Happy Nicaraguan Mother’s Day

Mothers have a tremendous impact on the world in which we live. All the more reason to celebrate mothers and motherhood around the world.  Nicaragua celebrates Mother’s Day on Monday, May 30th. It is a holiday for all working mothers and my second celebration of Mother’s Day because we celebrate Mother’s Day in the states the first week in May.

To honor the mothers of Nicaragua, the La Paloma Elementary School performed dances, poetry readings, and songs for their mothers.

Maxwell was the DJ. He set up the laptop, downloaded music for the programs and connected the speakers to the laptop. He is the perfect media specialist!


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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.

Tiptoeing Through November

“All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe.”~Shane Claiborne

November has always been a month of extremes for us. We’ve come to expect a wild ride through the November’s of our lives. From Dengue and death to awareness and gratefulness, we tiptoe through November in awe of the insight we’ve gained and hopefully the lessons we’ve learned.

This November is no exception. Ron’s mother passed away yesterday. Although, it has been difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that Ron is now an orphan and we are left with only loving memories, Jane gifted us with some remarkable insights for Jane was not a tiptoer through life. She was a dancer.

Jane                                            How Not to Tip Toe Through Life

1. The best things in life are free.
Bear hugs. Jane passed these out freely to everyone in need. “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,” she said as she hugged children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and elderly patients. There were no strangers in her life, only friends she had yet to meet.

2. Learn the art of empathy. Too often we judge people on too little information. We must try to understand what they do instead, put ourselves in their shoes, start with the assumption that what others do has a good reason if we understand what they’re going through. Life becomes much better if you learn this art. Jane mastered empathy.

3. Be passionate about your career. Jane was born to be a caretaker and a nurse. After seeing the devastating effects of polio in Indiana, Jane returned to Pennsylvania to serve polio patients. During the polio outbreak in the early 1950’s, she worked at the Watson Institute in Pennsylvania. Dr. Jonas Salk conducted his first clinical trials of the polio vaccine at the Watson Institute. Jane was proud to be a part of this groundbreaking event, and as a result she made lifelong friendships with polio patients. 

4. When your child asks for your attention, always grant it. Give your child your full attention, and instead of being annoyed at the interruption, be grateful for the reminder to spend time with someone you love. That was Jane to a “T”.

5. You’re never to old to dance the Hokey Pokey. We’re so caught up in trying to do everything, experience all the essential things, not miss out on anything important … that we forget the simple fact that we cannot experience everything. But, Jane’s secret was: life is better when we don’t try to do everything. Learn to enjoy the slice of life you experience, dance the Hokey Pokey, drink milkshakes, and love unconditionally, and life turns out to be wonderful.

We are on our way to the states to celebrate the life of Jane. Ron’s sister rented a museum for her celebration, which will include dancing the Hokey Pokey, drinking lots of milkshakes, and recalling many fond memories of life with Jane. Here’s to not tiptoeing through life.



Shouting at the Virgin

“Quién causa tanta alegría?” (Who causes so much happiness?)  No, it’s not Santa Claus or Superman…in Nicaragua it’s the Virgin Mary. Every December 7th at 6pm, hundreds of people gather at their local church to shout gleefully at the plaster-of-Paris Virgin Mary statue, shoot fireworks, and parade through the local town with Virgin Mary bobbing above the clouds of gelled hair.

virgin mary copyHappiness, to a faithful Nicaraguan, is Mary’s Conception and they are proud to demonstrate their glee with an ancient traditional celebration called La Gritería, which translates as “the shouting”.  Singing and shouting, they profess their love for the Virgin Maria, thanking her for the miracles bestowed upon them.

Francisco compared it to Halloween and trick-or-treating, without the tricks. Virgin Maria is paraded from one house to another, where elaborate altars are decorated in front of the houses. When the promenade arrives, the people shout, “Quién causa tanta alegría?” and the singing begins. “Oh, it is like caroling in the states,” I told Francisco.

Thanks to gringa-onthego.blogspot.com for the beautiful alter picture

Thanks to gringa-onthego.blogspot.com for the beautiful altar picture

The home owners distribute candies, fruit, natural drinks, and plastic noise makers (the kids love these). They hang around in groups singing and visiting until it’s time to move on to the next altar. In Moyogalpa, the parade visits eight altars, usually the same altars every year. “How are the altars chosen?” I asked Francisco. He laughed and said, “I don’t know. They must be very rich families because they have many gifts to give to their visitors.”

At midnight, the parade returns the tired Virgin Mary to the church, and the fireworks and firecrackers announce the official day of La Gritería, which is December 8th. The parade of tired shouters happily return to their homes with bags of sugary treats. The streets are littered with firework residue and candy wrappers. Grateful for the many blessings bestowed upon them for their faithfulness, they wrap themselves in sweet dreams until the next La Gritería.


Waiting for the Parade

Nicaragua became an independent nation on September 15, 1821…or so they thought! The Act of Independence, recognized by a representative of the Spanish crown, meant that Spain was finally out of the picture.  Yet, with the ink barely dry on the Act of Independence,  Nicaragua wasn’t truly independent until April 30, 1838.

Since then, Nicaraguans have fiercely protected their dreams of a free and sovereign nation. For example, when William Walker, a crazy filibuster from Tennessee, declared himself President of Nicaragua with the idea to annex the region to the United States, national groups with opposing viewpoints united against Walker’s threat. A bloody battle ensued at Hacienda San Jacinto and on September 14, 1856 the filibuster was defeated.

It seems to me that Nicaraguans are always waiting for the parade of dignity, respect, peace, and sovereignty. Today is Independence Day in Nicaragua. 153 municipalities celebrate with school parades and national rallies. On the eve of Independence Day, Rosario Murillo said, “These are times of dignity, peace, unity for prosperity, blessing and construction of victories. Everyday, there is heroism in the battle against poverty, illiteracy, improving health, education or saving lives in emergency situations such as in recent weeks. All these environmental crises, activation of volcanoes, tectonics plate, the activation of a climate we can not predict, all that is what we are living from the formidable spirit of the Nicaraguan race that knows of struggles and honor.”

Look closely at these faces waiting for the parade. They are the faces of formidable spirits that know and understand struggles and honor.

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