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4 posts from November 2013

November 28, 2013

The pie is cooling

on the wire rack on the counter, while the turkey in the fridge is well into its brining cycle.  I have a schedule for cooking tomorrow so that the green bean casserole, cranberry compote, turkey, and stuffing are all the appropriate temperature when served at dinner tomorrow afternoon and I will theoretically somehow fit in a 3 mile walk.  All in all, it's shaping up to be a relatively normal Thanksgiving dinner. That in and of itself is a treat.

The past few years have been challenging.  We had the weird Thanksgiving in 2010 (courtesy of me), the following year was tricky, as we were already looking ahead to Peter's departure and knowing we'd be apart for Thanksgiving 2012.   Then Thanksgiving 2012 rolled around and I realized I was still carrying a lot of stress from the past few years.  And this year?

Finally, we are together as a family.  We are happily ensconced in our new home and have no desire to travel over the holidays (especially considering Friday is a workday for us).  We have the ability to procure our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and interestingly enough, it's not an unknown holiday here. The kids' school held special celebrations in the lower grades, though the turkey was substituted with local fried chicken.  

The best part of being here is that  we don't have to stress about the craziness of Black Friday, work or no work.  We can simply have a day off today and won't have to fret about insane traffic on Friday (well, any more so than normal).  Lovely!

For all of that and so much more, we are grateful.  Finally, after a long three years we are in a happy place again, and it is just feels so good. Here's hoping wherever you are and however you celebrate, that the day will be just as you wish it to be.

Happy Thanksgiving! 








November 23, 2013

Sometimes you wake up

and realize you want to go to a volcano right now.  It's the weekend, you have nothing planned, there is one 20 minutes down the road, and you want to go see what it's all about.  The beauty of living in Managua is that we can do just that on a moment's notice.

Our trip to Somoto Canyon last week reminded us that we need to get out and do things while we can. Sometimes we get caught up in work and life and forget that our time here is limited.  Last night we discussed a brief visit to the volcano today and it was agreed we would all head out in the morning.

Or afternoon, as the case may be when it takes over an hour just to wake up the teenager.  However, given it was a lazy day, we didn't have to stress about meeting anyone at a certain time or worry about being home for anything this evening.  We sussed out restaurants near the volcano and figured we would have a nice local lunch before our hike, however brief or long.


The one issue we have here is finding actual directions to places.  Addresses as we know them really don't exist.  Most addresses are in relation to a monument or landmark (said landmark does not need to be in existence now, which can be tricky for newcomers).  So, we had a bit of a hard time finding our lunch destination.  It was supposed to be kilometer 13.5 on the highway, however, it didn't state which side.  Even more confusingly, the actual map on Trip Advisor pointed to a completely different area.  We drove around for a while, eventually found another restaurant that happened to overlook Laguna de Masaya, and made us even more eager to make our way to the top of the crater.



After lunch, we found the entrance to Masaya fairly easily (it's right on Carretera Masaya, how's that for directions!) and proceeded to go in. Unfortunately, we were stopped at the beginning, as nowhere did we read that the entrance cost was 100 Cordobas per person (everything we found simply said 100 Cordobas, and we assumed per car...nope).  Luckily, our friend ATM saved everything and we were back at the entrance 10 minutes later.  We paid just over 20 USD, and made our way inside.

We could have stopped at the grand and rambling visitors center (one of the nicest we've seen here), but opted to go straight to the top.  We knew we were not in danger of visiting only once, and given this was more of a visit to scope out what we could do, we kept driving.  The first leg was very lush and green, but that quickly gave way to wide open fields.  Wide open lava fields, which excited all of us to no end since that quickly took us back to our time in Iceland.


 After a 4 kilometer ride, we reached the parking area.  We stopped, noted the cowboy up on the hill, and headed over to the crater.  It was a bit, er, smoky, so the view we had changed frequently as the wind shifted. IMG_6018

I think, though, despite our late start, it was a perfect day to see a bit of what the area had to offer.


Like Iceland, Nicaragua can be very "at your own risk." This does not bother us, as the views are unobstructed by fences and such.  A little common sense, of course, in such areas, goes a long way.



 Lava rocks were most definitely made for climbing, at least according to the little guy....


