September 15, 2014

Best Week Ever

In mid-August, our wonderful friends Mandy and Juan arrived in Managua.  The long-awaited week was an absolute blast, we soaked up all of our time together, laughed a lot and traveled around beautiful Nicaragua.  These two were married a year ago and decided to spend their first anniversary here with us.  One highlight of this trip is that we did a lot of new things.  After being in Nicaragua for a few years, the “tourist” activities can become somewhat repetitive, so we were excited to explore this amazing country just a bit more.  We hope that you enjoy seeing some of the highlights of our time together.

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After their arrival and missing luggage, we headed to the downtown Plaza and Malecon.  We hung out by the shore and passed a rainstorm eating and drinking some of our favorite Nicaraguan specialties.

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John and Mandy loved the volcanoes of Nicaragua, the fact that you can look down in an active crater, hike and swim was a definite highlight.  Here John is trying to reach for a special rock, he was wayyyy too close to the edge.

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John requested that we do a canopy tour.  While Kevin thought it would be boring and I was not the biggest fan due to my fear of everything heights as well as the negative environmental impact, we did it and it was super fun.

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We visited the Coyotepe Fortress in Masaya, which has a long history in Nicaragua in times of conflict.  It has been something on my list for many years and I was glad to finally visit.  Do I need to go back?  Not really.

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We spent some time in the beautiful colonial city of Granada.  I love this photo from the La Merced Bell Tower.

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We got our beach on at a couple of our favorite beaches, north of San Juan Del Sur.  In July, while I was in California on a work trip, we spent a day at the beach together.  Sorry Cali, but you have nothing on us!

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We checked out a new beach called Guacalito de la Isla.  It was quite pristine.

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I love these three!

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After spending time at the beaches, we headed up to the coffee country of Matagalpa. 

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We went to the Castillo del Cacao and stocked up on chocolate.  Some of you may be receiving this for Christmas.

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We hung out with our neighbors in Tierra Prometida.  They met Mandy on skype awhile back and were thrilled to actually meet her in person.  Even without speaking Spanish, she can still make people laugh!

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We got super into games during the week.  John loved playing Nicaraguan BINGO and we all got obsessed with Euchre.  The Zonnefeld’s may have received a lot of free meals due to the LaBreskey’s losing several games.

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Thanks to Mandy and John we did A LOT of juicing as they brought us down a new juicer.  We have used it everyday since.  This morning for breakfast I had a celery, cucumber, carrot and orange juice.  Yum!

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On their last day here, we went to Laguna de Tiscapa.  We saw the famous Sandino statue up-close and looked down into the volcano lake.

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There were many contrasts between the time that we spent together in Minnesota a year ago and the week we spent here in Nicaragua, but that is the charm in life, the differences and beauty found in each place.

THANK-YOU Mandy and John for taking the time to come and visit us.  We are grateful for the sacrifice you made to come and hang out with us for a week.  You are dear friends and we cannot wait for the day when we are all in Minnesota together living side by side.

September 8, 2014

That Age Old Fear – Part 2

Read Part 1 of my story here.

As I shared with you last week, I have struggled with the fear of flying for approximately fifteen years.  My anxiety was quite high last week, when I needed to go to Rosita on a small twelve-passenger plane.  I thought I would show you a bit of what I learned on my flight to Rosita.

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This was our twelve-seater plane.  Looking at this photo makes me cringe.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, the inside of the plane feels like a mini-van.  But then all of a sudden your safe mini-van is going really fast, lifts from the ground and is up in the air.  Talk about feeling vulnerable!

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Before flying on La Costeña, I do not recall watching a pilot throughout a flight.  I had always assumed that my pilots were working very hard to keep me and their other passengers safe.  But after being on a few of these flights, I have realized that auto-pilot does the majority of the work and that the pilot is there for take-off, landing and any potential problems.  Thus, the reason why pilots can read comics and sleep while they are in flight.  Before, this would have totally freaked me out.  Now it helps me to realize that this is not such a complicated process.

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Pilots need visibility?  Think again.  This was another tough one for me to swallow.  The sun was quite bright on one of our flights, and so black sun reflectors were put up in the windows, meaning there was no seeing out of the front window.  I have also seen newspapers put up in the windows.  I guess visibility isn’t so important when flying.

