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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick Bites - June 2014 - Part 1

I've had a few people contact me to find out if I'm still cooking, as there haven't been many food posts of late. Perhaps this photo will answer the question.


As David will attest, I continue to see just how much of a mess I can make while cooking and baking. Hey, I'm a girl that just loves a challenge.

And while I've been posting various dishes and desserts on my Facebook page, I haven't been as diligent here on the blog. To put things to right, here are some of the recipes that I've given a whirl in the last bunch of months.

Honey Fried Chicken and  Amish Potato Salad  -- This chicken recipe uses a cornstarch batter and the chicken is fried twice. Instead of fried chicken that has a thick crust, the cornstarch lets the fried skin be the star. Once the frying process is complete, the chicken is drizzled in a honey/hot sauce glaze. We loved this! 

As far as the potato salad? I would definitely rank this one as a hit. Using sour cream instead of mayo added a great tang. Because we like more crunch in this type of dish, I would do a bigger dice on the celery next time. I only used about half of the dressing, but if you like your potato salad looser, then pour it all on. 

Ginger Soy Vegetable Lo Mein - this is a recipe from Mmm, Taste This that I tagged to my Facebook timeline. Gave it a whirl and it was awesome on a number of fronts. To start, the taste was great. Between the spices and various Asian sauces, it all came together for multiple flavor levels. Another thing I loved about this dish is that it comes together so quickly. Because this is essentially a stir-fry, as long as you have all the prep done before you heat the oil in the pan, you can have this on the table in about 30 minutes or less. And let's talk about versatility. While I used carrots, broccoli, and onions, you can use pretty much any veg hanging out in the fridge looking for a home. Have some shrimp or chicken you want to use? Throw it in; it will taste fabulous. This is another recipe where the end result is way better than take-out.

I wanted to do something different with potatoes to serve with the leftover chicken and gravy. So I made these roasted smashed potatoes with sherry vinegar. Easy to do -- I took two large potatoes, quartered them, and popped them into salted water. Let them cook for about 15 minutes. After draining them, I put the taters on a wire rack to dry out for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I oiled a sheet pan. The potatoes were then transferred to the sheet pan, and using the bottom of a measuring cup, I smashed each of the quarters. Each bit was then basted with some sherry vinegar, the I put the pan in a pre-heated, 500-degree oven for about 20 minutes. When they were out of the oven, the potatoes were given another quick baste with the vinegar and sprinkled with black pepper.

They tasted awesome! The bottom of the potatoes are crunchy, but the inside is still moist and fluffy. And the vinegar gave the whole shooting match a lovely kick. Will definitely make these again and want to try using malt vinegar too.

Egg yolk ravioli with brown butter bacon sauce  - Overall it turned out pretty good, but the next time...and there will be a next time...some minor tweaks need to be made. I had hoped the yolks would be a bit runnier, which means cutting back on the cooking time. I'm guessing by about 30 seconds, but it's a fine line between making sure the pasta is cooked enough without over cooking the egg. I also need to work on making sure I get ALL the air out of the raviolis. I clearly didn't on two of them, so some of the ricotta leaked out. Also be forewarned that if you decide to make this dish, your kitchen will resemble a cooking war zone by the time you're done. But it's definitely worth the effort 

Baked Ziti  -  I had all the ingredients -- sausage, rigatoni (no ziti to be found), mozzarella, parm, homemade sauce -- but no ricotta. In prior weeks, ricotta was readily available in most of the grocery stores in town. The week I wanted it, not a single store had any in stock. What's a cook to do? Make your own.

Thanks to guidance I received from some Facebook friends, especially Papi Thomas, I managed to whip up enough ricotta to make the dish come together as I had hoped.

Duck Confit, roasted garlic smashed potatoes and steamed broccoli - I've always wanted to try making the confit, and while it does require a bit of a time commitment, it's pretty easy to do. Not surprisingly, the duck meat was uber tender after simmering away in its own rendered fat for a couple of hours. And the potatoes? While not the lowest calorie side dish, they were certainly tasty. The cream and butter may have had something to do with it. Would definitely do this dish again, just not on a regular basis for fear of clogged arteries 

Lasagne Bolognese - This recipe intrigued me for a variety of reasons. First, it has lots of steps, which are recipes I love the most. Next the Bolognese sauce was different from ones I've made in the past. This one has less tomato sauce. There was also the Bechamel element, which isn't usually found in a lasagne like this. And finally, I was curious how homemade lasagne noodles would taste versus the packaged kind I've used in the past.

