Island Holidays

Christmas on an island is different from Christmas in Connecticut. One year ago we had just moved into our Roatan dreamhouse. We were in the midst of more unpacking than gift wrapping. The babies were only ten months old, so upholding a bunch of elaborate traditions didn't seem necessary. Plus, the options for decking the halls were quite different.

Instead of tromping through the snow with an axe and mittens to chop down the perfect pine tree, last year Mike bounced over the mountain road to a garden shop and chose the perfect palm. He decorated it with tiny white lights and then we hung the little blue beach chairs that we had used as placecard-holders at our wedding. Voila, a place for Santa to get some shade.
The stockings were hung by the banister with care. We set out pina coladas and coconut cookies as a reindeer snack, and tucked ourselves in to the sound of waves.

Saint Nick arrived by motorboat, not sleigh. He swam up to the house, parked his wetsuit and tank.... no wait, that was the pina colada-induced dream.

Last year's island Christmas was warm and quiet. This Christmas will also likely be warm, but not quiet. I'm trying to change the babies' favorite chorus of "No No No" to "Ho Ho Ho" but so far, no luck. Here's how Delaney greeted Santa this morning at the preschool holiday party:

Hayden was marginally more relaxed, particularly since his own Santa suit was looking so good.

But I guess sitting on Santa's lap is out of the question any time soon.
Tomorrow we fly to Los Angeles to spend two weeks with Papa (another new word) and Grandma (harder to say, hard to abbreviate). Cady will meet us there for one weekend, and my sister Marcet and her family will join us too.
We'll be back on the island right after Christmas to usher in Year Two of our crazy big Caribbean adventure. In the meantime, Twins on an Island will be coming to you from Tinseltown, or quite possibly from one of its many shopping malls.

Feliz Navidad!

Delaney Making Friends

Our girl Delaney has suddenly become quite the flirt. Hayden, watch out!

Here she is with Juan Carlos, one of the Palmetto security guards.
"Hola, Juan Carlos. ¿Cómo está usted?"

But hold on, Juan Carlos. Here comes Samuel!

Samuel Cherington is the handsome son of our equally handsome doctor, Raymond.

Dr. Raymond brought his three kids to play, but it was Samuel who captured Delaney's attention. And Samuel seemed pretty smitten too.

But wait.
Here she is with Carter, our neighbor, yesterday on the beach.
Look out, Samuel!

Which was cuter -- Carter wanting to pick her up over and over, or Delaney letting him do it?

Here's the entire Palmetto kids' crew: Carter and his bro Colin, Delaney and Hayden, and Emily.

They've known each other for a year now, but all of a sudden they are interacting in a whole new way.

Aren't they lucky to have this as their front yard?

Delaney and Hayden are certainly lucky to have such good friends. And at the end of the day, they are also lucky to have each other. Hugs.


Mike Talks About... Banking

The U.S. is in the midst of a major banking crisis. But on Roatan, the banks are doing quite well.

Their success is based on various policy decisions.

For instance,

*It takes one-to-two hours standing in line to deposit a check or withdraw cash. This policy prevents any run on the banks.

*The interest rates on mortgages range from 12-17%. This results in very little demand for loans.

*Checks written in blue ink are rejected, usually two or three weeks after they have been deposited. This saves on any interest they may have had to pay, and usually results in a fee that YOU have to pay.

*Before you can enter the bank, you have to show the two guards standing at the door with machine guns that you are turning off your cell phone. This prevents any unnecessary distractions inside the bank.

*Except on customer appreciation day. Recently the French Harbor branch of our bank hung a large flat screen TV from the ceiling, and played Rambo dubbed in Spanish. A healthy two-hour dose of Sylvester Stallone in the jungle encourages any violent thoughts that customers may have while waiting in line, and justifies the jobs of the armed guards.

*There are now several "ATMs" on the island. None have ever worked in the year we have been here. One ATM is a drive-through, and is used to allow you to park your car in the shade.

*Tellers take a break whenever a street vendor comes in with merchandise (pirated DVDs, CDs, probably-stolen watches, etc.). This lengthens the wait from one hour to two for sure.

*Gringos can't open checking accounts until they become residents. You can't become a resident without showing proof of $2,500 a month in income from the U.S. Given the stock market collapse, no gringo has $2,500 a month coming in, so all transactions are cash. This reduces the number of employees the bank needs to have on hand.

*Complaining to the bank manager gets you nowhere. When one of your deposited checks sits on the airport tarmac in the rain en route to headquarters in Tegucigalpa, and the ink washes away, you lose the money. Nada. No bueno. No dinero. Your Spanish isn't good enough to argue, and his English isn't working that day.

And don't forget the stamps. Tellers are surrounded in their stations by stamp pads, ink refills, and carbon paper. Yes, carbon paper! Every step of the transaction requires a different stamp (with a bang and a flourish) and a new piece of carbon paper. Bank books are manually numbered and recorded by hand in a ledger when they are distributed. And don't forget the stamp.

These policies have kept the Honduran banks financially sound and us, slightly crazed.
Contributed with love and frustration by Mike, the Twins on an Island's Dad



Today I drove home in a deep funk from Discovery Bay's Thanksgiving celebration, where I had been one of two Mommies responsible for the "Party." I'm just not cut out for this, I thought. I can direct a board meeting for dozens of high-ranking corporate types; I can balance an out-of-whack budget and explain it; I can ask the super wealthy to make just one more gift. But I can't figure out how to be a Room Mother. My Corn Bread Madeleines were too crumbly (and made a mess) and my Ginger Spice Cookies with hand-grated nutmeg were simply not chocolate chip.

