The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

the 1 less traveled by

A move to Nicaragua

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Juanita serving us a local dish, arroz aguado.

We’ve Got It Maid

While doing research of where we wanted to move, we came across a couple Nicaragua blogs that mentioned the extremely low price you pay to have help in your home.  No one said it better and more convincing than Mike’s Gringo Life, “We have a traditional home. I work outside the house and Carol works at home and with the kids as a full time mom. If we lived in the US, she’d probably be doing most of the laundry, housekeeping, cooking and cleaning. Here she doesn’t have to. She gets to spend an extra hour (30 minutes each way) with them every day because she is free to take and pick up the girls from the school. She creates crafts and games ready for them after school. She’s there rested, relaxed, and ready to listen and engage them in conversation. This, alone, is a treasure chest of gifts for the girls.” I knew I wouldn’t be working at least at first, and it seemed like a daunting task going from working full time to raising 2 kids, doing all the household chores, and shopping, all in a foreign country.  It was a pleasure to hear that I didn’t need to…and that my husband was on board!

We mentioned to our landlord that we were interested in hiring someone to help in the house, so he set up a meet-and-greet with his friend Juanita (and her son who speaks English).  We negotiated how many days she’d work and what hours. Juanita wanted to work 6 days a week, with Sundays off.  She gave us the choice of either 7am-12pm or 8am-1pm. I mentioned I’d like her to cut fruit to have in the frig, make lunches some days, and prepare dinner for about 3 nights a week.  She already seemed to understand the regular household chores she’d be doing. Juanita seemed perfect for the job and we told her we looked forward to her coming the following day.

So here’s the breakdown: Juanita works 6 days per week 8am-1pm officially, but usually she leaves between 1:30 and 2pm for $200 per month.  That’s about $6.70 per day or $1.30 per hour…assuming she actually left on time. At first she worked Monday – Saturday, but recently she’s asked to take Wednesday off so she can bus to Managua to buy clothes for her side business.  She now works Thursday – Tuesday. She makes lunch probably 4 days a week and prepares dinner about 3 days.  Its best if I take her to the supermarket (Palí) and the mercado to do the shopping for the week, otherwise I’m running to the store every day after we decide what she should cook.

I had an epiphany the other night while the whole family was enjoying dinner together as usual since we’ve moved.  We hardly ever ate dinner together in the US.  I’m embarrassed to say, we usually parked Azalea in a high chair seat in front of the TV with her favorite show playing so that we could get a 30 minute break.  When she was a baby I’d feed her mashed up veggies hours before we even started making our own dinner. We could never get our dinner ready early enough for us all to eat together.  With Juanita preparing the meals, its easy to eat dinner together every night, its become the norm.  Even when we cook, we start early and always include both kids around the table.  This is the way I grew up, and I’m so happy to be passing the dinner table tradition on to my kids.

Every morning I make a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit and yogurt mixed with granola.  Its easy to do now with all the hard work already done.  I have 3 Tupperware containers full every day of cut fruits to choose from.  The fruit is SO good here!  Papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple are our favorites.

Kharron usually comes home for lunch and we all eat again around the table.  If we don’t eat at home, the kids and I meet him in town and go to one of the many restaurants.  After lunch both kids are usually ready for their nap.  I put them to bed feeling gratified that they are getting the love and attention they deserve from both of their parents.

Juanita has helped us in so many ways outside of the household.  She not only lead us all around Rivas shopping for a motorcycle for Kharron, but also put the motorcycle in her name since you have to be a resident to own a vehicle in Nicaragua. The day after we purchased the motorcycle she rode back to Rivas to file all the paperwork and get a tune up.  She rode with me into Rivas to get local prices on new tires for the car, hunt for everything necessary to make cupcakes, to go to the cleaning store, Casa de Limpieza”, and navigate the large mercardo.  She also gives us a patient Spanish lesson each and every day she works.

