Monday, March 29, 2010

Cats, Diving, Harvest and Rain

Today we went diving which is great since diving has kind of sucked for the past few weeks. Last weekend was superb and this weekend looked to be great as well. We went to the Sugar Mill and had a really nice dive and Jeff managed to find a lobster (so we had a small but tasty lunch). The visibility was wonderful and the water was calm and warm. The sun was out. What could be better? Sunday we went to the Aquadilla Wall and entered at the new entry spot. It was really nice, but not as clear as the previous weekend which was the best ever visibility at the spot. I had 100 minutes (the guys had an hour and a half) and we did the wall, came shallower across the top and then passed the entry to explore a new spot which had all kinds of really neat zooming-around urchins. On the dive we saw 4 mating flying gunnards, turtles, barracuda and of course 8 really big lion fish. Jeff caught 2 more lobster that were monsters so we had linguine with carambola, onion, zucchini and lobster for dinner and still have a lobster left! We came home and it was still warm out and sunny. Jeff cleaned the gear and all the cats were hanging out snoozing. Princess loves this little dirt patch under the Quenepa.

Mars prefers to hang out under the grasses outside the kitchen door.
Oh, here Jeff is holding up his treasures!
Blanco just curls up anywhere. He is sooooo beautiful.

Up close treasures - harvest from the sea!

While the scuba tanks were filling Jeff gathered up some more goodies - plantano and guineos. Today I am busy dehydrating before some of them spoil. I also harvested all the yucca and peeled it and cut it up and stuck it all in a zip lock in the freezer. I like stuff that is easy to process - it is easy to grow yucca (no water, no weeding, nothing) and even easier to deal with (just peel, cut and freeze)! I keep finding more and more cucumbers and desperately need cucumber recipes - I had over a dozen and gave some away, but how many can 2 people eat? I'll try making refrigerator pickles today minus celery seed (yeah, like I can find that) but many cucumbers or pickles can you eat?

Then it finally started to rain which is great since it has been a bunch of weeks and longer than that since we have had anything substantial. I have baby fruits everywhere so I was about to pull out the hose when the rain started - .4 inches.The cats all piled into the house and lounged around there. Blanco, Mini and Tuca in their little pillows...

Chicken lounging on the bed (how can I move him to make it?)

They got all cuddly since it was cool.

Oops - looks like I disturbed them.

Mini mid yawn.

And then there is the cat pile on the couch. I was sitting there under them for a while. Little furry friends. Only five on the couch...where are the rest? After snoozing they started getting restless and tearing around the house playing chase going from the porch through the slats and round and round. A fun ending to a nice day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2 Mysteries Solved and a Minor Injury!

This little story falls into what Hamilton (blog reader, friend and previous owner of our house) calls "strange things that happen only to Katrina." Yes, I have had coconuts fall on me, been "nudged" by sharks, bitten by a gecko I was trying to save from the cats, and locked in the porch area of our house....I could go on but I won't. The chickens have been clucking away making a huge racket and "Big Red" has been running around raping everyone. Today there was a huge racket...the kind of racket that happens when one of the huge hawks comes down and takes off with a baby chick (or neighbors puppy) - that kind of racket. Or the kind of racket like when the hens lay eggs. I peek outside the kitchen door and into the gingers and get a glimpse of a little nest.

On closer inspection there are 14 eggs.

Later I find the mom hen brooding on her clutch.
This explains some of the clucking noises. After I investigate the latest ruckus I find there are only 3 chicks remaining from the white hen (there were 7 to start with) and only 3 of the black hen's chicks left (started with 5). This is not unusual. I spring into action when I hear the war cries to make sure it isn't the cats (hasn't ever been our cats), and have seen the birds swoop down then pick them off. As I come up the stairs I see Tuca sitting on the lawn motionless.

She is keeping her distance but has found something interesting!

There is also a hen nearby between the intruder and her chicks.

Then Blanco gets in on the scene.

The intruder is a pretty big, very green iguana. I have seen boa constrictors on the property but this is the first time I've seen an iguana.

I think he looked pretty full judging by the hanging belly. Look at the claws! I had to photograph this beauty, but didn't expect it to still be on the lawn when I got back with the camera. I also expected it to run when I got close but it just stayed motionless. I moved in kind of close to check out its really cool skin and claws and I had to get close to photograph its head.

