Friday, May 22, 2015

Nica Scene: The Cage Truck

Our experiment into family living abroad is seriously getting close to over -- at least for now -- and that means i'm in the phase where i'm trying to store the memories so i don't forget. There's so much to remember!

So i resolve to write at least one or two "Nica Scenes" a week, giving you a sense of what it's like to live here. Little snippets, the way memories flash for a second and then are gone...
No cage truck, here's my old street.

Nica Scene: The Cage Truck

When people are arrested in Granada, they're not hauled away in a paneled truck that hides its contents. Instead, there's a cage for that. A metal enclosure has been welded to the back of a small pickup, with black bars close together enough to keep even the skinniest of accused criminals inside, and tall enough for the average Nicaraguan man to be able to stand up while he's hauled off to the jail outside town.

It seems it's best to stand up, because there's nowhere to sit down except the hot black metal of the truck's bed. 

The truck used to be parked outside the health center near Casa Bambu, ostensibly to get some medical treatment for one of the arrestees. Occasionally it would drive by, loaded down with a handful of prisoners, the truck's back end listing toward the rear with the weight.

(If you own a truck in Nicaragua, you can bet that you'll be replacing its shocks often -- not just because of the occasional pothole, but because you're sure to get hop-ons. In fact, you'll probably be happy to take them, because it's a measure of good will around here to give a ride to a person who can't afford the 10 cordoba (40 cents) bus fare. Many trucks roll by on the streets, loaded down with a haul of people, all who too casually hold onto the roll bar or just stand near the rear.)

You'd think that the folks headed for the jail in the cage truck would be quiet and sullen -- but no. Being hauled off to jail doesn't seem to stop their compunction for whooping, hollering, goofing off and catcalling -- as if jail was just going to be a little vacation from a life equally squalid back home. Or at least i can only imagine.

So it shouldn't surprise me when i'm walking down the street -- dressed in shorts and a t-shirt instead of a tank top and skirt as i'd like to do, in order to stave off some catcalls -- when the biggest, loudest catcalls of the day come from the cage truck whizzing by toward the health center.

"I looooooh you baby!" he says, grabbing at his pants and heart at the same time, making him wobble a little inside the cage truck.

Apparently, heading to jail for who knows how long doesn't stop a man from trying.

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Shasta Grimes writes about roadschooling -- that traveling/school combination i so admire -- as well as out-of-the box education, missions and traveling on her site, Live Love Learn Go. She's written a book called "The Power of the Do-Over," available on Amazon.

And since you'll be shopping on Amazon, why not check out The Giving Assistant, a program that lets you get 5-30% cash back at online stores. What's more the site donates a meal to a needy family for every purchase!




Thursday, May 21, 2015

Then Things Go Awry

Isn't it always that when you think you've got everything in hand, something falls apart?

As a freelancer and single parent, keeping the lights on is always a challenge. For me, it's a delicate dance between writing regular content gigs, finding publishers willing to post my essays and news reports, and also working on my own projects on the side. Let one thing slip through the cracks and all of a sudden the balance is upset, the tower topples, the queen is dead.

When this takes place in a foreign country, where it's not possible to go sell some of your expensive outdoor gear for cash or to get a bit of side work from a willing friend, it is even scarier. When we set out on this journey to live abroad for a year, it only came after setting backup plans upon backup plans to ensure the money would always be coming in. It still is today -- but after losing one key moneymaker this week, the fear and anxiety all come back. Hard. 

When a publisher tells you they don't want you, it makes you think you're a total failure. As if the years of studying and working and then making it on your own were nothing -- and that denier is the only one who can make the final judgement. You're a fraud, a failure in this career, it seems to say. Creative writing is always scary -- made scarier when editors say you're not good enough.

With that kind of mentality stewing around, how in the hell am i supposed to do the things i meant to do before leaving Nicaragua, including finishing the young adult novel i've been penning?

I guess it comes with a stubborn, slightly desperate dose of perseverance. A feeling that you can't let one stupid publisher down all the dominoes at once.

As a single parent i constantly have to bring that back, time and time again... and then again. So i'm doing it again! I'll get the bills paid! We'll end this journey with a bang, and when i get back home i'll buy a car that doesn't come with a loan to boot! It will get done!

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For a lesson in perseverance, check out "The Autistic, The Racer and the Test Subject," written by an 18-year-old girl with autism.

Her proud mom tells me her daughter is a strong girl who accepts her shortcomings while working to her strengths. We all can learn from that...

Oh, and the teen did all the illustrations herself!



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Travel Wish List: Armenia

I've been to the European continent, but never to anywhere that might be called Eurasia. But since my friends over at Arara Tour turned me onto it, the region -- and Armenia in particular -- is looking like a really fun place to travel as a family!