The cross in the above photo is from a baptism the volcano received in the 16th century.  Due to its frequent eruptions, the volcano was feared by Spanish settlers and indigenous peoples alike. The baptism was held in the hopes that the devil could be removed from the volcano. Just for the record, the exorcism didn't 'take'...

IMG_6032 This view randomly reminded us of Iceland. Perhaps just due to the vast open plain and knowing that the growth was just barely concealing fields and fields of black lava.


A certain someone admitted once at the top of the volcano, that she was very glad to have made the trip.


It's not a day til you are completely and happily covered in the dust from 300 year old lava rocks.


No worries, none of us slipped off the ledge.  However, we are sufficiently intrigued and we will likely return many times.  We are hoping to make a visit over Thanksgiving break in order to take the tour of the bat caves,  will return another time to hike Sendero Los Coyotes (a roundtrip hike from the visitor center to the Lagoon), and last, but not least, we will go back up to the crater and hire a guide to take us up further on horses.  Many of the trails require guides, and given our good experiences with them thus far in Nicaragua, I'm happy to hire someone who truly knows the lay of the land.  Now, what to do tomorrow....



November 18, 2013

I realized yesterday

that never in my wildest dreams as a child, could I have projected to what my life has become.  I was a bit shy and retiring,  a likely perfect definition of a wallflower.  And not that much has changed for me personality-wise, but lifestyle, oh, yes.  I dreamed of travel as a child.  I dreamed of living in exotic locales, where it was winter all year long, summer all year long, seasons reversed or the same, with the exception of everyone speaking a marvelously different language.  Moreoever, I wanted my children to have that same opportunity.

I wanted them growing up and knowing the world.  To hear the pride in my son's voice when he reminds people he was born in Iceland, yet he knows that his heritage is American.  To see my daughter's friends span the globe.  They may live in however many different countries, but they share the same angsts and joys in life, no matter where their roots are for the moment.  Perhaps the best was watching Kelsey jump off a rock into the water in the middle of canyon in northern Nicaragua.  No fear, just following her friends with sheer excitement about the opportunities life gives us. 

There's my wee nugget, jumping fearlessly....

To say yesterday was another "this is why we moved to Nicaragua" moment would be an understatement.  As part of my position at the Embassy, Co-Community Liaison Coordinator, I planned to a trip to Somoto Canyon, which is so far north, it practically touches Honduras.  I was a bit nervous, having never actually made the trek before, and no idea what to expect.  I can only say it was so much more than I could have imagined.

Somoto Canyon is actually a fairly new tourist attraction, having really only opened to the public in 2004.  Given that it appeared to be a 3 hour drive (in reality, have 4 good hours each way without stops), and that I was planning for what could be a large group, I wanted something fairly inclusive.  Guides and lunch would be the plan, given that none of us had been before, and every review of the tours indicated that even the most-prepared hikes benefited from someone who really 'knew' the canyon.

I Googled and researched like crazy, and hit upon review after review of the Soriano family guide group on Trip Advisor.  Lo and behold, not only were the reviews stellar, but they had a website!  Pictures, tour descriptions, and confirmation that one could have inclusive tours that included guides, safety equipment, lunch and the like.  I sent off an email and a day later, I was sold.

I heard back from Brian, who runs the set-up of the tours and received more information than I knew what to do with.  Actually, thanks to him,  I now have a lovely 4 page .PDF with all of the info one needs for a trip to the area, to include directions, local hotel listings, and a food menu.  I was still a bit worried, as $25/person seemed like quite a bit (factoring in the drive there and such), until he mentioned the words "group discount."

Within days, we had a group set, and being the most thoughtful organizer that he is, Brian allowed us to run two tours concurrently.  For those who had younger children or simply didn't want the standard tour, he offered that they could do the shorter tour.  It's not quite the same hike, and you utilize inner tubes to float up to a pool of the canyon where the younger set can do small, fun jumps without the fear of scrambling up wet rock and then staring down a meter...or 20?

After a frantic week of planning (I had just finished up another major event at the Embassy on Friday), Saturday morning arrived suddenly.  We* packed up as much gear as we thought we needed based on my communications with Brian.  I still was not entirely sure how wet we would get (very!), or whether we needed good shoes for the walk and float (Tevas/Keens are best).  One minutes I worried that I was wearing shorts for the hike, however once it started, I was grateful I had left the longer pants at home.