I bumped along the Dump Road feeling sorry for myself and homesick, and sorry for my kids that they didn't have my Mother for their Mother, and lugging a large tupperware of corn bread and spice cookie leftovers.

And then I saw her. The pregnant mother of so many children that I recently wrote about, whose family has just moved to a larger home they built by hand on the side of the road.

I stiffled my tears and stopped the car, leaving Delaney and Hayden sleeping inside. I grabbed the tupperware of goodies and walked across the road, looking squarely into the astonished faces of this woman and her brood. "I'm Alecia," I said, and held out my hand. "Maria," she said in response with a toothless smile.

I tried to say that maya ninos (gemelos, dos anos) vamos a escuela each day, and hoy a celebration, so por favor, cookies y pan de maiz para usted.

She seemed to understand, and eagerly grabbed a ginger cookie. I held the tray out to each child surrounding her, and each little hand eagerly grabbed one and gobbled it up. They looked at me with huge curiosity written all over dirt-smudged faces.

Though it's kind of a blur, I'm guessing there were three girls, about three, five and seven, and two boys, maybe two and four. I think there was an older child too, maybe ten. "Muchos ninos," I said with a laugh. Maria laughed too, and said "Diaz Ninos, y un otro," pointing to her belly. I thrust the entire pan into her hands and said I'd pick it up another time.

Gracias, adios, etc. we said and I scooted back to the idling car.

And now I know. Her name is Maria, and she likes cookies.

Anything else we can give her and her kids will be icing on the cake.

Happy Thanksgiving, from Roatan.


Bulldozers, Band-Aids and Bundt Cakes in the Sand

Ever since Mike was bitten by a neighbor's dog a month ago, Delaney and Hayden have been obsessed with boo-boos. We have a drawer in the master bathroom, filled with band-aids and cotton balls, which they are allowed to open. Each day they check inventory, empty the boxes, move the contents from room to room. Then they "pick" which of the millions of band-aids is right for their imaginary boo-boo. For a while they also checked on Daddy's boo-boo, but by now they've forgotten about it.

Instead of routinely picking up 100 Balls before bedtime, which we did for several months, we now pick up 1,000 Band-Aids. Mike pointed out today that it was convenient to have band-aids in every corner of the house, for those odd moments when you actually need one. And you thought I didn't have a method to this madness.

Recently Nelson, our house builder, came to try to identify a persistent leak in the roof and ended up cutting a giant hole in the drywall. This has become the new, major Boo-Boo. Yesterday Delaney held an entire conversation with the Boo-Boo Hole in the Wall, and ended by selecting a band-aid from the drawer and sticking it on the plaster, about five feet below the actual hole, but where she could reach. Fortunately she didn't tell me to kiss it and make it better.

Besides band-aids, Hayden is also obsessed with bull dozers, which he calls by his one truly distinct word, "T-RUH" (truck). Presently we have a bull dozer on the premises here at Palmetto for a big water/electric project, which Mike is responsible for. This is a story for another blog.

Suffice it to say that Alberto, the bull dozer operator, gets a kick out of the daily visits from the "Ninos." "Hola Nino, Hola Nina," he says from his high perch. He even let Mike and the Ninos climb aboard. Like the band-aids, this has proven to be cheap entertainment.

I admit I'm feeling a certain ambivalence this week about Thanksgiving. Undoubtedly Nelson will pick Thursday to show up with a crew of workers to repair the Hole in the Wall, making a mess and destroying all sense of holiday. Alberto and the Bulldozer will still be zooming around, reminding us that most people are working. I miss knowing that I'll be cooking a big turkey for family or baking two or three pies to take to friends.

Like we did last year, we will probably be going to the Palmetto restaurant for a buffet dinner. I really don't have the time or energy to do more than that. Still, I wish it were easier to host our own party. So instead of a cherry pie, the babies and I made dozens of bundt-cakes in the sand. And I bought a frozen turkey, just in case I change my mind.


New Construction

Driving down Mud Hole Road to school, the babies and I passed half a dozen cars and trucks as well as the usual assortment of cows, sheep, horses and chickens. "Wow, the island's hopping," I thought to myself. "It's going to be a busy day."

We passed the snack shack in Man O' War Cay. A truck was stopped outside and several kids were picking up breakfast before heading heading off to the yellow schoolhouse next door.

It's not Starbuck's, but it's the morning routine.

New construction is all around us, as well.

I've been fascinated by an elegant new wood-pole structure going up just beyond the village of Hottest Sparrow.

I'm particularly curious because it sits in front of one of the most unusual buildings near us, a house plucked from another century. It's a very primitive construction with steep thatched roof and sides, and a family that cooks in the outdoors with the sea as their front yard and the hillside grazing grounds as their backyard.

My mom, Carol, was the first to notice this house hidden in the trees when she and my Dad spent a month here last spring. She liked to think it was an indigenous family of Garifuna, descendents of ship-wrecked slaves who found their way to Honduras, Guatamala, Nicaragua and Belize. But I have since determind that the occupants are Spanish Hondurans, not Garifuna.
Though I don't know for sure, I've imagined that the small, shoeless boy (maybe five years old?) who herds the cows and sheep from pastures on opposite sides of the road is part of this particular family. I wave to this little guy each day (and yearn to buy him some shoes). The babies say "Moo" to him as we go by.

