December 30, 2011

A New Year’s Challenge

Over the past couple of months, I have gradually been reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It has been a slower read for me because every page is filled with wisdom and a reason for underlining and highlighting. In her book, Voskamp asks how do we find joy in the midst of our everyday lives? While I don’t align with all of her theological understandings, her invitation to embrace everyday blessings and to embark on the transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling God’s gifts has been very worthwhile for me.

“Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large.”

This book has been very applicable for me in our transition to life in Nicaragua. A wonderful friend told me before we left that it would be important for me to “turn my yucks into wows.” When there are things about living in Nicaragua that I don’t quite like, it is important for me to reframe them and try to look at them from a different perspective. This has been a key for my transition so far.

“To name a thing is to manifest the value that God gave it.”

A fellow MCCer told me on one of my first days here that she found it helpful to intentionally notice and look for three things each day that I could be thankful for, to find beauty when it isn’t always beautiful. This has also been an extremely helpful practice for me.  I am trying to notice the “little” things and give a name to these blessings.

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”

And so I thought, like Voskamp I am going to chronicle my everyday blessings in this next year. Three a day! Will you join me in doing this? We may just find that it changes our perspective on life.

“…to not just take the blessing, but to be the blessing.”

I hope that you enjoy the read, and the practice! “The secret of joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

December 26, 2011

Feliz Navidad

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Christmas-eve provided Cassie and I with a well needed break. We spent the day relaxing at a pool, in our new hammock and with our host family.

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On Christmas morning we exchanged gifts with one another.

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We also celebrated Christmas with the MCC team, getting together to sing some Christmas tunes and share in traditions from home.  We were also blessed to Skype with family and friends back home.

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We hope that each of you also had a special day!

December 22, 2011

Preparing for Christmas

We have been preparing for Christmas with our fellow Nicaraguans since our arrival. Yes, on November 1st when we arrived in Nicaragua, the lights and decorations were ready to go! Every rotunda (traffic circle) was decked out in lights and all of the shopping centers had their trees and nativity scenes up. On December 6th and 7th we partook in the Feast of the Epiphany and La Griteria.

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We have also been doing some baking. Pictured below is a traditional cookie called a rosquilla that we baked with our friend’s mom. It doesn’t look that appetizing, but the batch was eaten pretty quickly.  We had to add the picture of his niece, who is the cutest and spunkiest two year old.

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We also made a few of our favorite Christmas baked goods from home. We had to make a few revisions, but they all turned out pretty well.

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We had to be pretty creative with our gift giving here in Managua. I found some links on pinterest for homemade gifts, but we had few issues along the way. Nicaragua does not have mason jars, so we decided to use vinegar bottles. This required a couple nights of peeling labels and a week long of soaking out the vinegar smell. We also had difficulty finding twine, candy canes and several other important ingredients. There are some days when I would just love to have a Hobby Lobby or Michaels close by!  In the end we came up with these…if you are interested in the recipes, click below.  I guarantee that you will have a much easier time!

Mocha Cocoa

Lemon Sugar Hand Scrub

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We also tried to make our first batch of homemade chocolate. As the fermenting process was underway, the beans became moldy.  Oh no!  We will have to figure out how to avoid this in the future.

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I was very excited about this great find.  They are going to serve as our Christmas napkins this year.  I love the non-traditional colors and birds always make me happy!  And here is a picture of our office Christmas tree!

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The culture of Nicaragua is rich with traditions around the Christmas season.  We are excited to learn more about these and celebrate alongside our brothers and sisters, even if that does mean lighting off fireworks every night for two months.

May we all remember the reason why we celebrate.

For unto us a child is born…the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

December 18, 2011

About 4,000

We have been busy with work. Learning a second language, building relationships with those on the MCC team here in Nicaragua, with our host families and with the people that we have met along the way. We have also lost some of the ability to stay connected with the greater world at large. 

Thus, last Wednesday, I took great joy in the fact that I could turn on a computer in order to observe what has been occurring around the world over the last few weeks. I read about the financial crisis in Europe, the still slumping economy of the US, Cain's decision to drop out of the presidential race in the states, the fight over the displaying of nativity scenes in Los Angeles, the troubles sprouting up in Russia and Putin's heated responses to them and the continuation of the Arab Spring. I guess I could say that I was not overly shocked to read what my eyes were seeing.

But, then I read that the U.S. was actually pulling out of Iraq, that the women and men that have been fighting for so long are coming home to their families. Of course war will not cease and there is no telling what the coming events in Iraq and the surrounding area will be following this action.

Of course there are positive and negative opinions. Some argue that the cost of the war, not only monetary, but also in the lives lost and relationships broken was well worth it, others point out that the likelihood of lasting change and peace in the region will show the whole operation to be a failure.

