Where does the Mango Stop and the Sky Begin?


One way can be learned by starting to see the magic in everything. Sometimes it seems to be hiding but it is always there. The more we can see the magic in one thing, a tiny flower, a mango, someone we love, then the more we are able to see the magic in everything and in everyone. Where does the mango stop and the sky begin? ~ Joshua Kadison

I have never seen this many mangoes in ten years. We have five mature mango trees. Three trees are Mango Indio and two trees are Mango Rosa. Eating the first ripe Rosa mango is a taste explosion. Ron’s beard is stained a permanent yellow and my clothes are sticky and stained with mango juice.

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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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When Great Trees Fall


Our magnificent Pera tree fell down last night in a rapid rain storm with strong wind. Some say it was a cyclone. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall.

 

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A Little Light at the Tunnel’s End


Every decently-made object, from a house to a lamp post to a bridge, spoon or egg cup, is not just a piece of ‘stuff’ but a physical embodiment of human energy, testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of use, value and beauty.
Kevin McCloud


The Mayans believed that the Jicaro tree grew out of the liberation of the people. They worshiped it as sacred. No wonder, because with a variety of products of the Jicaro, it is possible to feed people and cattle and fuel industry and cars. The tree is striking and unusual. Year-round, it is adorned with lime green oval or round balls, that appear in the least expected places. It is not considered a fruit, but a swelling of the tree’s woody parts.

IMG_3638This hardy tree has been forced to adapt to the harshest environments, thus it thrives in our extended dry season because of its strong, deep roots. Jicaro trees have been described as the vegetable version of goats. They are both strong and resistant, need very little to grow robust, and thrive in places that would be nearly impossible for most species to survive. They are a “tree” and an “animal” for the poor. For with the number of industrial and commercial uses of the Jicaro tree, the impoverished farmers are beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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I  chased our neighbor’s egg-eating dog out of our property, when I noticed huge Jicaro balls in our neighbor’s field. “I think I see potential for a lamp shade,” I thought to myself. I found several dried Jicaro balls, carried them across the barbed wire fence, and got to work. First, I sanded the Jicaro, then cut it in half. Packed tightly inside was an ant colony… a tasty treat for our chickens.

IMG_1180Then, I used my Dremel to punch holes in star patterns.
IMG_1181I stained the lamp shade, then used gold, silver, and copper-colored paints to embellish the stars. I added a few whirling comets, too.
IMG_1197I strung some beads in the holes at the bottom of the shade. Finally, I sprayed a protective layer of transparent varnish over the shade. Voila!
IMG_1199Next, I’m making a hanging lamp with Pre-Columbian patterns. A perfect testimony to the magical ability of our species to take raw materials and turn them into things of beauty. There’s always more room for a little light at the tunnel’s end.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Stories are Light


“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
― Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

This Thanksgiving we made some light…fishing in the St. John’s River, sharing family stories under the reflecting palms.
IMG_0292We made some light… cooking pumpkin pies and Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, while sharing family recipes bathed in the moonlight of the draw bridge.
IMG_0403We made some light…traveling together in my step brother’s plane, while singing Christmas songs over the winding rivers 19,000 ft. below.
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We made some light…returning to my mother’s home, and sharing our Thanksgiving stories and traditions of many years ago lit by the fountain across the street from her home.
IMG_0470We made some light… of our blended families, sharing our gratefulness and thanks for the time we can spend together before we all return to our own homes far away. Our doors are always lit…our stories are our light.
IMG_0466Begin at the beginning…share stories gratefully with others…make some light today.

 

 

Timeout for Art: Happy Trails


This week’s Timeout for Art is all about happy trails and the Chilamate tree. A friend visited us from the states last week, and she had never seen monkeys. Knowing that the Howler monkeys hang out in the Chilamate trees, we went on a quest for the largest and most spectacular trees in tropical forests.

Also known as strangler figs, these majestic trees begin life as an epiphyte in the crotch of another tree, then produce roots that snake to the ground to eventually anchor in the forest floor. Eventually, it strangles the host tree like a boa constricting its prey.  As the support tree decays, some Chilamate trees end up with interior passageways from base to crown, becoming true jungle gyms for the Howler monkeys who like to hang out in the trees snacking on the leaves.

Wandering through happy trails with Chilamate trees shading the worn, dusty paths, we fulfilled our quest. We spotted several Howlers lounging in the treetops lazily sleeping through the heat of the day. By the way, I was going to draw a monkey in the tree, but I wanted to focus on the splendor of the tree itself.

