Saturday, December 29, 2012

Angel and Demon In a Three Pound Package

There was a time when I would find Bronte sleeping, looking so angelic, and wonder what she dreamed about. Chasing geckos? Batting around a cat toy? Snuggling up to one of us and feeling wonderfully content and all-a-purr?

Now I know. She doesn’t dream about any of those things. Instead, she uses her nap times to plot her next assault.

On any given day, she manages to get herself into all kinds of trouble and hears these three commands ad nauseum:




In addition to doing all of the antics shown above, she has recently figured out how to open cabinet doors. We have spent many an hour trying to track down which cabinet she got herself into, using her loud “meeeeoooow!” as our beacon. Fortunately, I suppose, she has also now figured out how to open cabinet doors from inside.

And we can’t forget, because she won’t let us, all the times she jumps up on the island and tries to make herself at home.

Or when she lures Olivia into some out of the way spot and the puppy ends up getting stuck.

Or when she decides that climbing your bare leg is great fun.

Or when she sleeps on your pillow and in the middle of the night decides to rip a hank of your hair from your the roots no less, then leap down the bed to bite your toes.

Or when she walks all over our keyboards and screens we've never seen before appear or decides the mouse for David's laptop is the best play thing ever.

Or…, well, you get the idea. We have resorted to buying a large squirt bottle, filling it with water, and spraying her when she misbehaaves. Our aim has improved tremendously and depending on the day, hour, or minute, she appears quite drenched. But you know what makes her behavior all the more frustrating? When we reprimand her, she gets this look on her face – her eyes become little slits and she takes on this imperious tilt to her head – and for all the world you would believe she’s muttering, “Screw you” under her breath. I think I caught her practicing how to use her front toes to give us the feline version of the finger. Where she would have learned such things is beyond me.
So while Bronte may have the face of an angel while sleeping, I have become sorely tempted to keep her awake at all costs.
There’s no telling what she’ll dream up next to drive us crazy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas and Boxing Day in Belize

Well, the holiday season started off with a bang…literally…on Christmas Eve with the sound of firecrackers going off throughout the day. From what we were told, Christmas is a very big deal here, and folks go all out to celebrate. We can state for the record that some neighboring families must have had one heck of a party. We heard the music start around 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and it continued, almost without a break, until 6 a.m. Christmas Day. The partying did stop briefly around midnight when a bunch of fireworks went off. That lasted about 20 minutes, then the music got cranked up again.

Feeling a bit bleary-eyed on Christmas Day from lack of sleep, we took things easy for the most part. We had been invited for Christmas dinner by our good friends Dave and Dianna and their friend, Elsie, who would be hosting the event at her place. We had read about Elsie on Dave’s blog, and looked forward to finally meeting her.

Folks started arriving at Elsie’s around 4:00, with everyone bringing a dish to share.
Denis, Vivian, Christina, and Dave

Maria, Ed, and their son, Thomas

David, Dianna, and Elsie

Dianna working on the gravy, while Vivian and Elsie tend to the turkey

Many hands making light work of getting everything on plates and platters

And oh what a feast! Elsie did an amazing job with the turkey. It was perfectly browned and the meat was tender and juicy. Dianna had made a big batch of mashed potatoes, contributed a corn side dish, and whipped up an amazing gravy. You can’t go wrong when a gravy is based on cream and butter! Carrots and cranberry jelly joined the party, along with stuffing, black beans, Yorkshire puddings and rolls. But before digging into all of that, Mae and Craig served up a salad that was chock full of wonderful things like pears, candied walnuts, and cranberries.

After literally stuffing ourselves into oblivion, we all somehow found room for dessert. Maria made an apple pie that was beyond delicious. It has been years since I had a slice of apple pie and after one bite, I was in love. A traditional black cake was also served, sort of like the local version of fruit cake.
Elsie was a fabulous hostess and we look forward to meeting her partner, Alan, when he arrives on December 31.
But more than enjoying all the wonderful food, we thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening with friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better holiday. But the fun was just beginning, because the next day we hitched a ride with Dave and Dianna to Four Mile Lagoon for a Boxing Day lunch at Ed and Maria’s house.
Situated right on the lagoon, their house is absolutely lovely with some very distinctive features including a domed ceiling in the their dining room. I would guess about 30 people were in attendance and, like the Christmas dinner, folks brought various dishes to round out the awesome ham that Maria made.

