Monthly Archives: January 2009

January 16, 2009

a collard greens new year

Happy New Year! We celebrated the New Year with a long-standing Southern tradition of a New Year’s Day meal complete with collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. This meal is supposed to ensure a prosperous year. The peas are eaten for luck and the greens symbolize money and prosperity. Usually some type of pork is included in the meal along with corn bread.

This year, we were visiting friends in another state on New Year’s Day so the kids actually tasted the collard greens and corn bread (usually they don’t dig in). Being in a different environment without their standard backup of mac and cheese increased the likelihood of them trying new food. I can’t say they loved it but there was no audible gagging. My six year old is a pretty adventurous eater anyway so she declared the collard greens to be “pretty good”. My four year old took a small bite and decided to survive on popcorn later that evening.

I am not a fan of cooking black eyed peas or collard greens however I think it is nice for the kids to experience the tradition of bringing in the year by sharing a meal with family and friends. They may not grow to love traditional Southern food but hopefully they will continue to gather with loved ones to usher in the New Year.

does your child know the heimlich?

Around this time last year I learned to never underestimate the brainpower and clarity of a 4 year old. Regressing in this story 2 years prior, my daughter Olivia (2 years old) was crawling around on the floor while my husband and I were going through the CPR recertification process. We didn’t realize that she was watching all the training until we went to take the written portion of the exam and we heard an odd grunting from her. We turned around to see her performing CPR on Resusci-Anne with an accuracy that nearly warranted a card of her own. If only they would have allowed her use of a pink crayon in place of the No. 2 pencil. That was her only downfall.

In the many months to follow Olivia and I played CPR on her dollies, on each other and on the Jack Russel Terriers. Poor dogs. For my own entertainment, which is the root of nearly all of her aberrant doings, I also taught her the international sign for choking. If you are unaware there was an international sign for choking, it is placing one hand on top of the other at your collar bone/neck level much like you are choking yourself yet not actually grabbing your throat. We then added the international sign for choking to our CPR routine on Barbie and the dogs.

Now I bring us back to Olivia at 4 years old. Half her life has passed since she first learned CPR and the international sign for choking. The novelty of it all has worn off for me and we had forgotten about it. I had moved on to other modes of pediatric entertainment for myself

Last year at this time, we found ourselves sitting around the teppanyaki bar at a Sushi Bar in Cairo, Egypt. Earlier in the day we gave Olivia the choice between riding camels to the pyramids, taking horse and carriage or riding horseback. She opted for camels. We walked to the Great Sphinx from the pyramids because my husband was claiming some sort of camel-groin injury by then and refused to get back on the camel. In the evening we gave Olivia the choice of food for dinner. Of course, wouldn’t every 4 year old would pick sushi in Egypt. As we sat on the high bar stools around the rectangular cooking surface, Olivia states, “Mom. I’d like to have Taco.” I replied to her, “Oh no honey, Tako is Octopus…not a taco.” My cute little 4 year old daughter leans over to me and says, “I know…I really want to eat the suckers” and then made her hands shaped into suckers while making a slurping noise that still turns my stomach just thinking about it. So she ordered Tako nigiri.

Our food arrived and we all dove into our plates. I felt Olivia tapping me on my arm and when I looked at her she was doing the international sign for choking. I told her, “Please don’t ever do that when you are not choking because I won’t believe you when you really are.” Her eyes got very large and she shook her head yes and did the sign again. She really was choking on the Octopus. I do not order Tako and had forgotten how rubbery Octopus is. She couldn’t chew it and it became stuck in her throat. I patted her a few times on the back. Nothing. So I did the Heimlich maneuver on her and it popped right out. She started crying and we, along with everyone sitting around the teppanyaki bar, were very relieved. The waitress who had rushed over said, “I’ll just take this away.” Olivia screamed, “NO! I’m not done.” This time I cut it up for her and she enjoyed every last bite.

Later that night I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she was for properly using the international sign for choking and also for remaining calm. She looked so proud of herself. That dissipated when I then explained now that I saved her life she was to remain my indentured servant forever or until she saves my life at which point she would be free. She looked blank for a moment, a bit shocked and stunned. Then she laughed hysterically and said, “Ok Mom, I’ll stay with you forever.” Pediatric entertainment.

passport photo

There is something so wonderful about a passport. It is a little reminder of all the places that you have been, the people you have met, the sleep deprivation you were experiencing as customs strangers from around the world look you up and down, make two stamps, and grunt , “Welcome to our beautiful country” to you (at least that is what I tell myself they are saying). But who also doesn’t enjoy a little trip down memory lane when looking at a passport photo. In one my hair was permed (not a good look for me!), one it was long straight and parted down the middle (also, not that flattering), and in my recent one I look so so happy (either because I just got married or because I just had my first milkshake after starving myself for 10 months prior to my wedding…I can’t remember).

But these days, the passport I like to look at the most is my son’s. I can remember the day we got his picture taken like it was yesterday. I walked rather innocently into the photo shop and told the man working there that we needed to get a passport photo for my 3 month old. He smiled, instructed me to take off my jacket, and offered me a cup of coffee. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just stumbled upon the most patient and diligent passport photo taker in the history of mankind. What I also didn’t realize was the number of directions and stipulations he had to follow in order to get an acceptable photo.

