Monday, October 5, 2009

All things Cayman: We are on island time! (Part II)

_MG_3406-Edit Whether you are a new resident or a tourist enjoying a few hours in Cayman as part of your cruise experience, it likely won't take long until you hear someone say something about "island time". And chances are you will love the concept if you are a tourist, and not always so much if you are a resident from a country in which the concept of island time only applies to students, the retired, or the unemployed.

Island time denotes a certain relaxed outlook on life - hey, it'll still be sunny and warm tomorrow, why do we have to get it done right this minute? Many years ago, I read about a study which concluded that one reason northern countries may have developed into such efficient and 'busy' societies is because they need to get all their work done in half the time that is available to, say, someone sitting on a beach somewhere in southern Greece, Italy or the Cayman Islands. On intuitive level, it certainly makes sense. If winter is breathing down your neck, quite literally, you would of course feel a need to find more efficient ways to complete your projects and stock up on food and fuel before winter. Because if you do not, you may die. In southern Greece on the other hand, if you don't get it done today, there is always tomorrow, so what's the big hurry? Let's sip some ouzo instead.

If anything, it's trying to get it all done today that'll likely kill you because of the darn heat! Which might just be the other reason islanders or those living in very warm climates are more relaxed about things. It's just too hot to be moving around in such a busy fashion. The Spanish knew what they were doing when they started the siesta, something I remember very distinctly from my own time spent in Spain, when the entire city closed down from 2pm to 5pm and the only things moving around the empty streets were stray dogs and sunburnt tourists trying to get in all the sights on their busy schedule....

And so, between having all the time in the world and not being able to physically exert yourself for a good portion of the day, it's no wonder that many a hectic Westerner comes here or a Northern European shows up in Sicily and declares the locals 'lazy', all anthropological niceties aside. But it's a bit like the now famous story about the rich American who runs into a local fisherman relaxing on the beach, and proceeds to tell him about all the things he could be doing to get 'busy' and rich and then he would have all the time in the world, whereupon the fisherman correctly points out that all he would be doing in the end is exactly what he is already doing now....relaxing on the beach.

So it is really a difference of attitudes, isn't it. Judging by this story, the rich American obviously needs the security of money (and status) to achieve a sense of relaxation and enjoyment at some point in the future while the local fisherman is undoubtedly less secure on a material level because he quite literally lives from day to day, yet he seems to have accepted this fact and instead places a higher value on enjoying those hours of the day that are available to him. In the end, both want to arrive at the same place, but the ways in which they go about it are vastly different. And while today's Caymanians are no longer the fishermen of those days, I still notice that contemplative and very dignified streak in some of the older residents I have spoken to.

Which is precisely why I have always found it somewhat interesting that this country would hitch its economic wagon to an industry that could not possibly exist in island time - the global financial industry, where work hours are long (because you must always know what's going in in Singapore), status is important and the money or bonus better be good. Now there's a topic for another day...


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Who ever does things in order.....

....well, definitely not me! I left you off impatient for Part II of things annoying, delightful, different - you name it - about the Cayman Islands, but I decided to take a little detour and post some of my new pictures instead.

I am actually not the photographer in the family, as it is both Richard and Mimi who have been blessed with a great eye. However, living with two people like that, you do inevitably pick up a few things here and there. One of the things I have always wanted to do was to create a portfolio of all my knitted projects over the years, and below are a few samples of my more recent creations.

I was not always an avid knitter, on the contrary, I hated it when I was younger. Back in Austria, girls (not boys) started to learn to knit, crochet, needlepoint, sew etc. in Grade 3. I was completely useless with a needle, and I still remember one of our first sewing projects, a kitchen apron, most of which was done by my mother ... No matter how much I tried and measured, my hems were never straight, and what was supposed to be pretty embroidery looked like the dog had just chewed it. Knitting was not much better, but I must say, I am not impressed that our teacher did not at least try to ease us into the craft by knitting simple things like dishcloths or scarfs. No, we were doing socks and mittens from Day 1, hardly beginner's work.

I found the whole thing extremely frustrating and swore I would never go near a needle again....never.

'Never' came in the 1980's while I was in university and looking for something to do to relax from all that mental work. I actually don't even remember how I got onto knitting again, nor do I remember my first project from back then, but I was hooked and haven't stopped since. My tastes have changed of course, and I would like to think I have become somewhat better at picking out patterns that actually look good on me rather than only on the stick model in the magazine, whose expression suggests the last thing she'd ever do is pick up a knitting needle....

Project: Garnstudio Poncho
This was a bit of a spontaneous project. Usually I research for hours trying to find the perfect pattern and yarn, only to do something completely different when the yarn arrives and I decide it would look much better in another pattern. I have noticed that for me, knitting is not so much a destination but a journey, as I never regret spending time knitting on a garment which I end up unravelling umpteen times (while my husband shakes his head), and I have also noticed that I often enjoy picking out the patterns, yarn and knitting more than I do actually finishing or wearing the garment. Sometimes it's as if I didn't care that I will wear it, ever. I recently found pieces of a jacket, which was about 98% done, with just a few rows left for the sleeve. It appears I lost interest in it and just left it for another day....

