Thursday, July 31, 2008


The day we’ve been dreading finally came yesterday; we had to euthanize Mel. He did chores with us as usual on Tuesday morning, went out and prowled around a bit at Tuesday lunch, but then by dinner couldn’t get himself up, and even when we took him outside he wasn’t strong enough to hold himself up. Up until then, he hadn’t been ready to go, but when he couldn’t do what he needed to do to keep himself clean, he wanted out. So, I called the vet yesterday morning since he wasn’t any better, and we took him for his last ride late yesterday afternoon, then came home and watched a beautiful sunset as we buried him where he can watch all the sunsets, just like he liked to do on the hill at our house in Canadice. There’s now a brown spot in the pasture, but as soon as the dirt packs down a little, we’ll reseed, and we’ll always have our memories of Mel.

I don’t think Mel ever realized he was a dog. His breeder sold most of her puppies as show dogs, but since we were clear that we only wanted a pet, she sold us Mel at a pet price because he’d become ill when he was five days old, was taken in the house to be cared for, and his mother never wanted him back. So, as far as he was concerned he was raised as a human and he probably would not have adjusted to show dog life, but living with us he managed to train us as much as we trained him, and he was always very clear about what he was thinking. We actually figured it was Fate that made us get him, because when our previous borzoi, Bonnie, died, I called to tell the breeder even though we were thinking of getting a rescue greyhound rather than another borzoi. However, his breeder told us that she had a bitch due to whelp that night, and she’d hold a puppy for us if we wanted one. We talked about it for all of about five seconds, and then figured it was fate and said we’d love a puppy.

He did so many funny things. When he was about a year and half old, he killed his first raccoon. He ran up to it, grabbed it by the neck and started to shake it, and then backed up and looked completely astonished when the raccoon started to fight back. However, he mostly just got mad when the raccoon scratched at him, so he gave a good quick snap and that was the end of the raccoon. And, Mel had learned that he could kill a fairly large animal in a heartbeat. He and Nock became a champion groundhog hunting team. When the ground hogs would venture into the Invisible Fence area, Nock would keep them from going to ground and chase them out if they did, and Mel would swoop by, chomp and shake the groundhog, and then he and Nock would have a great time running around with it and playing with it. Mel’s kills as our fond memories probably sounds a little heartless, but when you have horses, you don’t want groundhogs around, because they’re always digging new burrows where a horse could break a leg. The only time I ever stopped Nock and Mel’s fun was one morning when I was trying to ride, and Mel was prancing around with the groundhog, slinging it back and forth first over one shoulder and then the other, and the horse was terrified. I don’t think the horse knew what the strange animal that seemed to have a disconnected head even was. So, I got the horse to go close enough to Mel that he dropped the groundhog, and then herded Mel back towards the house. Mel didn’t come back up to the field, but Nock did, and I didn’t think too much of it until I was done riding and went back with a shovel to toss the groundhog carcass out of the Invisible Fence. I couldn’t find the carcass. Finally, I looked at Nock, who was reclining in a sunspot, very happy and VERY fat. I think she ate the whole groundhog. Fortunately she was okay, and she and Mel continued to keep the property clear of groundhogs until we sold it.

We also used to stand and watch Mel and Nock catching mice in our ditch jump. Mel, always being the boss, would send Nock into the ditch to find the mice. She’d get one, and jump out of the ditch with the mouse and a clump of dried grass in her mouth. Mel would grab Nock by the shoulders, give her a little shake, just enough to make her drop the mouse, and then when the mouse and grass clump fell on the ground and the mouse ran out, Mel would snatch up the mouse and swallow it.

He also used his swoop and grab tactic early one October morning…like 4:30am early…when Nock crawled into a fox burrow under the barn and killed the fox. I used a 3-prong rake to gaff the fox out of the hole, with Nock attached. I finally got Nock off the fox, and was trying to carry it, still on the rake, so I could toss it outside of the Invisible Fence until I could bury it. Just as I was getting to the line, Mel swooped by, grabbed the fox off the rake, and took off up into the jump field. I had to find the fox and get it out of the yard before I went to work, so I spent a half hour walking around a field in the dark trying to find where Mel dropped it, with Mel prancing along behind me, swinging his tail in circles, being absolutely no help at all.

