Friday, October 31, 2008

Autumn Beauty

It is a beautiful autumn here. Our trees are just beginning to turn. (Click on photos to enlarge.) This is such a contrast to our island home where we are surrounded by tropical splendor year round. We are very happy that it has warmed up here in the midwest. We've been up in the 70s the past two days and projected to stay that warm for several more days, with lows in the 40s. We're beginning to get acclimated to the cooler temps. We have a lot of yard work to catch up on. Our lawn guy has done a great job of mowing and trimming, but we have bushes to cut back, flower beds to clean up and 50-60 huge bags of leaves to rake up. We do use the large brown paper bags which decompose easily and these bags are taken to a separate landfill along with other yard waste.
I'm going to take a hiatus on this blog until January when we return to the island. In the meantime, I'll be blogging on Multiply.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mild Culture Shock

It just gets colder here every night, 30 degrees last night. Don had to have a nice big fire this morning. I was tempted to not even leave the house, but I had a 9 a.m. doctor's appointment and then Ladies' Class, and I knew all the women were waiting for my return. They were as thrilled to see me as I was them.

It is a bit overwhelming to be back in the land of plenty though. The stores are huge, brightly lighted, and the selection of goods available is just unbelievable. You all know this, of course, but for me just coming back from Honduras, it is incredible.

The traffic has been another adjustment. I drove the short distance to the doctor's office in rush hour traffic. Lots of impatient people out there. One thing about Roatan is, with the possible exception of the taxi drivers, the people tend to be very patient; they're used to waiting in lines. I'm also not used to stop lights, there are none on the island, and, good gosh! there are a lot of them on Manchester Road. Then there is the noise from so much traffic and the smell of exhaust fumes. But I did enjoy the nice, wide, smooth road surfaces, unlike the beach road after all the torrential rains. (sorry about the sideways picture - I had rotated it but it flipped back). Click to
enlarge photo.

It seems odd to see everyone wearing such dark colors, lots of black, winter colors, and wearing dress boots and coats. (except for the Michigan people who don't think it's at all cold yet). I still think it's summer, but I'm not about to go sit on the deck in shorts, tee shirt and flip flops. And everyone is talking about Christmas shopping; I'm really not ready for that!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Going Nowhere

Man, it's cold here! It's been in the 40s all day and we are having a tough time adjusting. And yes, Judy already told me that's it going to be even colder tomorrow. Ugh.

The car problems have continued. Pearl (my car) wouldn't start this morning, even after being on the charger all night. The poor battery is just shot. I was hoping to drive up to Sam's Club and have a new battery put in. This was a problem. Only one car, our wonderful neighbors have moved out of state, so I started making phone calls. Called my friend, Deb, who said she would be happy to take me if she was here, but she was in Abilene, TX. Called several other friends and neighbors before I found someone who was both home and available. While we were off at Sam's buying the new battery, our neighbors 2 doors up got my message and came over. Don was able to get Jim and Kathy's new phone number from them and called to see if they had the car keys or knew where they were. Jim had put them in a safe place in the garage. Whew!

So, armed with a new battery and car keys, I finished making out my grocery list and looked through the pantry to see if there was anything else needed. That's when I noticed a big black gooey mess on the pullout shelf where I keep canned goods. One of the cans had sprung a leak. Don offered to clean that up while I drove off to the store.

American grocery stores are just amazing. What a selection. And what good looking meat! I did have sticker shock on some things, like fresh vegetables that I had been buying on the island for cheap. I mean really, $2.00 for one avocado?? Other prices were quite a bit less than what we have to pay in Roatan. As high priced as cereal is here, it's still less than $7.00 box. I also noticed the cheap gas prices while I was out. We had been paying over $5.00/gal. on the island., I don't know if prices have dropped there as well.

No mail yet. I went to the post office to see about getting it delivered here again instead of being forwarded to Rachel. They said if I had put a start and stop date on the request form, it would automatically resume today. It didn't. Either we really didn't have any mail or someone got their wires crossed. Not even a piece of junk mail. Oh well, I'm not used to getting mail anymore anyway. Perhaps mañana.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


We're back home and it's rather chilly here. We heard that it was in the 40's in St. Louis, but by the time we landed, it had "warmed up" to 57. There we were, dressed in short sleeved shirts and sandals. Don had one pair of long pants with him and wore those today, but I only had shorts or capris. I don't know why it didn't occur to us that it might be cold at the end of October.