But back to the poncho. This was actually knitted from leftover Lana Grossa yarn called New Cotton, and it has a lovely and very soft texture. This poncho was knit up in about two days, and it looks great on just about anyone. (Garnstudio patterns are free, they can be found here: )



Project: Verena Knitting Stripe It Dress

This was knit with Classic Elite Allegoro yarn (it's an organic cotton/linen which is apparently named after Al Gore, a well known environmentalist who was a vice president and presidential candidate in several previous lives....). I paired it up with left over orange/pink cotton yarn. I was not altogether happy with it, as it tends to stretch a lot, but we fixed up nicely for this shot, I think:

Striped Dress1.VerenaKnittingSummer2009

Project: Rowan Poncho
This was one of my few (or was it the only) knitted birthday presents for Mimi. She likes going through my Rowan ( ) magazines, and she mentioned how she liked this little poncho. I managed to get my hands on the exact yarn in the magazine, and knit it the night before her birthday (things just fly with 15mm needles!). She still loves wearing it.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

All things Cayman: The Weather (Part I)

WatercolorsI am sure there is a very good evolutionary reason why, as time goes on, we often tend to remember only the good things about a person, place or event. It makes life much easier and enjoyable when you remember the good times rather than dwell on the not so pleasant memories I suppose. However, it can also drive your husband crazy, especially if he has a super-duper memory and remembers all the times you complained about the neighbours or this and that at the last place, while now you have distinctly more favorable memories of the last place, and the neighbours back there were just like the Walton’s.

My husband jokingly said one day that I could always get a head start of sorts, and write down all the things I don’t like about living in the Cayman Islands so I could read it later when I start to romanticize again and wonder what ever possessed us to move....

Well, for starters, I have to get over the fact that it almost seems politically incorrect to find fault with anything here because the Cayman Islands still conjures up such romantic and exotic images in people's heads around the world. A while back I participated in a conference call where I was introduced as “Brigitte who is lucky enough to be calling in from the Cayman Islands”. No one would ever say “Brigitte who is lucky enough to be joining us from Winnipeg”.... It is very hard to shake off images like that, isn’t it, to the point where I find I have to justify liking Winnipeg whereas I would have to almost justify why I wouldn’t like the Cayman Islands. But I digress.

For the most part, many of the cliches about the Cayman Islands are very true. It’s pretty much always sunny, beautiful beaches are always within walking distance, and judging by my own experience, Caymanians are an exceedingly friendly and relaxed people. It’s still a fairly safe place to live, and you don’t really have to worry about your neighbour suing you because he tripped on a stone in your yard. One reason he wouldn’t sue you because he would be too embarassed to admit that he was not watching where he was going.....imagine that, people actually taking responsibility for their actions. I found this to be a very refreshing change from Canada, I must say.

But as my Dad likes to say – there is no such thing as paradise, and even Cayman has some aspects which I struggle with, some minor or not so minor, as well as the foreign and downright quirky ones. And some of the things that make this island so beautiful in most people's eyes can also spoil you to the point where they get on your nerves, which means this is probably a good place to start with


Believe it or not, constant sunshine gets to you. Before we moved here, I used to browse through various forums in which islanders provided advice to people thinking of moving to the Cayman Islands (Thank you Tess!). I distinctly remember one who said something along the lines of “we actually look forward to rainy season because then it is not always sunny”. At the time I thought that was a funny comment to make – I mean, how could you ever get tired of sunshine - but after a year I have a fairly good idea of what she means. I have been known to stand outside in the yard for minutes on end, longingly staring at a lonely dark cloud and watching it go over the house without letting go of even so much as a few droplets. As I mentioned in one of my previous blog entries, after six months of absolutely no precipitation or clouds whatsoever, I was absolutely desperate for rain or even the smell of rain.

Similarly, while I can’t say that I miss Winnipeg-style winters, I do miss the stormier cooler days sometimes – you know, when you can open a window and feel and smell the cool air rush through the house? Other than the odd day in (Caribbean) winter, the only cool air you ever feel is coming out of a little vent in your ceiling, and that pretty much the entire year.

They say this is the island time forgot, but I would also say that you forget time when you live down here because of the lack of seasons that you could use as a guide. When one sunny day merges into the next, it’s hard to remember that you should be unpacking those Christmas ornaments right about now.....and as odd as it sounds, at times it doesn’t give you much to look forward to if every days is glorious sunshine. Of course, during a hurricane, it is very windy, but then the last thing you want to do is to open your windows because your roof might fly off.

But let's face it - it really is rather hard to get sick of nice weather year-round; rather, I think I have just become very spoilt, taking for granted that I can just walk outside without having to put on three layers of clothes (and don't forget that snow shovel on the way out...). In the time I have lived here, I have heard quite a few long-time residents tell me that their children couldn't wait to leave this small island when they grew up because it was so boring, and how so many of them come back to live here. The weather is part of it too, but there is something else as well, which I can already feel taking hold of my own psyche after having spent many a dreamy afternoon at the ocean or in the garden. Down here, we are be continued

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Boot camp anyone?

Ernest sent me an e-mail the other day, with an offer that at least in theory I should find hard to refuse.

