The Third Year (1973):
May to December-- Settling In

May 27: The rains came; the dust settled; and we've been working long days planting gardens and fruit trees. One of my favorite things to plant are banana trees. They grow so fast and with good conditions you have a bunch of bananas within one year. I remember last year when I was visiting a coffee farm farther up the mountain (banana trees are often used for shade for the coffee plants), and I admired a huge bunch of bananas, about twelve feet up, and growing "upside-down." The farmer asked if I like one, and saying yes, he proceeded to take his machete and chop down the entire tree! We ate a few of the ripe yellow ones and left the rest of the bunch and the tree for ground cover and fertilizer for the coffee.

That day I received my education on the cultivation of bananas. A banana tree only produces one bunch of bananas and then dies. And do you know how to plant a banana tree? You take a healthy, ripe banana; carefully peel it half way down; then place the peeled half in the ground with the peel protecting the above ground half and the area immediately around the little "seedling." After a day of planting, it's a beautiful sight to see a field with all these little yellow bananas poking out of the ground. Good thing the farmer didn't tell me that story, because I'd have gone back to the farm and "planted bananas." Instead I took the banana shoots, growing around the parent tree, which he offered me, and planted them as soon as I got back. (From that start we grew hundreds of banana trees and also brought in about ten other varieties of bananas and platanos)

June 12: Today we butchered and barbecued our first rabbit. What a delicious meal! Do you know how to butcher a rabbit? I'll tell you one thing, the skin comes off like a glove. That's enough to tell.

During this time Grandma Marty came for a one-week visit. We met her in Managua and took the public buses to Santa Clara, where our neighbors, Abran and Christina Vilchez, took us to the farm in their jeep. She played with Mateo, hoed corn, slept on the tile floor and cooked over the fireplace. On the return trip, she rode a horse to San Fernando, a bus back to the airport in Managua and we waved goodbye.With her usual smile, she said "You all seem happy; I love you."

July 25: Mateo's 5th month. Today we rode to Santa Clara to take a break and enjoy some company in the village, not to mention, to show off Mateo. Just last week a neighbor showed me the trail. It's rough but shorter than following the road to San Fernando. Elizabeth's horse fell in one of the river crossings, which was scary. She scrambled out wet but uninjured. Another area of this trail is down a very steep gulch with sandy sides. Not sure the peril on this trail is worth the time saved!

The last two mornings we've had sausage and eggs for breakfast! Which means the chickens started laying and we've butchered our first pig. Last Saturday we spent all day at our neighbor's, Don Concho, and he showed us how to do it. Next time Elizabeth and I will try it ourselves. We have seven new piglets to practice on. They are strong and so cute.

Also the rhubarbs is up and lots of new spices are growing. The corn is over our heads in places and rhe beans are almost ready to harvest. I've planted trees along the path from the house up to the road and over the entry gate to the farm now hangs a sign with carved letters that says SANGARRO. That's the name of the mountain which rises to the northwest of our farm and now it's the name of our farm.

September 11: We've been having a rough time lately. First Elizabeth came down with an acute bout of hepititus and was on her back for two weeks. Then, when she was just about back on her feet, she developed some severe stomach pains. We walked to the lumber mill and got a ride to Octotal. Dr. Moncada, thought it was probably a secondary infection from the hepatitis affecting her liver and appendix. We got three kinds of medication, stayed the night to make sure it wasn't appendicitis, and came back the next day with Elizabeth feeling much better.

Then a day later, down I went with all the hepatitis symptoms. It's taken me two weeks to get any energy back and so Elizabeth has been taking care of me and Mateo and the farm. She did good by all of us and is still healthy. Mateo enjoyed watching her relearn to milk the cow! But trying to do chores with him on one arm is rough - but she did it and some weeding besides. Mateo, thanks probably to Mother's milk, is still in perfect health and now crawling and eating as much dirt as he can get to (which gets him his first "No, No!" and slap). What an experience - being sick - having your energy disappear and a few pains besides. Glad we're through this one - "knock on wood."