We started the day out with a bang. We heard Rachel and Lance's phone ring in the adjoining room at the Doubletree in Houston. We looked at the clock and it read 4:45 a.m. Man, why were they getting a wake up call so early? Don got up and hopped in the shower while I made some coffee (which was very good - Wolfgang Puck coffee made in one of those single cup machines). Rachel opened the connecting door and asked how we were doing. I hopped in the shower and thankfully, decided not to wash my hair, because as soon as I got out Rachel asked if we were about ready to go. "WHAT?! I asked. It's 5:15." "No, she said, it's 6:15." "No, it's not, I said, not on our clock." "Well, your clock is wrong. It is 6:15, we've gotten our wake-up call and we need to be down on the airport shuttle at 6:30." Boy, did we hustle. We threw everything together and hauled suitcases out into the hall. The door slammed shut behind us just as Don said "oh no! I still have one suitcase in the room and I left my key inside. Who has a key?" No one. We went to the elevator, thinking we had to go to the desk to get another key, and that's when I remembered that I had put my key in my purse when we went down to dinner the night before. Don went back to get the suitcase and Rachel waited for him. Lance and I went down to grab the shuttle and get him to wait. It was chilly when we stepped outside. That's when I remembered that I had left my longer sleeved shirt up in the room and just knew that Don would never see it. Otherwise, I was wearing onl a tee shirt. I met Don in the hallway, got the key and went up to the 7th floor to retrieve my shirt. The shuttle waited. This was way too much commotion before a second cup of coffee.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We arrived in St. Louis, got our luggage, got picked up by our friends Pat and Carl. They took us home to drop off bags and change clothes and then we took them to lunch at the Pasta House. Once back home, I looked in the empy fridge and realized that someone had to go to the grocery store, at least to get the essentials. Don opted to clean our shower, which had dripped and molded, and I (wisely, I thought) had elected the grocery run. Only I couldn't find my car keys. Anywhere. Jim and Kathy had taken us to the airport 3 months ago in my car, and we had asked Jim to drive my car once in a while. I called Carl to see if Jim had passed the keys on to him after Jim and Kathy moved away. No, he didn't have them and never had. Well, this was not good. I couldn't find the piece of paper that I had written Kathy's new cell phone number on, and they hadn't yet moved into their new villa in Illinois, were staying with various relatives and so had no landline or e-mail. Bummer. I found a spare key, minus the key fob, and went out to start the car. Nothing happened. Ok, this was getting worse by the minute. Don came out, checked under the hood and discovered that the battery was nearly dry. He filled it and put it on the battery charger. We sold Don's car before we went to Roatan and are now a one car family, so no grocery run today. And I still have to track down Jim and Kathy and the missing key fob.

It's kind of surreal being back in the States. The heat's on, the air is dry, and our skin, eyes and throats already feel the difference. We were surprised and delighted to see that the trees had not only not lost all their leaves yet but were just turning colors. Nice. I'm sure tomorrow won't be so nice; it's supposed to be even colder, and I'll have sticker-shock when I get to the grocery store. We'll see if my peaceful, laid-back mood lasts when I take to the road again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


It's Saturday evening and we're back in the States, in Houston. I've just demolished a plate full of Texas ribs! Yum!!
We had another interesting day. It was dry all night and early morning. We had lots to do to close up the house for a couple of months. Don and Rachel walked up the hill to Dennis' house to borrow his ladder so Don could put up the hurricane shutters. The rain held off, the gate was still closed and locked but Dennis came down to unlock it just as they approached it. It did start to rain as they were hanging the shutters, but not too hard, and then stopped.

We did some laundry, washed some dishes, covered all the furniture, emptied the fridge and freezer and gave the contents to Merlin or Kaleen, and emptied the trash and garbage. All the deck furniture got moved inside and the propane tanks, too. Merlin came down to say good bye, then Colin stopped by. Next Kaleen and Kelly came down. We hated to say goodbye, even for a couple of months.

We threw a few things into the suitcases and were ready to go when Dennis came to get us. (Don had moved our car up to Colin and Kaleen's garage.) It was still dry as we threw our bags into the back of Dennis' pickup and climbed inside. Just after he dropped us off and we were standing in the line to check in, the skies opened up and it poured.

The Continental line was long and slow moving. We noticed that there were some angry people ahead of us. Security had sent them back to check some items: an umbrella (a weapon!), a ceramic pot (?!). Whew. Were they ever ticked off. We finally got checked in and then went through immigration, paid our exit fees and went to security. We all made it except for Lance. He got sent back to check his hammock swing. Apparently the wooden poles were weapons! They wanted to charge him $26. to check the chair. He refused, saying he would just as soon break the poles off over their counter as to pay an additional $26. They went ahead and checked it without charge or comment.

We had a little snack of empanadas and bean quesidillas and something to drink before boarding the plane. Our flight was on time and our boarding process was smooth. The final screening before boarding includes a manual search of all carryons, but no one was wanded, no shoes removed and nothing was confiscated that I could tell. Nice. It was still raining, although not pouring, as we walked out across the tarmac and climbed the stairs to the plane. No lunch served on the flight, only a tiny bag of peanuts and something to drink. The flight to Houston was full but uneventful. No movie, just a bunch of old reruns.

Landed a few minutes early. The customs agent studied my passport, looked at me, looked at my passport, typed something into his computer and then stared at the monitor. It took a lot longer than usual. I thought he was thinking that I no longer looked like my 9 year old passport photo. Don thought that he was checking to see if there was a warrant out for my arrest (ha ha, very funny). He finally let us go.

After we claimed our bags and went through immigration, we walked out and got right onto the Doubletree shuttle. I didn't even have time for an asthma attack! (Houston polution.) Warm chocolate chip cookies awaited us at the Doubletree as we checked in. Then we discovered that our new credit card had apparently not been activated by our banker and it was denied. So Rachel put both rooms on her charge card. We got up to our adjoining rooms and she got a call saying that there was a problem with her card, so back down she went to straighten that out. Sheesh!

We were starving, having had no real lunch, so we headed to the grill and I had fantastic Texas barbequed ribs. Yummmmmmm!!! It was a great meal for everyone. And then we all went back to our rooms and crashed, too tired to stay up for the BBWS, which Lance said was the big, beautiful women [something] Halloween party. Nope, way too tired for that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running Around

We started out yesterday with stormy skies and threat of more rain. We had errands to run, so we didn't let that stop us. On the drive to French Harbor we drove through a little rain and then the sun appeared. We all had to break out the sunglasses.

