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 Sunset...you 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 Sign...you now consider a 20 minute leisurely ride to work a ‘long commute’.

...you don't even bat an eye anymore when coming across plants such as these:
Care to dance?

and...

Beautiful Butterfly...you 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

Food

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:

Familyroom.old">

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


Familyroom2">

The kitchen went from blending into the background:

Kitchen.old">

to standing out:

Kitchen1">

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....

livingroom.old">


LR6">

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:

STEP 1.
Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least ten days.

STEP 2.
Put these supplies into your luggage.

STEP 3.
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:

HOMEOWNERS' INSURANCE:
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.

SHUTTERS:
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.

HURRICANE PROOFING YOUR PROPERTY:
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.

EVACUATION ROUTE:
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.

HURRICANE SUPPLIES:
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.

Bleach.
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...