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.