Next stop was Coxen Hole for the weekly fun at the bank. While waiting in the older persons line, an elderly woman in front of me said that she had stopped at the bank in French Harbor but it was closed because it had been robbed the night before, so she had to come on to Coxen Hole. Rachel said she had seen the yellow police tape across the driveway.

Next stop was Yaba Ding Ding for some gifts to take home, then the New Souvenirs across the street which was crowded with cruise ship people. Don and I bought a couple of beautiful paintings by local artists.

Our favorite restaurant in the Hole was opened but had no cook, so no yummy Black Angus burgers today. We decided to go to the Half Moon Bay Cafe in West End. The view from there is beautiful and was especially good today. The seas were very rough, lots of waves and whitecaps. Rachel and Lance were glad they had chosen not to dive today.

Late in the afternoon, we walked up the hill to visit Dennis and Merlin. Merlin gave Rachel and Lance a tour of the newly completed hilltop house and then the still-under-construction "over the hill house". While we were up there, the sun began to set, affording us this view.

You must be flexible to live here. Last night was a case in point. We had planned to go to Blue Bahia for dinner and to hear Deb sing. Just as it became dark, the power went off. The west end of the island was completely dark, then a few lights came on as generators kicked in. We weren't sure if Blue Bahia would be open, but I figured it was worth a try. Nope. Not a single light on. So we drove on down to the West End where we knew several places that would be opened. We went out armed with our headlamps, flashlights and lantern. You just never know what you might encounter while walking. We didn't even get off our deck before coming across this tarantula. (Click on picture to enlarge!)

He ran into the corner of the step and then froze in our lights. Thankfully, he was gone when we returned after eating pizzas at Pura Vida, and the power was back on!

On the way to the West End, Don drove over a huge white crab skittering across the road. The road in West End was just a washboard of potholes from all the rain, so we parked at the Baptist Church and walked down to Pura Vida carrying our various light sources. It is still a challenge to walk around the potholes without turning an ankle. We saw an amputee on crutches on the way there, and an amputee in a wheelchair on the way back. It's even more of a challenge to navigate that rough road with an assistive device.

You have to go with the flow here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Lottery

We get such a kick out of our friend Merlin. She has been telling us some interesting stories about her dreams and the lottery. It seems that she will often have a dream about numbers. The other night she dreamed of the numbers 14 and 41. Now, that sounds kind of weird in and of itself, I mean, who dreams about numbers? But the stranger part is that she will wake up, still thinking about those numbers, and one of her friends will call asking if she's had any dreams.

I need to explain (no doubt poorly) about the lottery on Roatan. There is a twice daily lottery and then a weekly lottery. They are different from any in the U.S. that I know of (I don't play so I'm no expert) in that you can pick your number and it can be just a two digit number. Also, any number of people can choose the same number and if it is a winner, each one receives a full share, you don't split the winnings. Also, you can spend as much as you want on your lottery ticket, and the more you pay, the more you can win (or lose). The pay out for the daily lotteries is 60 to 1, for the weekly lottery it is 150 to 1. The lottery machines are all over the place, even in some of the small pulperias (tiny convenience stores), making it convenient for you to play (sort of like Las Vegas!).

This is where Merlin's friends come in. They frequently call and ask if she's had any dreams. If it's for the larger weekly lottery, they will often pay her a cut in exchange for her "tip", the number she saw in her dream. Now, this does sounds far fetched, but she's amazingly correct, which is why her friends call. The first weekend that we were here, she and her friends won a pretty large amount. She used her winnings to pay for their new wrought iron fence from the road up to the new hilltop house, a distance of several hundred feet. Sometimes, she'll just save the money from smaller winnings and use it for eating out. She even treated us to a lunch out that first week.

We think she's one of those rare people who are just incredibly perceptive as she often "predicts" or just knows that something is going to happen or someone is in trouble. She has told us about several dreams she's had in the past about someone dying shortly before the person did. She describes it as "just a feeling". Dreaming about numbers is apparently an extension of that ability. Without a dream, she will never bet on anything.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Diving in the Rain

It continues to rain, sometimes very hard, driving rain. That didn't stop Lance and Rachel. As Lance pointed out, it's wet either above or below, so it's better to be diving!
They managed to find a relatively non-rainy slot between noon and 4 p.m. and were able to get in two dives. Rachel said the boat was rocking so much that it was "nauseating".
On their second dive, they were right out in front of our house, off Gibson's Bight, and visible from our deck. They swam with a number of large sea turtles and a couple of Moray eels. Look closely at this last picture and maybe you can make out the turtle. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Lance is happy, Rachel's recovering from the sea sickness, and it's raining again.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Red Dot Above Us

I awoke at 2:43 a.m. today to another torrential downpour. Don and I got up and checked the windows and went back to sleep. Next time I woke, it was 6:15 a.m. Don and Rachel, dressed in a sweatshirt and long-sleeved shirt, were sitting in the swing on the deck sipping coffee and watching it rain. It was still just torrential. Don had put this 20 oz. tumbler on the table and it was nearly full when I came out. The chiminea was also almost full of water. As soon as it was bright enough to see better, Rachel got out the electronic rain gauge she had brought us, installed the batteries, and put it in operation. This was about 6:45 a.m. Our measured rainfall from then until around 11:00 a.m. was 4.64 inches. We had a LOT of rain before we began measuring, as the chiminea shows; we figure at least 10 inches.

