Bounty of the Finca and Food for the Soul

Posted by Cassie


Fruit salad
We have been making lots of fruit salads (like this 100% home-grown one)!

Though we can grow food year-round here in Puerto Rico, summer definitely gives us an extra boost in abundance. Here in Rincón it is mango season and avocado season is just around the corner, but those two main crops are not the only things! At our little finca we are harvesting so many bananas, quenepas and passionfruit we just can’t keep up with eating them all!

Bounty of the finca 1
A bounty filled with eggs, bananas, quenepas, passionfruit, mangoes, and sapodilla

We had thought about bringing some to the farmer’s market since we couldn’t eat them all, but we never did. So we decided to go around and drop some fruit off with friends and neighbors. People were so grateful it was incredible! It is amazing how sharing your abundance creates a reciprocal reaction. Our neighbors gave us mustard greens and avocados or said they would bring down plantains later, other friends offered starfruit, the mail people were super excited about the fruit, especially the passionfruit.

One of our friends wrote a beautiful post about being thankful for a meal composed of friends’ gifted food. We randomly gave a guy on a bench a bunch of bananas and he blessed us in Spanish! And our other friends gave us some fruit they had dehydrated and took us around their neighborhood where some empty lots filled with huge ripe mangos and avocados were just dripping off the trees! These are not just regular mangos and avocados but rather varieties I have never seen in my life. Awesome things!

Mango bounty
Just a little of the abundance in return from friends

Massive mango and common
Humongous mango on the left and our little “common” mango on the right

We had so much fun just getting out and handing out a smile and some fruit that the returns we received far exceeded what we gave. It’s a great reminder that giving IS receiving! We are so thankful for the food we can grow and the people and animals we can feed with the food. And when you share your abundance it becomes ”soul food”; it nourishes the soul as well as the body! What’s even more cool in this simple cycle of giving is that all of our banana trees were also gifted to us by friends! Abundance and gratitude all around!

BK Bananas
These banana bunches are HUGE and HEAVY!

And a pineapple soon to be harvested!

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Solar Power…or Not?

Posted by Cassie

The cabin is coming together nicely. We have been chugging through some of the tasks that we can tackle on our own like the tar paper, hurricane clips, lag bolts, collar ties, the stairway and making new trails.

Cool cabin
Cabin Currently with stairs and tar paper

We are always thinking and planning two or three steps out, however. We are trying to decide what to do for siding and windows and doors. But the big question that has been on our mind is should we go with solar energy or regular grid-tie energy.

When we first started building the cabin we thought solar was our only option since the cabin is so far from any road and tucked up in the jungle. Then we talked with the electrician who built our pedestal and moved the electricity from the old wood house to our cabana and he said he could do it. And all underground too! No unsightly wires hanging in the trees. So this gave us a second option. We have done some research online and visited some solar stores in Puerto Rico as well. But we are still having a hard time making a decision.

Solar panels
Britton checking out some solar panels in Puerto Rico

Each option has its pros and cons and they sort of cancel each other out.

Here are the pros for each option as we see them:

Pros for Regular Electric:
Cheaper to set up (at least half the cost)!
Can use as much electricity as needed without worry of running out
More familiarity
Easier to connect for expansion/building other things
Done by professional -one stop shopping and less hassle for us
Not as many parts to understand/fix if they break
No load on the roof for the panels
Aesthetics (no panels showing)

Pros for Solar:
Not dependent on the expensive energy of Puerto Rico which is currently around 30 cents KW -one of the highest costs in the U.S. and abroad
Make us more conscientious about energy usage if we only had so much
Off-grid living at its finest
Latest technology
Learning opportunity
Could be used in other applications as well
Never have to worry about power outages when everyone else loses power

We were actually just about set to do solar, but then we saw the price tag and how little energy it would actually generate. From Maximo Solar in Aguadilla we got a quote for about $6000 for 1.5 KW/day (assuming 5.5 hours of sunlight). This included pretty much everything including the batteries, inverter, panels, charge controller, and wires. But it did not include the mounting hardware or the battery rack and it did not include installation (which would mean a big learning curve for us).

The most energy efficient fridges use about 1 KW a day and all the other appliances (lights, fans, laptop, point-of-us water heaters, etc) would probably fall under the rest, but we would need to be very energy conscientious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but leaves little wiggle room for a long stint of cloudy days though Rincon is sunnier than many other places on the island. We found other systems online that are slightly less costly, but the shipping to Puerto Rico is outrageous (a rant for another day!).

Hibiscus palm sun kissed
We could all learn more from plants: the ultimate solar energy converters

So we are still sort of weighing the pros and cons and thought we’d put it out there to see if there were any other perspectives we were missing. One of our friends said to do whatever it takes to get solar in order to get out from under AEE’s (the Puerto Rico Electric Company) thumb. But we really haven’t had that much of a problem with them. It’s a tough call. Hmmm. What do you think?

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Million Dollar Views

Posted by Britton

When we were putting together our plan to move to the tropics and more specifically Puerto Rico we would often talk about the reasons for doing so.  Warm climate, different culture/language, early retirement, more self sufficiency and a general idea of breaking out of the mold we were raised in to experience something different and from a different point of view.  Fast forward to having lived here now for approximately a year and a half…. We are living those ideals and it has been an interesting journey in the adjustment to a new perspective that a different culture offers. Specifically in the way different people think about and see the world.

