09 December, 2012

Experiment with mobile blogging

My post yesterday may have been a little premature if I can get this test of mobile blogging to my satisfaction.  I am using my new Samsung Galaxy Note II.  It has a decent camera so I took a couple of quick shots of the snowfall from dry warmth of our house.

The first one is the view toward the side garden.  The second is the fern inside the dining room window looking toward the front garden.  The snow looks lovely on the blue spruce.  Last is the young flowering crab apple just outside the living room window.  Just this short post now as a test.  I hope there will be more later.

Note to self - the photos are in reverse order. 

08 December, 2012

Almost there

This is probably my last chance to blog from Rochester, as a resident, that is.  The external hard drive with all my photos on it is getting packed up tomorrow and the next few days will be a mad rush.  Fewer than 5 days remain until Max and I start our trip to our new home in Englishtown, Toldeo, Belize.  Dennis will join us on Christmas Eve.  I thought it only fitting that I leave Rochester by posting a handful of photos taken in our garden just a few months ago.  Summer in Minnesota is hard to beat.  Too bad it is so fleeting.

This painted lady was pristine and so intent on nectaring that I was able to get right up close with a macro lens.  She didn't blink an eye.

She loves her Liatris.

She looks almost furry with all that hair on her body. 
And here she is with her tongue out.  ;-)
Our garden was beautiful this summer.  So many flowers were blooming madly for months.  The flowers are so prolific, you have to look hard to see the dragonfly in the center.  

In Belize, I will have to get attuned to much different seasonal changes in plant and animal life.  The changes will be more subtle than here in the northern temperate zone. It is going be such fun - a whole new world to explore and become intimate with.
My heart is already in Belize, and we are almost there.
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05 December, 2012

Mindful Writing Challenge 2013

Another post without photos.  Why is that?  I intentionally left all my camera gear in Belize so I wouldn’t have to haul it back down while dealing with importing the cat to Belize.  I am really stressed about traveling with Max.  She doesn't like to travel and this will be a very long trip starting at 5:00am in Rochester and ending about 12 hours later in Belize City.  We will stay overnight in the city and travel the rest of the way to Englishtown the next day.  Our dear friends Sue and Chris (of Steppingstones) are picking us up and driving us to our new home.  But, to get back to this post, I don’t need photos for today's post, which is to introduce the “Mindful Writing Challenge 2013”.  You can find out more about the challenge here

I joined the challenge, which is to post a small written thought (called a “small stone”) describing something you encountered during the day, as you can see by the icon on the righthand side of this page.  I hope this will encourage me pay more attention to the moment and not stress out about all the turmoil.  I thought this exercise would be somewhat therapeutic for me during these major changes as we move our primary residence to Belize.  I figure it is similar to a photo made of words. But  - if you are put off by the words, just skip them; there will be plenty of photography and Belize natural history in a little more than 1 week. (Yikes - stress again!)

Although the challenge doesn’t start until January, I decided to get started early.  My first attempt is to describe what I felt early on the morning of December 3rd when I put birdseed out as the sun was just rising.

Deceptively warm, the December morning air
whispers “Spring” across my skin.
Happily complicit, I savor its touch,
denying that cold truth will prevail.

Nan, of Tiny River Splash blog, was my inspiration to join.  Hope some of you will join the Challenge, too.

02 December, 2012

The End of an Era

Dennis retired on Friday.  A heartfelt thank you to everyone who joined the 3, yes 3(!), retirement gatherings that were held for him.  It was a wonderful send off for him.

While packing up photo albums and miscellaneous notebooks, stationery, office supplies today, I found a journal that I started writing on our January 2005 trip to Belize.  That particular trip was the first one after we had sealed the purchase of our beach-front jungle property nearly 7 years ago.  From my writing it is easy to see that we were fairly naïve about many things, but our “lessons learned” haven’t been too distressing.

No photos today, but here is an excerpt from the trip 7 years ago.

A big adventure today!  Ralph took us on a tour that started innocently enough.  We went south past Punta Negra and Punta Ycacos into the Port Honduras Reserve Area.  The day was overcast and rained off and on, mostly on, nearly the whole day.  We stopped at Abalone Cay were the Reserve Ranger Station is and met George, the ranger.  He showed us a beautiful hand-painted map of the reserve with its 108 cayes, 4 of which are even more protected than the others.  This area is beautiful.  Payne Creek, Golden Stream, and several other rivers drain into Port Honduras.  In spite of the cayes, the water is very deep in many areas.  Back in the logwood days, it was a major port that sailing ships and, later, steam ships came to.  We saw the old tracks that were used to deliver the logwood to the water’s edge.  At Abalone Cay, we climbed to the top of the lookout that is in the center of the station.  The views were terrific even though it was very overcast.  It must be spectacular in clear weather.  I hope we can go back.  The station built in 2001 as a project with one of the British military groups that train here.

