Our Lives Abroad in the Idioms of Mind

This week marks the fifth anniversary of our retired lives on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua and the fourth anniversary of my blog. Attempting to explain what these past five years have been like for us, the origin of the word “anniversary” came to mind.

The word “anniversary” first appeared in English in the 13th century, and was based on the Latin word “anniversarius,” meaning “returning yearly” (from “annus,” year, plus “versus,” a turning). The first uses of “anniversary” were in the church, and “anniversary days” were usually dates with particular religious significance, e.g., the days of martyrdom of saints, etc. The use of “anniversary” for the yearly marking of any past occasion dates to a bit later, and such dates were previously known as “year-days” or “mind-days,” times when a notable occasion or person is “brought to mind.”

Mind-Day…I like that expression because looking back on our five years of living on a tropical island in the middle of a giant sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America reminds me to always be grateful for every aspect of my life. Happy Mind-Day to us!

Our Lives Abroad in the Idioms of Mind

Mind Boggling
This was our life in luggage in September 2010. It took us five years to plan for our move, and the adventure had just begun the day we boarded the plane to take us to Managua.
My Life in Luggage.


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Master Craftsmen in Nicaragua

 “You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.”
― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

I am an adventurer always in search of treasure. The Pre-Columbian pottery shards and pieces I find on my daily walks along the beach sit in piles on my bookcase and on my porch forever gathering dirt and dust and harboring tiny colonies of insects. Yet, more than protecting my pottery, I found a greater treasure in the master craftsmen in Nicaragua.

The time was long overdue to protect my treasures! I designed a wooden display cabinet, then I had to find a master woodworker to build the cabinet to my specifications. Marina recommended Herman, her door maker. When I saw the quality of his work, I knew he would be perfect.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Living Without a Door

The Weekly Photo is: Door

Two years ago I completed a Weekly Photo Challenge: Opening Colorful Doors

Yet, for this photo challenge, I am taking the opposite approach. What would life be like living without a door? You see, my neighbors are adding to their small dirt-floor house. Yesterday, I crawled over the barbed wire fence separating our properties to see the progress on their addition.

There are many ‘firsts’ in this addition, and they proudly showed me around their two new rooms. It is their first cement floor, their first barred windows, and their first cement block walls waiting for a smooth concrete finish.

IMG_8520But, they have run out of money, so they are going to live without doors until they can afford to have doors made. It may be a long wait because one strong handmade door will cost them several months’ pay.

“A door is an everyday thing, yet is often a symbol — of a beginning, a journey forward or inward, a mark of one’s home, or even a step into the unknown.” Yet, I wonder what life will be like living without a door? I can’t imagine life without a door…it’s a leap for me to step that far into the unknown…a journey of faith and trust extending outward in the world.

They live without so much as it is: no running water in their house, no gas stove, only a wood fire for cooking, no indoor plumbing, and an outhouse. Yet, they are always happy!
Marina even added a touch of color by attaching plastic flowers from Don Jose’s funeral to her new barred windows.

IMG_8523Do doors symbolize a new beginning, an opportunity, new possibilities, or potentials? Not for this family!
IMG_8525For this family, living without doors demonstrates their openness and trust between their inner and their outer world. They are so proud of their accomplishments in building this addition. All of their extended family members helped to build it…kind of like an Amish barn raising. I’m proud of them, too.

What do you think living without doors would be like? Have you ever met someone who lived without doors in their house? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Five Tips for Making a New Path

“No single decision you ever made has led in a straight line to where you find yourself now. You peeked down some paths and took a few steps before turning back. You followed some paths that came to a dead-end and others that got lost at too many intersections. Ultimately, all paths are connected to all other paths.”
― Deepak Chopra


Ron and I made a stepping stone path to our house. I never imagined that there were so many complicated decisions to make in choosing the best path for us. So, I’ve compiled five tips for making a new path.

1. When you find your path, you must ignore fear. You need to have the courage to make mistakes.

Concrete sidewalk? Stepping stone forms? Gravel path? Which path was right for us? We chose to make a stepping stone path to our house using plastic forms, which I borrowed from our neighbor. In planning our path, it led to introspective thoughts about the paths of our lives.

