Food Allergies, Living Life, Parenting, Travel

“Where’s the Paper?” Nicaragua Part 2: Ometepe Island

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

IMG_3694Remote. Rural. Lush. Ometepe Island, formed from two volcanoes, sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, one of the world’s largest natural lakes.  We debated all week what claim this lake should make, so I had to look it up.  According to Wikipedia, its the 19th largest freshwater lake in the world (and the largest in the Americas.)  Ometepe was our 2nd stop in Nicaragua.  The first was  San Juan del Sur;  read about that adventure in Part 1 of the “Where’s the Paper” series.

From the small port town of San Jorge, we boarded a ferry for Ometepe. You can also take a boat, but we were told, in broken English and emphatic mime that the boats were tiny and rocked a lot on what can be windy/rough waters.  So we took the ferry, along with dozens of other tourists (international and Nicaraguan.)

IMG_3752The Ferry itself is unimpressive.  Worn looking.  Old.  I did see life vests but didn’t bother assessing how many there were.  The timing of our trip was days after the horrific ferry boat sinking in South Korea.  For better or worse, we had been cut off from all news and didn’t learn of that tragedy until we returned home.  I never felt unsafe on our ferry — except for the allergic reaction that our food allergic son had shortly after we departed.  Luckily, the ride was just over an hour and provided stunning views of the volcanoes on Ometepe!

Most ferries to Ometepe arrive in Moyogalpa — the largest town on the island.  Getting transportation in Moyogalpa is easy when you arrive by ferry — taxis areIMG_3680 lined up and eager for business.  We had to wait for the truckload of bananas to move onto the ferry before we could leave, ironically, the only glimpse of that fruit we would have for the 3 1/2 days on the island!  Our rental property was an easy 10 minute drive away, and our driver luckily knew how to find it!

Nestled in a quiet town called Los Angeles, our farm is called Finca Macedonia.  A beautifully lush farm, filled with mango trees, lime trees, avocado trees and more.  A flock of roosters wandered around, beautiful birds abound and a few horses rounded out the wildlife we experienced.  I found the rental on VRBO, and it was amply large and modern, especially compared to other available lodging.  On Ometepe, you can stay in an upscale eco-lodge, or in a hostel.  There tourist infrastructure is very limited on the island, and this was the ONLY house we could find to rent.  It was important to us to have access to a kitchen to be able to manage our son’s food allergies, and so we were very pleased to find the farm house!

IMG_3684The farm keeper and his family live on the property, and saw to our needs during the stay.  My boys loved playing with his girls, and while Emerson’s English was limited, it far surpassed our Spanish, and he made sure that we found the path to the lake, and he arranged for fresh fish for us, which his wife prepared in a traditional grill with rice and beans and plantains!  We picked many mangoes and limes, and Emerson gave us each a large avocado, which unfortunately didn’t ripen before our trip concluded and we had to forfeit our fruit.

In general, our time on Ometepe was sleepy and hot.   Our fans in each bedroom did the trick, but as in San Juan del Sur, nights were loud with cicadas, birds, roosters and dogs.

The day after we arrived, we ventured onto a local bus, and ended up sitting next to a couple from New Zealand, an American and a Croatian.  All of them young, and adventurous — not knowing where they were staying the night, and taking each day as it came.  They reminded us of our younger selves, and also made it clear how different travel is when you have three children and an older parent with you!  These travelers helped us navigate to our destination, and we exited the bus to find the Charco Verde Eco Reserve.

IMG_1118We had a slick brochure from the tourist office that made the Eco Reserve a top destination on Ometepe Island.  But we were a tad disappointed.  The nature walk was nice — we saw monkeys and some beautiful plants and birds.  But we didn’t see anything inside the reserve that we hadn’t seen on our farm or in San Juan del Sur.  It being located adjacent to an upscale hotel and restaurant was a fortuitous coincidence for us, as we enjoyed delicious Nica snacks, drinks and their beach.  The boys rented a paddle boat, and enjoyed cooling off in the lake.  We were so wiped out by the heat and all the walking that we had the hotel call us a private car to go back to the farm.  Private transportation in Nicaragua is expensive, but we were too tired to walk the 1/2 mile back to the main road and wait for the bus.