Over the last few weeks, the wood-pole frame has been filled in with pieces of scrap metal and plywood. It suddenly looks like all the other aluminum homes across the island. The family has clearly moved from the back house to this new house, because there are pots and pans piled outside the front door, a long clothesline, and a handful of children running in and out. There is also a very pregnant woman who sits outside and watches the road.

A Palmetto security guard hitched a ride with us a few days ago. I asked him for details. In Spanish he told me that the family has many children (muchos ninos), the mother is pregnant again (otro nino) and they needed a bigger house (mas grande casa).

Joline, a former babysitter who lives in Hottest Sparrow, bummed a ride this morning. I continued my questions in English.

Joline told me that the original thatched house had been there for nine or ten years, since before the road was cut. It was very old and about to fall down. Sure enough, sometime in the last week or so, it did. The old roof remains, sitting like a hairy hat on the hill.

Joline also told me that the family has 11 children. Three are grown, but the rest are still at home. Muchos ninos, for sure.

I asked her if they would appreciate it if I stopped by with some clothes and shoes. Joline, whose own family barely has clothes and shoes, said simply, "Of course."

I will do that. I humbly look back on the two-year construction of our concrete and wood dreamhouse involving dozens of workers. I have zillions of photos, but they seem both trivial and gargantuan against the simplicity and hope embedded in this new structure. We spent a lot of money to have exactly the same view, plus some ceramic tile and a stainless steel fridge. Different economies, different scales.
Isn't it interesting that at this moment, though, we share the same road.


Parrothead or Little Lady?

You know those stacking toys that have different sized colored rings? You put the biggest ring on the bottom, and stack them up?

Well, Delaney's neck has become a stacking pin. She has begun stacking any and all clothes that she can thread over her head: shirts, shorts, bathing suits, hooded towels, pajamas; you name it, she puts it on. This morning she wore a diaper on the bottom and ten different shirts around her neck, none of them with her arms pulled through.

She has also suddenly discovered Daddy's bead collection. (Mommy's jewelry collection is far less interesting than -- or as large as -- the many years of accumulated Buffett Party Beads buried in the closet.)

When she doesn't have ten shirts on, or even when she does, Delaney will add a string of beads and parade around the house. I can't decide if she's pure Little Girl, or Parrothead-in-training.

Speaking of dressing up, I neglected to post Halloween pictures. Even our international preschool encouraged the holiday, with creative costumes ranging from pirates (of course) to princesses (of course) to cute cousins dressed as Batman and Robin. Delaney was one of two Minnie Mouse's who showed up, but even Disneyland has more than one Minnie, right?
Here is their teacher, Miss Deana, with the two Minnies. Delaney on the left, Nicola on the right. Nicola had the ears, but Delaney had the bloomers. None of them look happy, do they? It was fun, really it was. Really. It was.

And here is the school director, Miss Lily (and teacher of the older group), as a butterfly. She is greeting Dr. Zeekinstein, a relative of Dr. Frank's.

Hayden was a Hawaiian Tourist. He got to wear the beads that day.

And here's my favorite photo of all. Trick or treat from our little goblins.


Hayden at the Airport

Well who knew. I carry around this camera all the time (a gift from the Greater Hartford Arts Council) and never realized it took videos. All the times that I've said, "Mike, we should have had the video camera" (which I don't know how to work, either), and I could've been shooting the moment myself.

So this accidental video shows us at the end of our trip to Tegus, returning to the Roatan airport. Remember, I didn't know I was filming. But I'm so excited by my new skill that I just have to share it. Hopefully all you have to do is press "play." If it doesn't work, write a comment below and let me know.
And just wait: now that I see what's possible, you might be in for "Twins on an Island--The Movie"!
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Getting to Tegus

The week before we left for Hartford, we received a summons to appear at the Department of Immigration in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa (Teh-GOOSE-eh-GAL-pa), within 30 days. Our long-sought residency status had been approved, and we were instructed to go get fingerprinted and photographed. All of us, babies included.

Tegus, as it is commonly called, is two flights away from the island of Roatan. First we must fly twenty minutes to La Ceiba, then on to the capital. This flight is about an hour; both flights are on a tiny 15-seater prop plane. An associate of our lawyer's would meet us there. If all went smoothly, we could return to Roatan the same afternoon.

We made our first attempt to get to Tegus on Monday. We awoke at 4:30am, packed food and toys for a day plus an emergency overnight bag, and made it to the airport by 6:30. Unfortunately, the stormy weather grounded all flights and we ended up going back home.

Since Tuesday was election day in the U.S., we didn't attempt it. Too much good stuff on MSNBC.

On Wednesday, unexpected protests over the rate increase for electricity resumed. The airport was shut down, primarily because employees could not get to work. Roads were blocked by crowds, by large objects and by large men with machetes. No one could get anywhere. School was cancelled, the Municipal issued a warning to "stay home," and so we did.

By mid-day the power went off and our generator went on. This is a good thing, except that during rainy season it becomes hard for the Tropigas tanker to come over our mountain to refill our butane tanks. So this must be rationed as well.

