December 12, 2012

Sergio & Hope

While I tend to not agree with the bootstrap statement in relation to poverty within the United States, I want to make it clear that this really is not an option here. 

The “get off the couch, find a job and work hard” methodology is almost impossible when nearly sixty percent of Nicaraguans find themselves unemployed or underemployed with little work to be found.

We recently received the final papers for our class.  Students were supposed to identify and present a conflict in their lives, analyze the conflict using the theories and methods that they learned in class and create a step by step plan for resolving and transforming the conflict.

Many of the conflicts were hopeful.  The students were able to identify and implement tools that they had learned to resolve their conflict, but it was hard for me to find hope with the following.

Sergio wrote that over this past semester he has encountered a “very difficult economic problem.”  There are eight people in his extended family living together in a small two room home outside of Managua.  He shares that not everyone depends on him for economic assistance, “only three.”  The little amount of money that he obtains during the week from a small roadside stand selling refreshments and cheese churritos does not cover their “basic necessities.”  To cover his costs over this past year, he has taken out a monthly loan of 1000.00 cordobas, equivalent to $40.00 USD.  This loan, like many available here in Nicaragua, has a 20% interest rate each month.

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He continues by writing, “culturally we are a low-class family, very poor, there are no professionals within our home.  We are at a critical point emotionally.  However, I continue to look for other opportunities, to better our economic situation.” 

The hope that I see here in the people often surprises me.  The resilience of individuals and families despite constant let downs and difficulties is something that I don’t quite understand. 

Sergio is in his early sixties, a time when many people in the United States begin thinking about retirement and slowing down, but this is not a viable option for him and many in Nicaragua.  He has lived in economic poverty for his whole life and yet, he keeps on going.  I don’t know if I would continue to have this drive and willpower after so many years of disappointment?  What about you?

Please pray and lift up our neighbors, friends, students and those that we interact with on a daily basis here in Nicaragua.  This story is incredibly common and their realities are often so harsh.  I have much to learn from them!

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and Joy. Amen

-Mother Theresa

*Sergio gave us permission to share his story.  His name was changed to protect his confidentiality.

December 8, 2012

Crunchy Asian Salad

We thought that we would share a new favorite recipe that we have been whipping up quite frequently.  We actually had it tonight with some friends who were over and they all loved it!  It doesn’t seem super Christmas-ey, but with the red cabbage you can add some pretty color to the table.

I am a bit of an obsessive eater.  When I find something that I like, I make it all of the time, go a little overboard, love it for three weeks and then never eat it again.  I am trying to get better at this, but it is hard to stop when you find something so yummy!  Here is our crunchy Asian salad recipe inspired by this site and this site:

Toss together the following:

  • 1 head of lettuce or bunch of spinach
  • 1 head of red cabbage
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 cup of peanuts (we add “hot and spicy”) 
  • strips of cooked chicken (optional)

For the dressing, blend the following:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable (canola) oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 T. soy sauce
  • 1 T. peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

We usually double the batch.  Extra salad dressing in the fridge is never a problem!

Toss together and serve it up!  We hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.  And the best part is that here in Nicaragua, we are still finding about half of the necessary ingredients in our home garden.

November 27, 2012

Pasos Para La Paz

Paso 1: Elija la Paz

Paso 2: Trate de entender las necesidades de los seres humanos en este mundo.

Paso 3: Aprenda a comprometerse con los demás.

Paso 4: Trabaje constantemente para mejorar su nivel de comprensión y compromiso.

La paz es posible, pero debe ser una elección


Last Saturday we completed our first class and feel relieved, pleased and excited for what is next.  We still have a lot of grading to do this week, but for now we thought we would share with you the “Steps for Peace” that we read together with our students as a way to finish each class. 

We read these out loud twelve times together and each time it was always a bit emotional for me.  To hear twenty-five people from various ages, stages and backgrounds committing our best to live this way brings about a sense of hope.

As we approach this holiday season, may we all find peace on this earth.  This is exactly what the little baby came to do!



Step 1: Choose Peace

Step 2: Try to understand that needs of other people in this world.

Step 3: Learn to compromise with others.

Step 4: Work constantly to better your level of understanding and your commitment.

Peace is possible, but it is a choice.



November 18, 2012

Life Lately

This post is a random collection of pictures and words from our last month here.  Enjoy!










