Tuesday, March 28, 2017

$400/Month Grocery & Sundries Budget For Two

One of my ongoing goals is to get my grocery bill down.  Part of the reason I couldn't do this while I was on the road is because I didn't have a local address to have stuff shipped to.  Now that I'm settling down in one place it's the perfect time to get this going.

I regularly spend $600 to $800 per month on groceries.  I know this because I budget $500, but blow that before the middle of the month, and then use all my small checks for more groceries.  What I mean is, I get a big royalty payment from Amazon once a month, which is what I live on.  But I also get little payments from Google, Smashwords, and Audible starting on the 17th.

All of those 'little' checks, which range from $120-$400, go straight to the grocery store (and gas station to a lesser extent).  I always intend to have them go into my savings account but they never get there.

So here it is, my $400/month for two budget.  This is a Grocery and Sundries budget.  I often see sites saying 'Groceries for $200/month' and then they just go into how to save on your food bill.  For me groceries are EVERYTHING you buy at a grocery store.

Some notes: 
  • I need large amounts of carbonated water.  I am constantly fighting dehydration due to the lack of a large intestine. I can't give any scientific proof for what I'm about to say, but I can drink still water until my stomach is gurgling with it and I will still feel thirst and have the symptoms of dehydration (leg cramps, chapped lips, headaches).  With carbonated water I actually get hydration.  I really need it, and that's why it takes so much of the food budget.  There is no place where I can exchange Sodastream tanks here.
  • I make one meal a day that becomes both lunch at noon and dinner in the evening.  Cooking a big meal twice in a tiny RV kitchen, where water and grey water space is at a premium, was not feasible.  I've done it like this since we started full-timing and will continue since it's just easier for me and the dish washer.
  • The prunes are a mandatory must-have for my mom.
  • My mom is the only one who eats a breakfasty breakfast.  I wake up when it's time to make her lunch, so I eat lunch for breakfast.  (I stay up late writing.)
  • This budget is for 31 days, so it will be slightly less during shorter months.
  • Walmart.com has better prices than Amazon.com on many things and gives free shipping on most items once your total is over $35.  (For USA only, sorry).  I've linked to the exact products I intend to buy on Walmart.com or Amazon.com where applicable.  The stuff without links will be bought at local grocery stores.  Getting non-perishables online with free shipping is a great option, and often cheaper than in the stores.
  • You can't buy this all at once or the fresh stuff will spoil.  I'm probably going to plan to go shopping once a week, or every two weeks.  
  • I put my recipes at the end.
  • This budget is going to be less than what's stated because I allow for buying things many people already have handy.
Okay, sorry for all that blabbering.  Here it is:

Breakfast Foods
2 Drums of 42oz Oats  $4.96
4 Drums of 18oz Prunes  $15.76
4 Bunches of Bananas  $8.00
1 Tub of Folgers 30.5oz Coffee  $8.47
1 Coffee Creamer 16oz  $3.17 (My mom uses this to whiten her coffee)
2 Cans Evaporated Milk  $2.00 (This is what I use for my coffee)
1 Box 250 Packets Coffee Sweetener  $2.15

Breakfast Total -  $44.51

Lunch/Dinner Foods
14 Pounds of Chicken  $17.50
14 Pounds of Pork $21
5 Kielbasas $11.50
2 Dozen Eggs $4
1 Bag of Hamburger Patties $9
1 Package of Sandwich Meat $2.50
2 Packages of Hotdogs $4

8 Cans of Tuna  $5.92
1 Package of Flour Tortillas $1.58
1 Loaf of Wheat Bread $1
8 Packages of Ramen $1.50
10 Pounds of Rice $5.69
6 Boxes of Mac and Cheese $3.24
10 Cans of Pinto Beans $7
2 Cans Refried Beans $1.70
4 Cans of Green Beans $2.78
2 Cans of Bamboo $2
5 Cans of Peas $3.75
5 Small 8oz Cans of Tomato Sauce  $2.20
1 Jar Minced Garlic $1.98
1 Bottle Soy Sauce $1.88
2 Stir Fry Seasoning Packets $1.56
5 Fried Rice Seasoning Packets $4.90
1 Jar Goya Adobo Seasoning $1.82

5 Bunches Fresh Cilantro $5
2 Bags of Onions $4
3 Bags of Potatoes 5lbs $3
4 Bags Spinach $6
4 Zucchinis $4
1 Head Lettuce $1
1 Pound of Tomatoes $1
1 Pound of Cheese $2.50
3 Cans Evaporated Milk $3
1 Box of Salted Butter $2.50
5 Bags Frozen Broccoli $7.50
5 Bags Frozen Brussel Sprouts $7.50
4 Bags Frozen Cauliflower $6
1 Drum of Corn Starch $1.18