If you're not familiar with this part of the world, it's time to start. Armenia, bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and two small republics, is surrounded by the stunning Ararat mountains referenced in the Bible. Like Nicaragua, it boasts one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Sevan -- but unlike Nicaragua's, this one is situated at more than 2,000 feet above sea level, according to Arara's Summer Tours page.

And that's just the start. The country also boasts a rich history, endless churches, and delicious foods. The surrounding mountains are a gem, filled with flowers in the spring and summer and bountiful hiking. Since some of the roads outside the capital city are still relatively rough, they make for a perfect foray into mountain biking -- as i've now done on many "roads" here in Nicaragua. In fact, nearly anywhere with relatively low traffic and less-than-stellar dirt roads make for a great mountain biking destination for you and the family...

As far as family trips, Armenia is a relatively safe country -- something that's always a concern in an area known for frequent unrest. Ancient history and archaeology abound there, so it's a perfect destination for a family of history buffs. In short, the country offers a diverse range of things to do, delicious Mediterranean-style foods, and a tourism industry that's just now beginning to blossom.

Sounds like a great fit for a mom raising a young revolutionary...


Groundhog Day

When i first moved here, a new friend told me he felt like every day was like the movie Groundhog Day. Every day the same, not much in the way of variety. I wasn't totally on board with that -- yet.
Running back to the border on Saturday, again!

Now that i've been living in Nicaragua for a while, i get where he was coming from. So much of life here is the same, day after day. It's always hot, for one. While i love warm weather, no changes in the seasons can make you go a little batty. It's been wicked hot for about two months though, so now that it's starting to get a bit cooler (like 94 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 99) you begin to appreciate the subtle changes.

For me, work is also like Groundhog Day. Every day, writing career articles, garden pieces, and SEO content for clients. It pays the bills and allows me to live in a house with a maid, pool and cable, but it also keeps me in the golden handcuffs where i don't break out much. Yesterday though, coincidentally the first day of mercury retrograde, one of my longstanding gigs ended, making me feel, today, a bit desperate and ready for some change. I have a big article coming out in a major magazine soon, so that's progress. I have to remind myself that i can be successful as a real freelance writer, and to spend less time doing things that are the same, same every day.

Every night, with me doing the cooking, is also like Groundhog Day. I make the same seven or eight recipes, and the rebelangel complains. But with the ingredients i'm used to quite limited, and some of the old standbys even being wild cards, it's tough to branch out. A week or two ago i decided to make fried chicken -- something i hadn't made before -- and it turned out i'd bought the wrong brand and the chicken tasted like soap. I'm not making that up. So it was back to the same Groundhog Day recipes we eat all the time.

Breaking out of your norm and living life as an expat involves a lot of changes and adjustments, but eventually, it all becomes normal, mundane, and even downright boring. Such is life, all over the world...

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If the stores you shop in online are starting to make you feel like it's Groundhog Day, the 99StoresLike site should be a godsend! The site lets you put in a well-known store, and then find other stores like it, to give you some variety. Check out the stores like Travelsmith here.

And how's this for an alternative to the typical party tent? Tobbox.com has inflatable domes, inflatable party tents, and all kinds of fun inflatable pool toys and party supplies for kids.

Monday, May 18, 2015

On Dating in Nicaragua

Everyone seems to ask about it eventually, so i suppose it's something you're all wondering: How's the dating scene in Nicaragua?
My Valentine's Day date.

To put it plainly, it's non-existent.

That's not to say it's going to be like that for everyone, but that's been my experience. As a single parent expatriate, men here seem to fall into one of several categories:

- Too young. Think ramblin' backpacker types.

- Too old. Think retired.

- Too drunk. Unfortunately, there aren't as many concerts or art openings or street fairs or festivals or lectures or events in general, so people's hobbies eventually turn to drinking Toña (beer) and Flor de Caña (rum) in large quantities.

- Married. Because most people who make this kind of leap to move abroad -- at my age, mid-career -- do it with someone else, and that "someone else" isn't typically a tween. 

- Living in Managua. While there is no shortage of Nicaraguan men around, most are married, and the ones who are my age and educated and perhaps divorced or not-yet-married live in the capital city, where things are a little less traditional and there are more jobs and more well-heeled restaurants and bars.

So there you have it: The characteristics of most of the mid-30's and 40's men in Nicaragua. In the end though, i don't really feel that i'm missing out on all that much, and i'm quite content. So stop asking already!

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A new one relationship website you can find me on: I Left Venus For This?! - A Website About Women and Their Relationships with Men, Each Other and Themselves.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It's the Little Things

It's not over yet, but there's certainly plenty to look back on regarding this grand Nicaragua adventure we've been on.