Living in Nicaragua is a challenge and sometimes scary. We’ve made many mistakes along our paths, but we’ve learned to patch the cracks, or start all over again, and instead of ignoring the fear, we learn to make friends with it.


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A Plunge Pool in Progress

Floating in a pool free of gravity, I discovered that I don’t need to be in survival mode throughout the end of the dry, hot season in Nicaragua. A plunge pool sets me free. Free from the oppressive heat…from strangling dust that seeps into every pore and orifice in my body…from the brutal sun.

For several years I tried to convince Ron to build me a pool. His reasons for not building a pool were: 1. expense  2. maintenance  3. We live on…literally on the lake shore.

My reasons for building a pool were: 1. a plunge pool is cheaper to build  2. No filter needed and low maintenance  3. We live on the lake with a giant caiman lurking around our beach.

I won after Ron floated blissfully in my friend’s plunge pool in Granada. His sighs of content could be heard echoing all the way to the hardware store for materials to build our little rectangle of cool delight.

We decided to build the pool behind our house on the back porch for privacy. Plus, we have a view of our active volcano Concepcion. Work on the foundation began a few days after we returned from Granada.
IMG_7612We hired Raymond and Jose to build the plunge pool because they are experts in working with cement. The walls are going up and up.
IMG_7614The dimensions inside our pool are 4 ft deep x 48″ wide x 80″ long.
IMG_7618Raymond puts a fine coat of cement over the pool. It is called repayo in Spanish.
IMG_5289The floor is paved with bricks, then topped with a piece of mesh fencing we had leftover. Then the cement is poured on top.
IMG_5282I wanted a shelf on one side of the pool for flowers, cool drinks, and candles.
IMG_5293Next, tile lines the top of the pool.
IMG_7620Raymond smooths the cement around the tile. We didn’t want any sharp edges around the pool.
IMG_7621Then, we added a step to enter the pool from the front, and another one at the side of the pool. The bench and a drain in the wall complete the inside of the pool.
IMG_7627We wanted a tile patio in front of the door, so Raymond and Jose prepared the foundation.
IMG_5306I think the tile is beautiful. It’s slip resistant and will help control the dust and dirt in the dry season.
IMG_7629Next, we filled the pool for two days to help cure the cement. Of course, we had to dip often. I bought a food strainer for 1 dollar to clean the pool. After it is painted and filled again, we’ll add a teaspoon of pool chlorine and drain the pool once a week. We’re going to put a mosquito net over the pool to keep out leaves and flying insects. It will hang over the pool just like the mosquito net over our bed.
IMG_7635I am sad to report that we drained the 720 gallon plunge pool this morning. Monday, we  paint the inside of the pool with special pool paint made specifically for swimming pools. The outside of the pool will be the same mango color as the walls.

Pool is painted inside. Now, we wait for it to dry for 3 days before filling it with water.

We will start the landscaping next week, too. We’re going to build a stepping stone patio around the pool, make new flowerbeds, hang a hammock between the Neem trees, and move some of the electrical wires that are dangling from our internet tower.

I’m in the process of designing a mural for the wall behind the pool. I’m planning to add colorful, whimsical fish. I also decided to make a Pre-Colombian pottery shard caiman mosaic on the front wall of the pool. Take that you sneaky caiman! You won’t keep us from enjoying April and May floating blissfully in our new plunge pool.

The pool was built in one and a half weeks, and the total cost of the pool materials and the labor was less than $400. I believe plunge pools are the wave of the future. They are economical, almost maintenance free, and use very little water.

Stay tuned for the finished pool. Come float with us, soon!

Marvelous Malecóns

A malecón is a jetty, but in Nicaragua it is more like a boardwalk and a port. The San Jorge port, where people make connections to Ometepe Island is undergoing a facelift.

When it is completed, it will be a hub of activity with shops, new docks for the ferries, a new parking lot, hotels, restaurants, and a ferry station. When we returned from Granada to San Jorge to catch the ferry home, colorful banners and hundreds of swimmers greeted us for the upcoming Semana Santa week  (Easter week).


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Spring Cleaning and a Plunge Pool

Everyday is spring cleaning day this time of the year in Nicaragua. It’s so hot, dry, and dusty that we have to clean our houses early in the morning because there is a fine layer of dust over everything. Then, in the late afternoon, we do it all over again. Sigh!

