First Words

Delaney and Hayden are slowly picking up the idea of language. They are great babble-ers, and they've acquired a few bits and pieces worthy of noting. It's also worthy of noting where these bits and pieces have come from. Bet you can guess some of them.

From our island nanny Sharla: ask them "where's Uno," and they will raise one finger. Ask them "where's Dos," and they will look around for a dog.

From our friend and Hartford nanny Kelsey, who spent July here with us: ask them how to say "More, please" and they will tap their fingers together using the correct sign language. This happens now with most meals, particularly if spaghetti, grapes, or hot dogs were on the menu. Also from Kelsey, ask them how to say "Stinky," and they will grab their noses. We will always credit dear Kelsey with More and Stinky.

From their Daddy, the obvious: ask them what a Dog says and "Woof" is their clearest answer yet. But "Woof" has taken on an even deeper meaning in our house. I recently read an article on how to develop spirituality in your baby, and it suggested that you routinely talk to kids about God. So one night as we went through our familiar bedtime ritual -- "Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Sun" -- I added "Goodnight God." And what did Delaney say? "Woof!"

Delaney's latest effort makes me even prouder. Point to a picture on the wall and ask her what it is, and she'll say, "ARR(t)." Usually a silent (t), but sometimes the whole T. That's my girl.

Not to be left undone, Hayden is sending strong signals that his first word will be inspired either by the floor or by the ceiling. He is obsessed with our 32 ceiling fans and insists that we turn each one on, room by room, as part of his wake-up call. His other morning request is that Daddy pick up the bugs, one by one, that have silently succombed during the night (and since it's the tropics, there are a lot of them). It's how Hayden creates order in his world: get the air moving and the bugs removed. Not a bad philosophy, overall.

For me, I'm slowly learning my first words of Spanish. More useful than "Como Estas?" has turned out to be the phrase, "Si, Gemelos." Yes, they are twins. Islanders love their children and twins are an especially interesting phenomenon. Looking out for Delaney and Hayden are assorted store clerks, security guards, waiters and bartenders, produce-scale weighers, sheep herders, and our gardener, Senor Gomez. It's likely that Gomez will be among the first to hear their first words, because they can't wait to run outside each day to see what he has planted in their front yard.


Every 90 Days

According to Honduran immigration law, every 90 days we are required to leave Roatan. We must go farther than neighboring Central American countries and must wait 72 hours before we can ask to come back in.

A year ago, shortly after Delaney and Hayden were born, and before we even moved here, we applied for our official residency permit. Actually, had I not been uncooperative, I could have given birth to the babies in Honduras and we would all have been granted residency by virtue of our Honduran-born children. But funny thing, I wanted to go through labor in a language I understood.

This was not our first encounter with Honduran bureaucracy; as foreigners, in order to buy more than 3/4 of an acre of land, we were compelled to establish a Honduran corporation. Thus, Mike and I are the sole shareholders in Sandcastles S.A., which technically owns our property. This process took a long time and a lot of lawyers' fees.

Our residency, like our corporation before it, drags on. We can't really call Roatan "home" just yet. We are squatters with 90-day rights of occupation. So, on Sunday we will fly to Houston, one of the shortest direct trips to the U.S. from the island. We will spend four days there, trading tropical heat for Texas heat.

For all the hassle and indignation of a forced trip, though, we are looking forward to being in the land of the familiar once more. We are purposefully staying across the street from a shopping plaza with a branch of the children's museum. I can indulge in much-needed retail therapy, Mike can hang out at Barnes & Noble, and the babies can make some supervised messes. My parents are meeting us there, which means Mike and I might also get a night out alone at a great restaurant.

After our four-day break, I imagine we'll be ready to head back to the cool breezes of Palmetto and the warm water of our swimming pool. We'll be ready to get the babies back on a schedule that actually lets us sleep through the night. We'll be ready to be home, even if the government doesn't let us call it that yet.

(oh, by the way, the girl in the photo with the babies is Allison, who came with us last August to visit. hi Allison!)


Oh, for a Jiffy Lube

I don't actually know what happens mechanically when you go to Jiffy Lube. Right now, I'm just liking the Jiffy part.

