It's been almost a year since I last wrote about Maria,

the woman with 12 children who lives in a patchwork one-room house of thatch, metal and driftwood. Perched on a knoll alongside Mud Hole Road, within walking distance of the sea but miles on foot to anything approaching civilization.

So many friends in Connecticut were kind enough to send clothing, toys and vitamins for Maria, her husband and the children at Thanksgiving-time 2008. And the day before Christmas last year, baby Hernando was born.

(Maria tells me he's it. Finito. No more ninos for her. Of course, it didn't take ME more than dos ninos to come to that conclusion myself, but to each her own.)

I confess that, other than lots of friendly waves and the occasional lift in my car to the main road, I haven't done much for Maria and crew in 2009. For a while I've fantasized about taking over a giant art project to do with the kids on the side of the road. Vitamins are nice but who's feeding their creative spirits? Paint would be just the thing. And big sheets of paper.

But wait, I'd need water for clean-up, it was pointed out to me. And where do they get their water?

How about play-dough? But no, that really requires a table, and they have none that I can see.

What if we made a giant paper Christmas tree, and all the kids could decorate it? Then they could hang it inside the little casa.

In the end, on Friday, I settled for a large tote of basic art supplies and toys, a heavy bag of groceries, and some baby clothes and shoes for Hernando that Hayden had outgrown.

And even better, I brought with me a visiting doctor, May Fan, who just left us after spending a month in our guest house while volunteering at Clinica Esperanza. Turns out Hernando and five-year-old Jose Luis were both infirma and needed a doctor's attention (more valuable ultimately than my romanticized art project, I suppose). She listened to heartbeats and looked into tiny grubby ears and told Maria what to do for them. She left behind a big container of vitamins and instructions for the de-worming medications, which the island's native kids are given every six months as a (necessary) precaution.

And in my enthusiasm I volunteered to drive them to Clinica Esperanza if the kids didn't get better. At which point Maria perked up and said, "Lunes." She was ready to go, one way or the other.

So this morning, I picked up Maria, baby Hernando, Jose Luis and six-year-old Grossilima and we drove to Sandy Bay, the kids doing their best to hide their curiosity about me and Delaney and Hayden. Hernando was wearing an old Onesie of Hayden's and a pair of his barely-used Teva's. Maria had on one of my isn't-that-a-shame-it-shrunk organic cotton tops. I have a feeling all of these items will get much more wear and tear, and appreciation, than they did in our house.

The clinic is at its busiest on Mondays, so the visit took til nearly 1pm. But in addition to meds, a referral, and cab fare for another day to Roatan Hospital for Jose's blood test, Maria left with a generous hefty bag of cruise-ship bedding and the promise of delivery of donated mattresses in a week or so.

I was feeling pretty good about all this until we reached the side of the road they call Home.

As we said our awkward goodbyes in broken English and even worse Spanish, Maria confided that she didn't have milk for Hernando, and clearly he was hungry. Leche con agua, I asked, pretending to stir a pitcher, trying to figure out what she needed.

Si, she said.

Seventy-two hours after my fretting over markers vs. crayons and the right types of rice and beans, turns out I had missed the obvious. What Maria needs most is milk for her baby.

I have more to do to make this family's Christmas bright.

I guess I will be grateful that I have the chance.