When Don checked the weather on the internet, he said it showed a red dot sitting right above the island of Roatan; everything else was clear.
Rachel and I started to make banana smoothies for breakfast, and then the power went out. It was off for a couple of hours. It's fun getting ready for church in the near dark.

At 9:45, it was still pouring, so Rachel and Lance suited up in their ponchos for church. The ceiling at church was leaking in a number of places, including on Lance's arm. The rain had also blown through the windows, so the floor was wet on that side of the room. On the drive to church, going down our hill, we noticed several areas of mud slide. When we got out onto the main road, there were a number of more serious mud slides and quite a lot of trees that had slid down over the road. We had to drive off the road to get around the worst of them. Water was just pouring down the hills, the culverts and gulleys.

After church, we decided to go down to Tranquil Seas, owned by our British friend Chris, for his Sunday buffet. It's right on the beach in front of our usual snorkeling site. This is a picture of Rachel and I and Chris' dog. Notice it is not raining now.
Chris's newly finished swimming pool was full of muddy water.

So was the ocean. So much muddy run-off from all the new construction sites had turned the ocean out to the reef and even beyond, an awful brown. This happens every time we have a hard rain but this is the worst I've seen.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

They Have Arrived!

Yay! Rachel and Lance arrived today.
A stroll on the beach after lunch at Blue Bahia.

Then Lance had to try out the hammock!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Leaf Cutter War

We are at war with the leaf cutter ants. We must have millions of them. This is the curly leaf tree (I haven't learned its real name yet) after they've been eating on it today. I looked at this tree earlier in the week, and all the leaves were intact. If you lean in close, you can hear them chomping away. Sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies, snap, crackle, pop!

Here they are, running along the branch with their trophies.

And running across the yard.

And running down the wall.

And looking for their hole, which Don messed up, so they're running around trying to figure out what happened. The first time we ever saw leaf cutter ants we were in the jungle in Belize, and I thought they were kind of cute and fascinating to watch. I've changed my mind. They are ruthless, voracious predators and can strip a plant down to the stems in a very short time. When they've finished one plant or tree, they'll move on to another. We've noticed that the hibiscus bushes recover after awhile as long as they are left alone. Merlin says they have killed some of her plants though. She brought us a bag of Mirex to dump in their holes. I don't like using stuff like that, but nothing else seems to work and we've got to stop them before our yard is bare. We have a small flamboyant tree that they strip bare, it recovers partially and they strip it bare again. I don't know if it will survive or not.

Don had a nasty encounter with some small black ants while hunting down the leaf cutters. He accidentally stepped on their hill, and they were all over his feet in a flash, viciously biting him. They really hurt, too, like fire ants. He had accidentally stepped on another hill earlier in the week, and his feet are still covered with those bites. Now he has even more.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

All Is Well

There is a lull in the rain! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything is lush and green and, well, tropical. The tropical depression seems to have dissapated or moved west. The strong winds never arrived. We have had a lot of rain, some major downpours, but not in the tropical storm range. It has been very cool all week, in the 70s, but with the sun out, the temperature shot up to 90 on our deck and it is humid!

The RECO protesters were no where to be seen today, unless it was back at their jobs. The roads were all clear; the only remaining evidence is the number of recently cut trees that were used as roadblocks and are now pushed off to the sides of the roads. That is what we saw on our way into Coxen Hole today; I don't know about the rest of the island except that all roads were open. I also have not heard how this was resolved overnight.

Coxen Hole was back to normal. There was a very long line outside the bank waiting to get in. I had never seen that before. Must have been due to the roadblocks this week keeping people from getting to the bank, or anywhere else. We decided to go into Yaba Ding Ding first to buy a thank you gift for our favorite banker back home who has helped us out so much in resolving our stolen credit card number and getting a replacement. The bank line was just as long when we came out, but we reluctantly got in the queue because we needed to get some money (remember, everything is pretty much on a cash basis here, no checks used). The security guards were only admitting just a few people as customers came out. There were long lines inside, too. Sometimes it's good to be older; there was only one other person in the old person/pregnant woman line. It was time to renew the car license for the RAV4 that we bought from Dennis, so I was able to take care of that also. One-stop shopping! Beats having to stand in another long line at Department of Revenue back in the U.S. The one year renewal was only $63.00, less than we thought it would be. The wait in the outside line took longer than renewing the license and withdrawing money for the week. Not bad.

The grocery store was quieter than usual. The produce, most of which is brought over daily by ferry from the mainland, looked decent and not all wilted like it had been sitting on a boat too long during a strike. Some of the bread items were in short supply and there were no tortillas to be had!! My chicken was only $4.50, a better bargain than the last one I bought.

It was too early for lunch when we finished, so I didn't get my weekly fix of a black Angus burger and fries at Nardo's. Otherwise, it was a great morning.

