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

Browsing Category:

Living in San Juan del Sur

Eating in Nicaragua

Eating in Nicaragua

What We Eat

After writing my blog Cost of Living in San Juan del Sur, I realized we spend a lot of money on groceries. Although food here can be quite affordable if you eat only local fruits & vegetables, eggs, rice & beans, and Nica cheese, my family demands more of a variety and a lot of protein.

Pork Fried RiceShopping can be quite a chore in Nicaragua because to get the freshest ingredients you have to go to several stores. I do a meal plan every week and attempt to get all the grocery shopping done on one day. I go to the main grocery store (Palí), a bakery (panadería) for bread, the fish market (Acopio), the vegetable market (el mercado), and a store that sells “Gringo” items  aka ingredients not found in typical Nicaraguan food (Miscelanea Sanchez).

Pasta SaladIt is expected to offer your domestic help lunch if they work during lunch hours, so we feed our house cleaner, Juanita, lunch 6 days per week. Most of these days, she also prepares the meal and we are able to sit down as a family and eat lunch together…even during the work week.

There are a few grocery items that I use regularly that I notice are quite a bit more expensive than in the United States. (*US prices from Walmart.com)

ItemCost in NicaraguaCost in USA
Black Olives$2.54$1.17
Soy Sauce 15 fl oz$4.92$2.28
Rice Vinegar 20 oz$6.44$2.41
Sesame Oil 218 ml$8.14$4.15
Olive Oil 25.5 oz$8.64$5.74
Canned Tomatoes$1.83$.98
Jif Peanut Butter 16 oz$5.93$2.48
Bagels$3.73$2.97
Cheddar Cheese 32 oz$10$6.47
Hunts Traditional Tomato Sauce$2.54$1

Ceviche with Gallo Pinto and AvocadoWhen we first moved to San Juan del Sur I found cooking to be very frustrating because there were always ingredients on the recipes I found that were unavailable here. Then I discovered a Facebook group that was created for people here to share their recipes and often explain where to find the obscure ingredients or what was used as a substitute. This changed everything! Listed below are a couple of the meals we ate recently with links to the recipe if I used one.

Butternut LasagnaEggs and toast
Fruit Smoothies
Pancakes
Bagels & Cheese
Spicy Peanut Noodle and Pasta Salad
Ceviche
Chicken Breast Wraps
Shredded Beef with Rice
Chalupas
Chicken Breast with Rice & Beans and Cabbage Salad
Ground Beef Tacos
Chicken Soup
Fried Chicken with Rice & Beans and Cabbage Salad
Pasta Salad
Coconut Kale with Roasted Fish and Coconut Rice (substituted a white fish instead of salmon)
Curried Lentil Soup
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Caramelized Pork Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
Parmesan Chicken & Pasta
Pork Fried Rice
Kale & Butternut Squash Lasagna
Creamy Lemon Parmesan Chicken (substituted lime and lemon essential oil)
Brown Sugar Glazed Pork Chops & Pureed Cauliflower

SJDS Bay & Port

Cost of Living in San Juan del Sur

I tried to carefully keep track of all our expenses this past April. I did not include the expenses incurred from building our house including the cost for our monthly daytime laborer and nighttime watchman.

Total:$3,708.21
Storage Unit in USA$232
Rent$550
Electricity Utility$112.91
House cleaner with insurance$290
Nanny$140
Gym Membership & Boxing Classes$100
Spanish Lessons$37
Escuela Adelante Preschool$100
San Juan del Sur Day School$300
Ballet Lessons (5 classes)$40
Groceries$746.49
Eating Out$157.90
Gas$259.94
Misc$9.42
Dentist - Cleanings for whole family$140
Netflix$9.99
Spotify$14.99
Student Loans$232.57
ATM Withdrawal Fees$35
Vacation to Puerto Sandino$200
Construction Mess

Construction Problems in Nica – Part I

Trials and Errors of Construction

The first part of our construction went surprisingly well. We live down the street from where we are building, so we were able to check out the progress on our home daily. We were often surprised at how knowledgeable our contractor was and we started to stop second guessing him. Maybe this was our demise, but we’ve never built a house before, so some of the things we are finding that were done incorrectly is stuff we would have never thought to research.