We learned last night that the Cobras had arrived -- the Honduran elite army. This was partly in response to the departure of the cruise ships, which were seen hovering on the horizon but then not pulling in to port because of the threat of civil unrest. If this continues, it will mean huge economic devestation for our island. Ironic that at precisely the same time, we are becoming its "official" residents.

We got up at 4:30am again today with the hope that the plane would arrive, employees would show up, the weather would hold, and that we would be able to get to Tegus and back without difficulty. At 6am we drove by the Cobra forces, dressed in riot gear with bullet-proof shields, lining the sidewalks of the Coxen Hole triangle like storm troopers. We later learned that the protests were better contained to the area farther east around the electric company, but electricity was not restored until about 6pm, more than 24 hours since going out.

Our day, however, was a success. We navigated two flights up and two flights back, endured two hours at Immigration, and enjoyed lunch at the Tegus airport McDonalds. What can be better? Almost exactly one year since moving here, we have received the right to come and go in increments other than 90 days, to live, and to work (note that the right to buy property and spend money was ours all along, however).

As ironic as it is that we have become residents during a week of extreme instability in our chosen place, it's equally interesting that it is happening during the week that the next American president was elected. All day long we saw people reading Honduran newspapers, in the airport, on the planes, and in the Immigration office, with the cover pages overwhelmed by Obama's photo. The Hispanic businessman, the black father, the pilot, the Honduran grandmother. All were reading about, and absorbed in, the U.S. election.

Maybe all except the pilot of our third flight. He took his colorful center spread of the electoral map and created an impromptu window shade -- once we were already in flight. He flipped open the window in the cockpit and tucked the corners in, then closed the window to keep it in place. AFTER we had taken off and were well above the clouds. Both Mike and I chuckled as our ears popped. Yet despite this creative use of our homeland, the sun still streamed in. And when we arrived back on Roatan, it was still shining.


Caribbean Amphibian

Attention all Parrothead friends:

There is a little-known Buffett song hiding on Elmopalooza, a Sesame Street CD that I picked up in Hartford. "Caribbean Amphibian" is such a relief after months of playing "Wee Sing Mother Goose" as we bounce along the Mud Road. (Sorry, Mom. I can only do so many repeats of Hickory Dickory Dock.)

I actually bought two kids' CDs at Borders last week, this one and Dan Zanes "Catch That Train." Dan is one of my heroes; he was a performance artist often featured at Dance Theater Workshop in New York when I was development director there in the 1990s. Now he's featured on the likes of the Disney Channel, among other places, and his videos are awesome. At least they are to me. Like with Caribbean Amphibian, I think I'm getting more enjoyment out of them than their target audience, Delaney and Hayden.

I'm so enamored with my new song that I'm going to share it with you. Note that Kermit the Frog does vocals with Jimmy, backed by the All-Amphibian Band:

I know a tropical island
Where the mango moon
and banana sun shine
And on this tropical island,
there lives a Cousin of mine

Sometimes he lives in the water
Sometimes he lives on the land
Sometimes he likes to go sun himself
on soft, Caribbean sand

Sometimes he hops to Jamaica
Sometimes to Haiti, he hops
Sometimes a warm Puerto Rican beach
is where he finally stops

Sometimes he lives in the water
Sometimes he lives on the land
Sometimes he likes to play music
in an all-amphibian band!

He's a Caribbean Amphibian,
he likes to hop in the tropical sea
Caribbean Amphibian,
A frog in a coconut tree...
A frog in a coconut tree!

I've decided that this little guy is Mike's alter-ego. Island hopping, mango and banana hunting, sea dipping: these are the fantasies that have compelled my hubby for years. So now whenever I see (or hear) a frog, I'm going to think of Mike, in (or under) a coconut tree, happy as can be. And whenever he hears this song, which will undoubtedly be often, I hope Mike will remember what's important, and why he's brought us here.


Square One (Fill 'Er Up)

"Your pool is turning brown."

This was from Stacy, the neighbor who volunteered to babysit it while we were in Hartford.

(Yes, our pools need babysitters, like the twins.)

He sounded this alarm by email near the end of our trip. And he wasn't kidding.

We arrived home from Connecticut to a very brown pool. The "whys" of this are complicated and not entirely clear. The "what next" took its own funny road. For those readers who have accused me of being too negative in these blogs, all I can say is you can't make this stuff up. The carnival that is Paradise goes on.

Mike spent our first afternoon home trying to rebalance the pool's chemicals. He added acid, subtracted bases, added water. Then we called it a day and resolved to try again manana.

The next morning Mike's first words to me were: "We have a new problem."

I took a deep breath and cursed. Why get out of bed at all. With our track record, it could be anything: leaking ceilings, water shortages, dog bites, malaria, flooding, power outages, flat tires, scorpions, tarantulas, hurricane-force winds, running out of diapers.

But this was a surprise problem: our pool was nearly empty. While we were sleeping, it had drained itself.

We were back to Square One. Our beautiful infinity pool no longer spilled silkily into the Caribbean horizon. It hadn't been an easy ride to get there, either. The pool's first "fill" was last year's Christmas present, occuring on December 23rd. It took 20 Honduran men working from 8am til nearly one the next morning to paint the final coat of concrete and sealer onto the pool's surface. Somewhere around midnight we served them Hawaiian Punch as a thank-you for the long day, and then we went to bed, with all these guys still prepping our pool. It took two more days to fill it up with water. And from then on, constant care and feeding.