My kiddo is darn near fluent in Spanish and sounds like a Nica -- even in spite of herself. She's gone through many episodes of total denial of host culture, but she's come out on this side as a person with a lifelong skill and a load of life experience. That's something, for sure.
Cool kids painting the view of Casa Bambu, so we don't forget.

Through her Nica friends, she knows what it's like to live in a house with boards for walls and no shower.

She knows to be grateful for little things like having more than one pair of shoes. She delights in things like having a toaster (which we now get to enjoy in the new house).

She knows that her instincts tell her a lot and she should trust them -- but at the same time, that most people are just people trying to get by and mean no harm.

She knows she has the best family in the world, because one of them is willing to take her on an epic adventure, while some others are willing to whisk her away from it and take her shopping. She loves shopping, even though she really hasn't done it in a year.

When she gets home, she'll love that she gets to buy clothes that fit her and aren't 100 percent polyester, and she'll get to decorate her room the way she wants. (You can bet she'll be gunning for some of these tree wall stickers or other cool stuff for her walls.)

She knows that friends don't have to be in your social class, your school class or of your own nationality. Some things just click.

She knows her pets are lucky too -- and she cares for them like they mean something.

She knows that her home country is pretty dang great -- and even if she goes through the typical young-person thing of questioning everything, she'll already know what it's like to live both in and away from her home. Some people have to wait til college to do that -- or they never do it at all.

She's ready to go to said home, but at the same time, she's also starting to talk about where we should go next. Asia anyone? 

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We are headed home this summer, yes, but this digital nomad lifestyle means we could be planning our next adventure sometime soon, and Asia is definitely on both of our lists. If and when the next adventure includes Phuket, Thailand, you may just find us at the PhuketFit Retreat, a retreat center and fitness center featuring yoga, detox and other great programs.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Dose of Gratitude from the Drainage Ditch

Our new house overlooks a drainage canyon -- or an arroyo, as they're called in Spanish. It might not sound like something to be grateful for, but it is.

Old house, corner chaos.
I've been pretty unproductive and on edge lately. When i look at the root causes of things, I think the old house was jangling my nerves something fierce. First and foremost was its positioning on a corner, where not one but two streets' worth of loud engines were constantly on the move... as were a steady stream of kids coming to and fro, yelling and tossing rocks into the mango tree. Then there were the neighbors' roosters and their warren of hens, cackling, crowing and just generally kicking up a cacophony at any hour of the day.

In the afternoons the sounds would rise to such a crescendo that i thought i would lose my mind. It killed my productivity and made my blood boil. I started to dream about becoming a hermit, living in the woods and never talking to anyone again. I practically lived like a hermit, because going out of those walls meant even more chaos, on top of the chaos i couldn't escape even inside the walls. It was getting hellish.

New house, colonial quiet.
But now. If you're sitting on the sofa of the new house, you look out at a patina of green. Trees grow tall from the bottom of the arroyo and spread their verdant leaves across the view. It's nice from there.

Way down below, a bright green riverette snakes from in front of the house to the side, signaling phosphates are in the water. Goats feed on the trash that's been spread in the bottom of the arroyo from the last big rain. But from the sofa, you don't see any of that. You don't hear anything but cicadas and the occasional dog barking -- usually mine. There are screens on the windows to keep out said cicadas. There are kitchen cabinets to keep out the dust -- even though there's less of that with no street out front. And no diesel engines either.

It is far from perfect, but it is an absolute oasis compared to our last place. I think i can do this for a couple more months.

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There's so much to be grateful for, and knowing anything can be taken away at any time only makes me all the more grateful. Especially in the face of stories like Kali's. She's raising funds to help her get custody of her eldest daughter. If you can help, i know she could use it...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Two Pools, Two Maids, Two Houses

When bags get packed, dogs tend to mope.

They don't like change -- even if that change is something you, the human, have been looking forward to. Maybe they think that since you're going somewhere, this is finally the time when they'll be hauled off to the pound, or to "the farm" where all bad dogs go. They sniff around the bags and look petulant. They lie around in nervous despair.
Petulance, usually.

We've only been here eight months, but somehow we've accumulated a montón of stuff for our dog to walk around and sniff disapprovingly. (I like that word, montón. It doesn't mean mountain, though -- it means "pile" or "a lot.") Little Yoders, our crabby white mutt, looks purely pissed when that pile suddenly includes the black duffel bag-carrier that brought him on this crazy Nica ride.

But it's not time to go on a plane again just yet. Nope, it's only time to bide our time in another house for two months, and for the next three days, to enjoy the fact that we're the proud managers of two pools, two maids, and two Nicaraguan houses.