There are some hidden costs to hiring household help. People in Nicaragua are paid on a 13 month payroll, paying double in December.  Its possible your maid might ask for help with a medical bill or other necessity they cannot afford. I am told that if you hired correctly, you will not mind sometimes paying for the small things requested.  We have already volunteered to purchase Juanita glasses after seeing her squint to read the small print of Google Translate on our phones.  This cost us $170 for exam and glasses, but the pride I feel when I see her put them on is priceless.  Juanita has 3 sons and asked for a loan of $100 to send her middle son to finish English class.  This came at a good time because we started to need some childcare for 3 hours a day twice a week while I volunteered.  We negotiated just $15 more a month (and towards her debt) for this extra service. Last night she asked to borrower our motorcycle to ride to church because her family’s motorcycle had a flat tire, we gladly lent it…its in her name!

We have lucked out with Juanita.  We totally expected to go through a few maids before finding the right one, but couldn’t want for anything more.  We look forward to speaking more of her language because its become clear that she is very funny and can’t wait to understand all of her little jokes.  After one month she’s already become one of the family.




Living in San Juan del Sur

Why we live in San Juan del Sur

We have been contemplating buying property and building a rental home here, so this topic has been on my mind quite a lot lately. With a large impending decision like this, I have been weighing the pros & cons of choosing San Juan del Sur as a permanent tie… So, I thought I’d write about it.

When we moved abroad, our plan was to live in San Juan del Sur for the first 6 months and after learning some Spanish and understanding the country a bit more, we’d relocate to the more northern and less tourist town of Miramar. We were told by a friend who had been living in Nicaragua, that because of the large Expat population in San Juan del Sur and Granada, those cities would make for an easier transition. We wanted to live by the ocean, so San Juan del Sur it was! After the 6 months went by in a blurry flash and still flailing at Spanish, we found we had already started making friends and and a life in San Juan del Sur. We made the decision to stay.

We have a friend who runs a surf camp called Casa Sirena Surf Lodge in Miramar, so we visit often. Every time we go an air of tranquility rushes over me. I have a great fondness for that tiny fishing village that is probably today a lot like San Juan del Sur once was. I had to think long and hard about whether purchasing up there would be a better investment and location for our family’s second home. In the end we have decided San Juan del Sur is the most logical spot for us and with Miramar’s consistent surf and a major paved road connecting it to the university city of León and capital Managua, its only a matter of time before its gentle pace will too speed up.

Here are some of the reasons we choose to live in San Juan del Sur:

Beaches are Everywhere

San Juan del Sur is full of uncrowded beaches. In the year and a half of having lived here, we still have not been on every beach. In fact, we went to a private bay for the first time last Sunday for a BBQ with friends. Playa Hermosa

International School

This was a big one for us, as our children grow older the need for education will become even more important. We are confident that not only will San Juan del Sur Day School be around for many years to come, we also love the education Azalea receives there. Because of the large Expat population here, there are even more schools popping up. Titus will be starting at Escuela Adelante next week and I believe it will continue to grow and prove to be a wonderful bilingual school.

Diverse Restaurants & Food

It might sound trivial, but I don’t think I can survive solely on local Nicaraguan food. Here in San Juan del Sur there are different flavors of restaurants opening weekly. Date Night at Jicaro GardenWe have a Peruvian, Indian, Thai, Falafel, Mexican, Canadian, Mediterranean, Spanish, German, and of course North American. We have a few shops that specialize in selling imported food products like alfredo sauce, Franks hot sauce, rice & balsamic vinegar, cheese, cereal, bagels, olives, spices, Doritos, alcohol, dijon mustard, quinoa…things you never even thought about not being available. Our food menu always consists of some Nicaraguan dishes and a healthy mix of flavors from around the world.

English Speaking Spanish Teachers

One of the major reasons we moved to a Latin American country was for our family to learn Spanish. There are not only a plethora of Spanish teachers here in San Juan del Sur, but because of the tourist influence, many have seen the value in learning English. This makes the answers to questions about the rules of the language clearer.

Our House Cleaner Juanita

It has become a priority for us to make sure that our house cleaner, Juanita, never has to worry about finding work again. She has been with us since our first day of living in San Juan del Sur and we care about her, and her family deeply. She treats our children as if they were her own and our children treat her like a member of our family. Juanita is very honest, always removing money out of Kharron’s dirty clothes pockets and placing whatever the denomination is on our counter. She knows where all our valuables are, maybe even better than we do. Whether we buy a property or not, we will somehow ensure Juanita’s future. If we do buy the property, then she will manage our vacation home and her husband will be our “cuiador”.