It was very prehistoric looking. Look at that tail! The tail was about 2 feet long and I was busy looking at the claws and watching to make sure he didn't rush me when I photographed him when WHOOSH - with lightening speed he whipped his tail across my leg! Shocked the crap out of me and really stung! Who knew? I was not expecting that!

I was really shocked and backed up taking Tuca with me. That tail is long and far reaching and definitely a real weapon! It left two parallel cuts like grass cuts on my leg, but it was just like when they crack a whip in the movies... it just wrapped around my leg so fast I felt it and never saw it. Beware the iguana's tail!

Then he just kind of stood there some more with chickens roaming around, cats investigating and me shoving a camera in his face. I believe the earlier ruckus was this iguana stealing chicks and eggs. I'll be looking for him tomorrow at the first sign of chicken trouble. The only reason why I saw him was because of the cats. He blended in with the lawn despite his size and I only would have seen him if he moved. The cats are good at alerting me to interesting things in the yard. Beware the tail on these guys when may get exactly what you deserve!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Isn't this a beautiful face? It is when it is where it belongs..I photographed it in Papua New Guinea. On today's dive we saw 11 of them. This is not good. When we first got here we didn't see any. Then we saw one and thought it was kind of neat even though it doesn't belong here. Now we need to kill them (humanely of course if there is such a thing - freezing them is best). There are posters up at most beaches declaring war on them and it is because they eat everything and are not native to our waters - they will eat juvenile fish that DO belong here. At first we didn't think they would be able to reproduce but we were wrong. 11 lion fish today.

So yesterday and today I finally got to go diving. My neck and shoulder and thumb have been so awful that I finally went in and was given a prescription for a muscle relaxant and some anti-inflammatory drugs. I don't like taking stuff but I did and whalla...felt like I could go diving as long as the walk was short (35 pounds of gear hanging on a sore neck/shoulder isn't wise). Jeff came down with something on Friday so he couldn't go but is feeling a little better tonight.

I went with our best dive buddy (David) and another guy (Raul) and we picked up a stray. We went to the Aguadilla Courthouse area, really an area a little north of there. This was a new way to enter our usual spot that got us a little closer to the reef faster. We then headed south on the reef. The visibility was at least 100 feet at first and after 5 weeks of practically no diving it was just spectacular! As we went further the visibility dropped to 50 and a little less in one particular area. We were cruising around at 78 feet for quite a while.
I usually don't look at my air or computer much since other people always use more air (I always have a good amount left) and we have done the sites so much that we know the depths and terrain enough to stay safe. Today however I did some oops sez. We saw lion fish after lion fish after lion fish...we were hearing but not seeing whales...we saw a huge tarpon...eels, turtles and fish galore. I looked at my computer and realized I owed 14 minutes of decompression! I don't think I have ever gone that far into deco before. I was astonished and headed immediately up so I wouldn't accumulate more nitrogen. I am used to skirting the edge of deco by waiting until I have 1 or 2 minutes before I owe deco and then heading up to put more time on the computer and then dipping down for another deep peek. Once you owe time you owe it, and this was at over 70 minutes! The other guys are on air also but don't have computers. The stray might have had one since he went up higher earlier. I figured he was just low on air. He was towing a flag and getting tangled in the line etc etc. Now I realize he probably was low on air and knew we were headed for deco. I saw that he was tangled and had him stop trying to pull on the line - then I untangled the line from his fin and fin buckle and we were on our way. This was right before the realization that I owed time.

Up we go and then my computer gives me a ceiling - a depth that I cannot go shallower than. The guys wanted to head in, but it was too shallow for me so I showed David the problem and we headed in in a more parallel path toward the exit. After a very long 14 minutes I was free to surface. The problem was that we stayed at depth for so long that nitrogen built up in the tissue compartments that off gas slowly. You hang out sometimes at a couple different depths to release nitrogen. So up we come after 90 minutes in super clear, 81 degree water with sunny skies and lots of stuff! Yeehaw! Luckily I still even had air to spare, just not as much as usual - I was down to around 800psi. I dive with an 80.