Lunch/Dinner Total -  $174.18

1 Case of Still Water $2.95
3 12-Packs of Diet Soda $10
22 6-Packs of Sparkling Water $60.94

Beverage Total -  $73.89

Snacks/Other Food
1 Bag of Flour $1.74
1 Bag of Sugar $1.86
1 Box Powdered Milk $6.98
1 Bag Chocolate Chips $1.88
1 Bag Brown Sugar $1.98
1 Bottle Vanilla Extract $1.98
1 Drum of Baking Powder $1.82
1 Box of Baking Soda $.72
1 Box of Raisins $1.94
1 Bag of Apples $3.50
3 Jars of Jam $5.94

Snacks/Other Food Total - $30.34

Cleaning Supplies & Bathroom Stuff
36 Rolls of Cottonelle Toilet Paper $18.99
1 Feminine Hygiene (um...you know) $3.74
1 Box of Trash Bags  $4.44
1 Bottle of Laundry Detergent $5
1 Bottle of Dish Detergent $1
1 Toilet Cleaner $2
2 Rolls of Paper Towels $2
2 Bars of Soap $1.47
1 Set of Shampoo and Conditioner $4.98
1 Container of Disinfecting Wipes $2.27
1 Tube of Toothpaste $1.96
1 Thing of Hand Soap  $.98

Cleaning Supplies & Bathroom Stuff Total - $48.83

Cat Stuff
32 Cans of Wet Cat Food $14.72
1 Bag of Dry Cat Food $3.74
1 Tub of Cat Treats $7.24
2 Bags of Cat Litter $8.86

Cat Stuff Total - $34.56

GRAND TOTAL:   $406.31

I'm not too worried about being a little over because I have a lot of stuff on this list already.  For anyone who wandered here looking for an idea for a grocery budget I'm sure you have some stuff or may not need some of the stuff I need.  I'm sure we can all get this below $400.

Okay, so we have this big list of food.  How do I intend to use it?  I plan on making a few main dishes.  Here's what I'll do with the food:

Rice and Beans with Kielbasa
1 Kielbasa Cut up
1 Bunch Chopped Cilantro (cut off the stems)
2 Cans of Pinto Beans
1 Tablespoon Garlic
1 Diced Onion
1 Bag Frozen Broccoli
1 Teaspoon Adobo
1 Small Can Tomato Sauce
2 Cups Rice

Cook the rice in 4 cups of water in a rice cooker or boil in a pot with a lid that has a hole in it.  If you don't have a lid with a hole, then crack the lid a little on the edge of the pan so steam comes out.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to super low heat until the water is absorbed by the rice.

Brown the Kielbasa in a large skillet or wok and then set aside.  Dump your diced onion in the Kielbasa grease with the cilantro, garlic, broccoli, adobo, and a cup of water.  Simmer until the onion is translucent.  Add the beans and tomato sauce and bring back to a boil, stirring so it doesn't burn.  Turn off the heat and mix in the Kielbasa.  Combine with the rice and serve. I'll make this 5 days.

Mashed Potato Mofongo With Chicken
2 Pounds Peeled Potatoes
2 Pounds Chicken
Half a Can of Evaporated Milk
Green beans

Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish that doesn't use potatoes...but that's what's cheap and available, so we're using it.  Make mashed potatoes using evaporated milk instead of regular...because it's cheaper than regular milk and never goes bad.  Cook the chicken after seasoning it well with the Adobo.  Shape the mashed potatoes into a bowl and put the chicken on top.  Serve with canned green beans. I'll make this four days.

Chicken or Pork Fried Rice
2 Pounds Chicken or Pork, Cubed
1 Can of Peas
1 Diced Onion
2 Eggs
1 Packet of Fried Rice Seasoning
3 Cups Cooked Rice

For this one you follow the instructions on the packet.  I add in the onion and peas regardless if it says to or not.  Make sure to saute the onions before adding in anything else.  I'll make this 5 days.

Loco Moco With Spinach
This is a bowl of cooked rice, topped with cooked spinach, topped with a cooked hamburger patty, topped with a fried egg, topped with brown gravy.  For the gravy: dissolve a heaping table spoon of cornstarch in a cup of water.  Add some broth base and soy sauce and boil until it thickens.  I'll make this two days.

Tuna Macaroni and Cheese
This is boxed macaroni and cheese with canned tuna and cooked broccoli added in.  I'll make this five days.

Chicken or Pork Stirfry
Cubed Pork or Chicken
Stir Fry Packet
Follow the directions on the packet using the zucchini, bamboo, and onion as your vegetables.  Serve with rice.  I'll make this two days.

Sandwich Day
This is what the bread, cheese, lettuce, tomato and lunch meat is for.  You should expect to have four meals be sandwiches for two people (8 meals total).  They don't have to be on the same day.  Have it with cooked and buttered cauliflower.   I'll make this two days.

Ramen Stew
Two packages of Ramen with sliced chicken or pork and brussel sprouts.  I'll make this four days.

Smear a tortilla with refried beans and shredded cheese.  Add in a grilled hotdog or two.  Fold up the tortilla like a burrito and heat it in a pan.  It's a hotdog burrito.  What, you want something better?  This is eating cheap people.  (Salsa or a hot sauce packet from Taco Bell makes this delish.)  Have it with cooked and buttered cauliflower.  I'll make this two days.