It is my hope that the people of the world can learn from this latest scale of grandiose war. That as Created beings we can reach for and obtain a  higher sense of unity and love that was shown to us in the small gift of a young boy born in a manger and sacrificed on a cross. That we can look to this example, to this exemplary life of the incarnate as another option, a much more difficult one, but one of which we are called to bear.

So celebrate the lives saved, the Christmas´s that will be shared with your loved ones recently returning or with those no longer fearing the call of duty that would come, but also take time to remember those lost and ask yourself what you can do to build peace in this world.

December 15, 2011

Cute Babies

Nicaragua is full of cute babies.  Let me introduce you to Alecia, one of our favorite housemates.  She is the most tender natured and happy baby.  Isn’t she darling?


She makes us miss these babies at home.  Although don’t tell them that we called them babies, they are big kids now!  Number three is on the way and we couldn’t be more excited.  We love you Lauren and Drew!

Love, Uncle Kevin and Auntie Cassie


December 9, 2011

Slavery Footprint

Cassie and I rode through one of the many “zona francas” (free trade zones) here in Nicaragua. It was a Saturday night and thousands of people were flooding into the streets after a long work day in the sweat shops making and assembling products for consumers in North America.

We are only beginning to learn about the slave industry here in Nicaragua. However, here the slave industry is blatant, in your face with the vast majority of the population (over 80%) earning less than $1 U.S. dollar a day. This forces us to ask ourselves, who is working for us and how are our choices affecting the lives of others not only in Nicaragua but around the world?

Who is working for you? Did you know that you are currently employing many slaves, both children and adults around the world? We are confronted with this reality as we drink coffee, eat fresh fruits and vegetables and enjoy a piece of chocolate.

We thought that it would be appropriate to pass on this survey, especially due to the time of the year as consumerism takes a hold of us through the bustling season of Christmas.

Click here for the survey: Slavery Footprint

**If you are brave enough, tell us how many slaves are working for you in the comment section below.  Also tell us where you live.

If you are interested in alternative gift giving for the holidays, check out:

CRWRC Gift Catalog

MCC Giving

December 7, 2011

Beautiful Nicaragua


A couple of weeks ago, we headed down to San Juan Del Sur the “up and coming” surf spot in Nicaragua. It is well known for its beautiful beach and surrounding bay.


We traveled with the MCC team for our annual spiritual retreat. It was wonderful to spend time getting to know the team, while setting a weekend aside for meditation and reflection.


We know that many of you are currently experiencing a bit chillier temperatures and we thought that these pictures may “warm you up.” If this doesn’t do that for you, grab a cup of hot chocolate and cozy up by the fire.

On another note, we were surprised to read that Minneapolis is #16 out of #25 in the coldest cities in the United States.  Sorry to our friends in SD and IA!

November 30, 2011

Your Generosity

First, I want to thank each of you for your voices of encouragement over these past four weeks. We have appreciated all of the ways that you have reached out to us and affirmed that we are where we are supposed to be. We can feel the power of your positive thoughts, messages and prayers!

Many of you have asked us what we are missing most. It sounds cliché, but you are what we have been missing. I am missing my daily phone calls with “my girls” and family. I am missing seeing each of you face to face, going out for coffee/boba tea or having you over for dinner. It has only been one month and I anticipate that this will only get more difficult in many ways.

In regards to “material things,” I don’t feel like I am wishing that I would have brought a lot of different things. I guess that is a shout out to the effectiveness of my post-it notes (although many of you get annoyed by them) and planning ahead. I foresee that once we move into our final home, there will be a lot of things we wish that we had (for the kitchen, decoration items, etc.). But I guess that will be a good test of “simple living.”

A few of you have asked for our mailing address for sending packages. I don’t want to suggest that this is necessary, although because of the mailing system here I thought it would be important to let you know how it works. Fortunately it seems like the postal system is pretty reliable for delivering from the U.S. and Canada (we love our Canadian friends) to Nicaragua. However, there seems to be some unreliability within the post office here in Managua. Yes, there is only one post office for a population of over 2 million people.

Other MCCers have had packages sent and they have sat in the back of the post office until they were each requested specifically. Thus, if you plan on sending a package, please let us know in advance. I know it ruins the fun of giving a gift or sending a surprise, but we most likely won’t get it unless we ask for it. And again, don’t feel like you need to send anything! We just thought we would let people know so that your lovely packages aren’t sitting unopened.

And if you insist on sending “material things” that we cannot purchase here, we put together a little list: Sour Patch Kids, Boba Tea Bubbles (Asian grocery store for $1), Dove Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Ginger Combination and Reese's Pieces (but they may melt in the mail), Sunflower Seeds (request from Kevin for the local baseball games), Haribo Gummy Berries and good flavored Kettle Chips.  The cost to mail items is a little pricey, so beware!

