December 19, 2013

A Little Christmas Wrapping

We are well into December, some of you may have your wrapping done and others may not.  I have always been one to buy my Christmas presents throughout the year so that December does not seem so stressful timewise or moneywise.  This year we are keeping things simple.  We bought a favorite book, Tattoos on the Heart (in Spanish) for most of our Nicaraguan colleagues and friends.  I have picked out some fun coffee inspired jewelry for my girlfriends and the neighbor kids are getting puzzles and soccer balls (Thanks to Shawna and Tommy).

I love giving gifts, but don’t necessarily need to receive them.  With my parents and siblings coming to Nicaragua, we began discussing how we would like to do Christmas earlier this year.  Really, it will be a gift to all be together.  None of us really need anything, but still I can’t imagine a Christmas not giving my brother his annual boxers or the gross cherry chocolates that my dad always receives whether he enjoys eating them or not.

Each year I try to be creative in how I wrap my gifts.  I must admit that here in Nicaragua, I have never found a roll of wrapping paper to my liking.  At times, I have been known to bring rolls of wrapping paper over the border from Panama and Costa Rica against Kevin’s wishes.  One time I bought a roll in Panama, but it was too long to fit in our suitcase, so I cut the roll in half, packed it in and am still using it today.  This Christmas I decided to go with a paper bag brown, red and green, which are actually sheets of thin poster paper.

 DSC_0014 DSC_0012

This year I was inspired by bunches of pine that I found in a Matagalpan market.  I put the pine in mason jars around our house last month and have now been cutting off pieces of dried pine to attach onto the gifts.  I have also been using cinnamon sticks that are leftover from a project last year. 

DSC_0015 DSC_0018 

Last April when I was home for some accreditation courses, I picked up two rolls of clearanced out Christmas ribbon.  These little brown Christmas trees add a fun touch to the gifts.  My jute and baker’s twine has also continued to serve me well.  I bought three rolls a couple of years ago and they are still going strong.

DSC_0005 DSC_0008

I found these wooden candle holders while we were in El Salvador and have used them as a base to wrap Christmas gifts inside.  Here are some fun owl bags that I also found on clearance last year.

DSC_0019 DSC_0020

Here are a couple more examples of different combinations that I came up with.  We are giving massages to my mom and sisters during their visit in Nicaragua (Shhh…surprise!  They are too busy packing for their visit to check out the blog), so I made a little note, rolled it up and tied them with some fun accessories.

DSC_0013 DSC_0016 (2)

I printed out a few Feliz Navidad cards (source) to give more of a layered looks to the gifts.  I have clipped on most of my homemade tags with mini clothespins that I found at the market.  I always love a good market find!

DSC_0008 (2) DSC_0025

And this is getting a bit away from the actual wrapping, but we did some minimal house decorating with what we have.  Here are a couple of nativity scenes that are new to us this year, one that is Llort inspired from El Salvador and the other is from Nicaragua. 

DSC_0013 (2)  DSC_0022

Here are a few easy decorations that we hung around the house – lights, ribbons with clipped on ornaments, twine with pinecones and a Feliz Navidad banner.

DSC_0028 DSC_0010 (2) 

I love this Christmas tree decoration that we found last year at Oyanca, a fair-trade handicrafts store in Managua.  It is pine needles wrapped with colored string.  I also printed off a few free Christmas signs (source) and I made a few Spanish versions.

DSC_0037 DSC_0024 

And lastly, we have a few cloth napkins decorated and ready to go along with our Christmas tree which is actually a wooden pallet.  The Christmas trees are so expensive here, so we decided to decorate a pallet and put our gifts underneath it.  It is functional and festive, but doesn’t have the natural smell of pine.

I hope that this post inspires you to use what you have around the home to decorate for the holiday season! 

Enjoy celebrating the arrival and promise of Jesus’ birth, our hope for peace in this world.

December 12, 2013


It is time for another post that is not organized by theme, but more a sharing of our photos over the past couple of months.  We hope you enjoy seeing what we have been up to.

