Friday, August 31, 2012

All the Comforts of Home

With our new sofa scheduled for delivery this Saturday, we decided there was no time like the present to paint the living room wall it would be sitting in front of. Instead of keeping the light green color, we opted for all the walls to be white, which should really brighten up the interior. So yesterday I got to work. About a third of the way through painting, David’s cell phone rang. It was Aventura Furniture. Our sofa was finished and would be delivered that morning! 

Part of me was thinking, “AAARGGHHH! I need to finish my paint job!” The other, more grown-up side of my brain was saying, “Oh stop getting your panties in a twist. In a matter of hours, you’ll have a sofa to sprawl on!” Fortunately, my grown-up side won out. I managed to finish up the painting in more than enough time, and before we knew it, we got the call that the truck was on its way. YAY!

The delivery guys were in and out in a flash, and it was only right after they left that we noticed that one of the cushions had a dirt streak. David called Mr. Montalvo who came out after lunch to attack the problem. And while he did his best, some of the dirt streak remained. He thought some of the streak was just a shadow and didn’t quite buy into the fact it was really there. Instead of him laboring over it, we asked where we could purchase upholstery cleaner. With that info in hand, we would tackle it ourselves.

But dirt streak aside, the sofa was here, and we were very pleased. To put the finishing touches on our living room area, we finally were able to unpack a rug and a framed tapestry and get those in place. 

Our living room area with new sofa
We sold or donated many of our possessions before we moved, but come hell or high water, this tapestry was going with us. David bought it during a trip to India, then had it framed. I just love it and the sofa fabric coordinates really well.
Tapestry from India

We asked Fernando if he knew of anyone who might want the recliners and he said he did.

Late yesterday afternoon, he stopped by with a friend with a pickup and carted the chairs away.
So with everything now in place, our place now really feels like home. 

P.S. To celebrate, I did uncork a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Hadn’t planned to do that until Saturday, but what the heck, this was something to celebrate! And last night, while I did sprawl somewhat, I tried not to be a sofa hog, so both of us were as comfy as could be. Don't know how long that will last, but at least I tried :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And So Begins Our Adventure

So there we were, retired in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, we had a lovely home in a great development and spent our time remodeling, doing volunteer work, and getting on with our lives.

But as the years went by (five of them to be exact), we started asking ourselves, “Is this how we want to spend all or part of our retirement?  Should we have some adventure in our lives?”

Don’t misunderstand – it wasn’t like we weren’t happy, but more of a case of, “Is there more for us?" Besides, Hendersonville is a real Republican stronghold and the daily papers often made our blood boil.
For a number of years, we vacationed in the Caribbean and daydreamed of living in a tropical setting. The sound of rustling palm trees, being close to the water, and having a laid back, simple lifestyle really appealed to us. We also felt that we wanted to get out of our comfort zone and experience a different culture. In short, we really felt antsy for some adventure.

But after visiting a number of islands, none really jumped out at us as a relocation possibility, mostly because of the outrageous cost of living. So we started exploring alternatives to an island as a new adventure spot.  Belize had been on our “bucket list” for a place to visit for a while, and as neither one of us had been to Central America, we decided to check it out.
Before going to any new vacation locale, we always do a fair amount of research to figure out where we want to stay, things to do, and to have some idea of the culture. Our trip planning for Belize covered all those things. And because it had the possibility of being a relocation option, we did even more. From buying and reading various books, scouring blogs and forums, to checking out online real estate, we spent countless hours on our computers gathering details. 
The more we read and learned about the country, the more intrigued we became. Belize is a small country – about the size of New Hampshire – will about 310,00 people. It’s tropical, they speak English, and many people had given excellent reviews as a vacation spot. As an added bonus, the Belize dollar (BZ$) is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a ratio of 2 Belize dollars to 1 U.S. dollar. Sweet!

We are not the kind of couple who likes touristy kinds of areas, crazy nightlife, or big hotels. Any time we’ve travelled, we’ve generally visited areas a bit off the beaten path and stayed in hotels with 20 rooms or less.  For our Belize trip, we decided to check out the Corozal district, located in the northern part of the country. Located right on a large bay, it is not a tourist mecca, (read no cruise ships), no duty free shops, big box stores or chains of any kind, in short, not much to see or do. Just a great sounding place to relax.

While checking some online real estate listings, there was one house, in particular, which caught our eye. We kept coming back to it, mostly because of the beautiful landscaping. But as we had heard there is no MLS in Belize and we didn’t know of any real estate agents, we thought we would see what contacts we could muster up once we got down there.

Then the first of many coincidences happened. When we booked reservations at the Copa Banana Guesthouse, the owner let us know that her significant other was a realtor. Hmmm, maybe we could get some details on properties during our visit after all.

In the meantime, we also were avidly reading a blog, Winjama – Our Adventures in Paradise, written by an expat by the name of Dave Rider. He and his wife live in Corozal Town, and his posts cover the gamut of their experiences in their move to and experiences in Belize and make for fascinating, funny, and informative reading. Knowing that Corozal Town wasn’t that big, we shot Dave an email asking if we could meet him at some local watering hole during our stay to pick his brain on a number of questions that we had. He not only was open to meeting with us, but invited us over to his home. And get this, his house is a stone’s throw from the guesthouse where we were staying.

