Lil’ D limericks

If the Irish get kisses for wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, what would happen if everyone acted green the rest of the year? The earth will kiss us back and provide a home to sustain us for more years to come.

In celebration of sustainability, and in honor of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (I won’t, ’til the end) I have created my reader’s challenge of limericks for Denton, Texas on this St. Patrick’s Day.

May the Irish luck be with ye.


Even in Ireland they can hear Big Ben,

Tick-tick stick to schedule in London.

But this town’s downtown tower

doesn’t show the correct hour,

for life moves at a southern pace in ________.


Folks here are creative, always inventin’.

Raise backyard chickens, just keep ’em penned in.

Get your craft on at SCRAP.

Stand up, sing, dance, or rap.

Be original, stay ___________.


Two universities bring in the brains,

Metroplex growth with construction cranes.

A pity, given the proximity,

bad public transit to the city;

Yet at all hour we hear loud honking ________.


On second-hand loving Denton is keen.

Recycled gives books another chance to be seen.

Twice As Nice is a fab thrift store.

Habitat has paint, wood, and more.

Not just the Irish are proud to be _________.


If you too love just about everything about living in Lil’ D, especially its freethinkin’ folks, but wish there were even more environmental initiatives, then send in your limerick answers* and sustainable suggestions in the comment box below.

Or submit your own limericks in homage to your hometown or adapted city!

To get thoughts rolling before pitching Big Ideas for Denton at Stoke next Monday, here’s a short list of my ideas for a greener Denton:

Alternative transportation

  • More commuter trains (A-train on weeknights, connection to Ft. Worth) and less frightfully noisy freight trains (plant more trees along the tracks as a sound barrier?)
  • Bicycle racks in front of stores. Some places (SCRAP, Ravelin Bakery) have let us bring our bikes inside, apologizing that the city doesn’t allow bikes to be parked outside.
  • Bike-awareness as a component of driver’s education and driver’s license renewal. Some drivers act openly aggressive toward cyclists, some only look for other cars before turning, and others are too busy on their phone to notice a bike until it’s too late.

Waste reduction

  • Weight sensors on the garbage trucks to charge each household by the amount of trash they generate each week. Water, electricity, and natural gas are based on consumption. It seems unfair to charge a flat rate to two houses, when one has an overflowing oversized garbage bin every week and another puts out a small bin every two weeks.
  • Biodegradable, green-tinted bags for yard waste to be composted, not landfilled. Neighborhood composters looking for leaves don’t know if the curbside stack of black garbage bags contains future soil or plastic trash.
  • Ban on leafblowers. Texas is windy, y’all. After an hour blowing the leaves to the other side of the street, the wind blows them right back. It’s pointless, loud, and wasteful. A rake does the job silently, efficiently, and using human power.

Food production

  • Farmers’ markets in northern and southern neighborhoods, just like banks have branches distributed across the city.
  • Incentives for homesteading similar to the programs in Kansas, to encourage organic farmers unable to afford the higher prices for smaller acreages.
  • Combat invasive weeds like Johnson grass with ground cover like clover (my white clover patch had perfect timing flowering today). Shamrocks for the win! ♣

Share your ideas, and we might all be lucky enough to have the city implement them.

*Are you one of those people who scatter Cheerios all over the breakfast table trying to look at the upside down answers to the word scramble on the back of the cereal box?

Please don’t spill my blog.

uǝǝɹƃ ‘suᴉɐɹʇ ‘ʇuǝpuǝdǝpuᴉ ‘uoʇuǝp :sɹǝʍsu∀

Putting the green in holiday greenery, with a pop of red

There is a lot of greenery in holiday decorations, but not a lot of green.

