Saturday, January 24, 2015

Newcastle Brown Ale

"I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four." — Yogi Berra

TODAY, thankfully, was a quiet day at home, although not an unproductive one. In the morning Paul and Myron unloaded a truck full of pajamas at Great Southern Bank in preparation for the Helen's Pajama Party packing party Monday night. Paul and I cleaned and did laundry, but there was time for a nap on the couch in the warm sunshine with Shiva. She's a daddy's girl.

PS: Paul found this great anti-Super Bowl ad for Newcastle Brown Ale. Enjoy.

A walk around Trujillo, Honduras

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

THE LAST stop on our cruise was Trujillo, Honduras, the oldest port town on the Honduran Caribbean coast. The view of the mountains rising straight out of the sea was breathtaking.

We longed to drive into the mountains, but it was a short day on land and a rainy one, so we decided to be content with walking around Trujillo, population 30,000 as of the last census in 2003.

Foraleza de Trujillo was built in 1575 to protect the town and Spain’s then 

burgeoning colonial interests.

I liked the texture of the wall on the building in the picture above this one.
And the bricolage (literally) of the composition of the wall — made of rocks and bricks and whatever else.

A row of cannons and our ship in the background.

Norwegian Cruise Line has only been sailing to this port since October, so the city is not as  touristy. We popped into ten or so little shops, and none of them had electricity.

I was enamored of the construction of this house.

There's a bromeliad growing out of the plaster of the wall above the door.
Trujillo behind us. 
The view from our balcony at sunset.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tiffany's law

"I have made it my mission to fight for tougher legislation in order to affect positive change in the criminal justice system because no other individual should experience what I went through, both as a victim of crime and of the current criminal justice system." — Tiffany Allison, survivor

AS SOME of you know, several years ago I created a charitable non-profit called Helen's Pajama Party. Through it I collect new pajamas and provide them to Iowa's domestic violence shelters. Sad to say, but it takes about 3500 pairs a year; that's how many women enter shelter protective shelter each year at the 13 regional shelters in Iowa — not even counting the children.

This coming Monday night, January 26, we'll be having a packing and sorting party at Great Southern Bank in Ankeny where we'll pack up a three-month supply.

I'm also using this event to highlight and promote an important bill currently in the Iowa Legislature, and Tiffany Allison, the bill's main author, will be speaking briefly.

Rather than retell Tiffany's story — it's so horrific and tragic that I had a difficult time writing about it once — I've attached the press release. All three of our local newscasts channels will be covering it barring breaking news. 

I hope you'll take a moment to read it.

Lots of Hey Look readers are from out of state and out of country, but for those of you who live in Iowa, you can make a difference by writing and calling your state senator and representative to urge passage of this bill.

And as an FYI: if you're a member of a civic or social group, Tiffany and I will come and speak to your organization anytime, anywhere.

January 21, 2015 

Every year in Iowa more than 3,500 victims of domestic violence are forced to run for their lives and seek protection at domestic violence shelters. 

Helen’s Pajama Party packing event with special appearances by Tiffany Allison and Senator Matt McCoy

Monday, January 26 at 6:30; speakers at 7:15 

Great Southern Bank 

210 Northeast Delaware Avenue, Ankeny, IA

Pack 870 pairs of new pajamas (unfortunately, only a three-month supply for Iowa domestic violence shelters) and spotlight a bill in the legislature that would require serial violent offenders to complete more of their sentences

Helen’s Pajama Party
Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance

Omega Nu chapter of Phi Tau Omega

Kelly Sargent

In 2009 Tiffany Allison was a victim of domestic assault. The front page story in the newspaper described it using words such as felony assault, false Imprisonment, beaten with hands, knees, feet and a wrought iron cross, numerous bite marks on her body, beaten to unconsciousness, urinated on. 

Tiffany was her abuser’s fifth victim. Yet when convicted of his crimes against Tiffany, her abuser was given only a 2½-year sentence and served just 10 months before being released. 

Within two years after her abuser’s release, he again violently re-offended.

This time he permanently disfigured his victim’s face. Although sentenced to 15 years for this, his sixth offense offense, he will most likely be released after serving only  to three years. 