We enjoyed a visit from our friend’s Jon and Tamara who are on a one year trip around the world.  They are producing videos for Feed My Starving Children and were working here in Nicaragua for two weeks.  Here is a video that they produced in Kenya:  Food at Work: I Have a Dream

We are very excited to see the final Nicaragua videos.  Can we just say that we are a little jealous of their lives?!?


We participated in an advocacy workshop with MCC’s partners here in Nicaragua.  It was a wonderful two days of idea building and discussion for our mutual work here in Nicaragua.  We also said goodbye to our boss, Angela who served here for seven years.  We had two great parties to send her off.  Here was our last team picture with her!  Pictures courtesy of Matt Tschetter


We have continued with our chocolate experimenting.  This batch didn’t turn out as great as the last one.


We have been working on some fun projects around the house and our neighbor kids love to help.  Natalia helped me sand, paint and modge podge (homemade) this map side table.  We all like how it turned out!


As Minnesotans who live close to several lakes but far from any oceans, we thoroughly enjoy our weekends away at the beach.  On this particular weekend, Kevin was quite sick and slept the day away in the $4 hostel bed while Cassie laid on the beach with friends.


We always enjoy going to the Ruben Dario National Theater which is located right here in Managua.  Recently we saw the production of Chicago with a two of our favorite couple friends.  It was fun to sing along!


We are sad to say goodbye to our great friends and MCC co-workers, Nate and Liz who will be heading back to Colorado in December.  We look forward to Colorado visits in the future and have plans for a Boundary Waters getaway!


We could have a full-time job in our neighborhood, the kids are always eager to hang out!  Also pictured is Kevin and Alesia (our previous host sister) who spent the night with her sister a couple of weeks ago.  Melt my heart!


I won a photo contest for the city guide of the colonial town Granada.  This included a monetary prize (Christmas shopping anyone?!?) as my photo was selected for the front cover.  Oh and I am highly guessing that I was the only one to enter a photo!


Our first class at the Baptist Seminary is wrapping up.  We cannot believe how quickly the classes have gone and are pleased with the results.  We have another course lined up for the next semester, we are surprised they actually want us to come back?!?  We have also been busy spending time with our students in their homes for dinner, churches (Kevin preached one Sunday and I led games for the youth) as well as office visits.


I had a great birthday celebration, my second one here in Nicaragua.  We enjoyed dessert and songs with our Community group as well as our Seminary class.  We also took a day away to the markets with friends.  Thank-you for your warm wishes through e-mails, cards and care packages.  You all are the best!


We celebrated Thanksgiving last week with our MCC team.  We have so much to be grateful for!  Do any of you have plans for an awesome turkey piñata?  Have a great week celebrating and thanking with family and friends!

November 14, 2012

Our Garden

By Kevin

As the harvest season winds down up north, we are just planting four young and tender tomato seedlings into our garden. Some may think, gardening in November?  Other green thumbs may be enthused about the opportunity of a twelve month growing season, I guess a lot of that may depend on your opinion of the heat and humidity that comes along with the pleasure of having a harvest year round.

You may ask how we can have a garden, let alone a compost with absolutely no dirt or planting ground at our home.  At first this was a downfall of our place, but with a little help from our friends and family we figured out how to make it work.  We are really enjoying learning about the plants that are available to us here in Nicaragua. 

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Some of our “plantitas” (or little plants, an endearing term in Spanish).  The little fern tree above is going to be our Christmas tree this year, although we are wondering if it will be big enough to put ornaments on?

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Our “watermelon” plant and pepper plant.  Aren’t they both gorgeous?  The peppers add a nice spice to our dishes.

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We loved the rustic plant boxes that we found at the local market.

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A couple other pretty blooms.

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A before and after picture of our garden.  Cassie’s siblings helped us to build it when they were here.  It is built with cinder blocks, screen and dirt.  It has proved to be a great design!  Thanks Justin and Shawna!

November 6, 2012

Election Day

By Kevin

I am quite sure that you already know that today is Election Day in the United States, a day to elect and reelect government officials at all levels of government. What you probably do not know is that Sunday was Election Day here in Nicaragua. I thought it would be interesting to compare the electoral processes in both countries due to their close proximity and sheer differences as you guys back home are busy going to the polls!