Mel was also a champion at making me late for work. He always picked the days Tom and I had to be out early to do something like getting skunked, and then I swear he would laugh at us as we tried to keep away from him when all he wanted to do was rub his head on our clothes. And then there was the morning when he rolled in deer poop, and had to be hosed off so he could stay in the house for the day. So, I was out in the driveway trying to hose him on a rather chilly morning, and he was up on his hind legs batting at me with his paws. I was shouting something to the effect of “If you hit me again, I’ll clock you, you bastard” when I saw my neighbor at the end of our driveway out of the corner of my eye. She was coming over to make sure everything was all right, wondering exactly what bastard I was yelling at for hitting me.

Our Canadice neighbor Sheryl and I can still get ourselves laughing hysterically over what we term The Strawberry Shortcake incident. I made a huge strawberry shortcake and covered it with whipped cream. We left it sitting on the kitchen counter while we went into the dining room with plates and forks. We walked back out into the kitchen, and Mel was reaching his head up on the counter and licking the whipped cream off the side of the cake. Sheryl and I both yelled at him, and he gave us a look and then went and put his head under a dishtowel on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. We could very clearly hear him thinking “Damn, I’ve been busted. But they won’t see me here.”

I could probably bore everyone to tears telling all of our Mel stories, but in the end, we just have to be thankful that Mel was Mel. He wasn’t always easy, but he was always fun, or at least interesting. When I took him to an introductory obedience class, the trainer came over to talk to me to see why I was there with Mel since I’d already taken his class with a couple of other dogs. He knew I had no trouble giving the dogs their basic training, so I told him that Mel desperately needed to be socialized, and that he was very dominant and difficult at times. The trainer started to say “Come on, you know what you’re doing…” when he looked down and there was Mel, peeing on his leg. He stopped in mid-sentence, said “Maybe you do have your hands full,” and walked away. That was Mel.

Finally, we have to thank Mel for making us get the Jack Russells. When we first got Mel, he was the only one in the pack under ten years old. We knew we’d want a dog or two to replace one of the oldsters eventually, but we didn’t know what we wanted. At the time, we were doing a lot of horse competitions, and we’d take Mel with us. As we’d walk around the show grounds, where everybody is attached to a dog, Mel would stick his nose in the air and walk by all the other dogs – except the Jack Russells. His best buddy was our friends Del and Vicky’s Jack Russell Fiver, and he seemed to know Fiver’s breed, because he loved all Jack Russells. The final straw that made us call Russell Rescue was the evening we watched the movie Michael on the VCR, and Mel sat and watched the entire movie, running around to the back of the TV to see where the Jack Russell went every time it went off the screen. That next week we had our application in, and we had Louie within a month. Unfortunately, Mel didn’t think Louie was the Jack Russell he wanted, and they always had a little bit of a competition going over the attention of their people, but when we got Nock, Mel was happy.

Mel lived in three different houses with us, and was the bridge between our first dog pack and the second, and in the little bit more than a year we’ve been here, we also had Mel to transition us into what will probably be the third pack with the Ruckus Twins. We also think he helped us on our drive through Mexico, since everybody reacted to him – they were either scared and stayed away, which apparently kept the bad guys away, or they were fascinated with him and wanted to pet him and talk about him, so even though we spoke very little Spanish on our drive through Mexico, Mel made us communicate with people which made the trip that much more fun.

We’re really going to miss him.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Summer of Surprise Babies

After being home for a week, I’ve pretty much settled back into my routine, although I had one big surprise along the way. Rosa, the middle sister of the three eldest Morales girls, had a baby while I was gone! It seems to be the Summer of Surprise Babies around here, at least for us.

