A Better Connection

A Better Connection

When we moved to this remote island over a year ago, we were fully aware that there would be a few “upsets” to our daily life. To us, embracing the challenge was all a part of the adventure. We enjoy being immersed in nature, surrounded by mountains, palm trees, and the ocean. We believed these tropical tradeoffs would more than compensate for any inconvenience we could imagine.

Our ambitious goal was to seek silence and work on our own individual growth, given the luxury of no distractions. The image on our vision board back in Bali was:

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Now that we’re actually living here, I have come to realize that while I do enjoy walks in the forest and submerging myself in the ocean, I also really miss having an internet connection. As it turns out, this modern technology is more difficult to give up once you’ve known the true luxury of it.

As wifi is not an option on my rock, I’ve had to get resourceful to keep myself connected. The only solution so far has been investing in SIM cards from three different mobile service providers in order to access mobile data. With each new contract, I was warned that given our location surrounded by mountains it is highly unlikely that I would be able to pick up a 3G signal (the minimum required to browse websites easily).

In case you’re ever left without wifi too, here’s a short lesson in mobile telephony symbols, something I’ve become educated in over this past year of desperately trying to stay connected. G stands for 2G (second generation technology) and is the slowest connection you can expect in mobile data. You can at least send messages through WhatsApp with G (thank heavens for WhatsApp!). E is an enhanced version and stands for Enhanced GPRS, which is slightly better than 2G and is therefore referred to as 2.5G. However, trying to browse the internet with E can be a tad frustrating. Moving on to 3G (third generation). This is the minimum connection you would expect if you wanted to browse the internet. If you’re a really lucky island girl, you might have 4G on your phone and that means you’re on the fastest connection on the planet. One can but dream of 4G on this rock.

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When I first got my SIM cards, I proceeded to switch them in and out of my phone, checking each one, hoping to see the 3G sign on the screen. I was elated when one of the cards actually showed up as 3G. Little did I know that this was merely a fluke, due to (I’m guessing) some weather or climate related variable. This precious 3G signal is always fleeting, only lasting a few minutes each session (sometimes it can be as short as a few seconds). But even still, it’s hard to get myself to switch it out and let go of that faint glimmer of hope that the coveted 3G may reappear. So I got another phone, which means I can now check two different signals simultaneously. I was so proud of my ingenuity, but have unfortunately found that this just complicates matters further.

I’ve started to realize I’ve become some desperate caricature, reminiscent of that South Park episode when Randy exclaims,”Our house… it has not internet, it’s just gone!”

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Picture this… I walk around the house with two phones, one in each hand, wandering from room to room, desperately seeking a 3G signal. I stare at the screen longingly for those two characters to show up. When they do show up, I jolt with excitement and quickly log into WhatsApp, often only to be faced with a “Connecting” message and a timer indicating that I’m not actually connected. Before I know it, I’ve been staring at a “Connecting” screen for minutes willing it to show me a blue “Send” button. Those times when the internet is finally up and running, it’s like a game of “Now you see me, now you don’t!”. It’s here one second and then it’s gone the next. Talk about keeping me on my toes.

While I pictured this move to our far off rock to be one where I’d be staring at landscapes of trees and sea, I find myself instead desperately staring at my phones.

I figure it’s time I finally give in to the “better connection” in nature and focus on developing my creativity instead. You never know, there may come a time when internet/technology stops working just like in did on South Park and we will all have to rely entirely on nature for our entertainment anyway. Then, perhaps I’ll finally be ahead of the game rather than the one left waiting to connect.

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Beware the Salty Air

Beware the Salty Air

I come from Canada – the interior of Canada, the very driest part of Canada. While we do have oceans on three coasts, they are at least 1,000 miles away in every direction. If we did happen to have a day with a relative humidity of 30%, we were damp. Things like salt spray, salt mist, or salt air were all foreign concepts back in my Canada days. But even a landlubber like me can understand that getting your things wet is generally not good for them – a small step in understanding that getting things wet with salt water is probably worse.

