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5 posts from July 2013

July 28, 2013

Our schedules are picking up

and the days seem to be moving faster. Instead of waking up and wondering what will we do each day, I'm beginning to wake up and wonder what we won't do.

It ended up being a packed day that began with nothing more than a hair cut for Cait on the schedule. We managed to finagle lunch out and shopping with friends (just school uniforms, but another item checked off our to-do list).  After a brief stop at home, I headed out for an unexpected dinner with new friends.

Dinner was just lovely.   We dined at one of my new favorite restaurants/organic markets in Managua, Ola Verde.  The owner has created a fabulous indoor/outdoor cafe that serves only the best organic treats in the area and at quite reasonable prices.  

Photo 2
Starters included the tray of treats shown above (tofu, pita, tzatziki, shaved carrot slices with dill, mushrooms with rosemary and a slice of eggplant with a tomato salsa atop).  Three of us easily split, but it could also double as a dinner for one.  

I wondered if the gazpacho and my vegetables Indian style (curried and served with raita) might be too much, but it was perfect.  The amounts are not the gargantuan American style plates, but just enough. Filling, but not overwhelming and my glass of house sangria was the perfect accompaniment.

We ran out of time for dessert or coffee, but I still managed a few minutes to peruse the market.  I found fresh bread, pitas, tortillas, and a slice of dragonfruit cheesecake to split with Peter later tonight.  The owner had offered when we first met two weeks ago that she might have a connection for organic butter.  Tonight she was able to place an order, and on Tuesday, I will have at least 4 pounds of real butter for our baking needs.  (Butter here is not 100% butter, but a combination of margarine and butter, and we are not margarine folks...).

Even better?  I had a chance to chat with the owner about possible activities for those of us interested in learning more about cooking (local treats, pasta...you name it) or the farm-to-table movement in Nicaragua.  Normally, that really piques my interest.  However, it has also become work-related for me.  As of yesterday, I accepted a part-time position and let's just say that I will be quadrupling my efforts to ramp up my knowledge of activities and explorations within Nicaragua.  

It seems like we just arrived and I'm already thinking that we *only* have three years here...here's hoping we make the most of it.


July 25, 2013


I'll admit it:  despite a fairly decent (actually amazingly easy) arrival, we managed to be a little stir crazy by the end of last week.  Between *real* internet taking a while to be installed (in hindsight, not that long, but it felt that way at the time), a slight bug issue (it's fixed future visitors, no worries!), and a feeling of being stuck in our gorgeous, but slightly secluded home, it all took a toll.  By the weekend, I wanted out and far away out.

A new friend heard our prayers as she was taking us around the city on Thursday and offered us a trip to see Masaya (the volcano) from afar,  the Masayan artisan market,  and the city of Granada on Saturday.  Not only would we get out of the city, but would get a chance to sample more comida tipica, and an idea of what else needed exploration within an hour's reach.

While we did not actually drive within reach of the volcano (it was pouring and we are saving for a bit later), we now know exactly how easy it is to get there.  Once we get to the highway, it's basically a straight shot, save for a right turn at the entrance of the park.  Once we passed the volcano, we headed to the handicrafts market in Masaya.  


These might be too pretty to eat.

The colors....

Doll hammock, anyone? I might get one just because....

Now some reports online will say it's too expensive, others will say it's too touristy.  Are you kidding me?  I was out of my house, in the middle of a new country and exploring.  Overpriced and touristy or not (I wonder if the naysayers have shopped in the U.S. recently), we had a great time.  From the hammocks (for everyone, including doll-sized hammocks), to the batidos (fruit smoothie), we enjoyed soaking in the culture, the amazing colors and the artisanry on display.  The wood work alone had us in awe. Then the pottery, paintings, and jewelry...given we have three years here and many other markets to explore, we only invested in a few items, to include a gorgeous wooden coaster set and a shell jewelry box designed as a puzzle, however we left happy.  


A hammock in process....

I'm sorry, we thought we ordered the grande batidos. Hello!