  • Our neighbors have left their Christmas lights on all night long since before December.
  • UPS has been bringing a package to the neighbors nearly every day since Black Friday. Inefficient deliveries means online shopping isn’t more environmentally friendly than driving once to the mall. (How about a discount if you opt to lump all your household’s purchases spread out over several weeks into a single monthly delivery?)
  • Single-serve aluminum baking pans and disposable champagne glasses are designed for holiday office parties or hosts who can’t bother to cook and then wash dishes afterwards too.
  • After the flurry of unwrapping, the mounds of paper, ribbons, bows, and probably a little kid’s already lost new toy, are whisked up in a pile for the garbage.
  • Unwanted gifts, notably the ugly-on-purpose white elephants, are given for a chuckle, then tossed.
  • The everyone-must-have-it-and-so-shall-I item is purchased at all cost, only to be relegated to the back of a closet stuffed with last season’s trends. A lady paid $300 for a Hatchimal in an online auction! That much money can buy a whole chicken coop set-up with a flock that will lay edible eggs every day all through next Christmas.

This year, our first living in the United States, we wanted to make at least a two-person dent in America’s Christmas-time consumption. We went for a hike in the forest while everyone was stuffing themselves silly at Thanksgiving, and the next day picked up free pecans straight from the trees while everyone was shopping on Black Friday, purportedly to help bring businesses out of the red. For the greenery, I didn’t need to spend green; I just had to look outside.

Navidad 2011 in Jardín, Colombia. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

I hadn’t had a proper backyard garden since we lived in Jardín, Colombia, where every vividly painted balcony had a little old lady stooped over with a watering can. It didn’t matter if the pot was an empty pop bottle, as long as you grew pretty flowers in it. And everyone did. Gardening in Jardín was effortless: year-round mild temperatures, fertile soil, abundant water.

Growing corn on either side of a mandarin orange tree in our backyard in Jardín. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Texas is a whole different beast. It’s like riding a bronco. I really, really, wanted to see at least one bright red tomato popping out of that tangle of green branches, like Rudolph’s nose if he ran into a pine tree, and so I hung on as big ol’ Texas weather bucked with all it’s got: a drought in June, 100-degree days in July, a rainstorm-a-day that brought fungus in August, aphids in September, daily tickling sessions to help pollinate in October, nightly tucking the plant to sleep under sheets for frost just at fruit-set in early November, and numbly stripping the branches of any tomato bigger than my pinky fingernail before the hard frost in the teens in December.

I missed my Rudolph moment, but green ripened into red in the dark cabinets and exploded with homegrown flavor. After that first juicy bite of lost summer, I made my peace with winter’s closure of the growing season and yanked off the tomato cage. I guess I wasn’t entirely at peace looking at unopened flowers and still had the bronco-buckin’ grip that can snap metal. That broken cage released my creativity, and with a little redneck ingenuity (duct tape) the upturned trellis became an upcycled tree.

Coffee capsule/tomato cage 2016 Christmas tree. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Tinto in two forms helped with the rest of the decorations.

1.) Tinto as black coffee: Empty espresso capsules became dangly bells that let out a dainty ring against the sides of the tomato cage. This is our fifth year of hanging the same Nespresso capsules (and hanging the same hand-sewn stockings) on a miniature Christmas tree, which back in Colombia was made out of fresh bamboo branches each year. We rescued the capsules from the trash bin of an office that worked with and drank a lot of Nespresso.

2.) Tinto as red wine: Empty bottles will spell out J-O-Y to my visiting nephews and nieces learning to read (it’s my middle name too). The letters were cut out from the cardboard of a cracker box. The twine had held up pole beans in the backyard. The red marker and gold ribbon were discarded by previous tenants. Three evergreen clippings came from branches that overhung a nearby walking path and were due for a trim. The wine came at a cost, but we’re happy to be still celebrating monthly anniversaries.

Joy in a bottle. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Thank you to the coffee and wine growers for contributing to our year-round enjoyment of these beverages and our year-end holiday decoration.

Thank you to the tomato growers who will sustain us until next summer’s crop.

Thank you to those who also choose to find peace and beauty in the simplicity of a more sustainable seasonal celebration.