So here are again, almost a year later, re-filling the pool. It would've been nice if this were a self-correcting problem; that is, that the water was back to being crystal clear blue. But it's rushing back in brown, a result of the high mineral content in the well water.

Actually, at this point, it's a greenish shade, thanks to Mike's sweeping and backwashing and chemical potions. He walks around with a plastic test kit full of vials that he mixes mysteriously and dumps in every few hours. Seems to be working, but every once in a while he confesses he has absolutely no idea what he's doing.

So we've concluded that pools are a heck of a lot of work and subject to their own tantrums. Just like our toddlers, who, by the way, can't understand why we haven't gone swimming this week.


Apples, Trucks and No-No-No

We've just returned from our week of shopping and schmoozing in Hartford. It was great to see old friends and feel the familiar Fall crunch of orange and red leaves. Like all weeks, this one had its eye-openers.

First, we must admit that we are not nearly as mobile as we'd like to think. It's not just that it takes us a long time to get ready, out the door, into the carseats, etc, which it does. It's more that Delaney and Hayden's need to eat, sleep, or simply run up and down hotel hallways takes precedent over any other need. This coming from a girl who ordinarily wouldn't pass Go before stopping at a salon to cover the grey. But rested, fed and exercised children are much more pleasant than the opposite, which we've also discovered.

This means that even on vacation, we do not get much done. We send a heartfelt apology to all the friends we didn't see, because some of us had to be napping.

Our adventure began with a visit to Target, to buy fleece and turtlenecks for Delaney and Hayden. We stuffed their now sock-covered feet into their Crocs and rolled up the sleeves of new long-sleeved shirts, bought big enough to last through U.S. trips for the next few months. We were especially amazed at the double-wide shopping cart that accommodated both babies. Target's the best! We were also amazed that by the end of the morning, Mike and I both had awful blisters from our shoes. An unexpected consequence of wearing flip flops for a year.

Delaney and Hayden had a blast at the home of Charles and Emily Brydges, whose parents Amy and Andy hosted a welcome back party for us in Suffield. Charles and Emily had terrific toys, including this wildly popular Little Tikes car.

We ate at some memorable places, including a not-well-thought-out trip to the Rainforest Cafe at Westfarms Mall. In case these babies haven't gotten enough of the tropics, it seemed like a good idea at the time to take advantage of no lines and an extensive kids' menu. But alas, the thunderstorms, loud gorilla dances and swinging monkeys put Hayden over the edge. Not even a sippy cup with straw and a large bottle of ketchup could stop him from crying and pointing to the exit. The day was salvaged for Mom, at least, by the fact that I bought jeans TWO SIZES smaller than my current pair -- back in the single digits again!!!!!

We spent time at the Arts Council where the babies made themselves at home. Hayden took time out to make a few phone calls at Ken's desk, and Delaney crawled right up into his chair. I guess I'll consider that my vicarious brush with the CEO job. I wish everyone there luck with the challenge of raising money for the arts in these tough times.

We said a grateful "Hola Amiga" to Kelsey, one of the babies' first nannies and a junior at St. Joseph College. Kelsey came to our hotel in Farmington in time to give Delaney and Hayden dinner and put them to bed, allowing me and Mike to go out with friends like grown-ups. We haven't had nights out without babies in several months! Muchas gracias, Kelsey.

Our last morning was spent on a quintessential New England activity: apple picking. One of Mike's friends from prep school way-back-when is the third generation owner of Rogers Orchards, a major producer in Connecticut. John and his wife Nancy showed Delaney and Hayden how to pull -- and eat -- apple after apple off the trees, then took us to their pumpkin patch and store. The apple cider donuts were outrageously yummy!

We'll always associate this trip with Delaney and Hayden's growing vocabulary and enthusiasm for trying new words. Apple, Truck, and No-No-No were repeated with great frequency. We also learned Turtle, Purple, Up and Tank Ooo.
So, a big Tank Ooo from the entire Kintner Family to everyone who hung out with us, fed us amazing meals, shared chocolate-covered potato chips with us, played with us and gave us good gossip. It was lovely to be back.


Stop the Carnival, Please!

This has been a week of storms, unrest, and dog bites. It’s fitting that our internet is only now up and running again on the eve of our visit back to Hartford, one year after saying goodbye.

Here’s how it started. Last rainy Tuesday morning Mike offered to take the babies to school and give me a break. I had been up and down all night long with crying kiddos, and welcomed the idea of just going back to bed. Thirty minutes after they had left, though, they returned. The main road, at the end of the Mud Hole/Dump Road, was blocked by protesters and police. Cars from Palmetto and points in between were turning around. This was the start of a massive island-wide demonstration against RECO, the Roatan electric company recently rescued from ridiculousness (i.e., it couldn’t generate power) by a Texan billionaire.

RECO had doubled its rates this month. Bills went up 100%, and more, in the form of a fuel surcharge. This was apparently necessary to stop the hemorrhaging of a third-world island’s haphazard utility. But for islanders earning $25 to $50 a week, the jump from $25 to more than $50 a month to run a small fridge and maybe a single ceiling fan in their homes was simply too much.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time comparing this to our state of affairs, because there is no comparison. But for some perspective: we have 32 ceiling fans in our two houses, three refrigerators, and eight air conditioners. Our utility bill under this new formula is a nightmare, too. But our capacity to cope with this is different. Not so unlike what has been happening in the United States as its economy has fallen apart. When there is little or no capacity to cope, there are protests, and violence.