Just saw this message from one of the Warrens (owners of RECO):

"An agreement was reached last evening with the Commission representing
the group that was protesting RECO's fuel adjustment charges that
provides the following:

1. RECO will reduce the current month fuel adjustment from 3.89
lps/kwh to 2.88 lps/kwh.

2. The resulting reduction in the fuel adjustment will cost RECO
approximately 6,000,000 lps. Zolitur and the National Congress will
provide 1,500,000 lps which, when received, will be used to subsidized
those whose bills are 6000 lps or less. (Not clear how this will be

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just a fun day!

The ocean is out there somewhere.

It sure does rain here during rainy season. Rain during the night, rain off and on during the day. There is apparently a weather system sitting right on top of us. It's bad enough that the cruise ship elected to go elsewhere today. I don't think the passengers would have been too thrilled to be here today. It has rained so much that many of the roads are partially flooded as we discovered when we attempted to go into Coxen Hole this morning.

Our adventure started when we decided to spend the morning at the bank. We need more money, and the car license must be renewed by the 31st of this month, and in our case, before we leave on the 25th. The late fee is rather steep, 500 lempira per day ($26.). You may remember from an earlier post that car license renewals are paid at the bank, as are certain other bills. So, what better way to spend a rainy day?

We didn't get very far down the road, only a mile or two, when we came to a stop. There were a couple of vehicles sitting kind of sideways in the road as though they'd had an accident. There were a couple of other cars off to the side and a big group of people standing in the rain by the one pickup. That seemed very unusual. Then we saw that there was a tree across the road. We had also noticed an awful lot of people walking along the road in the rain. We didn't know how long it might take to clear the road, so we decided to turn around and go through Flowers Bay. We are on the northwest side of the island and we have to cut across the island to get to Coxen Hole which sits on the south side. There are only two ways to do that and we were now taking the second one. The road through Flowers Bay runs right along the ocean and sits quite low. There were a number of flooded spots (which only hide the potholes), so we had to drive carefully. But traffic was light, so that was good. It was raining, of course, so we couldn't tell if the cruise ship was in until we got right up to the pier. By then we were thinking it must be in because there were taxis and vans parked all along both sides of the road and even up on the sidewalk, which did seem odd, but as we passed the pier, there was no ship in port.

Suddenly, we came to a stop again. The road was blocked up ahead by several vehicles and there were people in the street holding a blue tarp over their heads. We wondered if they were trying to work on one of the vehicles. Then another gringa walked up to check things out and as she came back by us she said we might as well turn around, it was a RECO demonstration.

If you read my Day of Reckoning post you'll understand this more. The people were protesting the huge increase in the electric rates. The bills had just been delivered a few days earlier and the protesters were trying to keep people from paying their bills (which must be paid within 6 days or your power is shut off, period). They had all the roads on the island shut down. No one could get to Coxen Hole or to French Harbor. The schools had been forced to close for the second day in a row. No one could get to work or to the airport or bank or grocery store or doctor. They won't even let people walk past the protesters. The police aren't doing anything.

Here's one example of how much is affected by this: one of Merlin's friends has a grandson who will graduate this weekend (school is almost out for the year and won't reconvene until February), but she must first pay the remaining 2000 lempiras of his school tuition (not all schools are free). She won't have enough money to pay it because she was not able to work today. She depends on the cruise ship passengers for much of her income. Part of the reason for the cruise ship diverting may very well have been this protest.

We were forced to turn around and come home. This is another example of how things don't always work the way you think they should. You have to be flexible. We didn't get to spend the morning in the bank, but there's always mañana.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Night Lights

We had a spectacular sunset last night, as these two photos attest. The sky was full of long-lasting colorful displays. Just after the sunset, with darkness settling in, we noticed a spot of light in the northern sky, just above where these clouds were. There were a few stars out, but this spot of light was flashing. As we watched, we noticed that the flashing lights were red and green. Ok, this is pretty curious already, but then we realized that it wasn't moving. What on earth was it? Not an airplane certainly, and Don said satellites don't have red and green blinking lights. I could see it a little better through the binoculars, enough to see that the lights really were red and green. We got out the telescope but were unable to find it. It has proven to be a real challenge to try to find particular things in the sky at night. It's just too black and there are no landmarks to help guide you. It stayed in that same position a long time, maybe 30 minutes or so, then suddenly, the spot of light dropped to the horizon and disappeared. A short time later, I noticed the spot of light about 45 degrees to the west, just above the trees on the hill nearby. The lights were still blinking red and green. It stayed there in that position for a few minutes, and then, it was gone.

I couldn't help but look around the sky to see if it would reappear, and that's when I observed the next odd sight. On the horizon to the west were two bright white lights separated by some distance, ships, perhaps? And then I noticed another less bright light, actually two, close together, moving between the brighter lights in a westerly direction and then passing the bright light on the left. Fishing boats way off in the distance? Don guessed that they might be 20 miles out. Were they Coast Guard ships on patrol? It seemed especially odd that there were so many ship lights out there on the horizon. We've never seen that before and certainly not that close together. The two brightest lights did not change position or appear to be moving at all and were still there when we went to bed. Curious night lights.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Day of Reckoning

Ok, it's not that day of reckoning, but it is the long dreaded day of arrival of the electric bill. I think I've mentioned our much higher electric rates in an earlier entry, but to refresh your memory, here are the facts.