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The land below is beautiful when one is able to calm themselves and is brave enough to look out.

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I thoroughly enjoy geography and was able to look out the window and determine with my seatmate what city, town, volcano, lake or mountain range we were currently flying over.  Wait, am I enjoying this?

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While the clouds caused some bumpiness, they were also quite gorgeous.  I tried to focus on the latter.

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Here is a selfie of me mid-flight, sort of freaked out, but trying to survive the flight.  Notice my eyes, which show that I did not sleep well the night before due to anxiety and negative thinking.

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Cellphone reception was working in the air.  It was a nice way to distract me for a minute or two.  And Kevin thought it was super cool that he got a text from the sky.

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This is the security guard at the airport.  From what I have been told, his main job is to keep cattle off the runway as there have been incidents with planes and cattle in the past.  Just google Rosita, Nicaragua and the first google image that will come up is a plane that crashed into two cows.

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This is the pista or runway.  It is a sort of dirt, sort of grassy field.  It is owned by a local farmer which recently caused flights to stop when he wanted a higher usage payment.  La Costeña and this farmer have since sorted things out and it is back in use.

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Yep friends, that is the airport.  Unfortunately refreshments are not available and the bathrooms are outhouses off to the right.  Passengers must check-in at the town office two hours in advance in order to weigh themselves and their bags.  However, there was no security check.

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On my return flight to Managua, after some bumpy skies, I almost wanted to go up and hug the pilots that got me to the ground safely.  While I chose not to do this, an older pilot must have noticed me.  He sent one of the baggage handlers to give me his phone number with hopes of getting mine.  I thought it would a good learning experience to write down Kevin’s number.  I gave Kevin a heads up about this and was surprised three days later when I got a phone call from the pilot on my phone.  I confused Kevin’s phone number for mine and the trick backfired on me.

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So while this flying thing continues to be a struggle for me, I keep marching forward.  It is something that I want to understand better and feel more comfortable with.  While it is quite anxiety provoking at times, I continue booking those tickets and boarding those planes.  Someday I believe that I will actually be able to enjoy it.

I will leave you with a few more beautiful aerial pictures of Nicaragua.  Seriously, this country is so diverse and gorgeous.  The last photo is actually of video of my landing in Rosita.  Enjoy! DSCN0875IMG_1237IMG_1235 IMG_1320IMG_1239

La Costeña Landing in Rosita

September 1, 2014

That Age Old Fear – Part 1

It all started when I was seventeen years old and heading to Rio de Janeiro.  In the middle of the night, all passengers onboard were woken up and told that one of our engines was failing and that we would be making an emergency landing in Caracas.  Later I learned that our plane had two engines and that really we were just fine, but for the following hour until we landed, the lady next to me screamed and cried about the tragedy of her infant daughter losing her life at such a young age.  A couple of years later, when I was traveling between Toronto and Vancouver, we had a fire on the plane.  Each of these stories along with other not so fun flying moments has created a real fear for me.

I have lived with this fear now for almost fifteen years, and for a person who loves to travel, visit friends and lives abroad, this has been quite a struggle.  Some flights have gone okay and others are quite anxiety provoking and problematic.  At times I am actually able to look out the window and enjoy what I am seeing below and other times I am so anxious that people around me start to get worried.  On one flight in particular to Seattle, a fellow passenger asked me if I knew something that she did not know about the plane.

Furthermore, I am unsure as to whether or not my obsession of plane crash stories in the media assists or hinders my flying anxiety?  Whenever a plane goes down, I spend hours researching who was on the plane and finding more about their personal stories, what happened to the plane and how it went down.

I have utilized a variety of methods to help work through this fear.  I have read books and have statistics memorized as to how safe planes actually are compared to other modes of transportation.  I have gone to counseling, use essential oils (so much so that other passengers have gotten sick from them), take anti-anxiety medications and try to have activities planned that will keep me busy and occupied.  I ask everyone I know to pray and send positive thoughts my way. 

But despite all of this, it really has been and continues to be a struggle.  It is a struggle that I wish I could overcome.  Every time I buy a plane ticket, I wonder if I clicked on the wrong button.  And before each flight, I start to worry about a week in advance, the day before is especially hard.