After looking at the map of Payne Creek, we asked Ralph to take us backup the creek.  It was lovely.  We saw kingfishers, a green heron, swallow, etc.  From there we headed out to W. Snake Cay for lunch.  A lovely little cay with a white sand each that had a lot coral bits and shells washed up on it.  Two pairs of pelicans were diving into the turquoise water and an osprey was perched in a dead tree on a little spit of sand.  The water was wonderfully clear and I could see incredible corals down below.  We explored the cay for about 15 min (it’s small) and then ate chicken curry and rice lunch that Elna packed for us.  We got back in the boat to head by toward Monkey River and maybe stop at another cay to snorkel if the sun came out.  But the boat wouldn’t start.  Ralph finally for it started, but then it wouldn’t go into gear.  He worked on it for about 30 min before radioing for help.  He finally got hold of someone who got hold of Elna who contacted her brother George to come and help us. It took about 1½ hour for him to reach us.  In the meantime we were at anchor and the sea started to pick up a bit.  Dennis felt a little queasy, but I was OK and even managed a little nap being rocked by the water.  George arrived in his little boat and after only 15 min, he and Ralph got the engine going and in gear.  Now the anchor was stuck.  More boat maneuvering to transfer the anchor line to George’s boat so he could pull it from the other direction.  In the meantime, the engine has stopped again, so we are in a boat without an anchor in rough water near a coral caye.  It took about 5 min to get the boat going.  So we finally headed back to Monkey River with George leading the way in his boat.  The waves are higher now and we are getting air born every so often.  Still nothing as bad as when John Moore took us from Gale’s Point to Rendezvous Cay.  But after one particularly had landing, the throttle cable broke, so we were just puttering along.  George realize something was wrong and came back to check on us.  He had a piece of wire that Ralph used for the throttle, but it still wasn’t very good.  Another boat from Monkey River also stopped to see what was going on but they couldn’t help either.  Ralph suggested we transfer to George’s boat so he could get us back to the village.

We finally did make it back just fine and even had time to go visit Sam and Martha that same day.  I recall that the rainy, misty morning on Port Honduras was magical with soft silver light all around, melding sky and ocean, and hardly a sound to be heard.  Looking forward to going there again.

In 10 days, the cat and I will be on our way to Belize.  Lots to get done in such a short time …

18 November, 2012

Three and One Half Weeks

Time is moving right along, as it does.  Our weather has been quite nice, allowing us to do some outside clean up in relative comfort.  I say “us”, but really it has been Dennis who has cut up the fallen tree and moved the wood into the woods to rot, drained the garden hoses and put them away, etc.  I managed to bring a little pottery birdbath inside to clean up and put away.  My big accomplishment has been to sort all my clothes into 4 categories:  clothes that I need for work until December 12 and that I will need again in March when I return to Minnesota, clothes that go to Belize with me for immediate use, clothes that will be shipped later, and clothes that will go to Salvation Army.

I have also been working on selling some of our furniture.  It just doesn’t make sense to take it all to Belize with us.  We will have a much simpler lifestyle there that won’t require as much “stuff” as we have here.  What a relief that will be.

We will celebrate our last Thanksgiving in the U.S. this coming week.   Part of the day will likely be spent at the storage unit where we have the boxes stored that we will ship to Belize early next year.  We need to squeeze a few more things in order to make room at our house for the house sitters.  And we also need to pull out the things that we will ship down right away.  We are hoping that the shipping company that is handling the car will let us pack the car full of boxes.  But back to Thanksgiving – we will have a non-traditional dinner of scallops and fish with cranberry/orange sauce, Brussels sprouts, salad, and cheese blintzes with ginger syrup for dessert.  A nice sparkling almond-flavored wine will accompany the dessert.

So what is worth all this effort, anxiety, and turmoil?  Is it the fresh fruit we can grow? 

Fresh guava from our own tree.  It makes an incredibly refreshing drink when macerated and mixed with fresh, sweetened lime juice (also from own tree).