Circling the buffet

Ed and Maria's porch with lagoon in the background

Just some of the guests chatting in the living room.
It’s impossible to list everything that was served, but I can tell you that everything – from the spanakopita and mini meatballs to the pasta and macaroni salads, chocolate chip cookies, made-from-scratch chocolate cake and chocolate cherry cookies --  looked and tasted delicious.

Once everyone had finished gorging themselves, it was time for the gift exchange game. For this party, the rules were that an individual or a couple could bring a wrapped gift that cost about $20 BZD. I had purchased a clay pot from a local store as our gift. I thought it might be a popular item, but I had no idea it would be stolen and passed back and forth so many times! But the pot had competition against a bottle of red wine. But amid all the swapping and stealing, everyone had a great time. Thanks to Ed and Maria for a fun-filled party!

The holiday festivities don’t end there. Next Tuesday, we have back-to-back parties. First up is a New Year’s luncheon back at the lagoon at Gail and Earl’s house. After that, we head over to Dave and Dianna’s to take part in their second annual Polar Bear Swim. Stay tuned for details.

One thing’s for sure: we have never had so much fun or been on the go like this during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Project Flashback: Porch Redo & Power Washing

Before we started tackling our kitchen, building an entertainment center, planting a veggie garden, and adopting a puppy and a kitten, we were busy with a few other projects earlier this year that might be of interest.

Not long after we arrived here in May, we quickly realized that our porch needed immediate attention. For starters, all of the screens needed to be replaced. The originals were two layers: a fine mesh metal screening, which in theory would keep insects out, then a heavier, wider mesh that helped to keep debris from coming in during storms. I mention how the screens should work in theory, and I’m sure when they were originally installed 10 years ago they did a good job. But over the years, the metal rusted, holes were formed, and I can state for a fact that pretty much any flying insect found their way into our house. And I can also state for the record that these babies bite…big time. Attempts were made over the years to repair the various holes with duct tape, but clearly that wasn’t the ideal solution.

What the interior of the porch originally looked like.

We took a trip to Lano’s Hardware in town and discovered they sold shade cloth, which is a fine mesh nylon type of screening that would work just great. David then started taking apart all of the frames and discovered the original screens were installed with pretty much any type of fastener you can imagine – nails, brads, staples, carpet tacks to name just a few. No matter what was used, all were rusted.
While he tackled the screen installation, I started painting. As with the screens, no new paint had been applied in 10 years, and everything looked rather dingy. Painting the inside walls wasn’t a big deal, but the wrought iron work? Oy. I thought painting louvered doors was an exercise in Zen, but all those iron curlicues almost did me in. And just for the record, the wrought iron window coverings are welded to the wall, so it wasn't like we could just hit 'em with spray paint and call it a day. Nope, each freakin' curlicue had to be painted with a teeny, tiny brush.
Wrought iron door and window covering. With the two window coverings now repainted on the porch, it only leaves 12 more to do on the house. Don't even want to contemplate the ones on the workshop.
During this time, we also purchased a power washer. Call me crazy, but I love using a power washer. Once I get that wand in my hand, nothing, and I mean nothing, is safe if it isn’t nailed down.
One of the first areas I blasted was the walkways on either side of our driveway. This is what it looked like before:

And after:

The front, outside walls of the porch also needed attention. Before the power wash:

After the power wash:

After being painted:

Those bedding plants you see have all been ripped out and replaced with sunflowers and marigolds.
Back to the screening, we opted to paint all the frames white to give the area a more open feel. Here's what our efforts yielded when the paint was on and the new screens in place:
Suffice it to say, our interior insect population plummeted and the number of bug bites dropped dramatically.

As an aside, you may notice the ceiling fans in some of the interior porch shots. These were rusted beyond belief, but could move massive quantities of air. Instead of replacing them, at least for now, David took them out to his shop and gave them a complete makeover. You wouldn't even recognize them now, 'cause they look so purty.

In an upcoming post, I'll share more project flashbacks including what it took to replace our septic tank (what fun that was!) and the main breaker box (our first experience finding out what it would take to break through concrete walls. Thank goodness for hammer drills.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Kitchen Remodel: Lights! Shelves! Bar Top!

Much to the chagrin of some of our blog readers (you know who you are), I have been oh-so-gently reminded that I haven’t put up a new post in over a week. Actually, what I was told is that they were tired of pulling up the blog and seeing the stupid bougainvillea still up there. Yeah, the flowers are pretty, but move on to something else. So as to not disappoint our loyal follwers, here’s what’s been happening in our kitchen the last handful of days.

The first project was that David installed the first task light and is at this very moment working on the second installation.