RECO is the island's electric provider. They've been in serious trouble for years due to aging equipment, inadequate generators for the growing needs, difficulty getting diesel fuel mainly because of inability to pay for any more fuel to run the generators. The island has been suffering with frequent power outages for as long as we've been coming here (3 years), and some of these outages have been quite lengthy. Some are planned, to spread the load more fairly, some are not. The problem became so great that the only solution was to sell the company to someone with the resources to upgrade the entire system, buy adequate fuel, and get everything running as it should. It finally sold to a very wealthy American businessman, Kelsey Warren.

Interesting side story about that sale: there were two bidders for the company, the Warrens and a Dominican Republic group which included some of the same people who were running the company. The sale had to be approved by a vote of all RECO customers, so a meeting was called, the options presented and a vote taken. The customers, who all want serious change, voted for the Warrens. The powers that be didn't like that result and refused to accept the results. Another vote was called for and the customers again overwhelmingly voted for the Warrens. This time the results were accepted.

The Warrens have been very open and forthcoming about the changes that must be made and the costs that will result. The rates had not been raised for a long, long time, and with the rising cost of fuel, that could not continue. The company has been losing a million dollars a month for quite some time. The rates were projected to rise by 50-70% and were being phased in over a couple of months. The new rate schedule was posted on RECO's website. Necessary, unpleasant, but not surprising given all the advance publicity.

Everyone has just received their bill. The bills are delivered in our area on the 9th day of the month and are either stuck in your door or your gate since no one has mailboxes. The bill must be paid in full within 6 days or they shut off your meter. They used to fine you first, then if you still didn't pay, shut off the meter. No quibbling. The bill must be paid in cash, in person, at one of several locations or at RECO by credit card (although it looks like that may soon change with the new option of paying online! woo hoo!). The outcry over the newly received bills is tremendous. I've been reading on some of the forums about the horrendous bills some have received, and honestly, they are ridiculously high for some customers, both residential and commercial. I've also read that the Spaniards (mainlanders who have moved here for better pay) are planning a demonstration tomorrow at RECO so avoid the road to French Harbor tomorrow. There has been speculation that an accidental doubling of rates occured on some bills.

Our bill is higher than last month, but was not doubled. We were expecting our new rate to be 41- 43 cents per kwh (that's 8 times what we pay per kwh in St. Louis!). You can see why we don't air-condition our entire house, or even the one room very much, and we certainly don't use the dryer. Our bill was just under $200, so our rate is lower than we expected. One reason could be the decline in oil prices over the past month. Part of the rate is based on the fuel surcharge for diesel fuel, which is an oil product, and as such is subject to fluctuations.

There is so much development and contruction going on here that RECO is projecting that their load will double in the coming year. They're trying to prepare by adding larger generators. In the meantime, the new generators mean fewer power outages for us. With all the uproar over the rate increase, I'll write more about this in a later blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Labor Relations

We've been learning more about Honduran law as it relates to workers. Our friends Dennis and Merlin have many people working for them: the construction crew working on the new house, the crew repairing the fallen retaining wall, the yard crew who take care of the grounds, a housekeeper. They've told us that when you have these full-time employees that in December you are required to pay them two extra months wages. If a holiday falls during a week when you have someone working for you, even though not a full-time employee, you are required to pay him for the holiday if he works the day before or after the holiday. Workers are protected by the labor board, at least to some degree. Employers are required to report any terminations of workers to the board, and the board then figures out how much prestaciones is owed the worker. I'm not entirely sure what a prestaciones is; it sounds like a severance package of sorts, however, I've read that some people informally cash out their employees prestaciones each year. If they were fired for certain reasons, such as stealing, you are not legally obligated to pay them, but some people would advise you to do so anyway just to avoid hard feelings (i.e. retaliation).

If this seems like a lot, just remember that wages are very low here. Merlin was talking about some mainlanders coming here to work in order to make better wages, and some employers wanting to only pay them what they earned on the mainland. Merlin says they make about 2000 lempira per month ($105. USD!) on the mainland; here workers make 4000 lempiras per month minimum. Dennis and Merlin pay their guys more. (Plus, the cost of living is higher here than on the mainland.) Of course, part-time workers are paid less, either a daily wage or a contracted amount. We pay our gardener 250 lempira each day, equivalent to just over $13. USD, standard rate. Maids and housekeepers also make very little. So you can understand why they really need holiday pay and prestaciones. Some employees also get paid vacation time.

This is just speculation on our part, but from what we have observed, the best job to have may be that of the young grocery baggers. These boys are only about 10 years old. They bag and carry out groceries, averaging two customers every five minutes. We tip 10 lempira (50 cents USD); if every customer tips that much, they would make about $12.00 USD/per hour, which is nearly what our gardener makes for an entire day! We don't know how many hours these boys work each day, but we do know that the grocery stores are always busy and that these young baggers are fast.

As far as I know, you don't have to pay into anything like social security, various income tax funds, 401k or insurance plans for your employees. It's a very different world here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Inter-island Womens' Bible Study

What, you may wonder, is this strange looking creature? I'll get to him in just a minute, but first I must tell you about last night. Kaleen and I have begun going to an inter-island womens' Bible study on Thursday nights. Several women from our church attend this study regularly and invited us. One of the nicest things about it is that the group is comprised of Christian women from various parts of the island, from different churches, different nationalities, various ages and stages of life, some married, some single, some retired, some working and/or raising small children. The thing that we all have in common is our faith in Jesus Christ, a hunger for solid Bible study, and a desire for fellowship with other Christian women.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. with a pot luck meal and fellowship time, followed by the study/discussion/sharing, and ends with intercessory prayer and taking prayer requests for the coming week. One of the ladies, Rita, loves to be the hostess and has enough room to accommodate the 15 or so women in the group. Last night she said that it was such a thrill to open her front door and see so many Christian sisters standing there. Another woman drives a large Suburban and can take 11 passengers and a baby, so we meet at church and Jenny drives us to Rita's house on the far western end of the island, about a 20 min. drive.

