Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Twinkle.

The night of Purisima in Nicaragua, there were a few twinkling lights, but the lights weren’t working in the star at the top of the Christmas tree. Instead, I waited until the moon was just right to light up the star.

IMG_5568By the way, if you are trying to get your pingback to work, try dropping the s from https:// in the pingback link. Thanks to Ambitious Drifter. :-)

A Natural Christmas in Nicaragua


“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

 

There are a few traditions that I cherish on Christmas, but not many. We haven’t decorated a real Christmas tree for over a decade. My old Christmas decorations are sitting on someone else’s mantel, hanging on someone else’s tree, or given to Goodwill long ago.

In Nicaragua, our lives are very simple during the holidays. I still have icicle lights hanging on my front porch, but they hang year-round. Instead, I find Christmas colors and surprises in my natural surroundings.

Our hot peppers become festive lights, swaying in the tropical breeze.
IMG_5651I know it’s corny – but I love ‘Jingle Bells!’ ~ Dolly Parton

That Dolly! I agree with her, but instead, our Jingle bells are on a long, pendulous banana stalk with dusky purple bracts.

IMG_5668“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”
― Roy L. Smith

My favorite mango tree gifts us with small flowers in December. In January and February, we will be picking delicious Rosa Mangoes.
IMG_5670“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still.” Rachel Cohn

Yet, Christmas in the tropics delights us with soft tussles of feathery snow-like grass.
IMG_5658Christmas comes in many forms and colors. I’ll still make my Christmas cookies to share with all my neighbors and friends. I’ll still sing Jingle Bells. And most importantly, I’ll remember that Christmas doesn’t come from a store.

Christmas Traditions…Bah Humbug?


“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

I’m not one for holding too many traditions. We had a Christmas tree until Cory graduated from high school, then we ditched the live tree mainly because we ran out of room on our property to replant our Christmas trees.  My Christmas tree ornaments, which I so carefully bought over many years, are still stored in our garage in the states. Bah Humbug, some may say, but, honestly it simplified my life and I could concentrate on the really important aspects of the Christmas holidays like visiting family and friends and baking cookies.

Below is my Bah Humbug list of Christmas traditions we’ve discarded for a simpler life, or we have been forced to discard because we live on a tropical island far from the mainstream:

1. Presents: I used to make all my Christmas gifts. Each year I had a new theme: batik, gift baskets, homemade dog and cat biscuits, those little mason jars filled with layers of brownie mix or hot chocolate, homemade jams, Scherenschnitte pictures and frames,        which means paper cutting in German, watercolor paintings, and gift bags from our travels around the world. Now, I bake cookies and give them to all our friends and neighbors on Ometepe Island. It is a real treat because most of my friends don’t have ovens and ( if you can believe this) they have never eaten a chocolate chip cookie.

2. Shopping: I was never one for going to the malls in December, and I only attended one Black Friday event. The invention of internet shopping became my sole way to shop for Christmas presents. I love Amazon, but even that is something I can only dream about in Nicaragua. 

3. Decorating the house for Christmas: Oh, the collection of snowmen, those little ceramic Christmas trees, nativity scenes, wreaths, and hopelessly tangled Christmas lights and icicles I have given away in yard sales. This year, my 10-year-old friend, Lauren, made me a wreath to hang on my door out of Styrofoam cups. Since I wanted something a little twinkly to add beside the wreath, I took four used rum bottles, steamed the labels off, added some water, green and red food coloring, and set them on my porch railing beside the hanging wreath. It adds a festive touch to my entrance when the tropical sun shines through them. However, it confuses my hummingbirds. They’ve been buzzing around the red bottles with a puzzled and very determined look.

4. Christmas cards: I gave up that tradition long ago when the cost of a stamp was more than a small homemade gift. We don’t have mail delivery on the island, so that settles any thought of buying Christmas cards… which I’ve never seen here anyway.

5. Trips to see the Christmas lights: At the Bristol Motor Speedway, they have a fantastic collection of Christmas lights and scenes. What made it so cool was that we could drive our car around the speedway to see all the light displays. Now, very few homes have Christmas lights, and the ones that do are only lit up for a short period because 1. Electricity is expensive here 2. We don’t want to take our motorcycle out after dark because there are too many obstacles on the dirt paths and the few paved roads. 3. When electric demand is high, those who have the power ( literally) ration our usage. For example, there was a huge techno concert the other night. The surrounding towns were cut-off from electricity so the techno concert could go on without missing an eardrum shattering beat.
speedway in lights

Ometepe Island still maintains its simplified Christmas traditions. Here are a few.

