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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

1,002,819

I woke up this morning to my usual tall glass of iced coffee, logged on to my computer and saw that we reached a very special milestone for this blog. We broke a million hits, which I never ever thought would happen. We are obviously touched by this accomplishment and look for more good things to come.
  Though I can see the meta data, like below, I cannot see who is viewing and why. I can only surmise as to who is viewing based on the comments coming in from the different channels. I would think it is mostly families but have no way to prove it. I have been asked if there was a spike in viewership due to the election. The quick answer is I don't think there was a noticeable spike but cannot definitively prove it. The blog views have been growing, for sometime, at a  rate of about 20% a month. 
   More important than the numbers, though, we are getting people interested in traveling, with family, and that is a win for everyone. Seeing a world, that you thought you knew, through your child's eyes not only gives you another perspective, it also gives you clarity on what's most important. I encourage each of you to live, love, and value your moments before they become memories. 
   Thank you for making this blog such a joy to create and hope you enjoy your day.

   Here are some of the blog stats to date:

     Pageviews by Browsers

Chrome
(84%)
Mobile
(10%)
Firefox
(3%)

     Pageviews by Operating Systems

Macintosh
(74%)
iPhone
(11%)
Windows
(9%)
Android
(3%)

      Pageviews by Countries

United States
1
Nicaragua
2
France
3
Germany
4
China
5
Australia
6
Japan
7
Brazil
8
Colombia
9

        Referring Sites


       Most Visited Entries

Time and love, our two year anniversary 
Portraits of Latin America
Halloween costumes Granada style




Sunday, February 5, 2017

Chili cook off for a charity

It doesn't get much better than seeing friends, eating different types of chili and donating for a worthy cause, all at the same time. The annual chili cook off raises money for Puedo Leer, a non-profit community library, in Granada. The event was packed and raised thousands of dollars for a wonderful library, in a less fortunate area of town. For those of us always connected to the internet, it might be hard to fathom that so many people around the world are not connected to the luxuries of the net. Many of those same people without internet also live without access to libraries, and with it, the information and knowledge that exists about our world. Information matters and the more educated a society becomes, the more manageable their problems become. For more information on Puedo Leer refer to this link  http://www.puedoleerlibrary.com/      


Lining up for chili and socializing .

The charity was held at the Garden Cafe. 

A good crowd generating good money for a worthy cause.

Janice, in the white blouse, won the people's choice award for chili.

Getting to meet others in the community is always a good thing.

Children and pets

We recently moved to a larger home, outside of Granada, with a huge yard and a nice sized pool. Since we now have adequate space, we've decided to surprise the girls with newly hatched chicks and baby bunnies. The girls were so patient in our efforts for getting a bigger home that we wanted to give them something special. Seeing the unbridled joy of our daughters and their friends reminded me how special the bond is between children and pets.
   Within moments, the chicks and bunnies all had names based on the the kids' first impressions and what human emotions they read into each of the animals. The loner bunny looked sad, the chick in the middle of the clutch looked happy, and so on. The ease at which children radiate their love on to others is a lesson many adults could use. The impracticality of owning bunnies and chicks is eclipsed by life's lessons of interconnectedness, nurturing, and ultimately life's impermanence. As our children develop their own views of the world, it is important for us "old fogey" parents, to provide, step back, and watch from a distance, in that order. After all, the greatest gift we can give our kids is believing in them.  
 


Sierra could not hide her excitement.

Olivia thought this was the coolest idea.

Zoe was overcome with emotions knowing she had chicks that were hers.

The chicken queen taking care of her brood.
The chicken whisperer.

The bunnies are very soft and furry 

Each of the girls got their own bunny to love and care for.

The kids formed a circle to watch the bunnies play.