Add up all those days and this is lunch and dinner for 31 days.  (Eating the same thing for both lunch and dinner, as I said before.)

For breakfast:  Get a yogurt maker and use the powdered milk to make your own yogurt.  For yogurt starter you just buy a plain tub of yogurt and add a little in to each cup.  Once you start your own you can technically use your own yogurt as starter, but I find it grows thin after a while.  You may need to keep one tub of yogurt in the machine for two yogurt-making sessions in order to get a culture thick enough to make starter with.  Mix a forth of a cup of oats with a cup of yogurt, add sliced banana and/or jam, stir it up, and then put it in the fridge overnight.  My mom will have it with prunes in the morning.

For snacks and treats:    All that flour, sugar, and baking stuff is to make Homemade Chocolate Chip cookies and Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  Then you'll also have Homemade yogurt with the jam.  With all this stuff in the house there's never a reason to jones for something sweet and run to the convenience store.  Make your own sweets.  And also have an apple every once in a while. 


Friday, March 24, 2017

Back at the Intentional Community

We got back to the Intentional Community two days ago.  We dropped in unexpectedly since I didn't know when we were going to get back.  We've basically just hung out in the RV and tried not to make a nuisance of ourselves.

Other than that life has been boring and windy.  My mom and I both have the sniffles from the drastic change in weather.  I'm trying to get out my next book installment, and might be getting involved with the theater here.  There probably won't be many updates from here on.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Heading Back To New Mexico

So we've been back for seven days now.  We stayed at the state park near New Orleans for three days of decompression, then I tried to get back to New Mexico in four days.

It didn't work.  The first night we were in Breau Bridge again, but this time at Crawfish City, a restaurant with RV parking who allowed us to stay over night.  Then we went to the Sam Houston National Forest to overnight at the equestrian parking area again.

After that I tried to make it all the way across Texas, but lost steam in Temple.  Lo and behold I got misdirected by Garmin and ended up at an RV park we stayed at last time we were in the area.  I pulled in, too exhausted to go further.  Recovery occurred last night.  Then this morning I found I was still too beat up to continue.  We paid for a second night and are still here.

After this two day rest I should be able to complete the final leg of my final journey.  I say final journey because we're headed back to the Intentional Community to buy land and park the RV permanently.

I'm done traveling.  I want to get back to homesteading and be in a nice community where I won't get lonely.

But we're keeping the RV.  We'll stay mobile in case we ever need to get on the move again.

Tomorrow we will camp in Junction Texas.  Then one more Texas stop, and we'll be 'Home' at the commune on the Mexico border.

I can't wait to start this new chapter of my life.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Puerto Rico Day 4

I'm glad I wrote up these posts while I was still on the island.  I've been back a few days now and I don't want to write anything!  I've been really busy catching up with my work.

This is what they call Equal (the stuff you put in your coffee) in Puerto Rico

That metal thing up there is a Puerto Rican water heater. 
Let's have tape on the electrical wire there to help make it extra dangerous.

I was seriously looking forward to today because we were visiting my youngest cousin Diana.  She’s only 22, her mother’s last child had 10 years after her closest sibling.  My aunt Gesela was 45 when she had her.  I was 16, and I knew Gesela was desperately poor.  My mother and I discussed adopting this baby to help Gesela, who had three other children she had difficulty supporting.  Bringing this baby to the mainland would have seriously increased her life prospects.  My aunt Yamila put this plan to bed pretty quick.  If anyone was going to have custody of that child it was her.  She won custody of her twelve years later and raised her into adulthood.

Another street scene

I met her when she was a little girl 12 years ago.  The ten year old was kind and adorable, and so amazed she had all these white relatives she never knew about.  My brother had come with us on that visit and was enchanted by her.  We all put a lot of hope into that little girl

When Diana’s older sister was murdered her mother had a breakdown and Yamila got custody, as she always wanted.  Diana went from desperately poor to middle class.  She prospered.  I bought her a laptop when she graduated high school to assist her in Dental Hygienist school.  The school didn’t work out, but Diana did.

Diana's House. Her rent is $300/month!!

I met my now 22 year old cousin who shares a house rental with Yamila’s husband’s granddaughter.  They’re doing great!  My little cousin speaks Internet, works at a good paying job, has her own beautiful home with her once removed step-cousin, and is extremely active in her church.  She adopted the Jehova’s Witness faith with a vengeance when she lived with Yamila, who has been a devout JW for decades.  Her roommate is also a JW who speaks perfect English.

Diana's bedroom

Diana speaks English too!!  For the first time I was able to have a clear conversation with one of my relatives.  ;_;  Diana is SO KIND!  She’s thin and beautiful, an independent go-getter.  I’m so proud of her!

Keep in mind, her older sister and mother were never capable of holding jobs.  Her older brother is working, but still living at home.  (He’s another story.  From the gossip it doesn’t seem he’s helping his poor mother that much.  I’m sad he doesn’t step up.)

