June 29, 2012

Home Sweet Home–Part 1

We at last our in our home.  Can we just say that we are a little excited about this?  After eight months of moving from place to place, without unpacking our suitcases (we only brought four), it feels good to settle in.


We have been spending some time getting to know our neighbors and (are looking) look forward to living life alongside them.  We have found the neighborhood tortilla stand (2 cords a piece), a group of kids to play soccer with (they use our front door as one of the goals), the tastiest enchiladas and a local pulperia (corner store) where Kevin can buy a big cola on the steamy hot days.  We also have a great basketball hoop that the neighborhood kids are loving!


As many of you know and as I have said before, I enjoy making my home a home.  I love decorating and find a lot of joy in making spaces feel comfortable, cozy and cute – on a budget.  Although I personally “feel better” when my house is this way, I want our guests to have a feeling of peace and warmth when they walk in the door.


This has been an interesting point to process when we consider our desire for an aesthetic living space in conjunction with our living in solidarity with persons who are economically poor.  There are so many needs right next door that it seems frivolous to hang something extra on the wall.  There have been days that I had planned to head to the store or market to pick up a few items on my list and it just didn’t seem right.


Over the last month I have been reading “Living More with Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre.  It is a practical guide for living in simple, sustainable and healthy ways—ways that keep the future of the planet, and the plight of poor people in mind.  The book provides a variety of practical tips for living simply, one of them being home keeping.


Longacre writes “everywhere in the world, people arrange for some beauty, some expression of their ability to invent interesting subjects for their eyes and fingertips.  The plainest cooking area behind a hut in Somalia boasts an intricately carved stool or colorful basket.  Cooks across Asia encourage their charcoal fires with attractively woven fans.  But starting with “What will make this place pretty?” only puts you at mercy of the latest magazine spreads.  Instead, ask first, “Who are we?” and “What will we do with this room?”  Designers call that form following function.”


I have been intentional about three things while making our home a home:

1. Reusing recycled items for decorating

2. Buying and supporting the local economy

3. Being creative with what I have


I am planning to write a blog post, a little mini-series if you will, about each of these items over the next couple of months.  I hope that we can learn together and that you will enjoy what I share!  Feel free to share your tips and comments with our other readers as well.


June 19, 2012

My Two Favorite Tea’s

I wanted to start by saying that you can do this at home!  Over the past few months, I have been enjoying two delicious types of teas.  Let me share these wonderful flavors with you.

Pineapple Tea


First, we were buying pineapple tea bags, until a friend from here showed me how to make it from the fruit.  Rinse your pineapple and then cut off the peel/skin.  Cut up your pineapple as normal, but save the core.  Instead of throwing the peel/skin and core away, put it in a pot with water.  Heat to boil and enjoy!  This tea is so flavorful and delicious, no added sugar is necessary.


Lemon Grass Tea

Here is our lemon grass plant: 


All that we need to do is cut off a few pieces and put them into water.  Heat to boil and enjoy!  Most Nicaraguans add a bit of sugar and drink this when they have a cold.  I prefer it without sugar and drink it all the time.  One warning – I believe that our lemon grass plants may vary from those in the states, so make sure that your plant is good for drinking.


And while we on the theme of tea.  I thought I would send a little shout out to my friends and ladies at Options Care Centre in South Africa who make cards out of teabags.  This income generating project uses recycled teabags in their artwork, along with the actual tea leafs.  They do amazing work and I was blessed to work alongside them back in 2005 and 2006. 

Cards examples

My mom and I have been selling their cards at the Jubilee Sale (handmade, fair trade sale) in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the past few years.  I have been sad to miss out on the sale while I am away, but for all of you in the Twin City area, make sure to head out to the Jubilee sale in November.  Actually you don’t need even to live in Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I promise it is worth the drive and/or flight!  All of your holiday shopping done in one day, and the money goes to great causes.

June 13, 2012

Glossary of Terms

Our assignment with MCC here in Nicaragua is focused on peace building, one of the three focal areas of MCC.  As we write on this blog, we may be using terms or acronyms that could be understood more clearly with a better background and/or description.  Our friends KN and KTBN, who we met at orientation and who are now serving in Bolivia wrote this blog post a few months back and we thought it was very well written.  We hope that you also find it helpful!


(above is a picture from orientation of KN and KTBN along with a few other MCCers and friends)

Aid: A general phrase talking about money and/or materials and work associated with "developing" other place. This can also relief work, which is described below. In some vague sense, I suppose we are "Aid Workers".