Upon departing the market, we headed to the town of Granada.  Located a mere 45 minutes (approximately 45 kilometers) from Managua, Granada is an easy drive along the Carretera a Masaya. We drove into the town expecting Managua and were surprised by the bright colors and colonial architecture.  The town also acts as part of the shoreline for Lake Nicaragua.  A drive past the lakefront was mandatory and included monkey, cow, and donkey sightings.  Yes, the LG was thrilled, as were the girls.  Of course, once he saw the naked children frollicking in the lake, he wanted to follow suit.  Given how close the animals were grazing and what I've read, swimming might not be on the agenda any time soon.  We headed that off with a promise of comida tipica for lunch and continued investigating the shoreline and surrounding area.


Granada's now defunct train station. It's been closed for years (though reportedly has a restaurant inside), but still maintains its original beauty.

Cows grazing by the shore of Lake Nicaragua. 

Lunch was downtown in a cozy cafe with an indoor garden.  We snagged a table outside and were able to enjoy lunch despite the fact that a raging storm was only inches away from our table. Our grilled steak, chicken, cheese, frijoles molido, and tajadas (fried plantains) were amazing, we managed to find room for a post lunch treat of gelatos and crepes (both appear to be quite popular here, to the kids' delight).


Our view at lunch...

We wandered about the city a bit more, but did not opt for any particular tours.  Given that we have three years, it seems like we should stretch out our trips a bit more.   We don't want to rush the exploration and we now have the perfect place to spend a random free Saturday or maybe a U.S. holiday.  Especially given that we did not have a chance to visit the Choco Museo where one can even make his or her own chocolate...um, yum?!

Did I mention how excited we are to have three years to explore here? Our lifestyle can sometimes be overwhelming, but the rest of the time it's utterly amazing. More amazingness soon, I promise....


July 21, 2013

11 days in....

we are still very much here, experiencing the ups and downs of life in Managua and adjusting to a bit more of a learning curve than we expected.  It's always that way, though, isn't it?

It's interesting to mesh one's ideas of a place with the reality.  My mind was resting on the eco-friendly beach shores of the Pacific Ocean, not necessarily within the city itself.  I figured it was better just to see it, than to try to imagine what life would be like here.  Even with the internet, it's nearly impossible to grasp the full picture until you arrive. And the verdict?

I have no idea.  There are many aspects thus far that we love: the house, the yard, and, yes, to an extent, the isolated area in which we live.  We are not next door to much, but this gives us a bit more outdoor open space and definitely a lot of peace and quiet.  While we were lucky that our neighborhood in Annandale was well-established, we forgot just how quiet an area can be, minus the chirping of the birds and the occasional daytime fireworks (yes, this is a bit confusing to me).


Nick enjoying the new yard. The word spacious does not do justice to describe the yard's size.

Conversely, I am trying to adjust to the new shopping scene, if you will.  By shopping, I do not mean mall hanging about, which we do not intend to do often.  We really don't *need* much from the mall and there is a new Lego store being built.  So, uh, won't be spending much time there!


No, the shopping scene would be the food.  I must say, my first grocery experience was a bit startling.  One day I am at my organic market in the Virginia suburbs thinking about how in the next few days I will be engaged in a whole new food market type of experience.  I had no idea what to expect, though I suppose I could have done a bit more research.  I knew there was at least one independent market & restaurant that catered to the more natural scene.  However, I was not prepared for the grocery store experience at all.

At first I was surprised by the overall modern feel of the market.  Managua, by all appearances, is a very diverse city.  One might pass a small home constructed from corrugated metal sheeting with chickens running loose in the front yard (I would love a  chicken in my backyard, if I could be assured the dog would allow it.), then pass a restaurant that serves comida tipica smack next door to it, with a fruit stand next to that.  Right next to that might be a rather fancy condominium complex, with cafes that would have you thinking you are in a downtown American city.  All within a few meters of one another. 

So I was a bit surprised by the lights, the overflowing shelves, and the grandiose feeling of the store.  I think, in my mind, I expected more of a farmers paradise.  Instead I found a grocery store that took me back to our years in Caracas.  The immediate scent of laundry detergent was overwhelming, the day-glo colors of the cleaning products (we are vinegar & baking soda types), and the aisles of processed foods and *health* products overwhelmed me.  I eventually made my way through, needing really only fresh fruits, vegetables, and a bit of  meat.  While by all appearances, it was very clean, I still struggle with figuring out how everything is processed.  

