Thursday, August 4, 2016

Safe and Sound in Englishtown, Belize

We are safe and sound here in Englishtown, Belize.  Not sure yet how the rest of the country fared.  The last radar image we saw last night showed all Belize covered by Earl except for a tiny little triangle that happened to include us.  We had a little rain, maybe an inch or 2 so far - it's still falling, and lots of wind from the northwest.  A tiny bit of rain blew in the back door.   We hardly even heard the wind, but the rain on the tin roof makes for a noisy night!  Right now the sea is within normal for waves and tide height and the beach is intact.  Some branches down.  I am off now to take care of the neighbors' dogs.  It is still raining, but not too hard.  Details and photos later.  Things are good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Updated 3 Aug 7:30 am - My Name is Earl

and I am a Tropical Storm hurricane-to-be with wind speeds approaching 60 sustained wind speed of 70 mph.

Looks like the center of Earl is still going to make landfall north of us on Wednesday night.  Chances are good that Earl will be a hurricane by then.  The best thing about Earl being north of us is that due to the counterclockwise rotation of the storm, the winds will be coming at us from the northwest, which is over land.  That means we shouldn't have a huge storm surge and that the wind speeds will be dampened a bit as the winds pass over land.

We decided to put up the hurricane shutters on all the upper level doors and windows and along the north sides of the verandas and part of the west side.  We got all that done today and are very pleased with the results.  Tomorrow morning we will put up the shutters on the exposed west side.  Depending on storm forecasts and projections, we may put all of the shutters up.  Hurricane shutters are up along the north, west, and south sides of the cabana.  We will probably put u the east-side shutters late this afternoon.  The latest map is at the bottom of this page.

Here is what Earl looks like at around 6:00pm, our time.

The little green dot is where we are.
We feel good about our preparations and need to see what tomorrow brings.  We will have to decide by 10:00 am if we want to evacuate.  Right now, evacuation is unlikely to be necessary, but things could change quickly.  I will try to post an update in the morning; it all depends on if we have internet signal.

Wednesday Morning Projection - We are located approximately where the lower edge of the white cone intersects the red hurricane warning line on the coast of Belize.

Will try to make a new post later in the day.

A Worrisome Disturbance

We are keeping a close eye on a "Tropical Wave" that as of this morning is tracking just south of Jamaica and is headed our way at ~20mph.  Here is a screen shot from the US National Hurricane Center as of Tuesday 2 August.

The center of that red X would be directly over our place if it tracks due west.  Fortunately, for us anyway, the models all project it tracking on a curve to the northwest toward the top of Belize.  Even then, the bottom edge of the storm will pass over us.   And of course, the models could be inaccurate at this point.

The "Tropical Wave" has an 80% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone.  It will likely continue to strengthen and chances are good that it will become a tropical depression or even a hurricane before it makes landfall.  At this point, the least we are expecting is sustained winds of 45mph and heavy rain for about a day starting late Wednesday or early Thursday. It could develop into something more serious, so we are watching the forecasts very closely.

We are in Phase 1 of Hurricane Preparedness which means we are clearing everything off our verandas and removing things like fallen coconuts away from the building.  As the storm gets closer, we will seal our water vats.  If the storm develops in strength, we will enter Phase 2 and put hurricane shutters up all along the perimeter of screened in verandas and over all the windows and doors of our cabana and the caretaker's cabana.  We had a dry run for this a month ago, so we know that we have everything at hand.

I will try to post more as things develop; right now I better get busy locking things down.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Well, hello there!  Long time no see.  Yes, I am still alive and well, even though I can't say the same for our internet connection, which is sickly at best.  I am going to try to get 1 photo in this post, but even just 1 may be asking too much.

We have been busy here in South Englishtown.  Just finishing up a few odds and ends on our new addition before we start using it.  Things like the ceiling fan, handles on the cupboards and drawers, overhead lights.  Just details, really.

