Sunday, September 29, 2013

Educating Ashani Update: Awesome People Doing Awesome Things

In the short time since the Educating Ashani Facebook group was established, we have 92 members, and $972.32 BZD has been donated, not to mention a variety of supplies that were on Ashani’s school supply list. You are all Rock Stars!

Thanks to everyone who shared the Facebook and blog posts about Ashani. And a special thanks also goes to all of you who took the time to help make her educational dreams come true with your contributions, including:

Regina Allen
Sandra Azancot
Joanne Hartough
Elizabeth Hull
Charlotte Lanore
Mary Ann McGregor
Cindra Marshall
Peggy Jo Gamble Mueller
Lynn Nichiporowich
Beth Oswald
Caprice Parks
Vivien Patterson
Loreta Randall
Mike Rathburn and Mardi Calhoun
Diana Rider
Jana C. Uhlik
Randy Wescott
Robert Winkler

With some judicious shopping, Ashani should have enough money to purchase the remaining items on her school supply list. Any monies left over from those purchases will be deposited in her educational savings account at Atlantic Bank, here in Corozal, for future school needs.

And speaking of shopping, Ms. Angie, a local hairdresser, offered to purchase some of the items Ashani needs from the beauty supply stores in Chetumal, Mexico, as she goes there at least once a week to purchase supplies for her beauty salon. On her first trip, she was able to get the mannequin head (Miss Suzie-Kin with human hair) and stand, as well as shampoo, hair cutting cape and a few other items on the school supply list.

On behalf of Ashani, thank you all for being so quick to come to the aid of this child and just being flat out awesome! Be sure to check back on the Educating Ashani page for updates and photos.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Educating Ashani: Unexpected Bumps in the Road

A number of you might recall my blog post about Ashani and what lengths she, her family, and countless others went to so her dreams of a secondary education could become a reality.

I'm pleased to announce that after being in school for a couple of weeks, Ashani is loving it. But here's the bad news: A couple of days ago, Ashani and her Cosmetology classmates were given SIX -- count 'em, SIX - pages of materials they are required to purchase for their class modules -- and purchase sooner rather than later, I might add. We're talking everything from nail files and nail polish to mannequin heads, scissors of all types, brushes, combs, and everything in between.

To say that Cathie Kelly, Ashani's sponsor, and I were shocked, amazed, outraged, fill-in-the-blank-emotion-you-can-imagine here, is nothing compared to what Ashani and her family have been feeling.

After attending the school's orientation, both Cathie and I were under the impression that the school would supply at least some of the things the students needed for their classes. However, after Cathie spoke with a couple of the school representatives, the answer was Nada – the students are responsible for everything on the lists. And considering that we heard during orientation that a student would receive demerits for not having the necessary materials for class, well, that only adds to the anxiety level.

Cathie and I decided there had to be some way to see if we, and others, could help Ashani out over this latest bump in the road. After a few electronic and verbal confabs, we thought the quickest way to reach people was to set up a Facebook group page called "Educating Ashani" to see if there might be folks who would want to help purchase some of the items Ashani needs or donate funds to the effort. 

If you don't have a Facebook account, you can see the list at "Ashani's School Supplies", which will take you to a Word document. I took the original six pages and grouped like things together, figuring it might be easier to digest. It's worth a read just to see how much stuff these kids need to purchase. And bear in mind, it doesn't include any of the items for her Makeup Application module (we're waiting to receive that info), the hair dryer that a generous lady here donated, or the $50 BZD Ashani needed to buy a lab coat.
What makes this situation even more interesting is that there are no beauty supply stores here in Corozal. Yes, you can find some of the smaller items like nail polish, hair dyes, and emery boards, but the bulk of the purchases will need to made over the border in Chetumal, Mexico. I'm guessing that will mean customs/duty will need to be paid on at least some of the stuff, which adds to the overall expense.

Speaking for myself, I'm still trying to keep my blood pressure from spiking. I mean, seriously, how on earth are these kids expected to pay for all this stuff? 

What does warm my heart though is that since launching Ashani's Facebook page yesterday afternoon, we already have 87 members in her group! On top of that, financial donations have started coming in. There are so many people, friends of friends of friends, who want to see Ashani succeed. To all of you, thanks for everything!