Oh, and one more thing with Christmas on it's way.  You all know my love for real Christmas cards through the postal service.  I am hoping to receive them here and will for sure put them up on our fridge (as soon as we get one).

November 24, 2011

Gratefully Holding


Up and down our windows go as rusty buses, ramshackle pickups, and other old weather-beaten cars approach and pass, mile after mile. We finally come to a little town. We stop, turn off the engine, step out, stretch, and, as the red dust settles and the noise of the road fades, we hear a new sound off to the right, down through some scraggly trees, pass a few bony, wide-horned brown cows standing in the shadows chewing their cud.

Beyond the cows and just outside a few strands of barbed wire, there’s a stream and a little swimming hole sparking in the full sunlight. In its brown waters a dozen children are splashing and wrestling. Their laughter rises like music, a cloud of joy as real as the cloud of red dust stirred by another car passing on the road behind us. I think, “I’ve seldom heard this much pure happiness in my life.” We watch for a few minutes, smiles irrepressibly arising on our faces, and then decide to take a break and explore the town before continuing our journey.

As I turn off to be on my own for a few minutes, I see the homes these children come from. They’re small in size and modest in construction, but often painted the most dazzling colors, this one coral pink, the next aquamarine, the next tangerine orange, the one over there a light purple, peeling off in places, showing a royal blue underneath.

There are some dads sitting in the shadows of a few trees, cigarettes dangling under the bills of well-worn baseball caps, sharing stories, playing cards, nodding and smiling as we walk by. There are some moms squatting on front porches, peeling potatoes, washing dishes in plastic basins, nursing babies, shooing flies. I smell coffee roasting, mixed with the scent of a farm not far away. I hear a muted accordion and a flatulent trumpet from a broken radio speaker. I hear the sound of someone sawing a plank, a rooster crowing in the afternoon heat, a dog bark twice off in the distance, and everywhere the buzz of insects mixed with jingling music of children’s laughter in the background.

Maybe someday there will be televisions in every house, I imagine. Maybe someday there will be video games and DVD players. Maybe the hum of air conditioners and the roar of many cars. But I don’t think there will ever be more happiness in the air than there is today.

What is this extraordinary happiness? Where does it come from?

Walking through that town in Guatemala, I remind myself of something we all know but don’t take seriously enough. It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Again, it’s not the amount of stuff you have that counts; it’s the amount of appreciation you have that matters, and appreciation means “gratefully holding” rather than simply “having without gratitude.”

We are encouraged by our Creator to slow down and appreciate the gift of life, to employ our liberty in service for others, and to gratefully cherish the happiness we already have. Gratitude may be the greatest secret to happiness there is.

                                            Excerpt taken from Naked Spirituality by Brian D. McLaren

**On this day of thanks, we give praise to God who is the giver of all and remember those with less; both materially and immaterially seeking discernment in the ways God is calling us and you to share the gifts we have been given.

**And just an FYI, Kevin and I (and a couple of friends) ran our traditional Thanksgiving Day 5K this morning.  We missed running it in the brisk and chilly downtown of Minneapolis with friends and family, but we did it!  Now onto the eating…

November 21, 2011

Carrot Cake

Over the weekend, Cassie and I moved to a new home in Managua. During these past three weeks, we have thoroughly taken pleasure in spending time and getting to know our “Managuan Mom” and her extended family. We enjoyed our weekend with these individuals – going to our first $3 movie at the theater (Money Ball was great!), eating $1 enchiladas, visiting the historical city of Leon (accidentally taking the wrong bus there and turning a 1 hour drive into 4 hours), seeing the oldest Cathedral in Central America and enjoying a scrumptious Nicaraguan home cooked dinner all the while working on Spanish. The family, knowing that I love hot sauces and salsa, went out of their way to prepare several “rico” sauces. They even bought me a Costco sized bottle of Tabasco as a going away gift. We were overwhelmed with their generosity and hospitality and look forward to many more scrumptious meals together.


As a way of offering our thanks, we baked a carrot cake and made peanut butter cookies for dessert. They were a hit! In case you are looking for a healthy and tasty treat:

Gather three bowls and begin!

*Begin with the smallest bowl (S), combine: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt
*In a medium sized bowl (M), combine: 3 cups shredded carrots, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple (make sure it is drained), 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I find that walnuts are best and are also traditional), 1 cup coconut
*In your largest bowl (L), combine: 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup applesauce, add 4 eggs, 1 at a time while mixing.  We usually cut down on the sugar and oil, but thought we would give the “correct” recipe.
*Add dry ingredients (S) gradually to your largest bowl (L). Afterwards, stir in the ingredients from the medium sized bowl (M). Blend thoroughly and pour into a greased and floured 9x13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Allow time for cooling.
*Frosting (optional – the cake is great by itself): 8 oz. cream cheese, 1/4 cup of butter, 4 cups powdered sugar