Last year, about a month or so after we had moved here, my husband came home from work and told me that one of his colleagues was taking part in a women's fitness program called "Boot Camp". I actually had some idea of what was involved as a friend of mine in Winnipeg also did at least one boot camp and spoke quite highly of this workout. Of course I somewhat neglected to remember that she was already in fairly good shape when she started, but when I went to the organiser's website here in the Cayman Islands, I was assured that this program was suitable for couch potatoes and Mr. Universe qualifiers alike.

It's not that this is not true, but obviously it takes a pretty strong sense of self to drag yourself out of bed at five o-clock in the morning, don the first pair of gym shorts you have worn since high school and try to run a lap around the track while some of your fellow boot campers are passing you on their fifth lap and not even breaking a sweat. It became quite obvious to me that our particular group consisted of a hard core of permanent boot campers who - in the words of one - "had been to a million of these", and on the other end people like me who had not done anything remotely so regimented since high school when we had to do sit-ups and chin-ups in front of the whole class...

This is where Ernest comes in - he is the owner of a local fitness studio and looks like one of those Mr. Universe qualifiers. He runs the boot camps, which start at 5:30 am, and I have to say that he did a fantastic job, considering many of us ranked this type of workout on the same scale as a visit to the dentist. No day was the same, although I can't say that any day was easier than the other, and the way he organised the program it really was possible for everyone to go at their own pace. However, he also made sure that no one slacked off, and he had an uncanny ability to know exactly what people's real limits were as opposed to what they profusely argued they could do.

For those who don't know, boot camp is a one hour workout combining cardiovascular and strength training activities in a manner that is extremely regimented and demanding, hence the name, since the original boot camps were used to train new military recruits.

We started with a few minutes of warm-ups consisting of jumping jacks and the like, and just when you thought the warm-up was enough exercise for the day because you could hardly breathe, Ernest cheerily announced it was time to run laps around the track for five minutes. Luckily, he did not actually make us run, and so many of us walked at a brisk pace while Ernest watched us closely from the sidelines, urging us on.

As well organised and well-run this program was - after four weeks I decided boot camp just wasn't for me. Partly because I dreaded getting up so early, but also because I found this style of exercise too pounding and regimented. I am not quite as averse to exercise as I perhaps let on, having done yoga and bellydance for a long time, and never once dreaded going to a class, quite the opposite. I decided my body and mind were more suited to a gentler form of exercise, and I decided not to do any more boot camps.

But Ernest is sure working hard to win me back! He just sent out an e-mail announcing that the former boot camp location has been changed - pretty much right outside of my house. And it's not a clever ploy on Ernest's part to make sure that I had no more excuses, but rather owing to the location of our house near a large church parking lot, which is now the new boot camp training location. I could literally just get up, put on my exercise gear and walk outside to start while others need to drive some way for the privilege. But I must admit it's not really that tempting. Somewhat guilt-inducing, yes, but tempting, no.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hurricane Predictions

Predicting hurricane seasons is a bit like predicting next year's global economic developments - no matter how sophisticated your models, it's always a bit of a crapshoot, although judging by what I have been reading, we seem to be somewhat better at predicting hurricane trends than economic trends. Which is a bit funny considering that much of economics is based on the assumption that people act in a very predictable and rational way, while nature is generally described as a rather capricious lady. Hmm.

In any case, now that I am actually keeping track of things like shear winds, low-potential disturbances and tropical depressions, I have learnt that hurricanes seem to occur in cycles. Specifically, in 20 or so year cycles. The last cycle of high(er) activity started around 1995, hence we are about half way through the current active cycle. And so it appears to be not just global warming which is causing an increase in hurricanes (and there are those who say it is not actually causing an increase per se, just an increase in strength), but also the fact that we are now undergoing a naturally occurring period of higher hurricane activity. Add to that the ever increasing fascination of the media with hurricanes, and it's no wonder things all of a sudden seem a lot worse than, say, 50 years ago.

But it looks like we might get a bit of a break in 2009. Over the last year we have lived here, we have come to rely on two websites to get hurricane information: and The former is a pretty flashy looking website with excellent tracking and GPS information, while the latter has a much more scientific feel to it, with lots of scientific articles and a blog by its founder Dr. Jeff Masters, who has a lot of expertise in this area. In his recent blog on the July hurricane outlook he mentions something I also noticed over the winter - it was very windy. Apparently this has also had an effect on sea surface temperatures:

"Stronger-than-average trade winds were observed through most of the period November 2008 - May 2009, which helped cool the tropical Atlantic substantially. Strong winds mix up colder water from the depths and cause greater evaporative cooling. ... July storms typically form when a cold front moves off the U.S. coast and stalls out, with the old frontal boundary serving as a focal point for development of a tropical disturbance. There will be one or two fronts moving off the U.S. coast over the next two weeks, and we will need to watch these for development. Wind shear is too high and SSTs are usually too cold in July to allow African tropical waves to develop into tropical storms. African tropical waves serve as the instigators of about 85% of all major hurricanes."

