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Coffee and Croissants

6 Oct

I met a new friend last week, her name is Bobbi French. We have so much in common it gives me chills–which is no easy feat on Roatan. Bobbi sold everything, quite her job, and left the familiarity of Newfoundland, Canada to follow her heart’s lead.

As she so eloquently said, “To hell with ordinary, convention, fear of disappointing others and seeking approval. I shall follow in the footsteps of the great George Costanza and live in the ‘opposite’. I will be brave, I will do things I have only dreamed of doing. I will turn my life upside down, shake well and see what comes out.”

While enjoying a coffee and croissant she graciously agreed to answer some questions I posed, and here is what she had to say. Oh, one more thing I haven’t mentioned yet–Bobbi followed her heart to France!

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1. With all the places in the world to choose from, once you decided to take the plunge, why did France win your heart?

Our initial plan was actually to live in Italy. This was always a ‘someday we’ll go for a year’ idea. After vacations we would dream about living in Europe, we both loved the culture, food, wine, and the lifestyle. But France came about for more practical reasons than romantic ones.

Neil already spoke French (and Spanish) and had actually lived in France many years ago. Our most recent vacation had been in France and it was then we met a woman who presented a job opportunity for me. Add in a good health care system and this seemed like a good place to start. Instead of running away for a year to Italy, France seemed like a place where we could actually live and work for an indefinite period. For me the work piece was crucial. After 3 years of looking for a way out of medicine this was the only lead I’d ever had! This was not about retiring, I’m broke as a joke after paying for all my years in medical school. This was about creating a new life.

2. I noticed that in the comments section of your blog, quite often people refer to you as being courageous. Do you feel you are courageous for doing what you are doing?

Hmmm. Everyone always says this and I never know quite what to say back. Courageous is how I would describe kids and their families coping with and surviving mental illness. Every day I witnessed amazing acts of strength that I know I could never have achieved.

As for me, the whole thing has been quite surreal. I somehow turned off my head and turned on my heart, stopped over thinking everything for once and suddenly the plan had a life of its own. Of course it’s scary to uproot yourself and leave everything you know, the safety of secure income and all that. But I can tell you this: moving to France was a hell of lot less scary than staying in a life that seemed all wrong for me. My life was so serious and didn’t fit me anymore. I was scared of being at the end of my life full of regret.

I’m a bit scared every day here but I figure all I have to lose is money and things and some pride as I butcher the language! Not a bad deal from where I sit. If it turns out badly, I’ll just start over.

3. Before you left the Great White North, I’m sure you envisioned how it would go. Is it coming together the way you thought? Or no? And are you okay with that?

The key for me was to let go of any expectations for this journey. This was an active process because it’s soooo easy to romanticize and fantasize about a place that you’ve only visited for vacation. I did a lot of reading and connecting with others who have moved here so that I could get a sense of the good, the bad and the downright ugly bits. So far, so good.

The locals have been far more welcoming than I ever dreamed possible and the paper work, while daunting, is not so bad. Of course having a person fluent in the language really helps! It’s quite a challenge to get used to the pace of things here, everything closes from 12-2 pm and for the whole day on Mondays. Things don’t happen in an instant like they do in North America. And the language, let’s just say it’s an uphill battle. But that’s the whole point, to fully experience another culture. The food and wine make up for it. I’m taking it one day at a time, a new strategy for me a recovering compulsive planner!

4. What is a typical day now, compared to when you lived in Newfoundland, Canada?

My days couldn’t be more different!! Because I haven’t started my new work yet I’m still in la-la land. I have no set schedule and I spend a lot of my time eating, blogging and trying to find an automatic car! I try to learn a little French everyday, then eat some more. I have been riding my new bike, observing cows and chickens, quite a dramatic shift.