Diana took us to a café in the mountains where coffee is grown.  Coffee is one of the major industries of Puerto Rico…or it used to be.  I’m not sure what the state of that industry is now, but at that café I had the best cup of coffee I ever had in my life.  It was so smooth!  My mother and I were both enraptured.  

Coffee Fruit

The views and antique coffee machines were neat, too, but the best thing was my cousin.  Healthy.  Thin.  Beautiful.  THRIVING!  She broke the cycle of her family, and I’m so glad.  I hope to have a lifelong friendship with her. 
Antique Coffee machine

Diana, like most of the Abraham females, is not romantic.  She’s not looking for a boyfriend or husband.  This is so like us.  We’re not man-chasers. 

Yamila was feuding with Diana, and my cousin only agreed to the visit to see us.  She didn’t want to fight with her aunt anymore.  Her aunt, in turn, packed up all the stuff Diana had left at her house and loaded it into our SUV.  It was a move done in anger, and she didn’t tell her she was doing it.  Fortunately, Diana was overjoyed to have all her old stuff.  And, also fortunately, her and Yamila made up during our visit.  At first Yamila wouldn’t eat her food, but the talked and talked alone in the kitchen while her roommate conversed with me and my mom.  When Yamila came out of the kitchen she asked for a plate.  Then everyone spoke in happy boisterous tones.  When we said goodbye Yamila hugged her and kissed her cheek.  (They hadn’t hugged when they greeted each other).

Her roommate works at home as a translater.  I thought that was so cool.  Diana makes me want to move to Puerto Rico and see the life she lives first hand.  I love her mountain city best out of all the places we’ve been so far.

Puerto Rico is an amazing place.  Yamila wants us to live with her.  We have rooms.  Her husband considers us family.  We would be great caretakers of them both, as they are both declining and Alejo may not be able to see well enough to drive very soon.  We could also do so much with their fertile land.  Sometimes I daydream about just giving up everything in the USA and staying here.

But paradise isn’t perfect.  We were eaten by bugs when we walked around Yamila’s yard.  One of the members of Diana’s church has Zika, and we hope we won’t catch it while we’re here.  The crime is another concern.  It’s not a matter of if we’ll be robbed, but when.  Yamila’s house was broken into and their gold stolen.  She’s had chickens and rabbits stolen from her yard so often she refuses to keep anymore.  One day her and her husband returned home to find all of a certain kind of tuber dug up and stolen from their yard.  Without any remaining plants the tuber no longer grows for them. 

When I was in the mall I noticed all the women had their purse straps swung over their heads so a purse-snatcher can’t yank it off their shoulders.  My uncle was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight in a super market parking lot.  Everywhere there are signs of high crime.  I’ve yet to drive through a neighborhood that didn’t have decorative bars on the doors and windows.  Every parking lot has ‘Not liable for stolen items’ signs.  The news is filled with carjackings and murders in the towns we’d been visiting.  And, as I said, we never go anywhere after dark.

The government is corrupt in an even more amplified way than the USA government.  Every politician is the son or daughter of someone else in office, like little dynasties.  We passed a windfarm when we were with Norma and commented on how nice it is that they’re using alternative energy.  That’s when I was informed the giant wind turbines aren’t powering anything.  The Electric company lobby shut the project down.  The politicians claimed they had to stop it because wind turbines are bad for the environment.  This is after they were already built!

Puerto Ricans are very politically active and virulently protest the corruption.  The nightly news shames them, like saying a politician hired his friends as ‘consultants’ and gave them all $80k/year salaries.  They gave his phone number and told people to call him and complain.  They did the same 12 years ago.  It isn’t working. 

When I first visited the island there were ‘publicos’ or mini-buses run by people with vans that would pick people up and take them where they needed to go.  I rode on one with my mom, and that’s how we first tracked down Yamila’s husband’s brother and were able to reconnect with the family after she hadn’t heard or seen from them for 20 years.  Publicos were the main form of public transportation.  So many poor people relied on them to get them where they needed to go.  They were safe—as safe as any taxi.  The taxi or bus lobby decided to shut this down, for their benefit.  No Puerto Rican who wasn’t a taxi or bus employee could have possibly wanted this.  Thousands of Puerto Ricans were devastated by them being shut down.  But the politicians pushed it through all the same.  They were beholden to who lined their pockets, not the people. 

The police are useless from all I’ve heard.  The murderer of my cousin was caught, but never charged, never investigated.  The case just fizzled into nothing and nothing happened to him.  One of my uncles was a homeless man who lived under a bridge for many years.  Someone ran him down with their car.  Not an accident.  He told the police he hated homeless people.  He was never charged.  I don’t know what the hell the police do here.  Do they need to be bribed or something? 

