Help us to fund a new school campus in Nicaragua!

Dear Readers,

As most of you know, in 2008, Justin and I set out on a journey to Nicaragua.  What began as an extended honeymoon has turned into so much more – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua has become our home and more importantly, it is now home to our two children: Lucinda and Theodore.

In 2009, our dear friend, Julie Speier, opened the doors to a small ½ day preschool.  Five years later, San Juan del Sur Day School has developed into a pre-k thru grade 2 International English School, educating expatriate and Nicaraguan children.  Julie’s vision does not end there.  By the year 2020, she hopes to have a fully operational Pre-k thru grade 12 school.

Our own daughter, Lucinda, has been attending the school for over a year now.  Each morning, before she has even cleared the sleep from her eyes, she inquires as to whether or not she has school that day.  She is often ready to depart for school a full hour before the lights have been turned on and the doors opened.  We delight in seeing our daughter take so much joy in learning.  And while she may not realize it quite yet, we know that she is already establishing the foundation for her education.  Some time next year, Theodore will also join his cohorts, perhaps becoming a member of San Juan del Sur Day School’s graduating class of 2031!

Due to its exponential growth, San Juan del Sur Day School is quickly outgrowing its current location.  Fortunately, the school recently received an incredibly generous donation of 30 acres of land upon which to make the dreams of San Juan del Sur Day School a reality.  Now, it is time to begin raising the funds to build those dreams.

Julie has played such a huge part in our lives, acting not only as schoolteacher and friend, but also as doula at the birth of both of our children.  Her commitment to the wellbeing of our children and those of San Juan del Sur is profound.  Now we can play a big part in her life and the lives of our children.  Below, you will find detailed information on the school and how to donate.

Please consider making a donation to the construction fund for San Juan del Sur Day School.  Every donation counts.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for being such wonderful people in our lives.  Feel free to share and forward this to others who might be interested in helping.


Sarah, Justin, Lucinda, and Theodore

San Juan del Sur Day School is a private International English school educating a diverse Nicaraguan and Expat student body of children from the ages of 18 months to eight years. We provide our students with engaging, stimulating and educational opportunities at all stages of development. We create a learning environment in which children are safe to make choices, exchange ideas, share feelings and gain some degree of autonomy. Our school helps children to develop that lifelong love of learning that will enable them to succeed in any environment. We are growing rapidly and can use your help! For information on how to support the school, please visit:

Rancho Chilamate’s 3rd Annual Christmas Bucket Drive

Each year, our friends, Blue and Jamie, hold a Christmas Bucket Drive to raise money to fill buckets with supplies needed most by the local communities near their ranch in San Juan del Sur.  The cost to purchase is just $25 and provides a family with 5 gallon buckets with household items that the families would buy with what little money they have. This includes items such as:

  • cooking oil
  • salt
  • sugar
  • candles
  • matches
  • toilet paper
  • laundry soap
  • towels
  • blankets
  • cookies
  • spices
  • soup mixes
  • coffee
  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  •  soap
  • sacks for harvesting
  • and last year we had enough donations to add new machetes to the buckets
  • and about 80 new files
  • PLUS they get the bucket with a lid as well… a very useful tool around the house.

For more information or to donate, please visit their website, Rancho Chilamate.  To see previous year bucket drives click here and here.

Let the spirit of giving begin and happy holidays!

The Meat We Eat

Many people say that the best way to pay homage to an animal that you plan to consume is to understand and appreciate its life cycle (from birth to free grazing farm to supermarket).  There is a prevalent belief that those of us eating meat without a full understanding of where it originated is not only ignorant, but sacrilege.   Some even go so far as to assert that one must be a participant in the slaughtering of the animal to truly honor the life of the animal that they are about to eat.  I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to any of these concepts and probably made more of an effort to avoid having this knowledge for the majority of my life.  Now, living in Nicaragua, this concept is much more real.  More often than not, the meat we eat is no longer from Arkansas (Tyson), but is from our neighbor’s front yard…literally.

The other day, I came home from Managua on a sunny afternoon to find a slaughtered baby pig hanging from a tree in our driveway.  This was no religious sacrifice, but preparation for a party to be hosted by my landlord later in the week.  I had the train-wreck syndrome;  I was equally horrified and curious and couldn’t decide whether to stay and stare or run into the house.  I chose the latter only to be confronted by Wilbur at the party a few days later.   That evening, Justin feasted on the piglet, while I stuck to the homemade bread and marmalade.  Ironically, I also ate some bacon wrapped dates, but somehow, this felt less abusive than eating the pig direct from the carcass.  A 4 year old at the party grilled the host on why he had killed the pig.  To placate the poor girl, he described an elaborate story in which he came upon a suffering pig along the side of the road and after a failed attempt to revive the pig with CPR, it passed away peacefully – then he cooked it.  She walked away semi-content with the reponse.  The 32 year old inside me felt a little better, too.