While in the US, I picked up some small containers of maple syrup from Vermont for our friends and neighbors here, and a few games for the kids. When I asked Hector when a good time to deliver them would be, he said Saturday afternoon, and then I could see Rosa’s baby too! I, of course, jumped all over Tom for not telling me this very exciting information, and found out that he didn’t know either. In fact, we didn’t even know Rosa was pregnant, and Tom had been over there for dinner less than a week before the baby was born.

It seems that Rosa didn’t want anybody to know outside of the family, and she wasn’t very big anyway, so she kept to herself for the last couple months and dressed to hide the baby when she was around other people. The baby is a boy who weighed about five pounds at birth. They haven’t yet decided on a name, although they need to do that by Thursday when the family is scheduled to go to San Ignacio to register the birth.

Tom and I were a little worried because he’s very mall and skinny and very quiet, but everyone next door assures us that he’s eating and doing fine, and nobody there seems worried.

Marta is happy to be a grandmother, Maria is thrilled to be a great grandmother, and Hector is delighted to have another boy in the Morales house. Zulmi and Marixa are a little out of sorts because they’re no longer the babies of the house, but even they’re susceptible to the baby’s charms. Tom and I had to laugh yesterday afternoon because Marixa came over for a visit, all by herself. We aren’t sure if she’s just now feeling grown up enough to do this since she feels so grown up compared to the baby, or if she just wants a little more of the attention she’s used to, and since she isn’t getting it at home she came over here.

Supporting the Military, Belizean style

As we were leaving the Morales house, a whole line of Belize Defense Force trucks was stopped and lined on the road. One of the trucks, a big Ford F550 with a big cargo back, had an electrical problem and wouldn’t start. All the trucks had to be back at the base near Belize City, so they were towing that truck with an identical truck using a small, probably half inch, steel cable. The cable was fraying and they were trying to figure out some way to tie it so it would make it to Belize City. Always helpful, Tom offered them the use of our big tow chain and the bolt cutters to get the fraying steel cable off the truck. They were happy to take him up on the offer, and after retrieving the necessary items from our house, Tom helped them get the cable off the truck, with the help of at least six or eight armed soldiers. As they were cutting the cable, a couple of other soldiers were tinkering with the engine, and they suddenly got the truck started. Tom advised that they take the chain anyway provided they return it next time they drive up the road, and all the soldiers loaded back in the trucks so they could get going before the truck stopped.

Everything’s a-growin’

With all the rain, things are really starting to bloom around here. We’re not sure what these beautiful yellow flowers are, but they grow in a wild sort of hedge with bougainvillea and hibiscus.

The blue flowers are blue bells.

With the rain, the back pasture is also coming along quite nicely. We have to reseed some of the brown areas where the first spread washed away, but by October we should have a nice grassy pasture for our horses.

And it looks like we’re going to have another bumper crop of grapefruit. Yum!

And don't forget the avocados. I can't wait for these!


Tom and Selwyn are finishing the last of the four tables for the guest cabin. They just finished the pattern on the top of this one, and are busy installing the edges and Plexiglas.

The fight against mud…

I forgot to mention one big improvement Tom and Selwyn made while I was away. Tom got sick of the dogs dragging mud in the house from their yard, so he had a load of gravel delivered.

Unfortunately, the load had to be dropped in front of the house, and Tom and Selwyn had to haul it wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow to the dog yard in the back of the house.

But, once the gravel was in the yard, the dogs stopped dragging mud into the house. Plus, it’s way easier to clean. I scoop what I can, and then just flush the rest down through the rocks with the hose. That won’t be the best solution in the dry season, but right now it works great.

The dogs love it. The Ruckus Twins and Recona play a game where she runs as fast as she can around the outside of the yard, just about flying, and they race around the inside. If you blow up the picture, you can just see Recona’s tail disappearing off the left side. We can always tell when they’re playing, even if they’re not barking, because two big dogs moving fast through the gravel makes a lot of noise! And we love not having mud in the house, in our bed, and on us all the time.