All of this crap doesn’t mean this is a bad island.  Puerto Rico is amazing, and if I didn’t have the RV I would truly consider just dropping everything and moving here.  Even with the crime.  Seriously.  Crime is a concern, but not like bombing in Syria.  You’re not in constant danger everywhere you go.  You’re more likely to find kind friendly people than criminals.  Every time we stood in line the person in front of us would turn around to smile and join in our conversations.  If you ask anyone for help they drop everything and go help you above and beyond what you’d ever expect. 

All the cars I’ve seen in PR look new.  All the homes are well kept and the same cute little boxes.  Diana pays $300/month to rent her sweet two bedroom house.  How cool is that?  And her neighbors all know her.  The neighborhoods look out for each other.  Woe unto any criminal who dares come to start shit.

I never felt in danger.  I want to think that if I keep alert I may never be a victim, but frankly, that may not be the case.  Despite the once in a life-time mugging or carjacking I might have to endure I would still live and visit here. 

Puerto Rico is not declining.  It’s not deteriorating.  The people are thriving.  This is just such a wonderful island!

But I'm really glad to be back...

A view from the coffee mountain

Monday, March 13, 2017

Puerto Rico Day 3

Here’s a few things about Puerto Rico.  Most of the houses don’t have addresses…and it seems to be the houses of every person we visit.  There’s no mailboxes.  They give their addresses as the neighborhood and then kilometers and hectometers.  So Livre Secondo K-8 H-3, City Name, PR Zipcode.  No GPS has any idea what that means.

Digitally savvy people, like my cousin Diana, give their addresses as GPS coordinates.  That’s the one address I know I can find, but we won’t be seeing her until tomorrow.

Puerto Rico has three political parties:  Statehood, Status Quo, and Independence.  Every politician is in one of these parties.  The largest party is Statehood, but the most aggressive is Independence.  Whenever there’s a vote for Statehood and the Indepenistas know they’re going to lose they tell their people to vote Status Quo to prevent Statehood from winning.  The average Puerto Rican knows little of Republicans and Democrats.  Trump has very little influence here so far.  No one is worried or even cares that he’s president.  

Pro-Statehood Political Posters on a Post

Puerto Rico has guyaba (guava) and mango as a common flavors for ice cream and candy.  Wild trees of these fruit seem go grow everywhere, along with bananas.  Mangos were hanging over the highway almost low enough to hit the roof of my car.  Everyone I’ve visited has at least two or three banana trees growing in their yards.

Adobo...a seasoning I use on an almost daily basis!  You never find that much Adobo in USA stores.

If you go to a gas station right now you’ll see $.67 for regular and $.78 for premium.  It sounds like a great deal, but the gas is sold in liters.  Fortunately the Velicidad Maximum signs are still miles per hour.  Switching to kilometers would have been rough.

Goya fruit juices in steel cans.

I don’t know what time I woke up, but I’m sure it was after 9pm.  I slept so well in my aunt’s spare bedroom with a fan going.  I thought I’d be sweltering, but March is a great month to visit the island.  It’s a sweet 70 degrees.  The weather reports here give temperature in Fahrenheit.  

I sat across from my aunt’s husband, who is pretty much the only “uncle” I’ve gotten to know well.  Yesterday we went to the horse racing lounge, which is literally in the middle of a neighborhood (with a doctor’s office and a bar here and there for good measure).  I bet $12, and he bet $2.  Then we watched the races and everything lost except one race I bet on for $2 which won $2.90.  -_-  Anyway, he parlayed my winning for a new ticket today.

Another street scene.  It was not easy to keep that rental car from getting damaged.

That’s where he left to as we were going out to start the day’s adventure.  Last time we visited 12 years ago he was forced to chauffeur us around all over the island.  This time he handed that duty to me.  I was proud to be able to take that weight off him.  We’re visiting his wife’s family, not his, after all.  I like driving myself.  The roads are dodgey sometimes, but I think they’re just as good as the ones on the mainland.  I haven’t had any trouble getting around except for the GPS issue.

Before we left I watched the local Spanish-language news.  It went like this:  A reporter reported the facts of an article objectively, looking and sounding very serious.  Next to her was a man in a bright blue suit with red lapels and a hat with a feather.  A ‘character.’  Whenever she reported something she would look at him and ask him what he thought of that.  Then the man would give his very animated and emotional opinion.  The reporter would nod or say, ‘I see.’  Or something else non-commital and then report the next news article.  When she was done she’d ask his opinion again, and he’d go into another rant.  It was like news and editorial and one. 

“Flooding will be happening in the northeast of the island from Rio Piedras from Other City name and people should move inland.  The risk of rogue waves are extremely high, and many highways are already flooded.  This warning will remain in affect until Friday night.  What do you think of this?”

“People must heed these warnings no matter how it inconveniences them.  The fisherman who was swept away on the pier last month refused to listen, saying he had to support his family.  Now he’s dead.  His wife is a widow.  How can he support anyone when he’s dead?  Only the foolish think they know more than the news.  We’re telling you to move inland.  Why must you be stupid!  Listen to us!”

