Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Ponies have a Barn!

We finished our barn project in record time...less than 2 weeks from start to finish! A week ago Monday, Tom and Julio started harvesting trees and digging the holes to plant the corner posts and put up the framework. By the end of the week, they were harvesting the cohune leaf for the roof, and on Saturday we had a barnraising party with all of Julio's family and a bunch of friends from 7 Miles.

The men and boys went up on the roof framework to tie on the thatch, and the women stayed on the ground to pass the palm fronds up to the men.

Even Odaly was hauling the leaves up, and this isn't as easy as it looks. The palm is heavier than you would expect since it's not dry, and climbing up and down the ladder with an unwieldy weight isn't easy. I ended up having to put down the camera and my cooking utensils and doing this job on Monday, and I have to admit I was a little bit sore the next day.

Most of the job was done on Saturday, and by Monday lunchtime Julio and Angel were tying down the roof cap. We cheated a little and used some old zinc roofing we had taken from one of the cabins because it leaked, but we didn't think the horses would mind that their roof isn't totally authentic.

On Tuesday Tom and Julio turned the barn into four stalls with feed bowls installed on stumps in the four outside corners...and on Tuesday afternoon, the horses had their first dinner in their new home.

The individual horses haven't taken to the barn (or not taken to it, as the case may be) as I would have expected. Nessa, the oldest of the four and the mother of Elphie and Lodo, wants nothing to do with it. She won't even go in a stall. This doesn't surprise us because we know Ness doesn't like change, but it does surprise us because she's one of those horses who just likes to keep herself clean, and we thought that giving her a place to get out of the rain or sun would have made her happy. Glinda, who is basically a feral pony and who always likes to be in charge of the other horses, doesn't go into a stall on her own, but once there she's pretty happy to just chill in her own space. Elphie and Lodo, neither of whom has ever seen a barn, think it's the coolest thing ever, and we'll look out during the day and see them standing in or around the barn even when they could be out grazing with Glin and Ness. We expected them to be the ones that wanted nothing to do with it, and they both seem to like it. This isn't the first time we've guessed wrong about our horses' reactions to things, and, in fact, I think I'm almost always wrong so I don't know why I thought this time would be any different.

Cooking with Wood

I've been using the firehearth quite a bit for the past few weeks, and am finding that, as warned, I love it. Part of me loves it because I'm cheap and butane is very expensive here, and my gas range has been getting a lot less use. Wood is free; we live in the jungle.

Part of me loves it because it's a little bit of a challenge to learn to cook with wood. First, I have to figure out how to make a fire, and make it the heat I want. I'm learning things like sometimes the best way to make a fire a little bit cooler is to add another stick of wood. It's somewhat counterintuitive, but it works. I'm also learning to have a little bit of patience, which goes against my natural tendencies. I can't just twist a knob and make the stove hotter and make whatever I'm cooking get done faster. Instead, I have to fiddle with the fire to make it hotter or cooler, and then wait while the heat of the comal adjusts. This usually involves shuffling around whatever I happen to be cooking so that the stuff that should cook quicker is over a hotter part of the fire, and the stuff that should cook slower is over a cooler part. All of this works, but none of it is instantaneous. And, I'm learning that lots of stuff just cooks better over wood heat for some reason, and that even though I feel a little out of control and can't make the instant adjustments I want to make, the results are worth the wait.

I also like it for a few random reasons. For example, I almost always leave my tea kettle on the comal, so whenever I want a cup of tea, the water is already hot and I don't have to wait for it to boil. [I know, we're back at that patience issue.] I also love cooking scrambled eggs on it; they're almost creamy when they're cooked over the slow even heat. And, I like the smell of the woodsmoke. I think it makes me remember all the camping trips I've been on, throughout my life, where I always thought that food tasted better when you were camping because you were so hungry from being active all day. Now, I know that food really does taste better when cooked over a wood fire. And, while I sort of hate to admit it, I like to play with fire.

Speaking of wood fires, we're still working on the wood fired clay oven. We're using local clay, and adding it layer by layer, and it takes forever to dry and it cracks. Then we add another layer to the top, wait for it to crack and dry, and then add another. Julio tells me we're almost at the stage where we can test it out...and then I'll see what I like about baking in a wood fired clay oven as compared to my traditional oven!

I've been surprised how many people have stopped by just to see the firehearth. It's become a tourist attraction in itself. Even better, we had one of our native Belizean neighbors stop over to see what kind of rocks and clay we used, and to ask where we got the rocks and the white mal. Tom told him, and asked why he wanted to know. The answer: his wife now wants a firehearth just like mine!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Living with the Maya

We just found this yesterday in the ankle deep mud of one of our horse paddocks. [Note to NY friends: the mud here actually has a bottom!] Even though we fairly frequently find random artifacts, it's still a thrill to find something this well preserved, that you know has been lying just underground for possibly up to 1000 years.

We've heard differing opinions as to what it is. It looks like a spearhead, but it could also be some sort of farming implement. I asked a archeologist friend, and he said they just call them "bifaces," because they can't agree on what they are either.

As to the ethics of picking it up, washing it off, and bringing it in the house - we just figure that it isn't doing anybody any good lying in the mud, probably eventually to be broken when a horse steps on it as it's balanced over a rock or hard root. We understand that all artifacts are the property of Belize, and we would never try to sell it or somehow benefit from finding it. And, they're all over the place anyway. We found this yesterday, and today as I was picking up dropped avocados from under the tree, I found the butt end of a similar artifact, broken about halfway up. And we weren't even looking for either of these finds!

The 2011 project

It seems like every fall when things are quiet around here, we build something.  This year, after letting the horses run like wild things for four and a half years, the project is a small stable.  We're using the same basic design as we did for the first palapa and the kitchen/dining room palapa, but it's much smaller - just enough room for four small stalls for our four small horses.  In the US, with our big thoroughbreds and saddlebreds, I never would have considered such small stalls, but here, with the horses being ponies who live outside 99% of the time, the small stalls will be fine for bringing them in to eat, leaving them overnight if we want them to be clean in the morning, or containing one who gets hurt...although fortunately that doesn't happen much around here.  We're building the stable inside one of the pastures, so we will most likely just leave them in that pasture at night and leave the stall doors open so they can decide if they want to go in and get out of the weather...and we'll try not to let it hurt our feelings when they choose to stand outside in the rain and the mud.