And it also appears that another El Nino is on its way. In Manitoba, the prospect of an El Nino was not particularly welcome, as it could mean less rain and possibly droughts. Down here, the news of an El Nino has a much more positive ring to it, at least hurricane-wise:

"El Niño conditions continue to amplify over the tropical Eastern Pacific. Ocean temperatures there rose 0.5°C over the past two weeks, and are now 0.45°C above the threshold for El Niño, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (Figure 3). NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño Watch in early June, saying "that conditions are favorable for a transition from neutral to El Niño conditions during June - August 2009". The pattern of changes in surface winds, upper-level winds, sea surface temperatures, and deeper water heat content are all consistent with what has been observed during previous developing El Niños, and latest set of mid-June runs of the El Niño computer models are almost universally calling for El Niño conditions to become well-established for the peak months of hurricane season, August - October. It is likely that Atlantic hurricane activity will be suppressed in 2009 due to the strong upper-level winds and resulting wind shear an El Niño event usually brings to the tropical Atlantic."

If he is right, I won't have to rush off to stock up on cans of Vienna sausages anytime soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Richard's latest photos

Earlier this week, our house doubled as a photo studio as Strobist Cayman members Richard, Will and Janet worked together on their "head shot" assignment. To that end, Janet brought along two friends from England, Suzy and Abby, who had come to the Cayman Islands for a short holiday and agreed to be models for the day.

The photo shoot was definitely not short - not being a photographer myself, I figured a couple of hours would do it, but EIGHT hours later, they were still shooting outside by the pool. And of course, as the creative juices were flowing, we started to see a lot more than mere head shots...

The first shot is of Abby, sitting in front of a plain wall with the fan blowing air from the side. Someone on Richard's Flickr site commented that she bears a resemblance to Renee Zellweger.

Abi 02

I really love this shot of Suzy in the pool, it looks so peaceful, wouldn't you agree?

Suzy 03

Friday, June 19, 2009

One year later....

They say time goes faster as you get older. That is not true. Time flies, so it's obviously not just because you are having fun. No, you just wake up one day and you realise it's been a good year since you stepped off the plane and declared no human being could possibly live in such a hot and humid climate. Now, 'hotter' is just another season, not altogether pleasant, but it will all end in October, or so we hope.

I also noticed some other things, which made me realise that you you have probably gone some way towards adjusting to living in the Cayman Islands if...

_MG_3255...when driving, you keep a look out for crabs and iguanas crossing the road without even thinking about it.

Night shot of Mimi...your teenage daughter has picked up enough Caribbean lingo to translate the lyrics of the reggae songs on the radio (while you understand ‘nada’).

Blue look forward to rainy season because it’s the only time of the year it’s actually cloudy for at least part of the day (whereas it’s sunshine only for the other 300 days or so of the year).

Mr. Pirate...driving at 50 mph gives you the thrills because you are, dare I say it, speeding 5mph above the highest speed limit on the island. Arrgh!

Rum Point now consider a 20 minute leisurely ride to work a ‘long commute’. don't even bat an eye anymore when coming across plants such as these:
Care to dance?


Beautiful have become not only accustomed to but fully expect your plants and trees to grow a foot a week.

Here is what someone else had to say about the passage of time:

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
--Carl Sandburg

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay (ok Ocean :-)

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Refreshing and cool">Besides being known as a stunning Caribbean diving location and tax haven, the Cayman Islands are also said to be a very expensive place to live. With regard to one aspect - groceries - the short answer to this question is that Cayman is definitely more expensive if your last grocery stop was at a Canadian Superstore. But judging by the comments of some Australians, Cayman is a bargain, so there you see, like everything else in life, even Cayman grocery prices are relative....

But since I am from Canada, of course I gulped the first time I walked into Foster's Food Fair last June. A couple of weeks before I had bought a 12-pack of Coke for CAD 2.75 (admittedly a sale price), and here was exactly the same twelve-pack for around $8.00. Other items that struck me as particularly expensive compared to Canada were toothpaste, snacks (granola bars etc.), juices, and soy milk (which is prohibitively expensive even when it is on sale). On the other hand, dairy and poultry products, which in Canada are 'supply managed' (essentially meaning that the price is government controlled), are comparatively cheaper here.

And while there are places where you can save money if you buy in larger lots - CostULess, similar to Canada's CostCo - there is no way around it: groceries are more expensive here. Of course, when you think about the long and expensive air-conditioned trip a perishable good like lettuce or better yet, a frozen product, has to make to land on a Foster's food shelf, it is hardly surprising.

That's not to say that there is no local food. There is a daily fish market right by the harbour front, as well as a farmer's market that is held just outside of Georgetown. I also like to buy local beef, and last week also came home with a bag of mangos given to me by a friend who has a mango tree in her backyard. But of course there is no way a small island like this could sustain its current population, as the land is neither available nor suitable for growing everything.

Another downside for some people is the lack of specialty foods, even though some stores (particularly Kirk Supermarket) do an admirable job of bringing in novelties such as "authentic British food" - think mint jelly! But these things are not cheap, and so if you are dead set on living exclusively on tofu and brown rice noodles, you will likely find this an expensive place for accommodating special diets or tastes.

And yet I have also learned that when things are expensive, you become a lot more deliberate and quality-conscious and don't spend money on something just because it's on sale and cheap. This was somewhat surprising at first, because one would generally assume that expensive prices would drive you to cheaper (and less quality) items to save some money. And of course there is an aspect of that too. However, when products are more expensive, and thus you are not as ready to buy a lot of them just because - well, then you start looking a lot closer at quality.