“I see.  In other news…”

A lot of Hispanic TV seems to try to make things more colorful than USA TV.  The other thing my uncle-in-law watched was a Turkish soap opera dubbed in Spanish.  This seems to air four times a day because every time he turns on the TV it’s on.  Caro Paro or something.  The beauty norm from there is apparently light skin, huge dark eyebrows with penciling to make them appear even bigger, and black as midnight hair. 

This is the type of soap opera where a beautiful woman is often being irrational due to some offense against her loved ones, like going after the criminals, rival, corrupt police etc. with a gun she found, and a big strong handsome man has to hug the sense back into her as she weeps on his shoulder.  That’s not to say there isn’t strong female characters, but you never see a man acting irrationally.  If a man goes after someone who wronged him or his people it’s always with manly anger and righteousness.  Women get disarmed and hugged until the realize taking initiative is for men only.

There are movies with Puerto Rican movie stars which are delivered to theaters on Puerto Rico along with American movies.  Keep in mind Puerto Rico has the same population as California on 2/3rds of the land.  So it’s like if a Hollywood movie only released in California.  The market is small, and so is the budget.  The commercial for one I saw was a slideshow with music and text.  No announcer.  It was Island Love Affair, or something to that effect.  It showed the female lead who was apparently a popular Puerto Rican actress, and the same with the male protagonist, and then had some headline I didn’t understand, like ‘Romance, Intrigue, Drama’ or something, and the date it would be in theaters.  This movie might be based on a Puerto Rican telenovella, I’m not really sure.  Puerto Rico’s “Hollywood” makes them, but not as prolifically as Mexico.

These Puerto Rico celebrities show up at the sites of shootings and tragedies to talk to reporters.  Stray bullets hit a church somewhere today.  At the scene was some Puerto Rican star being interviewed.  She talked about how horrible it was.  It seems to be a morbid publicity op that’s common here.  It shows the celebrity ‘cares.’

Anywho, on the agenda today was to meet an aunt I’d never met before, Norma.  This is a half sister of my mother.  She’s almost the same age as my mother, but has a different mother than her.  They had the same father, who died in the great Puerto Rico flood of 1960.  My aunt Yamila said their father ‘pollinated many flowers.’  My grandfather sired 18 children in his short life.  Eight are still alive.  I’ve now met all the females.

I’m a not so young woman who’s childless.  Normally when you meet relatives they would want to know what the deal is.  With my family and extended family when they find out I have no children they just nod knowingly and say, ‘There’s always one.’  For some reason there are one or two Abraham women every generation who never have kids.  Me and my cousin (the one I visited yesterday) are this generation’s spinsters.  In my mother’s generation it was my aunt Yamila.  Before her were two sisters of my grandfather.  Before them was another great great aunt.  We Abraham’s are not romantic people.  Marriage and children are optional.  

My aunt tried to get us to stop at a hospital to meet a worker who she was friends with who wanted to see the gringa (me).  My mom declined before I knew what was going on. 

We continued to pick up Norma in Humacao, the city of my mother’s childhood.  The hospital where she was born is still there in the same spot, and so is the high school she went to.  Both immaculate stone buildings look nothing like the filthy dilapidated places she described from her youth, when she lived in a dirt floor house with no plumbing.  Things have improved tremendously since then, and still haven’t declined significantly.  I expected more poverty and desperation here.  I’m seeing poverty, but no desperation.  Puerto Ricans are a hardy and self-sufficient lot.

We brought Norma to a mall food court to munch and get caught up.  Norma looks 50, even though she’s 68, and is extremely hardy and boisterous.  Much gossip was shared, very little I understood.  I spent my time absorbing my surroundings instead.  This looked like any mall in anywhere America.  People were spending money on cell phones and jewelry.  Puerto Rico is no where near apocalypse-level crisis. 

A Puerto Rican Mall
There’s still tremendous crime.  When my aunt’s husband first came to get us in a super-market parking lot I tried to show him the prime rib I’d bought him and my aunt.  He shut the trunk of our rental and told me to hurry up and get in the car.  He’d been mugged at gunpoint in the same parking lot.

We also headed back home well before dark.  There’s some safety in the daytime, but not in every location.  You have to keep alert and avoid obvious dangerous scenarios.  A man with a flag was blocking an isolated two lane highway by the ocean.  My aunt said not to go near, but I did anyway since I could see from the front seat he was just directing traffic for a streetsweeper that was blocking one lane.  Her fear of banditos got my alertness back up.  It’s easy to forget you’re not on the continent here.

After we ate and gabbed with my new aunt we headed to another town to meet the last surviving member of my grandmother’s generation.  This is the sister of my grandfather, Carmen, aged 87.  Carmen lived on an insanely steep hill.  Norma told me to park between the broken vehicle and boat in her one car driveway.  The road was steep and the driveway was at a right angle to it.  I parked right on the street and put on the emergency brake.  I’m not Houdini.

So steep!