My brand-new silver X Trail is in the shop. Which means it's in Coxen Hole, at Mark's Garage, the only "shop" on the island. Just sitting there. One minute I was shifting and cruising, the next minute I was grinding and halting. Totally lost my gears. Not sure where they went.

At first, the Nissan dealer in La Ceiba refused to honor the warranty. Said it was my fault for driving the 4 wheel drive car in 4 wheel drive. Hmmm. Then they refused to believe Mark's diagnosis. But, if we would agree to pay for their official mechanic to fly to the island, then maybe. So OK, we paid and he flew. And he agreed with Mark's diagnosis. Next, we learn that no replacement parts exist in the country. The entire country. We will have to go to Japan.

Or rather, Japan will have to send the parts here.

By boat.

It will take 6-8 weeks before my car will be returned, with its shiny new Clutch (transmission?). But, I'm cautioned by Bernard (my Swiss-born Canadian-exiled hair stylist who lives in First Bight), that it might take 6-8 MONTHS. That's what happened to his brand-new Jeep last fall, and it's only now found it's way back to the Bight.

So we are a one-car family, grieving for the loss of automotive freedom and independence. I loved having my own wheels. Here we are in happier days parked at the German Rotisserie:

And here is Mike's truck, getting a wash by Delaney and Hayden:

Mike's truck isn't nearly as comfortable on the bumpy dirt roads. And like the twins, in the morning he wants to head one way while I need to go another way.

We'll work it out.

We're praying that this Japanese boat arrives in a jiffy.


Birthday Ramblings

Last Friday was Mike's birthday. We celebrated with dinner at The Blue Bahia, one of the newer restaurants on the island and now at the top of our list. You've heard me apologize that Roatan is not known for its cuisine. There are just a handful of good places to eat. Part of the reason is the difficulty in finding good ingredients and the complexity of importing what you can't find, which is most things. So we get very excited when there is somewhere new to try, and when it turns out to be good.

Delaney and Hayden are also fond of The Blue Bahia. Unlike some island eateries which are perched over the water or cut into sides of cliffs, this one is actually baby-friendly. And, on certain Friday nights, there is entertainment by Deborah.

Deborah runs what is possibly the island's only music school, Steel Pan Alley. (Allison will remember her from the three-hour wait on the runway in La Ceiba last summer -- Deborah was the large woman with the big hat who, like us, was at the end of the line and didn't get a seat on the plane. A long, hot story for another post.) Anyway, Deborah can be found around Roatan conducting five- and ten-year-olds in Sousa marches on the steel pans, or doing karaoke with the college set in West End bars, or on Fridays, at The Blue Bahia. We were once serenaded with multiple verses of "Tie Me Kangaroo", not exactly an island jig but it kept the babies occupied during our salad course.

For the birthday dinner, though, we left the twins at home with 14-year-old neighbor Savannah, an occasional night-time babysitter and lifesaver. As Mike and I tend to do these days, we talked about our expectations of island life compared to its realities. Some lessons have been unexpected: he had hoped to have taken a refresher course in scuba diving by now, but instead he's received a crash course in underground water and electrical distribution systems. He had imagined that we would have already explored more of the island, but instead whole days go by when all we can accomplish is a trip to the bank. (Considering that putting money into, and getting it out of, Honduran banks can take 2-3 hours each time, I guess this actually is a big accomplishment.)

One thing that keeps exceeding our wildest expectations is the view from Dos Palapas, our home. People who come here say it's one of the prettiest spots they've seen on the island. We agree--it took us two years of tromping through waist-high grass and coconut palm forests to stumble onto it. Here's what I'm gazing at now:

Despite the new stresses in our lives, it doesn't get much better than this. Happy birthday, Sweetie.


Right on the Dump Road to Mud Hole

Giving directions to our house is easy. There is only one paved road on the island, connecting the East to West Ends. Since we live on the North shore at Palmetto Bay Plantation, there are two possible dirt-and-gravel routes off the main road. One is called the Ridge Road, from French Harbor over the mountainous rainforests.

The other is called the Dump Road, taking you right past the island's mountainous piles of garbage. Not pretty, but over the last six months a wall out of pink concrete block has been built to shield thru-traffic. Still, the smells and sights of burning trash are all around you. (A bargain can be had if you'd like to build your house on the hills overlooking the Dump, which would have marvelous views of the sea.)