The biggest difference in my day is the lack of frenetic pace. I have control of what I do each day. In Canada I was a very busy doctor at a major academic hospital often working until 10 at night. I have finally come down from that stress but only just and even after 3 short months I know that I can never return to that life. Never again will I carry a pager or have to make life and death decisions every day and that brings me great peace. The other big change is having no income. It’s fine, I just don’t spend money, there’s no mall to go to. I’ve stopped shopping online although I long to have a wine budget. I’ve discovered that I don’t need very much and it’s quite a liberating experience.

Nowadays, life is slow, lots of reading and relaxing. That will change when I start work but for now I am LOVING it.

Bobbi's Blog Central'

5. You now call yourself a “Blogaholic” do you find it is the best way to stay connected with family & friends back in Canada? Does having that line of communication make it a little easier to be so far apart?

Oh my, the Blog!! What started as a convenient way to keep in touch has turned into a monster. It’s the new love of my life. I don’t know how it got to be such an obsession, I never could do anything by halves! It’s a great way to stay in touch with loved ones and friends but it’s also an amazing way to connect with people all over the world who are doing the same type of thing or dreaming of doing it. It creates a real sense of community and support. It’s also a great way to get practical advice about moving to a foreign land. I know that when times get tough, and they will, the blog will be the glue that keeps me together. It’s a great way to laugh at yourself and for others to laugh along with you.

6. Your tag-line is “A Psychiatrist’s Pilgrimage to Joy.” Is that what you are finding?

I have been blessed so many times in my life so joy is no stranger to me. But I am seeking an inner peace, a joy of spirit if you will and so far I’m right on the money. I have never been happier than I am right now. I know that, in this moment, I am where I need to be, doing what I need to do. While I am grateful for the privilege of my life as a doctor, I needed this change and I am embracing it fully. I am actually quite proud of myself. Although I am sure that yet another hilarious and humiliating scenario is right around the corner. The main thing is that my life is no longer so serious and that feels like joy to me.

7. You mention your understanding, loving, strong, and accepting husband in pretty much every post. If he announced he wanted the two of you to leave France and move to the most remote jungle, where you would have to live in a straw hut suspended on bamboo poles, and scrounge under fallen tree stumps to find grubs for your dinner—What would you say?

I LOVE this question and it’s a tough one. My first reaction is “write often my love” but because there is no true joy without Neil, because he is the real deal and because I made him a promise, I’d have to say “as long as you’re cooking the grubs, I’m in!”

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Question or comment for Bobbi? Post it here…her new job hasn’t started yet…she has time to answer. Oh, and Bobbi, I grabbed some pictures and quotes from your site. Hope you don’t mind!

Through the wonders of the internet and world wide blogging, I had the good fortune to find Bobbi French when I read a guest post she did for Tiny Buddha Coulda Woulda Shoulda. You too can follow Bobbi’s ‘Pilgrimage to Joy’ at her blog Finding Me in France and on Twitter at @BobbiinFrance

Frog Rescuer

4 Sep

I moved to Roatan, Honduras for a few reasons, one of them because the Roatan Vortex was pulling me here…of course. Another reason was to embrace a simpler lifestyle, surrounded by the beauty that only nature can supply. The challenge everyday is to live in harmony with the glorious wonders of Roatan, while doing the least amount of damage to the natural balance. That might sound corny, but let’s face it pretty much everything made or introduced by humans for the comfort of humans does far more damage than good.

My sister Laurie chose the same idea, different location. When we were kids, for a period of time, my knick-name for her was Duh. I once locked her in a suitcase…well, she agreed to get in it, not like I forced her to, and she believed me when I said I wouldn’t lock it, hence the name Duh! She got wise to my evil ways and I couldn’t call her that anymore, but thirty odd years later I’ve come up with a new knick-name for her—Frog Rescuer.

Laurie aka Frog Rescuer hasn’t visited me on Roatan yet. Some things about it appeal to her, but for the most part she is content hanging out in Canada with her husband Glen and their two cats. A few years back they decided to move to a new subdivision in Guelph, Ontario, the biggest attraction for them was to be next to Guelph Lake, with meandering paths nearby to stroll or go for a bike ride. They weren’t alone with this desire to live closer to nature while still having the advantages of being in the city. The building lots quickly sold and one by one new houses sprang up around them.

