Sunday, December 28, 2014

Slices of Life from Belize: December 28, 2014

Driver's License

Now that we’ve acquired Permanent Residency, we can move ahead with getting our Belize Driver’s Licenses. The first step was to get our Social Security cards. Natural born Belizeans are entitled to a variety of benefits, similar to ones found in the States. However for expats, the Social Security card provides a means of official identification – other than your passport.

The process was easy-peasy. We visited the local Social Security office, filled out a short form, had our pictures taken, and a week later picked up laminated cards. Mine is good for 10 years, then will have to be renewed. David, being of a certain age, received a gold card with no expiration date and is entitled to receive small discounts at local pharmacies, some stores, and other businesses that have enrolled in the Seniors program.

Our next stop will be the Ministry of Works sometime in the coming weeks to apply for driver’s licenses. Our understanding is that you can pay to have them expire in one or three years. Will report back with more details once we’ve gone through the process.

Banana Blossoms

I caught an episode of Chopped not long ago and one of the mystery ingredients the chefs had to use were banana blossoms. I was like, “What the heck are those?” Even a couple of the chefs had never encountered them. After doing some online research, I discovered that this is the source of the blossoms:

When you peel off the outer leaves, the pale green ones are very similar to artichoke hearts. And guess what? We have these blossoms in our very own backyard.

Fernando was kind enough to cut a small one for me so I could experiment with it. After doing all the peeling...

...I put the leaves in some acidulated water so they would keep their color. 

As I was making a stir fry dish that night, the leaves got tossed in with the veggies.

To be honest, the banana blossoms really don’t have much taste. Then again, neither do non-brined artichoke hearts. And while there are a number of “gourmet” ingredients that are difficult to find here (if available at all), I think it’s rather cool that we have something exotic within reach of a ladder.

Cable TV
When we moved here 2 ½ years ago, there was no access to cable television at our house. At the end of our lane, yes, but the cable company had no plans of extending it down to us.

The only other option we had was to go with a satellite dish provider. As I recall, there were only two dish providers to choose from back then and both were based in Canada. We decided to go with Shaw Direct.

And while we had access to nearly 200 channels, we came to find that many shows were duplicated.  If we wanted access to channels like HBO, Showtime, Encore, etc., they couldn’t be purchased separately. They were part of a bundle of channels, most of which we knew we would never watch. We also discovered that often the HD channels wouldn’t be available or only available at certain times of the day. On top of that, we had the privilege of paying an additional $6 every month because we were using our US-based credit card to pay our bill. But crappy satellite was better than no satellite.

From time to time, we would check with the cable company to see if their plans had changed and even offered to pay to have the cable run to our place. Still no dice, until about two months ago.

We saw one of the cable guys at the end of our lane and asked if there was any chance of extending service to our place. He said that his supervisor in Orange Walk would need to make that decision. We were given the supervisor’s name and number and David got in touch with him.

After repeated calls, the supervisor finally agreed that it would be an excellent idea to run cable to our place. The only problem was they didn’t have enough cable on hand to make it happen. Weeks passed, more calls were made, and finally, finally on Christmas Eve our cable dreams came true.

The reception is way better than we expected and we get a whole slew of premium channels. Best part about it is that it costs almost half of what we were paying for the dish and we didn’t have to pay any installation costs because of a holiday special the cable company is running until the end of the year. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - The Final Chapter

As many our readers know, we have been on a quest to be granted Permanent Residency (PR) status.  This is the final chapter documenting our journey, which got underway in June 2013, after living here for 12 months. I apologize now for the length of the post, but considering the length of our journey, hopefully you all will bear with me.

After gathering the required paperwork, making trips to Belmopan, having an interview with the Special Branch department of the police, waiting for Special Branch to run an Interpol check, we thought we were in good shape for getting approved. That was around early August of last year.

Then everything came to a screeching halt dueto  a scandal in the Immigration department. Passports had been sold, accusations were levied, and the entire office in Belmopan shut down. We, and all those other folks who were on the brink of approval, were now in limbo.

After repeated phone calls to the Belmopan office, we were finally told that until a massive reorganization of the department was complete, no applications would be processed. Things would probably start moving again in January of this year.

There wasn’t much we could do during this time but wait, continue making the monthly trip to the local Immigration office for our tourist stamps, and pay the associated $200 BZD fee.

