Our Mini-Super Morphed into Mega!


“It’s easy for Americans to forget that the food they eat doesn’t magically appear on a supermarket shelf.” – Christopher Dodd, American Politician

Our Mini-Super grocery store has changed gradually throughout the four years we’ve lived permanently on Ometepe Island. Guillermo tends to the needs and wants of tourists…meaning we could always find a few spices or Quaker Oats hidden among the bags of rice or the piles of eggs precariously perched in a corner of the store.

But, two weeks ago, our Mini-Super transformed into a Mega Store. It was a magical sight! I was mesmerized by the choices, awed by the shiny wide aisles, and overwhelmed with the selection of shampoos and wine.

Read on.More pics of our Mega Store ahead.

A Great Opportunity


“People who lack the clarity, courage, or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours. Live your truth and don’t EVER stop!”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

This is a great opportunity for the right people. If you are searching for a new lifestyle, this may be for you. Eleven years ago, my husband and I followed our dreams by answering an ad for a manager of a hospedaje on Ometepe Island. Although, managing a youth hostel was not our thing, it led us to revamp and rewire our lifestyles and we’ve never looked back.

The Corner House on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
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This job may be for YOU! Read on.

Toad Busting!


“If God had wanted us to be concerned for the plight of the toads, he would have made them cute and furry. ” ― Dave Barry

IMG_3544As of today, call me the Cane Toad Buster.  I walked into my casita to clean it for guests and instead witnessed a scene right out of Hitchcock’s The Birds, except with Cane Toads. Piles of warty, tough-skinned, bug-eyed, poison dripping, big lipped, ugly monsters stared at me from every corner of the room daring me…taunting me…teasing me to bring it on!
Keep hopping to the next page. More Cane Toad facts.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Treasured Heart


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Treasure. In a new post created specifically for this photo challenge capture something you treasure.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Ometepe Islanda treasured oasis of peace which captured my heart.

                                       “One love, one heart, one destiny.”
                                         ― Bob Marley
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Don’t stop yet, there’s more!

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Window of Our Lives


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Window. They are portals into the world’s stories. Glimpses into other people’s lives. Looking out (or into) a window can tell you about where you are — and where you’re not — and mark a particular moment in time, linking you to a physical place. Join me as we peek into one window of our lives on Ometepe Island.

A Barbie doll pink house, a big ole’ cement pila, and a worn window signified the beginning of our quest for a simple and carefree lifestyle culturally immersed with friends and family on Ometepe Island.

IMG_2260When Ron destroyed the big ole’ cement pila our journey began.
knocking out a concrete sinkLight filtered through our window and the only thing we saw was the beauty of things to come.
IMG_2797We pretended we worked in a McDonald’s drive-through, happily dispensing peanut butter sandwiches to our workers through our window. They laughed, not having a clue what we were talking about. Later, we found our sandwiches stuffed in a hole of the Mango tree.
IMG_3080I thought retirement was supposed to be… welI…retiring. Instead, I sanded my soft hands to the bone refinishing the window shutters.
IMG_3118Look! We have a TV!  Steeler football games and a cold Tona after a hard day’s work. What more could we ask for?
IMG_3252As the house progressed, the garden grew. We harvested our first batch of tomatoes.
IMG_3919Then the mangoes began to drop…and drop…and drop. Delicious mango jam is on the menu.
Mango JamThe tropics require drinking lots of water. Ron, I caught you drinking out of the jug again. I won’t nag this time because he built us a pine trestle table in front of the window.
IMG_4044Ron’s table has served us well. Family and friends gather around our table for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even a game of spoons. The table nestled in front of the window houses my collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts and my lending library books.

My cupcake and cookie buddy and I often gather around the window where she displays her marvelous treats.

Life outside our window involves swinging, watching chickens, and making dough balls to trap rats in the garden.
IMG_0527We added a string of lights around the window for a festive look at Christmas.
IMG_1439Our window constantly changes scenes adding to our contentment on our little island of peace. One small portal of our lives, one giant step toward our dreams.
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Weekly Photo Challenge: A Brand New Ending


“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
― Carl Bard

This week’s photo challenge is Beginning.

Life is a fragile house of cards.
DSCN0488It can blow away in a moment.
DSCN0671Sometimes we feel abandoned…
IMG_0895trapped…
IMG_0896broken…
IMG_4812depressed…
DSCN0685or downright dirty…
DSCN0673Although, we can’t go back and make a brand new beginning, we can create a brand new ending. If life gives you limes…make a Key Lime pie.
Key Lime PieIf obstacles are in your way…use them as learning experiences and fill in the holes of your life.
DSCN0962Most importantly…take time to smell the flowers.
21Create a new ending today…it’s never too late.