Lest anyone decide this is a food snobbery thing, I assure you, it's not.  Remember what happened a few years ago?  There's a good reason I avoid meats with antibiotics and hormones and am careful about the dairy I choose.  Obviously, fruits and vegetables are a wee bit eaiser, but I am still learning all of the new local foods, so I'm not extraordinarily well-versed.  I worry if I'm just missing the explanation (yes, I've Googled extensively) or if nothing is labeled for a reason.  


Comida tipica at a despedida.  I'll admit it, I had seconds...it was so good.

So, my first trip to the store was a bit jarring.  Given that I've become accustomed to much more from scratch cooking, perhaps my biggest culture shock was just how much processed food exists here. There are organic producers, but one must suss those out a little bit more.   In addition to the local market and restaurant, Ola Verde, there are also independent producers of organic products.  Of course, there are also the roadside stands that have a plethora of fresh fruit that I assume to be organic.  I still wash it carefully, but somehow having the farmer/fruit picker sell it directly to me allows me to trust the origins a wee bit more, as I do with the farmers markets in the U.S.


If anyone is curious, my stressing about the processing of the food has not stopped me from trying it.  Origins aside, I have yet to find something that I have not liked.  Granted, we have stuck to the more traditional fare.  I have no interest in fast food (we will avoid the McDonald's for three years...) and from ground refried beans to the grilled meats we've tasted, we've not found one thing to not like.  Even the local Italian restaurant serves wood-fired pizzas that are fresh and full of flavor.  And with the exception of my half and half ( I do miss that...) there is not much we cannot get here, from sushi to organic arugula (which will soon hopefully be growing in my backyard).


The first meal cooked by our empleada. I will just say, especially for potential visitors, she is an amazing cook...

Here's to three years of a food exploration, to include sussing out all of the local organic farmers and really having a complete list of the delights that can be found here.  Oh, and remembering to copy down all of the recipes of the amazing comida tipica that our empleada has been dishing out for us...




July 11, 2013

Well, we are here....

But no regular Internet just yet, so this will be short and sweet. We have a great house (somewhere in Managua) that is beautiful, if not a bit confusing.

The other day Nick told me he wanted to play with Lego bricks in the living room. I went to what I thought was the right spot and he said, "No, not that living room...sigh...let me show you which one!" So, we are not lacking in space and three days in, I am still forgetting which room is a bathroom and which is a storage closet (plenty of both).  And did I mention the jetted tub in our bathroom? Um, yes, between the backyard, a huge expanse of gardening space and the spa tub, I'm so in my happy place.

The trip was basically uneventful, but I did have a minor worry on the ride home from the airport that I was suddenly overwhelmed and exhausted and what if I completely failed at this whole FS thing? It disappeared about 5 seconds later, when I decided I would just have to take it one day at a time (or maybe one minute?).

One of the kids also had a minor freak out upon arrival at the house. I won't say which one, because that won't help. We had a few tears, a few short talks, and nothing since then.  Sometimes they get bored, but that's okay since boredom generally sparks creativity.

The cat has had zero issues, and is settling in happily. He is rapidly testing every piece of furniture, and will be pleasantly (I hope) surprised when the dog arrives Monday night. Though her presence might interrupt his heavy schedule of napping and more napping....

And now I must go and figure out how to turn off the sprinklers...in the middle of a hurricane-like rain storm. Hasta luego!


Well, we are here....
Every table is a Lego table in our house and this one came with padding. Woot!



Well, we are here....
Our *fur-in* service gato trying to be way stoic about the whole moving overseas thing.



Well, we are here....
No one will dare sit here as no one wants to be responsible for disturbing the cat....


July 06, 2013

The butterflies in my

stomach have begun.  Flitting around, just as I try to nod off to sleep at night or sit down for 5 minutes to compose  a list of everything we haven't accomplished yet.  

Part of me feared this day would never come and now that it's nearly here, I am trying to put the brakes on time.  Three weeks ago I was nervous as I knew we couldn't order anything online and have it included in our shipments.  Now we can't order anything online and have it by the time our flight takes off on Tuesday.  In fact, my one poor sandal will have to make a very lonely trip down by USPS to Managua by itself.  I completely forgot about the repair, took in the shoe, and was told it wouldn't be ready until next Saturday.  Oops.  

