Hello, I'm Abby Smith. I started this blog in 2010 to write about the pursuit of a self-sustainable life in rural Mexico. In 2015, my then-husband and I moved to Nicaragua, where we created a successful farm-to-table and in-house charcuterie program for a high-end beach resort. In 2022, with mad butchery and cheese-making skills under my belt, I started a sustainable food systems consulting business. Happily, I also have more time for my first love-- writing about food and the complexities of the simple life.
The first month of 2023 has been a whirlwind of work, windfalls of understanding, and, dare I say, wisdom?
I just returned from a six-week consultation at Vera Eco Resort. Last year I started my own business, Renegade Consulting, which was primarily for cheese making and butchery and has evolved into more of what my heart wanted. I realized a few months ago my purpose is to work for the earth’s well-being. My expertise: sustainable food systems are the perfect means to that end.
When I left the U.S. 15 years ago, self-sustainability was the goal. Note that self comes first in that term. My new perspective is reversed. Earth first. How can I best serve the planet? It may seem like semantics, but it’s a change in my thinking that created a significant shift in the way I feel and how I approach my life.
My grandmother, Alice Klinzman, counter-crossed stitched a series of angels for her five grandchildren. Each angel she created had a name, Angel of Hope, Guardian Angel–mine is Earth Angel. As a teenager, I wondered why, other than it was redheaded, she chose it for me. Now I know, she knew me before I knew myself.
In December, I intended to edit and repost some of my favorite posts. I haven’t gotten to that due to my consulting project, but I started thinking of it when I returned home last weekend. This post and its poem came to mind first. I am amazed when I remember how many of the phrases, though they seem like metaphors, actually occurred and how clearly the intent remains the same.
I met Pirate when I pivoted from the front of the house to the back. Which is to say, from the fancy life, in heels and dresses, to worker, where my uniform was blood-soaked aprons and scalded hands — trophies of mozzarella making.
Pirate took to me immediately. He was the mascot in the staff meal kitchen where my new meat and cheese program was located. My team and I fed the staff, butchered the farm’s pigs, cows, and chickens, and made upwards of 80 liters of milk a day into cheese. There were lots of scraps. What was there for a dog not to love? I resolved immediately not to adopt him. He was loud, demanding, needy and slimy. He was not underweight; everyone in the dorm fed him, and I did not need another dog.
But Pirate was insistent; I would love him! I would feed him! And eventually, I would take him home. When my part in the program ended, I couldn’t leave him there, aging and half-blind.
We came home together on the last day of October 2021, never to return to desarollo kitchens, his home of many years and where I had placed my heart for the last three. He was immediately at home in his new surroundings. I was desolate. My cheese cave was my happy place, but I was consoled to have Pirate with me. Also, just two months earlier, my partner of 24 years, Felipe, told me he no longer wanted to be with me. He wasn’t sure when he would leave, but he would indeed go. It wasn’t a surprise; we had been struggling to find a shared path for years. In February, we separated. And though by that time, it was mostly a mutual decision, I don’t have words for how painful it was. I will avoid revisiting that with an explanation. What I am here to share with you is what my relationship with Pirate became.
Twice a day, I walk my dogs on a beautiful forest path. Pirate, of course, went with my other two dogs and me, though he was slower because of his blindness. He also didn’t like to climb the stairs to my apartment. He lived on the first floor and spent a lot of time alone. I wanted to give him some special time every day, so at the end of each walk, I would sit with Pirate and sing him a song. For the first several weeks after Felipe left, I chose Goodbye, by LP, an empowering break-up anthem. Pirate would enter the gate and stand and howl, waiting for me to sit down with him, play his song, and sing. He pressed his body into me, and many, many days, I cried into him, unable to sing. He pressed harder.
After several months I was able to sing, and I changed the repertoire to Everything Matters by Aurora. I love to sing and have a decent voice. When I started trying to sing this song, my voice cracked. Though it was well within my range, I couldn’t hit the high notes. It sounded awful.
I realized, sitting there with Pirate, how profound this loss was. Not only was my range gone, I had silenced myself trying to please people, and hold onto things that no longer served me to maintain my sense of security. I loved these things, my marriage, my project, but with attachment, not freedom, the place that real love comes from. I sang on through tears, croaking and sometimes hitting the notes with deep satisfaction. Pirate appreciated it when I sounded great or ghastly.
In July, Pirate died, and I was pissed! Seriously, universe! I’ve lost my partner, job, and dog in less than a year! No fair! I sat with Pirate through his last hours; I sang to him with all my gratitude and hit every note except the ones muffled by tears. I let him go, and I helped him leave because it was what was best for him.
Dogs are magic. They come into your life and give you what others cannot, what you can not yet give yourself. They show you it’s possible. Thank you for giving my voice back, Pirate. You were a very good dog.
In August, I bought my first car (yes, my first car at 56 years old). It’s a beast, kinda stinky (it’s diesel), and worn, but powerful and reliable. I named it Pirate. I feel so free behind the wheel, belting out Everything Matters to Pirate in the ether.
For my long-time readers– Felipe and I separated amicably. He is still the superman you have read about here over the years. The nature of this blog will change without him, but I will still be writing about living in Nicaragua, and the complexities of the simple life. Though I don’t feel this way at every moment, life is still very simple, very easy, and very good.
If you follow me on Instagram, you have seen me making cheese again. Recently, I started consulting to help businesses get their farm-to-table programs off the ground, and over the last couple of weeks, I had the honor of creating a cheese program at the Vera-Eco resort in the Matalgalpa district of Nicaragua.
For the moment, I’m not going to say much about what I did there because I want to tell you about Vera-Eco Resort. This resort exists to support an extraordinary boarding school, Escuela Vera Angelita, where Nicaraguan girls aged 8-12 from impoverished communities are offered every resource needed to obtain a good education, the opportunity to expand their horizons, and create change in their communities. The girls also receive a healthy diet and clothing, they are housed, and in addition to the regular curriculum, they enjoy various extracurricular activities. They learn English, computer technology, leadership skills, and so much more.
To keep homesickness at bay, they and their parents are gifted with phones to remain in contact with their families daily. Though, in some instances, the girls are at risk at home, Vera not only offers a stellar education but a haven.
For only 5000$, you can change a child’s life for the better. If that is not enough, you also get a fabulous vacation in the Nicaraguan cloud forest.
Vera Angelita opened in 2022 and currently has about 60 students. But they could have more. There are ten little girls in need of sponsorship. Click here to meet them!
• Join us in Nicaragua for an annual visit to the school and sprawling 437-acre campus nestled in the cloud forest of Matagalpa.
Four annual trip date options will be made available each year. Your benefits include accommodation for up to 2 persons in our onsite guest villas for a 4-night/5-day stay, farm-to-table meals, 24-hour security, airport transfer both to & from the airport, access to our onsite city shuttle service, and all onsite guest activities we have to offer.
• Have a monthly ‘virtual visit’ with your sponsored student • Exchange letters • Receive a receipt for your tax-deductible contribution (*minus the cost of any goods & services received).
Please visit Vera Angelita’s site, and spread the word by sharing this post. What better way to share the spirit of Christmas than helping a little girl live her dream?
Please consider sponsoring a student; there is no greater gift these girls could receive than knowing she is going to Vera Angelita in 2023.