Imagine…you have to get the 3 month old sitting upright, with no contraptions supporting him, with a white background, and with his eyes open. Thank goodness for this man’s patience as well as for his digital camera. I don’t know what people back in the day when you had to pay for each shot taken! After about 30 minutes, one break for breastfeeding, and one dirty diaper, and a small construction area made form a car seat, a white gym towel, and a few phone books, we had our shot. My little bald pumpkin head, eyes open and all.

So now, as we near our little boy’s 5th birthday when we’ll have to take him to get a new photo and a new passport, I look extra long at his 3 month old photo. I smile when the customs officers try to find the child that used to resemble our bald pumpkin, and I take joy in the fact that his little passport is not only filled with stamps, but also filled with memories that he’ll never remember, but we’ll share forever.

discovering roatan, honduras

A well-kept secret of the Caribbean is the Honduran island of Roatan. Located just off the northern shore of Honduras,westbaybeach Roatan is part of this affordable Central American country but with the laidback feel of its more expensive Caribbean neighbors. Spanish is the national language of Honduras and English-speakers are hard to find on the mainland. Not so on Roatan, where English is widely used. In fact we used our Spanish so little we often forgot we were in a Latin American country.

Roatan is accesible by direct flights from several US gateways including Houston and Atlanta. At present direct flights run only on the weekends, so be sure to look closely at flight itineraries before booking your hotel stay. You can get to Roatan any day of the week via the Honduran mainland or other Central American countries but those flights are notoriously late (think hours and hours) so a “short stop” could add significantly to your travel time. We opted for a Saturday to Saturday trip to minimize travel time. We (Steve, Beth and 22-month old Grace) traveled from Portland, Oregon direct to Houston, where we met up with my husband’s parents (traveled from Ohio) and my husband’s brother and his wife (from Chicago). From Houston we flew together directly to Roatan, less than 3 hours from Houston on Continental. It was a much easier flight with a toddler than the all-day trek last year from Portland to Turks and Caicos (stops in Dallas and Miami made it a 12+ hour day).

First the pros of Roatan. Roatan is stunning. It’s water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. The fish and coral are brilliant in color and diversity. It’s famed for its scuba diving and snorkeling, in part because both are so good and also because it’s very, very cheap to dive in Roatan compared to just about anywhere else in the world. It’s actually cheaper to become a certified diver in Roatan than in the U.S., although if you’re traveling with little ones keep in mind that someone will have to watch the kids if they’re too young to dive themselves. Travel with non-divers like we did if scuba is on your agenda.

Scubadiving is not the only inexpensive pasttime on the island. Just about everything is affordable including food, hotels and transportation, a real plus for traveling families. The seafood on Roatan is fresh and delicious. There are lots of things for families with little ones to do such as swimming with dolphins, bio-parks with ziplines, interesting animals and flora, glasswater boat trips and of course playing on the beaches with their shallow warm waters and little waves.

It’s easy for families to get around the island as well. Taxis are readily available and affordable, although agree on a price before you get in. Your hotel should be able to recommend reliable taxi drivers and tell you what it should cost to get to a destination. Our taxi drivers were always friendly and most spoke at least a little English, although one spoke only Spanish. Their taxis were well-used and worn, and don’t expect seat belts. We rented a van for part of our stay. It was cheaper than taxis for the days we were doing a lot of driving, since we were such a large group (7 people) plus we could use our portable Eddie Bauer car seat for our daughter. There are several rental agencies on the island and none of them seem to have well-maintained vehicles. One van broke down on us in the middle of nowhere but three different cars stopped to help us, including a taxi driver who took us back to the rental agency for a new, equally decrepit van. Don’t expect luxury in any kind of island transportation, but since it’s a small place you can’t get lost and there’s always someone driving by to help you out.

Thinking about our broken down van brings me to the downsides of Roatan. First, the beaches. There are some beautiful beaches on the island but they are all plagued by sandflies. Our visit to Roatan in November fell at the end of the rainy season, when the flies (and their friends the mosquitoes) are at their peak. They were horrible. So long as we had insect repellent slathered everywhere we were fine, but the instant we went in the water and washed it off the insects were vicious. As I write this post a few weeks after our return I still am suffering from a few itchy bites. We’ve heard they are not nearly so much of a problem during the dry season (earlier in the year) but don’t go in the rainy season expecting to lounge peacefully in the sand.

Another downside of the rainy season was floating garbage in the crystal blue water. As part of Honduras, Roatan is a developing nation and the garbage was a visible sign of the poverty that exists beyond the luxury resorts. Garbage is thrown in streams and rivers and, when heavy rains come, that garbage is washed out to sea and into your resort. Some days there was none, other days the water was full of slicks of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Our resort did a great job cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis but they can’t control what’s floating in the water and it did spoil some attempts at swimming. Again, we heard this problem is almost non-existent during the drier part of the year.

Overall our family loved Roatan. It was the right choice for our small family reunion, with the perfect balance of things to do and nothing-to-do. The people both at our resort and throughout the island were laidback and genuinely friendly. It’s a beautiful place but we recommend it for seasoned developing nation travelers, not for those accustomed only to luxury resorts. Even the nicest accomodation on Roatan can’t shelter you from the realities of it being part of a very poor country. For us this was a plus. It meant an authentic experience and the knowledge that our travel was supporting communities that rely on the income from tourism. But it also meant some inconveniences along the way and a few adventures (such as a broken-down rental van).

Watch for subsequent posts reviewing our excellent accomodations at Barefoot Cay as well as our list of things to do and eat on Roatan with kids.

grace