FriendsTwo Guys Adventures

We’ve met a lot of like-minded people in the one and a half years we’ve lived here. Although most of these people are Gringos, we have also made close friendships with Nicaraguans. When moving to a foreign land, I have found that friends you can trust are even more important than they are at home. When your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a quiet road, you need someone. When you go out of town, leaving your pets for a few days, you need someone. When you’re kids have taken every last bit of your patience, you need someone. Besides the friends we have here, in San Juan del Sur there is an amazing network of Facebook pages. You can ask any question and strangers will give you an answer.

We’ve been here awhile

Navigating a new city is hard anywhere, but doing it in a foreign country and in a foreign language is a daily struggle. We’ve finally started to figure some things out. I can now offer information when someone posts a question on Facebook. We have a mechanics (actually 2), a wood guy, and someone to help with bank runs and other odd, but complex errands. We’ve worked out a network here and starting over is a task to great for me.


There are many amazing cities in this beautiful country we live in, but San Juan del Sur has proven to be the best fit for our family. Part Gringo, but still mostly Nica, this town has so much to offer. San Juan del Sur will always and forever remain our second home.

Usual sign hung in the bathroom at restaurants

Toilet or Trash? Where to put your toilet paper

Buttered Side Down

We were exposed to this dilemma for the first time when we stayed with my friend at a surf camp he ran. He was giving us the tour of the camp & rooms and when we got to the bathroom he asked, “You guys do know you need to put your toilet paper in the trash, right?” We both nodded our head yes and I began to feel guilty for the plumbing problem I must have left behind at the hotel we stayed at for our first few nights in Nicaragua. Then he said something I will never forget, “Just make sure you put it buttered side down.”

Now that we’ve lived in Nicaragua for over a year, I can honestly say, putting my soiled toilet paper in the garbage is the norm for me. At every establishment there is always a small trash can next to the toilet just for this purpose. Since we live in a Gringo town, it is usually accompanied by a sign telling you what the bin is there for. On our first trip home I had to correct myself a few times after placing my tissue in the trash.  Here we have a house cleaner that works for us 6 days a week. I assume one of the most unpleasant parts of her job is to empty trash daily. This ensures that even on the hottest days, our bathroom doesn’t smell like an outhouse.

“Why,” you might ask, “is this necessary in Nicaragua?” Its my understanding that in Central America they use the cheaper 1/2 inch pipes. When you place a wad into the toilet bowl, especially the amount used to wipe succeeding a defecation, the smaller pipe cannot handle the mass of TP. This coupled with the lack of water pressure, creates an even lesser chance of the tissue making its way all the way down to the septic. The pipes are also sometimes without a significant angle, leaving less gravity to work for you.

Many Gringos refuse to adapt their hygienic practices to Central American plumbing. I would rather not have that uncomfortable conversation with my landlord, so I surrendered and I do my dooty the Nica way. Now used tampons…that’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to.

The front of our new home

Moving In Nicaragua

On the move

Although our house was priced well at $1,000 per month for a North American style residential home with a pool, we were surprised to see our first month’s utilities equate to almost $650.  This was an unexpected, unbudgeted for cost.  We did what we could to lower the payables in the next months by cancelling cable, raising our air conditioners to 30°C (86° F) and being aware of the amount of time they were on.  Our son Titus, took most of his naps without A/C except for the hottest days.  We also unplugged our hot water heater and stopped using the clothes dryer. We asked the gardener only to water 2 days a week instead of 5 and explained that the pool didn’t need to be filled to the edge. We were able to cut our initial $340 electricity bill down to about $260 and our water bill from $114 to $107, but the bills still added up to more than we were willing to spend.