Is it the wildlife (including fabulous insects) that also make their home in Belize?
Lovely red dragonfly.  I haven't keyed it out yet; that is part of the satisfaction I am looking forward to. 
Is it the back-to basics cabana and associated lifestyle?
This what our cabana looked like in 2008.  Since then Richard enclosed the part below with a cane screen to hide the black water vats and poured the concrete slabs.  The coconut trees are now taller than the cabana. 
Is it the tranquility?
This is my favorite sight in all the world - coming home to our beachfront cabana where life is sweet and simple.

Is it the snorkeling off our front veranda?
Our veranda that overlooks the ocean.  I keep my snorkel gear (in the blue and yellow bag hanging on the wall) handy so I can snorkel at  moment's notice right off our dock.  Or what about relaxing in the hammocks?  Maybe a cold coke will hit the spot while keying out the fish that I spotted while in the water will do the trick. 

Or is it sharing all this with all the other oddballs who found their true home in Belize?
Dennis with Sam, Martha, Chris, and Sue.  We know why we are here in Belize.
It is all of those things and more.  Come visit Belize and see for yourself.
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11 November, 2012

Another Week Closer to Belize

On Friday, we celebrated Dennis’ last birthday in Minnesota; his next birthday will be in Belize. The countdown widget on the righthand side of the blog, shows that Dennis’ retirement is only 18 days away from today.  I am more excited than he is. 

I was sorting through my old photos and pulled these from our third trip to Belize.  The first is some land we were looking at before we found  what we wound up with.  This was 10 acres plus another 40 if interested on the west coast of the Northern Lagoon.  It was beautiful, even in the rainy season, nestled into the Peccary Hills.
 George, a local guide, took us by boat from Gales' Point in the Southern Lagoon, to the property.  We saw big, fresh jaguar prints in the muddy track.
George slogs valiantly along the flooded road with me close behind.  Less than 2 weeks before this trip, Dennis had arthroscopic knee surgery, so he elected to stay on dry ground rather than risk injury or infection of his still healing knee.  Good call on Dennis' part; the water got mid-thigh deep on me in one place. 

Also on this trip we went to the Maya ruins called "Xunantunich".  To get there we had to cross the Macal River on a hand-cranked car ferry.  Below is a view of the river from the ferry.
And above is a shot of the ferry after we got off.  It can hold 2 or 3 cars at a time.
The ruins are quite impressive.  The shot above is of the largest structure there, but there were many more. Dennis was able to hike up to the top (and, more importantly, down again) in spite of his recent knee surgery.
The carvings are intricate and detailed.  I hope we can go back soon and get more photos now that I have a better camera and more lenses.

Back to the present - Craig sent photos of the completed concrete work.  We are very pleased with it and can hardly wait to see it for ourselves.
It will be so much easier to keep things clean and dry.  This area is about 600 sq.ft. of space.  Later on, once we get the water vats moved to the foundation for the bedroom expansion, we will do the remaining 300 sq.ft. 
In front of the back wall, you can see a small, white appliance that in Belize passes for a clothes washing machine.  It is quite simple, but does do the heavy work of washing.  It doesn't really spin dry, though.

This is about it for today's post.  The day started out cool and rainy and will end cold and perhaps snowy.  A good day to work on packing for the big move next month.  

Hope you stay warm and dry. 
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04 November, 2012

Big Changes Up Ahead

It has been more than 3 months since I posted a new entry on this blog.  The death of my mother back in May simply took the wind out of my sails.  I had originally started writing this blog for her so she could keep up with me even when I was traveling.  One of the last things she said to me was “Have you written more on your blog?  I am tired of looking at that ugly turkey!”  Sadly, I didn't get another entry written before she died, but I’m ready now to continue with greater frequency.  And although I hope to meet Mother’s high standards for blog-worthiness, I make no promises regarding ugly birds!  ;-)

Dennis retires in 4 weeks!  We are in the last days of living here in Rochester.  Our house has not sold yet.  But we are fortunate in that a colleague at work will be "between houses", so to speak, starting in December.  So he will house sit for us until May.  It is not a good idea to leave a house unoccupied during a Minnesota winter; that is an invitation for some sort of disaster like a furnace malfunction that leads to burst water pipes or worse.  I will be working halftime and telecommuting until March, when I will return to Rochester until I retire at the end of June.  I hope the house will have sold by then; we shall see.