Around mid-January, we started calling the Belmopan office on a weekly basis. Every time we managed to get through, the message was always the same. “Your file is on the Director’s desk.” We later came to find out this really meant our file was in the general vicinity of the Director’s office, not literally on her desk.

More months passed with no progress. We spoke with a friend of ours who works in Belmopan, and she offered to stop by the Immigration office from time to time to keep tabs on our application.

Finally around mid-September, we received notification that our file was very close to being literally put on the Director’s desk for review. There were just a few things we needed to provide to take things to the next step.

Among the items we were requested to bring were copies of some of the monthly stamps. Bear in mind that during all this time, we would make copies on our own, take them to the Corozal office, and request they be sent to Belmopan.

We also needed to get another original statement from our bank here, along with original documents showing David’s Social Security and pension payments. 
We gathered these and a few other documents together, put them in our document folder (which by this time was a good 2 inches thick), and set off for Belmopan.

Our appointment with Ms. Gollub started promptly at 9 a.m. While David had spoken to her on a number of occasions over the phone, this was the first time we met her face-to-face. It was also the first time we were allowed behind the glass partition and into the office area itself. And boy, was the office area an eye-opener. There were stacks and stacks of files piled on desks, in big cardboard boxes, and on the floor. The front and back covers of each file were held together with a piece of string. However all the paperwork inside each file was loose. It became very easy to understand how paperwork (like copies of monthly stamps) could mistakenly be put in the wrong folder.

Ms. Gollub is an incredibly nice, soft spoken lady. We started going down the list of documents we had been asked to bring. She carefully examined each item before placing it in our folder. At least we thought it was our folder, until she started asking a question or two that had nothing to do with our application. It turns out that the folder she had didn’t belong to us. Ours was literally on the Director’s desk. The Director was in a meeting and did not want to be disturbed. Knowing that we had made the 2 ½ hour drive from Corozal, Ms. Gollub promised to get our folder as soon as it was possible, double-check every item, and would call us after lunch should we need to provide more information.

Good as her word, we got her call shortly after lunch. She said all was in order, and we didn’t need to return to her office that day. She also said that it would probably be at least a couple of weeks before the Director would determine if our application should be approved.

We returned home exhausted from the drive, but happy that we were at least a step closer to getting our final stamps. But knowing how long and drawn out the process had been up to that point, we weren’t overly optimistic that we would hear anything about our stamp status any time soon.

A couple of weeks later, David was out in the shop and I was changing the sheets on our bed. I heard the cell phone, which was out on the porch, start to ring. I scurried out to answer it, but missed the call. Looking at the log, I saw the call was made from Immigration. My heart momentarily stopped. A voice mail had been left. A woman’s voice said she was calling on behalf of Ms. Gollub and wanted to let us know that our application had been approved and we could visit the Belmopan office at your convenience to get our stamps! At that moment, it felt like this huge weight, which I didn’t fully realize I had been carrying, was lifted. After all these months, we were finally official. Well almost.

Before setting off to Belmopan, we gathered the final bits we knew the Immigration officials would want to see. For starters, we needed a notarized Security Bond. In essence, it states that a Belize citizen (we used Fernando) will provide sufficient funds (which we would provide for him) to purchase return tickets to our respective home countries should circumstances warrant us being deported.  As our PR applications ended up being combined into one file, we presumed one Security Bond for the two of us would suffice. In addition to the Bond, we also had to bring Fernando’s passport, plus a copy of the picture page and front cover. Last, but certainly not least, we got together the final payment monies -- $2000 BZD for me and $1500 BZD for David (his is less because of being a Brit and Belize being part of the English Commonwealth).

Armed with all of these things, plus our trusty document folder (just in case some last minute stuff was requested), we got on the road.

Being a Monday when we made the drive, it wasn’t too surprising to see a long line trailing out of the Immigration office. Most folks were there to get their monthly tourist stamps, while others were waiting for the Belize passports. Those of us there for residency purposes were asked to form a separate line. After an almost two hour wait, we were admitted to the office area.

A young lady had the chair for dealing with residency. It became quickly apparent that she was a trainee and ours was probably the first application she had dealt with, especially the protocols involved to get a final stamp. When she attempted to hand us blank Security Bond forms, I whipped the one we already had filled out and notarized. After giving it a look and talking with her co-worker, she said we needed a separate Bond for each of us – even though all of our application info had been consolidated into one file. Fortunately, we had a second form, already notarized and with Fernando’s signature.