As a result, Tiffany has become a victim advocate and a proponent of tougher legislation on violent crimes, working with Senator Matt McCoy and Representive Chip Baltimore to propose a bill (Senate File 23) to help protect Iowans from the most dangerous repeat offenders by making sure they complete more of their sentences.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You'd better Belize it

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber, existential philosopher 

AFTER OUR day in Cozumel, we sailed all night to Belize, and in the morning tendered into Belize City.

I've wanted to go to Belize for 25 years, so unsurprisingly, I'd conducted a bit of research before we left home and proposed that we spend our day at the Belize Zoo. Paul was enthusiastic about the prospect. 

Although there were various excursions available though the cruise ship, once again we thought the better plan was to secure our own driver and embark on a private adventure. We were lucky in the driver we chose. A native-born, well-educated BelizeanAlbert was knowledgable about the history, culture, religion, politics and language of Belize, generous in sharing it with us and patient with questions.

I found the below synopsis on a travel site called Adventure Life which follows very closely what Albert told us:


Located in the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize is a small country (9087 square miles) bordered by Mexico to the North and Guatemala to the West.

The first inhabitants in what is now Belize to develop a succinct culture were the Maya. Belize was an important part in the great Mayan Empire. The Maya Empire was possibly the most sophisticated civilization in the ancient Americas. Including modern day southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras, the Mayas reached their peak in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries AD. However, by the 14th Century this once great civilization mysteriously declined. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, Maya presence was barely felt.

Even though the Spanish ruled Belize since their arrival in the new world, they were never able to truly control the area. For them, Belize was a backwater, good only for cutting dye wood. This lack of control eventually allowed for pirates from England and Scotland to come in and find sanctuary during the 17th century. When pirating became a less popular profession, these former buccaneers turned to cutting log wood in the rich tropical forests of Belize.

From the outset of Colonization, Belize's roots were more British than Spanish. Britain gained full control from Spain in 1798, when they defeated the Spanish Armada off St. George's Caye. While the United States was embroiled in Civil War, Great Britain declared Belize to be the colony of British Honduras, against the terms of the Monroe Doctrine.

As in many other countries, Belize's economy faced decline after WWII. This eventually led for the push for independence. Self-government was granted in 1964, which allowed for the formation of democratic parties and parliamentary style of rule. Belmopan was named the new capital since Belize City was practically destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. In 1981 the country gained full independence and officially became Belize.

Belize's independence and rule has always been threatened by the neighboring country of Guatemala, which has maintained that Belize has always been their rightful property. In 1972 during Belize's political transition from colony to an independent nation, Guatemala threatened war. British troops stationed on the border prevented any incident.

In recent years the US government provided additional stability to Belize. In the 1980's the US invested large amounts of aid into Belize's economy. For this reason it has remain extremely pro-US. Belize is an extraordinarily peaceful country. It's standing army of 550 soldiers is testament to this stability. Due to civil wars in Honduras and El Salvador, Belize has experienced an influx of refugees from these struggles that have significantly increased the population of Spanish speakers in the country. Still, the country remains peaceful, and tolerance prevails with the mix of cultures from Garifuna and British Ex-pats to Mennonites and settlers from Hong Kong.

Culture, language and religion

The official language of Belize is English, but many other languages are also used. Along the coast you're most likely to hear Creole spoken. A colorful variation of English, if you listen carefully, you might notice a familiar word or two. Spanish is the main language in towns that border Guatemala to the west and Mexico to the north, and it's possible to run into several other languages such as Mayan, German, Chinese, Lebanese, and Arabic.

The majority of Belizeans are Roman Catholic, however due to the heavy British influence, Belize has a larger Protestant population than any other country in Central America. The Maya and Garifuna practice their own fascinating mixture of shamanism and Christianity.

The Belize Zoo bills itself as "The Best Little Zoo in the World," and I think it just might be. It's located 29 miles from Belize City, making it about a 45-minute drive. 

The zoo has an interesting and admirable history. From Wikipedia:

In 1983, a film making team, headed by cinematographer Richard Foster came to Belize to create a documentary entitled "Selva Verde." Sharon Matola accompanied the crew as an assistant and animal caretaker.