It is such a great group of women! We are using the book Having a Mary Spirit by Joanna Weaver, and the study is proving to be quite meaty. The discussions are very good and everyone contributes by sharing some insight or has a question which triggers even deeper delving into the Word. There is much encouragement and sometimes challenge to be had in this group.

As we were leaving Rita's house last night, we saw this odd lizard in the photo above. He is a Monkey lala, aka Jesus Lizard, so named because he can run across water on his back legs! It seemed appropriate.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don's New Career?

Don may have inadvertently stumbled into a whole new career. Last night we decided on the spur of the moment to go to Blue Bahia for dinner. It is just across the road from us, on the beach. The owners, ex-pats from the U.S., are hoping to create a nice place for ex-pats to gather over dinner. They're both very committed to helping out in the community and are very environmentally conscious residents. They do not buy or serve any of the over-fished species, so no conch, small lobsters or grouper on their menu.

October is a very slow tourism month, so in order to remain open, Kent has been having "specials" every night, very reasonably priced. He also has live entertainment on Wednesday nights, a woman named Deb, who has an amazing voice and plays guitar. We've enjoyed listening to her before and knowing that she would be playing last night was an added draw. So we decided to go, hear Deb sing, and enjoy the shrimp or lobster pasta special. When we walked onto the big covered deck that is the restaurant, we saw our neighbors, Colin, Kaleen and Kelly sitting by the front railing. I just started laughing because the last time we came, spur of the moment, they were also there! It was just too funny. So we joined them for dinner. Kent had changed the menu, no pasta last night, so we opted for the red snapper. Good choice.

Deb sings from 7 p.m. for as long as there are diners. She has a list of song choices ranging from the 1920s to the present time and circulates asking each table to pick a song or a medley of songs, and encouraging the audience to join in the singing. It makes for a fun evening. Deb is a retired music teacher, professional singer and theatre production manager. She moved to Roatan 3 years ago and continues to teach music and conduct a steel pan drum group, as well as perform. She gives free music and dance lessons to the island children several days a week.

She has a beautiful, theatre type singing voice. Last night Don asked her if she had ever recorded any CDs. She said no, she had never even thought about it. Don told her she should. They proceeded to have this long discussion, Deb's son Marcus said he had the equipment to record it, and Deb finally said she would be willing to record one if Don would be willing to produce it! I thought I would fall off my chair laughing! I'll keep you posted on this venture.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yes, we have bananas!

Our property (5/8 of an acre) is ringed with banana trees on three sides. They have gotten very thick, so today our gardener, Joe Leandro, is thinning them out with his machete. Banana trees only produce one stalk of bananas, then the tree should be cut down to allow the new shoots coming up around the base of the tree room to grow. We have several types of bananas, too: plantains, chatos, apple bananas, and the very tiny ones Merlin brought by earlier today. We do not have any of the big Chiquita type bananas. I'm not sure if they even grow on the island or if only on the mainland. I just read that the two big banana companies on the mainland control 50% of the world's banana market, and most are exported to Europe.
This is a banana flower with a small stalk of bananas behind it.

This is another banana flower. I think there are male and female flowers, but I honestly don't know how to tell the difference. I like this orangey one though, it looks girly.
These are bananas growing on our trees. When my parents were here in March, Daddy tried to count the number of banana stalks growing on our circle of trees. He was able to see 13 stalks one day, but who knows how many others were hidden behind leaves or another tree.

And here is a stalk suspended from our deck, ripening. These are the little (4 inch) apple bananas and are very sweet when ripe. We never buy bananas; we have a constant supply, although Merlin said this morning that the supply does decrease in January. We keep a couple of gallon sized freezer bags full of bananas in the freezer for smoothies. Merlin said to stock up before January. We have banana smoothies about twice a week; we also make banana pancakes for breakfast a couple of times per week, and when we have a variety of other fruits, alternate with a bowl of fruit with yogurt and a sprinkle of granola.

I'm learning about the chatos which are a small plantain and are usually cooked. Chatos make good banana bread; they also make very good carmelized banana topping for french toast! Big plantains must always be cooked. If cooked when green, they are more starchy tasting; if turning yellow, sweeter; if black, nice and sweet. Hondurans cook plantains in a variety of dishes, like conch stew, or fry them and serve with the tipical breakfast (eggs, mashed beans, briny cheese slice, and ham or bologna slice) or with rice and beans. Merlin makes "flitters" for her elderly mother, a kind of fry bread filled with chatos. A favorite snack on the island (and throughout Honduras) is plantain sliced very thin and fried until crisp, like a potato chip. They sell bags of them, cheap, and they are available in different flavors. My favorite is the chili and lime flavor.