Jamaica Rum Punch


Hiron and his daughter, Albia Lugila (our god-daughter) stopped by our house mid-December and invited us to her Quinceañera. In exchange for a bag of frioles and two large Grenadina fruits, they asked us to supply the grand fiesta with liquor…enough liquor to serve over 200 festive party goers.  That’s a lot of liquor! What could we make and how would we transport it to the little community at the base of the active volcano?

After much thought, we decided to make Jamaica Rum punch. It’s not a traditional drink for a grand fiesta, but it would serve many people and keep the cost low. Jamaica is a flower known to many as the Hibiscus flower. It grows abundantly in Nicaragua and has many astonishing health benefits. High in vitamins and minerals, its powerful antioxidant properties help to lower elevated blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and detoxify the entire body. Since Jamaica is high in electrolytes such as chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium, the juice can be used to replenish electrolytes in the body after exercise, a day in the sun, or in this case a long night of partying and dancing. Of course, we added three gallons of rum to our punch, so it’s hard to say if the rum counteracted the health benefits. Regardless, the Jamaica Rum punch was a BIG hit. We served 20 gallons in less than two hours.

There is a large field of Jamaica near our house. With the permission of the owners and armed with two five gallon buckets, some friends, and lots of energy, we spent a morning picking fresh Jamaica flowers.

IMG_0831A close up of the Jamaica flower…a vibrant, gorgeous red.
IMG_0813An hour later, we had filled two five gallon buckets with Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0810The Nicaraguan way of carrying a bucket of Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0836Opening the flowers, we exposed the seeds. They look like tiny chocolate chips. We dried them in the sun and several days later, Ron planted the seeds to start our own Jamaica field.
IMG_0818Back at our house, we separated the flowers from the seeds. With timed contests, it was clear that Maria had lots of experience separating the flowers and seeds. She was consistently the winner!
IMG_0837The small seed pods are perfect colors for Christmas.
IMG_0838I let Ron find the ratio of water to Jamaica leaves. Math totally frustrates me. We wanted a strong concentrate so we could fill two five gallon buckets with the juice, then add more water, rum, sugar, and lots of pineapple chunks and orange slices. We hoped to end up with 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch to take to the party.
IMG_0843Ron planned a 1:1 ratio of water to leaves initially. I boiled the leaves for 5 minutes, then it simmered for 10 minutes. This took all day with the amount of flowers we picked and only one large pot.
IMG_0845When the concentrate was a deep red color, we poured it into a bucket, strained the leaves, then added 3 pounds of sugar per bucket. Whew! That was a long day!
IMG_0844The next day was the Quinceañera.We loaded our two buckets of concentrated Jamaica juice, a borrowed bean bowl for the punch bowl, 20 pounds of ice that I made and stored in our freezer, and an overnight bag into a taxi. Then, we stopped in town to pick up 2 borrowed coolers, more ice, 5 gallons of rum, a 5 gallon container of water, 5 pineapples, 20 oranges, and we were off to the party. 

Let me tell you of a good business for Moyogalpa…an ice machine. No one sells cubed ice on the island. We had to order 12 small bags of blocked ice from a woman named Vicky. She must have a freezer in her house and has a nice little business selling blocks of ice.

Since I sincerely doubt that you will be making 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch, the recipe that follows is for a smaller quantity and modified because we have most of the ingredients growing at our house.

                                                    Jamaica Rum Punch
3 quarts of water
1 ( 1/2 inch) piece of ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 cups dried Jamaica flowers, also known as hibiscus, 2 cups of fresh flowers
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups of Flor de Cana rum
slices of oranges, pineapple, limes, and other fruit
Ice
Instructions:
Combine water and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and add Jamaica flowers and sugar until the sugar dissolves. (If you are using fresh flowers, add them to the boiling water). Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large heat-resistant bowl or pot. Stir in lime juice and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add ice, 2 cups of rum, pineapple chunks, and orange slices.

You can find the dried Jamaica flowers at most Latin grocery stores or online.

Rico! I can’t wait until our own Jamaica ( pronounced Him-i’-ca) field is in bloom. I think we’ll make Jamaica wine, next.  By the way…the 15th birthday party was a blast. I think I took over 200 photos…next post coming soon.