I am a lot more conscious of what I am buying precisely because it costs more, and I would rather have something of quality (since I am already spending money on it anyway) than junk in cans, which really isn't that much cheaper anyway. I guess you could say it has redefined my attitude towards food somewhat - and in a way it goes with the old adage that if it doesn't cost anything, it has no value.

Speaking of values, below is a randomly selected group of grocery products (as of June 13 2009), priced at a local supermarket (in US$):

Strawberries, one pound 7.50
Head of lettuce 2.75
Cranberry juice (1.89 litres) 6.25
Milk 2%, half gallon 4.50

Cheddar cheese, one pound 6.87

Oreo cookies 14 oz. 5.70

Coke 2 litres 3.12

12 pack Sprite 8.61

Eggs dozen 2.86

Chicken breast, 6.61 per pound

Rump Roast, beef, 4.62 per pound

Pita bread 12 oz 2.69

Gallon and pint ice cream 12.31

Baguette (large) 3.75

And last but not least, I must give credit where it's due - the thumbnail above is a picture taken by Richard during one of his photo shoots.

Before and After

No matter how much I try, I am really bad at visualizing things. When I look at an empty room, well, that's exactly what I see. Where other people can imagine furniture, plants, accessories, upholstery, wall colours (like my friend Gigi), I struggle to imagine a plain beige Ikea sofa in one corner of the room.

I have always admired Gigi's ability to design in her head, so to speak, to the point where I once tried to give her the ultimate compliment by saying "you are really good at seeing things that are not there!" Hmm, seems I do not just have a problem imagining but also expressing myself, as she thought that I was trying to suggest that she suffered from hallucinations.

Luckily, for most of my home ownership period, current trends were in my favour, as they tended towards bright white walls over the entire house. There really was no way to go wrong with that, especially if you were utterly incapable of imagining any colour on your wall other than white.

But this is 2009, and according to Benjamin Moore, spicy colours and Indian themes are all the rage or have been for some time now. I must admit, I still like white bright walls but I also realise that some rooms really benefit from a splash of colour. Just don't ask me to pick the colour.

That's where Richard and Mimi came in, and a fantastic job they did. All I had to do was get used to the colours and admire them....

The first shot shows the family room in its original glory:


This is the same room after the paint job, shot from a different angle, but with the same furniture:


The kitchen went from blending into the background:


to standing out:


The living room was a bit of a challenge because this was the only room I chose the colour for, and I hated it even before the paint got a chance to dry. But while I will never quite warm up to my selection of "icy blue", I still prefer it over the previous yellow colour. Now about that 1980's furniture....



Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Speaking of rain....

....when it rains, that means hurricane season can't be too far off. Actually, we are already one week into hurricane season, which officially started on June 1, and won't end until November 30.

Below is a nice little take on all the things we should be thinking about as hurricane season is bearing down on us (with credits going to Jamie, one of Richard's co-workers, who passed this on). I wish I could say it was all not true, but alas, that is not the case (especially the part about the house insurance):

We are about to enter the hurricane season. Any day now, you're going to turn on the TV and see a weather person pointing to some radar blob out in the Caribbean Ocean and making two basic meteorological points:
(1) There is no need to panic.
(2) We could all be killed.

Yes, hurricane season is an exciting time to be in the Caribbean. If you are new to the area, you are probably wondering what you need to do to prepare for the possibility that we will be hit again by "the big one.'' Based on
our experiences, we recommend that you follow this simple three-step hurricane preparedness plan:

Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least ten days.

Put these supplies into your luggage.

Fly to Nebraska and remain there until Halloween.

Unfortunately, statistics show that most people will not follow this sensible plan. Most people will foolishly stay in Cayman.

We will start with one of the most important hurricane preparedness items:

If you own a home, you must have hurricane insurance. This insurance is not cheap or easy to get, but it IS possible as long as your home meets two basic requirements:
(1) It is reasonably well built
(2) It is not located in Grand Cayman.

Unfortunately, if your home is located in Cayman, or any other area that might actually be hit by a hurricane, most insurance companies would prefer not to sell you hurricane insurance, because then they might be required to PAY you money, and that is certainly not why they got into the insurance business in the first place. So you will have to scrounge around for an insurance company, which will charge you an annual premium roughly equal to triple the replacement value of your house. At any moment, this company can drop you like used dental floss. Since Hurricane Andrew, we have had an estimated 27 different home-insurance companies. This week, we are covered by the Bob and Big Stan Insurance Company, under a policy that states that, in addition to my highly inflated premium, Bob and Big Stan are entitled, on demand, to our kidneys.

Your house should have hurricane shutters on all the windows, all the doors, and - if it is a major hurricane - all the toilets. There are several types of shutters, with advantages and disadvantages: Plywood Shutters: The advantage is that, because you make them yourself, they are cheap. The disadvantage is that, because you make them yourself, they will fly off.
Sheet-Metal Shutters: The advantage is that these work well, once you get them all up. The disadvantage is that once you get them all up, your hands will be useless bleeding stumps, and it will be December.
Roll-Down Shutters: The advantages are that they are very easy to use, and will definitely protect your house. The disadvantage is that you will have to sell your house to pay for them. "Hurricane-Proof'' Windows: These are the
newest wrinkle in hurricane protection: They look like ordinary windows, but they can withstand hurricane winds! You can be sure of this, because the sales man says so. He lives in Nebraska.