Now for some nice news: I had a cake for my birthday! And it was so good we celebrated with another one two days later -- chocolate, one with whipped cream frosting, the other with white icing. Yesterday we had noodles and canned sardines and a squash pie. Today we butchered a chicken and also had friend okra and another squash pie. And the rhubarb is coming along fine. Oh yes - quite a few sour milk pancakes and honey lately and fried eggs. Elizabeth has been doing all the cooking with as much protein as possible. I think we're regaining weight and muscle.

We've been thinking lately of a trip back to the States - Miami or some nice, small Midwestern type town - but Miami is close and only $76 airfare. We have on occasion considered moving permanently to the U.S. -- more friends, more variety, more money, more security - movies, TV, cheeseburgers and ice cream sodas. We may appreciate the U.S. more than most folks who live there!

September 15: The last two days have been like coming back to the farm after a long absence - we're working to get our gardens back in shape and planning, planning, planning. We may fence our farm and rent the pasture for the summer and buy a couple more cows! Yesterday I plowed with our horse Gumpy! I'd say I did about 5 days hoeing in 2 hours! Sangarro has never looked better.

Last day of September: We are fully recovered from our bouts with Hepititus and September has been a fine month --Beautiful weather -- with more or less an hour or two of rain every afternoon or evening - lots of sun but cool. This has given us a fine chance to get ourselves, and the farm, back in shape. Its never looked more beautiful here-the old corn being harvested daily and new corn and beans coming up in the plain; new growth on all the trees; new garden planting coming up here and there; and the whole place almost entirely free of weeds. The rhubarb is a winning plant and should be in pie by next week. The borage tastes almost like spinach and we like it. As a tea Elizabeth says it tastes exactly like "mate" a drink widely used in Uruguay and Argentina - unfortunately we aren't fond of it. The borage also has pretty flowers. The leeks are doing well and are now transplanted into neat rows. This is really great because we love onions in our cooking but can't successfully grow them. The leeks may spread beyond our farm if they prove out, because everyone here has a similar problem and few people can afford onions. We're saving a few plants to try to seed the second year.

In September I believe we broke even. We spent about $25 and made $24 on piglets and $2 on vegetables! So you might say, that after only two years of backbreaking work, we have brought our farm into the black!
We're producing all our animal feed now - the corn, sorghum, beans and scraps from the gardens. Some changes in our diet too. We got 27 little bottles of honey and only two stings from the bees. They are quite the producers and will some day be expanded. We've been eating a lot of boiled squash and squash pie. And a new drink which we're really hooked on - "soy juice" - or a drink made exactly like coffee only out of our soybeans. With honey it's really fine, like coffee, only a slightly nutty taste.

October 2: Yesterday we rode up to Don Concho's. Had a most delightful day -- eating, talking and walking around his place. I established myself as a marksman by downing a squirrel. He offered me his gun and asked that I take the shot. We drank some rum and played a Nicaraguan card game.

Mateo!!! Well he's really something. He's become responsive like a little boy. Great huge smiles upon seeing either of us, huggy, yells with excitement, has a special sound for saying, "Look, there are the horses!" Scoots like mad. Has taken a few experimental crawls. Stands up to everything and waves both hands, throws things, eats most foods but still loves his mother's milk. When we ride he usually goes with me, yet, Elizabeth is still the important one. She is determined to bring him along, and a fine job she's doing! She made a leather back carrier and almost always works with a hoe or rake two or more hours a day with him bobbing along behind. He coos and sometimes fusses, in which case he's simply had enough. But usually he ends up going to sleep with some kind of leaf wadded up in his cheek or tucked under his tongue.