The long awaited rainy season has started.  So far in June we have had almost 10 inches and could use another 5 or 6 to get back on track.  The good news is that our vats are full and all the plants are thriving.  Today was supposed to be mostly sunny and dry, so we scheduled some repair work on the caretaker's cabana.  We need to replace the old siding, which has some termite damage and rot, with new pressure-treated siding.  And since it was supposed to be sunny, I wanted to bake some bread using our new(ish) small electric oven.

I love this new oven.  It can broil, toast, roast, bake, keep warm, and slow cook.  It can get up to 500F, which is great for pizza and some bread.  It has 2 drawbacks:  1) fancy electronics that are sensitive to even minor power fluctuations and 2) it uses a lot of electricity.  So I tend to bake bread, roast veggies, or cook casseroles on sunny days.  Not yet, but someday soon, the oven will have its very own circuit.  For now, it is on a shared circuit which can cause some issues when the water pump or one of the 2 fridges comes on.  Standard procedure for the time being is to turn off the 2 fridges and refrain from using water while the oven is in use.

Our supposed sunny day turned cloudy and stormy for a couple of hours.  Work on the siding proceeded anyway.  But the arrival of the clouds meant that the power tools had to plug into our solar power rather than the smaller solar power of the caretaker cabana.  We have plenty of power with our wonderful battery bank and south facing solar panels, so we were good to go.  The crew was able to get all the siding replaced on the east side except for the 2 pieces just under the eaves.  They can do that right away tomorrow.  What I hadn't fully appreciated, though, was that the power tools were running off the same circuit that the oven was on.  Below is the saga of bread baking in Belize presented in 10 Easy Steps.  Spoiler Alert - it does have a happy ending.

One and 1/3 loaves.  The missing portion disappeared in no time.  It would have been crustier if I could have kept the oven going.

How to Bake Bread in Belize – the special  "Fume and Curse" Belize Steps are in italics.

1.    Proof the yeast – essential in Belize
2.    Whisk the eggs
·      Crack three eggs into a small bowl
·      Fume and curse because egg #2 is dicey and contaminated egg #1.
·      Wash the bowl out and start over with modified process
·      Crack one egg into a measuring cup.  If it looks good, transfer it to the little mixing bowl.  Repeat 2 more times and whisk.
3.    Measure out the flour in a dry mixing bowl
·      Fume and curse because there are weevils in the flour
·      Sieve the flour to get the weevils out
·      Sieve again to get ALL the weevils out
·      Find the new bag of flour because you need 4 more cups
·      Fume and curse because the new bag of flour is masa not wheat flour
·      Retrieve the little bit of pastry flour from the back of the fridge and find the shaker of flour so that you have enough wheat flour to proceed.
4.    Mix the ingredients
·      Fume and curse because the yeast, with its 2-inch high head of foam, might have over-proofed while you were dealing with unanticipated complications (see above).  Use it anyway.
·      Knead the wet dough, adding in more flour until it reaches the desired stiffness and elasticity.
5.    Clean up
·      Fume and curse as you wash up the mess of the dicey eggs, weevil bodies, and gummy flour from the sink.
6.    Form the risen dough into longish free-form loaves.  Set aside to rise again.
7.    Preheat the oven
·      Fume and curse because you must unplug the little fridge and turn off the big fridge so you can turn on the little oven without overloading the circuit before you set the oven to 400F and start the preheat
8.    Bake the loaves
·      Put the pan on the lower shelf when the oven reaches 400F
·      Fume and curse when the oven alarm starts at 10 minutes into the baking.  The power tools have created a surge in the circuit!
·      Fume and curse as you restart the oven after unplugging it and counting to 10.  Three times.
·      Fume and curse as you let the bread finish baking in the residual heat of the oven because you are sick of restarting the oven.
9.     Slice and taste test
·      Hold your breath as you slice into the still-warm loaf.  Yes; it is done!  Slather on some butter and give it try.  Success; it is pretty damn tasty! 
10.  Fume and curse as you realize that you will never be able to repeat this exact recipe.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Waiting For The Sun

We met our new neighbor a couple of days ago - a magnificently massive boa constrictor.  No idea how long it has been hanging around, but it is certainly well-fed, judging by its size.  It has been waiting for the sun (click here for oddly appropriate music) each day this week to show itself in its brush-pile lodging at the edge of our property.