At the end of filming, funds were exhausted, and there was debate over what to do with the now tame animals. Releasing them into the wild was out of the question and there was no zoo in Belize to take them to. When the film crew left, Sharon remained with the 17 animals (an ocelot, a puma, a jaguar and several exotic birds), and started a makeshift zoo, using the animals' enclosures as exhibits, to generate funding for their care.

It became apparent that Belizeans were largely unfamiliar with the native animals of Belize, and had many misconceptions and superstitions about them. The zoo's focus then shifted to educating residents and visitors alike about the native wildlife of Belize.

After garnering local support and both local and foreign donations, the zoo was relocated to its present 29-acre site in 1991. By 2010 the Belize Zoo was home to more than 170 individuals of 48 species native to Belize. Keeping to its goal of bringing visitors closer to Belize's natural heritage, the zoo only houses native animals. No zoo animal has ever been taken from the wild. Zoo residents were either people’s pets, donated to the zoo, injured and brought in for healing and rehabilitation, born at the Zoo, or sent to the zoo from another zoological facility.

We love, love, loved the zoo! Albert waited for us while we strolled through it, and lucky us: there were only a few other people in the zoo.

Then we got even luckier. We rounded a turn on the path, and from having poured over the zoo website several times before we left, I recognized the woman who came into view as zoo founder Sharon Matola.

I asked her if I could give her a hug for being such a hero. She not only indulged me but invited us to walk with her while she fed the jaguars! Could we have gotten any luckier?!?

When we approached the enclosure, Sharon said, "Now this might sound strange when you hear it, but this is how I call our black jaguar, Lucky Boy," and she started loudly calling out, "I'm sorry, I hoped to be able to show you Lucky Boy, but he isn't here. Nope, no black jaguar to be seen. I'm sorry." Then we heard a rustling and crashing of leaves, some deep "chuff chuffs" and in seconds here was this very, very big black cat who jumped up and put his humongous front paws on the fence to high-five Sharon.

What a treat!!

Founder Sharon Matola, Lucky Boy and lucky me!
Don't let the camera foreshortening fool you. His head was easily as big as mine.

Spotted jaguar. Those spots are effective camouflage.

This eerie-looking creature is a female Harpy eagle. This is the one
species of animal where the female is larger (by a lot) than the male.

Mrs. Harpy in profile. Harpy eagles are the largest eagles in the world.

Mr. Harpy is much smaller than his mate.

All the informational signs are handmade.
Spider monkey.

Folded-up pelican.
Mystery bird.

Mystery bird.

Keel-billed toucan, the National Bird of Belize.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Funny or die

“We have to start looking at the world through women’s eyes — how are human rights, peace and development defined from the perspective of the lives of women? It’s also important to look at the world from the perspective of the lives of diverse women because there is not a single women’s view, any more than there is a single men’s view.” — Charlotte Bunch, American activist, author and organizer in women's and human rights movement and founder of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University

I'M NOT DONE telling you about our trip, but this Funny or Die video is so wry, that I have to share it. If I don't will I die?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

AFTER SAILING Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night, we awoke docked at CozumelSeveral excursions were available through the ship, but we thought they were pricey, so we grabbed a cab and headed for a destination I'd read about before we left home: Chankanaab National Park about 15 minutes away. 

The name Chankanaab comes from the Mayan language: chan (small) kanaab (sea or ocean) making reference to the natural lagoon inside the park. Decreed a national park in 1980, it's a conservation area for fauna and flora. 

We could have paid to swim with dolphins or snorkel at Chankanaab, but we passed on swimming with dolphins because we didn’t want to bother them and on the snorkeling because it was just a few feet off the shore in groups of 10 or more. 

We've snorkeled a few times before and loved it, but we decided to wait until we have more time, like several days, to either snorkel, snuba (scuba diving while tethered to an oxygen line on a boat as opposed to swimming with tanks) or possibly get certified and dive.

This time around we just wanted to hang out on the beach with our feet in the sand, a blue ocean in front of us and a blue sky above, so we trekked to the farthest end of the beach where there were fewest people and chillaxed. And we took a little dip in the sea. Couldn’t not, right?

Chankanaab also has walking trails through a botanical park with more than 60 replicas of pre-hispanic archaeological sculptures from Mayan, Toltec and Aztec cultures. Of course we walked the trails.