I love these lights. We had them in our previous kitchen and they give just the perfect amount of brightness. In the coming weeks, we’ll tidy up the cement work around the outlets where he had to tap into the line for the wiring and will start installing the backsplash tiles.
The other project that kept David busy and his back in a twisted pretzel was building and installing shelves in the lower cabinets.


The shelves run the full length of the sink cabinet as well as the smaller cabinet on the other side of the range. Now instead of having to stack pots, pans, and whatnot, everything can be better organized.
The other element in the works is the glass bar top for the island.
This has been a stop-and-go exercise, if there ever was one.
Back around October, we stopped in Corozal Glass, right here in town. We spoke to a guy there who, after hearing what we wanted, said, “Sure, no problem. We can do the job.” We said we would drop off the plans in the next couple of days.
David returned to the shop, plans in hand, and spoke to another guy. He said it wouldn’t be possible to cut the radius on one piece of glass. After some discussion and brainstorming, he was asked if it would be possible to cut the radius if the glass was in two pieces. The guy said, “Sure, no problem. We can do it.” So David went back to his trusty laptop and reworked the design so the glass top would be in two pieces.
When he returned to the shop, plans in hand, he was told that the machine needed to cut the radius was broken and a part was on order from Mexico. No word on when the machine would be back in operation. On top of that, the woman who worked the counter at the store was “out of town” and he wouldn’t be able to manage the counter and the glass cutting until she returned.
In the meantime, we shared our story with the guy building our cabinets. He let us know that the woman who manned the counter was the glass guy’s wife who had left him. The chances of us getting our bar top anytime soon were slim and none. However, our cabinet guy had a source in Chetumal, Mexico that he was pretty sure could do the job and have it done in one piece.
On Wednesday of this week, David made the trip to Chetumal with the cabinet maker’s wife. As it was David’s first trip across the border, it was helpful to have someone who knew the ropes and spoke Spanish. We agreed it didn’t make much sense for me to tag along, because the only value-add I would bring to the glass shop discussion would be to say, “Yup, works for me.”  Not exactly worth the $38 to cross the border.
With it being so close to the Christmas holiday, the line to cross the border was longer than normal. It took David about and an hour and a half to get through customs. From there, it was a short ride to the glass shop.
After discussing the design with the glass shop guys, them faxing the plans to their factory for input, and waiting an hour for the reply, it was agreed they could do the job. However, instead of using ½” glass, it will be ¾” thick and will be tempered (the shop in town couldn’t provide tempering). Because the glass guys wanted to ensure they made the cut exactly how we wanted it, they asked David to make a template for them and have it in their hands by the next day.
Fortunately, David was able to purchase a four-foot long piece of paper from a store here in town, and holed himself up in his shop to do all the measurements and markings. Thank goodness the man is a whiz at math, because I’m just hopeless at it.
Once the template was done, we dropped it off at the cabinet shop the next morning. Turns out the cabinet maker’s wife was going back to Chetumal that day and offered to drop it off at the glass shop for us.
If all goes according to plan, the bar top should be completed by the end of January (which probably means some time in February). David will be making a return trip once the job is complete to sign off on the final piece and pay the balance due. At that point, the top will be delivered across the border to the cabinet maker, who will then coordinate the delivery to us. Piece of cake, right? Let’s hope so.
And just so you don’t think that I’ve been just lazing around, eating bonbons, and watching dreck TV, I’ve been busy painting the kitchen walls and went on a cooking binge. Maybe because it felt so long since I could just cook without having to dodge plastic tarps and concrete dust, but I just needed to spend time in the kitchen.
In one day, I made chocolate chip cookies,

 A batch of Yorkshire puddings,

and filled a roasting pan with potatoes, onions, carrots, and two decent sized bone-in chicken breasts and let that do its thing in the oven.
I’ve also cranked out corn muffins, fish fillet sandwiches, roasted potato wedges, a big batch of pasta sauce, French-style bread, and pizza dough, to name just a few. Man, do I love having the space to spread out and prep. Without a doubt, my kitchen ROCKS!
We hope that after the holidays are over we can take delivery of the range hood shelf and the final piece of countertop that goes behind the range. When they show up, you guys will be among the first to know.
P.S. With today being the official start of winter, the weather here definitely has a nip in the air. Right now, it's about 64 degrees with a brisk wind. Sweaters, jeans, and socks have been dug out of storage and donned. If this keeps up, mittens may be required.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Slices of Life from Belize: 12/13/12

I took a stroll this morning with the camera and thought I would share some of my favorite shots of some of my favorite things about living here.