After more consultation with her co-worker, we finally got to the step where we needed to pay our final fees. When the young lady wrote our receipts so we could go pay the cashier, I noticed that they were charging David $2000. When I questioned the amount, there was more consultation with co-workers. After much rustling of paper, it was announced that David’s fee should actually be $3000 BZD.  I then questioned why his would be higher than mine, especially since Belize is a Commonwealth of the United Kingdom.

More confabs ensued, with comments being made that a consultation with some higher-ups may be required, and we may have to come back some other day for this step. That wasn’t going to happen. David stepped outside and called the Immigration hot-line. The woman he made contact with said she should have an answer in about 10 minutes and would call him back. Meanwhile back in the office there were more conversations and shuffling of paper. Finally, a decision was made that David need only pay the $1500. By the way, we never did receive a return call from the hotline.

With receipts in hand, we went to the cashier to pay and get another set of receipts. Those we toted back to the Immigration officer. Now at this point, one might think that we would hand over our passports, stamps would be applied, and we could be on our merry way. And back in the day (pre-scandal) that was pretty much what happened. But now things are different. You do hand over your passports, but are told it can take at least six weeks for the PR stamps to be affixed. We were aware of this, but it’s a bit disconcerting to hand over the official document and leave empty-handed. Yes, we had the receipts showing we paid for our PR stamps, but it’s not the same as having your passport.

We let the situation ride for about a week, then gave the Belmopan office a call. Our stamps still hadn’t been issued. However, by the end of that second week, we got the glorious call that the stamps were done and we could pick up our passports. We were fortunate that our friend who works in Belmopan could sign for and take possession of our documents. Our passports were back in our hot, little hands by that weekend.

So now we are really and truly official Permanent Residents. This means no more trips to the local Immigration office for 30-day tourist stamps, paying $200 BZD every month, no exit fees should we want to cross the border to Mexico, and should we take a trip outside of the country, we can come back through the residents line for Customs upon our return (usually much shorter than the one for visitors).

It's been a long journey, but as an old Taoist saying goes, "The journey is the reward."

You might also like:

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Marauding Sheep

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the herd of sheep that decided to come visit.

For folks here who have sheep, horses, cows, or goats, it's pretty much common practice to let the animals graze wherever they want. For a number of weeks we had almost daily visits from this group. We also ended up having two horses tethered on either side of our lane. Oh, and there was that cow a handful of months back. Ahh, country living.

At first it was rather fun to watch the sheep munching on the grass next door and see the little ones play. But the fun and cuteness factor started to drop when they decided to nosh on the corn Fernando planted in our lots across the lane. Before we knew it, all the corn was gone.

Time to build a fence.

Fernando and his brother Raphino stripped all the sticks, treated them, got them in the ground, and strung barbed wire at sheep height. I found it rather ironic that while the guys were digging the holes for the sticks, the sheep came right in the lots like they owned them. Fernando shooed them away and work continued.

While the fence was being erected, David got busy building a gate.

No sooner was the project complete, when the marauding sheep decided to make a return visit.

Realizing they were thwarted from eating the corn...

"Well, dang. That corn was mighty tasty."

...they munched on some greens outside the fence line and meandered off. 

The final irony - they haven't been back since. But at least Fernando has been able to plant a new corn crop and it's coming along quite nicely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hola Louvers!

Not long after we moved into our house (almost 2 1/2 years ago), Mother Nature gave us some lessons on what kind of rain and wind we could expect during the wet season.

The front of our house faces east, which just happens to be the direction prevailing winds come from. And along with those winds comes the rain. On a regular basis our screened porch would take the brunt of the storms, leaving our floor a sopping mess. A squeegee and mop were always on hand. And on top of that if it rained during the night, which happens frequently, it's not like we could let the clean up go until the morning. We did that once and ended up having water seep into our living room. What a joy that was.

When we saw that we would be in the crosshairs of Tropical Storm Ernesto, we knew we had to come up with some solution. David struck on the idea of installing a tarp.

Was it pretty? Nope. Did it keep the rain out? Heck yeah. After that year's rainy season was over, we modified the tarp a bit.

We cut it into three sections and had grommets placed around the edges. Carabiner hooks go through the grommets and get attached to the eye bolts on the walls. That made it easy to get in and out of the door, plus raise/lower any piece as we needed. David even attached some PVC pipe to the large tarps, to make rolling up the tarps easier. After adding some Velcro straps, we had a quick release system as well. 