This morning's sunrise promised us a hot day.
Ten minutes before sunrise.  The air still has the night's coolness - if you call 70F cool.
When the sun rises up through the morning haze like this, the day is guaranteed to be a hot one.
Eighteen minutes after sunrise.  We start work early here to avoid the heat.  Tiger is off-loading our plumbing supplies.  Already 75F when I took this shot.
The weather forecast predicts a high of 98F(36C) today (it is 95F at noon as I write this).
You can almost see the heat at 8:00AM.
By 9:00, the boa's wait is over.  I took these photos today and day before yesterday.  It is so huge that I still haven't seen the whole thing all at once.
Not all the way in the sun yet.  Its head is double-backed to the left of center.
Standing next to it and comparing it to my thigh, I estimate that it is about 18-20 inches in circumference at the widest part I could see.
Here you can see its head resting on its body.
 Although I would love to see its full length, we didn't want to disturb it.
Beautiful markings.
It must have shed recently because it was so shiny and fresh looking.
Look at the gorgeous iridescence of its scales.
 Waiting for the sun.
Its head is larger than my fist.
 Waiting for you . . to come along.
Sparkling eye.
An impressive animal.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Let's Build a Stairway to the Stars

We may not make it to the stars, but the loft will do.  Click here to listen to "Stairway to the Stars" with Ella for your listening pleasure as you read.

Before the stairs, though, we had to finish the floor.  Another lovely dawn greets us with fine weather to continue the work on the floor.
Brown pelicans skim over the flat water.  The day promises to be clear and calm - perfect for finishing a floor.
It took 2 finish coats with light sanding in between applications to get the satiny sheen we wanted.
First coat on the left. Second coat on the right.  The baseboard sets it off nicely.  Still need the finish coat on the baseboard.
The 8x8 inch Santa Maria posts and central beam have been nicely finished, too.
The post is silky smooth to touch and has a beautiful sheen.
The fine weather also brought this amazing insect to our veranda - a bottle brush weevil.  This weevil lays its eggs in dead palm trees.  It has relatives that lay their eggs in live palms and doing so spreads a lethal, to palms, bacterial disease that has had a major impact in Belize.  
The body plus snout measured a little more than 3 inches.
About 8 years ago we had to cull 5 or 6 nice big green coconut palms because they were showing signs of infection.  We were able to keep 3 of the susceptible green palms by staying vigilant and limiting the number of green palms on our property. In the meantime we planted bucket loads of dwarf yellow palms, which are resistant to the bacterial disease.  It seems that the bacterial disease is no longer in this area, so we have started sprouting more of the green coconut palms.  We will watch them closely for signs of disease.  The yellow coconuts have the best coconut water for drinking and green coconuts have the best flesh for eating and for making coconut oil.

After the insect interlude, we were ready to get back to the construction of the stairs. The carpenter and his crew took detailed measurements so that they could construct much of the stair components in the shop.  They brought down the various pieces nicely shrink wrapped to protect against scratches and weather during the trip.
Unpacking the components on the veranda.  The screened veranda is a great staging place.
The big pieces are the landing for the turn and the two wedge-shaped steps  that make the turn.
Getting the stringer into place.  The landing and turn steps are already in place.
Both stringers and the tread are up.  
The outlets and plumbing stubs are for the kitchenette that will be under the staircase.  The bathroom shower is on the other side of the wall, keeping the plumbing all together.
You can see how the stringers rest on the landing platform.
Now to add the second part from the landing to the main floor.  The steps are skewed toward the right so that they are parallel to the wall of this hexagonal room.
It takes 16 steps to go up 10 feet.
A small miscalculation means that the stringers for the lower part of the stairs will have to redone.   
Side view of the lower stringers and steps.
Ooops - you can probably tell in the photo above that the overhang of the treads is too great, effectively making the depth of each step too small to comfortably put your foot on when coming down the stairs.  Going up is not so much of a problem.  So it is back to the shop for the carpenters.  They will come back with new materials for the stringers and also the stair rails.  
A new day.
Monday is a holiday, so Tuesday will be the day they return to continue work on the stairs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Girl - The Story of Max

First - click here to cue up the music - "My Girl" written by Smokey Robinson, performed by the original Temptations with David Ruffin as the lead singer.  This post is the story of our girl Max, our cat who died on Monday.