A Muñeca New Year


“There will be always something old in the New Year!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

An old tradition in Nicaragua is to burn the ‘old year’. They collect old clothes, stuff them with dried plantain leaves and lots of gunpowder, and make muñecos, or old men scarecrows. Then, at midnight, they burn the effigies symbolizing an explosion of vices and a new beginning. A post I wrote in January 2012: A Molotov New Year

But, this year, I chose to explode old traditions and make a muñeca…a woman scarecrow.
IMG_1063Lauren brought an old shirt and shoes. I supplied the colorful socks and the pants. We made her head out of a Jicaro pod, painted gorgeous full lips and freckles. Lauren completed her head with fancy make-up, banana leaf hair, and a big lime green bow. She’s ready for a party.
IMG_1069But, wait! She’s not complete without her vices.
IMG_1068“What is her name, Lauren? She needs a name.” I asked. She thought about a name while we were raking the shredded banana leaves. “Laura!” she finally shouted. Perfect! If you live in Latin America, you may be familiar with the “Laura Bozzo Show” on television. Laura is kind of like a female Jerry Springer. She’s bold, bright, and beautiful. And most of all…Laura is a fighter. She fights for women’s equality in Latin America with a lot of controversy and conflict on her shows.
IMG_1071Laura it is! She’s too beautiful to burn on New Year’s Eve. I think she’s a keeper. I’m going to set her in front of my house for a long time…or at least until the midnight bandits try to steal her.  Maybe I’ll make a sign for her to hold in honor of women’s rights in Nicaragua.
IMG_1067There will always be something old in the new year…but this year, she’s female! Here’s to keeping the old traditions, yet adding a new twist to the story. May your new year be filled with love, acceptance, and honor. I’ll leave you with a few photos of muñecos that my friend, Cindi, took on the other side of the island.
bearded munecoblack faced munecodrunk munecopin head munecosunglass muneco

 

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.

Moments of Bliss This Holiday Season


“One instant, you’re just a regular Joe, schlepping through your mundane life, and then suddenly – what is this? – nothing has changed, yet you feel stirred by a grace, swollen with wonder, overflowing with bliss. Everything – for no reason whatsoever – is perfect.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

This busy holiday season, I have become acutely aware of those tiny, fleeting moments of bliss. They restore my sanity, alleviate my stress, and fill me with a sense of wonderment and gratitude…no matter how quickly the moment passes.

Everyday since we’ve returned from the states, we’ve had a houseful of visitors. Now, don’t get me wrong…I enjoy company and take delight in sharing our stories and playing with the kids, but I have so much to do this holiday and little time to do it. When I do get a moment of soulful solitude…it’s blissful.
IMG_0392Ron and I have a running argument about cutting the grass. He likes the wild, untamed look, where I prefer the low landscaped look mainly because I don’t like to be surprised by all the creepy crawlies that bite my feet when I’m wearing flip-flops. Julio came to cut our grass with a machete the other day and Ron said, “Don’t cut the grass under the banana plants because the long tufts sway in the wind. They’re really beautiful when the wind blows.” So, I learned to compromise when I spotted a golden tuft of grass near the lake fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Another blissful moment!
IMG_0654An Osprey was diving for fish over the lake. I glimpsed freedom perched on his wings. It dawned on me that I am as free as the Osprey…I can fulfill my passions without interference. What a blissful moment!
IMG_0360A friend of mine once told me that when I see the litter in Nicaragua as a thing of beauty, then I have arrived. We jokingly call all the colored plastic bags hanging on every tree branch, “Nicaraguan flowers.” I experienced a moment of bliss watching the shreds of plastic bags twinkle in the setting sun. I guess I have arrived.
IMG_0550I don’t often have roaring belly laughs, but yesterday when I was in the park, I spotted the peeing boy fountain wearing new attire. Belly laughs are blissful!
IMG_0691Christmas shopping is stressful. I used to take pride in avoiding all shopping malls over the holiday season. Now, we have no shopping malls and life is simple. Yesterday, I had a moment of bliss while watching the handmade Christmas tree stars sway over the town.
IMG_0688I’ve been in a tizzy trying to make Christmas cookies for everyone in our community. Fortunately, I have lots of helpers, but it is still nerve-racking because all directions need to be in Spanish, and I have to teach them how to use a mixer, a microwave, an oven, and my icing bag with all the different attachments. Lourdes was whipping icing and whirled the green icing all over my kitchen walls. But, there were several moments of bliss, when the cookies came out of the oven. The smells of cookies right from the oven…blissful.
IMG_0672I wish you all to be swollen with wonder, stirred by a grace, and overflowing with bliss this holiday season. No matter how fleeting the moment…life is perfect!