We were able to secure a shuttle at the last minute, and for our group, that was likely best. For those who have fewer numbers in their tour, I would recommend driving up the night before and staying in Somoto (or at the Hacienda). Then you need only wake up and walk/drive to the hacienda near the entrance to the canyon. No worries about getting up at the crack of dawn, or who has to drive four hours in a row.

We met up with Brian, who runs the actual planning, and Henry, whose family runs the guide company, just outside the family's hacienda.  Once we were all set for the ride to the canyon (swimsuits on, check, shorts and t-shirts that can get wet, good hiking/water shoes, sunscreen applied & full water bottles), we re-boarded the bus and drove a kilometer up to the entrance.

Sadly, I've misplaced my Garmin, so I'm only guessing, but the hike from where we stopped along the Pan-American Highway must have been close to 2 kilometers (the total trip maybe 4-6?).  The path started off rocky, turned into fields and eventually ended in a long winding trip down to the water that was extremely muddy and fast at times.  One minute we were stopped to view the canyon below us, with Honduras mere kilometers away, the next minute we were back on the path, sometimes skipping down slightly slick rocks, other times carefully putting one foot in front of the other.  We hugged the side of the rock with one arm, and without an iota of embarrassment, held the carefully proffered hand of the guide in the other.

Not just one guide, but three, in addition to Brian.  It is a family business run by Henry Soriano, and he and his cousins were our guides.  I would not go through the canyon again without them.  They knew instinctively when we needed help, when we didn't, and were there in a heartbeat if we made the mistake of stepping down into the water and putting all of our weight on the rock that was just a wee bit too slippery.

Just before we descended to the water...
After our first leg of floating down the river...

Before we knew it, we had managed to get down to the beginning of the float down the canyon.  We all had been given life vests, and tightened them before we made the final few steps down to the water.  There was a natural water slide down one rock and before we knew it, we were sliding down into the shockingly cool (but welcomingly so after the hike) water.  The next two (I'm guessing) two hours were spent floating, climbing out of the water, posing for pictures as we jumped, flipped, swam, floated some more and made our way down the canyon.

 A view up the canyon:  spots of color on the rocks (mid-photo) are clothes drying in the sun, after being washed by local women in the river

On one hand, I wish I could describe every moment in detail. On the other hand, it was such an overwhelming experience that I would do a disservice to tell you every single thing, as you may think it's an experience not for you or you need only live vicariously through my words.  To watch my 5 year old proudly lead the floating pack down the river, to see my 11 year old scramble up rocks and insist on jumping off with no pause or hesitation...or watching my husband do higher than normal jumps as he knew the kids would always remember his fearlessness more than their own.  And to see our entire group have the same awesome experience was exhilarating.

I could go on and on.  The follow-up hike, having my best only Spanish conversation yet with one of the guides who didn't speak English.  The meal (fresh veggies, handmade corn tortillas...), the welcoming feeling at the hacienda as though we were family. Did I mention the video and photo montage Brian put together for us?  He even caught one of Kelsey's jumps on video! By the time we left, and I was hugging Henry good-bye, I could not believe the small price we had paid for a day that we will likely remember for the rest of our lives.  Well, that is until we return, as we have decided that we might need to visit at least every 6 months.  

I can only say that Nicaragua has really started to tug at my heartstrings.  And while I can't wait to return to Somoto Canyon,  I have a feeling Nica has so much more in store for us. Do we really only have two and a half years left? 


*If you are wondering, Cait was sick and missed the outing, but no worries, she will go next time!  

For more information about the tours, please contact Brian T. or Henry Soriano at Somoto Canyon Tours.  They will assist you with the planning, and have advice on everything from hotels to haciendas (you can also stay with local families) and which tour is best.  I just can't recommend them enough.

November 10, 2013

The 238th Birthday Ball

for the Marines at post was held last night.  If you are my friend on Facebook or in a group with me, you have likely read about my stressing over dresses for said event.

