Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Ode to Our Belize Christmas

It was the day of Christmas and all through the house,
People were gathered and started getting soused.

Graham, who with his wife Leona and daughter Ashton, brought the biggest turkey any of us had ever seen.

Roger and Julie

David, Dave, and Colleen

The tables were laden with foods of all kinds
Cheeses and turkeys and ham, plus wine!

And we can’t forget the mushrooms, pate, stuffing, the gravy, 
The potatoes, the cauliflower, the carrots, and corn,
The Yorkshires, bread and butter…it all resembled food porn.

The dogs they were crazed by all the people and food,
And one little pup needed a kiss to improve.

Ashton providing some comfort to Pearl.

But then the time came for the group to all gather,
To sit at the table and have quite the natter.

Jokes and ribbing took place while wearing our crowns,
A feast was partaken of in leaps and bounds.

Pictures were taken by a camera or two, 
While we all raised a glass, as if on cue.

To work off all the food, some took a dip.
Hey living in Belize is where all things are hip.

Bob, Graham, Leona, and Wendy
But as all things must, the day came to a close,
And some thought it a good time to take a wee doze.

 Colleen and Bruce, thank you for an awesome day full of food, friends, and laughter!

Friday, December 13, 2013

New Bathroom Wall Cabinets!

You might remember that back in September David blogged about what it took to make our new bathroom vanity. By utilizing the corner area, the new vanity really opens up the space and gives us a ton of storage. 

With that piece of the project complete, he then moved on to build mirrored wall cabinets. I don't think this build went as quickly as David would have hoped. For starters, because the wood here is so hard, each nail hole had to be pre-drilled. On top of that, this pesky rainy season has refused to stop. That meant it took way longer for the coats of paint to dry. 

But after a bunch of starts and stops, the cabinets were done.

The mirrors add another whole dimension to this space by reflecting the light to help this small room feel way more open. One of my favorite elements is that rectangular mirror in the middle. While it has a cap at the top and bottom, it really is just floating between the two cabinets. Needless to say it took some precise measurements for the build and installation to make sure the angles were perfect. It also goes without saying that I had nothing, whatsoever, to do with the measuring, as I am math-impaired.

The other cool thing is how David again used the corner and the design of the vanity to make everything come together with the upper cabinets.

Dontcha' just love it, especially when you look at what was originally there?

The last thing we need to do is replace the toilet, which is a project we're not looking forward to. It's not like we haven't done it before, but we've never had a toilet cemented in the floor. We're going to have to chip out all of that cement and then pray to the bathroom gods that the wax ring isn't below the floor level. Will keep you posted on how that goes when we decide to tackle that project.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Being Thankful for Friends

Man, the last few of weeks have flown by! It seemed like everyday there was some gathering of friends, some planned, others impromptu, all great fun.

And speaking of friends, we finally got to meet Mike and Mardi! They are a couple from Minnesota who follow our blog, got in contact with me through email and Facebook, and were planning their first trip to Belize.

It's kinda' funny to me when you're pen pals. While you may see pictures of the other people, read and respond to their messages, you really don't know if you will actually click when you meet in person.

Any concerns that may have flitted through my mind were gone in a second upon meeting them. They are so down-to-earth, funny, and kind.

While the weather wasn't completely cooperative during their stay (lots of rain), the skies turned clear and beautiful on their last day (of course). A bunch of us gathered at Jam Rock, so they could meet other folks who made the move here.

I do hope they come back for more visits (hint, hint). But one of the cool things about social media is that we can be in touch, online, in a second. There's hardly a day that goes by that we don't touch base. Good people, good friends.

But no sooner did Mike and Mardi depart, then Thanksgiving appeared. This year a bunch of us gathered at the home of Colleen and Bruce Steege.

Left to right: Dianna and Dave Rider, Graham Towers, me, and David)

We collectively decided on a Traditional Thanksgiving with a Flair. That meant instead of turkey, we had duck. And let me just say that Bruce outdid himself. One duck was stuffed with wild rice stuffing, the other with citrus. Both were basted multiple times with a lovely red wine. Combine that with garlic smashed potatoes, gravy, cheeses, breads, pate, cake and lots of incredible wines from Colleen, Bruce, and Graham, and we had all the makings of an amazing feast. Oh and there was broccoli. Leave it to me to forget mentioning the veg.