Happy trails to you my friends…. until we meet again.

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Weekly Photo Challenge 2: The Heavenly Chocolate Chip Tree


The Silk Floss Tree, or species of Ceiba is the majestic giant of the rainforest. It has long been considered sacred for the indigenous people of Nicaragua. One of their myths is that the souls of the dead would climb into the branches of the Ceiba to reach heaven.  Large spines protrude from the trunk to protect the bark and discourage predators.  I call it the chocolate chip tree because its unique spikes resemble chocolate chips.

the chocolate chip tree copyLike the Pickle Tree, the Chocolate Chip Tree has many uses.
Uses for the wood:
The straight trunks of the tree are used to make dugout canoes. The wood is pinkish white to ashy brown in color, with a straight grain.

Uses for the seeds and fiber:
The brown seeds are round like peas and grow in pods. The pods burst open and inside a whitish cotton like fiber surrounds the brown seeds. The fiber is extremely light, buoyant, and water resistant. It is used to stuff pillows and life jackets. I have some fiber sitting in a bowl on my porch and the hummingbirds gather it for their nests.The fiber has also been used to wrap around poison darts to be blown out of blowguns.

Medicinal Uses:
The seeds , leaves, bark, and resin are used medicinally to treat dysentery, fever, asthma, and kidney disease.

Thanks to my son, Cory, for the stunning photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Pickle Tree


One day, when we were preparing chicken to grill, our neighbor pointed out the Mimbro tree at the side of our house. It is a very unique and strange tree with little pickle shaped pods that seem to grow right out of the trunk of the tree.

MimbroTo my surprise, the Mimbro fruit has a variety of uses in addition to making a fine marinate for chicken.

Marinate for chicken:
Wash and slice 4-6 Mimbro fruits and add them to the squeezed juice of 3-4 sour oranges. Pour over raw chicken and marinate several hours or overnight. If grilling, baste the chicken in the marinate. If baking, pour the marinade over the chicken and bake as directed.

Cleaning a machete:
The Mimbro is very acidic and the juice can be used to clean the blade of a machete or a dagger.

Bleaching stains:
Because of the high oxalic content in the Mimbro juice, it can be used to bleach stains from hands and remove rust from white cloth.

Brass cleaner:
The juice removes tarnish from brass, too.

Medicinal uses:
The fruit conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs. When boiled into a syrup, the syrup is taken as a cure for fever and inflammation. Amazingly, the syrup alleviates internal hemorrhoids, too.

Who would have thought that the unique “pickle tree” would have so many uses!

 

Arts and Crafts the Nica Way


“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Creativity is a must for most people living on a small tropical island with few resources. I am no exception. When the creative spirit stirs, I turn to arts and crafts. The art of creativity animates my desire to fulfill my dreams, while taking me to a place where I get lost and found at the same time…a real Zen moment. No matter how fleeting, I look forward to the comfort and solace these Zen moments bring.

After remodeling our beach shack, we were left with a 15 foot long space above our kitchen. I hired my artist friend, Sue, to help me make a frame, cover and stretch it with canvas, and we painted deliriously lost in our private Zen moments. The Nica Artist Way

I am an avid collector of the Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on our beach daily. The piles of pottery shards on my porch were collecting scorpions and other creepy crawlies. So, I made wrapped wire necklaces for gifts, Christmas ornaments, and a pottery shard turtle above our new guest house addition.

The Jicaro tree fascinated me. Known as the tropical prosperity fruit tree, it has a variety of economic uses in Nicaragua. The Jicaro Tree  Yet, all I could picture were beautifully painted bowls, masks, and lamp shades. Two years ago, I planted bottle gourds with seeds I brought from the states. They dried in our bodega for two years, until I decided to do something with them. The shells were too thin to carve, so I created painted bird houses. I’m anxious to try my carving and wood burning skills on the think-skinned Jicaro gourds..after I perfect my painting skills. The Jicaro Artist

I collect vines and palm leaves for weaving and basket making. My first attempts were a disaster, so no pictures. But, when I needed a hanging lamp for my porch, I collected heavy vines and wove them into a ball, added some twinkle lights..and voila..new lighting for my porch.

My only regret is that there is not more time in my day for arts and crafts. The mangoes are starting to drop AGAIN! My only consolation is that when I’m raking up the tiny mangoes scattered throughout our yard, my creative juices are flowing and I’m lost in thoughts of palm leaves, gourds, and pottery shards dancing through my head.