Advertising is the first thing that comes to mind. In Nicaragua, advertising is done mainly through the hanging of signs along streets or the painting of political symbols on buildings, trees, rocks, fence posts and streets. It is not unusual to see a group of people with bucket and brush in hand campaigning for their candidate as you pass by on a bus. Political parties here are represented by numbers (2, 8, 9, 13) and their colors.  So a simple number 2 or a post painted red and black is an ad waiting to be read. I am sure that no matter how you are to vote today, you can all agree that it is blessing to be done with those television slots, glossy mailings and phone calls. I would bet that the money spent on just one or two commercials would drain the political funds of all the candidates combined in Nicaragua.  I just heard this morning that candidates in the U.S. spent over 4 billion dollars on advertising this election season and it is likely to reach 6 billion.

In Nicaragua, businesses close for a half day before and after the election and almost everything is closed on election day, except for the businesses that are owned and operated by Wal-Mart, which never seem to give their employees a break. The elections always take place on a Sunday here as opposed to a Tuesday, because Sunday is the one day that Nicaraguans have off each week. When you consider that most Nicaraguans use public transportation and that many people travel a great distance to work; you can understand that hardly no one would vote if election day was on a working day.

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There are many other differences between how elections take place in Nicaragua and the United States. Nicaragua candidates are pictured on the ballot. In fact much political advertising is done by simply hanging an exact replica of how the candidate’s face will appear on the ballot with his or her information. We have learned that this practice began following the revolution of 1979. Since then literacy has increased dramatically in the country, but the pictures remain.

Here any picture I.D. allows a person to vote, while in the States different documentation is needed dependent upon where you live. The voter turnout is a great deal higher here in Nicaragua, with almost 75% of the voter population showing up for the presidential election last year and almost 70% in this year’s “off-year” election. The United States averages about 55% for a presidential election and 35% for an “off-year” election.

Lastly, the selling of alcohol is strictly forbidden starting 12 hours before election day and remaining in effect for 12 hours following the closing of the polls. The government takes this precaution in the hope to keep riots down and make sure that the voters have clear minds when they are making their choice at the poles.

Happy Voting!  We hope that the (un)trusty mail system has delivered our absentee ballots to the State of MN.  As the joke always goes, Cassie has to cancel out her dad!


2012 Election Priciest to Date – CNN

U.S. Election – How can it cost 6 bn? – BBC

Voter Turn-Out – International Idea: Supporting Democracy Worldwide

November 1, 2012

One Year

We made it through our first year here in Nicaragua.  We enjoyed this previous post of our MCC colleagues and friends Adam and Marisa and thought we would copy their outline for our own one year post.  Enjoy!
Things we love:
  • Nicaraguan food. It has been a joy to get to know the local delicacies! Somehow we are going to have to figure out how to make the cheese if we ever do move home.
  • The hospitality, generousness and love that we have felt and experience daily from Nicaraguans.
  • Public transportation. We never thought we would say this, but we actually really enjoy our time spent on the Managua bus systems (more so Kevin, a good book also helps).
  • A good, strong rainstorm.
  • Nicaragua’s landscape.  It is super diverse and there is so much to do.  The terrain hasn’t been roamed like other bordering countries, which makes this gorgeous land special, yet difficult to travel and see.
  • Our neighbor kids.
  • Living 30 miles from the ocean, it is an easy day or weekend trip.
Things we hate:
  • The fact that people are extremely economically challenged.  Economic poverty is quite severe and is very obvious everywhere you look.
  • Being robbed and mugged.
  • A lack of water resource.  Not having drinking water and/or being stuck with shampoo in our hair and no water to rinse it out has led to tears.
  • Litter and trash.  There’s lots of it. Everywhere.
Things we have learned:
  • To know that plans are always flexible and never certain.
  • To appreciate a warmer shower when you get one.
  • Some Spanish, but wow, do we have a long ways to go!
  • That a social life looks a little different here and that this is okay.
  • More about the history of Nicaragua and it's people.  Their stories are incredible and they are a people who have endured much.
Things we do automatically:
  • Throw all toilet paper into the trash.
  • Plan on 20 minutes to enter or exit our house, it takes the turning of twelvish keys.  And keys/locks are not a strength of Cassie’s!
  • Upon entering a room, greet everyone with a handshake and/or kiss on the cheek depending on the relationship.
  • Move the fans around.  Its always good to have air blowing on you.
  • Drink lots of water, it is always hot! 
  • Clean.  There is no such thing as a clean house when you live feet from a dirt road and do not have windows screens, but only security bars.
  • Set aside everything for a visitor.
Embarrassing moments:
  • Most of our embarrassing moments involve Spanish mishaps.  One example was on our first visit to our friend David’s house.  His mom had worked very hard on a beautiful cake for dessert which is not very common here.  When she came and presented it to us, Kevin said, “Oh, caca!” which means poop in Spanish.  He should have said queque.  It did lead to a good laugh.
  • Being stuck in several public bathrooms with no toilet paper when you really need it.  Let’s just say that we have had to be “resourceful.”
Things we are looking forward to:
  • Our continued teaching at the seminary and building relationships with our students.
  • Continuing to work and learn new things in our other work positions.
  • Continued relationship building in our neighborhood.
  • Visiting friends and family.
  • Seeing other parts of Nicaragua.
  • Improved Spanish.
How do you measure a year in the life:
  • in gallo pinto: 999 (approx. Eaten every morning and evening while living our with host families, and since then a few times a week for supper)
  • in bus rides around Managua: 2,190 (approx. On average we each take day 2.5 busses a day, each bus ride costs us 10 cents)
  • in bars of chocolate received from home: at least 15 (Each and every one was greatly enjoyed)
  • in pounds of coffee: 40 (It is delicious and always freshly roasted by Kevin in his popcorn popper) 
  • in visitors we’ve had: 14 (One was in the womb, we look forward to more visits in this next year)
  • in books: 44 (for Cassie) and 32 (for Kevin).  Not work related!
  • in tears: just a few (We miss friends and family back home and some days life is just plain hard here)
  • in smiles: many (Life here is hard, but good.  We love the relationships that we have built and look forward to this next year)
Thanks for your support throughout this year.  We hope that you have enjoyed our blog updates and that they give you a glimpse of life here, the work that we are doing and more importantly what God is doing.