The higher cost of living was causing us to have to restrict our spending in ways that weren’t in line with the goals of our move.  One of the reasons for our move to Central America was that it would be easy to visit the surrounding countries, so we had planned on spending three days in Costa Rica over Memorial Day weekend.  This was about the time that we needed to renew our 90 day tourist VISAs so we’d be getting that taken care of and enjoying a neighboring country. Sadly, because of a depleted savings account, we opted to do a quick in & out of Costa Rica so that some money would remain in our savings account. It became clear that we couldn’t afford our beautiful home if we wanted to accomplish all the things we desired while living abroad.

We started putting feelers out for other housing options, hoping to find a place with a pool that was priced unusually low.  We signed a 6 month lease and were prepared to stay in our home until it was up, but thought we might be able to find someone to take it over if we found a new place.  I saw something posted for only $550 on one of the Facebook pages.  It included all utilities except electricity, we jumped at the chance to have a look if for no other reason but to see what other options looked like. It was a beautiful home with lots of windows to open up and take advantage of the breezes.  Every room had a ceiling fan and every door and window had a screen. The home was available immediately and at such a low price we knew we didn’t have much time.

We started searching for someone to take over our lease right away, but the task was harder than expected.  This time of year (the start of the rainy season) there seems to be more available than people to rent.  The next night the owner of our house called to just chat and my husband, Kharron mentioned that we were looking for someone to take over the lease because of the utility bills being so high.  The landlord is a nice man and said he wanted us to enjoy our time in Nicaragua and not to worry about it.  Kharron hung up and we smiled at the possibility that we’d get to move sooner than the 6 month lease.  We wanted to make sure that the owner was serious about letting us out of the lease and that he was agreeing to letting us move in 4 days.  He told Kharron yes and we immediately contacted the owner of the new home.

The owner surprisingly said the place was still available and unlike in the US, we saw and home and planned a move in 4 days.  Luckily we had Juanita to help us pack up and thoroughly clean the home after our move! She is the only reason this quick move was possible without much stress.

The new place is furnished, but did not come with linens, dishes, towels, or cleaning supplies.  The first day in the home, Juanita and I (and a friend) took an expensive trip to Rivas to buy all our household items.  Unfortunately, as is always true in Nicaragua, basic items can be harder to find than you ever thought possible so little things like pot holders and ice trays remain on my To-Buy list. It was kind of fun picking out our own dishes, bath mats, and beach towels!

So now we’ve officially been in our new home for 4 nights and it already feels like home.  I feel very safe knowing we have a cuiador (person who watches the home or property).  The property is completely fenced in so the dogs and Azalea are able to roam without any worry of cars.  There are only 3 homes built and 26 empty lots so its very quiet & peaceful. I do already miss having a pool to dunk my feet & body into on the hot afternoons, but for what we expect to be more than a $1,000 monthly savings, it is worth instead visiting the local restaurants that have public pools.

Titus enjoying some cantaloupe juice in his walker.

A Typical Day – After 6 weeks of living in San Juan del Sur

We’re starting to feel pretty settled in our routine here, so I thought I’d write about what a typical week day is like for us living in San Juan del Sur.

The kids have both been waking up pretty early and there aren’t many roosters around our home to blame it on.  It seems Azalea or Titus wake up between 5:30-6am every day.  It only takes minutes after one rises, for the other to wake as well. If Titus is the first, I like to enjoy a little bit of quiet play with him in our bed.  He sleeps in a Pack ‘n Play in our room so I let him wrestle around for a while before picking him up and bringing him in bed.  We usually only get about 5 minutes of quiet time before Azalea comes knocking on the bedroom door.  If Azalea is the first to rise, her loud knock will usually wake up Titus, but if not, it is her morning mission to make sure everyone else is awake in the house. Kharron is an early riser and uses the quiet mornings to get work done, so he can be found at the kitchen table on his computer every morning, including weekends.

I’m not sure what to do with kids this early in the morning and before I’ve had my coffee so I fumble with blurry, sleepy eyes to start a show on the TV.  Some of Azalea’s favorites right now are Annie, Finding Nemo, Curious George, Horton Hears a Who, and Dora the Explorer. Once I have her crazy morning energy lassoed to the TV I open up the home’s accordion patio doors so the dogs can go outside and Tasha can go visit her “friends”.  Rigley with his broken arm, gets leashed to the large wood picnic-style table on our patio so he doesn’t go too far and re-injure himself…again.