Polished Concrete Floors

Cement floor coming inIt all started here. We had been in search of someone able to make a smooth concrete floor for us when our contractor told us he knew how to do it and gave us a great price for the job. The next day when we went by the property he was already pouring half of the main room in an L shape. My husband, Kharron, had done some research and knew we needed metal within the concrete so that it wouldn’t have cracks. We were immediately worried that there was no rebar below what they had poured. Our contractor assured us there was, but the next day when they were pouring the other half of the main room, Kharron heard the guy assigned to created the wire mesh asking questions about his task. Perhaps there was no metal below the first pour?

Line in the cement floorWhen we went out the following day the main room and two of the bedrooms had been completed. There was a very obvious line between the two parts in the main room. Our contractor told us that it was only because of the difference in time of drying, but it wasn’t the color that was the problem. After about a week and all the floor was complete that line began to crack, as well as other parts of the floor. The cracks were small, and only surface level, but my fear is that people would see the cracks and think that they were a foundation problem.

Roofing

Loose roofWe brought our friend who is a contractor out to see our progress and he immediately told us that our floor was done incorrectly. It was a very windy day and some of the gusts would lift our zinc roof up slightly. After further inspection our friend told us that a cheaper, thinner roof and beams were used. He explained that it is okay to use those materials, but the beams then need to be closer together. As the zinc moves with the wind, the screws holding it down will loosen. This was pretty upsetting to hear. A leaky roof is not something we want for our future home and rental. We started to film the movement so we could question our contractor, when suddenly he pulled up in his truck. The workers had obviously let him know that someone was looking at his work and that he should come to the property. Our friend and he argued a little and it was decided that we should have a 3rd party engineer come and inspect the construction.

Floor with cut linesWe found someone we felt qualified to assess the work and a price we could afford and are very happy we did. Before we knew it, lines were being cut into our flooring to give it more room to move with the ground and we had decided our type of soil was no place for a smooth cement floor and ceramic tile was a better option. Beams got added to our roof without us having to ask and all of the work the engineer requested was completed.

Electrical

Breaker wiresWe had heard that its cheaper and better to break up the finishings of the house to different contractors, so we had hired our initial contractor only to do “grey labor” which includes the floor, walls, roof, sewer, and electrical tubing. We were going to hire someone else to actually wire our home to make sure we had a qualified electrician do the job. After interviewing several Nicaraguans and feeling less than satisfied with their abilities, we found  a qualified Gringo to do the work. The Gringo pay rate is out of our budget, so we worked out a deal where we would pay him hourly. In order for him to work less hours, he would teach us how to do each part and make sure it was done correctly after it was completed. Immediately when he, Kharron, and our cuidador started to pull wires through the tubing, they realized that a lot of the tubes were too flimsy and kinked for the wires to be able to be pulled through. Electrical cables got stuck in the tubing underground and the metal wires the contractor had in place to attached the cables to disconnected within the walls. We had to make the decision to either rip up the floor or cut into the walls to install new tubing with cables. We decided up was the best way to go.Manuel Wiring

Cutting into the wallsWe spent weeks redoing the tubing and demolishing our walls so that the electrical was done correctly. Since we had the saw, some of the tubes that came out low on our wall and would be a problem once we did the ceiling, were moved to the correct location as well.

We’ve had a lot of hard lessons so far. Kharron especially learned a lot during this phase. We now know why most of the cement floors we see here in Nicaragua have cracks and that those are only the surface layer. We learned there are different grades of zinc roofing and support beams and it is important to double check once your contractor has purchased these items. We also know what to look for when installing electrical tubing and how electrical wiring works. We still have a ton of projects left, which is why I’m titling this Part I.

 

Flying By

LIVING IN NICARAGUA FOR TWO YEARS

Wow, has it been two years already? This last year has really flown by. I remember there being almost painfully slow times in the first year, but that was not the case in the last year.  We have a more solid footing in our community, in our friend group, in our work, and in our routine.

Both kids go to school until afternoon, leaving me time to focus on what I want to do. At first with my new found freedom I immersed myself with “work”. I started working as a Project Manager for my husband’s website development company, Señor Coders, I blogged more, and I volunteered more. Then I realized one day, that that’s not what I wanted to be doing with all my free time, I really wanted to get back into exercising regularly. I started going to the gym a couple days a week, we take boxing now a couple days a week, and I run more often. I’ve allowed myself the flexibility to be more spontaneous with my time, like taking a random hula hoop class.