But even when you look forward to something, there's always a sense of dread about it when the day arrives to actually make the move. A sense of not wanting to disrupt the balance, or to have to do anything more or less than what you're doing right now. We're moving because the owner of this house wants his place back -- and really, i am ready to stop living on a crazy corner where motorcycles and taxis blast their horns and trucks with unregulated exhaust make noise all day -- but there's always that feeling of not quite wanting to go.

So maybe today, i'm like all dogs on moving day.

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Whether your family is on the move or staying put somewhere, Family Covered lets you see a doctor, right from your own computer. It could be super handy for you international folks who want a second opinion or can't get your local doctor on the phone when there's a crisis in the middle of the night...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hanging in There

As a freelancer who lives on the global economy, i really have nothing tying me to one place or another -- except that my child needs to be rooted and have a valuable school experience. We committed to staying throughout this school year, and that roots us to one place, at least for a while. If it were just me and my work schedule dictating our moves, we'd probably be out of here by now.
Happy birthday to my big girl -- now 14!

Things have come full circle, and i am cool with letting it be at that. The rainy season is back -- as it was in full swing when we arrived -- so we are back to hearing the rain pound and pound on our metal roof, while we try to stay out of the splashes that come into the house from the gaps between the walls and roof. That's living in a Central American house for you.

We are back to hearing the fumigators blasting their diesel engines down the street, demanding to come in everyone's home and spray.

We are back to that sweaty heat that comes before a rain.

We are back to seeing the pool turn green after every shower, and having the pool guy lecture us about how our surrounding trees are doing it. (OK, great, but we don't own the house and aren't inclined to cut down giant trees...)

Me, i am back to thinking about home a lot more, and wishing i was there. Everything has come full circle and i'm good with seeing one turn around the sun from this place. One turn that is not. quite. done. And it's making the last bits of the turn turn slow, slow.

Plus, tomorrow is my elderly dog's birthday, and Mother's Day is coming up, and i'm missing out on planting a garden and watching my chickens peck the drying earth. Being here is great when being home is cold and grey, but now it's hot and rather hellish and my daughter has to star in the school play before we can leave... so it's all just all a big waiting game.

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Looking for a way to send love to your mama from far away this Mother's Day? Make one of these video animations for Mother's Day, using your photos or videos! Cool, huh?

Friday, May 1, 2015

April, the longest month

April seemed like the longest month in history. I love the heat, don't get me wrong, but when it's 99 degrees and above for days on end -- for a month or whatever it's been -- you start losing your will to live.
That sun, searing in April in Central America.

You daydream about eating hot chicken soup and not dripping sweat over the bowl.

You think about cool fall days and what it's like to wear shoes. With socks.

You lie around so much that you wonder whether your sweaters will fit you anymore, when you finally get the chance to pull them out of storage.

You try to remember what the local town square looks like, because it's just too hot to walk there anymore. You dream of shade, pools, and cool, cool air.

Yes, the hottest month was the longest month -- and i'm glad it's now over.



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How's this for hot and cold? The Warm and Tote lunchbox keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold... all with the same bag, and all the way to lunchtime. I wonder how it stacks up in April's heat...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rayo en la Noche

I was in my usual position in front of the fan last night when the world around me started to flash... little bits of light, every once in a while, over Lake Cocibolca.

I knew what that meant, and i couldn't have been happier.

Back home in the wetness of Oregon, the prospect of rain is met with a sigh. Here it is again. Damn. 

Here though, it is met with that feeling of wanting to run out in the streets and shout praises to the heavens. It means that the time has passed when you're sitting in a restaurant three hours past sundown, sweating for lack of a breeze. It means that you might be able to actually get something done past 12 pm, when a hot sun beats down on your roof and renders your oscillating fan nearly useless. Hot air blown on you, even in an oscillating fashion, is not pleasant.

So while back home we meet the rain with a resigned sigh, knowing we'll be covered by the low dark for months and months to come, here we love it, we move around in it, we welcome it like a lover.

Lightning in the night -- so great to see.

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Of course, lightning in the night also means that the power will inevitably go out -- as it did last night, right on cue. That's when it's nice to have a full stock of candles ready to go. And why not make them fancy? Check out http://hookedonscents.com and its Scentsy candles the next time you need to stock up.

And when you're traveling and run out of funds -- as my current guests just have -- my Aussie friends can get help with large money transfers to Australia through this site.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Off This Ride

No matter where you are and how much fun you're having, there may come a time when you want off the ride.
This world, which i love...

This is the exquisite beauty and pain of living in plural world -- when you arrive in one place and come to love it, it means you'll be missing another one.
The other world, still missed...