Thank you to my readers and fellow writers for nourishing my mind with your inspiring ideas and encouraging words.

Now bring on the holiday desserts! (Thank you to the cocoa growers, the vanilla growers, the almond growers…)

Seasonal greetings from Tinto Tinta Translations!

¡Feliz navidad! Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Coffee lesson from Cartago # 3: Drinking local coffee, from donkeys to horses

1.) Don’t be mule-headed about bad coffee, when you can drink good coffee straight from a mule’s side

At the far end of the linear park I saw a pack of people in a disorderly line, eagerly waiting their turn. Among them I managed to make out the shiny back and pointed ears of a horse, and I thought we had arrived at a children’s carousel. Strangely, the kids were sitting around bored, while the adults waited next to the attraction, jingling their coins. I took out a $500 coin, engraved with the same samán tree that shade the park, and upon paying just $300 more I was able to enjoy the attraction.

The show is roasting, grinding, and dispensing coffee, all in one spot. The work is done by the same beasts of burden that carry bags of coffee up and down the mountainsides where Colombian coffee is grown. This mule, made of fiberglass and steel base, bears a coffee roasting machine on its back. The coffee grinder and machine for preparing the drink is mounted on one of its sides. The coffee is not only good and cheap, but it comes with a nifty package.

Francisco and Marta with their mule. Photo by Carrie Cifuentes.

Francisco, the creative mind behind the design, and Marta Cecilia Ortega Pérez, pour some 3,000 cups out of their mule every night. The beans come from El Cairo, a nearby area known for producing high quality coffee. When they started 15 years ago, the locals weren’t accustomed to drinking black coffee (or at least, not the quality stuff), but by offering fresh coffee with an innovative presentation the couple has managed to change the city’s habits, little by little, cup by cup, with their Café a Lomo de Mula.

2.) Locally bought vs. Locally grown

During breakfast at my hotel I asked the waiter where the coffee was from, if it was local coffee. With all of the cordiality and impeccable service that characterize Colombian wait staff, he smiled and answered, “The coffee is Sello Rojo, ma’am.” My expression must have revealed my disappointment, because he quickly added, “But it is purchased locally, from right here in town.” Oh, okay, so is that what makes it local?

Sello Rojo is the leading brand of poor-quality coffee in a country known for the best mild coffee in the world. It was transported to the town from a far-off factory, already roasted and ground, ready to be scooped by the spoonful, only roughly measured, without any appreciation, without any enjoyment. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a young barista was savoring the results of an experiment preparing coffee harvested only a few months ago and just minutes away.

3.) The craft of good taste

The rear of the store still functions as a leather workshop, following the family tradition, but at night the aroma of coffee seeps into the streets, seeking to create new habits. “The older folks are used to second-grade coffee,” reflects Cesar Ramiréz, owner of the café/saddlery Nebraska. “They drink coffee, but of poor quality.”

As at Café a Lomo de Mula, in Nebraska they use the local and good coffee from El Cairo. Cartago is a distribution center for coffee from El Cairo, along with the entire coffee-growing region of Norte del Valle, Risaralda, and Caldas, so there are many coffee threshers and warehouses in the town. Yet, the tightwads and diehards continue to sip black coffee by Sello Rojo, left over from the previous day and sold from a thermos.

Tintos in thermoses in Parque Bolívar. Photo by Carrie Cifuentes.

Among the town’s youth, however, the specialty coffee movement has gained ground. Only four months after opening, there is so much demand that Nebraska is already planning to expand to the second floor of the equestrian store. The owner is young himself, and in tune with the hipster trends. He is expecting a child, and our hope is that the next generation will grow up with a well-cultivated taste for high-quality coffee: locally grown coffee.

*Translation by Carrie Cifuentes of “Lección de Cartago #3- Tomar café local, desde burros a caballos“.