Should any of our blog readers care to donate money via PayPal to go towards the purchase of Ashani’s school materials, please go online to that page and click on "Send Money" to Cathie Kelly's account. Her email address is

If you don’t have a PayPal account, Cathie can provide info on alternate means for her to receive your donation. She can be reached through a Personal Message on Facebook or you can send her an email.

A huge thank you in advance for your support of making Ashani’s dreams come true and please feel free to share this post and Ashani’s Facebook page with your friends.

P.S. Once you are a member of the Educating Ashani Facebook group, you can invite friends by typing their name in the box located at the top right of the page or be sending them an email invite. Full details on why the group was created can be found in the "About" tab, located right under the banner.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Slices of Life from Belize: September 16, 2013

Don't Know Why, There's No Sun Up In The Sky -- Stormy Weather

Well, it seems my Open Letter to Invest 93L produced results, just not the ones I was hoping for. The storm made a name for herself, now known as Tropical Storm Ingrid, and it has been pounding Mexico, along with her brother, Tropical Storm Manual. And here in Corozal? It's still been raining. Matter of fact, as I write this there is a rather large cell hovering over us, and we're just waiting for the skies to open up...again. And unfortunately, the forecast doesn't look too promising for the next couple of days either. Rumblings of ark building are starting to take over many a Facebook chat. A number of people who have lived here far longer than we have say they can't remember it being this rainy for so many consecutive days. 

And if you recall from my note to Invest 93L, I posted some pictures of the road in front of Dave and Dianna Rider's house. If you want to find out more about what it's been like having a quagmire at your doorstep, then pop on over to their blog and read the latest entry, "Stuck in the Muck Again." 

Photo courtesy of Lynn Nichiporowich 

All I know is that this weather has gotten really old and my laundry pile is almost out of control.

Art In The Park

On Saturday night David and I decided that no matter what kind of weather we might have, we were going to check out the Art In The Park Festival in downtown Corozal. Specifically, we wanted to see the latest paintings from Ashani and see what other vendors might have to offer.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a bust. The rains put more than a damper on the turnout, and it wasn't the best weather to display water-based paintings. 

But I thought I would share a painting I bought from Ashani last month:

David made the frame and we have it hanging out in our porch. Of course, he had some help with the installation.

Miss Bronte (a.k.a. KitKat, a.k.a. #$%&^&% when she is really bad, which is frequently) found out that ladders can be great playthings. However, it does make it a bit more of a challenge to do anything while she's on it.

Temporary Guests

As a result of the rain we've been having, we had an unexpected visitor on the outside of our screen door:

And yes, it is a tarantula. I named her Clarice, and she hung out with us, shielded from most of the rain, for the entire day and part of the evening. Bronte showed some initial interest in her, but quickly tired of that game and left Clarice in peace.

The other visitor we had was...

...this incredible moth. With no exaggeration, its wingspan was at least six or seven inches and it's coloring was exactly like tree bark. 

Thanks to my fellow blogger and Facebook friend, Papi Thomas, he enlightened me on what it was: "We've been visited as well. I think it's called the Black Witch Moth. "Mariposa de la muerte" Mexican folklore, a harbinger of death. But in Yucatek Maya it is X-mahan-nah which means "borrow house". Ours just borrowed the bathroom for a few hours before we released him."

And hey, speaking of Facebook, feel free to send me a friend request so you can find out some of the whacky and not-so-whacky stuff that goes in our lives here in Belize between blog posts.

Quick Bites

I had fun in the kitchen last week making some old favorites and trying a couple of new recipes. Here are some of the things that appeared on our dinner table:

Asian Chicken Burgers with Cabbage Slaw - the burger is a riff on a recipe from Sara Moulton. It's nice change of pace from a beef burger, and the soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil add amazing flavor. For the slaw, I used the leftover cabbage from the burger, julienned some carrots, and made a cooked dressing that included eggs, apple cider vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and a bit of crema.

Black beans, Tomatoes, Italian sausage with white rice - One of the things I love about this dish is that it is incredibly versatile. Have leftover chicken bits or ground beef? Substitute it for the sausage. Want a veggie version? Skip the protein altogether. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll soak and cook dried black beans. But if you're looking for a quicker method, canned beans work just fine. Saute some onions, stir in some cumin, a touch of cayenne pepper, the beans with a bit of their juice, tomatoes, and browned sausage, and you've got dinner! If David had his way, we would have this once a week, every week.