This worked great for the longest time. But there were a few drawbacks. During those times when it rained for days at a time, like last year, we felt we were living in a cave. The air flow into the house was also greatly restricted. And it was no fun for David to have to get up in the middle of the night to drop the tarps during unexpected squalls. [As an aside, there were occasions where I would drop them. But after being whacked in the face with the PVC pipe a few times, it was decided that David was better suited for the job.]

We tossed around a few ideas on what we should do, knowing we either had to find an alternate solution or get new tarp material and keep doing what we had been.

Inspiration struck when we visited our friends, Colleen and Bruce. They had just had all their wooden louvers replaced with metal ones. While sitting on our porch one afternoon after visiting their house, the thought came to me, "Why not put louvers out here? We could open and close them from the inside, still get air flow, and it wouldn't be so dark on rainy days."

After running the idea past David, we agreed it seemed like the sensible thing to do and decided to put louvers on the north side of the porch, as we would sometimes get storms from that direction too. He took precise measurements and went to Capital Metal here in Corozal. He was told the louvers would be done in two weeks or less. 

Truth be told, we didn't put much faith on the delivery time frame. There haven't been many instances when contractors we or friends have used ever delivered on time. So imagine our surprise when the following Thursday the call came that they were ready!

When David placed the order he told me that each opening would have three louvers. I thought that meant three individual units. Nope. Each opening had one panel comprised of three louvers bolted together.

The next day we got started on installing the first of two panels on the east side. I had already mentally prepared myself that at least one of the three panels wouldn't fit and we would either have a bigger gap at the bottom than we originally figured or we would have to chisel through filled block to make the openings bigger.  

Each of the east side panels are about 7 1/2' wide and while a bit ungainly to hoist into the openings, the install went pretty smoothly. 

Can I just say that I don't know where we would be if not for our hammer drill. Seriously, if anyone is thinking of buying or building a concrete house here, be sure to bring your drill!

On Saturday we tackled the north side panel. This one is about 9' wide. You wouldn't think that little bit of extra width would be a big deal, but as it was an awkward maneuvering process and it was really windy that day, keeping it steady in the opening (my job) was a challenge. It felt like it was taking David forever to drill in enough screws before I could release the death grip I had on these babies. But finally, the louvers were bolted in and blood flow could return to my fingers. I really shouldn't complain, because David's arms and hands had started going numb from drilling through the concrete. It's really fun when you have to wield that particular power tool over your head.

Turns out our installation was done just in time. On Sunday night, a doozy of a storm came through with lots and lots of rain, along with very gusty winds. And guess what? Not one drop of rain hit the porch. YAY!

One of the features we really like is that we can open or close the tops and/or the bottoms. This makes it great during rainy days and helps to reduce glare on sunny ones. Of course, it also makes a fun exercise for someone who has an OCD tendency or two. Best of all, we no longer feel like we're in a cave.

There's still some finish work to do, but we're very pleased with the result. Capital Metal did an outstanding job making the louvers and we would definitely recommend them.

Coming up: Marauding Sheep!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yard Tour

I love our yard. There are so many plants, bushes, and trees that Fernando has lovingly cared for over the years. And the attention he gives everything really shows.

Let's take a look at some things that have been making an appearance.

We have lots of orchids, at least 40 plants throughout the yard. Some look a bit otherworldly, producing long spikes. Others produce lovely flowers.

This is one of my favorites. So dainty.

There are also a number of flowering bushes. Here are just a couple.

And the bougainvillea knocks my socks off every single time it blooms. 

Take a look at this aloe plant.

When Colleen gifted me with this, it fit in the palm of my hand with room to spare. I decided to plant it in front of David's workshop. It seems to like it there.

We also have a bunch of fruit trees, including oranges, grapefruit, avocado, custard apple, to name a few. There are also at least four different type of lime trees. These beauties are my absolute favorites.

The flash makes them look on the orange side, but they're really a lovely shade of yellow and very similar to key limes. Their smell is heavenly. When we get a bumper crop like this, we juice them and freeze the liquid in ice cube trays. This year, I also combined some of the juice with a simple syrup and froze that combo as well. Makes for a lovely kick in a plain bottle of water or unsweetened ice tea.

We're very excited to have recently come into possession of a lemon tree. If all goes well, we should have lemons this time next year. Believe it or not, lemons are scarce here. On those rare times they appear at the market, everyone grabs them up. Can't wait to have our own.