Bougainvillea in bloom


Marigolds outside our porch




Sam, my other baby

The scarecrow in the cornfield across the lane

Tangerines ripening on the windowsill

Sweet Tanya

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kitchen Remodel: At Last! We Have Cabinets! We Have Doors!

Yesterday afternoon we took delivery of our cabinet doors. If you recall, we needed to send them back to the cabinet shop because there were various spots that needed to be filled with putty and sanded and/or needed some extra paint to for cosmetic purposes.

Of course, the process of getting the doors yesterday had its own little bit of drama. We got a call from the cabinet shop yesterday morning requesting us to stop by and take a look at the refinished pieces. Not a problem, especially as we were already in town.

When we arrived at the shop, we went out to the paint area to take a look at the work that had been done. While most of the doors looked okay, there were a few that still had some issues. For instance, on one door you could still see the putty. On others, there were still seams where no paint appeared. Simple enough to fix, but this being the third try to get them corrected, well, it was a little frustrating.
We came to find out that the guy who does all the paint work doesn’t like to be told what to do…by anyone. It wasn’t just our paint job, apparently it’s all paint jobs he works on. Sounds to me like it’s time to get a new paint guy.
However, to save ourselves and the cabinetmaker more frustration and more delays, we asked that the most obvious bits be corrected, then supply us with the paint to do the remaining cosmetic work ourselves. All parties came away reasonably satisfied, and we went home to await the arrival of our doors.
Later that afternoon, the pickup appeared bearing the doors and our two pieces of backsplash for behind the counters. Because all the holes had already been pre-drilled into the cabinets, it took little time to hang the doors. After the wood backsplashes were installed, the job – at this stage – was complete.
This morning David installed the door knobs…


…which match in design with the handles he already put on.


After that, he spent time using some fine brushes to do the cosmetic paint work.
Tomorrow work is supposed to begin on the building of the shelf that will go over the range and be the mount for the range hood, along with a counter piece that will cover the opening in back of the range. It would be nice to think that we might have these last elements in the next week, but we’ll see how things go. In the meantime, I will be getting to work this week painting the final bits of wall space in the kitchen area, and David will install the task lighting under the upper cabinets.
It’s certainly been an interesting journey getting to this point, but it’s been worth the wait.

The kitchen area has exactly the open, airy feeling we were shooting for. Now it’s time to start cooking!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sticks and Stones

While we’ve been dealing with all the stops and starts of our kitchen remodel, there has been other work going on around Casa Wright, specifically the replacement of four support posts on our large palapa and the building of a frame over our veggie garden to provide some much needed shade for our seedlings.

In case you’re not familiar with the term “palapa,” it’s an open-sided structure with a thatched roof.
It’s also good to know that any type of wood posts are referred to as “sticks.”
The first thing that needed to happen was to find the right sized sticks for both jobs. We needed 10 foot sticks for veggie frame and 14 foot sticks for the palapa repair.
Fernando enlisted the help of his brother, Raphino, to go out and chop the sticks. According to Fernando, sticks should only be chopped no more than two days before the full moon, but no later than one day after the full moon. Why? Apparently, the sticks are stronger and will last an extra 10 or so years. Who knew? Anyway, they found a guy with a panel truck, loaded the cut sticks, and brought them to the house.
Large sticks for palapa repair

Charge for chopping the sticks: $0. Charge for the use of the truck: $30 BZD.
Once the sticks were unloaded from the truck, and trust in the fact that the big ones are extremely heavy – a few over 200 pounds, Fernando and Raphino got busy scraping the bark from all of them using their machetes. That process took most of a day.

Using machetes to scrape off the bark

For the veggie frame, they coated the sticks with a oil mixture to help prevent insect damage. Then using a post hole digger they made the holes, inserted the sticks, and filled in the holes with dirt.
David and I will be buying some shade cloth and figuring out the best way to attach it. We want it to be removed easily in the event of strong winds or a big storm.

The process for the palapa repair was more complicated. First let me show you the damage on one of the posts so you can understand why some needed to be replaced.

The guys dug out around each post, about three feet down – and in one case busted through the cement one was set in.
This was back breaking work and Fernando and Raphino worked non-stop. I always feel like such a wuss when I see them tackling jobs like this.
Once the area was dug out from around each stick, they then had to manhandle the replacement stick from the backyard, coat it with oil, then get it inserted into the hole. Once set, they put support braces in a V-shape at the top of each one.

The holes were then filled with busted up stones and rocks, then filled with cement and the top smoothed with a screed.
We now have secure posts, so this baby ain't goin' anywhere thanks to all the work put in by Fernando and Raphino.