will go next to Summer and Stefan's blog Fortunately we found their blog before we moved here so we were able to learn a few things before we moved here. I am sure there are more blogs out there with similar content but sometimes its not easy to find them.