It has been a while since I described our place in Belize.  In the Google Earth shot below you can see a small village of about 200 people labeled "Monkey River Town".  The photo is rotated so that north is to the right.  Just of north of Monkey River Village (MRV) (it is now too small to be classified as a town) is the Monkey River.  The monkeys of reference are black howler monkeys that live in the surrounding jungle.  To the north of both the river and the village is the Monkey River Road (MRR), a ~15 mile long dirt road cut through the jungle that connects the village with the nicely paved Southern Highway.  Notice that MRR ends on the north side of the river; there is no bridge or other road that goes into MRV, so the few cars owned by village residents are parked at the end of the road and residents and visitors cross the river by boat.  There are many more boats owned by MRV residents than there are cars.

Farther north of the river is a creek called Black Creek.  The dark color is due to the tannins extracted from the leaves of the mangrove trees that line the edges and fill the surrounding marsh.  Our place is at the south end of a mile stretch of beach called Englishtown.  In the photo below from 2005, there is no sign of our place yet, but you can see Steppingstones, a small fishing resort owned by our neighbors Sue and Chris Harris.  That little spec of white jutting out into the sea in the middle third of Englishtown is their dock.  Our newest neighbor in Englishtown, Craig Pearlman, is at the north end of of the beach.  They are opening a bar and micro-resort called Bare Bones Beach Bar.
I took the shot below with my 300mm lens while standing on our dock and facing north.  You can just see the edge of our dock in the foreground, then the palapa at the end of Steppingstones dock, and in the distance the sign for Bare Bones Beach Bar.  Check out the link to Bare Bones.
A similar viewpoint but a little closer to shore, using a normal lens shows our lovely beach in the foreground (below) with the palapa at Steppingstones a speck in the distance.  Look how clear the water is.  The darker patches are where seagrasses are growing.
Back the end of our dock gives a nice perspective of our place.  That is our cabana with the red roof.
The cabana is on 12 ft tall concrete piers to keep it above storm surges and get us higher than the worst of the insects.  The footprint of the cabana is 33x30ft and 10ft of the width is the screened in veranda, leaving us with interior living space of only 20x33ft.  The area below the cabana is screened by canes.  We did that originally to hide the ugly black plastic water vats that store rainwater as our sole water supply.
We were pleasantly surprised at how much the cane defined the space below the cabana. We use it for all kinds of things.  We decided to pour a floating slab of concrete to make the space even more useful - for example to store our belongings that will shipped down early next year.  We will add an extension of a nice bedroom suite to the cabana, but until that happens, we don't have enough room for the furniture we are bringing down.  Below you can see Joe, who lives at Craig's place in North Englishtown putting the broom finish on one section of the slab.  The slab will be poured in 9 independent sections that won't adversely affect the earthquake minimizing nature of the matrix foundation that I described in a previous post.  Thanks for sending the photos of the progress, Craig.
In the shot below you can see a slab in mid-pour.  The sea is about 30 feet away on the other side of the red hibiscus.
In the meantime back in Rochester, we are packing things up, getting vaccinations and a health certificate for the cat, getting things like a cell phone signal booster that we can't get in Belize, filling prescriptions, servicing the car, etc.  Max (the cat) and I will fly to Belize December 13.  Dennis will drive our car, pulling a trailer holding 2 pallets of gear, to the Alabama gulf coast where our shipping agent is.  That trip will take about 3 or 4 days.  He will leave the car and pallets with the agent and then rent a car to drive to Atlanta.  He will fly from Atlanta to Belize somewhere around December 18.  The shipped items will get there sometime in January of February.  That's the plan, Stan.  Stay tuned to see how far off track reality takes us!
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28 July, 2012

A Punk Caterpillar on Milkweed and other fun sightings

All the photos below were taken the early evening of July 27th in our front garden.  Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillars (Euchaetes egle) were on the Aesclepias plants.  I spotted them when I was looking for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
They seemed to like eating the flowers.

Although the caterpillars are striking, the adult moths have dull yellow/orange abdomens with black spots and featureless grey wings.
Difficult to tell which end is the head.  But here you can just 
make out the shiny head where it is eating the flower.
The early instars are gregarious, but turn into loners in later instars.
This punk style reminds me of Dean at DDD.  :-)
Also on Aesclepias were these milkweed bugs busily making the next generation...

Neoneides muticus, a stilt bug, also on Aesclepias. These were tiny little things, but obviously adults because they are mating.

The coneflowers have been prolific this year.
This fly was going round and round, systematically visiting each little floret.
Many of the coneflowers were atypical.
"Look - my flower has flowers."  

And finally, a lovely little moth down at the base of Liatris.  Haematopis grataria - Chickweed Geometer.  Female with filiform antennae.