So we are near shore in a different area than usual (but back where we started from) and I see that there are small urchins and rocks before we can get to the sand channel. Thankfully the waves were small to non-existent and with David's help I got in with only my pride bruised. The problem was that I didn't have booties. I dive with a full foot snorkeling fin because I think it is lighter, easier to kick and swim in, I can carry them and they don't drag on the ground (they aren't super long like normal dive fins), and they don't have buckles and straps that can tangle things or break. When we have urchin-entries I wear booties and then clip them off once I am in the water, but this entry and exit was new so I was barefoot. If I didn't get a little help I would have had to take the fins off and cut up my feet but David helped me walk backwards with the fins on (kind of dorky but effective).

We saw adorable and large puffers - a big one toward the end that was more than a foot long unpuffed.

There were a lot of cowries. This is the animal all those cowrie necklaces are made of (just the shells).
Yesterday's dive was in Rincon and was spectacular as well with probably 80 feet of visibility which is the best we have ever seen there.We saw a stingray like this (I photographed this one in St. Croix). We also saw a large Barracuda (they like to track us from behind - slightly behind and slightly higher). Rincon didn't have a whole lot of life out and about and the big tarpon area was tarpon free. Oh well.

So it looks like the waves are going to be small for the next couple days anyway so a night dive might be in the near future. Oh, I forgot to mention the shell! I found a huge, uninhabited conch shell I had to have! This made the trip in even more amusing. I need to stay between 20 and 10 feet down for 14 minutes when I spot the shell. My messed up thumb cannot work my inflator/dump hose but I decide I am indeed bringing the shell in. So now I am trying to stay neutral (floating at a consistent depth) while holding a 4 pound shell in my "good" hand - the hand I need to be able to control to depth. I have to put the shell down to dump a little air from my BC but when I put it down I start traveling up since I just essentially dropped some weight. I have to put the shell down fast, dump a little air from my BC with my good thumb and pick up the shell again really fast before I start hurling out of control toward the top where I will embolize or get bent for sure! Even when dealing with the urchins I refuse to chuck my big shell so I have the death grip on it and David wants to stabilize me but I don't want him to take my hand because my thumb hurts so much! Comedy at its finest...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Chicks and..the Wet Season?

I thought I had some more "dry season" left to get stuff tethered and started in the yard but it looks like I was wrong. Unless this is some kind of weather system or something it appears we are settling in to the dry-and -sunny morning and wet- in-the-afternoon pattern. I've got top heavy heliconias falling down the hillside and new, very tall torch gingers pulling up the soft, wet dirt. Anyway, when I was out looking around yesterday I found a white chicken sitting as if she were on eggs. Since Big Boy, the new red gallo has started circling the house there has been a lot of chicken noise - mating torture complete with running and screaming and neck pecking. This first batch of brown guys has been around a week or two.

Today, for the first time I saw 7 little puffs on the driveway. The cats and the chickens love the little grass piles I make when I sweep after mowing: I make the piles and they undo them!

They are very tiny. One got stuck in a sticky weed and couldn't get unstuck so I took care of that. They can't eat big corn or even cracked corn yet but they can eat rice so I brought them a little.
I don't know if Big Boy is the dad or not but he appears to want to be.

I don't think this "display" is for me...I think she is telling him to back off.
Anyway, the house is full of wet cats everywhere and small chicks sitting under mom.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Really Cool Bugs

The sun is back and things are good! It's 100 on the roof and 84 inside with a nice breeze. For the last week I have been doing inside things since I messed up my shoulder/neck and thumb doing who knows what. I am trying hard to keep myself from digging trails and planting/weeding/hacking stuff and decided to peek at some images I've made and think about trying to remember how to do website stuff. So here are some bugs...

This grasshopper looks like a leaf.

Another grasshopper - part of the evening quartet or symphony depending on the night. Violin section I believe.

This was the coolest thing ever - this moth/butterfly looks EXACTLY like a dry butterfly fly tree (Bahia?) leaf.

Robo bug - this was making a huge racket at night and the cats were mobbing it. When I would get close it would stop with the noise and it took a while to locate it. Reminds me of the replicators on whatever sci fi show that was.

Isn't this a lovely face?

This was a daylight thing. I was in the yard and these "thorns" were on my shirt. Turns out the thorns had eyes and legs.