We found a great solution for babysitting, so we feel like we have more freedom to go on impromptu date nights and overnights without the kids. Something that I’ve learned as I watched families return to their home country earlier than planned, is that taking advantage of the inexpensive labor here is important in making Nicaragua manageable. Life here can be more complicated and navigating a third world country is not easy, so not having to worry about cleaning the house or watching the kids full time is not only a luxury, but often times seems like a necessity. Being able to afford help in the home is a major perk of living here and those who do not indulge tend to have a longer list of cons of living in Nicaragua.

I’m more comfortable with our Nicaraguan life style. More at peace with the bumps in the road…. Literally, we drove a few bumpy dirt roads over the weekend and on Sunday night our brakes weren’t working properly. Now used to these types of hiccups, my husband and I discussed our plan of attack. How to get the car in the shop, how to get the kids to and from school, etc. Its a discussion we’ve had many times that used to stress and frustrate me. Now I’m comfortable hailing a cab and I know the best places to catch them and how much I should pay. Some even know me now and know where I live. The kids are used the taxi etiquette of trying to all squeeze on one seat so Mommy only has to pay for one person. My husband, Kharron, knows exactly where our mechanic is located in Rivas, knows the mechanics phone number, understands his Spanish, and knows where to catch a collectivo taxi back to San Juan del Sur. We’re a smooth running, disaster management, machine now.

Of course what’s really marked the last few months of this last year is purchasing property and building a home. This leap of fate has tied us further to Nicaragua, expanded our Spanish vocabulary, and brought a huge challenge into our relationship. Everything from setting up a Solo 401k, to looking for property, designing our home, finding a contractor, digging a well, and now construction, has been arduous. Often I feel overwhelmed and under qualified. I push on, making decisions on things I know nothing about and trusting that Kharron’s online research & my gut feeling yields the right results.

To be honest, we bit off more than we can chew and our finances are thin. We used all of our retirement funds to build the shell of the house, but now we have to use our own monthly income to finish the inside and landscaping. Our plan is to make the house livable as soon as possible and use the money we will save on rent to finish the house. I am not looking forward to the stress of living with no closets or cabinets and a construction site for a front yard, but the payoff should be worth the misery. It will be a humbling experience for the whole family and reinforce some life lessons that were part of the goal of moving here. Learning to live with less.

Mostly because of the slow finishing of the house, we decided to stay an extra year in Nicaragua. We had planned on moving back this July, but now we will use the next year to complete our home to a rentable standard, decide on a career for me, and work on making Señor Coders a viable business that can sustain us in the United States. I feel a bit bittersweet with this decision. I do not feel like I am finished with my life in Nicaragua, there is still so much I want to see, learn, and accomplish. I want Titus to be old enough to remember his life here and the people who cared for him. We had a rich life in California and I do miss it. I still miss my friends and our neighborhoods and the weekly get-togethers with people I love and who love me. I was foolish to think I would make the same close relationships with people here as I have in the US. Those types of bonds take time, more time than I will have in this country.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

So onto and into the third year we go, ready to be stretched and forever changed.

Cocao Helado

Try Something New – Homemade Helado

HeladoIts getting HOT here, so my husband, Kharron, and I finally decided to try the “helados” (ice cream) that people sell out of their homes. The flavor choices today were passion fruit, cocoa, peanut butter, and coconut. I chose cocoa and Kharron got passion fruit. We were both pleasantly surprised by the abundance of flavor. Like a lot of the bagged food here, we bit a small hole in one of the bottom corners and squeezed out bites of the sweet, cool substance with our teeth. Conveniently there is a home selling these right around the corner from the office, and at $.20 each I think this is going to become a daily afternoon ritual.

Contractor Jenna

Finding a Builder in Nicaragua

Living in San Juan del Sur for the last almost 2 years, we’ve met many builders and know many people who are building or have built a home here. Some of our good friends are builders and we had hoped to use them for our construction.

