February 27, 2012


There are many tortillas around the world, but the debate still continues as to where the best can be found.  I have to say that the Nicaraguan tortilla has a unique flavor that I haven´t experienced in other places, some say the secret is the orange juice that many Nicaraguans mix into their batter.  The tortilla here is an ancient tradition and part of the everyday life of a Nicaraguan. Always eaten and often used as a utensil, the tortilla is not only scrumptious, but is also a necessary tool!

Usually we buy our tortillas from our neighbor lady.  She charges 1 cordoba or approximately 4 cents per tortilla.  She makes them around the clock and always gives us a great smile when we arrive at her front door.  Her tortillas are the best when they are hot off the fire.

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While I was out in the campo, I had my chance to make my first tortilla from scratch.  My first one turned out like this:

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I had a great teacher, but lets just say that it took awhile for me to learn the art of the tortilla.  We had a great time practicing together and my host mom sent my tortillas home with me in a cloth.  She wanted me to show them to Kevin.  I am not sure if this was her nice way of saying that they weren’t worth eating?

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Whatever the case, it was a great experience and made me feel more Nicaraguan.  But I think I should stick to buying from our neighbor lady...

February 19, 2012

Offline and Entering the Pueblos

This past Wednesday our boss mentioned that she had been thinking about our Spanish progress and was wondering if we would be interested in taking a week off from “school” to head out for a rural family visit. She thought it might be good to change our routine and allow us to practice and apply what we have been learning.

The catch: she asked us if we would be willing to go to separate places.

Oftentimes couples take longer than individuals to learn new languages because they rely on one another for the newly acquired language and talk with one another in their first language. We of course were sad to think about being apart, but know that this will be good for us in the long run.

So we are heading out tomorrow morning.  Cassie is headed to EstelĂ­ to live and work with a family who owns a second hand clothing store.  Kevin is going to La Concepcion to work on a farm and with a church.  We won’t have access to e-mail or the internet, but we will save our stories and pictures for a future blog post.

Have a great week!

“You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry. Don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

-Walter Hagen         

February 16, 2012

Keeping Healthy

How do you keep healthy when your host family goes through a gallon of oil each week? How do you keep healthy when most of the foods on the street are fried? How do you keep healthy when it is SO incredibly hot that you never feel like working out?  I guess that is what we are currently trying to figure out. After being here for almost four months, we have found a few things that seem to work well for us.

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First of all, there are tons of fruits and fresh veggies here in Nicaragua. We are going to be entering mango season pretty soon and we can’t wait to get our hands on them as our minds fill with the possibilities of what one can do with a mango.

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Secondly, we enjoy our coffee (as many of you know) but we don’t put three heaping tablespoons of sugar in ours like our friends do here. Speaking of liquids, we are drinking a lot of water. Our Klean Kanteens have been getting much use and we are happy to report that the water in Managua is safe and clean for drinking. This has been a huge blessing as many other parts of Central America (and the world) do not have safe drinking water.

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Thirdly, we are looking forward to a time when we have a place of our own and can choose the food that we make and also prepare it in our own special way. Although currently we are enjoying the local dishes and learning how to make them, it will be grand to make a curry dish for dinner.

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Lastly, we feel that we have gotten into a pretty good workout routine. We try to run three times a week, the earlier the better due to the heat. If you start running after 6am, Nicaraguans think that you are crazy. We have enjoyed running in our barrio (neighborhood) as well as going to a nearby extinct volcano for a good 5k route. We also live close by to a military pool and have enjoyed swimming there one morning a week with a friend. Although we did get into some trouble a month ago for not having a swim cap or goggles.  And I am embarrassed to admit that the teacher asked us not to spit in the pool!  First of all, it wasn’t intentional and second of all, doesn’t everyone spit a little when they swim?  We also picked up a yoga mat and have found several great workouts on pinterest and also brought along our P90X videos.

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This past weekend we were fortunate to visit the ocean and had some good swims.  Riding the waves is tough work!  And as I write this, Kevin is out in the streets playing some futbol with the neighborhood guys. That is good exercise, right?  All of this to say, we have a lot to learn, but we feel like we are making good headway to living a healthy lifestyle here in Nicaragua.

February 13, 2012

El Dia Del Amor

I love sending cards and writing letters!  I contribute this love to my Grandma Margaret who passed away a few years back.  When I was young (around 6 years old), she wrote me my first letter.  In this letter she asked if I would like to be her “pen pal.”  For approximately fifteen years we wrote letters back and forth.  She would tell me about her day, ask me how I was doing and would always let me know that she was praying for me.  She was a faithful pray-er!  At times, she would even include a couple of dollars, but the one thing that she would ALWAYS include was stamps.  We had to keep these letters going! 

