Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Little Tropical Garden Talk (Part ~ The Beginning)

I've grown and killed a lot of rosemary
I hear so many people say you cannot grow vegetables and herbs in the tropics and I think the old people who have always grown them just laugh. For sure, I know a lot more about old people's gardens in the Virgin Islands than I do here, but I know quite a few people who garden here and do it successfully. I've done it myself and I'll keep on, though this year, I'm starting all over again, since in the past three years I've been gone too much of the year to really keep things going except for herbs.

Sure, we have different gardening issues from 'where you came from' but you just adjust. Ask questions. Listen. Because these days, more than ever, eating food from your own hands' work is the one way to be positive you aren't eating poisoned, mutated food that isn't that good for you and all too often, just isn't that good.

First, you need seeds. Ok, first you need soil, but we'll get to that. Start with the fun part (and if you think perusing seed catalogs is not fun, please skip this post). There are lots of great lists of seed catalogs, but you don't just want any seeds. You want organically grown seeds. You want heirloom seeds. You want variety! And, you live in the tropics, so check out some unusual tropical plants that will do well in our hot and humid summer and fall climate. Most catalogs are free, you just have to say you want one.

I find it easiest here to use containers for my plants. I've grown tomatoes in the ground (prepared ground) that grew to six feet high, so it can be done, but it is easier to protect plants in containers if you don't have the wherewithall to build a cage for them to live in. I have hungry iguanas around here, along with a lot of wild chickens and a few birds that love anything growing, including hot peppers. I've used everything from bird netting to whirly gigs...and usually, they work! One day, I'd love to have a caged in type space that I don't have to think about adjusting, re-doing, etc. but in the mean time, one does what one can with what one has. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I've had my gardens all over the yard and this year, I've come back to the original spot (for the most part) that I started almost 11 years ago. It's right outside the door, reachable with the hose - yes, I have the luxury of city water - another issue, I know.

The starter table

Hot peppers

I threw in a bunch of tomato seeds from some organic tomatoes...wa la!

Cashew tree! I'm very excited about this little guy and he is thriving!

Compost 'pond'  there are tomatoes and cantaloupe growing in's all an experiment

Cherry tomatoes

Rosemary, tomatoes, melons
How does my garden grow? Everywhere.
Ok, it's not the prettiest garden in the world, but anything that keeps me outside, makes my heart and head calm, and feeds my body, all at the same time? That's beautiful.

First cheap-o tip of the day! You don't have to buy Jiffy pots or peat pots or any other kind of seed starter pot if you use toilet paper and I'm just going to guess that you do. Because toilet paper (and paper towel too) rolls make great starter pots, easy peasy.

Cut a toilet paper roll in half. Cut 4 slits about 1/2 inch long on one end of that roll. Close it like you would a box top and there you go! A biodegradable pot for your seeds. You don't have to transplant, you can just stick it in the ground or container you'll be using for your garden space. Some people get fancy and smash it flat one way, then the other way to end up with it being a square. Some people lightly soak them and weight the tops, so the bottoms are really flat. Whatever works for you; you will definitely find out your OCD level with gardening.

You've got your seed catalogs. You're making your seed pots. You need to get some dirt. Remember, you don't have to grow 20 things, you can grow a couple of tomato plants. You can grow some basil and parsley. You can grow a squash or a cantaloupe or a mango tree. All that matters is that you start somewhere. Maybe your somewhere is a kitchen windowsill or maybe you have acres, it doesn't matter. Let's plant some food.

Just in case you need to remember that this really is the tropics...


All of this and gardens too. Yes, we're very fortunate. Don't forget it.

Have a task to table Thursday! Do something toward tangibly tasty.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wild Kingdom

Ok, it's not really completely wild. More like semi-sorta-kinda-feels like wild. And it's not a kingdom, it's a queendom. My yard; that's what I'm going on about here.

Yesterday afternoon
That bird? The hawkish raptor predator bird I've been trying to photograph, the one who showed up and then was out of here for awhile? He's back and he's not alone. I think he was busy with some kids. Or something. But morning and afternoon, they are circling, diving, and looking for chicken on the claw. And I still can't get a good shot of them; they definitely have human radar detector in a strong way.
This morning, I think there were geese flying around with them. I swear, I'm sober.