Church is still very important. The Virgin Mary statue is paraded around town for La Purisma for the first eight days of December accompanied by loud firecrackers and pipe bombs.
IMG_0685Nativity scenes abound…but where is baby Jesus? Traditionally, the manger is empty until Christmas Eve, then baby Jesus is tenderly placed in the manger.
IMG_0684Traditional handmade gifts are given…twig brooms, arts and crafts, fans, hats to shade one from the tropical sun, cloth dolls, handmade baskets and toys, and always lots of fruits.
IMG_0681Nacatamales..the traditional midnight Christmas Eve dinner.
IMG_0786Beautiful Christmas cakes adorn special parties.
IMG_0712Gift giving is traditional, and the gifts are usually given at midnight on Christmas Eve, but they open their gifts in private because they don’t want to embarrass the humble gift giver. Below are some of the gifts we received this year…bread fruit, lots of watermelons, underwear, socks, jewelry, a Christmas wreath, and precious Pre-Columbian pottery that my friend, Mitchel, dug out of a construction site where he was working.

In return, I keep up one tradition…my annual Christmas cookies. It seems fitting to me to continue this tradition because homemade cookies are scarce in Nicaragua, and I love sharing a tradition I have held for many years with my island friends and neighbors.
IMG_0725I hope your holiday is overflowing with family, friends, and lots of sweet things this year.

Weekly Photo Challenge: On the First Day of Christmas


For The Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, we want to see photos that focus on one thing. Here is my interpretation of  “On the First Day of Christmas” Nicaraguan style. Instead of “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree: “On the first day of Christmas Nicaragua gave to me….

One hummer humming

                                                       One hummer a humming

One cormorant a flying

                                                     One cormorant a flying

One champion cock a fighting

                                                 One champion cock a fighting

One parrot a mimicking

                                              One parrot a mimicking

One pink chick a preening

                                                    One pink chick a preening

One heron a fishing

                                                        One heron a fishing

One owl a dizzy

                                                             One owl a dizzy

One hurracha a robbing

                                                           One Urraca a robbing

One black bird a injured

                                                       One black bird a injured

One nest a tweeting

                                                            One nest a tweeting

And a chicken in every Christmas pot

                                             And a chicken in every Christmas pot

Happy holidays to everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top Ten Gratitudes this Holiday Season


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10. I am grateful for generators. Our Puesta del Sol neighbors rented a generator for their premier film festival. It was a good thing, too, because the electricity was out for hours that night. Over 100 people attended the premier of ten short films created by a group of Quebec film makers.

9. I am grateful for sugar…brown and powdered. Even though we had to cross the lake to buy bags of powdered and brown sugar, I couldn’t have made my Christmas cookies without them. Sweet treats for all my wonderful neighbors and friends.

8. I am grateful for cool tropical breezes. Ron and I bought kites for the neighborhood kids for Christmas. December is a windy month…just right for sailing kites over the lake.

7. I am grateful for a Miami IP address. For days, I had been unable to get access to my blog or any WordPress website. I was frantic! Fortunately, with the purchase of a Miami IP internet address, I can reach my blog, as well as Pandora and Hulu, which are blocked from other countries. Unfortunately, my speed is still too slow for streaming video.

6. I am grateful for Skype. Six years ago, communicating with family and friends in the states was difficult. We had to walk over a mile and a half along a rutted black sand beach path to town. Then, we had to call from an internet phone to reach our family. Now, we have the internet in our house, and we can make daily Skype calls to our families.

5. I am grateful to be living in a place where tolerance and respect for different lifestyles is accepted and welcomed…where drag queens provide the entertainment at Christmas celebrations and people of all races, nationalities, and cultures dance together.

4. I am grateful for running water. Our extended Nicaraguan family in Los Ramos walks over two miles, one way, to get water from a well. In six years, they have been able to save enough money to run water lines, buy a pump, and prepare for running water in their homes. Now, they need to buy a $2,000 transformer from the electric company to run the pump. They are performing historical plays about Ometepe Island and asking for donations for their plays. It will take them forever to collect enough money to buy a transformer! I am detemined to help them, so that they can have running water in their homes soon! If you would like to make a donation for the transformer, or if you know of an organization that gives money to help rural communities supply running water to their homes, please contact me.

3. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience an old-fashioned, traditional Latino Christmas. My senses are bombarded: The church bells peal, the bombas explode with acrid smells of gunpowder, parades composed of drummers and trumpets march through the streets, radios blare Jingle Bells and traditional church music throughout the community, children dress in their frilliest clothes, and colorful Christmas pinatas sway in the wind in all their glory.

2. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of my local community. Several days ago, friends walked to our house from town. They asked Marina, if she could direct them to the gringos in La Paloma. Marina pointed next door and said, “Debbie and Ron live next door, but they are not gringos. They are Nicaraguan and part of our family.”

1. Finally, and most important, I am grateful for my family and friends throughout the world sharing love, compassion, and peaceful understanding this holiday season.

Feliz Navidad


                                        Feliz Navidad

The Passion of Nicaragua

Rivers run through me

mountains bore into my body

and the geography of this country

begins forming in me

turning me into lakes, chasms, ravines,

earth for sowing love

opening like a furrow

filling me with a longing to live

to see it free, beautiful,

full of smiles

I want to explore with love……

By Gioconda Belli

       

This poem is by a Nicaraguan poet; however, everyone in Nicaragua claims to be a poet.  It shows our feelings for this wondrous country perfectly.  This holiday season Ron, Cory, and I send you gifts of tropical breezes, passionate beginnings, fulfillment of dreams once thought impossible, and peaceful understanding in a world full of smiles.

Explore with love……

Debbie, Ron, and Cory

 

The Christmas Tree: Life’s triumph over death


Our Island Christmas Tree

The winter solstice was a day of reckoning for ancient people. When the Egyptians noticed the nights getting colder, and the days getting shorter, they were afraid that the sun was disappearing and the Earth would freeze. They looked around and noticed that some of the plants and trees remained green. Believing that these evergreens had magical powers and would appease the gods, they brought them into their homes.

Not having evergreen trees, the Egyptians cut green date palm leaves and scattered them throughout their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. And…the Christmas tree was born! Now, living on a tropical island presents some problems trying to find a suitable Christmas tree. Like the ancient Egyptians, we have no evergreen trees either.

I was lamenting that there were no Christmas trees on the island, when I saw our young friend, Izzy, carting a strange, yet beautiful pole to our house. “You said you wanted a Christmas tree, so I made you one,” Izzy said as she handed me her amazing creation.

Delicate newspaper cranes, dried mango leaves, and an assortment of tropical bird feathers adorned the tree. “Izzy, it’s perfect!” I said, kind of teary eyed at the thoughtfulness of her gift. “Let’s make some more ornaments.”

I’ve collected Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on my beach for years. With some copper wire and ribbon, we wrapped the ancient shards and hung them on the tree. I returned from the states with one wire of twinkling lights and a star from the Dollar Store. We hung the shining star above the tree, as a symbol of bringing forth the light.

Life’s triumph over death hit close to home on Sunday. A very close friend of ours was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash on the island. Robinson escaped with his life, but one of his friends wasn’t as fortunate. Robinson was transferred to a hospital in Managua, across the lake in a small ponga boat. For two days, he could only speak in English, not understanding his native language. The mind works in mysterious ways.

He’s recovering comfortably at home today. I think I’m going to keep my Christmas tree up year-round to remind me of the precious gifts life has to offer. Life is so short…it can change in an instant. Like the ancient Egyptians, my little handmade Christmas tree will be an everlasting symbol of life’s triumphs over death.

 

 

A Nacatamale Christmas


Christmas nacatamales, candy, and iguana

Six years ago, I was invited to share in the making of Christmas nacatamales, while Ron and Cory climbed Vulcan Concepcion. Grandma arrived in a green polyester suit with frayed sandals, the heart of our neighbor’s Christmas tradition.  While she was mixing the fresh pork with rice and vegetables, Luvis cleaned the pig head that had been slaughtered early in the morning.  The little kids were soaking the banana leaves that Papa gathered, Gloria was stirring a big smoky pot of pig rinds, and I was embellishing the wrapped nacatamales with big banana bows of gratefulness.

They were the most delicious treat of the holiday season, but more than that, the family accepted me as part of their family tradition.  Right there in the middle of bloody pig guts, chickens pecking on the dirt floor, a piglet eating slop from an inverted Frisbee, four bony dogs salivating at the smell of greasy pork skins, and the pallid head of a dead pig staring at me, I knew that this was Christmas at its finest.  I had been given an opportunity to be fully immersed in a foreign culture.

To honor the annual Christmas tradition of the national snack in Nicaragua, and the most lavish tamale in Latin America, I have a revised, gringo recipe below.