And the mud we love…

And what blog entry would be complete without a picture of little Lodo, the mud baby? He’s holding his head up here and practicing to be a future driving horse.


A number of people have responded to my reaction on my first visit to the US since we moved here over a year and a half ago, and with these responses and a few emails back and forth I’ve come to a few realizations. The big one is that people here always ask what we miss from the US. My first response is always “people,” and the questioner’s response is usually “yeah, obviously, but what else?” I would list things I sort of miss, like foods and wine and riding lessons and trail rides, but what I just realized is that with this list, I’m really just repeating my “people” answer because the only reason I miss these things is because these things represent my relationships with people. So, from now on, I’m just going to let my one word answer stand, because that’s really all it is.

A number of people also said they were surprised I wasn’t more overwhelmed or disconcerted by my rapid reintroduction to the US. Honestly, I was surprised too. I thought I’d be utterly blown away by all the people and speed and technology and culture and everything, but I wasn’t. The crowds of people in the Atlanta Airport bothered me, but that would have bothered me before I ever even visited Belize. And I don’t like the traffic, but I never did, and I actually think I was more patient with it on this trip than I ever was when I lived in the US. I was more patient with most things on my trip than I ever was when we lived there because I just in general find it easier to stay calm and not get stressed out now than I ever did when we lived in NY. So, my advice on how to deal with the stress of the American lifestyle? Get outta the country!

My biggest problems with leaving Belize for two weeks seems to be that two weeks was long enough for my resistance to poisonwood to go away. I went out for a ride in the jungle early last week, and by the end of the week I had poisonwood (a rash like poison ivy) all over my arms, chest, and stomach – basically everywhere that was either exposed or sweaty. I had a problem with it when we first moved here, but have only had a little bit of it here and there over the last six or eight months. So, besides being very itchy and looking like I have some sort of plague, I’m annoyed that the allergy resistance goes away so quickly. Hopefully it won’t take me six months to get it back, and at least I know the rash and the itch go away in five or six days.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Catching up

As many of you know, I just spent two weeks in the United States visiting family and friends while Tom held down the fort here. I got home on Sunday, and have spent the week catching up on things around here. Since it’s a very rainy afternoon, I figured it’s time to update the blog, which Tom kept so admirably up to date while I was away.

I arrived home to four more tables almost complete, a pasture that is starting to get green, gardens that have grown (flowers and weeds!), some more jungle chopped away from the cabins, and a colt who seems to have almost doubled in size in two weeks, although Tom can still pick him up.

He’s starting to be pretty independent, and when we put Lodo and Nessa in the cage/barn at night, we have to be careful to shut the door as soon as the two of them are inside because if he sees the open door, he runs outside to play and doesn’t come back until he’s had enough. Nessa takes that time to gobble as much feed as she can since he’s starting to want to share, and we generally just laugh because it’s so funny to watch him playing by himself, but he’s a little bit of a pain in the butt. He also torments Esmerelda, watching for her to get near the fence that separates him and Nessa from the other horses, and then wandering over and sticking his head through the wire like he wants to nibble her. She pins her ears and rushes the fence, then turns to kick at him, but by that time he’s hopping away back towards his mother, and we can just about hear him giggling. We had our first halter and lead rope lesson a couple of days ago, and he was far more offended than I expected, although we’ve never done baby halter and leading training before so I didn’t know what to expect. Tom hadn’t been able to get the halter on his wiggly little head alone, but with the two of us that part wasn’t too hard. He made us nervous when we first turned him loose because he kept trying to scratch the halter off with his foot, and even the itty-bittiest little halter is a little loose on him so we were afraid he would get his foot stuck. Then, as soon as we clipped on the lead rope, we had a rodeo. He backed up and the lead rope followed him, and he went running around the cage. When Tom grabbed the rope, he threw himself backward and onto the ground, then got up and charged full speed into Nessa, who was just trying to eat her dinner in peace. We got him to the point where he would stand with the rope attached to his halter, and we could rub him with the rope, but as soon as we pulled, even a little bit, he had a fit and started throwing himself on the ground again. We finally got him to the point where we could turn his head with the lead rope and halter, and ended the lesson there. He was very glad to have the halter removed so he could go back to being his wild little self!