October 23, 2012

Creativity is the Key–Part 4

To finish up my “Home Sweet Home” series, I am going to share about creativity. Living in Nicaragua has taught me to be creative with what I have. My house doesn’t look HGTV or Young House Love ready, but it is cozy and comfortable for us and our friends. This is my main priority. Enjoy!

Awhile back I started to pin (or save ideas of) “printables” on my pinterest account. This was an easy and inexpensive way to decorate our home and I love the end result. Kevin and I searched for frames (less than $3, many second-hand) and spray-painted them.

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Also pictured above, you will see the side table/night stand that we have in our guest room – a chair. Not my first choice, but it works?! Below is another side table that we have in our guest room. It is an ugly plastic stool, but with some leftover fabric, it serves it’s purpose and looks cute. Right? And on top of it is a printable of one of Coldplay’s classic songs, Yellow. This makes a Coldplay fan very content!


Pictured below is one of my favorite boxes that my Auntie Suzie gave to me several years ago. It is our “junk” box filled with tea-light candles, checkbook (yes, we still use one) and more. I don’t think it will ever go out of style!

I also made the illumination candle jar pictured below. How? I took an old glass and tied some fabric strips around it. Easy and dainty!

Also pictured is a candle that I wrapped with cinnamon and twine. Pinterest said that it would give off a cinnamon aroma. It doesn’t, but at least we have a little feeling of fall in our house on these hot 90 degree days.

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When I came to Nicaragua, I brought along a view special pieces from home. Pictured below is one of the many green stars that we used to decorate the dance floor at our wedding. I love the memories that it brings back!

As we were in the process of transitioning to Nicaragua, I came across this amazing leaf bowl at a second-hand store. I told myself (and Kevin) that I did not need it as we were about to move. But he secretly purchased it for me and saved it for part of my birthday present when we arrived here. What a sweetie! I keep my peace rock inside when we are not using it in the classroom. It serves as a daily reminder for why we are here in Nicaragua.

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Birds. I love them and have them all over my house – wherever I live. I am even wearing some fun bird earrings today. The bird decorations were Christmas presents from Kevin and the leaf looking print was a free printable.  For all of you who haven’t yet, put a bird on it!


Gold is the look here in Nicaragua. I don’t mind gold, but for some reason I wasn’t too excited about this this mirror. I fixed this frame by spray-painting it and I love the end result.

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Lastly, I will brag a bit about our friend Miriam who made us this awesome note banner as a good-bye gift. She sewed pieces of scrap paper together for friends to sign at a goodbye party. It hangs in our bedroom and we love having all of your love in our home!

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That is it, my creative juices have ran out. I hope that you enjoyed this little series and we would love for you to come and see it all in person. If you missed out on the others, check them out here:

Home Sweet Home – Part 1

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Part 2

Our Nicaraguan Finds – Part 3

Creativity is the Key – Part 4