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Since moving to a tropical island, now surrounded by water by far, far fewer than 1,000 miles, I have gained a whole new sense of just how pernicious salt water can be on your things. But it took me awhile to realize just how all-consuming the salt in the air can be. I don’t live on the beach, mind you. I can see the sea, yes, but I live far enough away that I would never choose to walk down there. Having some distance between me and the salty ocean, it simply never occurred to me that I would need to take special precautions because of this new environment. But the salt air has since made its point.

Take my stainless steel table, for example. I had it for several years in Canada (in a basement of all places), and it was fine. Now it’s covered with freckles. When I brought it down here to Nevis, I think it started rusting the day I unpacked it. It hadn’t even occurred to me that rust would be an issue. I thought the fact that it was “stainless steel” meant that rust stains just wouldn’t happen. Far too late, I was told that the term should more accurately be spelled “STAINS LESS”, with the emphasis on the space between those two words. I was also told that the word “stainless” is carelessly applied to many different products, apparently legally, and if you actually want to have something steel last when you live by the sea, you have to buy “MARINE-GRADE stainless steel”. Guess what you can’t buy in the middle of Canada, especially if you don’t know enough to ask for it?

Freckled table_WWLOR

We also brought down a Weber grill. Its big fancy hood is still shiny as can be, but the rest of it – no way. Even the front face, where the knobs are, is covered in rust. Why would anybody put different grades of stainless steel on the same unit? If the hood needs the best quality, why wouldn’t the rest of it need that too? Perhaps the warranties are written in the hopes that people won’t read them, or don’t keep the paperwork, or are too lazy to follow up, or maybe their writers also live far from the salt air.

Appliances are another issue. I don’t think I ever had a rusty appliance before I came to this island, nor do I recall doing anything in particular to actively prevent my appliances from rusting. Here, it’s a different story – one cannot avoid doing battle. The house we bought came “furnished”, as in the owners left pretty much everything in it. That included lots of rusty items of all sorts, and I immediately assumed that rust is just something you put up with here. It turns out, that’s not true. People who’ve been here for years have lots of advice, some of which even works. For example, many people spray WD40 on all their metal, every month, and then wipe it off. Some say they wax appliances with auto wax, starting when they are new and pristine, and they don’t ever get scruffy and rusty. Who knew? I’ve learned that the best way to choose a solution on a rock is to find somebody who has had the exact item you need for years, without problems, and follow that person’s advice.

Of course another solution could be to disguise your rust spots with lots of strategically placed fridge magnets. You could even find an artist who could incorporate the rust spots in a brand new design. Better yet, you could cultivate an inability to see rust, or even acknowledge it. Repeat after me: “That’s clean, it won’t poison me, it’s fine.” (I’m working on it…)

fridge magnets_WWLor

Having had more than enough problems with metal items since I arrived rock-side, I had a new thought – “Plastic must be the way to go.” After all, we’ve been told for decades that plastic lasts for 100+ years in landfills, so surely it should last on a shelf on a porch, out of the sun. You have to admit that a gallon ice cream pail is made of pretty study plastic – clearly, they made every attempt to make it rough and tumble, with no regard for overflowing landfills. So I gave it shot and stored some chemicals in an ice cream bucket. The chemicals were not in contact with the bucket, they were in their own separate bottles, but three years later, the bucket has several splits from its rim almost down to its base. So much for that solution. People who are trying to deal with the ridiculous amounts of plastic in landfills should study the seaside environment – maybe it would provide a clue.

More than forty years ago, I needed an extra light, and there was no store where I could buy such a thing, or even a place to buy lamp shades. So instead, I bought beer sieves – conical baskets about two feet long and eight inches across at the wide end. Africans put them pointy end down in barrels of beer swimming with taka taka (solid particles you’d rather not drink). The beer seeps into the inside of the cone, where it is nice and clear and ready to be scooped out with a gourd. The sieves became lamp shades by the simple expedient of removing some of the basket fibers to let the light shine through. I kinked each basket to make a more pleasing shape, wired them through an old papaw stock because it’s hollow, and presto: I had a chandelier.

beer sieve pic_WWLOR

The point of all this is that I still have that chandelier, in perfectly good condition, hanging on the same island porch where my steel has rusted and my plastic has disintegrated. Perhaps I’ve finally found the perfect island rust hack! Now, the only problem is figuring out where on earth can I find hand-made baskets of that quality – on this little rock, no less.