Cabeza colosal, meaning giant head.

We met Mr. Iguana on our walk.

Socratea exorrhiza, the Walking Palm or Cashapona.

After the park, we caught a cab into downtown San Miguel where we happened across a fantastic little restaurant called Comidas Caseras Toñita. It just had a beckoning look about it. 

We hadn't been seated long before a distinguished, mature couple came it and sat at the table next to ours. I asked the señor if he and his wife lived in town: affirmative, and then I asked him if we'd selected wisely in choosing this particular restaurant. He was enthusiastic in his praise. He said he and his wife eat there at least twice a week. 

If you find a restaurant local residents like, you know you've got a winner. The guacamole and chips were the absolute best ever!! Both of us had the snapper Veracruz as an entree. So good and at such a reasonable price. I'm not normally a big fan of Mexican food, but I loved the food here.

The plaque above the door which I think is the address.

Aside from Chankanaab and our little gem of a restaurant, overall we were disappointed with Cozumel. We visited Cancun twenty years ago, and really didn't like the hotel-after-hotel-after-hotel nature of the place (I can't even imagine what it's like now) and knew we never wanted to go back, but Cozumel was supposed to be less crowded and more laid back — or so we'd read. Maybe it is on other parts of the island, but the area near the docks reminded us of Tijuanachockablock with open-door stores and aggressive vendors hawking basically all the same stuff. It's not on our list of places to revisit. I'd take a shipment of Comidas Caseras Toñita's food, though, any day.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Aye aye, captain

 "'The time has come,' the walrus said, 'to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax — of cabbages and kings.'" — Lewis Carroll

NOW THAT we’ve spent a few days on our ship, the Norwegian Jewel, let me say a little about our experience. 

The Norwegian Jewel

By way of background: this is just my third cruise and Paul’s second. My first was of some of the Greek Islands, continuing to Venice. Since it was paid for by Lee Iacoca as a reward to Chrysler dealers (I'd been dating one for a few years at the time), and Mr. Iacoca’s daughter was along for the ride (she and I shared an evacuation drill), you can imagine that it was first-class with no expense spared.

My second cruise was with Paul to the Bahamas out of Miami. We wouldn’t have gone except that it was free, a perk paid for by one of our vendors for selling their products. Although our only cost was to be getting ourselves to Miami, that expense didn’t seem inconsequential, so we almost passed on the offer. At the last minute, however, we thought, “Oh what the heck,” and jumped in the van and drove there.

Yes, we seriously drove from Des Moines to Miami, which is a very long trek. (Fortunately Paul and I like road-tripping together.) 

Since we were going all that way, we decided that we’d do more than take a little three-day cruise, so after the float to the Bahamas and back, we headed to the Florida Keys where we stayed in a cabin on the beach. 

That’s where we learned about Keys Disease. Keys Disease is when someone travels to The Keys for a temporary visit and kicks back so hard that they never leave. The proprietor of the restaurant we frequented almost every day because a) it was good and b) it was across the street from our beach home — told us that’s how she ended up owning a restaurant there. She went for a respite from a bad relationship, made a friend who said she could stay with her for awhile, and whammo blammo, she came down with Keys Disease.

The Keys, we liked; the cruise, not so much. In fact we pretty much hated it from start to finish. It was on Carnival, and I would categorically advise anyone to never take a Carnival cruise. It was loud (there was party music playing literally 24 hours a day everywhere on the ship — even in our room — that we could not shut off), it was adolescent, it was insufferable. And we had an interior room, meaning not even a window. It was a lot like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop.

Apparently it made an overwhelming negative impression because we’ve not cruised since. In the following years, however, we kept hearing what a lovely time various friends have had on cruises, so we decided to give it another try. When I say we, I mean me, because I was the one who hatched up this trip. 

I'm experiential by nature, never wanting to miss the opportunity to see another part of life, and our vacations have mostly been more to my taste, packed with lots of seeing and doing. Paul, on the other hand, has been pleading for years, “Can we please take a vacation sometime where we do nothing?” 

Poor guy. So this time around, I thought I would contrive a nothing-but-kicking-back vakay, and a cruise seemed to be a good way to enforce inactivity. There would be four days and seven nights of nothing but sailing the sea and three days on land, but only if we chose to go ashore.