As the hurricane approaches, check your property for movable objects like barbecue grills, planters, patio furniture, visiting relatives, etc. You should, as a precaution, throw these items into your swimming pool (if you do not have a swimming pool, you should have one built immediately).
Otherwise, the hurricane winds will turn these objects into deadly missiles.

If you live in a low-lying area, you should have an evacuation route planned out. (To determine whether you live in a low-lying area, look at your driver's license; if it says "Cayman" you live in a low-lying area.) The purpose of having an evacuation route is to avoid being trapped in your home when a major storm hits. Instead, you will be trapped in a gigantic traffic jam several miles inland from your home, along with thirty thousand other evacuees. Therefore, as a bonus, you will not be lonely.

You will need a mess of supplies. Do not buy them now! Tradition requires that you wait until the last possible minute, then go to the supermarket and get into vicious fights with strangers over who gets the last can of SPAM.
In addition to food and water, you will need the following supplies: 23 flashlights and at least $167 worth of batteries that turn out, when the power goes off, to be the wrong size for the flashlights.

No, I do not know what the bleach is for. NOBODY knows what the bleach is for, but it is traditional, so GET some!) A 55-gallon drum of underarm deodorant. A big knife that you can strap to your leg. (This will be useless
in a hurricane, but it looks cool.) $35,000 in cash or diamonds so that, after the hurricane passes, you can buy a generator from a man with no discernible teeth.

Of course, these are just basic precautions. As the hurricane draws near, it is vitally important that you keep abreast of the situation by turning on your television and watching TV reporters in rain slickers stand right next to the ocean and tell you over and over how vitally important it is for everybody to stay away from the ocean.

Good luck, and remember: It is great living in Paradise!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Doing the rain dance

In Canada (or is that just Winnipeg?), there is a saying that there are only two seasons – winter season and construction. In the Cayman Islands it’s not really that different, except that construction is replaced by tourists. Which makes it summer season and tourist season, or at least that’s what the radio announcer called it the other day. Implied of course is that tourists can be just a tad of a nuisance sometimes. Drive through Georgetown in the early morning? Could be a slow crawl - not because of construction but the thousands of tourists just getting off the cruise ships and trying to make their way around the harbour front.....

At the same time, complaining about the masses of tourists also isn't unlike complaining about all that construction you are stuck in - in the end, we'd all agree that they are a good thing. Tourists contribute to the local economy, while construction is a sign of an expanding city, or at least one that takes the upgrading of its infrastructure seriously.

And one reason why tourists seem to like to come here, other than the warm temperatures, is the almost complete lack of rain during the winter season.

Actually, I shouldn’t even say ‘almost' complete lack because until a few weeks ago, when we had the semblance of a small downpour, it had not rained AT ALL in our little corner of the island since just before Christmas.

I have also learnt that just because dark clouds are hanging right over your house and a few drops are falling, as if to tease you, that does not mean that it will actually rain. Rather, I am starting to get the feeling that our house is their favorite hang out spot before they move on to dump their load over at....the next street. Sigh.

By now, I am growing desperate for rain. Sure, we have a well, so I can water the grass if I have to (and I have had to do that a lot recently), but what says spring and rejuvenation better than rain? It does not matter whether you are coming out of deep winter or just a long period of no rain, the feeling is the same.

Rain always had a special significance when I grew up on a farm because rain determined whether we were going to have a good year, an average year or no year at all. I still remember when I was around 12, a period in which it slowly dawns on you that the world is a lot more complicated than you used to think, that I all of a sudden realised how dependent my father was on rain, and how important it was to our family. And as I became older and started working on the farm during the summer, I became used to following the weather reports and assessing whether this was going to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rain.

"Good" rain was slow and steady and preferably at least 10-20 millimetres to get the seedlings or young plants going, and then there was "bad" rain – heavy showers that pulled down already mature wheat (making it prone to disease and sprouting), not to mention hail which could decimate entire fields and leave nothing but little stumps here and there - a truly depressing sight. I still remember how hail insurance was a big topic of discussion every year, because it was such a large expense and the risk was really relatively small (kind of like hurricane insurance down here, I suppose). My father, who I think was quite willing to play the odds, nevertheless bought hail insurance almost every year, and I often wondered whether he didn’t do it mainly so my mother could sleep better at night....

To this day, when someone says it rained, my first thought is to ask how much – as in, how many inches or millimetres? We had a rain gauge right outside of the front of the house, and every morning after a rainy night or following a heavy shower, one of us would go outside to check it. In a very dry year, we’d go outside hoping it was more than the rather useless 5 mm which literally didn't even scratch the surface, and in wet years we’d go outside dreading to read the meter sometimes. And even when I no longer lived at home, conversations on the phone often revolved around the rain, and of course the ubiquitous question: How many millimetres?

No wonder I am growing restless, I have no millimetres at all to report!

Update Monday, June 8: Wouldn't you know it, we had our first major rain last night. It really is as they say - June comes, and someone flicks a switch...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008 - Continued

This Christmas took some getting used to, no doubt. Of course it's not easy when you go to such extremes as we did, exchanging what would have been another storm-blasted Ontario winter for Christmas on the beach, quite literally. Last night we went to midnight mass, and I think the organist, who hails from Scotland, pretty much summed up what I was thinking when he said that he had lived here for some time and was still adjusting to celebrating Christmas without the cold.