Is it a goose? Is it a heron? Whatever it is, there were two them, sky dancing with the two hawks. Really.

Yesterday was a gold star day for one very big (and very heavy and very visually obstructive) reason. I was sitting in the gazebo with a friend, pondering how to get the gigantic beast of a refrigerator - a refrigerator I was very grateful to have when I needed it and not so glad about when I didn't - out of the huge amount of space it was taking, a conversation I've had way too many times.

She suggested asking my very strong neighbor to move it, which I'd not even considered. The universe works in obvious synchronicity at times: my neighbor appeared on the hill at that very moment. Even I wasn't blind enough to miss the opportunity - I went and asked him, he said yes. Hooray! I went about some errands in town, dancing on the inside.

When I got home, to my stunnedness, there was the fridge, on the side of the road for pick up (it works, by the way, and while it is ugly, if you need an outdoor fridge, take it!!), as requested. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but right now, there it was. Finding a spaceship landed in the exact spot, a polar bear licking out the trash barrel, a clown on a carousel felt like that.

Hie me to the gazebo! where it was instant rearranging of real (as in, not plastic) furniture and there I sat. And got up. And sat in another chair. And looked around. And had a cocktail. And watched the chickens (now that I could see the chickens). And gazed at the water. From both sides. I had my living room again!

From this view

From that view

Sorry Cocky Locky, she's busy with her dust bath. You're never getting in. Never.

From this view close up

From...never mind

I was out there a long time. You get the idea.

I wrote this yesterday, but I'll put it here now. One, because it might explain things a bit and two, just because. The joy of the gazebo (built for Johnny Padron's birthday when he was - I don't remember for sure, 93 maybe? He's 100 now!) is that it's real rough around the reality edges but it does keep the sun out! My casita/shack and this land used to be a fishing camp for the old guard here, 50 years ago. I'm blessed to live here now and have a few of those fishermen still around as friends who know how much I love this land and this island.

Fortunately, around here, being outside is pretty much do-able year 'round. Unless you are driven in by mosquitoes. Or lack of a fan to stir humid heavy air. But at this time of year, the mozzies aren't bad and the air is delicious. Life is good.

This has nothing to do with anything except growing things experimentally. I cut the scallions way too short but it doesn't matter, they are regrowing themselves anyway! 
Tomorrow will be about growing things. Like clowns on carousel unicorns. 

Have a peacably wild Wednesday. Do something well.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simple Sunday ~ Culebra

The Little Girl and The Moon

once upon a time there was a little girl.
she liked to sit outside at night and talk to the moon.
everynight she kept the moon company.
one night she noticed the moon seemed tired, so
she climbed upon the roof, to tell the moon a secret.
the old moon smiled, so she reaches up
takes the moon in her hands and puts him in her pocket.
then she climbs down and goes into her house, up the stairs
to her room.there she takes the moon out and lets it lay on
her bed. for hours they talked, told secrets and giggled.
then they heard people asking where the moon was.
outside was so dark, they couldnt find their ways.
the old moon says to the little girl
'maybe you should put me back into the sky,
so the people can find their way home at night'.
the little girl she picks up the moon,
puts him back into her pocket.
she walks downstairs and goes outside.
it was very dark, but she wasnt afraid,
she had her friend the moon to help
show her the way.
she climbs back upon the roof, takes the moon out
of her pocket. holding him with both hands
she tells the moon'i love you,
we will still talk every night, but you must go back
give people light at nightime'.
she leans over kisses the moon goodnight.
then reaches back and tosses the moon
hard as she could back into the
nightime sky.
then the little girl and the moon hear, all the people
shouting and laughing.
after everything quietened down
the stars who were so happy the moon returned
all gave the moon kisses.
the little girl climbed down
with the moon lighting her way
went inside up to her room
took one last peek out
blowing the moon a big kiss goodnight.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Set It Up Saturday!

Today I'll be sitting streetside with some hot sauce, along with various and sundry odds and ends, a peddler if you will. Maybe I'll see you! No, no bread yet, sorry. Yes, this was a unpaid commercial, and I approve.