Here’s my review (so far) of the ship, this cruise and Norwegian Cruise Line in general: 

We like it — which is a bit of a wonderment given that this ship, the Norwegian Jewel, is ginormous, something that normally would be an anathema (we avoid big hotels and densely populated everything), but strangely enough, we’ve been perfectly happy here. 

On deck.

Part of the secret is that we booked a balcony stateroom. I learned from our Bahama “cruise” — always, always get a room with a balcony. In fact I’d say, if you don’t get a balcony, don’t go. Even though there are theoretically plenty of places to hang out on board where you can sit undisturbed and watch the sea and land go by, it’s just not as pleasant, at least by our reckoning, having others around while you do. 

Trujillo from our balcony.

Paul has practically lived on our balcony as I was certain he would. Some of you may know that we own a small sailboat, and I knew he would absolutely love watching as much of the maneuvering and goings on as he could.

One extra cool thing for Paul: there’s a ship TV channel that broadcasts map details pinpointing exactly where we are en route and well as our headings, wind speed, relative wind speed, wave height, ship speed, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, latitude and longitude. He’s been geeking out the whole way.

We booked a midship room because the helpful people at said we’d experience less rocking and rolling if the seas got rough because we’d be the axis point, and it's proved to be good advice. The third night out we were in what the captain called a moderate gale, and we were fine. 

Neither one of us has had to rely on Dramamine or other medications. We have, however, been powering down the ginger which is a natural anti-nausea agent that’s as efficacious or more so than the anti-nausea drugs prescribed for pregnant women. (I read a double-blind, authoritative study a number of years back.)

Our home on the high seas.

There is a swimming pool, four hot tubs, a library, a fitness center with a full retinue of weight machines, free weights and tred mills, a casino, various shops, nine restaurants, a theater, bunches of bars and lounges of course, a spa and salon where you can get facials, massage, acupuncture, manicures, pedicures, hair cuts, coloring and styling, Botox, Dysport, Restylane and Perlane injections and teeth whitening procedures (I know; it’s a wonder I haven’t taken up residece there), a child care center, ping pong, shuffle board, a basketball court, a large theater, a photography studio and an art gallery where prints by Picasso and Chagall are for sale.

There are six additional-fee restaurants (French, Italian and so on), but passengers can eat in the buffet and the two main menu-dining restaurants at no cost because it's included in the price of the cruise. This might lead one to surmise that the part-of-the-package food and meals might be mediocre — Paul had in fact read some reviews of the food where passengers had rated the food as just “okay” — but we beg to differ. Every meal has been quite good from the morning breakfast buffet to the lunch and dinner buffets, and our from-the-menu dinners in the main dining room have been truly superb; honestly they would be $100 meals at home. Kudos to the chefs!!

And if you’d like room service, a menu of salads, soups and sandwiches is available 24 hours a day at no charge except from midnight to 5:00 AM when there is a $3.95 service feeor you can get a pizza for $5.00, and the pizza is surprisingly awesome. 

The twice-nightly shows, also at no additional cost, have been such a surprise because they're first-rate. Since Paul is a musician and I have logged by now thousands of hours of listening to small group and big band jazz, symphonic orchestra performances and Broadway shows, we were prepared to find the on-board productions lame. 

Not the case. The shows we’ve attended have all been as good as anything we’ve seen at the Des Moines Civic Center and better than some we've seen in Las Vegas. Last night for example, we were entertained by a Russian husband and wife acrobat duo and a troupe of singers and dancers who are every bit as professional as the ones we were just awed by at the Des Moines Symphony New Years Eve Pops concert. There are also two great house bands, but the lounge singers, I must say however, are universally bad.

One last item of significance: the staff is phenomenal. We have been looked after attentively, cheerfully, respectfully, thoroughly and thoughtfully. They must have one heck of a screening and training program.

So color us happy — very happy.

Ali Hasan has taken excellent care of us.

Ali made us a puppy dog from a towel and wash cloth.

The jury is still out on what this guy is. Paul thinks it's an elephant
sitting down with curled tusks and a trunk.

Swans a swimming with Paul having a bit of a lie-down.