So if we couldn't have the cold (not that I really minded, to be honest), we were going to enjoy the nice weather. And so on December 24th Mimi and I drove into town, and checked out the cruise ships that were coming into Georgetown harbour.

Cardboard Boat Race

Here is a shot of some of the buildings that line the Georgetown harbour front:

Cardboard Boat Race

There were a lot of tourists, posing for pictures at the water, with the blue Caribbean as a backdrop, and I remembered how entranced I was the first time I saw the harbour, especially the cruise ships, which I thought were absolutely gigantic. I never quite did lose my fascination with them, because after months of driving into town in the morning I still marvel at their sheer size.

But today it was Mimi and I, going for a cruise. After Georgetown we decided to drive around to snap some nice pictures of the area, plus I wanted to get some up to date pictures of Mimi, as a lot of people had been asking how she was growing up. So without further ado - here are some new shots of Mimi!

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

On December 25th, we decided to go to 7 Mile Beach (the most beautiful stretch of beach on the Caymans) and go for a swim. We went later in the day, when a lot of people had left to get ready for Christmas dinner, so we had a fair amount of beach all to ourselves. In the water there was still a lot of activity, as you can see here:

Cardboard Boat Race

On the beach, people were celebrating Christmas by drinking from Champagne glasses, just hanging out with their friends,

Cardboard Boat Race

or practicing their soccer skills:

Cardboard Boat Race

Even I took a dip - amazing how buyoant you are with salt water!

Cardboard Boat Race

For a final shot of the day, Richard took this beautiful picture of a catamaran at sunset. Merry Christmas!

Cardboard Boat Race

Monday, December 22, 2008

Plants and all that green stuff

When we first moved into our house and I inspected my new garden, I was overwhelmed to say the least. My previous backyards ran the entire gamut from 3 acres with wild bush and wiry grass at Pigeon Lake to a tiny Ontario suburban backyard in a new development with no vegetation whatsoever.

And now I was standing in my new backyard which had enough different plants to make even an experienced gardener's head spin. But that's not what scared me - it was the fact that other than something that looked remotely like a fern, I had no idea what any of these plants were called, or how to take care of them. Of course I recognised the palm trees, but what did I really know about palm trees? I laugh now, but when we moved in, the palm trees had a lot of dead leaves on them, and I was convinced they were dying, until I learned that they were just dropping the old leaves as the new ones were never see these things in resorts, where plants always look immaculate and frozen in time, as it were.

Speaking of - I think a lot of people, myself included, have this notion that on a tropical island things just sort of grow by themselves. With sun and plenty of rain, how could things not grow by themselves? In fact, a beautiful tropical garden is a lot of work, and that not just 4 months of the year but 12 months.... Why is that, you wonder? Well, FIRST of all, heat and humidity create the ideal environment for bugs and various types of pests, some of which are actually works of art themselves, as you can see below.

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

These caterpillars can eat an entire bush in about two days, and I know that because I literally watched them make quick work of a large leaf in less than 20 minutes. They seemed to multiply just as quickly, and so I was a bit torn between admiring these fascinating and beautiful creatures and hoping to find a way to make them go away. Looking at one up close, they actually look hand painted, and reminded me of the song 'God must have spent a little more time on you'. Alas, my fascination had its limits, and in the end I decided I liked my (intact) shrubbery more than the caterpillars...

SECOND - not only is the growing season 12 months of the year (although things do slow down in the winter months when there is less rain), but plants also grow faster down here, I swear.

I was pretty oblivious to this when I first contacted some nurseries about a regular garden service. The idea of paying someone to do my garden seemed a little foreign to me at first, but I warmed up to it when I realised that my tropical garden knowledge was a bit like my knowledge of computers - just enough to do a lot of damage.

So I heeded the advice and invited several nurseries to view the garden and quote on a regular service. I was having a conversation with one of them about planting new fica bushes, and I asked him how long it would take to grow to full height (about 6 feet). He thought for a while and then, with a tone not unlike a doctor trying to break bad news gently, advised me that I shouldn't expect too much, as this would take a fairly long time. My Canadian brain heard "a fairly long time" and converted this into about 3-4 years. Still, that seemed pretty reasonable to me. He laughed when I told him what I thought, and said, oh no, I was talking more like one year. I couldn't believe it, but as I thought about it, it made sense, because growing season never really stops here!

In some ways I am in heaven - I like garden work, and living down here means that I never have to stop gardening. And you even get a bit of a break in the winter when things don't grow at break-neck speeds. Having said that, you never get a full break from gardening - you know, the snow kind of break where you can sit inside and not feel guilty about not working outside...but I don't mind.

So what exactly do I have in my yard, you wonder? Here is a little selection.


Cardboard Boat Race

The fica hedges I wrote about earlier look a lot like the Alpine Currant hedges we have in Canada (maybe they even are the same). I just planted some new ones and am going to see how long they take to grow... They are very common down here, and almost exclusively used for hedging. Curiously, front fencing is not as common here, as there are bylaws limiting the height of front fences to about four feet. This is based on the traditional Cayman style of fencing whereby the house and yard are supposed to be visible, and I think it also has to do with the fact that at one time this was a very small community, where people socialised and looked out for each other. This rule does not seem to apply to hedging, such as fica hedges or oleanders, which can grow quite high in many places.