Now these next two pictures are things that aren't in our yard, but certainly nearby.

This is called a Flamboyant tree and it's in our neighbor's yard. Every time it blooms, it puts a big smile on my face. The red color of the flowers is so vibrant and provides a wonderful contrast to all the greenery that's around.

And last, but not least, there are these guys.

This sheep herd has been showing up in our other neighbor's yard on a pretty much daily basis for the last week. After munching their fill in the yard, they slowly mosey their way to another grazing area, sometimes across the lane from our house. In spite of driving the dogs absolutely bonkers, they are fun to look at.

Coming up: Look for a post from David describing what it took to install the new light in our master bath. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Slices of Life from Belize - August 2, 2014

Car Registration

On Wednesday David took our car over the Ministry of Works building in Ranchito to renew the registration. Last year, the official checked to see if the headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and brakes all worked, before filling out the paperwork.

This year? Ehhh, not so much. Matter of fact, the guy didn't even come out of the building. Just went ahead and checked off all the bits and pieces on the form without even a glance at the car. Gotta' love it.

Permanent Residency Status

Still waiting for final approval. 'Nuff said.

Driveway Upgrade

Our driveway was comprised of packed marl. Over the years, rain and normal wear and tear started to take their toll. Parts of drive were uneven and, because of the marl, it became slicker than ice whenever we would get pelted with rain for days on end. Being the incredibly graceful woman that I am, there were more than a few times I slipped and ended up on my butt.

To solve the problem, we decided to cover the drive in gravel. Not surprisingly, our first stop was to a local gravel company. What was surprising was that they had no gravel and weren't quite sure when they would get any. 

Through Fernando, we finally got hooked up with another company who made the delivery. 

Fifteen plus cubic feet of stone was dumped in the drive. The driveway, just so you know, is 100 feet long.

Armed with only a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake, Fernando started spreading the gravel. In less than six hours he had the job done.

When I posted these pics on my Facebook page, I noted that David and I have moved stone and it's way harder than it looks. When you factor in the heat (we've been clocking in at feel-like temps of over 100+ degrees F), it makes Fernando's efforts all that more amazing. As I also noted on Facebook, if I had to do this job, my body would have been prone in the driveway in no time flat, to be used as a human speed bump.

The dogs are still getting used to the new surface. Delicate toes and all that. For the time being, they are using the sidewalks to race down to the gate. That, of course, means that on a daily basis one of them knocks over one or more of the lights installed on both sides of the drive. Sigh.

Speaking of Pets

These, dear readers, are the gratuitous pet pictures of the program.

Name: Sam (a.k.a. Sammie). 
Profession: Watchdog - if Sam barks, you know something or someone is in or around the property that shouldn't be.
Hobbies: Ear scratches, cuddles, and trying to outrace any person on a motor bike that comes down our lane.

Name: Lizi (a.k.a. Lizi Lou)
Profession: Gossip - if Lizi barks, which she does frequently at o'dark hundred in the morning, you know she's sussing out the dirt with the other gossipy dogs in the 'hood. 
Hobbies: See description for Profession.

Name: Olivia (a.k.a. Baby Dog, a.k.a. Leggsly)
Profession: House dog - while Sam may be the keeper of the outside grounds, Olivia has his back when it comes to the house. She's been known to raise quite the ruckus when people she doesn't know enter our abode.
Hobbies: Playing with her stuffed gecko, tantalizing the cat, grass and rug surfing.

Name: Bronte (a.k.a. Kitcat)
Profession: Princess of all things - she rules the dogs and pretty much us and takes every opportunity to remind us what a special treasure she is.
Hobbies: Figuring out ways to get Olivia in trouble, eating houseplants, shredding toilet paper, plotting ways to launch her body from high places onto prone bodies in bed, stalking geckos and the Roomba.

Coming up: some of the really pretty things that have been blooming in our yard.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hints and Tips for Driving in Belize

About a year and a half ago I blogged about what an adventure it is to drive in Belize.

To underscore what it's like on the roads here, I am sharing a recent Facebook post by a fellow expat, Damon Russell, on his hints and tips for what to expect. Take it away Damon...