For the next two days we felt like we were under house arrest. That wasn’t really the case, because our remote location was nowhere near the main roads of protest and we were perfectly safe. But we couldn’t go anywhere, either. School was cancelled, island-wide and at Discovery Bay. Businesses were closed because employees couldn’t get to work. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines both refused to dock in Coxen Hole, citing political unrest and costing the island hundreds of thousands of dollars in crucial revenue. The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to all its citizens residing in the Bay Islands.

We couldn’t go to the market, or to the bank, two things that needed to happen. We were aware, through the residents’ yahoo chat group, that gringos were being targeted for assault if they tried to cross the lines. We were aware that trees were being chopped down to block the roads. The Honduran army was flown in from the mainland to try to keep the peace.

We stayed at home, feeling our patience tested one hour at a time. The rain poured, lightening rocked and thunder roared for two days. It was like a bad movie. The babies were oh, so restless and so were we. Thank goodness for my mother’s playdough recipe.

By the end of the second day, our neighbor Heather decided we should have a pot luck supper with whatever we had in our pantries. Her two boys were also stir crazy. Our dinner became chicken and rice and pasta, actually pretty yummy considering the circumstances. We invited another neighbor, Dr. Mike to join us for supper as long as he had few expectations.

But come dinnertime, Heather’s hubby Clay and her dad, Bob, were stuck on the other side of the protest lines in French Harbor. They couldn’t get past the road block to the Palmetto Road. The two Mikes set out in the dark and rain to rescue them, with flashlights and four-wheel drive, going over the ruts in the ridge road in pitch darkness. They parked on the hill overlooking the protesters. Clay and Bob hiked up to meet them.

They reached home muddy but safe, in time to see all four kids racing around the house with hysterical shrieks of laughter. Heather and I were opening our second bottle of wine.

We spent another full day at home, no school, and then returned this morning. There was an eerie calm on the island. A cruise ship was docked, good news. I made it to the market and the gas station. Delaney and Hayden spent the morning overjoyed to be back at school, hardly realizing I had left to do errands.

We returned home happy to feel some sense of normalcy, only to stumble into today’s crisis. A neighbor’s attack dog had taken a big bite out of Mike’s right thigh while he was walking the grounds. Thankfully this happened now, rather than two days ago when the roads were impassable and the clinic was closed. The doctors gave him pain meds but no stitches because of risk of infection.

One step forward, ten steps back. Even in paradise. Off we go to Hartford.


School Days

We've made it through the first month of school. All progress reports have been good. The letters A, B, and C have been thoroughly investigated. Delaney and Hayden can't wait to get in the car each morning and often run and get their shoes (and ours) as soon as they wake up.

Their teacher Miss Tatiana (Tati for short) is sweet and energetic. She's also eight months pregnant. How she still manages to get down on the floor, back up, back down, round and round the rosy, etc etc, is beyond me. But she does.

When we arrive each day, Hayden gravitates toward the plastic spiders and bugs. Just like he gravitates toward real spiders and bugs at home. Both Hayden and Delaney like the saws and drills on the workbench and all the juicy plastic fruit in the kitchen. Delaney particularly loves the battery powered kid-sized blender. She made a potato chip milkshake today. At Circle Time, she likes to shake-shake-shake the maracas with the group, while Hayden likes to push a truck around the perimeter. They both love outdoor play time, especially when the wading pools and squirt bottles come out.

Mike and I are grateful to be part of the little octagonal schoolhouse in Sandy Bay. Sure, there are fancier facilities and shinier toys in West Hartford, CT preschools. But we couldn't have asked for a more diverse group of kids with interesting stories.
The parents of Delaney and Hayden's 18 classmates come from Honduras, Columbia, England, Italy, Ireland, Canada and the U.S. At least two sets of expat parents also have their parents living here, making Roatan an extended family adventure. Some of the women had their babies on the island, some went to hospitals in nearby La Ceiba on the mainland, and some, like me, waited til the babies were several months old to move here. All of them are encouraged by the opening of the Discovery Bay preschool.

Quality education is a big issue on Roatan. There is almost no provision in Honduras for early childhood education. UNESCO points to the care and education of children ages birth to nine as one of the greatest social challenges for Central American governments, with Honduras at the bottom of the list of the challenged. Only one-third of island children actually attend public school, and the drop-out rate is estimated at 60%. There are few supplies and overcrowding is a huge problem. The schools generally lack running water and most don't have bathrooms. Last week there was a teachers' strike across the country, because apparently the government hadn't paid their salaries in a while. So kids just didn't go. To reach high school here, and to graduate, is a real accomplishment.

As they are in so many respects, Delaney and Hayden are lucky. They are living on Roatan at a time of increasing numbers of educational options. There is now a highly regarded K-9 private "alternative" school founded by an American that seems to offer the equivalent of a prep-school experience. Like Discovery Bay, though, it caters primarily to the growing numbers of expat families.

For the native island children, fortunately, there are a few bright spots. Some good friends of ours are creating and sustaining a model daycare center in Coxen Hole, which combines healthy food, play, and learning for some of the island's poorest children. A requirement there is that the parents have jobs they need to go to -- so this venture is encouraging productivity and self reliance within families as well as meeting the basic needs of young children.