We used to watch the show 30 Rock and there is a fantastic episode about perspectives that helps illustrate the journey of seeing the world through different eyes.

As far as breaking out of the mold we were raised in, it is a gradual process.  Switching from the rat race to a slow pace has been interesting and I find my perspective still shifting between the two philosophies all the time.  The juxtaposition is a self imposed challenge in controlling my thoughts and actions in an effort to fit in and adjust depending on who I talk with.

Is it possible to change the way we see the world from that of Jack to Kenneth or Tracy Jordan amongst others and back depending on when we consciously choose to? Or are we stuck viewing the world the way we always have?

I have noticed a lot of us folks from the states tend to have the Jack Donaghy perspective of looking at things.  No surprise that I find myself with this perspective too.  In this perspective there is a monetary value associated with everything.  As Americans raised in the American school system and surrounded by a consumerist culture, I find that it is very easy to keep score using money as the system has intended for us to do.  Nearly everyone seems to know how to operate in this imaginary sliding scale of value.  Even giving monetary value to things that have no monetary value. Or telling us how successful we are based on our income.

This brings us to the “Million Dollar View.”  It is a term that I have heard from people originally from the states now living in PR.  It has happened enough that I started to wonder how we all acquired this term and why we use it.  I think this is a symptom of the culture in the states of having to associate a dollar amount to show value.   I know exactly what we are all talking about and I agree it is difficult to describe how fantastic life here in PR can be, especially the awesome vistas.  It could cost a million dollars!!

english rose view

But…..It usually doesn’t. In fact nobody pays anywhere close to a million dollars and some of the poorest people have some of the ‘best’ views.  It is more of a $10k-$60k dollar view, or even free, but nobody says that!  It would lose all meaning, “You should see the view, its a $25k dollar view!”.  Doesn’t seem as special now does it?  Same vista but a different view.

I have also noticed that native Puerto Ricans don’t seem to care as much about views and sometimes will just let the trees grow, or build a closet on the side of the house that has the ocean view.   Shade is sometimes more valuable. Vistas just aren’t valued in monetary or social terms as much, which is a HUGE contrast.  It is just part of the backdrop of life here, not something to be defined with a dollar amount anymore than a coconut tree or a patch of grass.  It’s just there.  It starts to raise the question of what is value which I think that 30 Rock episode does a great job of illuminating.  It is different for everyone.

Beach Front for sale
A Beachfront Warehouse!

To us a parcha vine is worth a lot, so are avocado trees and bananas.  The fact that we can pick food off a tree for free vs having to buy it has value to us but not just monetary.  It is a shift from looking at things the way Alec Baldwin’s character does (see the video) and isnt just about the amount of money saved or spent, but rather a sign to living a life not dependent or defined by money and all that it entails. It shifts perspective to just existing.

One thing that seems to puzzle people from the states is that the police drive around with their lights on ALL THE TIME. I’ve heard comments about how hard it is to “catch the bad guys if you announce your location with flashing lights!”.  There is possibly another reason.  What if the perspective that the police are there to bust people is not applicable everywhere?  What if they were there to help?  Wouldn’t it be easier to flag down a patrol car if you needed help if you could see it coming down the road?  Wouldn’t this be a more pleasant way to view police in general?

Perhaps we are becoming a little more like Kenneth where we can just appreciate the simple things.  Notice in the video from Jack’s perspective Kenneth is only valued at $7. Each perspective has an upside and a downside and being able to float between them is really the million dollar view?

The consumerist system wants us to think that we have to buy something new to be happy. We don’t have to buy happiness. Things that are awesome don’t have to cost anything. Look at all the marketing used to sell products; good mood food, good life, cause you’re worth it, open happiness, happy meal, etc.

Just a thought.  The mainstream American culture is here in PR there is no doubt about that, don’t get me wrong.  It is just every once in a while I see differences in the simple things and that has to be worth something right? ;)

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Cabin Deck and Stairs

Posted by Cassie

Lately, Britton and I have been working solo on the cabin deck. We try to hire out only the work that we truly need help with. Otherwise, it’s just us! With setting the deck boards it was pretty smooth sailing until we got to the corner. Because the front deck is 8 foot and the side deck is only 5, we had to recalculate in order to make a nice transition. After a few tries, it finally all came together and I think it turned out great.  We were able to use up all the rest of the extra lumber from the old house!

Britton beginning deck
Britton starting the deck boards

Deck looking south Deck looking north
Front deck looking both ways

The next challenge is in the stairs. We have just started with the stringers and they are a little difficult because of the placement. They can’t just land anywhere, they have to meet at the concrete. So we had to do a lot of measurements in order to make the right cuts. These are some seriously large boards and took both of us to move it on and off the (new) deck multiple times.

Cassie and stair
Holding up the stair board against the front of the deck 

Britton working on stairs
Measure twice, cut once as they say (but that would be too easy right?)

We are looking forward to having stairs both for access and as an extra brace for the house. Multi-purpose! We have also been working on lots of landscaping and maintenance and have added a few things to our garden (more on that to come). The animals are doing great as well. All in all things are coming along slowly but surely.

Cabin with deck
Cabin with paneling and deck

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