I really liked the sustainable building products. We had our first meeting with a friend who is a contractor and is knowledgeable about building this way. He was very helpful and explained to us the general processes, things to look out for, and average square foot price for a Expat builder. Unfortunately after talking to him, it became very clear that we were going to have to find something cheaper. We have a very limited budget and were going to have to spend a lot of time shopping around for something within it.

We started looking into Nicaraguan contractors who speak only Spanish. We knew this would make the processor harder and more complicated, but we really didn’t have a choice, unless we were interested in building only half a house. We talked to some friends who created their own contractor team and have done most of the managing of the project themselves. They have done a great job and their home is almost complete, but this seemed like a lot of work and moving parts. It would be hard to maintain our company Señor Coders and manage at this level.

M2We had heard about Styrofoam building or Insulated Concrete Forms (I know, the complete opposite of sustainable, right?). There are a few ICF products here in Nicaragua, the two we looked at were Cubitech & M2. We started asking around about this product and checking out job sites where we saw it was being used. We heard the homes went up very quickly and it was an affordable way to build. I was hesitant about building a home out of the same product cheap grocery store coolers are made out of, but I guess that does mean the home will stay cool. When we banged on the walls, they were a bit hallow compared to the solid cinder block walls we were used to in Nicaragua, but we decided to continue to look into this type of building and consider it as an option.

We asked around about Nicaraguan contractors using these products and set up meetings with two of them. We met them both on job sites and talked to the owners of the homes they were building. We agreed quickly that the product was much stronger than we first thought. The contractor explained to us that with cinder block, there is a hollow space in the middle. When you use the Styrofoam products that space is the Styrofoam, then they put 3 inch thick cement on either side combined with welded in deer fencing. One of the construction sites we viewed was a large, 3 story home with ocean view. The stairs, ceiling, floors, and walls were all made out of M2. It was incredible walking through the house and seeing how strong it was. We decided we liked the product and wanted to move forward with this type of building.

We had heard that using different contractors for different projects is the cheaper way to go, so when hiring our initial contractor we only wanted pricing on “obra de gris” (grey work) meaning just the foundation, walls, floor, and roof. It also includes the electrical tubing installed (not the wires) and the tubing for the septic system. We would find another team to do the patio, doors & windows, septic system tanks, to do the closets, cabinets, kitchen island, and an electrician.

After our meetings with the contractors we started discussing pricing. As mentioned, we have a very low budget. Using both contractor’s proposed pricing against each other, we got down to a price we could manage at $269 per square meter. This price meant we should have enough money to complete a 3 bedroom home. Some things we’d have to pay out of pocket and not with our 401k money, but it was doable.

Breaking groundWe also hired a supervisor for $20 per week who comes by the property twice a week to make sure everything is being done correctly and that the contractors have accomplished everything they were supposed to in order for us to make the next payment.

Contract signed, we broke ground on Jan 2nd, 2016. To see how the building process is going, check out the video my husband made.

Titus at the school bus stop

A Letter to my 2 Year Old Son

I made an email address for my kids and I send them emails every now and again. Every year I make sure I send them an email around their birthday that captures the previous year and what are life is currently like. Here’s my email to Titus this year:

Two Years Down

Hey Buddy,

I’m behind on writing you this email. You turned 2 years old 4 months ago.

We’ve had a fun this year living in Nicaragua. You’ve started going to preschool at school in town called Escuela Adelante. You cried a little at drop-off for the first month, but now you march right in and I have to pull you back for a kiss. I really love the little school you go to. Most of the kids are Nicaraguan who’s parents want them to learn English so there is a lot of Spanish spoken there. It truly is a bilingual school. You have a special connection with your Nicaraguan teacher. You guys always play a game of who owns your backpack. Its in Spanish, “Mia!” “No mia!” “Mi mochila.” “No, mi mochila!” Its really cute. I love hearing you speak Spanish.

Your language has progressed amazingly! You were speaking about 50% Spanish, but then Azalea became your hero and you like to say what she says so you started speaking mostly English. Our house cleaner, Juanita, was worried because she didn’t understand what you were saying anymore. Recently you started speaking more Spanish again and to my surprise, you already can distinguish between who to speak which language to. The cuiador to the development we live in has a daughter who is 9 and a son who is only a few months older than you. You and Azalea hang out with them a lot and I think this has really helped your language.