I’m going to digress to mention that Yamila also lives on an insanely steep hill.  You have to slam on the gas to get up the 50 feet to her house and it feels like you’re going to tip backwards.  Being on a steep hill is a means of protection.  It makes it difficult for the criminals to come for TVs and Refrigerators.  That doesn’t mean she hasn’t had rabbits and chickens stolen from her yard, though.

I loved my great aunt’s house.  It was a lovely concrete home, tidy and clean, but behind it was what got me excited.  She had the usual banana trees, but also gandules (pigeon peas) and pineapple bushes.  There was some green fruit the size of a soccer ball growing from a tree that is apparently used to make detergent and could be hollowed out and dried to make a bowl.  Chickens wandered freely, keeping the lizard population down.  She had two pens with black pigs!  Now that’s something I would do!  This woman had all the pork she’d ever need, and they pretty much just ate the ten million bananas she has growing (along with other stuff, I saw a big pile of mush).  This old lady has it figured out!!

My great aunt's house.  Lady in front is my aunt Yamila

That's my aunt Norma

Pigeons peas

On the way to the great aunt we went by some of the beaches.  I love Puerto Rican beaches because of all the vendors selling street food and all the little shops on the streets.  I asked if we could spend some time in this one colorful area.  It was agreed we’d stop on the way back.

I tried to do just that, but my aunt Norma said to keep going.  She was taking me somewhere better.  She brought me to a pier where all the water was brown, so I couldn’t take any pictures, and there weren’t any vendors.  -_-  Apparently she made me go there because one of the fishers (a woman) was her friend who she wanted to see.  I was annoyed.  

We brought her home and then headed back. 

My aunt made Bacalau (which I’m sure I’ve just spelled wrong) which is made from a boiled tuber she finds in her back yard and one fillet of salt cod split between four people.   

I guess I’m going to give my commentary on Puerto Rican food now.  You know how on Thanksgiving people joke that the only spice white people know is salt?  Well, I wish Puerto Ricans at least used salt.   

Menu from an authentic Puerto Rican restaurant.  Not a chili pepper to be found.

Puerto Rican food is BLAND.  They don’t use hot spices, not even pepper.  Most meals involve a tuber and meat.  Mashed plantain with meat on it is one of the main dishes called Mofongo.  Most things are seasoned with adobo and/or sazon.
Beef Mofongo

Shrimp Mofongo

Puerto Rico is loaded with wild tubers and plantains, so a lot of meals are made from a stringy waxy tuber that looks like a tree trunk called yucca, or ñames which are a round tuber with a hard skin that has what looks like palm leaves growing out of it.  Whether it’s the first one or ñames, it makes no difference, these things taste of absolutely nothing.  They’re just starch.  The last form of starch that’s plentiful, and has a relative strong flavor, is plantain.  

Fried rabbit with tostadas made from plantain
I may be about to lose my Puerto Rican card here, but I hate plantains.  They taste like banana flavored potatoes to me.  Yamila asked me if there was anything I didn’t eat and I said plantains.  So I got to avoid this Puerto Rican staple.

Bacalau is ñame, that tuber that tastes of nothing, with salt cod.  The salt cod is served instead of salt.  My aunt never uses salt on anything.  She boils broccoli and serves it with nothing on it.  The salt cod gives the tuber some saltiness, but the cod to tuber ratio is askew and you’re left with bland white chunks of starch with no seasoning. 

I just want to reiterate, Puerto Rican food is not spicy.  The national dish is arroz con pollo, which is chicken and rice.  Tastes great, but other than yellow rice I find myself craving salt and pepper.  If I ask my aunt for some salt it’s hidden in the back of her cabinet, like it’s some exotic spice.  At Puerto Rican restaurants you don’t find anything spicy.  The specialty by the beach is conch (you know that huge shell that you put your ear to to hear the ocean) mofongo or fritters (fried things).  

The highlight of my day was my great aunt’s house.  The rest was a lot of driving.  The gas tank still reads full on the rental car, though.  It’s all good.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Puerto Rico Day 2

I'm back now, but am posting all the posts I wrote down while I was there because I didn't have an Internet connection to post them at the time.

The coquis are louder than you think people…those little frogs have huge lungs.

One of the goofy looking tree frogs in my aunt's outdoor sink.

I experienced a tale of two aunts today.  I started in paradise and ended in a gut punch to the stomach.  For those who don’t know I have two full aunts in Puerto Rico who share the same mother and father as my mother.  One of these is middle class and one lives in poverty with her daughter.

My aunt Yamila's house. The driveway is deliberately steep to deter burglars.  You have to slam on the gas to get up to the house and it's so steep it feels like the car is going to tip backwards.
It's a typical flat-roofed island house.  Concrete to survive hurricanes.

First, the well-off aunt.  Have you ever had to deal with the problem of too many bananas growing in your back yard?  So much so that you push over one of the trees with loose roots hoping to kill it, but the ground is so fertile that it reroots and starts growing bananas again?  

They seriously do not need any more bananas.