Anyway, we all had a tremendous time. Unfortunately, the cold symptoms I had been ignoring for the couple of days previous to the feast decided to rear their ugly heads that night. This is the same cold that I gave to David, who then gave back to me. I know, I know, karma is a bitch. For the next three days I was pretty much worthless. It has been sooooo long since I've had a full-blown cold that I forgot just how tired and crummy you feel. My brain couldn't put two thoughts together that made sense. I ended up nesting in a blanket, sipping hot tea and honey, when not sleeping, sneezing, or coughing, and gave into being a slug. 

As an aside, we picked up some local brand tissues that were cheerily printed with a Christmas theme on the box. I really didn't care about the design, I just needed tissues. Anyway, what we didn't realize is that these particular tissues have some sort of potpourri scent to them. Overwhelmingly so. And they are not soft by any stretch of the imagination. Colleen, being the amazing friend that she is,  took pity on me and gave me a box of Kleenex brand tissues. My nose was immediately happier.

Fortunately, it seems the worst of the symptoms are over. Still have a cough and sound congested, but at least I can function...mostly. I have things to do, people to see, cooking that I'm aching to do. And let's not forget that in a little more than three weeks Christmas will be here! And what does that mean? Nope, not presents or decorations or carols or means we can spend time with all these wonderful people and a host more we know and enjoy to celebrate the holidays.

To all our friends...thank you for being you and sharing time with us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life is what happens...

...while you're making other plans.

A friend of mine, Mardi Schultz Calhoun, offered this quote just the other day, and it perfectly sums up the goings-on at our house yesterday.

The day dawned clear and sunny. I know David was hoping to do more work on the upper bathroom cabinets that he's building, and I wanted to knock out some laundry and house cleaning.

But before David could tackle the cabinets, there was an unexpected project that needed to be dealt with. The day before, Lizi, our newest canine addition, took another leap over one of the low sides of the stone walls that hold our gates. She's done this a couple of times before, but it was when we were both gone from the house. This time we were both here, and I'm guessing she did just because she could. Girls can be like that you know.

To deter Lizi from future attempts of being an escape artist, we came up with the idea of putting wire mesh across the top of the low sections of the stone wall. 

As a bit of a side note, this is Lizi Project #3. 

Lizi Project #1 was repairing the hole she made in the screen of the porch door:

Exhibit A

Lizi Project #2 was repairing the upper screens and frame on the porch where she busted through: 

Exhibit B

The culprit: Lizi

Bright and early yesterday morning, David went to work dealing with the wire mesh installation. I managed to get two loads of laundry washed and pegged on the line. Back in the house, I got started on the cleaning. 

Not long after wiping down the bathtub and tidying up the spare bathroom, David came in from the installing the wire. He was soaked with sweat, covered in dirt, and more than a few scratches from working with the metal and stone. It was all of 9:30. But wait...what about his trusty sidekick and all around helper, Olivia? 

She had followed him all over the water-soaked yard, jumped in puddles, ran through mud, and to top things off, rolled in mulch. The dog was a mess.

Okay, I thought. The easiest thing to do would be to give her a bath outside using the hose. Ahhhh, nope. Squeals and panic ensued (on the dog's part, not mine. The curse words however? They definitely came from me.). Okay, how about using the nicely cleaned bathtub? 'Cause, hey, I just want to clean it again.

So I picked up Olivia, getting myself covered in mud and muck in the process, and gave her a bath inside. Then proceeded to clean the entire bathroom...again.

In the meantime, David took a shower and went into town to pick up a few things at the grocery store and stop at Social Security to pay for Fernando's October wages. The store had what we were looking for (yay!), and there was no line at Social Security (double yay!). It was easy-peasy.

David headed home and when he pulled into our lane, there was a truck blocking it. Seems it had a broken tie-rod. Not to be deterred, my intrepid husband took a less used lane to get to the house. 