Lección de café de Cartago #3: Tomar café local, desde burros a caballos

1.) No seas burro al tomar café malo. Toma café bueno de un burro.

A un extremo del parque lineal vi un montón de gente haciendo una fila no exactamente ordenada,  ansiosos por su turno.  Entre ellos logré distinguir el lomo brillante y orejas apuntadas de un caballo, y pensé que habíamos llegado a un carrusel infantil. Extrañamente, los niños estaban sentados aburridos, mientras los adultos esperaban al lado de la atracción con monedas en la mano. Sacando una moneda de $500, estampada con un samán dorado—los mismos árboles que dan sombra al parque, y apenas con $300 más pude gozar de la atracción.

El show es tostar, moler y dispensar café en el mismo sitio. El trabajo está a cargo de la misma bestia que carga los sacos del grano cuesta arriba y abajo en las montañas colombianas donde se cultiva el café. A lomo de mula, hecha con fibra de vidrio y a base de acero, está montado el tostador. Sale de un costado el molino y la maquina para preparar la bebida. Café bueno y barato—no un oxímoron—además con un show bonito.

Francisco y Marta con la Mula. Foto de Carrie Cifuentes.

Francisco, la mente creativa tras el diseño, y Marta Cecilia Ortega Pérez, sacan unas 3.000 tazas por noche de su mula. El café es de El Cairo, una zona cafetera muy cercana con fama de producir café de alta calidad. Cuando empezaron hace 15 años, los Cartagueños no tenían la tradición de consumir tinto (o por lo menos, no de calidad), pero al ofrecer café fresco y con una presentación novedosa la pareja ha logrado cambiar los hábitos, poco a poco, vaso a vaso, con su Café a Lomo de Mula.

2.) Comprar local vs. Producir local 

Le pregunté al mesero durante el desayuno en mi hotel de donde era el café, si era café local. Con toda la cordialidad y atención impecable que caracterizan los meseros colombianos, me sonrió y respondió, “El café es Sello Rojo, señora.” Me imagino que mi cara reveló mi decepción, así que él se apresuró a agregar, “Pero es comprado local, de acá mismo en el pueblo.” Ah, bueno, ¿entonces eso lo hace local?

Sello Rojo es la marca líder en café de mala calidad de un país conocido por el mejor café suave del mundo. Fue transportado al pueblo desde una fábrica lejos, ya tostado y molido, listo para echar a cucharadas, casi sin medida, sin aprecio, sin gozo. Mientras tanto, a pocas cuadras de allí, una barista joven saboreó los resultados de su experimento con una preparación de café cosechado hace pocos meses y a unos cuantos minutos de allí.

3.) Ensillando y enseñando el buen gusto

La parte de atrás todavía funciona como una talabartería, siguiendo la tradición familiar, pero de noche el aroma de café sale a la calle, buscando crear nuevas costumbres.  “Los viejos ya están acostumbrados a las pasillas,” refleja Cesar Ramiréz, el dueño del café/talabartería Nebraska. “Toman café, pero de mala calidad.”

A igual que Café a Lomo de Mula, en Nebraska usan café local y bueno de El Cairo. Cartago es un acopio de café de El Cairo, y de toda la zona cafetera de Norte del Valle, Risaralda y Caldas, y hay muchas trilladoras y bodegas de café en el pueblo. No obstante, la gente de bolsillo apretado y costumbres arraigadas está enseñada a tomar tinto de un termo de marcas como Sello Rojo, hecho de un día para otro.

Tintos en termos en Parque Bolívar. Foto de Carrie Cifuentes.

Entre los jóvenes, sin embargo, el movimiento de cafés especiales ha pegado. Después de cuatro meses, hay tanta clientela tintera en Nebraska que ya están planeando expandir al segundo piso de la tienda ecuestre. El mismo dueño es joven y al día con las tendencias hipster. Está esperando un hijo, y esperamos que la siguiente generación crezca con un gusto bien cultivado por el café de alta calidad: el café local.