We bought 1.74 acres of land in Sept and we’ve started building a 3 bedroom house and a small studio/cabina G’ma is building. We spend a lot of time at “the property”. You love being there. There are a ton of dirt piles for you to play with your toy tractors in. You and Azalea find sticks to play with. Daddy & I love watching you guys play with things you find in nature. We hope to build 3 more cabinas, then one day sell it as a bed & breakfast…or maybe we’ll hold on to it, you never know.

A typical week day is that you kids wake up around 6am. We leave the house for school around 8am. We take Azalea to her school bus stop first, then get you to school around 8:30am. I work with Daddy, go to the gym, or do errands while you’re in school, then pick you up at 11:45am. We either run errands together, go to the park, or go home for a little bit before picking Azalea up at 12:45pm. Daddy comes home everyday at 1pm for lunch. The only thing we can get you to eat these days is tortilla with peanut butter. You call it “tortilla maní”. You and Azalea usually watch your tablets while Daddy, Juanita, and I eat. Then at 2pm your nanny, Grethel (pronounced Gretel) comes and Daddy & I go check out the progress on our property, then go to work. Juanita goes home for the day at 2pm. You nap most of the time Grethel is with you, from about 2:30pm to 5pm. I get back at 5pm and after you wake up we usually play with the neighbors until it starts to get dark or I need to start cooking dinner. You got a bike for Christmas, so now you & Azalea both have bikes. You just started being able to get the peddle all the way around and you are so proud of yourself! Daddy gets home around 6:30pm most days and we eat dinner together. You might as well be a vegetarian so you usually either eat another tortilla with peanut butter or possibly rice or pasta. Sometimes you’ll have soup. The only meat you will eat is chicken on the bone or bacon. Daddy and I trade off giving you and Azalea a bath together. Daddy is the one who reads you books and puts you to bed. Its a special time he gets to share with you. Also when I put you to bed it takes an hour. You make me get in your crib and lie down with you, sing you songs. Sometimes I fall asleep with you. We’ve been trying to get you in bed around 8pm, but some nights its as late as 8:30pm or 9pm if we went out.

We had a very mellow birthday for you this year, especially after last year! We just had Grandma Moo, us, Juanita’s family, and the Nicaraguan neighbors come over for dinner and cake. It was nice having a small party with the local people who love you. You and our friend’s son, Gasparcito have the same birthday so you had a big party at your school. You got your tablet as your big birthday present and it was perfect timing for you.

About you – You are still the happiest person I know besides your father. You have such a great smile, its the best thing to wake up to. You would rather run than walk anywhere, but you still enjoy “uppy” when we’re in town walking around. Sometimes you’ll walk yourself and we play “salta” and jump over every crack in the sidewalk. The only shoes you will wear right now is your sister’s pink Crocs. I was going to buy you something like them, but in a “boy color”, but I decided to just let you rock them. Why not? You’ve also gotten really good on Azalea’s pink scooter. You whiz around the resort by our house called Surf Ranch. We just got you a cool mohawk helmet. Speaking of, you have had a mohawk most of your life. I just recently cut the back off just to try something different, but you’re definitely a cool kid. You love saying, “Hola” out the window to strangers we pass in the car. You can be shy at first, but when you warm up, you know no strangers. You are a handsome little guy, and people love interacting with you. You are pretty much potty trained for poops, you like to bring your tablet with you, or a toy and take your time. You tell me, “Go away Mommy.” when I come to check on you.

We have a really special relationship, you’re a bit of a Mommy’s Boy right now and I think sometimes it makes your dad a little sad that you’re always calling for me, want to be on my lap, want me to put you to bed, read you books, etc. But from what my friends say, that’s normal. Personally I love our close bond. Living here in Nicaragua where I don’t have to work full time I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with you and really enjoy watching you grow. We play together and are goofy every day. I love you so much and I tell you all day, every day.

I’m writing you this email while sitting next to your dad at the office, he says, “Whattup?” We share an office with a friend named Sean and he says, “Hey.” You are surrounded by so many people who love you near and far.

Love you my Little Buddy,

Mommy

Escuela Adelante  Steam Roller
Titus' 2nd birthday  Halloween 2016
Christmas 2016  Christmas on the boat
Potty and rifle   Monte Verde Costa Rica