Joe just came in with another 40 lb. stalk of apple bananas! He's done an incredible job with his machete, thinning out those trees. Beautiful work.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Yesterday was apparently visiting day; we had people coming and going all day long. Our gardener, Joe Leandro, was here at 7 a.m. and worked until 3:30. He cut an enormous stalk of little apple bananas for us, must have weighed 40 lbs! He worked along the road in front of our house, thinning out the bird of paradise and trimming trees and shrubs. He seems to prefer working on our steep hillside, though. He's a hard worker. We keep him well supplied with cold drinking water.

Dennis and Merlin both stopped by at different times to chat. Dennis is weary. Two sections of their retaining wall around the hillside have collapsed from all the rain, and really, from improper construction. He was very upset about that. We've had to park our car in a different place due to all the debris in the road.

They had to run into Coxen Hole and while there Merlin checked at the post office for Rachel's letter; it's not there yet, but it's only been 5 weeks since she mailed it from L.A.

We met our future new neighbor, Naomi. She owns the lot next to us and had hoped to retire from nursing and move here in the coming year. That's been postponed now because of the economy in the U.S. She brought her cousin, who is an engineer, with her, and they wanted to see the construction of our house. She has plans for a tri-level house built along the hill with several decks, and was concerned about the lot facing the west and getting all the afternoon sun. We gave them the tour and then sat and visited on the deck. They were impressed with our multitude of ceiling fans, gable fans and sun shades for the deck. She's a Nicaraguan but has lived in the States most of her life.

We had Colin, Kaleen and Kelly come down for the sunset and nachos grande on the deck, and enjoyed hearing more about their trip to Copan and all the adventures. They met the pastor of a 30,000 member church, with an average attendance of 27,000! They saw the church and said it is just immense. The t.v. screen on one wall is as large as a football field. This church would like to help Colin in his mission work here. They also met the new U.S. ambassador to Honduras and he was also quite interested in Colin's work here.

It was a very enjoyable day on the deck.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tropical Splendor


I have mentioned before that we live in the midst of a tropical garden. I thought you might enjoy seeing pictures of some of the more beautiful flowers. There are so many flowering trees and plants here that I am not familiar with, and I've been trying to identify them. Our daughter-in-law, who is a scientist, is amused that I am becoming so interested in biology. I think it would be difficult to not be. I was really excited today to learn the name of one of the most colorful and one of my favorites:
Erythrina indica picta (or Coral Tree or Sunshine Tree)
We have many of these growing along the road in front of our house.

Purple bougainvillea. I love these! I don't have any purple ones yet, but we do have lots of the fushia colored ones. The purple variety is on my wish list.

Heliconia, lobster claw. I'm learning that there are many varieties of heliconia, many growing here on our hill.

Plumeria. I recently discovered this growing in Dennis' mom's yard, just down the hill from us, and this morning spotted it growing in Merlin's yard. I'll have to get a shoot from her, or whatever the procedure is for this plant. Merlin is incredibly generous about sharing any of her flowers with me.

Allamanda. Merlin is crazy about this yellow flower, and is planting it all along her side of the road. I love it too; it's so cheerful.

I'm going to post many of my flower photos on PicasaWeb in a new album. Click on the link at the upper left of this page to go to my photos.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Divine Appointment

Yesterday morning we received a phone call from our friends and neighbors, Colin and Kaleen, who were over on the mainland at a conference in Copan. The car they were traveling in had broken an axle (!) on the road from Copan to San Pedro Sula. We had not heard of anyone breaking an axle in 30 years or more. Don's dad used to talk about how you were guaranteed at least three flat tires and one broken axle when making a round trip from Quincy, IL to Hannibal, MO, a distance one way of 17 miles, back in the 1920s.
Turns out there was a good reason for the broken axle. Colin told us later that the driver of their car was traveling 70 mph over rough roads when they encountered the largest pothole he has ever seen, 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep. They hit that sucker full speed, and that was it. They were a long way from anywhere and did not know how they would get back to SPS or if they would make it in time to catch their flight to Roatan that afternoon. We were to pick them up at the airport here on Roatan, and, of course, we have their kitten. Colin asked for prayers, so I immediately prayed for a Good Samaritan to come along, and barring that, for a divine intervention.
Colin called mid-afternoon and said they had made it to San Pedro Sula and it looked like they would be back on Roatan at 4 p.m. as planned, and boy! did they have some interesting stories to share.
Colin said that one minute after he asked me to pray, a car pulled up and a Honduran man asked if he could be of help. They explained the situation to him, and he took them back to his house. Turns out that he owns a large coffee business nearby, so they got a tour of the warehouse and processing plant plus a cup of coffee. They told him what they were doing in Honduras (missionary work) and he was so interested that he said he would come visit them on Roatan soon and talk to them about how he can help! He also offered the use of his house in Copan next summer when they return to go to language school. And then he had his driver take them to San Pedro Sula, usually a four hour trip one-way, but not to worry. The driver kept it on 100 mph., slowling down to 80 mph when absolutely necessary (sharp curve).
God has been doing amazing things almost daily in Colin's efforts to establish the drug/alcohol rehab center and the abused girls' home here on Roatan. It has been fascinating to be a witness to His work being done here. This was just one example.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

We have entered the rainy season. Some days, it rains so hard, that the ocean nearly disappears.

Today was no exception. We did see the sun this afternoon though, and we were able to eat lunch on the deck.

There are nice things about the rainy season:
Fabulous lightning
Cooler temperatures! Woo hoo!!
And sometimes, the sky will clear enough to allow a spectacular sunset:

like these.