So you bounce back and forth and try to maintain a center in all that bouncing. Sometimes it works and you feel great -- other times you need to employ every trick in the book to feel right again. Healthy food. Sunshine. More time with friends, less worrying... self-help books, affirmations, prayers... alla that.




Sometimes it works; sometimes you just need off the ride. That's where i am today -- though the wait to get off is long and it there will be many more days of up and down and sideways before the ride stops.

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Goodness, do i miss the world where i can visit my wise naturopaths and let them guide me. If you're in Hawaii, check out the services of Dr. Diana Joy Ostroff, ND, who can set your world to rights too...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Mango Battle

When we moved into the bamboo house, i was totally delighted to find a mango tree in the garden. When it started growing big yellow-orange fruits and dropping them into the pool, i was excited -- at first. After all, i find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't love their delicious flavor and the sweet smell of their flesh. With many more fruits hanging from the trees, i was convinced we were going to be in mango heaven for quite some time.

That is, until i started to see the downside of having the only big mango tree for blocks. Turns out, it was going to create trouble in my world on multiple fronts.
A day's reap in mango heaven.

First was the fact that i started to find rocks -- first, rocks that were only an inch or two in diameter, scattered around the patio and sometimes in the pool. At night, i started to notice the sound of a rock falling down among wide almond leaves and thinner mango leaves. It was the neighborhood boys -- sometimes actually "boys" at around 10 years old, sometimes boys who were more like men and should know better -- throwing rocks toward the bunches of mangoes that overhung the street.

My first reaction was to get pissed and to shout from the garden to the boys "no tire piedras!" por que they were falling into the garden, where my daughter and her friends are often found swimming and playing. I realized, though, that yelling anytime a rock was thrown was pitting me as the silly foreign lady with the bad accent, always angry.

I also realized that i simply didn't need all these mangoes, and that, like always, my daughter was watching. So in the mango battle, i switched to the kindness tactic. Something had to be done, because the rocks i started to find were getting bigger -- nearly fist-sized. We set a sign out on the ground near where the boys would throw rocks, asking people not to throw rocks. On top of the sign we'd pile every mango we saw fit to spare that day -- which in the height of this mango season, is at least two dozen or more every day. Within minutes the mangoes would be gone.

That seemed to work OK for a while, but still, the little band of boys who are allowed to roam around the dusty street at night, just perpendicular to the side of the house, didn't seem to get the memo. Maybe they weren't around when we put out the mangoes on a nightly basis. So i had to turn to yet another tactic: catching them in the act. This wasn't to yell and scream and to be the crazy yelling foreign lady whose Spanish no one seemed to understand -- but instead to try a bit of negotiation.

I caught them in the act one evening recently, when the heat was so much that all i could do was lie in front of a fan as soon as dinner was over. I explained to them that if they didn't throw rocks, i'd give them all the mangoes they wanted. If they threw any more rocks they got nothing. They seemed to get it; all of a sudden, when not yelling, my Spanish didn't seem so incomprehensible.

So the two sides set out their white flags, and i started tossing mangoes down from my balcony when i'd hear the boys outside playing under the street light. They got their nightly treat, and i got my peace of mind that no one in the house would be hit in the head by a rock. One night one of their crew threw a rock and when they asked for mangoes i reminded them of the deal. The next night, no rocks.

It seems to be working just fine -- until some unknowing new pack of boys decides to make the mango tree a target...

But here's the other downside to having a mango tree in your back yard: You eat a lot of mangoes. You find that it's actually easier to bite off a bit of the skin and then to eat the sweet flesh by holding said skin as kind of a handle. That is, until someone tells you that mango skin contains Urushiol -- the very same stuff found in poison oak and ivy -- which i happen to be very allergic to. Over the past couple weeks i've been blaming my dentist for giving me an anesthetic that made me break out; but it turns out it was really mango heaven that was turning my face to hell...

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If we were staying, i could maybe even turn this little battle into an enterprise for my local pack of boys who seem to have nothing else to do. As it is, i'll be happy to free of the mango battle when we move out of here.

If you're in need of help starting your own enterprise, Nicholas Coriano is here to help! He can help you write your business plan and grow your business. Check him out!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

There and Back and Coming Goodbyes

As an Army brat, there was always the next move to look forward to, at least every few years or so. That kind of life shapes a kid. A few months ahead of the big move, we'd all be thinking about the next step -- and starting to push away the old. It was kind of a protective measure, i think, to shield us from the fact that the good friends we'd made in this home might never be seen again.
Pining for the truck to drive once again...

Little did we know we'd have Facebook and Instagram and all that stuff to keep us connected, even to childhood friends. For the most part, all the people who were my "crew" from 3rd to 6th grade at Karlsruhe American Elementary School in Germany are now my friends on social media -- so i get to catch up with them from time to time.