Rigley leashed to the picnic table in the morning.
Rigley leashed to the picnic table in the morning.

I either hand Titus off to Kharron or put him in his jumpy that came in our box.  The dogs water usually needs to be refilled, coffee gets made, Titus’ diaper gets changed, and Azalea’s initial hurricane gets cleaned. With a cup of coffee in my hand I nestle on the couch next to Azalea, nurse Titus, and enjoy the slow trickle of caffeine processing in my body.

On a typical day the family all has breakfast together.  We may not all eat the same thing, but everyone sits at the table at the same time. Azalea has been eating A LOT of watermelon as well as peanut butter (with no jelly) sandwiches.  Eggs are also popular for breakfast.  I like to make a smoothie with all the fresh cut fruit Juanita has prepared or have fruit with yogurt and granola. Titus usually has some sort of fruit or ground oatmeal (avena molida) with yogurt.  At breakfast Kharron and I discuss the plans for the day or things that need to get done, while Azalea continuously interjects with silly behavior.

After everyone has eaten and gotten their pjs dirty, it is time to dress for the day.  I distract Azalea by letting her pick out what she wants to wear to school while I choose my own outfit.  I’ve learned a trick of putting Titus on a towel in the bathroom sink while I do my hair and make-up.  The toothpaste is usually distraction enough for a quick application. My hair lives in a ponytail because its too hot for anything else and my creativity runs low in the morning.

Kharron departs for work during this part of the morning routine.  He has an office in town where there is less distraction and he can focus on his job… our only source of income. We all give Daddy kisses and watch him climb on his moto and zoom away. Its about this time too that our pool/gardener arrives. We all acknowledge him with an, “Hola Chilo” and carry on with our morning tasks.

Once I am dressed I focus on Azalea, helping her put on the outfit she’s chosen or trying to steer her in a different direction.  She really only wants to wear three things right now – a brick orange flowered long sleeve dress, her long sleeved Elsa princess dress, or her long sleeve white cotton dress.  Juanita is so efficient that at least two of these options is always clean, but its hot and I don’t want her wearing the same thing everyday so this usually becomes our first battle. After the tears have dried, I manage to style Azalea’s beautiful curly hair in front of the TV while Titus is on the floor next to me playing with some toys.

Azalea in one of her favorite outfits
Azalea in one of her favorite outfits

As I’m just finishing my hair masterpiece, I hear the single beep of Juanita’s family moto notifying us of her arrival and Juanita comes through the front door with a, “Buenos dias.” She picks up Titus and I’m able to race around the house putting Azalea’s second storm away, applying sunblock to everyone, and making sure Azalea has a change of clothes, hat, and extra sunblock (and nothing else) in her backpack.  Juanita keeps Titus while I drive Azalea to school.  She likes the music blasting and all windows down except her’s because it blows her hair too much. Azalea’s school starts between 8-8:30am and I take my time dropping her off.  Its nice to have this time with her without juggling Titus on my hip. We say hello to the teachers and Julie, the director.

Hurricane Azalea in action
Hurricane Azalea in action

I go straight home and if Titus isn’t already asleep by the time I get there, then I nurse him to sleep for his first nap. Juanita has been making him a bottle or juice from an orange mixed with water.  She rocks him in the hammock to try to get him down for his nap while I am driving Azalea to school.  After he is down I am free to try to converse with Juanita via my crutch, Google Translate.  If we didn’t shop for the week on Monday, then we talk about whether I’d like her to cook lunch and/or dinner that day and if we need anything from the store.  I’m just starting to feel more comfortable with opening our conversations up to topics of life outside our home.  Kharron and I have been trying to learn past tense and these moments with Juanita are like a daily Spanish lesson.  She is very patient with us – politely correcting the pronunciation, accent, or gender of a word when necessary.  She also gives a kind nod when we have said something correctly.

Titus enjoying some cantaloupe juice in his walker.
Titus enjoying some cantaloupe juice in his walker.