While I often wonder why I struggle with this and feel so helpless in it, this struggle has given me insight into individuals – both friends, family and clients who struggle with anxiety.  It may seem silly to me that someone has anxiety going out in public or that a client absolutely cannot break from their compulsive and obsessive behaviors, but after struggling with my fear of flying, it makes sense.  It is debilitating and often leaves one so fearful that they don’t feel like they can make a different choice.  I am grateful that my anxiety only occurs when I fly and is not something that I struggle with day in and day out.

The difficulty of flying has only compounded here in Nicaragua.  Part of my job requires me to travel around the country.  For my first trips, I decided to be economical and take the bus, but I was also avoiding the flying part.  I did a round-trip bus ride in seventy-two hours that others fly in two.  While I am grateful for the experience of seeing Nicaragua through a bus window and the money that was saved, I was told by my bosses that this would not be recommended in the future.  It is too risky for a white woman to cross the country via bus alone.


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So you can imagine my stress a couple of weeks ago when I booked another flight on La Costeña to head from Managua to Rosita.  I would be taking a twelve-seater plane, a plane where you feel every cloud and a plane that's normal flight pattern involves some free falls.  But I got on the plane, or as I call it, the flying minivan.

Come back next week for Part 2 of my story.

August 25, 2014

Life Lately

It has been awhile since we did a life lately post.  Here is a look at our life in Nicaragua over the past couple of months.  We hope that you enjoy!

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Our lovely cat Brisa was lounging one day in the windowsill.  The month of August was tough for her as we were taking care of a friend’s kitten and let’s just say that this one hissed all month long.

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This is the sweet kitten Niko that we have been taking care of.  He enjoyed smelling the big sunflowers that Kevin brought to freshen up our house.

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Lately, I have been sewing up a storm and recently taught my friend Carmen how to sew.  She picked it up quickly and made a quilt in just a couple of hours!

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This Saturday we will finish our semester’s class, the Culture of Peace.  This has probably been our best class yet – improved Spanish helps, but so do dedicated and motivated students.  We have our last class this Saturday at our house.  This has been a “tradition” of ours.  While we usually make a big breakfast, the students said that they are bringing the meal this time.  The only thing that we have to do is make brownies (great deal on our end).

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Most Minneapolis folks have packed meals at Feed My Starving Children.  While the organizational name is not my favorite, the work that they do is.  While in La Concha, I came across a friend making a serving.

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We made a weekend visit out to La Concha to see our friends.  Pictured above are Alison and I out on a beautiful afternoon’s hike, one filled with lagoons, volcanoes, birds and forests.

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On a day off of work, I invited some of my Accion Medica Cristiana co-workers over.  We had coffee and dessert and enjoyed playing some games.  They are such wonderful ladies, that we want to hang out when we are not at work!

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We headed up to Esteli to visit our friends and were able to stop in and see Jesuah again.  Jesuah was born six months ago, but due to medical complications was unable to leave the hospital.  His parents and extended family stayed with us for a couple of weeks, while he was in the hospital fighting for his life.  Today he is a happy and healthy boy, thanks to God!

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We recently had a BINGO night at our house with the neighborhood kids.  We had not played BINGO since Christmas and they were very excited to play again, especially because they could win their favorite cookies for a prize.

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Solkey was disappointed because she was not winning.  (She later won!)

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This was a great activity for both younger and older kids, something that we often have difficulty with.  We had young 3 year olds playing (with help) and 15 year olds as well.

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My neighbor ladies and I took an afternoon to go and visit Catarina, a beautiful spot just an hour from our home.  While it is quite close and I have been there ten-ish times, they had never been before.  We had a fun afternoon together.

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We said “good-bye” to the one-year MCC workers.  We miss you Hans, Allison and Stacey!

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We celebrated our friend Eduardo’s 15th birthday at the beach.  It was a fun couple of days with our lovely Nicaraguan friends.  These people have been so good to us!

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And to finish off this post, the lovely Aleesia.  We had fun swimming in the pool while celebrating Eduardo’s birthday.  This little girl is just the best!