I wonder if the current state of social media shapes my kid's outlook on coming and going, arriving and departing... since kids stay in touch via video chat and even bully each other in cyberspace these days.

Me, two months from departure, i can feel that old familiar feeling of cutting the strings, one by one. I won't say i'm "over" this place, because i'm not. In the middle of December, i will know that the winds are blowing sweet across Lago Cocibolca. I'll long for it with every wintry blast of cold air i experience back home. That is, if i decide to stay home in the end. 

Still, some of the cultural things eat away at you and make you want to get away, away, away like yesterday. Especially when you find yourself once again riding chicken buses to get around, after having a car of your own (a rental) for two weeks.

You remember that people here won't queue behind you when waiting for the bus; if there's any room at all between you and the person in front of you, they'll take that as a sign you're not that keen on getting on. They don't mind careening around roundabouts, drivers screaming on the horn, or the hawkers that stuff spaces with too many people. They don't mind yelling or loud music or buses that spew black smoke from a hole in the exhaust, just below where little pigtailed cherubs lean out the windows for some cool air. They don't balk when those cherubs toss out the plastic bags that once held sugary drinks, the bags rolling over in the hot wind as the bus pulls away. Or at least no one acts like they mind.

They like polyester -- even in the high-brow department store at the mall, it's hard to get around that non-breathable, uncomfortable fabric choice. That makes it tough to buy any clothes at all for a kid who seems to grow an inch a minute.

They'll eat fried chicken at any opportunity, even when a dozen other similarly-fast and similarly-good restaurants are available, as is the case at the mall. They smile; nothing seems to bother them. In the heat and the smoke and the dust, everything bothers you. So you want out. OUT.

Because i've done this time and again throughout my whole life, i know that this need to get out fast will be flipped on its end in a few months' time, and me and the rebelangel will both be pining for our Nicaragua Linda.

Just not now.

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Growing up in Europe, this was one piece of European culture that i wish was more prevalent in my home: the bidet in the bathroom. They're just a better way to stay clean, period. Fortunately for my friends in North America, you can order one online and outfit your current bathroom with one for a very low cost! Plus, Bidet Inc plants ten trees for every one sold!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mama Boot Camp

In the summers my daughter goes to my parents' house for a few weeks, for a time we all affectionately call "Grandma's boot camp." The intention is to correct her of all the bad habits that she's learned at home, like poor table manners, but in the end it's only indulgent in another way. They eat dessert on the regular, they buy her lots of new clothes and just generally lavish attention on her. Boot camp indeed.

Boot camp. Goofy plastic hat.
There are probably some bad habits to break by living with me, however -- especially living in Nicaragua. My bedroom is the only room on the second level, so while i'm working or doing whatever else i'm doing, the rebel angel is downstairs on one or two electronic devices (yes, at the same time!) and slipping off to the neighbor's pulperia for a packet of sweets.

It's hard to stay on top of her at all times, and sometimes i just don't want to. But this week i've been on something of a rampage. Maybe it's that i'm broken out in a rash -- probably from the mercury released from my mouth -- and not feeling great. But whatever it is, this week i decided that there's been too much TV and electronics and sweets around here, and i've put the hammer down. One hour of screen time a day and no sweets. To the rebelangel, it's like there's been a death in the family.

She complained, but not long after, out came the notebook into which she doodled some floor plans for a new room. She was in and out of the pool, practicing her flips. She asked me to cut her up some fruit. So basically, mama boot camp was not well-received at first, but it's still being tolerated. Now i just have to get rid of this damn rash...

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Speaking of boot camp -- check out this simple game, Thalatha, great for the beach or wherever! An Iraq war veteran learned it from Iraqi children, and is now raising funds to develop an app version.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Metal-Free Mouth

Plenty of people come to a developing country like Nicaragua and end up getting better health care than they do back home. People like me -- who works for herself and can't always afford to pay out of pocket for care, or pay high premiums that don't even cover all routine health exams. It's no secret that our health care system in the United States needs some fixing, and i'm sure there are problems here too... but the plain fact is that i can afford to walk into a fancy dental office here and pay up front without having to sacrifice or eat beans and rice the rest of the week. For that, i am glad and am taking full advantage of it.
Smiling with this metal-free mouth.

Some people i know get liposuction or chemical peels or other elective procedures while they're here  -- me, i get my mouth worked on. Last month it was a cracked filling; this month it's electing to get all of the metal fillings removed from my mouth. It's far from cosmetic.