More and more, I have struggled with the concept of dining on the chickens that I valiantly try to avoid hitting with my car as I drive home each evening.  I am mildly excited when someone on our sailing trip catches a fish, but the moment it is reeled in, I move to the other end of the boat.  I can’t handle being the metaphorical fish out of water.  Try watching the real thing.  It’s difficult having items from my grocery list as neighbors.

So, am I making the natural transition to vegetarianism?  Is this how it all begins?  Eating meat directly off the bone has always made me feel a bit cannibalistic.  But more recently, I have found myself hesitating with chicken breasts, fish filets, and hamburgers.  Perhaps it has something to do with the winding pastoral landscapes complete with grazing cows and lamb (chops).  The first trimester of my pregnancy didn’t help, as a slight discomfort with certain meat turned into an all out chicken aversion for three months.  For whatever hormonal reason, the very thought of eating chicken could make me gag.

I attempted vegetarianism once in my life.  After a summer away at sleepover camp, I came home to my parents and proudly proclaimed my new vegetarian status.  My parents smiled and commended my efforts and promptly turned their backs to share a questioning glance that asked, “how long will THIS phase last?”  Not long.  I struggled to justify my new-found vegetarianism to friends and neighbors and most importantly, to myself.  Had I really adopted this new diet for reasons beyond the fact that it’s what the cool kids were doing?  Two weeks later, I was sinking my teeth into juicy burgers at the neighborhood party.

As a “mature” adult, I’m still not so sure that I’m ready for the vegetarian commitment.  It’s an even more difficult feat to achieve here in Nicaragua.  Though the country is poor and the diet subsists primarily on rice and beans, Nicaragua is still a meat country at heart.  Just count the number of fritangas (chicken ladies) in the street every evening around supper time, cooking up chicken, pork, and beef on their outdoor grills for a few cordobas.

An Irishman, Justin has meat and potatoes in his genetic makeup.  He would never make the transition with me.  And, if we ever moved back to the States and I had a little distance between myself and the local farm, will the plight of Bessie and Nemo become but distant memories?

For now, with a baby on the way in need of a well-balanced diet (which I don’t have the knowledge to provide sans meat), I won’t make any drastic changes.  But rest assured, it’s only going to get harder.

Helping Nicaragua

photo courtesy of

Our friends, Sarah and Baldo, are creating a non-profit, here in Nicaragua called CORE Nicaragua (COordinating RElationships in Nicaragua).  

The  principal purpose of the organization is to set up trips – clinics, home-stays, volunteer opportunities, construction projects and more – for mission groups.  Groups will be charged a fee per person, and once administrative costs are covered, the funds from these fees will be placed into a fund to cover medical expenses for people of low resources. 

Please visit their blog, currently in development, for more information and updates.

photo courtesy of

Fiestas Patronales – San Juan del Sur

Each town in Nicaragua has its own Patron Saint.  Nicaraguans of all ages honor the saint’s birthday annually with celebrations called fiestas patronales. 


While the purpose is religious, the focus is on music, dance, games, rodeos, and more – including the occasional cervesa or Nica Libre.  Along with San Juan de Oriente and San Juan de Jinotega, the community of San Juan del Sur celebrated its patron saint, Saint John, with pride this past week.


Saturday, June 20th, marked the beginning of San Juan’s 2009 fiesta patronal with a hípica (horse parade) and the coronation of Miss San Juan del Sur.  On Sunday, the church held a mass in celebration of all the “Johns.”  Monday-Wednesday played host to a series of neighborhood processions of the image of Saint John, as well as to three rodeos. 

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The festivities went into high gear with an all-night celebration on Tuesday evening, complete with a fireworks display, mariachis, marimbas, and a Gigantonas dance-off.



San Juaneños officially honored the birthday of Saint John on Wednesday with folkloric dancers, a final procession of Saint John…












….and my personal favorite – Juegos Bufos (silly games).  The games consisted of Palo Lucio (wherein men attempt to climb to the top of a very tall, greased pole), a bicycle race around town, and Chancho Lucio (a greased pig is unleashed in the streets of the pueblo and grown men and children attempt to capture it). 








The week of festivities wrapped Wednesday night with a concert on the beach featuring the band Macolla.

By my estimation, Fiestas Patronales was one of the best celebrations in San Juan del Sur, not to be missed!  To find out when Fiestas Patronales take place in your town, visit

Casa de la Mujer Soccer Team!

Casa de la Mujer: Mayra Calderon is a collective voice for those who share a commitment to issues concerning women in the greater San Juan del Sur area. Our mission is to facilitate the empowerment of women by providing support, education and alternatives.  Most recently, the Casa de la Mujer received a generous donation from two non-profit organizations, allowing the women of the Casa to begin two soccer teams – one for youth, ages 10-12 and one for older women.