My aunt has 13 wild banana trees growing in her acre back yard.  Also papaya, coconut palm, breadfruit, some kind of almond, yautia (a widely eaten tuber), wild ginger, yucca (another popular tuber, also called cassava), ñames (yet another widely eaten tuber related to the yam), and guanaba (a green tree fruit the size of a soccer ball that I ADORE, which also cured my ulcerative colitis symptoms last time I visited).  Most of this was never planted, so it’s all clumped together on the edges of her land.  The wide open space between them is what she calls her yard.  

The back yard
Another view.
Some kind of native citrus fruit with edible rind related to lime.
It just decided to pop up beside my aunt's wall and start popping out fruit.


All kinds of lizards all over the place.  Striped, plain, some with huge orange beards that they stretched out to threaten you.  Also iguanas and dragons so huge they would damage your car if you hit them on the road.  I had to let one cross as I was driving near the beach.

Bread fruit.  More than they can ever use.

I think this is the guanaba tree.  The sole fruit fell 30 feet below in the ditch before I could get it.

These are the little bananas.  Sweet and flavorful.  They harvested a pile to wait until the ripen.

Coconut plams and all sorts of stuff.

I said we should eat this coconut.  They felt it wasn't worth the trouble to crack it.

Some kind of native almond.

These snails are gigantic and all over the dirt.  They're poisonous.

Last time I was here twelve years ago my aunt would dig dinner from the yard and just add some salt cod.  This time she has an extra freezer full of the same kind of chicken and pork I buy.  I don’t know what happened, but her financial situation improved.  They have a 2009 car that looks new and a house that is new, since the house they had last time was destroyed by termites.  They watch TV on a large flatscreen and I noticed the remote was from Dish network. 
Their house is so steep.  That's my aunt's husband, Alejo.

My aunt and her husband are normal Puerto Rican middle class (which is most of the island inhabitants).  Not rich, but far from poor.  I’m extremely comfortable in one of the two spare bedrooms.  (She used to care for my uncle before he died and cousin before she moved out). 

Her back yard makes me salivate.  I could harvest so much.  I could live so well off this fertile volcanic soil.  (But there are bugs that chewed up me and my mom as we walked through.  Hopefully we don’t catch Zika.)

I looked forward to this paradise and it did not disappoint.  In fact it was better than last time because she’s not living in a falling apart shack, but a sweet new concrete house.

We went from this paradise to a situation that makes tears build up behind my eyes.  My poor aunt and cousin live in public housing.  That’s not terrible in and of itself.  The last time we visited she lived in a much worse project with no working toilets.  Just a ditch. 

What made me sad was the state of my aunt and cousin.  My aunt, who is younger than my mother, has lost all her teeth and looks 80 years old.  Her hand has deformed, bent backwards in the middle. 

My mom and I looked at each other while holding back tears.  The hand was something done to her by her daughter who was murdered ten years ago.  She refused to have surgery to fix it back then, and we had to leave it alone.   

The teeth, however…why does my 65 year old aunt not have teeth?  Yamila says she’s saving her money to get her teeth fixed, but she has no money to save.  When we inquired about just paying for her dentures we learned that the dentist she'd been making payments to had run off with the money and had to be found by the police.  The current situation is unknown.   

We feel that the visit was rushed, because my aunt Yamila was also made uncomfortable with us seeing them like that.

The other half of the ‘them’ is my cousin…my sweet cousin.  Last time I saw her 12 years ago she was a feisty skinny thing who called me fat and claimed that she was single because she had too many admirers to choose from.  It was believable enough.  She was beautiful.  She’s still beautiful, but visibly suffering.

My cousin is on medication that makes her skin ash white and causes her brown spots when she gets sun exposure.  She’s also swollen, like I was when I was on prednisone (steroids for my ulcerative colitis) but she’s not on prednisone.  She talked with a slur and if I didn’t know her from before I would have thought she had downs syndrome.    

She handed my mom the four bottle of pills the government services has her on and asked her to tell her what was making her so sick.  We wrote down the names to look up later.

We gave them money.  That’s all we can do for now.  I don’t feel it’s enough.  I feel like I’ve abandoned my own family.  I’m always helping strangers, but I don’t help my own flesh and blood.  I have to look into doing better for them.

Anyway, I want to get in some pictures of the Puerto Rican street scenes.  It's so CROWDED.  And not just in San Juan.  We were out in the 'country' but there is no country except what's in people's back yards.  Puerto Rico has a huge population in a small area.  Even the steepest hills get houses crammed all over them.
The first day I got there my 'uncle' (aunt's husband) took me with him to the betting parlor to bet on the horse races.  It was in this dense neighborhood.

The betting parlor/bar. 

The streets are narrow with people parked all over the place.  Even on roads where there is no room to park on the side (unlike here).  I had to learn to drive like a crazy person fast...seriously...the roads and insane traffic will give me nightmares.  Traffic lights are only obeyed 'when there's traffic.'  When there wasn't any cars around my uncle kept telling me to go even though the light was red.  x_x 
Okay, so day two is done and time to go to bed.  First I had to deal with the peeping tom in my window...