Our sense of remote isolation was amplified on Sunday, as we understood that public buses are not running.  So we made the day a lazy one and enjoyed the farm and a nice hike/swim with Emerson and his daughter. We made our 3rd trip to the local store — literally inside someone’s home — to replenish our soda supply (which, ah hem, we needed to polish off the rum that was purchased on day 1.)  It turns out that the town only gets fresh veggies/fruit delivered on Monday or Tuesday — and we left on Monday morning.  We ate simply those few days, chicken, canned veggies, rice and beans…  cooking in the house was our plan, and proved harder than we would have expected.  It was HOT on Ometepe, and our home had no air conditioning, so cooking made us feel like we were in an oven.  Luckily, we had ample space outside to sit and try and catch a breeze.

IMG_1120As we packed up to leave Ometepe on Monday morning, the grown ups were more cheerful about leaving the island — for various reasons.  We wanted fresh fruit and veggies, I wanted to be closer to transportation and feel like we could access modern medicine should there be an issue, and we craved air conditioning.  I realized how soft I had become in how much the heat bothered me.  The kids never complained.  Even my mom was more comfortable on the farm than my husband and I (she had grown up spending summers on her grandfather’s farm in Canada.)

Our ferry ride back to San Jorge was quick and uncrowded.  The Easter crowds had dispersed, and things felt less hectic on the return.  Our prearranged transportation was waiting for us as we walked off the ferry!  I loved how easy it was to arrange transportation with Iskra Travel!  We lucked out and Mike, our first driver from the night we arrived, picked us up and took us on the 1 1/2 drive to Granada.

The Bottom Line

My husband and I are city people.  There, I said it.

Ometepe Island is great for hikers or adventurous travelers who need little modern comfort.  In hindsight, I don’t think we prepared enough for our visit, or knew what to expect.  If I were to go again, especially with kids in tow, I would either arrange to have a private car/driver meet us daily or else rent a car.  The island is large, and we would have had a better experience had we seen more, but once we were at the farm, the “schlep” to make transportation work was greater than our desire.  As a mom of three kids (11, 9 and 5) and one of them having serious food allergies, I was nervous about being so remote “just in case” something were to happen.  There are medical facilities in Moyogolpa, the main town where the ferry comes into, but I would have been at a total loss as to how to get there if we had needed it!

Where’s the Paper?”

That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it.  I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

Living Life, Parenting, Travel

“Where’s the Paper?” Nicaragua Part 1: San Juan del Sur

Playa de Madera SunsetSan Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Pacific coast beauty.  Lush tropical growth butting up against dry dessert-like landscape.  Hippy surfer beaches with clove-smoking tanned Americans, riding in the backs of pick-up trucks.  Mango trees. Banana trees.  Monkeys and roosters.  San Juan del Sur had a bit of everything for the first of three stops in our 8-day, whirlwind journey around southwest Nicaragua.  Me, my husband, our three kids (ages 11, 9 and 5) and my mom; first time to Nicaragua for all of us and it did not disappoint.

We decided to travel to Nicaragua for many reasons:

  1. Easy flights from the Washington DC area (we flew Delta via Atlanta into Managua.)
  2. Affordable airfare (we flew Tuesday, returning Wednesday for $400 per ticket.)
  3. Crime against tourists in Nicaragua is lower than in some neighboring Latin American countries.
  4. The tourist infrastructure is enough established that we could plan our accommodations and travel, but not overly developed and “touristy.”
  5. We wanted to show the kids a part of the world very unlike what they know.