October 6: Today we're on vacation! We took a two-day trip to Ocotal and then out to Jalapa. Jalapa is two hours further on the dirt road where we get off to go to the farm. The bus, this time, wasn't crowded and we just had to see where that road went. There are a surprising number of people living out here and a lot of agriculture - tobacco, rice, corn and beans. We're staying at the best flophouse in town. It's very friendly and we like it. Mateo is now playing with a little girl. He's pretty fascinated that there are other little people in the world. Turns out he likes them as well as horses - but he still has a special sound for horses.

Last night, in Ocotal, we went to a Jehovah's Witness meeting with our vet friend and his wife. Had dinner and a late night chat - far out - it's nip and tuck whether they will turn us into Witnesses or we'll turn them into homesteaders. A very nice and social evening - also talked for a half hour with our doc about bees and a half hour with another fellow about vegetables and irrigating.

October 20: This last week we've really been taking it easy. Lot's of good cooking, reading, playing with Mateo and relaxing in the hammock. Three rhubarb pies have lasted just a day each! And the plants are still coming on real strong. Another delicious that Elizabeth has lately specialized in is honey-coffee cake with white frosting. In the last two weeks I bet we've eaten about six of those - with real discipline we eat only half a cake a day. Soy coffee and corn meal cereal are still two of our daily staples.

A week ago we planted the whole other side of our fenced-in-area to beans, corn and sorghum. We brought up two oxen ($4/day) for plowing. I worked with the oxen, for two long days. Elizabeth plowed with them for awhile too. I can see the beans popping up all over.

We had a fine outing last Tuesday. We rode to the lumber mill to have a tool welded and to chat and trade books. We left there at about 11am and decided on the spur of the moment to ride on out to Don Orocio's on the main road. We had a fine time there eating and chatting and found out that Orocio's oldest girl, who speaks English and was there with her three children, is married to a U.S. fellow who has lately been running a couple of bars in the Los Angles area. The girl loves the States and hates it here, but it turns out that, two months ago when he brought her here to visit her parents, he loved it here. He went back to Los Angles to sell all his stuff and come back to work with Don Orocio! He loves horses and thinks that his kids will grow up better here (with a servant apiece!) than in crime-dope riddled L.A. Well, the girl is at a loss finding herself stuck back on the farm. They are expecting him back about Christmas to start learning to be a farmer. They are fun neighbors, and with him here, it should be that much more interesting.

Not five minutes after we left Orocio's, a hard rain began. We put on our "capotes", which also cover the saddle and half of the horse and proceeded merrily on our way. Halfway back, working our way slowly up the mountain, the rain turned into a torrential downpour. Mudslides started all around us and water was pouring over the culverts and started to chew the road in two. Unbelieving, amazed and carefully - we made our way along. At the worst point our horses were up to their bellies in running water and at another time in mud over their knees. After about an hour the torrent let up and a few hours later, just before nightfall, we arrived home in only a drizzle.

Boy, did the fire feel good and the hot soy and cake taste good. To celebrate the occasion, Mateo, who had either suckled, snoozed, or peeked his way through all this, did his usual one armed, one legged jig accompanied by a great wooshing-whistling sound put down the stomping leg and let go with the holding arm and just stood there all by himself for about three seconds - and then, crashing to a sit, he let out a delighted scream. About once or twice a day now he repeats a variation on this performance. He's quite the little fellow -- though don't let me get too carried away - this morning he's just as fussy as hell! Probably he's not too excited about his Dad writing and his Mom making bread.

Other notes: in one damn day all five of our beautiful little frying rabbits died. We're pretty sure we fed them some greens that turned out to be poisonous. We've had beautiful days and the hardest rain we've ever seen every night. And not a single jeep has come in since the torrential rain; so I guess it managed to take the main road out in several places. That'll mean the lumber folks are working to repair the road, cause they depend upon it.

First Week in November: We're breakfasting in Santa Clara and packing supplies back this morning - we have an extra packhorse along. We've been working on the house lately. We worked on the floor from sun-up til candle light last night so that a good bit of it can set-up today. The house does look a bit different with the red tile floor. The farm is more lush than it's ever been. Each day now we take a little trip to the river to pack back sand for the floor. Mateo loves that. I think he loves just about everything on the farm - including his new floor - better than crawling on dirt!