Except just as he was almost to the spot to turn down our section of the lane, he got stuck in a bog of mud. Considering how much rain we had in the previous couple of days and even before that, plus the state of the roads in general, it's rather amazing to me that we haven't gotten stuck before this. But I digress. The next thing I know, I see David walking down the lane to our gate. Being a highly intuitive person, I knew this wasn't a good sign.

After explaining what happened, I donned my trusty wellies (and still covered in mud soaked clothes from the dog), we made our way to the stuck car. We collected a small load of rocks on our way hoping they could be strategically placed under the wheels for traction.

Of course to place the rocks, David needed to literally get down into the mud. With rocks in place, we each took turns trying to push the car out, but to no avail. We called Dave Rider, he of Winjama fame, and asked if he could give us a tow. Dave was in town but promised to get over to help us out as soon as possible. 

The guys managed to get the car out (big shout-out to Dave!), but as you can imagine, David, the car, and the towing strap were covered in mud. Not wanting to have the muck harden on everything in the hot sun, David decided to wash the car and tow strap. 

About halfway through this process, the weather took a rather dramatic turn. Gone was the sun and blue sky. Gusty winds started blowing palm branches down, debris was swirling in the air, and the sky darkened. 

I ran to the clothesline and started taking everything off the line, throwing it in the basket, and locking up the wash house. David managed to get the worst of the mud off of everything, dropped the tarps on the porch, we got the dogs inside, and he scurried inside to take his second shower of the day.

Mind you, all this happened before noon. 

Life IS what happens while you're making other plans. Or another way you can put it is one of my other favorite quotes:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Menu Planning and Quick Bites

While I've been posting a bunch of pictures and recipe links of recent meals on Facebook, I realized it's been some time since I did a food-related post here on our blog. But before we get to the Quick Bites portion of our program, I want to take a short detour to talk about my menu planning.

I have a compulsion about making lists. Whether it's planning for a move, a trip, a house project, whatever, if a list or a project plan is needed, I'm your girl. Back in the day, I even used to make a list for what outfits I would wear during my work week. And even if a list isn't needed, I'll make one. This list obsession carries over to our dinners and weekly shopping. We do our shopping on Tuesdays, so starting about Sunday, I begin to think about what I want to make for the coming week. I peruse my online recipes (scanned a boatload before we moved here), troll my favorite food sites, and come up with a menu. Then I figure out what we need to buy at the fruit/veggie markets, grocery stores, butcher, chicken purveyor, and wherever else we need to stop. 

When I first mentioned this obsession/compulsion with lists to friends we've made here, they looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers. Turns out that most of them shop on the fly. But here's the thing: while I can figure out how to improvise if I can't find an ingredient or two, I need my structure. I need my menu. I need my list. I really, really don't like surprises, and prefer planned spontaneity. I know, I am one twisted sister. But be that as it may, I have found that making a weekly menu and shopping list eliminates lots of last minute runs to the stores and markets. 

And because some folks here just can't believe I do this, here is my menu & shopping list for this past week:

Now in days of yore (like when we lived in the States), I would have the grocery list compiled by aisle. I. Am. Not. Kidding. But because we never know what store will carry what items on any given week here in Corozal, and none of the stores seem to have a rhyme or reason as to how they organize things, I've had to let that list making element go, sorta'.

And in case you're curious, for those of you who might be used to one-stop shopping, it ended up taking seven stops to source most of everything on the list. Struck out finding radishes and celery seed/salt.

Now one might presume that my organizational skills would carry over to other areas of my life and, as such, my home would be the epitome of everything in its proper place. Think again. 

While I do tend to keep my kitchen area tidy, that's about as far as it goes. One peek inside my closet would tell a completely different story. For instance, people near and dear to me over the years have tried every possible method to get me to organize my shoes. Shoe trees, those bags you hang over the door, you name it, I've tried 'em all to no avail. Somehow the shoes always end up in a big heap on the floor. As I don't own anywhere near the shoes I did before moving here (but there are still quite a few), I have at least corralled them into a big, plastic bin...except for the ones that you'll find on the porch, or the living room, or next to my side of the bed. In short, I can be a real slob when I want to be. But when my stuff starts veering out of control, I just make a list of what needs to get done and get things back in place...until I fall off the organizational wagon again. 