BLT with Fried Egg served on Homemade Cuban Bread and Pan Fried Potatoes - These are all my favorite foods right on one plate. Swoon! This is the dish I would eat at least once a week, every week. I want to send a shout-out to Mardi and Mike Rathbun for sharing this sandwich recipe with me on Facebook.

Garlic Roasted Shrimp with Sherry-Tomato Sauce served over Homemade Pasta - I often make garlic roasted shrimp. Super simple to do, too. Just smash up about four cloves of garlic, throw them into about 2/3 cup of olive oil, and saute until the garlic starts to brown. Discard the garlic, then pour the garlic olive oil over the shrimp and pop into a pre-heated 425-degree oven for 8 minutes. But this time, I wanted to try a different direction. I made the shrimp as noted above, but also put together a sherry vinegar and tomato sauce that we had in another fish recipe not too long ago. For that, I put some chopped tomatoes, onions,  sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper into the food processor. Whizzed it around for a bit, then added about 1/2 cup of the garlic olive oil the shrimp cooked in. After cooking the homemade pasta, I piled on the garlic shrimp and drizzled the sherry-tomato sauce over everything. Very tasty! Next time, I'll try to remember to sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top to add some color contrast to the plate and be able to say in all honesty that there are greens in the meal.

 Pan Grilled Fish Fillet Sandwiches with Onion Strings - That sherry tomato sauce I used in the pasta dish? Well the leftovers got used on this fish sandwich. And please don't ask me what kind of fish it is. None of it is labeled in the stores, and when I've asked the most common reply after, "I don't know" is "It's seafish." But whatever it is, it tastes great and only takes about seven minutes of cooking per side on medium(ish) heat. However, the real star on the plate, in my humble opinion, are these onion strings. They are so seriously good that you can't stop eating them and may not want regular ole' onion rings again.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Open Letter to Invest 93L

Dear Invest 93L:

Okay, we got it -- you're trying to gear up and become an official Tropical Cyclone. But here's the thing: you can move outta' Belize now. You've been here for the better part of a week, and, quite frankly, you've overstayed your welcome. And why might that be?

For starters, there have been only a few chunks of time when you haven't been pelting us with rain. Yes, I know it's the rainy season, but seriously, this dumping 4-5 inches at a shot has gotten old. 

Just look at what you did to our bed where we have our tomato plants:

And the property at the start of our lane:

And if that wasn't enough, you made a terrible mess on one of the side roads to Dave and Dianna Rider's house:

And the road Dave and Dianna live on?



You have some explaining to do mister. That standing water may look innocent enough, but I can tell you for a fact that it's deep.

Today marks the sixth time in 11 days that we've had to drain excess water out of our pool. And speaking of pools, it's because of you and your earlier Invest friends that Happy Hour has been cancelled twice and, based on what you did to Dave's road, I would guess there's a strong possibility it won't happen tomorrow either.

And when you haven't been pelting us with rain, you go dead quiet. No wind at all, but you pump up the humidity to a point that I didn't even know existed. 

Our pets are going stir crazy, but I must say they do seem to enjoy being able to sack out on indoor furniture otherwise off limits to them. However after this many days of having them indoors, the aroma of wet dogs is not a room freshener I particularly enjoy.

So, pack your bags and skedaddle. We're tired of feeling moldy and moist and are in desperate need of blue skies and sunshine.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Building a New Bathroom Vanity

David weighs in on his latest project:

OK, so we wanted to replace our old (came with the house) bathroom vanity cabinet. It was old looking when it was new, but I'm sure it was very inexpensive.

I designed a cabinet to fit our bathroom. The bath is covered in a rather horrible, blue mottled tile. So part of the goal was to cover as much of it as possible and lighten things up. The design was for a corner cabinet with a couple of drawers and doors below. We really like lots of storage, and the previous cabinet had just one big space below the sink, as most vanities seem to do. 
Here's the design I came up with (with Elizabeth's counsel and approval, of course):

I could have had one of the cabinet makers here in Corozal build it, but decided making it myself would keep me from being idle and get what we wanted. 

So off to the lumber yard. I figured I needed about 14 1"x3"x8' boards, some plywood, a 1"x 6" x 6' for drawer fronts, and a fixed piece for the sink area. The lumber yard had both hardwood and softwood. I choose to use hardwood since it warps less in our high-humidity environment. I knew I was going to paint the cabinet, so rather than making it out of mahogany, as the lumber yard was try to promote, I choose some wood called Santa Rita. Good, close grain and not quite as hard as mahogany. All woods available here are very hard, even the "softwoods", so I knew my tools would take a beating. 