Other friends, owners of the Bay Islands Beach Resort, are spearheading efforts to establish an innovative network of privately funded learning centers with computers, well trained teachers, and other critical resources. They've even met with the World Bank to discuss how a major investment in education could help catapult this third-world island into the 21st century and ensure its future workforce.

Mike and I watch this commitment, and the commitment of others here, with a kind of awe. We can hardly get ourselves out the door each morning with two babies' worth of snacks, change of clothes, sippy cups, and emergency raisins for the car ride.

The education of Delaney and Hayden is more than a full-time job, and yet there is so much more to do.


Las Ranas y Los Pichetes

Remember the frogs I accused of surrounding our house and serenading us, all night long, loudly? Well since I posted that, we have found three such frogs INSIDE the house. So my sense that they were close by was not wrong. They are much, much closer than I thought.

We carried this one outside to the front porch, and determined that the frogs are about one-half the size of the babies' feet. It still amazes me that this tiny creature makes such an enormous noise. We had to restrain Hayden from stepping on it.

With this discovery, I'm thinking that we don't just need to fumigate for fuzzy scorpions, we also need to frog-igate for honking Las Ranas. I suppose they get inside just like the occasional bird and lizard, by flying or crawling or, well, jumping. That's the downside of a wide open house in the tropics.

Hayden and Delaney are especially fascinated by Los Pichetes, the lizards which also live with and among us. We spend entire afternoons hunting for them. When they appear on the porch or by the pool everyone gets excited. This lizard I think showed particular grace as it made its way down the palapa toward our bronze sculpture called "The Dancer":

Our lizards and frogs sort of sum up the current presidential election. One campaign is showing a lot of grace. The other one is making a lot of noise and jumping around. But I digress.

Actually, our froggie roommates have timed their visit well. At Escuela we, too, are practicing jumping. Delaney has just mastered it. Hayden is trying hard. He throws his arms up and looks down at his body, like he's waiting for it to follow along. Then he lifts off and topples backwards (his arms were already up!). He finishes it with a laugh or a grunt, depending on how hard he has fallen down.

But don't think he's not a cool dude. Here he is at school putting on a pair of shades. And check out what's on his shirt.


Rainy Season

Rainy Season has arrived on Roatan. We've had showers off and on all week, with thunder and lightening all night long, and today we are totally socked in with black clouds and pouring rain.

We dressed Delaney and Hayden for school this morning in long pants instead of their usual shorts. They both found this disconcerting and walked around tugging at their legs. I even caught them bending over to pull the pants up and see if their knees were still there. I packed shorts in their school bag just in case the pants proved to be a major distraction.

Beyond being very wet and slightly chilly, other striking characteristics of Rainy Season are its critters and noises. The rain brings out the big blue land crabs, for sure, but they don't say anything. This one appeared on the porch of our guest house. Looks like he's ready for Halloween, doesn't it?
The rain also brings out frogs, in large and loud numbers.

I've decided that frogs get the prize for Noisiest Creatures of Their Size. They talk and squak all night long. It goes something like this:

Frog 1: "HONK honk honk honk honk honk." [pause]

Frog 2: "HONK HONK honk honk honk honk." [pause]

Frog 3: "HONK HONK HONK honk honk honk." [pause]

All Frogs, in unison: "HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK."
Frog 1: [repeat]

Frog 2: [repeat]

Frog 3: [repeat]

There is nothing remotely ribitt-like about them, either. They honk like the crescendo at the start of movies that signals you are now entering Lucasfilm Surround Sound. Loud enough to drown out multi-mile-per-hour winds and roaring surf. Loud enough to make you think a rooster or duck or large monkey has snuck into the house and you get up at 3am to hunt for it. These frogs surround and serenade.

You can tell I'm not getting any sleep, despite the somewhat soothing pitter patter of rain.

This city girl is finding the peace and quiet of the rainforest to be a little disconcerting. Maybe I'll unpack my down comforter and turn on the air conditioning.



I owe my sweet hubby Mike an apology. I gave him a hard time for buying a bag of 100 balls that roll in every direction, get thrown from one floor to the other, float over the pool's infinity edge, and require picking up over and over again.

On that same trip to Houston in August when we acquired the balls, I picked out something called MoonSand. It's in one of the many shopping bags on the luggage cart.

Now it's my turn to receive the award for Most Gullible Toy-Buying Parent.

I had read about MoonSand on a chat group and thought the idea sounded great. A lot like playdough but lasts a long time; good for small kids; ya da ya da.

Plus, isn't MoonSand just the most fabulous name? How can you be twins on an island without some MoonSand?

Today we opened it for the first time. (I was saving it for when I needed, as my sister calls it, "a moment," and that came this afternoon.)

Fortunately, our new nanny Jesse was here to help. Turns out MoonSand is much more high maintenance than 100 Balls in (or out of) a Bag.

Yes, it's like playdough, but a more obvious thing to point out is that it's also like sand. No one on the chat group bothered to mention that. Or to suggest putting down yards of plastic sheeting under the table before starting because two 19-month-olds are not going to keep the MoonSand in the inflatable sand box it came with.