In a recent email she shared with me a crusade she had begun. It would seem that living closer to nature—while nice for the humans—it wasn’t working so well for the critters.

My sister’s home has window-wells around the basement windows, as do all her neighbour’s homes. One day she noticed some frogs trapped in one of the window-wells. Now, Guelph frogs are not like Roatan tree frogs. They can jump, but not high enough to get out on their own, so she climbed in and rescued them. Doing an inspection of the other window-wells surrounding her home, she found more frogs needing help, and a few that it was too late to rescue (they had dried up and perished.)

A daily routine of checking for frogs began. But what about her neighbours, did they know that frogs may need to be rescued from their window-wells too? Just in case they didn’t know she made a poster and taped it on the community mailboxes.

SAVE THE FROGS!!!
Please save me from your window wells…a lot of us are dying out here as we jump in and can’t get out!
You will be glad you take care of us, because we take care of your gardens by eating the bugs that eat your plants… so please cover your window wells with plastic covers….or check for us every day and free us from them.
Sincerely, your local frog population

And she didn’t stop there, next up was to talk to the building company to ask them to cover the window-wells on the show-homes. That request was met with blank stares and snickering.

So she contacted a local newspaper and told them what was going on. Guelph Tribune

I’m proud of my sister. She can’t save all the frogs from the invasion of people, but I’m sure the ones she does rescue on a daily basis from a grizzly death are grateful. Besides, it’s not gratitude from a frog that inspires her to do this. She moved to the area to be close to nature and all it has to offer her sense of being—shouldn’t she take ownership of helping protect it?

No matter where we choose to call home, shouldn’t we all?

Rescued any critters today? I’d love to hear about it.

Bugs on Roatan

11 Jul

Number 1 question asked by people considering a visit to Roatan, “Do you have bugs?”

Short answer, “Personally…no. On the Island…yes!”

Of course we have bugs (and other critters) on Roatan. A lush tropical Island, surrounded by soft white sand beaches, nestled in the Caribbean Sea. The temperature average high 28C (82F) with an average low of 24C (75F.) Keep in mind that the humidity level is always up there too. What better conditions for bugs to thrive in.

Here is a list of a few of the ones I encounter, some regularly, others just once or twice so far in the past three years. I don’t know the technical name for them (and I don’t really care.) Some are known by more than one name. And the behaviours that I describe are based on my personal experience with each, nothing more. I will never claim to be an expert.

Sand fleas, sand flies, no seeums
They are tiny and fast, hence the name no seeums.

Everyone reacts differently, but in my experience when one or more get me, the initial sensation is of a sharp sting. Keeping in mind it is relative to their size. The bite gets itchy for a few minutes, and a raised red dot appears. The itching and dot disappear within ½ hour.

Sand fleas, flies, no seeums are definitely annoying. The closer to the beach, sunset, and days with no breeze are when you are more likely to encounter them. When I walk on the beach in Sandy Bay, I wear a light weight, long sleeve shirt to protect my arms and back. I put coconut oil on my legs. Any oil will work (they get trapped and suffocate.) I have found that commercial bug repellents (with or without DEET) do little to deter them.

Some beaches, in particular West Bay, regularly rake the sand (disrupting the eggs) this goes a long way toward keeping the numbers down.

Mosquitoes
Everybody knows what mosquitoes look like and how it feels when one gets you…itchy, itchy, itchy.

Here on Roatan, the mosquitoes are smaller and faster than the ones I’m used to in Ontario, Canada. When they are most active (rainy season) the worst time is at night. A few will manage to get in the cabana and sure enough, I will have just fallen asleep and a mosquito starts buzzing right next to my ear. I do the most logical thing of course…smack myself in the head. I never succeed with getting rid of the mosquito and I feel ridiculous for having hit myself so hard. But it just seems to be a natural reaction that I can’t control. I do think it annoys them though, so the mosquito, or two, or three, will head for my toes and ankles. It’s not uncommon to wake in the morning with a cluster of their itchy little bites all over my feet.