Full on the 25th!
Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon, Trapper's Moon, Budding Moon, Bony Moon, Little Famine Moon, Raccoon Moon. Moon When Trees Pop, Moon of Ice, and Storm Moon are a few of the very descriptive names from various cultures for the February full moon. Doesn't anyone in tropical climates name the moon? Should we have a contest? You could win the moon!

In boats, there is no normal.
I love the way light works its magic, telescoping the world in whatever is the opposite of a kaleidoscope's shattering refractions.  Those days when far is near and near is almost blindingly close, with clarity turning even my old eyes into super-hero vision.

Remember Highlights for Children Hidden Pictures? How many airplanes do you see>
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, dawning fast turning to sunrise, the air blanket weight bare foot cool. Outside my window, on the edge of the hill, grey is turning to orange, with flashes of blue. The chicks are calling my poetically. 'Food server! Food server! Now! Now!' At least the cat has the grace to pretend she'd like a bit of a snuggle first.

Have a set yourself up for a sated Saturday! Do something supreme-o!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Free Range Friday ~ Culebra

Today's free range menu is brought to you by Extreme Randomness. It can't be bought in a store near you, but it can be sampled almost everywhere. Especially here.

If you have a lot to do today, you better start early. Bonus? Sunrise from dawning.
Small islands, and probably small towns anywhere in the world, have a commonality in the markets, even if you have the most exotic market ever (and I'm jealous, trust me). I've mentioned this before, but it comes up again once in awhile...the Stare. It's the same stare you have gazing into your refrigerator, sure that if you look long enough, something new will be in there that is exactly what you want, not the same old things you yourself put there.

So I was wandering the aisles of Milka, with The Stare and after walking by it a few times saw Goya Mole (Moh-lay). I love mole, its complex flavors of spice and chocolate, nuts and did I mention spice? It's a rich dish, and well worth trying, if you haven't before. The first time I bought this (and actually, the last time too, out in Texas with Jack) the jar isn't a screw top, it ends up being an extra glass, with a press down top. But this is what I found and this is what I bought.

It's Cheater's Mole, if you will. I've had 'from scratch' mole before, once. And I've made it myself. Once. You'll see why after reading this recipe, which is as close to the real deal I had, living in a Mexican neighborhood, the first meal prepared by Mexican woman I worked with who had grandma recipes. It's fun to make it, if you have a long day. Otherwise, Cheater's Mole. Found in a jar. This time, a Goya jar. And no, Goya is not a sponsor. Though they should be!

The ingredients in this are about as close to the real deal as you get
 MJ's Cheater's Mole -

Chicken thighs (how many are you feeding? Two thighs per person would be about right) or other chicken pieces if you must.
Mole in a jar (you might not find Goya, but there are others just as good, most likely in the Mexican section of your market if you are not lucky enough to have a Mexican market)
Water or chicken broth - of course, broth is better
2 T. olive oil
Minced onion for garnish
Avocado (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, closer to high than medium, cast iron preferably, but something heavy enough to not scorch and stick, it's going to be cooking awhile. Brown the chicken on both sides. Remove the chicken and set aside. Lower the heat to medium.

Take a couple of generous tablespoons of the mole and put it in the pan along with twice the amount of water or chicken broth. Stir until the mole is smooth.

Return the chicken and continue to cook over a simmering heat. You can cook this for another 15 to 20 minutes or cook it another hour, depending on how much you want your chicken to fall off the bone. I like the longer cooking time.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare your rice. Rice is 2 to 1 pretty much, no matter what type you cook, 2 parts water to one part rice. In this case, I steal a little of the mole sauce and add it to the rice water. Bring the rice and water to a boil, let it boil up to five minutes. Put it on simmer, covered, for another ten minutes and then shut it down. In another 15 minutes or so, you should have perfect rice.

Try to time your rice to be done the same time as your chicken. Synchronicity is a beautiful thing in cooking.

You can make a bed of rice and put the chicken with the mole sauce on top, or mix it up, like I did. For a dinner party, best to keep them separate and let each guest serve themselves, with the garnishes, onion and avocado slices, on the side.

Buen provecho!