While researchers can prove one thing or another, depending on who's backing them, the fact is that plenty of studies have addressed the potential for risk from fillings that contain mercury. The effects can be neurological or manifest in other organs -- plus, metal in the mouth is just not cute, is it?

In any case, when people get mercury removed from their mouths, it's often followed by a heavy metal cleanse protocol. While i don't have the easy access to organic herbs or freshwater algae products that can help, i'm doing my best.

Based on what i've learned on the Web, some of the products that can bind and flush mercury include cilantro, chlorella, garlic and lots of water, as well as Vitamin C. When the local herbal pharmacy is not available, as is the case here in Nicaragua, i substitute cilantro for culantro, chlorella for the spirulina powder i was able to get in Managua, and Vitamin C in pill form with copious amounts of citrus from my back yard. That's what i can do, so i'm doing it, and saying Adios to the threat of excess mercury...

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While organic products are not as widely available in Nicaragua as they are back home, there are still other ways to care for the planet. Check out the Indiegogo campaign for Leaffing, which calculates the CO2 emissions of your home delivery and then gives you the possibility to neutralize/compensate them by giving the calculated amount. Cool!

And while the stray dogs make off with the neighbors' plastic diapers and deposit them round the corner of our house, they don't come from here! I've always been a cloth diaper advocate, and Itti is even making cloth diapers super cool -- though in Australia, they call them "nappies..." =)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Renting in Granada

For the past seven months or so we've lived in a bamboo house on the corner of two fairly busy streets in Granada. Street noise is always an issue when you live in Latin America, with glassless windows that don't block out sounds and no one worried about staying quiet for their neighbors. Culturally speaking, noise pollution isn't really the big deal it is back in the States.
Bamboo house. It's not hard to love this place.

The house is on the route between the big public school down the road and the barrios between here and the lake, so the noise includes kids shouting and going back and forth to school several times a day. It also includes horse-drawn carriages clopping on the streets, people with big stereos giving their neighbors a 30-second show, workers driving big trucks to and fro, and all other manner of loud noise pollution. It's a part of life here that only gets louder when you're on the second floor of a corner house, as i am now.

This house has a lovely garden surrounding the pool, with mango and almond and pomegranate trees, baby bananas and hibiscus filling in the gaps, and a wall of sky vine, with its conical purple flowers, covering the entire opening between the living room and the pool area. It's a pleasant oasis that has become like home -- even in spite of its constant dust, its kitchen counters that are rough and never quite clean, and its loud water pump that buzzes and snorts anytime you want to have real water pressure. O, and the neighbor kids who toss rocks up to the mango tree, trying to wrest sweet mangoes free for an afternoon snack. Sometimes the rocks fall into the garden -- too close to our heads.

In spite of the few down sides, this has been home and we like it -- but like many rental homes, it's not ours forever, and in a couple weeks we'll move elsewhere. There are many homes for rent in Granada, many with high colonial ceilings adorned with long cane poles, big funky doors and iron gates, with a pool hidden somewhere in the foliage. Some are affordable by U.S. standards; others will rival the price you'd pay for nearly any vacation home anywhere.

Since we need to move, we've been able to see a lot of them. I realize now that we've been getting a killer deal for our place -- so i've had to suck it up and be willing to pay quite a bit more for the new place. Not U.S.-price more, but enough to stretch the budget that thus far has always included the ability to squirrel away funds, slowly, slowly.

How much do rentals cost in Granada?

To give you an idea, thus far we've been paying $400 plus all the bills; in the new house we'll pay $800 with only electricity to pay -- no pool fees, maid, internet or water... so in the end it's not really that much more. If you're into saving serious cash, skip the pool, move out of the centro, and expect to pay $300 or less for your place.

A lot of people come to Nicaragua and want to pay dirt-cheap prices for everything -- and it's true that you can save money... but it's just not quite as much as you might have hoped. It's still cheaper than Costa Rica by a long shot, and the people are friendly and fun and the cultural experience will hit you right and left, every day. Living in a city instead of traveling through it is so much richer, and i wouldn't trade it, ever.

As for the move, we are looking forward to seeing more of this city... a new street, perhaps less street noise and fewer roosters (but who knows) and new neighbors to get to know. The rebelangel will delight in finding new pulperias -- the small family-run stores -- and learning what goodies they have to offer. While i'd love to stay in our garden oasis, we'll have a pool at the new place and that's a very good thing during these hottest months of the year. We are staying positive and looking forward to a new adventure!

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We're always trying to look on the bright side -- which isn't too hard in this bright, sunny place! If you're in need of a little help in that department, check out Carmen's Positivity for Better Living course. Click the link and get the special discount price of just $10!