Mango RosaWith the help of a close friend, we decided we would visit three places in Nicaragua: San Juan del Sur, Isla de Ometepe, and Granada.  We plotted our actual itinerary based on accommodation availability and timing of our flights.  For San Juan del Sur, I found Mango Rosa while reading travel reviews on www.tripadvisor.com  I don’t think we could have navigated this adventure without the great feedback and advice on Trip Advisor!  I’ll add my own review of our hotels there as well.

Getting to San Juan del Sur was more of a trek than we had anticipated.  Our fault — we only skimmed the details in the guide books, and relied greatly on friends accounting of our itinerary. Arriving in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, at nearly 8pm local time (2 hours behind EDT) meant the kids were already beyond tired.  Our prearranged transport through Iskra Travel was waiting for us outside of customs, and our driver, Mike, whisked us away from the dark airport — at which point we learned that Mango Rosa was nearly 3 hours away!  The kids quickly conked out (with husband to soon follow) while I tried my best to see beyond the headlights and take in this new country.

  • Cow crossing signs (just like our dear signs)
  • Pick-up trucks filled with everything — goods, people, animals, speeding down the dark 2-lane highway
  • Pedestrians walking in the road.  At night.
  • Cyclists, in the middle of the lane.

This kind of highway travel is not for the feint of heart.  Coming up behind a car without taillights on, at full speed, requires an adept and alert driver.  Mike did great, but I must admit feeling great relief when we arrived safely at Mango Rosa at 11pm.

We quickly settled into our private house, and soon found out that good sleep is hard to get for us city folk!  Howler monkeys, roosters (who don’t just cockle-doodle-doo at the crack of dawn) and dogs make for a night time cacophony many decibels louder than I personally appreciate.  The trees over our house were filled with monkeys.

Time change + sunrise at 5am + very loud roosters who sing out “WHERE’S THE PAPER?” endlessly (+ excited kids) meant we were up EARLY.  Mango Rosa offers a lovely menu of breakfast choices, and fresh fruit smoothies, which got our first day in Nicaragua off to a great start.  My mother arrived shortly after breakfast (her flight was delayed from the previous night, thanks to an earthquake warning in Managua, something that didn’t deter our Delta flight from arriving, but her Copa Airlines flight through Panama was stuck.) We generally vegged out by the small pool and lulled in our hammocks until late afternoon.

Pick Up TransportWe took a ride to one of the small Pacific beaches, Playa Madera,  in the open back of a pick-up truck, and spent many hours luxuriating in the warm waters and enjoying local beers while people watching.  Most of the beach goers were American or Canadian — with some Nicaraguans in the mix as well.  Two bar/restaurants (one with a hostel above) dotted the small beach, known for its killer surfing, and competing loud music blasted from both — sending us out into the sun to escape the noise.  We enjoyed watching fabulous surfers and obvious first timers, jumping our own waves and watching a great sunset before returning to Mango Rosa again in the open truck.  The kids thought it was fantastically dangerous, exciting and “lawless” to get to ride that way.

Another loud night led to a gloriously hot and windy morning where we had to hide the kids from the sun.  I forgot to pack the aloe and our SPF 50 didn’t do the trick (or we failed as parents and didn’t reapply often enough.)  That afternoon we charted La Pango Rosa (a fishing boat) to take us onto the Pacific for hopefully some dolphin spotting, fishing and swimming.  Right out of the beach we saw a whale breach and that was it for water mammals.  The waters were choppy and the ride was nerve wracking for a couple of the kids.  Once we anchored at another beach and had a cooling swim, the water was calmer and we then enjoyed some drag fishing.  My husband reeled in the first of two 8-10 pound fish.  We were bummed that it wasn’t something more tasty — but were assured that the local staff would take the fish home to use for soups.  The kids were thrilled to catch the fish!  I found myself contemplating  vegetarianism again.