We were laughing at the similarities between Lodo and of Selwyn’s eldest son, Junior, who also wants to be his wild little self. Here in Belize, the kindergarteners start school in July, before any of the other kids return to school in September, when they go into Infant 1. Junior has been looking forward to going to kindergarten for over a year, and has been collecting the supplies he thought he’d need – books, paper, pencils, crayons, a backpack, a water bottle to fit in the backpack, and some school clothes. The big day finally arrived on Monday, and Junior set off for school with Selwyn’s sister Nellmarie, who is the assistant kindergarten teacher. Selwyn said that part went well, and Junior had fun that first morning, but when he came home for lunch he told Ilda that he didn’t want to go back for the afternoon, he just wanted to bathe and go back to his normal life. Ilda explained that he had to go back to school and he didn’t need a shower, and according to Selwyn they had a little discussion about that before Junior returned to school. Then, the next morning, Junior got up and told Ilda and Selwyn that he didn’t think he’d be going back to school because he’d rather stay home. Selwyn said he wasn’t very happy when they explained that from now on he would be going to school every day, and Junior didn’t really like going from being the big brother with all the freedom of a kid living in the village, to being just another kindergartener who is expected to move with the rest of the herd. But, I just saw Junior at lunchtime today, and he seems to be settling in to his new routine, even if it isn’t quite as glamorous as he expected.

The only exciting wildlife sighting while I was gone was this ground mole, which Recona kept busy long enough for Tom to get the camera and snap a few pictures.

As you can see from the size of the mole in relation to Recona’s head, the moles here are a little bigger than the moles we knew in NY. However, it’s actually smaller than I thought it would be since they make huge mounds of dirt as they burrow under the ground; I pictured something more the size of a groundhog, but it’s probably somewhere between NY mole and groundhog.

Look at those chompers!

Mel managed to live through my absence, although he’s sleeping more and more and moving slower and slower. He has another compression sore on his side, but this one doesn’t seem to be infected, and it doesn’t seem to hurt him at all – which may or may not be a good thing, since we’re not sure how much he’s feeling in his back end. But, he doesn’t have a fever and he still stands at the bottom of the steps arping to be let in the house RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T MIND, and he’s not incontinent and he is eating and drinking, so we’re hanging tight for now.

As for my trip to the US, it was great. I found out that I still have a lead foot when driving; I still have no patience with crowds of stupid people; I still love Wegman’s even though the produce is at least twice and sometimes five or six times the cost of produce in Belize; I really miss fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries; I now appreciate light switches and adjustable hot water faucets; and I’m still annoyed with biting bugs, which are actually worse in NY, VT, and GA than they are in Belize, so I really haven’t become accustomed to them while living here.

...and I still like a glass of cold white wine outside by the creek, along with a hug from my niece Collier.
While two weeks was long enough to be away from Tom and home, it wasn’t long enough to visit with everybody I wanted to see while I was there. I’d been a little tense about seeing everybody I hadn’t seen for a year and a half – which I know is weird, and I have no idea what I was thinking – but it didn’t matter anyway because without exception, I picked up right where I’d left off with everybody, and it felt more like I was just returning from a two week vacation than from a year and a half of being out of the country. Nobody changed, with the exception of a few kids who were infants a year and a half ago and are now walking talking little people, and that’s a good change. However, I could have used at least another week in each of the places I visited – Rochester, Vermont, and Georgia – and it was harder to say goodbye to everybody on this trip than it was when Tom and I took off into the wild blue yonder in November 2006. Then, we were off on an adventure and were enjoying the excitement of not knowing exactly where we were going or what we would be doing; now, it was just goodbye to people I love, not knowing when I’d see them again…although I hope it’s not too long! In the meantime, I’ll try to keep the promise I made to so many people about updating the blog more frequently – and if I lapse, feel free to send me an email and remind me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Table Progress

Selwyn and I have been busy on the tables. Since we don’t have a power miter box, we measure our angles and cut them with the 18V DeWalt skillsaw, it really does the job well and is an easy saw to handle and work with all day.