While Titus has his long morning nap I spend my time blogging, researching hotels, what is necessary for VISA renewal, scrolling Facebook for what’s happening in our home town, San Juan del Sur, or Nicaragua, text with friends, or do all those little computer busy work I didn’t have time to do while living in the States.  When we first moved in we had cable, but it never really worked so we cancelled Claro and were going to use a new company called Sky, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  I’m not sure that I want to add it.  I’m sure I would be much less productive during these nap times if I had the option to space out in front of the TV.

Once Titus is awake I nurse him again while reading my latest book on my Kindle.  Then we usually head out to town to go buy bread at the paneria, fresh fish at the acopia, eggs or water at a pulperia, or say hello to our friends at one of the shops.  Its nice to stroll around the town with Titus happily dangling in the Ergo carrier.  Azalea gets out of school at noon, so Titus and I head over there from town.

We are always greeted by Azalea with a shrill of happiness.  We take our time collecting her art work, backpack, and shoes and say “Hasta luego” to her teachers and friends. On the way home we talk about what her favorite part of school was.  She doesn’t quite get this conversation and she usually says something that doesn’t really make sense or happened on a different day, but I figure its good practice.

Once home, Juanita is finishing up lunch and daddy is home sitting at the kitchen table.  We all enjoy lunch together (chicken, fish, or pork with cabbage salad, beans, rice, or plantains. If she doesn’t have too much to do, Juanita will feed Titus so I am free to eat lunch and enjoy the conversation with my family.  We’ve come to realize that Juanita is very funny, so there’s a lot of really bad Spanish and big laughs during lunch.

After lunch Azalea gets to watch a show on TV and Daddy goes back to the office.  Azalea’s been pretty good about her naps so after about 20-30 minutes of TV she’s ready for bed.  She likes to get in pjs for naps and that is always a process.  I turn on the A/C and if Titus allows for it, I read her a quick book.  Once she’s down I nurse Titus and hope for the simultaneous nap. I’ve been pretty lucky these last couple weeks!

Azalea asleep in her "Princess bed"
Azalea asleep in her “Princess bed”

On Tuesday & Thursdays I volunteer at Barrio La Planta Project 2-4:30pm with the Kindergartner classes.  If all goes well, I leave 2 sleeping kids in Juanita’s care.  I have to admit, on the other days of the week I usually read myself into a nap.  I don’t know if its the heat or the the energy it takes to live and communicate in a foreign land, but I am really tired here.  If Titus doesn’t nap when Azalea does, we dip our feet in the pool or go for a swim.

Quiet swim with my little man
Quiet swim with my little man

Once everyone is awake we relax a little, go for a swim, go to the park, get some ice cream, or meet up with friends.

My favorite part of the day is when Daddy gets home from work. Juanita makes dinner for us about 3-4 times per week, so the early evenings aren’t spent with one of us preparing dinner while the other entertains the kids. Azalea has been loving an early evening swim with her daddy or some days we take Tasha & the kids to the beach for sunset.  On the nights Juanita hasn’t cooked, Kharron will cook, or we pick up “street food”, or meet friends at a restaurant.

Sunset at one of the beaches
Sunset at one of the beaches

After dinner I shower with Azalea and bathe Titus in his little tub.  Everyone gets in their pjs and sprayed with bug spray.  We put on one of Azalea’s programs and I nurse Titus to sleep.  Titus has been going to bed around 6:30/7pm.  We spend some time alone with Azalea before corralling her to her room for 3 books and some cuddles.  Her bedtime is about 8pm.  Lately after books and I’ve switched off the lights, we’ve been discussing our favorite part of the day.  Its been really fun to hear what she has to say and share with her what made me happy that day.

Titus in his little tub
Titus in his little tub

Its not long after the kids are in bed that I too retreat to our air conditioned bedroom to read and fall asleep.  Titus has been only waking up once to eat in the middle of the night, so my sleep has recently gotten less interrupted.  Someday soon we will probably move his Pack ‘n Play into Azalea’s bedroom.  Kharron again uses the quiet nights to get work done and enjoy the solitude.

We have a peaceful life here in Nicaragua.