San Juan del Sur SunsetGetting to enjoy another glorious sunset over the Pacific was a nice conclusion to our last night in San Juan del Sur.

Mango Rosa was so comfortable, and easy — with an American owner/manager and a fully fluent English speaking staff, I knew that this was a great entree for us into Nicaragua, and I also knew that our next destination wouldn’t be quite the same.  We left the next morning after breakfast, bidding our tree full of monkeys and the flock of roosters goodbye.

Our Regret

We didn’t actually visit the town of San Juan del Sur.  We were in Nicaragua during the popular vacation week around Easter, when Nicaraguans flee to the coast and create what was described by locals as a crazy party scene in the town.  The American who ran Mango Rosa likened it to Mardi Gras, Nicaraguan style.  I’d have liked to check it out; but my kids had seen on the bar tv an accounting of a death the previous night in the town (and another staff member at Mango Rosa warned that thefts of tourists go way up during the week,) so the kids and my mom (age 71) were deterred and we didn’t push the idea.

Where’s the Paper?

That’s what I heard when the first rooster loudly cried out — I must admit that not everyone in our group heard that, but once I heard it, I couldn’t not hear it.  I will probably forever more hear “where’s the paper?” when others hear “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

grief, Living Life, Parenting

Mourning Other People’s Loss

Some deaths are simply tragic.  Three in the past year have hurt me to the core.  though none were people who were close to me (or that I even knew,)

Rachel, mom of 3
Tal, age 3
Jennifer, mom of 3

Each loss hit a nerve and made me stop and assess my life, my abundance, my perspective; and I become all too aware of how quickly life can be taken.

Every mother’s greatest 2 fears in life are 1. losing a child and 2. dying and leaving our children motherless.

This week, a mom named Jennifer was killed while putting her small child in the back of her red Honda mini-van.  She was in front of her kids’ school, a few neighborhoods over from mine; close enough that I know many people who attend the school.  I never met Jennifer, but given how connected our community is, I could have.  She was doing what we moms have done hundreds, thousands of times over the years.  What should have been an innocuous moment became a tragic moment.

Of course, I immediately put myself in this situation and applied my own family to this tragedy — how would my boys cope, my husband, my friends?

Less than a year ago, friends lost their 3 year old child in a tragic drowning accident.  (A child I hadn’t met.)  One of my kids went to preschool with one of their older kids many years ago, and then I had the pleasure of working with them not long before Tal died.

It is so unfair that Tal  died, a little boy who was just playing and trying to have fun — taking normal kid risks no different than the kind my own boys have taken.  While Tal’s parents have been strong in the face of their loss, all of the parents in our community were left wondering how they could possibly handle it themselves, if something so tragic happened to their own child.

Every-day, simple living turns tragic in a moment.  Jennifer being a mom; Tal being a kid.  Even though we buckle seat belts, put helmets on heads, hold hands while crossing streets, we simply hold our breath and hope that nothing tragic will happen.

Not long before Tal died, our community lost Rachel. It has been many years since we’d seen each other.  But in the early years of having kids, we were at park play dates, and mom’s group events, and we babysat each others little ones in our babysitting co-op.  I had known that she was battling breast cancer, but wasn’t aware of how advanced it had become, when she died.

The loss was big.  Her three kids are my 3 kids age.  We babysat each others’ kids.  How could she be gone?  Regret that I didn’t know how sick she had become was overshadowed by an extreme sadness for her family.  Her wake was like a reunion of the moms from those early years — all of us just heartbroken for her children and husband.  All of us wondering how our families could handle it if had been us.

When tragedy happens around us, we are selfishly thankful that we are unscathed.  We are sad for those lost. We are sad for the families and close friends who we know grieve far worse than we do.

And we feel ridiculously lucky to NOT know that horrid empty feeling of loss, to have been spared tragedy.

Though, We DO IMAGINE what it feels like.

So we hug our kids and spouses harder;
we speak more gently;
we get perspective on how good things really are.