Everybody was happy!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

We have decided to set up a corporation in Nicaragua

My wife, two daughters and I, had a family vote while visiting the US over the holidays. The vote was a simple question, "Do you want to move back to the US or stay in Nicaragua?" Zoe started by saying, "Nicaragua." Sierra chimed in saying, "Nicaragua, too." Then Elise finished by saying, "She feels more alive in Nicaragua" and cast her vote in the same manner. As for me, I always cast my vote on the side that avoids a tie. There you have it, my family chose Nicaragua while being in the US over the holidays. This felt doubly good because each of the gals had their own say on where they live and made my wife and I happy for not forcing a situation upon the kids.    
  To that end, we have decided to open a corporation here in Nicaragua and bought a vehicle. In order to obtain residency, here is Nicaragua, one has to either go the investor route or the pensioner route. Residency will enable us to stay here for 5 years without having to renew the 90 day travel visas. Okay that is the meta-story and as the old adage goes, "The devil lies in the details." Obtaining residence might just be the easiest part. Finding truthful, reliable figures on real estate value are a completely different matter. There isn't a central data base showing recent sales figures and if there were, the numbers are fake anyway. In many ways, paying real estate transfer taxes here is a voluntary affair. For example, if you buy a property for $200,000 it is often the custom to report a much lower sales figure like $30,000 for tax purposes. Though on one hand this is wonderful to avoid taxes, on the other hand the non-transparent system scares many from investing. To make it clear, we have met many successful business owners, here, whom enjoy the economic freedom while at the same time agree the system is broken.
    The act of buying and registering a vehicle here is a monumental achievement. This probably explains why so many non-residents buy vehicles and don't register the car and drive around indefinitely with a bill of sale. Since we know many people here, we have decided to do it the right way and waste countless hours in the process. In fact, we have been so busy with setting up our corporation and buying a vehicle that we have not written anything in this blog for nearly a month. We are now at the tail end of the process so we should now have more free time. Regarding real estate purchases, we are going to take it very slowly and be very methodical. In fact, recently we have re-entertained the idea of owning rental units in the US and forgoing business ownership down here altogether. However, we truly do speak with very successful expats and they say be patient and ready for an opportunity when it arises. Thus, we are doing what is necessary in case the situation presents itself.

The power of one

My wife has said on many occasions what she likes most about living in here is her ability to affect change and make a positive impact in the community. As most readers know, Nicaragua is a poor country, but what some people may not realize, is Nicaragua is a happy place despite the many obstacles. For the average person who wants to help the make the world a better place, it may feel too daunting at times. This probably explains why the majority of people who donate, find it a fairly removed affair. It usually happens like this: After being motivated to help out, one acts on giving, hopes for the best, feels good about helping and moves on.
   Sadly though, some of the most important experiences are missing for those who donate from afar. Please don't get me wrong, donations are extremely vital for most NGOs and non-profits to survive and we encourage donating to worthy causes, even from the comforts of home. Please continue to give! What we are suggesting, however, is making a vacation out of giving so that you can see the smiles of the impoverished families for yourself. Give medicine and toys with a warm hand to those who need assistance. Let your family see, with their own eyes, how people can be happy with almost no possessions. Poverty is not a disease and those experiencing it probably work harder than most just to survive. Most importantly, don't let lack of language get in the way either, as 90% of love's powerful gift, is non-verbal anyway.
   We have found that exposing our kids to jaw-dropping poverty has made them better people. My wife and I have noticed that our daughters want less and use what they have more. Our daughters benefit from inventing board games, and preparing meals with what's available, instead of what they want. Our girls view life as waves of plenitude, instead of the world at their fingertips. We sincerely hope having a life full of memories, rather than stuff, is best for our children.
   A very good friend of ours, named Kelly, went to the U.S. for the holidays. She ran around between family members and celebrated Christmas and New Years, like the rest of us. Unbeknownst to all of her friends, here in Granada, she quietly amassed nearly 2,000 books for our school and potentially set up future supplies so that other Granada schools and libraries might receive books as well. What makes this so special is a woman who gave up her career to be a mother decided to improve the lives of so many young kids. According to Kelly, seeing a need and addressing that need gave her more satisfaction and validation than any job could have. It would have been wonderful if the world witnessed her exhale with with such relief and overwhelming pride. I wish I could better describe how her subtle smile slowly tightened as the tears of joy welled up in her eyes. Those of us who attended the ceremony witnessed the moment when Kelly was moved by the power giving. What one could not foresee, though, was her impact on the crowd. She unknowingly became a role model for the other women and girls in the room. She tangibly demonstrated, "The power of one" can change the world for the better. As we mentioned above, hopefully for your next vacation, you can find time for charity and giving. I promise, you'll be happy that you did.
   We would like to thank Kelly (who requested as little recognition as possible) and Better World Books http://www.betterworldbooks.com/go/donatebooks for making an enormous impact in Granada. Considering our school is one third scholarship students, meaning they attend for free based on economic need, this is huge for them. Here is a link to the video of the event https://infinit.io/_/jydvMVV  Have a wonderful day.