Having no towing, roadside assistance, or much by way of service stations in Belize, driving a car here requires a slight rethink of what to bring and how to determine if you should or shouldn’t go on. Here’s a few tips:

In addition to a spare tire and jack and lug wrench, I’d suggest you also carry basic tools, a recovery strap to get you out of the drains, a heavy hammer to bang the bent rims back to stop the tires from leaking after potholes. A tire pump is another must-have accessory, as well as bungee cords, zip ties, steel wire, etc. A machete is also a good thing to have. The smaller one works good for the car. If you wander deep in the bush, a chainsaw might be a good idea as well.

If your battery goes dead, a “jump start” in Belize usually involves the helper removing the battery from his car and either turning it upside down over yours while you start your car, OR they’ll remove your battery, install theirs, let you start your car, then switch them back.

If you have a pickup with NOBODY in the back (pan), they’ll look at you funny. Stop and give them a ride. 10-15 people is about the limit for passengers, although at the checkpoints they may balk at 5 to 7, depending on who’s driving, and who’s in the pan.

Seat belts are to be worn at all times, when proceeding through police checkpoints. Put them on at least 100 feet before the policeman and put down your beer, or hand it to the passenger, unless they’re a small child.

If you have a large hole in your windshield, clear shipping tape may be used to reduce wiper wear and rain entry into the vehicle during the rainy season. Otherwise, remove the glass until the first rains come, or if required to renew your registration.

If your wheels are bolted on with 5 lugs, you can break at least three off before you need to concern yourself with getting it repaired.

If you stop for tacos during your travels, do NOT forget to toss the garbage out afterwards. If you don’t, you’ll be infested with ants or TacoCats the next day.

Baygon or Fish [local bug spray] is an acceptable starting fluid for gasoline or diesel engines.

Tires have wear indicators at 2/32” tread depth as required by the USDOT. You’re not in the US, so if the tire holds air, keep going. If the belts are exposed, cut off anything that might stick out and scratch the paint.

If your car has every exterior panel the same color, it’s considered rare and increases resale value. If it also has no broken windows, it’s probably new here in Belize. Give it time to acclimate. It’ll happen soon.

Gauges, speedometers, warning lights, etc. are distractions. Pay no mind to glowing “Check engine”, “ABS”, “SRS/Airbag” warning systems and the like. Nobody cares about that stuff. Pay attention to the road, why are you looking down?

If you brought in a car with navigation and cruise control, that’s cute. If it’s a hybrid, that’s even cuter. We need them here, all we can get. Thanks!

Exterior illumination is a luxury that even government agencies can’t afford. Don’t expect that single red or white light up ahead to be a motorcycle, it’s likely another car.

In the US and Canada, they drive on the right side of the road. In England and much of the EU, they drive on the left. In Belize, we drive on both.

The first time I read this, I literally laughed out loud and almost snorted coffee out my nose. The tips on this list may sound like wild exaggerations, but I'm here to tell ya', they are not, which is why I guess I found the piece so funny. 

Thanks Damon for allowing me to share this and letting our blog readers gain some greater insights to just what kind of driving adventures we have here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Quick Bites - Part 2

When I posted Quick Bites - Part 1 last month, my intention was to do this second post in just a matter of days. Somehow those days flew right by me. So here, one month later, I finally got my act together to present another round of meals that have appeared on the Wright Table. 

Bacon, Egg and Shrimp Fried Rice - WOW! This turned out so well and tasted great. The bacon bits added nice crunch and saltiness, while the peas offered a sweet little pop. The smell of the ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil was something I want in my kitchen more often. Just as an FYI, I don't have jasmine rice, so used regular old white rice. And I will go on the record to say I used a tad bit more bacon than the four ounces that were called for. This dish will definitely appear on the Wright Table again.

Carrot Spice Bread - You will not believe how good your kitchen will smell while the bread is baking! 

A look at the Carrot Spice Bread when cut. The recipe calls for icing on top, but I personally thought it would be overkill with the sugar and natural sweetness of the carrots in the bread itself. But hey, that's just me. 

This broccoli salad recipe was one I tagged on my Facebook timeline, much to the huge surprise of my husband and friends. It's super easy to make, and I actually kind of liked it, considering it's a vegetable. I could have cooked the broccoli just a teeny bit longer -- like 30 seconds. I'll come clean (again) and admit to crisping up some bacon to sprinkle over the top. To me this makes a nice change of pace from a regular green salad, especially when lettuce goes missing from the market. Would also make a great side dish.