From Mud Hole, the road winds down through Man o' War Cay and then through Corozal. Both villages have small schoolhouses, a church, and a road-side snack stand with hammocks. Between the two towns, opposite a soccer field, is a charming thatched-roof, open air building. This is the Pool Hall, which seems to only be open after soccer games.

The final village before Palmetto is Hottest Sparrow, perched on a knoll overlooking the water. Hottest Sparrow is a collection of aluminum-sided or wood homes on stilts. An electric light pole stands proudly in the middle; some homes are connected to it but most rely on lanterns past sunset at 6:30pm. Our first housekeeper, Jerlyne, lives in Hottest Sparrow. But she's another story.

The journey on either the Dump or Ridge Road to Palmetto takes about 20 minutes, depending on when the roads were last graded. Huge ruts and gullies from the rain force you to drive s-l-o-w-l-y, pretty much in second gear all the way. But you'd want to do that anyway, to avoid hitting the cows, horses, chickens and of course, iguanas and giant land crabs, that are traveling alongside you.

When they were infants, Delaney and Hayden snuggled in head bumpers in their car seats. Now they bounce along with the rest of us (still in car seats, just no bumpers). Bounce. Bounce. BOUNCE. Poor things, they won't know what's happening when they ever make it to a highway.


Adios, Honduran Huggies

The last 24 hours have been focused on the aftermath of a disastrous purchase at Eldon's, the island's major supermarket. Alas, there were no Pampers Cruisers anywhere in sight (and all of you who've visited us here know about Pampers Cruisers -- we've asked you to bring us suitcase-fulls as housewarming gifts). We ran out of the latest supply so generously brought by our partners at Dos Palapas, Brinck and Susie Lowery, and then by Kelsey, our Hartford nanny who came to spend July with us.

In retrospect, Mike and I have been fortunate to have two babies with virtually no health issues or allergies. But boy, are they allergic to Huggies manufactured in Honduras.

Of course I didn't realize when I bought the Huggies that they weren't in fact products of the good ole' U.S. of A. I am a snob when it comes to my favorite consumer goods. Nothing else will really do.

But these looked the part, despite having the sizes posted in kilograms rather than pounds. I was desperate, and I figured, Huggies, why not? Here's why not: they are made of a rash-inducing plastic with an enormous ruffle at the bikini line that has turned Hayden's frontside and Delaney's backside bright red.

Like any formerly successful business person, I devised both a short and long term strategy. I've ordered 10 cases of Cruisers Size 4 from drugstore.com, to arrive several weeks from now courtesy of Dip Shipping through Miami and costing a small fortune in customs duty.

But today, with Hayden rightly refusing to wear clothes of any kind, I went on a solo mission to Coxen Hole on the advice of our nanny Sharla. Go to the used toy store on the second floor across the street from the public hospital; there they sell Pampers made in the U.S. Not Cruisers, mind you, but at least they are Pampers. I found the spot and climbed up there, shelling out 800 lempiras (about $45) for a box of 80. This will last us a week if we're lucky.

Hopefully, the rashes will disappear even faster than that.



Hola from Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras. Since we moved from Hartford to our tropical paradise last fall, we've made a lot of trade-offs. Dollars for lempiras, health insurance for Miss Peggy's Clinic, the high cost of heating our old house to the high cost of powering our new generator, high heels for Crocs, Dunkin Donuts for Honduran dark roast, and Whole Foods for "when you can find it."

So many friends and family have said: you really need to be writing this down. And I've said wearily, "I know...." So here goes. My thoughts about what it's like to be raising 18-month-old twins on a Caribbean island. Don't think it's glamourous -- we're now heavily invested in a struggling, third-world country -- and the U.S. stock market and airline industries aren't really cooperating with this fantasy. Things don't happen on the island easily, cheaply, quickly or with any concern for the customer. We're on our own.

When I'm asked how I am adjusting to this new life, I have to laugh. The biggest adjustment for hubby Mike and me has been these two high-octane bundles of energy and boundless enthusiasm, our twins Delaney and Hayden. The rest is geography. Awesome geography, mind you. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Our adjustment to twins and acclimation to the tropics continues, and Twins on an Island will give you a glimpse. Grab your suntan lotion and bug spray, we're going to the beach.