Please visit the Casa’s blog for more information and consider a donation to support a teacher, a youth soccer team, supplies and more. Feel free to contact me for more info.

Volunteering with Free Medical Clinic in El Baston

The weekend before Christmas, our friend, Cheri, visited Nicaragua with a team of medical students from Wayne State University to offer 3, 1-day free medical clinics to the less-advantaged folks of the area.  Justin and I helped on the final day, in a town called El Baston, by doing intake for the patients, translating between doctors and patients, and making lunch for the med students.  


Justin gathering medical information from patients

Justin gathering medical information from patients

In total, the clinic saw over 100 people on Sunday in addition to the 250 patients seen in Ostional on Friday and Saturday.  It was truly an incredible experience to watch so many people line up and wait, for hours, to be seen by physicians.  


People waited for hours to be seen

People waited for hours to be seen

Most interesting were the number of people who came with no medical problems, but who created an ailment just to receive the attention from the students.   Patients presented with everything from high blood pressure to ulcers to albinism.   The most devastating case was a 6-year old boy with undeveloped legs.  He also appeared to hallucinate, crying and reaching out for people who were not there.  It was unsettling, to say the least, to witness this boy in so much discomfort and not be able to convey his feelings to us.  


As people waited to be seen, I encouraged a number of the kids to play a game of soccer with me – truly one of the highlights of the day!  I also really enjoyed simply interacting with everyone while they waited – asking them questions, comforting crying children, and making people laugh.  Everyone seemed to find my broken Spanish incredibly entertaining, but supported my effort to practice my Spanish.


Passing the time playing soccer

Passing the time playing soccer

The day proved to be quite rewarding for both the volunteers and med students, as well as the patients who received medical care.  I am hopeful that more opportunities like this one will become available for the amazing people in and around San Juan del Sur.

Casa de la Mujer – A Women’s Enrichment Center


Back in August, an energetic Expat, with fiery red hair, came into our office to talk to one of our sales agents about paying taxes on her property.  In the course of the conversation, I overheard her mention a defunct women’s center, in town, that she was trying to get up and running again.  I quickly introduced myself to Bonnie and asked that she keep me up to date on the center and let me know how I could become involved.  Having previously worked in a women’s shelter for pregnant and parenting teens, back in Boston, I was drawn to this cause.  Fast forward 4 months and I am deep in the thick of it, along with Bonnie, two other Expats (Lee and Rachel), and 3 local Nicaraguan women: Doña Mayra (the director of the center), Thelma, and Argelia.  

Mayra, Argelia, and children of some of the women

Mayra, Argelia, and children of some of the women

Since our first meeting on November 5, 2008, we have exchanged countless emails, held a fundraiser, opened a bank account for the organization, created an informational blog about the center, and established our mission, goals, and planned services.  This past Saturday, we  also had an information table at a local community event, in the park and sold over $100 in raffle tickets.   Most exciting is the prospect of a one-day free medical clinic that we might be able to host toward the end of the month.

Already, this experience has proven to be incredibly fulfilling.  I look forward to meetings when we share the hopes we have for the center and discuss the areas in need of improvement. I truly enjoy  working with local women, working on my Spanish with them, and learning the cultural nuances of a Nicaraguan-Ex-pat steering committee.  The people on this board both inspire me and challenge me to re-think many of my own preconceived ideas.  

In the coming months, we hope to paint the exterior of the women’s center, continue English classes with a formal schedule, begin a cooperative daycare so that the women can work, and lead courses in hospitality services.  If you find yourself reading this and wanting to get involved, either thru hands-on work or a donation, please feel free to contact me via this blog.  For more information, check out our Casa de la Mujer blog.

Amigos de la Polícia – San Juan del Sur

Amigos de la Polícia, a new Municipal Security Initiative, held its kick-off event in the Central Park on Friday. San Juan’s Mayor, the Captain of the police, and two sub-commissioners were in attendance, as well as members of the AdP board. Dancers from the Fundacion A. Jean Brugger kicked off the event with a few dance numbers and local police were on hand to display the new motorcycles and police radios purchased with the money raised to date by the initiative. It was surprisingly well-attended and people appeared hopeful that this increased effort toward safety and security in San Juan will continue to encourage tourism in the area.

You can read the Executive Summary of the AdP plan online at Del Sur.

Amigos is now online at:

Clean-up of the Chocolata

One of the things we’ve learned since our arrival in San Juan is that EVERYONE is involved in community outreach in one way or another. Be it a one day event or ongoing projects, most people step up and offer their time. On this particular day, hundreds of local school kids, and members of the local community chipped in to pick up trash along the Chocolata – a road that runs from San Juan del Sur to Rivas. Justin and I joined friends and drove the the route delivering water and t-shirts to the volunteers.