Kelly made it all possible.

Better World Books really impacted our school for the better 
In total there were around 2,000 books given.



It was amazing to see how fast the kids dove into the new books.

It sort of felt like Christmas while the boxes of books were being opened. 

Teachers and students were so happy.

The 2nd and 3rd grade teachers gave Better World Books their thumbs up.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

The school's Christmas show at Parque Xalteva

Christmas productions, put on by children, no matter where they are performed, are adorable. Our school decided to make their annual production a community event, open to the public, at Parque Xalteva. And a good choice it was! Every passerby was treated to nice music and festive garments. It's always a joy to see how the truest of smiles occur so naturally and effortlessly, when given a chance. Just throwing this out there, maybe the whole purpose of why we are alive is to put smiles on people's faces. Who knows, but what is the worst thing that could happen if we try, people smile too much?
   The holidays are a time for sharing and giving but for the rest of the year, the popular term is called "Paying it forward." As we approach the holidays, my family and I,  would like to take this opportunity to thank those travelers before us, whom unknowingly helped make our journey easier. Most travelers tread lightly and help when they can. Sure there are those bad seeds, that harm, but the majority of travelers will go forever unknown, spreading community, in each place they visit. We are thankful to those before us who helped blaze a path, albeit a less worn path, but a path just the same. We are indebted to people we have not met and probably will never know. To them, we say thank you for paying it forward and we will continue the tradition.
   Some of the best things in life, like family and love, aren't perfect. We find ways to enjoy the company of others regardless of the irritations and baggage we all bring. Learning to "Work-it-out" elevates our thoughts and in our solutions we can sometimes find a true gem. For example, my favorite Christmas song "Silent Night" was created because a church organ wasn't working. Rather than call off the annual Christmas show they worked through their problem and created a beautiful song which didn't require an organ. Today, many millions of children around the world sing this peaceful melody for others to enjoy. Who would have thought that a failed organ combined with the unfailing determination of a few men to "Work-it-out" could have given the world such a beautiful song? Their can do attitude is Christmas spirit in it's purest form.  https://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/silent.htm
   Though I might be too old, my Christmas wish this year is for people to forgive themselves and those around them, who fall short. May we rejoice in our failings as long as we learn from them. Finally, and most importantly, give children the greatest gift of all, believe in them.


video
Noche de Paz (Silent Night)


video
Thankfully the arts are critical pieces of education at our school.


video
Noche de Paz (Silent Night) 


Zoe and Anais in front of our Christmas art at home.

Sierra was happy to showcase her Dirndl.

The kids politely sat down waiting for each class to perform.

The parents eagerly waited for the show to commence.

The kindergarteners were adorable.


The flute was a nice touch.

Zoe and her best friend were angels for the performance.

Each grade had their own performance.

Beautiful setting for the concert.

The teachers even gave their all for a Christmas song.

Sierra liked playing with the girl's hair in front of her.

No Christmas celebration would be complete without a Christmas goose :) 

The kids horsing around during a song. 

Sierra and two of her closest friends.