For a variety of reasons, it has been years since I have really had to dress up for an event.  Not that I don't like to get gussied up, but I simply haven't had to do so.  Comfort is also an issue for me, as high heels generally don't get along with my feet and given that it's hard to find clothes to match my body type, I could spend hours trying to find something that fits just right.

As much as I was excited for the ball, by early September, I was completely over trying to find a gown. I could not try on any dresses prior to leaving the States, as either I had not had the abdominal surgery (which changed my clothing size) or I was still in pain and swollen from it.  I figured I would order a dress once we arrived at post and that would be that.

July flew into August, August became September and suddenly I was worried about how many dresses I would have to order from Nordstrom.com and in what sizes.  One size in one brand would be a different in another.   I found a few cute dresses and then finally threw in the towel and told Peter he'd have to go without me.  Well, that did it.

I was informed in no uncertain terms that I was going to the ball and it would be in the dress of my dreams.  I then responded that if he expected me to go to the ball, he'd have to find the dress.  As it happened, Peter was prepping for a week long conference in the VA area and he took me up on the challenge.  He took my measurements, approximate dress size, colors that would be acceptable and basic styles to Nordstrom with him one night in mid-September.  After looking around at dresses, and consulting with an adviser, he sent me two photos.  One dress was navy, one was black.  I looked at the black dress, realized he had picked a dress I'd been admiring online (unbeknownst to him), and told him it was okay to purchase.

Four nights later, he came home with a suitcase stuffed to the gills with bacon, cheese, coffee, bath goodies, and 'the' dress.  I waited until the kids were asleep that night, and then looked at it, trying to decide if I should try it on or wait.  What if it didn't fit?  What if the look was wrong?  What if....

I slipped out of my clothes, and carefully took the dress off the hanger.  I started to slip it on, went into Cait's room to look into her longer mirror and realized everything was off.  The back lacy area was extremely loose and everything from my chest to my waist was bunched together. I reached up, tugged a bit, and realize the interior slip had gotten stuck and it threw everything off.  I pulled it down, and...perfection.

The dress fit like a glove even without my Higher Power Spanx that I would eventually purchase in order to avoid any last minute worries about panty lines and such.  I couldn't believe it, yet at the same time, I realized that perhaps 16 years or so of marriage has a few advantages...you learn a person's style, you know their sizes, and you know what will fly and what won't.  With this one, he hit a home run.

Now, mind you, this did not mean that I did not have to stress about shoes, jewelry, make-up and the like.  I kept forgetting how quickly time would fly, and before I knew it, the ball was within two weeks.  I rapidly ordered the Spanx a friend recommended, picked out a pair of shoes from Zappos that looked comfy, but cute, made mani/pedi appointments for myself and Caitlin, and the day of the ball, managed to schedule make-up and hair at quite the last minute.

I had found the Beauty Lounge last summer on a friend's recommendation. The owner had mentioned how she personally creates her own natural make-up line and I kept thinking back to that as the ball neared. I realized I would rather someone else give it a go, lest I end up looking pale and wan in each photo.

While her nail technicians took care of my hands and feet in the morning, the makeup stylist took care of my hair and makeup in the afternoon.  An hour after my arrival, and my hair was carefully pulled back and pinned with two gorgeous flower pins.  My skin was no longer of its normal pallor, but now glowing and I believe it's safe to say my eyes popped out a bit.  With only two hours remaining until ball time, I headed home to dress.

Since I was wearing a cute pair of dressy sandals, I donned my dress, the shoes, a favorite pair of earrings that I inherited from my mom, and I was ready.  We left, in a rainstorm of course, and headed to the Intercontinental, where the ball was held.



I could not have picked a more perfect dress myself....

The night was amazing.  Due to the nature of Peter's job, we were at the head table and it was just a lovely experience. Given all the Marines do for  us, it was an honor to attend the ball, enjoy dinner with them, and then spend hours dancing, mingling, taking photos, and just relaxing. And now that I've gotten through the first ball of our Managua tour without too much stress, I think it's safe to say I already have ideas for next year's dress.  Perhaps I'll be up to picking it out myself, but if not, comforting to know I have a back-up stylist just in case....



Cait's first ball, and she managed to pick out her own dress. One minor alteration (easy and inexpensive here) and it was perfect!

and my favorite photo....