Spicy Peanut and Sesame Noodles - I did my own riff on it, and we now have another "make again" dish to add to the mix. I thought I had sesame seeds, but it turns out I didn't. And of course, I couldn't find any in the few stores we stopped into. But I did have slivered almonds. Turns out they worked great for some nice crunch. Also couldn't find a red pepper, so subbed a green one. But let's discuss the sauce. It is awesome. You get a richness from the peanut butter, which if you didn't know that was one of ingredients, you would never guess. There's some nice heat from the Sriracha and everything just comes together nicely. Another nice thing is that it works well as a warm or room temp dish. Try this - you won't be sorry.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins - Made a batch of these not too long ago and was pleasantly surprised. Due to the rolled oats and whole wheat flour, these muffins are a bit denser than what you might be used to. The bananas and honey brought their sweetness to the mix, but I did cut back a bit on the amount of honey I used. We generally don't like overly sweet things, but add as much honey as to your liking. This is a great recipe for using up some of our banana crop as they ripen.

One day I made home made, whole wheat Farfalle (bow tie pasta). Easy-peasy and fun to do.

And, so those pasta pieces wouldn't be nekkid, I made a sauce that contained, among other things, red wine, chorizo, crushed red pepper, oregano, and a touch of cumin. 

Turned out great and we had leftover sauce for future pasta and pizzas.

So there you have fun in Belize. Promise there will be more pics and recipes in the not-too-distant future. Really! Pinkie promise!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ode de Toilet

Here's a post from David describing the adventure of replacing our master bath toilet. Let's just say, we're thankful we have a spare bathroom for situations like these. -- Elizabeth

Ever since we moved here, actually, ever since we first saw this place, we wanted to replace the toilets. They seemed very low and between rust stains and lack of cleaning by the previous owners, they were pretty disgusting.

Master bath toilet

Trust us, we used everything we could to get the bowl clean.

The tank wasn't much better. Can we get a collective, "Ewwww!"?

We replaced a toilet in our previous house with a “chair height” model and really liked it. We knocked it out in a couple of hours. We knew this one wouldn’t be quite so quick. The base of the toilet bowl was cemented in. 

Don’t know why, but it seems that it is not an uncommon practice in Belize. So the first step was to root it out of the cement.

After draining the tank and toilet, I started chipping the concrete away. It seems that the installer had used something very hard – not your normal cement – to keep it in place. Maybe hydraulic cement? My chisels kept slipping between trying to get under the bowl and the very hard cement. Eventually I cracked the porcelain of the bowl footing. So I just beat it crack silly until I could remove the bowl. That made my chipping life much easier.

You do what you gotta' do to get a toilet bowl out from cement

Again don’t know why, but whomever installed it put the toilet 1½” below the floor. No wonder it seemed low to us. And not only that, the soil pipe was 16” from the wall, standard is 10-12” Don’t know why they wanted the toilet so far from the wall; it obviously wasn’t to make it easier to clean.

So I cleaned out all the porcelain chips I’d made and was ready to install the closet flange (the plastic bit that is supposed to be what the toilet is mounted to). 

Typical closet flange
However, the previous owners saved money by not using a flange and just cemented the toilet in, presuming it would never have to be replaced, which seems to be their modus operandi for all things built into this house.

However before mounting the closet flange, the floor needed filling to support the new toilet at floor height. Now as this was a Sunday, the only store that sold cement I could find open was Cinty’s (always an adventure unto itself!) and they only carry 100lb bags! I needed about 5 lbs and my back and age no longer permit hefting 100lbs of anything.  So I had the store guys put it in our SUV. When I go it home, I used a board to slide it into the wheel barrow to get it near where I was going to mix it. For those in the States, you cannot buy concrete mix in Belize, just cement, you have to add sand and gravel to make concrete. (We had a bit of sand, the dogs think it’s a beach under our palapa, and some gravel, but not enough, so I threw in some porcelain chips, of which I had plenty).

Made up the cement mixture and threw it in the hole, making it level with the floor. Okay, so now I’m ready to install the toilet closet flange -- well not really. I had seen an offset flange at the hardware store, so I decided to try it to move the toilet a couple of inches closer to the wall. 

Offset flange

Got the offset flange only to discover that it needed the soil pipe to be 1½” lower than it currently was. So the next problem to solve was how to lower the rim of the soil pipe.

I measured down the correct distance and put a number of pencil marks around the interior of the pipe, yes, I stuffed a rag into the pipe to combat the malodorous air wafting forth. After thinking about how to lower the pipe, encased in concrete, the proper distance, I went back to chisels and hammer to beat a slot around the outside of the pipe. 