The young ladies wore their finest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

La Purisima, loud and beautiful

La Purisima, is the loud and beautiful 9 day celebration for the Virgin Mary. In Nicaragua, no celebration is complete without copious amounts of fireworks and penetratingly loud music. What distinguishes la Purisima from other celebrations is that it starts at 4 in the morning, each of the nine days. Allow me to give you an example of how we were woken up each day during the festivities. At 4 in the morning, a burst of between 6 and 10 large skyrockets were shot in the air. The stillness of the city was officially broken, all while her residents were in their deepest slumbers. A half hour later, at 430 A.M. sharp (the only punctual thing in Granada) the parade started with a marching band, followed by large buses and trucks blaring their fog horns. Holding up the rear was a small beat up pickup truck packed with gigantic speakers that were larger than the truck itself, playing religious music at concert level loudness. The windows in our home and the fillings in my teeth vibrated from the sounds from two streets away and they were headed straight for us. The parade passed us by and my wife, children and I  were staring at each other, at 440 in the morning, shell shocked, all awake and nothing to do.
    If it happened just once, no problems, I wouldn't have even mentioned it in the blog. However, after 9 days of the BOOM BOOM sleep deprivation caused by the skyrockets and music, it started to feel more like torture than a celebration. After just a few days, our mental cognition dropped to that of sea slugs. I find it difficult to describe the affects of loud skyrockets and firecrackers exploding for 21 hours a day, all around you, for 9 long days. For us, there was no chance of escape because we live in an open air house, our bodies felt the explosions of each skyrocket. Thus, ear plugs would have been no use for us. We tried to squeeze in power naps when we could but the restful, restorative sleep was unattainable for a week and a half.
    The Granadines really love their festivals and cultural heritage which was plainly evident in their smiles. For me, each time I tried to smile it felt more like I was suffering a mini stroke not allowing my cheeks to tighten. Exhaustion is something nursing mothers, firefighters, or infantry men in a foxhole are familiar with and they could relate to our sleep deprivation. However, for the average reader it would be hard to comprehend how lifting a coffee cup to your mouth was such a heavy burden. Days blended into nights and the BOOMS went on and on and on. At one point I counted large skyrockets exploding every 6 seconds, which went on and on, seemingly, in perpetuity. Though the noise was insane for us Gringos, those same exact sounds were music for the Granadine's ears, whom openly celebrated their faith and love for the Virgin Mary. The last day of Purisima was held about 100 meters from our house. When I walked to the store, the morning after, I passed the corner where all the action was. I ended up walking ankle to shin deep through the papers of the exploded firecrackers. I hear Christmas and New Years will be even bigger and more encompassing, if that is even possible. We, however, are happy to be visiting relatives in the U.S. during that time frame.
    The history of la Purisima is slightly different depending on the city you hear the fable. Since we are in Granada, I will share their version. In December 1721, the British and Spanish fought a battle near El Castillo on the San Juan river. The Brits ended up throwing the statue of the Virgin Mary into the San Juan river during the assault. Miraculously the statue of Mary, still in her glass case, floated up stream and into Lago Colcibolca  (Lake Nicaragua). On December 7th, 1721 some peasant women were washing their clothing along the lake shore and discovered the statue floating in the water. The statue eventually made it to Granada, where it still resides to this day. During each la Purisima, the same historic statue is moved around the city, once per day, so the Virgin Mary can be part of each neighborhood. The devout are absolutely elated with the Virgin Mary and she helps the community in ways not seen and in more profound ways than one can explain. As for the fireworks, well we have learned, they are the exclamation points of Granadine love.    


video
Moving the statue during the day

video
Truly amazing levels of noise at 430 in the morning.

video
Early hours of the street festival.


Right outside our front door.

Men carried the statue of Virgin Mary between her celebration spots. It is a tremendous honor to be able to carry the statue.

People gathering to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary.

Dr. Matt walking with Sierra and Elena, Zoe and Amara are further ahead.

A family friendly place.

The early hours of the celebration down our street.

This is the original statue of the Virgin Mary found floating in the lake in 1721.

The girls and I made a wall mounted Christmas tree this year.

Mini statues are brought door to door for the elderly to be able to pray and pay homage.

The San Francisco convent, in central Granada, is popular during la Purisima.