Dependency: This is a situation where an unequal relationship creates a party that provides, and a party that receives. These are easy to find, but very, very tricky to resolve sometimes. Generally, there is a recognition that in disaster situations, relief aid comes in and creates temporary dependency relationships by necessity--e.g. getting food to refugees in camps. Pretty much all professional NGOs recognize, though, that there is a need to be moving quickly towards getting people off those sources of support as quickly as possible so that they are self-supporting and able to realize their own capacity for sustenance.

Development: Depending on your theoretical and experiential biases, "development" usually refers to some kind of attempt and planning and carrying out the evolution of a community--whether that is measured in the terms of economics, social capital, health, food security, conflict incidences, water access, education, or whatever thing a group is attempting to bolster. A quick note on this: it can be the mark of hubris to waltz into a community and announce that you are going to develop it. Much of the work done by "development (or aid) workers" is found being done in Global North countries, but we do not often call it "development" work. This calls for a momentary pause and reflection on our predisposition in the Global North (and elsewhere, of course) to assume that we have "the answers," know-how, or even ability to effect the growth of a community that we are not a part of. Which is potentially imperialistic, egoistic, and leads to god-complexes.

(Global) North: This usually encompasses countries of general wealth, power, influence, and prosperity that tend to send materials and resources rather than receiving them. Obviously, the state of the world being what it is, dividing these into a binary is definitely an over-simplification. But sometimes it happens. Sorry. Examples: United States, Canada, Germany, etc.

(Global) South: This is the catch-all generalization to refer to what people often might call "Third World" countries, although that is generally a Cold War-era term specifying countries in which the US or USSR would fight their proxy wars through aid, support, ideology, or just plain war. Why "South"? Because broadly speaking, the Southern hemisphere contains what have most frequently been understood as "Third World," "Developing," or just plain "Impoverished". An aside: this term and its counterpart are obviously very limited, as they leave little space for nuance, and the fact that many countries no longer fit the generalization, such as the G20 (or whatever number it's up to now)--including countries like Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia. Examples of Global Southern countries: Bolivia, Guatemala, Uganda, Laos.

MCC: Mennonite Central Committee. Why a committee? Why the odd, archaic title that conjures up McCarthy-era fears of the Reds? In short, MCC was founded officially back in the1920s when a bunch of separate Mennonite relief committees (regional, denominational, or otherwise) decided to coordinate and join together in one central committee. So actually the name makes a lot of sense, historically speaking.

Partner (NGO): MCC's preferred way of working is to develop official partnerships with local NGOs, empowering and capacitating them to better carry out their goals and missions. So a partner of MCC is almost always a local NGO doing some kind of work that MCC sees as congruous its own mission and goals and therefore sees fit to try and lend support of some kind (money, presence, personnel, materials, etc.).

Peacemaking/Peacebuilding: It is a mark of my true ignorance about all the terms above that I haven't shuddered in the attempt to outline them until this term, and that's not to imply I know all that much about peacemaking (generally interchangeable with peacebuilding). Peacemaking is a broad, umbrella term to refer to the disciplines and methods related not only to conflict resolution (c.f. my Peace Studies major), but to the construction of more just and equitable societies. As a Christian, I think of peacemaking in the context of the idea of Shalom, or the wholeness of all creation in right relationship with YHWH and each other. Which of course means lots of things, and why it's almost laughable to try and summarize it here when our office library has shelves dedicated to the topic.

Relief: This is short-term aid (usually of a material sort) specifically for responding to disasters. Examples: providing food and temporary shelter for people on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina or the same after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Relief work is not intended to continue, as it is very, very easy to create dependency relationships.

Sustainability: One would think that this term means the capacity for a person or group to indefinitely carry on work without outside input, or to search out other sources of input on their own. But xkcd probably does the best job of pointing out that this word means almost nothing anymore:

June 1, 2012

Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

This has been one of our favorite recipes lately.  We love it because it is easy to make (literally takes 8 minutes to prep), it is a forgiving recipe, it is healthy (no added sugar), you can use whatever fruit you have on hand (in our case mangoes) and it is delicious!


1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted, divided
½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
¼ cup maple syrup
1 cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Fruit (we generally use 4 mangoes); the recipe calls for 2-3 ripe bananas and
1 cup blueberries; play around and do whatever you would like!

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.  In a medium bowl, combine the rolled oats, half of the nuts, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Stir with a fork to combine.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the maple syrup, milk, egg, butter, and vanilla.  Spread your fruit in a single layer over the bottom of the baking dish.  Sprinkle the dry oat mixture over the fruit in an even layer.  Pour the liquid ingredients evenly over the oats.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts and fruit over the top.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the oats have set.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.


Thanks to Annie’s Eats for this wonderful recipe.  We eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!