And as a community, we share our sadness for the passing of Rachel, Tal and Jennifer, and we grieve with their families.

My heart goes out to Jennifer’s family, and to Tal’s family, and to Rachel’s family.   I hope that they feel the support and love that flows from the community, and I hope they know that many of us hurt for their loss and are awed by their courage and strength in the face of tragedy.

Food Allergies, Living Life

Dairy Free Chocolate Lava Cake (To Die For!)

chocolatemoltencake214 1/2 years ago my darling husband proposed to me over a decadent chocolate soufflé at a local French restaurant.  For our annivesary yesterday I intended to try my hand at the classic dessert for the first time!  However, as I researched recipes and considered my options, I worried that converting a classic souffle to dairy free would leave me wanting.  We aren’t always dairy free, but for special desserts, we don’t want to leave out our youngest son, who has multiple food allergies.

So, I found this mouth watering recipe from Paula Deen, and converted it a bit.  Even though I’m no professional chef, I would venture to say that my recipe was amazing. My kids loved, I loved it, and my husband loved it.  Each individual serving is rich, smooth and satisfying.  Though we about polished off our own servings, we could have easily shared one!

Now, I know this isn’t 100% in-line with our new real food way of eating — I didn’t quite have the nerve to substitute honey for the powdered sugar, but otherwise the recipe is real! I have substituted honey in other sweet desserts with no difference, and as soon as we use up what little powdered sugar we have left in the house, I will only use honey.  I would guess that this would have been just as delicious, so now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I didn’t try!

My modified recipe, with my changes highlighted in red. 

INGREDIENTS:
4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
4 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup  whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.Grease 6 small ramekins with olive oil spray and dust with cocoa.  Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange extract. Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins. Place on a cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates. Dust with powdered sugar.
Living Life

14 Years of Marriage (And Not Sick of Each Other Yet!)

Happy Anniversary to us!  Today my husband Prithvi and I are celebrating 14 years of marriage (and almost 20 years together!)

October 10, 1999
October 10, 1999 — Indian Wedding

Not only did I get to marry my soul mate, I got to marry him twice in one day!  Like today, it was a wet day — requiring some last minute changes to our wedding plans, but it was a fabulous day nonetheless!  Its hard to believe that 14 years have gone by, seeing as we haven’t aged a bit from these photos 😉

Spending the last twenty years with Prithvi has been so much fun.  The countless trips together, the stupid tv watching together, raising babies, creating a home, the late nights with good wine (the late nights with bad wine!), amazing dinners out and homemade, terrible take out and burnt attempts to cook, parent-teacher conferences together and errands — I enjoy every day that we get to spend together!  I am lucky!

October 10, 1999
October 10, 1999 — Jewish Wedding

I’m not a marriage or relationship expert, but I am confident in saying that being each other’s best friend is a key ingredient to our being so happy together.  I’m not saying that living with someone doesn’t pose challenges, but having a strong friendship makes it easier to work through life’s struggles.

Being such good friends means that we go out of our way to spend time together.  We prefer to run errands together — even when it means we won’t get as much accomplished.  We make the other wake up so we can sneak a quiet coffee together before the chaos of the day.  And we value and protect our alone time after the kids go to bed — even keeping each other company if one has to work after hours.

I feel absurdly lucky that I got to marry my best friend.  That he got to be the father to my kids.  That he picked me and that he let me pick him.  Happy Anniversary, Prithvi!  I love you, and I look forward to many more years ahead!

Living Life

Homegrown Watermelon and Hot Lazy Days Make Best Summer Yet

This is the best summer I’ve had in many years.  Its not hard to beat last summer, with my dad very ill and then passing away in July.  But even the previous years, I don’t think I was as immersed in all the glory that summer has to offer.  My job, though part-time, was structured; my kids were in a ton of camps; and I had a little toddler who sapped me of all my energy.