Then looking at my tool selection, the only one I had to cut the pipe was my Dremel tool. I carefully cut the pipe around the inside. The problem here is that the Dremel spins so fast that it melts the plastic pipe back together as one cuts. Using some wedges, eventually I got the top of the pipe off. Okay, so now we are ready to install the offset flange – well not really. 

Whomever installed the pipe had again saved money by using the thinnest walled pipe available. The concrete poured after the pipe was laid had deformed the pipe out of round! So out to the shop I went to sand the flange sufficiently to get it to enter the pipe.

That done, I beat – for 20 minutes – the flange into the pipe, hoping that it wouldn’t split the pipe. As luck would have it, it didn’t split. Okay, so finally the flange is in place, the wax seal is on, and the rest is a piece of cake. Well not really! The flange bolts that secure the toilet to the flange are supposed to be brass, so they won’t rust. The only flange bolts available here are brass-plated steel. One has to cut off the top of the bolts after installing the toilet in order to place the caps over the nuts and washers to make a neat job of it. So off to my shop to retrieve my hacksaw. Now whomever designed toilets  never thought it might be installed next to a wall (a convenient thing if one wanted to mount toilet paper nearby).

So after much ado and sweat (and 3 different sizes of hacksaws), I finally got the top of the bolts off, put the caps on, and the base of the toilet was installed. Time for a drink.

Okay, so installing the tank is really a piece of cake – well not really! Boy this is getting old. 

Bronte doing a quality control inspection of the toilet tank

Actually the mounting of the tank wasn’t a horrible experience. Of course the instructions (all in Spanish) left out several details, but eventually I got it on, the way I think it should be, and started to fill it with water.

It was taking a long time to fill, but I assumed it was also filling the toilet bowl as well as the tank. I couldn’t see any leaks so I thought it was all good, just a bit slow. Being the patient guy that I am, I filled a bucket with water and dumped it into the tank.  Water gushed out of the bottom of the tank. Time for a drink and a bit of clean up – “Oh Elizabeth, I could use a hand here.”

Off to the hardware store to explain the issue. I thought the tank and bowl were mismatched. They had another tank and bowl like the one I bought, only in off-white. (They only buy one of each item here in Belize and don’t order another until that one is sold). I showed that the problem was between the  gasket at the bottom of the flapper valve outlet and the toilet base was at least ½”, not really a water-tight seal. 

Even Bronte knew something was amiss!

The gasket came in the kit -- water inlet valve, float, flapper outlet valve, handle, screws and gaskets – they sold me with the toilet. They were confused and didn’t know how to solve the problem. The owner’s son happened to show up while they were in their dilemma as to what to do. He said he had a bigger gasket from another kit at their other store which would solve the problem. I followed him to the other store only to find out he didn’t have it at all. But could order it and it would be here in a couple of days. So we have a nice looking, very clean, chair-height toilet installed but can’t use it --- grrrr!  

So after a few visits to the hardware store in the ensuing days, they agreed to take my phone number and call me when the gasket arrived. Six days later, I got the call. Yeah. I trundled off to the store to pick up the gasket. It was the right size for the toilet base, however way too big for the flapper valve exit port. I dragged the owner up the steps to the toilet display area and explained the issue. He said that he understood and he had the right sided exit tube kit – at the other store and called them to have it ready for me. And I trundled over to their other store. Indeed they had the kit ready for me and the new gasket fit, but before leaving, I decided to check out if it would fit the tank. Well not really! 

I dragged the guys up to this store’s toilet display area and showed them that it wouldn’t fit the tank they had sold me.  "Oh", they said. Oh? So one of the guys went in the back and brought out a different tank. Hallelujah, it fit! All this time and frustration was because by them not ensuring that the tank and toilet base were actually matched. And the newly discovered tank had all the right pieces and parts all ready installed and boxed straight from the factory.

Took the new tank home, took off the old tank, installed the correct tank in about 15 minutes. Filled it up, no leaks, flushed perfectly. Done at last. If only they had known what they were selling, we would have had a nice working toilet a week ago, and little frustration for me. Ah, Belize, you gotta love it.

So this is our simple toilet replacement saga, I’m sorry that I didn’t take more pictures of the process, but I was rather preoccupied with stopping leaks and finding parts.  

Here it is, complete, and a happy couple can flush with glee, at last.