Once a year these beauties try to strip the plumeria to the bone. Why this is a prime laying spot for whoever lays the eggs here I do not know, but they don't go on to anything else. So that's the odd bug tour for now. I'm trying to make a calabaza candy that I don't think is turning out. I need more calabaza recipes (yes, these are great with beans).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where the HELL is the Sun????

It is fricking cold! Right now it is 3 o'clock and 67 degrees. There is no sun, so we had to connect back to the grid since it will be like this for a few days supposedly. This is the crap I moved AWAY from! The warmest thing I have to wear is jeans and a sweatshirt and I could use another layer. Jeff did manage to mow this morning and collect all the pumpkins (8) and some water coconuts that now sit out on the wet driveway. I screwed up my fixed shoulder and did inside things.

The native mangoes are blooming like crazy and I can hear the bees swarming around. But look...grey grey grey. It is kind of a bright fog I guess, but very Seattle.
So I wandered around the yard in the gloom looking at the bright flowers.

Looking out the front porch/cat room it is foggy grey grey grey. It is also doing the Seattle style rain - just a gloomy drizzle..only .24 inches in the last 24 hours. We do need the rain, so when the sun comes back things will be great.

A wet driveway and oh, I guess I can put the hose away.

Looking toward the back of the property it is just a reflective white/grey. No bright perfume smells from blooming stuff, just cold and wet, and lots of leaves on the ground.

Yup, grey.

I really like the Puerto Rico rain we usually get - huge cracks of lightening and thunder and a torrent of rain that goes away. Then the sun comes out. I guess this is saving me from myself - I hurt my shoulder and really don't want to mess it up more by working outside. No cave this weekend. No diving this weekend. I think this is the first weekend we have had just at home in forever! It is dark too. I need a mood elevator. Guess I'll make some coffee and find things to distract myself with and hope it isn't this way again tomorrow!

Basa - Yah, We Can Eat It

After the visit to Caribe Fisheries, Inc. I was pretty excited to find an alternative to Tilapia. Not that I don't like Tilapia, but it is good to know what other possibilities taste like before committing to a particular fish. We will probably end up with 2 500 gallon tanks and will try to grow enough fish to have one meal a week (approximately 100 plus pounds a year). All this may change when I take the aquaponics class in June and find out more about it. Our biggest constraint will be power - since we are on solar there is only so much power we can dedicate to this project at night. We have to make sure we can power the pumps.
Anyway, when Jeff filleted the fish the skin peeled off really well and the smallish 2 pounders made nice, clean fillets. This is a big consideration since preparing a whole small fish can be a pain if it has scales and spines etc. The flesh was a little orange which surprised me since most catfish I've cooked before were most definitely white. My plans for the parts we don't eat are to feed them back to the fish, compost them, make fish stock etc.

We were hungry and I didn't want to do anything fancy - just wanted to see how the texture was and how they would hold up when cooked. I dredged the fillets in flour with a little salt and pepper and pan fried them in olive oil. Then I toasted some slivered almonds and deglazed with some of my newly made naranja agria (sour orange) marmalade. (Plant this tree - the oranges are great for marmalade and marinades.)
We have eaten catfish before,usually blackened, and had boingy parts - kind of rubbery parts. I don't like that. This fish did not have any chewy bits. It is a very mild fish with a softer texture than Tilapia which tends to be flaky. Tilapia is mild also. We can't grow any of our favorite fish and of course can't buy any here so Basa I think will be a good, sustainable choice - and that's what the whole thing is about anyway. Mike at Caribe Fisheries is using a fish food that is low in fish meal and high in soy and corn (I think) and that makes it more sustainable as well. Ideally I am hoping to stock our tanks (when we get set up) with Basa and Tilapia if the two fish can live in peace! Since their textures are different the variety would be good. It will also be more entertaining to see different things in the tanks (we hope to put shrimp in there too).

So the verdict is ....a thumbs up for Basa! Reasons you may want to eat it 1) it is sustainable (most of the chillo, or snapper, here comes from elsewhere since PR is fished out) 2) it is inexpensive 3) you can get it REALLY fresh 4) since it is mild it is versatile. If you can't grow it you now know where to get it. I tossed some fillets in the freezer to see how it holds up there but am told it freezes well.  So right now I am gathering information where ever I can about different set-ups and thinking about locations and supplies etc. has a nice forum and some photo samples of different systems. This will be a biggish project initially!