At this point, you're probably hoping I'm making a list for where I can get some serious therapy. So to temporarily distract you from that thought, here are some meals I've recently made. For all but the sauce for the pasta dish, all the meal titles are links that will take you to the recipes:

Quick Bites

Beer Braised Chicken Thighs

This was a very tasty dish and the sauce was amazing. I didn't have any andouille, but substituted spicy Italian sausage. I ended up serving it over some boiled potatoes to sop up the juices, but the dish could easily be served on its own if starch isn't your thing. And if it isn't, I'm sorry to hear that.

Oh. My. Goodness. Do try this one. It's sooooo much better than whatever take-out you've had. I mean it. And don't get wigged out by the short cooking time for the shrimp. So many times they get left on the heat way too long and come out rubbery. This quick sear is perfection.

French Apple Cake

I decided to make this to satisfy a sweet craving my dearly beloved was having and to take half of it to our weekly Happy Hour gathering. Having both cake and custard elements, the texture is a nice alternative to a regular pie. I don't have a microwave, so instead of nuking the apple slices I steamed them in two batches for about a minute. Worked out great! After testing out a small slice of the cake, said dearly beloved made it very clear he wasn't interested in sharing the cake with others. Yeah well, half a cake is better than no cake, and I packed some slices for the Friday crowd. Must have been decent, 'cause there wasn't a crumb left to bring home. This might be a nice alternative to an apple pie for the holidays. 

Ciambotta (Italian Vegetable Stew)

Okay, even though I am totally ambivalent when it comes to veggies, even I recognized the potential yummy factor with this recipe. And we weren't disappointed. There were a couple of things I did differently though. As I just mentioned, we don't have a microwave, so using it for the eggplant wasn't going to work. Instead, I tossed the eggplant cubes with salt and let them sit and drain for about 45 minutes to extract the moisture. I also decided to roast the eggplant and zucchini (425 degrees for 20-25 minutes) before adding it to the pot. That really gave a nice layer of flavor and next time I'll roast off the potatoes as well. With the number of rainy days we've been having, this was a great comfort dish.

Pasta with Vodka, Tomato Cream Sauce

While living in the States, there was always a pint container of heavy cream or at least half-and-half in our fridge. Always. I mean next to bacon and butter, cream is an essential life ingredient. But when we moved here, finding cream was a challenge. As a result, I went through withdrawal, gnashed my teeth, shed tears, and got used to cooking without it. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a tad. But it was an adjustment. 

And then the most wonderful, amazing thing happened. A friend of ours, by the name of Cathie Kelly, happened to mention that there was a Mennonite farmer selling cream in town on Friday mornings. As she was going to pick some up anyway, I asked her to snag me some as well.

To pay tribute to this unexpected windfall, I decided to make some homemade pasta and bathe it in a vodka tomato cream sauce. When it came time to pour the cream into the pan, I was ready for it to do just that...pour. But this cream, this cream was thick and rich and plopped into the sauce. It also has more of a pale yellow color and a slight tang. It's the real deal. It's what cream is supposed to be in its natural state. It is my new best friend. 

The sauce turned out ridiculously good, so much so that I'll make it again and again. And just this past week, I discovered that one of the veggie places we frequent carries this very same cream on a fairly regular basis. Time to dig out all those cream sauce recipes that I thought were doomed for all time. YEAH!

Vietnamese "Banh Mi" Chicken Burgers

There were a couple of really excellent elements to this burger dish. For starters, the pickled carrots and cucumbers. Super easy to do, with a great sweet/sour taste. They also added a wonderful crunch to the sandwich. The soy sauce/sesame oil sauce was also nice, and one I could easily see being used over fish fillets and shrimp. Now as to the burgers. I wasn't thrilled with them. I mean, they were okay, but very bland. I have two in the freezer and when I make them, I plan to incorporate some of the sesame/soy sauce into them to see if that helps give them some kick. Another option would be to make the Asian Chicken Burgers I've done before.