Ah, well. Who wants to do that much work nowadays? Go ahead, sea air – do your best. I’m fine with rust now. And if I one day get frustrated with it once again? I’ll buy a few more fridge magnets and call it a day.

How Do You Like Them Mangoes?

How Do You Like Them Mangoes?

Our island backyard boasts five mature mango trees, for which we consider ourselves blessed. However, it’s probably a good thing mangoes are a seasonal fruit because I honestly cannot imagine what I would do with such abundance year round. Yet in spite of the copious harvest we go through every year, we look forward to mango season like a couple of kids waiting for Christmas. We regularly inspect the trees for flower development and growth, and we get all silly with excitement when we finally see fruit the size of olives forming on the branches. Oh, the anticipation of that sweet, juicy, messy fruit!

It's mango season, baby!

It’s mango season, baby!

Of course, by about Week 3 of the harvest, we can barely look at the green and orange orbs; even the dogs will have lost their zeal. No matter! Being an enterprising woman who lives on a rock, I have figured out ways to incorporate this gift of nature into just about any dish.

So when you find yourself thinking, I literally cannot eat another mango, here is a list of creative ways you can use ’em, not waste ’em:

  • Salad

    Chop not-too-ripe fruit into small chunks and add to your lettuce or bok choy salad greens. Then, add some chunks of either brie, goat, or blue cheese, and chopped green onions. Sprinkle with walnuts and top with your fave Asian-style vinaigrette.

  • Fresh salsa

    Chop mangoes into small chunks, add chunks of fresh tomato and/or pineapple, green onions, hot or flavored peppers, lemon pepper, chadon beni, and lime juice. Let sit for a couple of hours for flavors to permeate. This salsa is delish served as a topping for fish, pork, or chicken.

  • Popsicles or infused ice cubes

    Puree fruit in blender or food processor and pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Or, pour into ice cube trays and use in your favorite drink – extra fun in seltzer water.

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  • Ice cream

    Mix pureed fruit with one cup evaporated milk and one cup heavy cream and put into an ice cream maker. For a vegan option, omit the milk and cream and use coconut cream instead.

  • Smoothies and cocktails

    Puree mangoes with pineapple chunks, passionfruit pulp, and coconut milk for a lovely smoothie. Add dark rum for a cocktail option or yogurt for a breakfast option.

  • Crisp or crumble

    Chop fruit into chunks and place in a greased baking dish (I use coconut oil). Top with a mixture of oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and coconut oil. Bake for 40-45 minutes in a 350°F oven. This one is yummy as a dessert or brunch dish.

  • Cobbler

    Use your favorite fruit cobbler recipe and simply substitute chunks of mango for the peaches or berries and coconut oil for the butter. Yummy on its own or topped with ice cream.

  • Stir-frys

    Adding chunks of not-too-ripe mango to your chicken or pork stir-fry gives it a nice exotic touch. I love making a stir-fry of chicken breast chunks, mango chunks, fresh ginger, snap-peas, and cashews (or almonds) with a light sauce of soy and sweet Asian pepper sauce, served over rice or noodles.

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  • Muffins and cakes

    Mashed mango pulp makes excellent muffins, breads, and cakes. How does mango cake with passionfruit glaze sound? Or mango banana muffins for breakfast?

  • Yogurt

    A popular breakfast at our house is a bowl of home-made plain or vanilla yogurt topped with fresh mango chunks, banana chunks, and a touch of granola. Fast and delicious.

  • Pancakes.

    Mango chunks or mango puree make an excellent topping for pancakes – so sweet you may not even want the syrup!

And when you have absolutely run out of ideas or you cannot face one more mango, simply slice up your remaining fruit, place into freezer bags, and freeze. Believe me – after a month or two post-mango season, you will be longing for its golden messy sweetness once again.

This list is by no means exhaustive – so tell me, how do you manage an excess of mangoes in your life? Talk about one sweet island girl problem to have, right?

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Now, as for me, I do believe our avocado tree is starting to bear fruit…

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