Mateo's toys include a little stuffed monkey, a rolling elephant, a truck, a horse, a hippo, a giraffe -- also all my tools and everything in the kitchen. Oh yes - Mateo and Elizabeth were pitched off a horse two weeks ago when a bee bit the horse and the cinch broke! Elizabeth rolled, protecting Mateo, and got off with only two bruises.

November 20: The day started early - about 4am -- with Mateo demanding to get up. So we got up. The eighth moon was bright over the horizon and the stars were twinkling. The rooster was crowing - but then I do think he was a bit early, having been awakened by Mateo. Oranges, boiled corn cereal, corn-cocoa drink - still pitch dark. Pig, chickens, ducks, rabbits fed. Green beans picked for dinner. Dawn just starting to break. Between then and the time the sun peaked over the hill, we had made four gallons of "wine!"

Last year we experimented with a plant called rosselle for making bubbly with enough success that this year we planted a good sized patch of it. It is used for a Christmas drink in parts of the West Indies, for example, Jamaica. There it is called either vino or sorrel - the one recipe we have calls for making it one day and drinking it the next with rum. We boiled about a bucket of the red pods, added five pounds of sugar and three tablespoons of bakers yeast. By the time we got back from fence building at noon, it had blown off the cloth top and was bubbling over. And we've started to drink it cause it tastes so good - like pink Champaign. I doubt that we can survive our crop - we have enough for about 500 gallons! Luckily, we cannot afford to buy enough sugar to convert it all. We may try to sell some though. Also we're reading a fairly technical book on wine making and I started today learning to use a hydrometer to test the alcoholic content of a brew. So maybe our one-day wine will actually end up "good" stuff but I doubt if it'll ever taste any better than it does today. Pardon me while I go back for another little nip.

We're working at fencing our farm and between the wine and dinner we dug 20 postholes and made 72 oak posts (but they're not yet pealed or pointed). I do most of the fence work but Elizabeth pitches in where she can and takes care of Mateo. He's on her back much of the time and plays a little bit on a canvas thrown on the ground. He loves to eat everything and today carefully sampled oak leaves and bark. He got tired and a bit chewed up so Elizabeth went back early and put dinner together. He's almost nine months now and is a great crawler and stander upper to things. He can stand alone momentarily, but since he learned to crawl he hasn't been doing it much.

He's right now sitting on the floor rolling an orange around and tearing up a magazine. Now he's crawling under the table (about one-foot clearance). He made it and got the orange - no, he's still nine-tenths under the table. Starting to whine. No, here he comes. He made it on his own! Now he has a can which he's swinging around and banging on the floor. I predict he next crawls off the tile into the sand (our floor is only half finished). Wrong - he's whining cause Mom went out the door. He's over pushing against the door. Yep, now his hand is stuck in the door and he's screaming. Mom to the rescue!

Mateo is a joy to us most of the time not counting about 10% of the time when he's a real terror.. His worst time is at night. He still wakes about every two hours, wanting to be fed and sometimes being pretty hard to put back to sleep. Poor Mom has to handle this. Sometimes during the day he's just whining, hanging onto legs and falling off things because he's not paying attention to what he's doing. And there's probably more bad which I can't think of because now he's being good - and what a ball he is when he's good. He loves the farm and a sure cure to any fussy is to take him out to feed the animals or just to walk around. Maybe once a week or two we go on our supply run, which is about a 15 mile horse back ride and he always loves these - even in heavy rains or at night - although we usually get our rides in during the cool of the morning. The luckiest thing is that he's never been sick except for "colic" and a slight cold, which he now has.

November 23, 1973: We're working like mad on the fence and it's really going well. Hard work - has us back in top shape. We're also experimenting with fermenting our rosselle kool-aid!