Happy Hour at Dinghy Dock found me with some Maine friends I always look forward to seeing and hanging out with. Unfortunately, the female side of the couples weren't there, one down with a pinched nerve (exciting vacations on Culebra aren't for the faint of heart) and one with some beach tired kids, at least that's the story I heard, Johnna! Hoping you're healed up soon, Vickie. Take a pillow for the plane!

It was also Mike's birthday, a fun stumble into surprise. Balloon John had been busy!

Helena was there, emulating her Dad!

How cool is that beard? AND it's a banyan tree root! So I was told.
And finally, the finally finished project I showed here quite awhile back of the door counter and homemade sink. This came about as Francie and I were doing some renovation on a friends casita. The kitchen counter sort of fell apart in my hands, made of whatever that stuff is that eventually turns to mush around here. A solution was needed. This is what we came up with, though Francie did the extremely creative work.

Take one solid wood door with recessed panels. Build legs for it. Cut a hole in it for a sink. Built a sink to fit the hole out of wood that you seal with epoxy. Cut a drain hole in that sink. Cover the entire sink with broken tile, grout it, seal it. Take more tile (all of this tile was laying around from other projects) and set it into the recessed panels, grout it in there.

And wa-la! You have a really cute, very unique kitchen. A curtain will cover the under the sink bits but over all, it's done! Of course I left out install of the faucet, the tearing down old cupboards, building more counter space and shelfs with other recycled bits, but there's that too. For a small space, it's a big little kitchen.

And there you have it. If you have to build a kitchen to cook your chicken mole, so be it, now you know what to do for both.

Have a find and fix your freedom Friday! Do something flexible.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Open Letter of Deeply Heartfelt Thanks

To the Honorable Mayor of Culebra, Ivan Solis, Auturo, head of Culebra's Municipal Defense, Mario Albert, Seguido , the young Pastor and the other Gentlemen who assisted in Timmy Larson's burial yesterday:

As I spent time fruitlessly yesterday afternoon searching for phone numbers to find a member of Timmy's family, I was motivated by my and others' biggest fear; that his remains would be disposed of anonymously, somewhere on the big island, unknown to us and any family we will hopefully find.

I was just getting ready to head to the clinic to see if any more information could be found when I got a call from Mary Ann, who had just gotten a call from Lourdes, saying that Timmy's remains were being taken, as we spoke, to the cemetery for burial. After confirming that information with Lourdes, I really didn't know what to do next, so I stood on the roadside awhile, waiting for a vehicle that looked 'right' to come by. Nothing happened so I decided to walk over to the cemetery and wait.

Thank you all so much, for your gentle respect
 (I know it might be weird to have these photos here, it felt strange to take them, but I don't know another way to share and identify those who were so kind - though not all are pictured -  as well as for those who couldn't be there)

Half way there, Mario and another gentleman (Lo siento! I don't remember your name) pulled up beside me. You both were transporting Timmy's remains and let me have a ride, explaining that you were sorry there hadn't been more time to let people know, but that Ivan wanted Timmy given a dignified burial here on Culebra and the decision was made to do this now. He had been returned here from the funeral home on the big island and we have no means here of holding remains safely for any length of time.

Thank you, Seguido (sorry if that is misspelled), for being the liaison between Culebra and the funeral home on the big island. The simplicity of the coffin was so perfectly Timmy.

I asked if I could try to reach a few people and was told that was no problem. You all told me that would be fine to wait, even if it was an hour or more. I managed to get in touch with a few people who came to say farewell (I apologize for not reaching more, frankly, I was a little shaken and not in full organizational mode).

Pastor, you gave a lovely message of comfort and consolation; we were touched and moved by your sincerity. Auturo, your message from the Mayor still brings tears to my eyes. The decision to bring Timmy home, because of not being able to locate his blood family, but to be taken care of by his Culebra family, including taking on the financial aspect - I still don't really have words to express what that means to us, and how Timmy would have been so honored and so surprised. That you mentioned always seeing him walk about, with his little dog, and that while you didn't know him well, you knew him as part of the family of Culebra... We will never forget that gesture and honor for our friend.

To the young man who translated, word for word, sentence by sentence, the little sermon and the message from the Mayor, thank you so much.  Again, I'm sorry I don't have a memory for names.