Max's story started a long time ago (1999), in a place far away (Rochester, Minnesota).  It was a November work day for me and Dennis.  Freezing rain had begun to fall around 3:00 pm and the temperature was falling rapidly with the coming night.  Dennis and I were meeting his brother and sister-in-law, visiting us from their home in New Jersey, for dinner at 6:00.  We were both running late, as was the usual case for us at work, and rushed to the parking lot drive straight to the restaurant.  As we drove to the exit gate of the parking lot, I spotted someone's lovely fuzzy hat in a freezing mud puddle and asked Dennis to stop so I could hang it on the gate before it got destroyed.  I picked it up and "it" was a tiny little cat, soaking wet and freezing cold. Its head was the only part of it that was out of the water.  Well, what are you going to do?  Once you pick up a cat it is yours.  I stuck the cat under my coat to get it warm and it started to purr.  The only thing we could do was drive home (10 minutes away), stash the cat in the laundry room with a towel, food, and water, change into clean clothes, and then dash to the restaurant (5 mintues back the way we had come) to arrive only 30 minutes late.  And so Max came into our lives.

We got her sorted out at the vet that week.  We had to have her tested for feline leukemia before we could let her mingle with our other 2 cats, JD and Polly.  She was negative, so that was good.  The vet thought she was nearly a year old even though she weighed only 4lbs.  She had a slight injury on a back leg, possibly from climbing under a car to get warm.  Once that was healed and she gained some weight, we had her spayed.  She was a very lively little cat - she could leap onto the kitchen counter and from there onto the top of the wall cupboards.  She climbed the bookshelves, climbed the plants, certainly would have climbed the drapes if we had had drapes.  All my photos of her early years are in storage still because that was when I was still using a film camera.  My favorite early photo of her is up in tree with her front legs wrapped around an upright limb looking for the world like a little koala bear.

Her first year must have been a hungry one because she made up for lost time.  In no time she weighed more than her new buddy JD.  And so life was good for Max.  She was an indoor cat except for the time she and the others went outside with me.
Max in the sunroom.
Springtime!  Max in the daffodils with JD.
"Oh no!  Dangerous cars out on the road."
Hosta la vista.
Dreaming of toys.
Summer again.   This is the life.
Office help at home.
Snuggled up to Dennis in winter.
Cushions are the best.
No.  Catnip with JD is the best. 
Spring again.
A cat in her prime.
All was well in Max's life.  It was sad when Polly died, but JD is a good friend.  And then, out of nowhere, that bad cat Jazmin entered the scene.
Max doesn't like Jazmin.
Max still doesn't like Jazmin, but no blood has been drawn. 
To Max's relief, Jazmin also died, leaving Max and JD as the two cats of the house.
Another spring and, oooh, are those ramps?
A little excitement when the sunroom was the scene of a crime.  A crime perpetrated by raccoons that broke through the window screen to get to the bird feeders.
What the heck?
I did NOT do this.
Summertime and the livin' is easy.
Things changed in the house as we got it ready to put on the market.  A refurbished closet.
A kitty shelf for Max.
The sunroom is still a favorite place.
The perfect combination of inside and outside.
Something is up there.
Pretty, tempting, butterflies.
Not tall enough to reach.
A real peeping Tom.
Autumn of 2012 - That was the last photo of Max in Rochester.   I purposely left the camera in Belize the last time I went because I knew I would more than have my hands full when Max and I moved to Belize in December 2012.