Malaria? It is possible to contract malaria on the Island. I believe there are different strains of malaria and I honestly couldn’t tell you which ones are present here. When it comes to taking medication to prevent malaria, spending as much time as I do on the Island it isn’t possible. The medication (from what I’ve been told is very hard on your liver) and cannot not be taken for an extended period of time. For anyone looking to visit Roatan for a shorter time, you should talk to your doctor and decide if malaria prevention medication is for you.

Dengue is another mosquito borne illness that there is no prevention for and on mainland Honduras an alert has been issued. It has been highly recommended (on the mainland) to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, as well as to avoid areas where mosquitoes are most likely to be and to use insect repellent.

I personally choose to not use insect repellents (especially with DEET.) I don’t have serious reactions to being bit by either sand flies or mosquitoes and I’m more concerned about the ill effects of DEET. But that is my choice and should not be what you base your decision on. I can tell you (again, my experience) that since coming to Roatan three years ago, I know of only three people who have had malaria and all three described horrific flu like symptoms that after a few weeks they recovered from. I don’t know of anyone who has had dengue.

Ants
Ants are definitely the insect I spent the most time with.

There are so many varieties, each with their own special qualities. The names I use for these two may or may not be correct (again, I don’t really care.) It is just what I’ve come to know them as and all encounters are based on personal experiences here on Roatan.

Sugar ants are itsy-bitsy little guys whose bodies must be all nose and teeth. They can sniff out the smallest particle of food (containing something sweet) and will come marching in to claim it. Every food item must be sealed up in container with a tight fitting lid or at the very least a zip-lock baggie. Leave anything on the counter for more than a few minutes and the sugar ants will claim it.

If…no…when this happens, if you take the dish and set it in direct sunlight the sugar ants will scurry away, so all is not lost. You may be thinking to yourself, yuck, eating food that had ants in it, I’ll never do that. On Roatan…yes you will. It’s not possible to avoid. These little guys are pretty helpful too! Sugar ants took top honors on my list of awesome things about Roatan When ants cleaned the melted candy out of my purse.

Army ants are amazing! Bigger than the sugar ants—they are on a mission. In the past three years I’ve seen them do their thing a couple of times…what a show! Here they come, hundreds (if not thousands) of them, marching single file up the stairs. They then split off into squads and begin the hunt. Don’t bother trying to stop them. They’re not interested in you (you’re too big.) They are coming in to seek out the other bug that may be in your home. It takes about an hour and then they are done, marching out as efficiently as they marched in. They will have rid your home of EVERY bug.

Cockroaches and other beetles
You can try all you want to eliminate these ones from your home.

Good luck…just remember they outlived the dinosaurs. The army ants coming through are your best temporary defence. What I still don’t understand is why coackroaches like to live in my scotch-tape dispenser—I keep that in a zip-lock bag now.

Scorpions
I prefer to evict bugs rather than exterminate them—except when it comes to scorpions.

When I mention scorpions to anyone from Texas or other areas where they have them, it’s no big deal. Everyone else freaks out, and I admit so do I! For some reason scorpions like to take a nap under my pillow. I got into the habit early on to check under my pillow before climbing into bed. This has paid off a few times when I have found a scorpion sleeping right where I was going to be laying. I run for the can of scorpion killer (yup, specifically for scorpions) and chase them down, spraying half the can on them. I do apologize as they take their final breathe—I feel bad for what I’ve done. But I admit I am terrified of getting stung by a scorpion and I won’t take the chance. So far, so good…never been stung!

Spiders
Spiders for the most part are okay by me—just the usual ones hanging around.

They do their part to trap the mosquitoes and other pests in their webs. Running a broom around the ceiling to get rid of the webs every now and then is no big deal.