Travelling Palms
I first thought these were fan palms, because of their shape, but learnt that they are called travelling palms because they literally travel the ground as they grow, with new shoots starting continuously. Here is a picture of a smaller one, followed by a palm that has obviously been there much longer - see what I mean?

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

The gardener I eventually hired for a while thought we were crazy to like the second palm the way it was, as it looked so awful in his opinion. People down here like their gardens very manicured (although I think that might just be the expats), and the thought of letting something grow naturally was anathema to his whole business, I guess..... So needless to say, the first palm is the 'desired' shape, whereas the second is what happens when you don't have a garden service or you are like us and like things to look 'natural'.

Cayman Palm

Cardboard Boat Race

I think these are lovely, although I am not sure they are actually native palms, notwithstanding their name. I was told that most of the palms on the island are actually not native, and some of them (like the Casuarina palm) are actually damaging and do not provide habitat. The same goes for a lot of other vegetation, like the hibiscus (on the left), for example.

Cardboard Boat Race

I don't really like this plant very much, but obviously our predecessor did, because we have about half of dozen of them. They are also susceptible to a pest called the mealy bug, which seems to have got this name because it looks a bit like a small cockroach that took a dip in a flour container. The mealy bug is to the Cayman Islands what the elm bark beetle is to Winnipeg - deadly stuff. So far we seem to have fared well, as I have not seen any bugs or symptoms yet.

Olive trees

Cardboard Boat Race

Absolutely gorgeous tree, non fruit bearing, but with a habit of staining anything under it, like our WHITE swimming pool concrete. Once, after a windy day, I went outside and found the entire pool bottom covered in little rust-like dots. I thought we had just ruined the pool somehow, until I realised it came from the trees. When I called the pool service, they advised that the chlorine would eventually eat away at the stains, and sure enough it did. The last hurricane did not much like the trees either and knocked one of them down.

Cardboard Boat Race

However, given that the tree's root system was lateral instead of extending deep into the soil (what soil?), the tree was simply put back up!

Cardboard Boat Race

And now, a good month later, the tree is doing well and sprouting like one of those little pots with faces which you feed and watch grow a full head of greenery....

And last but definitely NOT least - our mini banana plantation.

Cardboard Boat Race

When we moved, I thought this was just another palm variety until someone told me this was actually a fruit tree. Once the plant bears fruit it dies and another one shoots up, so if you have enough of them, you can have a fairly constant supply of bananas. Having said that, these are not the large bananas you might be used to seeing, but rather about a third of the size - they are called apple bananas and are supposed to be very sweet. I will know in about a week or so, as they are currently getting ripe on the kitchen counter....

Cardboard Boat Race

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas 2008 - Cayman style

You know something is not quite right when you have just attended a beautiful Christmas service, singing about how much fun it is to ride a sleigh, and you feel like you have just started to get into the spirit when you walk outside and realise that it's warmer outside than inside ...

Thinking about Christmas on the Caymans was a bit like thinking about hurricanes - you wonder what it would really be like to experience something so foreign, something that up to that point you would have just read about.

The first sign: a neighbour's beautifully lit up yard (in red and green of course), but instead of strands of light hung around bulky and snowy bushes, they ran up and down long lanky palm trees. And then there was the guy driving on the highway, with lush vegetation all around, and a REAL Christmas tree strapped on top of the car.

But that's not to say it doesn't feel real. Actually, at 25 degrees, Christmas here is probably more like that long-ago actual event in Bethlehem (where today it's 15 degrees by the way) than bundling up in Winnipeg at -30 degrees to go to midnight service. But of course it's not about what's real, it's about what you are used to, isn't it ....

And of course there is nothing like singing to get you in the spirit. Upon moving here, I joined the Cayman National Choir, which is about 40 strong, with a surprisingly large contingent of male voices which, if you have ever sung in a church choir or similar, is somewhat unusual. Men are not usually known to clamour for an opportunity to join a choir. Which is a shame because male voices lend such a regal atmosphere and depth to any piece. The choir is directed by Sue, a British music teacher who has held this position for about 10 years, and who is an excellent choir director with the right mix of people skills and authority. Not to mention that I like her music picks.... She obviously loves what she does, and sometimes entertains the choir as much as she directs it.

But I digress. On December 15 and 16, accompanied by the Cayman National Orchestra, the Cayman National Choir held its annual Christmas concert at Elmslie United Church, which is located right on the harbour in Georgetown. It's a pretty - I am tempted to say cute - little church with several very beautiful stained glass windows and an interesting wood ceiling, which I have never seen before.

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

The program was a mixture of instrumental, choral and chamber choir pieces, and here are some pictures of us in action...

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

Cardboard Boat Race

The church was full on the first night and packed for the second night, and I really enjoyed it. The last time I sang in a larger choir was in my graduate student days, when I sang in the choir of Ottawa's Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, which is a completely French-speaking church (did wonders for my French skills), and which also meant that all the choir practices were held in French. As a matter of fact, all the songs were either sung in French or Latin, unless it was Easter, which meant it was time to bring out Haendel's Messiah, which was actually a nice break ... speaking of breaks, it's time to break off this blog and wish you all