The helpful lumber guy took me out to the yard to select the wood I wanted. They don't kiln dry wood here, they just stack it up in the sun and wait for a few years. Hopefully the wood will sufficiently dry to be stable -- not warp. 

After selecting my boards (all true dimensional lumber-- a 1x3 is really 1" by 3"), the yard man took my boards into the shop to plane them down. Four guys ran them through planners and jointers until they we smooth and square. So the boards ended up being 7/8" x 2 3/4".

I then I paid the bill.  $27 BZD (that's 13.50 US) for the lot -- 14 8' 1x3s and 1 6' 1x6, including the 45 minutes of workers smoothing and truing the boards. In the US it would have cost $300-400 easily. 

So I am ready to start the build. There's nothing particularly unique about that process -- just follow the plan -- cut the wood, build the structure. The one necessity with this real hard wood is that all nails and screws need to have pre-drilled holes. Not to eliminate splitting wood (as I would have done in the US), but to just nail the nails in without bending them. I have never bent so many nails on a project before, even with the pre-drilling. 

So the structure is built. Now for drawers and doors. I hate building drawers. They have to be deadly accurate or they won't slide or align properly. Doors aren't so bad to make, they are basically 2 dimensional. With the 3 dimensional drawers, more can go wrong, and it always does. 

Given the choice I always use drawer slides, it just makes some of the drawer building and fitting easier. But in this case, the drawers are only 8" deep, no drawer slides that size. So I have to use the old cut-a-square-notch-in-the-drawer-side and make a tenon to fit. It worked out OK. Not as smooth running as I'd like, but with sanding and soap, they run in and out with little binding.

Elizabeth had picked out some nice Mexican tile for the top. It has Aztec-style figures subtly debossed. When I designed the cabinet, I figured the 8"x8" tiles into the design. When we picked up the tiles I discovered they were just under 7 7/8" square. Guess I should have measured them first. Anyway I can work around this somehow. Unfortunately once I have the 17 tiles laid out on the top, I discovered every single one of them had to be cut. I knew there'd be a lot of cutting, but I was hoping that at least 1 or 2 could be used whole. No such luck. 

When we left the US for Belize one of the tools I decided not to bring was my wet tile saw. Should have. So I contemplated getting one. Shopped around town for one. They only one I found was very expensive for what it was. Looked around online, but with import duties and shipping (rather heavy), decided against the cost for so few cuts. I'd spring for one if I had other tile plans, but none on the horizon. 

I found some grinding wheels for cement that are designed for an angle grinder, which I don't have and would have little need in the future. So I bought a grinding disc anyway. With enough washers I hoped I could get it to work on the mandrels I have. With a large lock washer and some flat washers, I able to clamp the wheel, somewhat centered on a mandrel that would fit my drill. 

So with goggles, a heavy-duty dust mask and ear plugs, a grindin' I did go. Aside from the straight lines I had to cut, there was also the oval hole to drop the new sink into. After six days of grinding through tile and trying to true the edges as much as possible, I was awash in ceramic tile dust and satisfied that my Belizean plan B -- or was it plan 8? -- worked well enough to be a passable solution -- and for only $4.50. As an industrious retiree, I have lots of time, but am rather cheap when it comes to buying a good tool for a single project. 

There was one tricky cut (actually two, the one shown here and its reverse on the other side). I could have done it another way with little triangular bits in the corners, but I thought this was a better design solution. Inside corner cuts (with a grinding wheel no less) on ceramic tile are a challenge, especially without losing the pointed tip at the edge of the tile.

Now a little grouting and the top should be done. Without me thinking much about it previously, I was pleased with the tile my bride had picked out. Unfortunately the surface of the tiles is rather rough texture and the debossed figures made cleaning after grouting a challenge. Between the texture and the figures, I spent three times the time cleaning as I did grouting. Lucky I have all the time in the world for these projects.

So after painting and some trim, it's ready for transport.

Installation was pretty simple. A little plumbing, caulking, leveling (walls and floors are no more square in Belize than in the US), and another project complete. Cheap, functional, looks good, if I do say so myself, and a grand improvement over its previous poor cousin.

Now I get to start on the upper cabinets.