Pork and Marinade
2/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup cold water
1 clove garlic minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour orange juice or 6 tablespoons lime juice and 2 tablespoons
orange juice
1 pound lean pork loin or boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Masa
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups warm chicken broth
1 cup warm skim milk
2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3-4 1/2 cups masa harina

Filling
8 pieces banana leaves, plantain leaves (12″ X 12″ each)
or aluminum foil…your best bet if you live in the cold country
1 potato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 tomato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
8 pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
8 sprigs of mint
You can add prunes, raisins, too

To make the pork marinade: In a small bowl, combine the rice and water. Let soak for 4-12 hours. Drain.
In a medium bowl, stir in garlic, salt, pepper, and sour orange juice. Add the pork or chicken and turn to coat.
Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
To make the masa: In a large bowl, combine the onions, bell peppers, garlic, chicken broth, milk, oil, salt, and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 4 cups of the masa harina to obtain a soft, thick, pliable dough. The consistency should resemble Play-Doh; add some more masa harina, if needed. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.
To assemble: Slice the pork or chicken into 8 slices, reserving the marinade.
Arrange the banana leaves, plantain leaves, or foil on a large work surface. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Place 1 piece in the center of each square. Pat it into a rectangle.
Tuck a slice of potato, onion, and tomato under each dough rectangle. Press the dough on top of them. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons rice, 1 slice pork or chicken, 1 olive, and 1 sprig of mint on top of the dough. Press into the dough. Drizzle the reserved marinade on top. Fold the left side and right side of the leaves or foil over the dough, then fold over the top and bottom to form a neat package. Wrap each piece in foil. Tie the bundles closed with strips of banana leaves, or string. Be sure to make a pretty bow to top off the nacatamale. :-)
To cook: Place the packages in a large pot and set over medium heat. Pour in water to cover by 4″. Simmer for 3 hours, adding more water as needed to keep the packages submerged.
Transfer the packages to a colander and drain well. Remove the string and foil and serve in the packages.
Makes 8 nacatamales

Enjoy! If anyone makes nacatamales this holiday season, be sure to tie a bow of gratefulness and share with your neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

My Expat Christmas List


All I want for Christmas is.....

Seven years ago, I could easily compose a list of ‘wants’ for Christmas. Ometepe Island was a primitive island with few expat novelties. There was no ATM, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, internet dongle, sufficient cell phone coverage, books in English, or rat traps. When Cory came to visit at Christmas, all we wanted were books in English, rat traps, and a squeegee mop.

Now, Ometepe Island is thriving and growing like the huge papayas in Ron’s garden. We have four ATM machines, an airport which will be completed in 2012, and two grocery stores that cater to the exotic tastes of foreigners. I can download and borrow hundreds of Kindle books from my public library in the states. With a little creative ingenuity, my homemade woktenna delivers a steady internet signal to my dongle. Sky satellite TV broadcasts world news, my washing machine spins with authoritarian control, Ron’s year-round garden supplies us with green vegetables, and Skype allows me to visit daily with my family and friends back in the states.

What more could I want? My expat Christmas list this year isn’t as tangible as it was seven years ago. After much thought, here is my 2010 list:

1. Children’s books in Spanish.
I am determined to give the gift of reading for pleasure to the children on the island. My collection is growing slowly for my mobile lending library. If you are traveling to Ometepe Island over the holidays, please consider dropping off a children’s book in Spanish at the Corner House Cafe, Mar Dulce, or the American Cafe and Hotel in Moyogalpa. Tell them the books are for the book lady in La Paloma.

2. More Time in the Day
The sun rises and sets in the tropics at 6 am and 6 pm. We are early risers, but with all of our daily chores, we seldom have time to stop and ‘smell the roses’ until the sun sets. Retirement is all about fulfilling passions and dying with no regrets. Santa, please stuff my stocking with more time this Christmas.

3. Lots of anti-itch cream
I am definitely allergic to ant bites. The only relief is the anti-itch cream with Benadryl. Santa, please fill my stocking to the brim with anti-itch cream.

4. Simplicity
I have a house full of ‘stuff and junk’ back in the states. It is an anchor in my life. When I return to the states, will you come to my yard sale? It’s time to empty my boomer nest and give it all away.

5. Fluency in Spanish
Although I can understand and respond simply to most conversations, I want to be fluent in Spanish. We are culturally immersed in an all Spanish-speaking community. Santa, please give me the gift of fluency in Spanish. It would be helpful if I could wake up one morning and speak fluently. I’ve practiced patiently for over eight years, yet I still sound like a third grader. Please?

I struggled making this expat list. Honestly, my life has changed so much that I am not tuned in to the frantic Christmas pace and capitalistic mentality of my younger years. Realistically, Santa, if you can’t deliver my expat Christmas list, it’s no big deal…there’s always manana.