I did get my "moment" to call my Mom and Dad, but when I was finished, my freshly mopped terrace looked, and felt, like the beach. Jesse and I spent the next hour trying to sweep up MoonSand and keep it from migrating into the house. Hayden and Delaney found this more fun than playing with the sand itself. Here's a picture of them "helping." Jesse is standing in the doorway trying to get the darn stuff off her feet. Ultimately we had to wash everybody's feet under the shower, something the babies also loved immensely. So overall they thought MoonSand was a great success. I, on the other hand, have hidden it away.

Tomorrow we'll just stick with the balls.


Itsy Bitsy Spider

Last night a big multi-jointed scorpion slithered across the kitchen floor just before the start of the presidential debate.

This was not something we were prepared for.

It's true that I've grown more accustomed to wildlife in 10 months here than ever before in my life. I'm the little girl who thought that pumpkins grew in the corner store parking lot.

I've toughened up a bit since I traded my heels for flip flops. One morning, before I had had my coffee, a large bird flew into the foyer and then into the dining room, wildly flapping his wings. I shrieked and ran outside in my pajamas to where Senor Gomez was gardening and Juan Carlos, a security guard, was, well, guarding. Neither speaks English, so I wildly flapped my arms and pointed to the house. They tentatively followed me inside and laughed when they realized my problem. They solved it for me somehow.

Later that same morning I bent over to straighten some toys and a frog jumped out. Fortunately he jumped all the way to the door, sparing me another embarrassing round of chicken dance charades with Gomez and Carlos.

Last weekend our new babysitter Jesse happened to notice a massive tarantula in the groundcover under the babies' slide. Faster than you could sing "Down Came the Rain," we relocated the Kangaroo Climber to an area where all that's underfoot is stubby dry grass.

But despite these previous critter encounters, last night's scorpion was creepy scary. I wish I could tell you that we (i.e., Mike) successfully removed him from the premises, but he (the scorpion) disappeared under the stove just as Jim Lehrer dove into the creepy scary economy.

I'm left with the urge to fumigate and then sleep in my shoes. I definitely need to stomp on something.


B is for...

This week at Discovery Bay we are studying the letter B, which rhymes with 3. That reminds me to finish several recent stories:

B is for Ball: I have just been clued in by my much wiser and more maternally oriented younger sister Marcet, and also by my much wiser and more maternally oriented former assistant Desiree, about the real purpose of the Bag of 100 Balls.

Apparently they are for something called a "ball pit."

Here's what Marcet says is supposed to happen:

"You get a little tent that zips closed and put all the balls in it. Then you zip the kids in and whoo hoo! EVERYTHING is contained and you can have a moment! Well, I guess you would have to make sure the twins did not damage each other, but at least the balls wouldn't be running everywhere! The tent was probably in the aisle next to the balls :)"

Hmmm. Thanks for that now. I guess on our next trip home we'll need to invest in this part of the game. I really need a moment. Desiree even suggested we buy MORE balls for maximum impact. Yes. Perfect. As I write this Hayden is pitching balls into the toilet.

B is for Broken Ribs: After his tumble down wet stairs carrying Delaney (she's fine), Mike is still on pain killers and sleeping in chairs (he moves around the house all night in search of one that's comfortable). He finally saw a doctor, but blew off the chance for X-rays, so we don't know if any ribs are broken or not. Boys will be boys.

B is for Bananas: This morning at 6am our missing banana bunch was returned to us by gardener Senor Gomez. I guess he took them home with him to finishing ripening. The real nuances of this story are totally lost in translation. We thanked him for bringing them back to us, and ate bananas for breakfast!

B is for Beach: I'll end today's lesson at the Beach, where Hayden has found a Boat and Delaney has found her Belly-Button. Bye-bye!


The Action is in the Bananas

Last April, Palmetto's foreman Don Carlos unexpectedly appeared at our doorstep with almond-wood artist Alfred Connor James. To our surprise, Don Carlos had told Alfred that our new home needed some island art and brought him to us. Alfred carried a totem-like sculpture for us to consider purchasing, which we did.

Alfred explained the sculpture's story: The bird at the bottom is chasing the dog in the middle chasing the iguana at the top chasing the monkey on side, all after the fruit. "The action is in the bananas," Alfred explained, "it's always in the bananas."

Our gardener Senor Gomez built a base for the sculpture by pouring concrete into a bucket, bolted it together, and installed it in our garden. Since April, the garden has blossomed beautifully as if indeed, it needed art in its midst to flourish.

Our garden is also home to lots of banana trees, most of which Mike has planted. Like Alfred's sculpture, these bananas see a lot of action. We anxiously await each bunch to ripen before we are able to chop it down, and often they require propping up and tying because they get so heavy. The last few weeks we've been waiting on one particularly lovely bunch but alas, we were not the ones to win the chase for this fruit. Someone macheted it before we had a chance to.

Now it's hard not to be angry when someone steals your bananas, but I remind myself that living on an island does make everyone think that picking fruit as they pass by it is one of the best shortcuts to a good dinner. Even Hayden and Delaney have adopted this habit: they now recognize guava trees wherever we go and impatiently wait for us to pick them each a guava-to-go. They eat them like apples.

We have since come to recognize Alfred-the-Almond-Wood-Artist's work in other places. A number of his pieces adorn the Palmetto restaurant, for instance. Delaney likes to ride one of his giant sea turtles that sit by the resort pool.

"Take me away," I imagine her thinking. "We have some banana-chasing to do."