But before Max could travel to Belize she had to loose some weight to fit in her soft-sided carrier that I would carry on to the plane.  She also had to have a health exam, get her vaccinations all current, and have a statement of health signed by a USDA-approved veterinarian.  Fortunately her regular vet is USDA-approved.  I filled out lots of forms, bought expensive tickets for me and Max to travel first class.  Max was 13 years old when we made that trip and I gave her a 50/50 chance of surviving it.  She hated to travel by car and this trip entailed a 90 minute drive to the Minneapolis airport (thanks for the ride Vivian!), a scary security process during which she almost escaped, 90 minutes waiting to board the plane to Dallas, a 2 hr layover in Dallas, and then another flight to Belize.  She spent the whole time cowering in the back of the carrier, never making a sound, her eyes wide with fear.  I kept the carrier on my lap and was able to slip my hand in to comfort her.  Once in Belize, I had to go through immigration and customs and then get Max through BAHA (Belize Agricultural Health Authority) with more forms and some more money changing hands.  Our friends Sue and Chris Harris met us at the airport and Max had her first ride in a pickup truck as we drove to D'Nest B&B not too far from the airport.  In my backpack, I had made up a little travel litter box which she urgently used once we were in the room.  She had behaved wonderfully well, but was still very scared.  The next day Chris and Sue drove me and Max down to Monkey River Village.  Max's second, and final, in a pickup truck.  Then the poor cat had her first, and only, ride in a boat to get to Englishtown.
The veranda is sort of like the sunroom back in Rochester!
No snow outside and this is January.  Fantastic.  A cat after my own heart.
Looks - no cars, only boats.
Max settled into life in Englishtown.  She was especially relieved when Dennis joined us.
A spot of sun.
Uh oh - scissors.  That can't be good.
Max got her fur clipped as the weather heated up.
Feeling naked.
All tired out after chasing the blue ball to get the kitty treats out.  It's a hard life being a kitty.
So many new things kept Max's life interesting.
She met curious lizards.
Got her fur trimmed again.
This haircut makes my butt look fat.  :-(
No, you look beautiful.
 Max, who used to hide under the bed in Rochester when visitors came over, became quite gregarious.
Life of the party - my retirement party, that is, with friends Julie and Phil.
She learned which spots were shady and cool.
This shot reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the house lands on the Wicked Witch of the West, leaving only her legs protruding. 
Another summer, another hair cut.
 And then we started construction and Max found her passions - supervising and inspecting.
Looks good from out here.
Hard work, but a kitty's got to do what a kitty's got to do.
See above.
No scaffold too narrow or high for Max.
Time to check what is happening around the corner.
This new veranda is the cat's pyjamas.
She was born for this.
And this.
ditto
again.
and again.
and again.
Late afternoon sun.
Instead of walks through the garden like we had in Rochester, we go on walks around the veranda.
with rest stops, of course.
 And then one day, we went up, up, up to the sunset veranda on the second level.
Wow, what a view.
Time to wash.
Back to the view.
Is that an agouti over there?
It was soon after the photo above taken in July 2015 that we noticed Max was losing weight and slowing down even more.
Asleep on the inside.
Asleep on the newly screened veranda.  A little too skinny now.
Even though she was slowing down, she liked to hang her legs off the veranda as she slept.  Not bad for a 17-yr-old cat.

And here she is in the final photo I have of her.  She was obviously in the 12 step program, but only made it to step 3.
Taking a rest on Step 3 of a 12 step program.  

Max started fading fast on Friday.  She was very weak.  Her last happy time was Friday afternoon watching the hummingbirds while sitting on our bed.  She ate very little on Saturday and stopped eating or drinking on Sunday.  Max died Monday afternoon with Dennis and me beside her.  We buried her in the avocado tree garden bed by the light of the full moon.

Our hearts are heavy and we miss her so much.  But we are happy that she lived a long and happy life of more than 17 years, with 3 great years in Belize.  And we are comforted that she had an easy death.  My Girl.