This is a picture of the first table we made without the Plexiglas. The top is tongue in groove wall paneling of solid sapodilla. It is not as dark red as older sapodilla but still very solid. This wood was used by the Mayans to make door lintels and are currently found, 2000 years later, still solid as rock. It amazes me that they were able to work the hardwoods without the tools that we have today. The base for this table is made from purple heart.

This is the sapodilla and milady table and also has a purple heart base.

And this is a Jobio top. This table base is made from Jobio.

Our last table we just finished is made from prickly yellow (the lighter wood) and we aren’t sure what the darker wood is. Selwyn knows the tree in the jungle but not the name of it. I am sure we will find out soon.

Some other progress:
Selwyn has passed his tour guide courses with the Cayo Center for Employment Training (CET). All he needs to do now is get a couple of apprentice tours under his belt, file paperwork with the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), pay the annual fee, and he will be licensed!!!!

We have also planted grass in the back pasture since it has been raining so much and we are starting to see little sprouts shooting up (not worth taking a picture since it still looks like a dirt patch). We have been told that if the grass takes hold, which is looks like it has, we should have grass as tall as we are within three to four months. The horses are going to LOVE this. We will keep you posted.


Some of my favorite things about living in Belize are being able to wake up to the sounds of the birds starting their day around 4:30am, roll out of bed around 5, feed the horses year round without bundling up for the snow/ice/sleet/freezing rain, picking some oranges off a tree, and sitting down to local eggs, fresh homemade bread, and drinking fresh squeezed orange juice. After breakfast, before we start working, we usually sit and watch the birds from our screened in porch while drinking our tea. Marge is much better at birding than I am since I am color blind and can’t see all the colors and identifying marks. This makes it a bit frustrating for me, but I am trying to learn the local birds.

This small orange tree is just outside the horse tack shed and I have been getting five oranges a day off of it for juice for the past two weeks. It looks like I have about another week or two of oranges left. I missed using about two weeks of oranges from this tree when they were just getting ripe since we had some left over oranges from the harvest. And we have a couple more citrus trees that just blossomed (remember the blog entry regarding snow) so we should be getting a lot more fruit in the coming months.

Now I’m a Big Horse

Lodo is healthy and getting more sure of himself. He and Recona play in the pasture a couple of times each day, running around and jumping up in front of each other, making mother Nessa crazy, I think. I have been working with Lodo every day, just rubbing him and making it so he isn’t afraid of people. He is getting very social, at least with me. Nessa Rose is also getting much friendlier with me. We think she was pretty well (ab)used by a previous male owner and it has been hard for me to get near her. Feeding her and Lodo every day and leading them in and out of the Jaguar cage (their barn) morning and evening has made a world of difference.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's rainy season so... Nino Del Lodo!

Here are a couple more pictures of our new baby. It has been raining on and off all day for the past couple of weeks so it is tough to get a good shot of a clean baby in the sunshine.

We have decided on a name. Unlike a human baby, where you usually have a pretty good idea of when the actual birth will happen, we didn’t even know if Nessa Rose was really pregnant. But, since the little boy was born in the rain and mud, and we would like a somewhat Spanish sounding name, we have decided on Nino Del Lodo, which translates to Child Of The Mud in English. We will just call him Lodo (pronounced Lo-though).

And, yes, our two latest additions to the farm, Recona and Lodo, are best friends and love to romp in the pasture together. “Mom has told us to settle down and take a nap now so we are being quiet for a few minutes.”