Keep in mind that we wrote back and forth even though she only lived on the other side of the city.  When she passed away, I took the opportunity to read through many of the letters that were saved my my rubber maid container.  I took various excerpts from her letters and put together something meaningful that I could read at her funeral. 

So, because of this history I couldn’t pass up a Valentines Day without cards.  I know that this contributes negatively to commercialism and that a lot of really bad companies make way too much money, but I wanted those around me to know that they are loved!

I ordered a few cards for family back home, thanks to Shutterfly!

I then put together a few cards here in Nicaragua for our friends and loved ones here.  Adria, my five year old host sister helped me out with this project.  I picked up a few paint swatches at the local hardware store and we went to work.

Here is the end result.  I apologize for the poor picture quality.  We are looking into purchasing a different camera, but they are oh-so-spendy!


And these are my two Valentines here in Nicaragua (besides Kevin of course):


Thank-you Grandma Margaret for your faithful friendship through the years.  Thank-you for your kindness and prayers, I wouldn’t be who I am today with out them.  And thank-you for passing on the love of letters.  I hope to do the same with my children and grandchildren.

February 8, 2012

Book Report

Although it is hard to believe that neither Kevin or I are currently in school (a first in our almost five years of marriage), we still thought it would be helpful for you and for us to write book reports.  In the last couple of months, we have been able to read several books that we would love to share with you.  We anticipate that this will continue during our time here, we hope that you enjoy it!

One of our latest reads was Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Morstenson.  We rented this from the Hennepin County Library through our Amazon Kindle.  In less than ten seconds and at no cost, we pushed “borrow” and the book was loaded to our Kindle.  What amazing technology we have!

Although Greg Mortenson has recently acquired some controversy due to the integrity of his first book Three Cups of Tea along with questionable expenditures from his non-profit, we would highly recommend this book to people interested in peace building, education, development work and how to bring change to this world.  Mortenson shares several stories about the building of schools for children, mainly girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  His organization has also expanded into doing more work with women in the areas of health care, education and the use of technology. 

Mortenson “believes quite sincerely that the conflict in Afghanistan will ultimately not be won with guns and air strikes, but with books, notebooks, and pencils, the tools of socioeconomic well-being.” (Khaled Hosseini, author of Kite Runner)

One small step for a brave young girl, one giant leap for a community.

Studies from the World Bank indicate that just one year of primary school can result in an income bump of 10 percent to 20 percent for women later in life. According to Yale economist Paul T. Schultz, an extra year of secondary school may raise that same girl’s lifetime wages by an additional 15 to 25 percent. And the effects don’t end there. A number of studies indicate that in communities were a majority of the girls are educated through fifth grade, infant mortality drops significantly after a single generation.  Simply put, young women are the single biggest potential agents of change in the developing world – a phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as the “Girl Effect.”

If you teach a boy, you educate an individual; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.

No other factor even comes close to matching the cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to read and write. In military parlance, girls’ education is a “force multiplier” – and in impoverished Muslim societies, the ripple effects of female literacy can be profound.

One thing that impressed us with Mortenson is his willingness and ability to work as a humanitarian while working in step with the military.  Often we find ourselves believing that it has to be one way or the other; however Mortenson has found a way to bridge the two of these. His first book, Three Cups of Tea has actually entered into the curriculum for U.S. military personal. 

Throughout the book Mortenson shares bits and pieces of conversations with different military staff, “I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general and Afghanistan specifically is education.  The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books and ideas that excite the imagination toward peace, tolerance, and prosperity.  The thirst for education here is palpable.  People are tired of war after 30 years and want a better future.  Education will make the difference whether the next generation grows up to be educated patriots or illiterate fighters.  The stakes could not be higher.”  LTC Chris Kolenda.

February 3, 2012

Where The Streets Have No Name

Like  other Nicaraguan cities and towns, Managua has very few street signs.  Only the major roads are named.  Large buildings, rotundas (traffic circles) and other historic sites serve as points of reference.  Just to complicate matters a bit more, many of these references no longer exist. 

Directions are described in terms of their direction and distance, usually in cuadras (blocks) from these points.  In addition, Managua has a special system for north (al lago or to the lake), south (sur), west (abajo or down) and east (arriba or up). 

Thus you might hear and we have said, “de donde fue el banco popular, una cuadra al lago, dos cuadras abajo,” which means from where the old popular bank used to be, (it has not been there since the 70’s) one block north and two blocks west.

All of this seemed quite overwhelming at first, but we would say that we are feeling increasingly comfortable with navigating the city as we spend many hours on public buses getting to know our new surroundings. To top things off the bus routes in Managua are not posted, nor is there a schedule. On the bright side an adventure awaits a bus stop away!

P.S. Kevin is not the biggest fan of U2, which in my opinion is quite unfortunate. I was grateful that he gave the “okay” to use their song title as our blog post!