By the time our March 1 departure date arrived, we were thinking that Belize may be an interesting possibility for a new adventure. Our game plan was to spend the two weeks there getting a feel for the place, do as much information gathering as we could, and see how we felt once we came back to North Carolina. Even if it turned out that we weren’t taken with the place, we would at least have had an interesting vacation to a country we’ve never been before.
Little did we know what the fates had in store for us and the other crazy coincidences that were about to happen.
To be continued

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making Focaccia

Ahhh, the goodness of bread. Next to cheese, bread, pretty much any kind, makes me swoon. And focaccia, well, one bite of that dense, olive oil drizzled, slightly salty slab just does me in. Back in the States, I relied on this focaccia recipe from Anne Burrell and thought I would give it a go now that we’re here.

Finding the ingredients in our local grocery stores was easy. However, you need to get used to the textures of both flours and sugars.  A company called ADM produces all the flour for Belize. Their flour mill produces a baker's flour (Bebe Agua), an all-purpose counter flour (la Gitana), a premium low-ash cake flour (Purity) and a whole-wheat flour (Hi-Rise).  

I find the Bebe Agua a bit too fine for bread making purposes, but want to experiment with adding some whole wheat flour to see what happens. The all-purpose flour feels, at least to me, a bit denser than a brand like Gold Medal that I would use in the States. The whole wheat flour also seems to be a coarser grind, but is very good.

The white sugar here is also a bit coarser, and the brown sugar doesn’t have whatever the ingredient is that allows you to pack it in a measuring cup. So you experiment and learn as you go.

I got used to using a scale to measure out all my baking ingredients, but it died an untimely death on the trip down here. Turns out that I find it works better to rely on the look and feel of whatever dough I’m making than ensuring that everything is measured to the last gram.

Anyway, back to the focaccia. I started with the first cast of characters who came to the party: water, yeast, and sugar. 

I warmed the water in a saucepan until it reached about 110 degrees (we don’t have a microwave). I stirred in the sugar until it dissolved, then stirred in the yeast. While that mixture was proofing, I measured out the flour, olive oil, and salt and put all that in the bowl of my standing mixer.

Once the yeast was ready (look at how nice and bubbly it is!)...

... I poured it into the mixing bowl and let the KitchenAid do its thing. 

After about five minutes, the dough was smooth and silky. However, it was still on the sticky side, so I added some more flour while kneading the dough by hand a few times.

Then it was off to take a lovely nap in a oiled bowl for about an hour. 

While it dozed away, I poured the remaining oil into a baking pan and got that all lubed up. Can you tell that this pan gets used a lot?

Here’s the dough after about an hour; nice and puffy, just the way we like it.

I plopped the dough on the baking sheet and started pressing it out, putting as many dimples as possible on the surface. The sheet was then covered with a damp towel and it was off for another one hour snooze while the oven preheated to 425 degrees.

Ready for the oven!

Oh my. Will you look at that? I would say it’s too pretty to eat, but the crumbs all over my face give away the fact that I already dived in.

While I’ll be freezing some of this, I plan to make some sandwiches in the coming week. How does focaccia schmeared with basil pesto, topped with a crepe, tomato, bacon, and cheese sound? Yup, thought you might like that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Greetings from Belize!

To put a slightly finer point on it, greetings from Ranchito, which is located in the Corozal District. We are in the northernmost part of the country, only about nine miles from the Mexican border.

David and I arrived here back on May 19 of this year and have spent the last few months settling in to our new home and a new lifestyle.

And let me tell you, it hasn’t been dull.  Allow me to give a few examples. In the last 12 weeks, we have:
  • Installed a new septic tank. (Well, we didn’t do it, but had a crew come in to do the work.)
  • Replaced all the screens on our front porch and painted the interior, including wrought iron work.
  • Power washed pretty much anything that is an unmovable object.
  • Brought in an electrician to upgrade our circuit breaker box (the old one wouldn’t meet code, no matter where you would be living).
  • Replaced our washer and refrigerator.
  • Traded in our old car (the one that came with the house deal) and bought a newer one (a sales experience one would never have in the States).
  • Hired a crew to put a cement finishing coat on one of our outbuildings and a raised planting bed. They also built a smallish, three-sided structure to protect our butane tank and water heater.
  • Witnessed our first Category 1 hurricane (Ernesto) and got hit the following week with a freak storm, the likes of which dumped more rain in a 24-hour period than any of the locals can remember.
We’ve also been learning how to find our way around town, shop for food and supplies, cook with a butane stove, not to mention bonding with our new adopted dogs, Sam and Tanya.
Crazy? Yes. Fun? Most of the time. Regrets? Nope.

In future posts, I’ll share details of why we came here, how we got here, some of the projects we’ve already done, get you in on the ground floor of those projects we’re about to undertake, and do my best to give you an idea of day-to-day living here.

So fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables in the upright and locked position, and join us in our adventures.