And the next time you're moving and need some help sprucing the place up, check out Room Design in a Box. For a low price you'll get a professionally-designed room with blueprints, shopping lists and more. Awesome!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Down Time

We've been in super chill, back-to-healthy-eating mode around here this week, and it feels good. Having guests here was wonderful -- getting to tour around the country, visiting as many bodies of water as we could -- but when all that is over, i found my belly to be rounder than i remembered, and my exhaustion level at max.
Just me and this kid...

So this week, it's been a lot of lying around, watching movies, playing games, doing each others' hair and cuddling in the same bed (yes, this from the tween who was a total bear all last week, barely able to stand me and me her!) and eating lots of veggies. There hasn't been a beer in or out of my fridge for days and that's just great for me.

It's like anything -- you have your times of extreme fun and hyper-activity, and then that necessitates a time of laying low and getting back to center.

Somewhere along the way, this mad city with its incessant traffic, loud shouting neighbors and roosters crowing become the home we long to come back to; to rest, recuperate and plot the next step...

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When you're in need of ways to keep the kids entertained while home in the house, why not support the fundraising campaign for Find My Monsters, two card games in one that help kids improve their memory, concentration, and arithmetic. Sweet!

PLUS: Need some kid-friendly restaurant recommendations? Check out the Eat Kid Friendly app and take part in their giveaway -- you just try out the app and get entered for a year of Amazon Prime! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It's Getting Hot in Here

Ojo de Agua, a mineral springs on Isla Ometepe
There's a reason that so much of our life here revolves around being in water.

It's hot. Damn hot.

It wasn't always this way -- December and January were really pleasant -- but like everyone told me was going to happen, April came in like a scorching lion. Walk in the sun for even a minute and you too will be headed for the nearest body of water as soon as possible.

It's gotten so bad that it's nearly impossible to think in the middle of the afternoon -- so you can imagine what that's done to my work productivity. Combine that with the fact that the city of Granada has been shutting off our water
Playing in a "pool couch," next to the real pool.
periodically, and the situation gets quite difficult indeed. Luckily, this house came equipped with a water tank and pump for those times when there's no city water -- something absolutely essential to living a decent expat life in Nicaragua, in my humble opinion. That is, unless the authorities decide to shut off both the water and the electricity on the same day.

The pool's essential too. We are moving to a new house soon (that's all a loooong story i haven't been able to tell just yet) and it's been challenging finding another one with a pool that's in our price range. Even though everything's cheaper here, you can still spend a mint on a nice house with all the amenities -- especially if you don't know who to ask.

For now i am spending most of my days working at my desk while wearing a bikini. It's really not too bad...

Kids on a Granada rooftop, still wearing suits.
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Of course, all that sun means the potential for sun and skin damage -- so we have to take extra care with creams and lotions and sweet-smelling coconut oil. To protect your skin from damage, check out Skin FD's natural skin therapy -- some great stuff! 

And for those inevitable bumps and scrapes that happen when rowdy kids spend time in the pool, it helps that I'm CPR and first aid certified. If you're not, check out the Care 1st Training Group's trainings to get you up to speed.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

When They Go

We are on a roll here, most of the time
living our lives, trying to stay cool
but when someone comes our roll is rattled,
we have to find a new middle.

When they go,
we go down, down, across, sideways
searching for a way to straddle two worlds.

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Carlito on the ferry, with isla Ometepe behind.

Our friends left yesterday, after two and a half weeks. I was expecting some sadness from the rebelangel, but really it's been me who's been a little more off. In the midst of Holy Week and constant guests, i haven't had to face the fact that we live relatively isolated lives here in Nicaragua.

We miss out on a lot... family, friends, peaceful quiet and access to abundant services... in exchange for warm weather and as much beach and pool time as we want. We're getting good at Spanish and our skins are a bit thicker for all the dust and chaos we encounter daily. If we had a car to get out of the madness of the city a bit more often, things would be really, really good. (But one of these e-bike conversion kits from e-bike rig could also take the bite out of biking in the sun!)

Still, when our friends go, we ache to go with them. We wonder what it's going to be like when we're the ones looking through the back window of a taxi, waving goodbye. We straddle two worlds until our legs can stretch no further and we have to choose one or the other -- and the one we choose isn't always the one we thought we'd pick. So it goes with trying to raise a revolutionary. We all become something we didn't expect -- and we long for things we didn't anticipate.

Homesickness has a dozen shades, and this is just one of many.

Sunset off the coast of Lake Cocibolca, from the Ometepe ferry.

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Kids are always surprising us; some more than others. Check out this new book "Not What I Expected" about parents coping with kids with special needs. 


Homesickness once again has me plunging toward my future back home -- with its hopes of home ownership. If you live in Michigan, check out Twelve Oaks Roofing for your roofing needs!