I thought I would take some photos of my clean house, because in an hour it won’t look like this.


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Our Pretirement Experiment

“The goal of retirement is to live off your assets-not on them”
― Frank Eberhart

I have had many people ask me how we decided on retiring abroad and the process we went through. Although most of the information is in my unfinished book, Pretiring With the Monkey Lady, here is a preview of our serendipitous moments the first time we pre-retired in Nicaragua.

In 2004 we jumped. Trapped in new teaching jobs we hated, we felt as if our lives were bound tightly in Kudzu.  We bought a new home with a hefty mortgage and rented our old home. Our son was in his junior year of college. Finances were tight. How could we possibly escape from the bureaucracy that was strangling the life out of us? What was the alternative? Our gypsytoes were itching to travel.

Enter Bill, the eccentric entrepreneur from Nicaragua.  When an ice storm canceled school on a snowy January day, Bill sent us an email. “How would you like to live in Nicaragua and manage my youth hostel on Ometepe Island?”  We thought about it for three seconds and responded, “Yes!”

In an adrenalin rush, we made plans to finish the school year, sell the house we bought six months before, move everything back to our old house, and jump into a new life. We took out an equity loan to pay off the mortgage on our old house and had a small amount left to live on for a year in Nicaragua. Our son moved into our house, transferred to a closer university…and we jumped.

But, managing a youth hostel was not for us. You’ll have to read by book, Pretiring with the Monkey Lady, to understand the problems we encountered. Here is one chapter of the 25 chapters I’ve finished. California Dreams and a Scottish Cowboy. What was the alternative? We couldn’t return to the states because we sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and were both unemployed. So, we jumped again.

Ron wandered the sandy beach paths in search of a cheap shack to rent. About two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, Ron found this little beach house and it was vacant. We found the landlady in Moyogalpa and rented it for $100 a month with a six month renewable contract.

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The Minimalist Challenge

“Simplicity is complex. It’s never simple to keep things simple. Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking.”
― Richie Norton

I’ll confess! I don’t walk willingly into the minimalist world. I constantly fight it because I am a collector of artifacts, travel mementos, of everything! My life is one big collection of memoirs! Yet, living on a small island, in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America, I have been forced to reduce and reuse because: we have NO trash pick-up, there is no Super Wal-Mart or even a mall on Ometepe Island, and life is undeniably simpler.

I guess that can be a good thing. Right? I am forced to reduce my carbon footprint. My neighbor, Marina, cleans my house three days a week. She constantly reminds me that I have many “chunches” (things) as she waves my dirty old underwear, used as a cleaning rag, under my nose. “Look at this dirt!” she says shaking her head and waving my old underwear.

So, I will…reluctantly…take Annette’s Minimalist Challenge because I know I must figure out a way to actively reduce the amount of plastic and tin we collect around the house.
“I would like to challenge YOU, my reader, to think of at least one action you can adopt in 2015 that will reduce plastic and other throw-away products; that will bring down energy usage; and/or minimize unnecessary consumption of any kind.”

I started feeding my dog and cats a little canned dog food every day as a treat. These tin cans add up, so this year I made a Christmas tree out of them.

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The Dream Dome

“Create with the heart; build with the mind.”
― Criss Jami


Ron and I have known Francheco for over ten years. When we first moved to Ometepe Island to manage a youth hostel, Francheco worked at the hostel. In 2012, Francheco’s new yellow house and property were expropriated by the Nicaraguan government to make way for the La Paloma airport. He dismantled his house, brick by brick, dug up his newly planted saplings and flowers, and relocated to a beautiful piece of land south of the airport, near Punta Jesus Maria. The House that Francheco Built.

He married a beautiful Nicaraguan woman. They have a little son, now. Francheco built a temporary house for them and started a restaurant, Dos Mangoes. You would think this story has a fairytale ending, right? But, not so quickly.

Francheco’s dream was to build a dome home. He is extremely talented, which translates to his ability to create from the heart, yet build with his mind. With the help of one worker, he began building a dome home two years ago, one row of bricks at a time.

Francheco’s house from the back of the property.

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