I had an encounter with a spider recently however, that I will never forget! I was watching TV (while in bed,) checking emails on my laptop, when I felt something drop from the ceiling onto my head, then scurry away. Fortunately, I set my laptop aside before leaping off the bed. My immediate thought was, oh my God, a SCORPION! There was no way I was getting back on the bed until I found and got rid of whatever had landed on me. Cautiously I approached and with two fingers clutched the corner of a pillow to move it aside. What had landed on my head was under that pillow and made a mad dash to the headboard.

It wasn’t a scorpion. It wasn’t a common house spider. It was a TARANTULA! Time to do the heeby-jeeby dance, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Once I got over the initial shock, I moved in closer to get a good look (not too close though—I’ve heard tarantulas are good jumpers. It was the size of my palm, covered in coarse black hair, beautiful multicolored lines on its back—I was impressed! I ran to get my camera and took a bunch of pictures from different angle (glad I have a zoom lens.) Having captured the moment…it was now time to evict the eight legged, hairy creature. I put an empty plastic ice-cream tub, over top of it and slid the tub along until I could put the lid on the container. Carrying it outside…I set the tarantula free!

I could tell you about a lot more bugs and other critters I now know of and encounter here on Roatan, but figured this was enough to give you a sense of what’s here. Will this make you decide to not come to Roatan? I hope not, that definitely was not my intention with this posting. The way I see it is that no matter where you go THERE ARE BUGS! They’re pretty cool actually and far more efficient at how they conduct their business than we are.
Think about it…bugs contribute to nature…we’re the ones messing it up!

Do and Don’t on Roatan

1 May

Do and Don’t on Roatan

Do Need
• to be able to improvise a favourite recipe
• WD40
• a source for canning jars before you decide to make Voodoo Mango Chutney
• to know someone who can get your IPhone going again after APPLE crashes it
• containers with tight fitting lids – preferably not metal
• to be able to enjoy doing…nothing
• to know how to convert Lempiras to US dollars
• to accept when the Roatan Vortex pulls you in
• to carry a book when you go to the bank – you might be in-line long enough to read the whole thing
• if you are Canadian; a red shirt with a maple leaf on it when watching Canada beat the US in the final gold medal Olympic Hockey Night in Canada, on Roatan
• a friend who also needs a drivers license when you go for yours – they only process two at a time
• a running list of things you need, so when friends come to visit they can bring them
• to keep a towel handy to wipe the sweat off your face
• to accept that when you are told something will be available manana (tomorrow) that really means, next week, next month or maybe never

Don’t Need
• A mailbox –we don’t get mail delivered
• a reason to have a party
• to take vitamin D
• a last name
• winter clothing
• a watch
• high heel shoes
• to try to rescue a Portuguese Man of War
• to prove you know how to drive to get a driver’s license
• anything with “anti-freeze” on the label
• a sauna
• envelopes and stamps
• anything made from pressed board – termite candy
• to worry when the power goes out at the power company

While all my comments and suggestions are light-hearted, sometimes silly statements about life on Roatan, they all represent what I believe is the most important aspects of Do and Don’t on Roatan.

DON’T move to Roatan expecting to turn it into where you came from. Instead, DO enjoy and appreciate everything it has to offer you that is different from where you came from.

1000 Awesome Things about Roatan #1

14 Apr

1000 Awesome Things about Roatan #1

I found a great site 1000 Awesome Things and really enjoy reading all the everyday things that deserve to be recognized as, well…awesome!

But when it came to relating them to Roatan, it doesn’t always work.

The driver ahead of you nudging forward at the red light so you can make a right hand turn, doesn’t work because we don’t have any stoplights on Roatan.

Someone covering you with a blanket when you fall asleep on the couch isn’t relevant either. Here on Roatan it would be a hammock, and the last thing you want is a blanket on you!

So I’ve started a 1000 Awesome Things about Roatan, and here is the first one on my list.