So how did it turn out? Overall, it tasted great. Rich and meaty. The Bechamel added a lovely creaminess that I think is needed as the Bolognese sauce is so dense and quite frankly not very sauce-like. I was surprised by the lasagne noodles in that their texture is so much lighter than the packaged variety. And while they take some time to make, I think they are definitely worth doing.

I'll be posting more Quick Bites in just another day or two. In the meantime, happy cooking!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Slices of Life from Belize - June 16, 2014

Permanent Residency Status

Well, our status can be summed up in two words: still waiting. Actually there are a bunch of other words I could insert here after all these months, but I'll spare you the blue tinted air that would ensue. 

After submitting our application on June 11, 2013, things were moving along with having our initial interview, then after a bit of a delay, having our interview with Special Branch. Then, as I posted back in January, the scandal broke with regards to the Immigration department. Nothing, and I mean nothing, happened for at least six months while the investigations and reorganizations took place. 

We did at least determine that our file is on the director's desk waiting for her signature. Of course, it's been in that spot for at least the last five months, and no one can tell us when our file will be given the final okay.

So we continue to wait. We're not alone, as there are a slew of other folks in the same boat, including those waiting for citizenship and Belize passports. 

Dianna' Drawing Table

Our friend, Dianna, expressed a desire to revisit her hobby of pen and ink drawings. And while she has pens, paper, and pictures, what she needed was a drawing table to kick-start things. She talked with David about it and showed him some online pics of what she was thinking of. He took some measurements, came up with a design, and got to work. Here's the finished piece, delivered late last month. (Excuse the cat photobombing this and the other shots).

In addition to the table top being flat (handy to use as a dining table), David designed the top to be tilted at various angles -- from 15 to 45 degrees. Lots of smooth, rounded corners to make our artist be comfy. (Hmmm, seems the puppy decided to get in on the photobomb action too).

This is a view from the back showing how the top can be adjusted to the various angles. 

And see that dowel rod That's to make it easier for Dianna to adjust the tilt of the table. When the top is flat, that dowel rod attaches to a magnet (that white thing on the leg to the right) to keep it from bumping someone's knee. I've asked David to do a blog post going into all the detail of this project, so stay tuned. In the meantime, another fine quality piece of workmanship.

Practically Cute

It's time again to go on a power washing spree. You would not believe how quickly gunk and mold can grow here. Anyhoo, whenever I've used the power washer in the past, I donned my trusty, green Wellies to keep my feet dry and minimize the amount of grit that can embed itself into every pore of your being.

But my poor, green Wellies were starting to fall apart and my tootsies weren't staying dry. Time to get some replacements. Now any girl can go with something practical, but if you can do that and still bring in a cute factor, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.


...paisley, rubberized, cowgirl boots! They're super comfortable and add a much needed pop of color during rainy season.

Corozal Living / Corozal Arts & Crafts

Back in March, I posted about the launch of the Corozal Living group residing on Facebook. The group is designed as a way for folks to share what they know, pose questions, and find resources here within the Corozal District. 

At the time of my initial post, I was thrilled that we over 160 people were members. Today? Well we have over 580 and it keeps on growing! 

Over the last couple of months, there have been two documents added to the group's file list that may be of interest: a Corozal Town visitor's map and a listing of recommended local contractors and businesses. 

In case you're not on Facebook, you can also access these documents here on our blog. The map is located on the top right of the page, right above our local weather link. The recommended businesses link is shown right under our blog banner.

Another Facebook group that may be of interest to those visiting/moving here is the Corozal Arts & Crafts page. Here you will find a growing collection paintings, drawings, hand made jewelry, furniture, and other handiwork from local arts and crafts people. 

If any of our blog readers/followers want to be part of these growing communities, simply click the "join" option on the respective group pages.