As far as the potato salad, well, this is probably one of my favorite recipes. The sour cream element gives a great tang and is a nice alternative to mayo. I had way more dressing than I needed for the potatoes, and am thinking about incorporating it into omelets. 

Now I'm off to work on this week's aisle at a time.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Goodbye and Hello

Early this month, Tanya passed away. She was a sweet girl who did her best to keep up with Sam. But age and arthritis made it difficult for her to be very active.

In the 18 months that we owned her, she became part of our family. I'd like to think we provided her some creature comforts that she may not have had in the past. 

Whenever you lose a pet, it takes time to come to terms with it. And while we knew we wanted to get another dog at some point, we didn't want to rush into anything.

A few weeks went by, and we found out that friends of ours, who needed to move to Canada, were looking for someone to adopt their dog.

Ladies and gentlemen, please say hello to Lizi:

She's two-years old, about 40 (ish) pounds, and quite the looker. Lizi came to live with us this Thursday and made fast friends with Sam:

Once the introductions were over, these two decided some play time was in order. For the first time, in a long time, Sam has a playmate that can run as hard and fast as he can. It's such a cool thing to watch.

Olivia, our puppy, initially had her panties in a twist over our new arrival, but finally got over herself. Now the three of them hang out together, run like maniacs, and all is well with the world.

Now the cat, Bronte, has been a slightly different matter. It's only been today that she has deemed to come off of her perch on top of our closet for any extended amount of time to check out this new beast. She's still not 100% sold on Lizi, but I suspect she'll come around in time.

And speaking of Bronte and Olivia, they just turned one year old. Don't know where that time went. And it's hard to believe that when we adopted them, they looked like this:

And now?
Bronte and Olivia

Olivia went from weighing in at two pounds when we first got her to now being a solid 20-25 pounds. It now takes two hands to scoop her up, instead of a one hand grab.

Bronte weighed only one pound when she came to live with us. Now? Well, I don't want to say she is fat; more like pleasingly plump...well upholstered...Rubenesque. Okay, she's fat.

So there you have it, as far as the Wright pets go. Thank you Ed, Maria, and Thomas for sharing Lizi with us. She's a wonderful, wonderful dog.

Once this dratted rain lets up, I'll take and post more pictures of Lizi and the rest of the gang. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rocking It Out In Ranchito

Boy, has our lane taken a beating. Granted, it was never in the greatest of shape in the almost 18 months we've lived here. But, after all the rain we had last month -- I'd say somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 - 20 inches -- plus the weekly appearance of the water delivery truck and occasional trash truck bouncing down the lane, we ended up with some major ruts.

A smooth driving surface it was not. Of course, pretty much all the unpaved roads in the area are facing the same problems, often much worse than what we had. For instance, Dave Rider over at Casa Winjama documented the situation on their road which leads to the ferry, and our local online news source carried stories about the road leading to Consejo.

Needless to say, the road department -- such as it is -- has quite a mess on their hands. And it's not like they have a ton of road repair equipment at their disposal. We knew we were so far off their radar to have our lane issues taken care of that we decided to take action on our own.

Working with our Ace Number One Groundskeeper, Fernando, we arranged to have a few dump truck loads of rock and marl delivered to various parts of the lane.

Fernando enlisted the help of his brother, Raphino, and the two of them went about the process of repairing the damaged areas. How? With a sledgehammer. Yup, they beat the crap out of those rocks until they were of a smaller size, and carted them to the various potholes and ruts along the lane. 

Now bear in mind, it was beastly was was not the kind of weather that any sane person would want to wield a sledgehammer for eight hours a day. But they did. They were maniacs.

Fernando (left) and Raphino working on one of the marl piles

After the rocks were in place, the guys then used the marl to cover them and make a smoother surface. That meant shoveling the dirt into the wheelbarrow multitudinous times and carting it to the broken up rocks.

All told, it took them about 10 days to finish the job. Is it the prettiest surface you might see? Nope. But, it's so much better than it was, and at least we can now navigate ourselves out to the highway without too much fear of getting caught up to our hubcaps in mud.

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.