I keep thinking of how much we still have to do at the house.  (Did the movers pack out any bathroom cabinets?!) and, yet, each day we add in more.  A haircut here, a new laptop there, what about school shoes on Monday?  Meetings are still being scheduled, last-minute going away sleepovers are not out of the question, and I have yet to even pack a bag.  However, we do have all of our bags and will spread them out tomorrow in our living room in a mock pack-out sort of scenario. I can't wait to see Nick manage his two large rolling duffles and his Batman carry-on. 


New haircut, check. New laptop, checkity-check.


Oh, the move?  Egad, a nickel's worth of free advice:  don't ever move right after surgery.  There was no way for me to avoid it, but, oh, to have been able to bend over, twist and turn and not feel like I was spraining my entire body while organizing our whole house would have been lovely.   Peter did the bulk of the work, but still, all of the putting in different piles was still exhausting. 

While the packing part went fairly quickly (8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Monday, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Tuesday?), it was exhausting trying to keep up with the packers.  We would check on them and do almost hourly walk-throughs, but they still forgot two cabinets in the kitchen, packed a mattress we repeatedly told them to leave behind, and forgot our Rubbermaid shelves in the garage (a bonus for our renters!).  

In the end, it could have been worse.  The movers were fast, we figured out the errors, and the company corrected them!  The mattress was pulled and the two cabinets of dishes were packed out and made it into HHE.  The shelves had to stay, but those were the least of our worries.

Now, we just have to finish up those last bits of laundry, remember who needs copies of the house keys, the power of attorney for the new windows, data plan for the phones, suspension request for the phones once we arrive at post, all of the cat certificates, the shoes in the front hall closet, my last minute need to have (but, yes, would be fine without) items, and I still have to finish cleaning out the freezer before the cleaners show up on Monday.  Then we have other house bits to stress over, but thank goodness for the internet, right?

I really shouldn't feel completely woefully unprepared as at least I remembered to order and ship cat food, linens, my first Drugstore.com order in ages, and figured out prior to leaving that both girls would need laptops this year.  (Guess who does not need one for kindergarten and is a bit miffed about this turn of events?).  Given that we can get nearly everything we need in Managua or by mail, I should quit worrying, especially since we are trying to downsize.

Yes, I have come to the conclusion (again) that we just have too much stuff.  Part of the issue is that I inherited too much at too young of an age, part is having three kids, and part is not always wanting to part with the past.  I decided to change that this time around.  I can't count the number of bags of baby clothes I gave away or consigned.  

We gave away boxes of toys, furniture we no longer need, and had the girls really take hard looks at what they want vs. need.  And reminded them just how low our storage estimate was, in case they really couldn't part with things.  I'm hoping three years of slightly more spacious (and perhaps better organized) bedrooms will remind me that I like open, fairly uncluttered spaces and we need to keep the stuff level down in order to have that. Given that we shipped fewer than 6,000 lbs in HHE (boat freight) to post, we are not off to a bad start.


Photo 4
At least we have 3 years...


Photo 5
to unpack all of this and the contents of 7 other rooms.


And then I realize that even with the past 5 weeks just racing by, maybe a few butterflies aren't a bad thing.  After all, isn't this what we wanted, what I've been working for since Peter left for Iraq? Granted, I had to work even harder after the whole mess began in the fall of 2010 and I have to remind myself for every nervous flutter, there is a sudden jolt of happy.

I mean, my goodness, I'm not just nervous, I'm, well, excited.  I'm so happy and relieved to be back on track.  I won't blame the illness for derailing our plans, as it didn't.  It was my reaction to it.  On one hand, I did take my time and analyze my choices.  In the end, I think most of the decisions (most) were good, solid ones and I'm not unhappy with them as a whole.

I am unhappy that I lost myself for a while.  I let myself go.  I lost myself in doctor-speak and fear mongering about things that would likely not happen. I still remember the doctors who kept telling me to take time off from life, that *that* was the cure, the fix for all that ailed me.  

It wasn't.  I took the time, took too much time, and put myself in a space far worse than the original. Despite my best intentions, I listened to those who didn't understand my life. I thought I was making my own choices, but I still let fear guide me too much until I found doctors who understood our lives and realized the fix was in getting back overseas. Now I know better and won't make that mistake again.

Three days from now we will be arriving at our new home.  Bring it, butterflies, I can't wait.