That all this would have been done regardless of our presence, that it was arranged for there to be a Pastor, as well as representatives of the Municipality, means, again, more than mere words can express.

The young man kneeling is the Pastor
We shall, as you all invited us to do, have a memorial for him up on that hill, with that beautiful view. You all are welcome on that day, and we will let you know when. But for now, I myself and speaking for others I know feel the same, thank you deeply from our hearts for doing this for Timmy. Bless you all.

With respect and thankfullness,

MJ & friends of Timmy

p.s. To the young couple on the tandem bike who offered to ride me over to the cemetery, and who got a big dose of the real Culebra, I thank you again and hope you understand even more what you've felt and enjoyed since you got on the island. There is a heartbeat here, the rhythm of which  certain people tune into immediately, and you are two of those people.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

He Was a One-er

I met Timmy not long after I got to Culebra.  He was managing one of Peter Ytrakis' properties, or maybe all of them, back then. Spunky drunky talker with a history I half believed and half laughed about. Over the years he was always ready to lend a hand if I needed one, which didn't happen often but when in need he was there, thin and wiry and a lot stronger than he looked.

For years, he had his poor old beat up Zippy with him and they were a regular sight, walking around town, doing odd jobs here and there. And there and here. Zippy died from poisoning and I wrote about her in this blog post, almost exactly a year ago.

He moved, with Auturo (3 points if you remember Auturo), to St. Croix and lived there a few years, but he came back here when he got sick. PR has great health care when you're broke.

With Timmy having advanced cancer, I didn't think he'd be around long. He'd abused his body for a long, long time. But he surprised a lot of us, only during the really bad times would you not see him heading to Happy Landing or Randaluz, even after the trach. He'd refuse rides to the clinic, saying the walk was good for him. I don't know how he did it, but he did.

A year ago, Timmy up on the hill helping fight the fire, even when he could barely breathe. ~photo credit: Mary Ann Lucking
Thanks, Mary Ann, for reminding me about this photo! This was a year ago to the day that Timmy left us.

Pan did the yeoman's job of caring for Timmy during the worst times and Steph stepped in while Pan has been gone. He was a fortunate man that way. Culebra has had more than its share of fortunate people who, but for the grace of devoted friends, would die alone. That's a weird sentence, but if you live here, you'll understand.

Just like him to pop off and have only a few people, who happened to be at the clinic, know he was gone. Word is trickling down now and maybe we'll know more soon. But Timmy lived a pretty quiet life here, and went out just as quietly, so who knows?

Rest in peace, Timmy. The road you chose wasn't the easiest, but you almost always had a smile on your face and a good word for everyone, you stubborn bastard.

p.s. If you have Timmy stories and want to share them here, that would be great!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

About That Holiday...

I remembered everything about Presidents' Day except that our good Doctor would not be in his office for a chat. I didn't realize I didn't remember until I was almost in town and was, thankfully, reminded by someone with a younger, better functioning memory than my own. But why waste a perfectly good trip to town when I could go walkabout rather than immediately turning around and going home? There is always something and/or someone to see there and the time was already taken. Exchanging activities is like changing shoes; it only depends on what you decide you need to be doing.

When the first person I saw was Don Jose, working on his ships, I knew there really was no error made.

I hadn't been to the public dock for a while. Anything can be going on there; this early in the morning, it was quiet and peaceful. Something about that is contagious if you stay still long enough to catch it. I almost did.

Sun and clouds played tag all day, teasing us with light and shadow, and cloud formations dwarfing the land and the sea. Not too easy, that.

Back on earth, this youngster was crashing through the bush. I'm not sure I've ever seen an iguana move so fast. I told him that wasn't a bad idea, since I've seen enough iguanas lately who didn't move fast enough and then never moved again after encounters with humans driving vehicles thoughtlessly. I still don't get being in such a hurry here, one more minute to get to a destination probably will not end the world.

Back at home, the orchids had exploded open. One day I really will sit and watch this happen, as it only takes hours to go from tightly closed but for a bit of frill to fully opened thrill. I've certainly spent less productive hours like errant coins in my pocket.

Have a taste the topnote Tuesday. Do something  that takes tiptoes to touch.