#1 When Ants Clean-up the Melted Candy in My Purse.

I made the mistake of forgetting that I had put a cellophane wrapped peppermint candy in the side pocket of my purse. That is definitely a no-no. On Roatan, the heat dictates that anything that can melt…will. So the next day when I reached into my purse pocket (to retrieve a pen) I pulled out a sticky, gooey, syrup coated, peppermint scented BIC ball-point.

The purse is hand woven Guatemalan fabric, the pocket lined with nylon. Darn, how well will it hold up to being washed?

I decided to set it aside until tomorrow. I learned that approach on Roatan!

When tomorrow came, I picked up the purse and resolved to clean it up. I cringed as I reached in the pocket to take out the sticky pen and tell-tale empty cellophane wrapper. Both were still there but not a hint of gooey on either! My purse pocket couldn’t have been cleaner. My pen, no longer resembled a repeatedly licked candy cane.

And then I saw them…hundreds of tiny ants marching single file, away from my purse, across the floor, and out the door. They were carting every spec of melted sugar with them!

When Ants Clean-up the Melted Candy in My Purse was the first of many that inspired me to create a new page. While the things I list are all pretty awesome, I’ve changed the title to Things That Pulled Me In.

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This story also at Honduras Weekly retitled, “Island Ants are Awesome.”

What I Miss, What I Don’t, Two Years to Decide.

20 Mar

What I Miss, What I Don’t, Two Years to Decide.

I’m often asked what I miss about living in Canada now that I live in Honduras, on the Island of Roatan.

I miss being able to spend time with my family and friends in Canada. I miss going to watch a movie at the Cineplex Theatre – big screen, surround sound. I miss going to watch a play at The Centre in the Square (fantastic live theatre venue.) I miss my mom’s Summer Supper, a meal she makes that’s kind of like Thanksgiving dinner, except, it includes; cucumber salad with fresh dill, sliced field tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob, home-made potato pancakes or fried potatoes with onion, local summer-sausage, and Canadian cheddar cheese. I’m not sure when or why my mom started this tradition – but I miss the Summer Supper. I miss Blue Jays and Cardinals (the birds not the sports teams.) I miss squirrels coming to my door for peanuts, and raiding the birdfeeders I use to have strung up around my yard (yup, I miss the squirrels!) And I miss the springtime – digging in my garden.

When I first moved to Roatan I was advised by my new friends that it would take me two years to decide if I would want to continue to call Roatan, Honduras home. Two years…? After two years would I have had enough of; checking under my pillow every night for scorpions? Being woken by barking dogs and crowing roosters? By the way – roosters don’t just crow when the sun comes up, and there’s always more than one. Would I have had enough of not being able to watch HGTV – House Hunters, I love that show, or being so hot sometimes that breathing makes me sweat. Would the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language make me want to move back to Canada? Another by the way; I’ve tried to learn Spanish; I now know that I’m not language oriented.

Two years to decide?

Right around the same time that the two years were up, I went to Canada for a visit. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I hung out with my family and friends, I went to the movies, didn’t make it to live production though. I still checked under my pillow for scorpions – habit! I enjoyed my mom’s cooking. I fed the squirrels, and helped my oldest grandson choose what plants to start for his own garden.

And while I was in Canada, I realized, I had been considering – two year to decide from the wrong point of view…

My decision had nothing to do with would I have had enough and want to return to Canada. My decision had nothing to do with what I miss and what I don’t. My decision was – could I give up the Roatan way of life! After two years, I knew without a doubt… Living in Honduras, on the Island of Roatan is my norm! My decision…

“Roatan, Honduras is my home!”

This story can also be read at Honduras WeeklyMy Island Norm

I just finished to read your blog, Good Job .. I am not easy to tears … should I get nervous now, every time your next one comes up? – by the way … I hope you have another one coming soon – I am addicted to cigarettes, my husband, my dog, my cat and your blog! – Author not named, (don’t want her to get hassled for being a smoker)

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