Summer 2012 rocks!  By building my own company, I am also ensuring a lot of free time this summer. I’m busy with work, but have been able to schedule it around our needs as a family and our goals for having fun.

So why is this summer so good?  Perhaps these make good tips for anybody looking to maximize their experience in the hot months!

  1. We go to the pool as much as possible.
  2. We planted a vegetable garden.  This has been so much fun!  Its my first time, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but the kids and I love checking it daily, and while I can’t keep them from eating all the grape tomatoes right off the vine, hey, they are eating grape tomatoes (my kids are kinda picky!)  The single watermelon that is growing now increases in size a lot every day, so the habit is to run out and check it first thing every morning.
    Watermelon yesterday

    Watermelon today
  3. The kids are only doing 2 weeks of camp!  This is a huge change from previous years, and had much to do with my work schedule changing.  Also, I was tired in previous years from driving three kids to 2 or 3 different places every day, and we never got to let go of the school-time routine of packed lunches and early wake ups.   And even though camps are fun, the structure didn’t allow enough down time.  I want the kids good a bored at the end of summer, I want them to want to go back to school!
  4. We made a summer “to do” list on the first night of summer break!  I am not certain that we’ll get to everything on the list, but it has made it easy to fill our days with all of the must dos.  I am sure that had ‘roller coaster’ not been on the list, we never would have gone to the amusement park in Ocean City after a camping trip to Assateaque Island!

    Our Summer To Do List
  5. We camped at Assateaque Island; we had wild horses in our campsite both mornings!

    Wild Horses at Assateaque Island
  6. We went to the zoo.
  7. We visited grandma, and the other grandma & dadda (what the kids call their grandfather)!
  8. We are eating homegrown or farmers market tomatoes every day.
  9. The kids donated the revenue from their lemonade stand for the Animal Welfare League, $86!  Just when we worry that the kids were too self-focused and obsessive about their own ‘stuff’, they were so motivated to do this for charity!
  10. The kids play with sprinklers, a baby pool and water guns a lot.  I also “let” them wash my car!

Nothing here is extraordinary or unique, but I find it is the sum total of all of it that makes this summer awesome. (Is there any meaning to the fact that ‘sum’ is part of the word ‘summer’?)   I hope you are also having a wonderful summer, no matter how you are filling your days.

Living Life, Marketing

Survival Mode: Newborn Business is Not Unlike Newborn Baby

In the past few weeks I’ve advised more than one client to blog more often; both to keep up the habit and help their SEO!  And yet, I find I have fallen out of the practice myself.  I am exhausted, exhilarated and just plain busy.  My business is going great.  The logo is done, the website is almost ready, and the client work is fun and engaging.  And I am having the most fun I’ve had in ages.  But I am so busy that some things that were normal are becoming hard to get to, like blogging, laundry and socializing with my mommy friends.

I realized today that this is the sort of fall-out I experienced after the birth of each of my kids.  Survival mode (but this time I’m getting adequate sleep at least!)  There is never a moment of being “done” — my business to-do list is equal or longer than my personal list, and the business is getting more attention than the personal.  Like a dirty diaper can’t go unchanged, a client email or prospect inquiry gets my full attention.

I am NOT complaining.  I chose this.  I love this.  I am giddy that, for the moment, things are hopping.  But I do look forward to the point where my pace can normalize, when the routine will emerge from the chaos.  With a newborn, its somewhere between 6-12 weeks (mine were always at least 12 weeks.)  But with a new business, when does the chaos subside?  I know some business owners who claim it never normalizes, and others that proclaim victory with running their own gig and the rest of their life.  I’m aiming to be the latter.  To schedule clients in such a way that my personal life get its fair due.

So if I fail to blog as often (or family, if your meals are boring and your house a tad upside down), please understand that I am in survival mode.  Drop off  made meals welcome, invite the kids for play dates, and somebody, please, offer to help me with my laundry.