DSC_0012 DSC_0007

Our Estelí family came to visit for a few days.  They had some time off from work, so they spent their days relaxing at our place.  They are the easiest guests to have as they always had a delicious Nicaraguan supper ready when we got home from work.  They are way too good to us!  We enjoyed some hammock time as well as the World Series games.

DSC_0075 DSC_0104

We have enjoyed hosting friends, neighbors and students at our home.  We did a pancake breakfast  for supper that everyone seemed to enjoy.

IMG_2014 IMG_0552

At the end of November, Cassie headed to Edmonton and Calgary to present at a Restorative Justice Conference as well as other MCC functions.  It was a full, but wonderful week away.  In between our meetings and presentations, we were able to spend an afternoon in Banff and check out downtown Calgary.  The trip was made even better as I was able to spend time with Marisa, a friend who left Nicaragua in August as well as a group of friends that visited last March.  It was wonderful to catch up in the below zero weather.

IMG_2062 DSCN0345

We also went and spoke at two concerts to raise money for MCC’s work in peace building and HIV/AIDS projects.  If you are looking for a Christmas gift, pick this cd up.  It was recorded in an collaboration between individuals that work for MCC Canada, Guatemala and El Salvador.  The music is beautiful! 

DSC_0001 DSC_0002 DSC_0003

Last week, we shared some chocolate cake with our neighbor friends Solkey, Derrick and Daniel.  Since that day, Daniel continues to ask when he can come for more chocolate cake.  It must have tasted okay!

DSCN0392  DSCN0399

We recently celebrated the culmination of five years of work at the seminary graduation.  It was a joyful day for all.  Above is part of the graduating class, they were our very first class that we taught at the seminary.  We are excited for them, but will miss seeing their friendly faces.  The above photo is us with our student Bayardo and his wife Teresa.  They will be moving back to the Atlantic Coast in January.  They have become close friends, coming over for coffee a few times a month and will be missed.  We hope to visit them someday at their new church assignment.

DSCN0401 DSCN0389

Here are a few more pictures from graduation.  Kevin is pictured with a good friend and previous student, Zapata.  Here I am with one of our students daughters.  I apologize for the sweaty face, a ninety degree room with a few hundred bodies just gets plain hot.

DSCN0408 DSCN0410

We celebrated the Purisima and Griteria in early December.  This is said to be the biggest holiday in Nicaragua and is a weekend full of fireworks, gift giving and family gatherings.

To see other ‘Lately’ posts, check out: July 2013, November 2012 and July 2012.

December 7, 2013

Semilla de Dios, Fair Trade & Christmas Giving

Earlier this year, I read the book Global Girlfriends by Stacey Edgar.  In one of her chapters, Edgar shares about a visit that she made to La Palma, El Salvador.  She lists off the route and family names of artisans that she and her co-worker visited and later partnered with.  When Kevin and I decided to head to El Salvador for my birthday, I mentioned that I would love to spend a day following the same route and visiting the different family workshops.


(Current project being exported to Germany for Christmas)

For my actually birthday day we found ourselves in La Palma visiting each of the artisan shops.  My passion for fair trade gifts, income generating projects and micro-financed initiatives that seek to provide fair wages for women and men began while I was working and living in South Africa.  There I worked alongside women in a micro-finance initiative through the production of handmade cards made from various recycled products which included teabags.  My mom and I actually began and continue to sell these gorgeous cards at a bi-annual fair trade sale in Minneapolis, called the Jubilee Sale.  If you have never been, you should get there!


(Carpentry shop)

Kevin and I enjoyed each of the cooperatives, but our visit to Semilla de Dios (Seed of God) was spectacular.  We arrived and began talking with Marta, the store manager who has worked at Semilla since it began in 1994.  She was excited to share with us their many works of art and crafts on display, telling us the reasons for why many of the pieces had been created.


(Painting the items)

After chatting for a half hour about their beautiful goods and our work in Nicaragua, she asked us if we would like to see the workshop.  We were thrilled to pass through the store doors and head back to the carpentry and painting shop and their warehouse.  They even showed us some projects that they are working on for Ten Thousand Villages which will be available in the coming year.  We ended up spending over three hours with Marta and the other individuals involved in the cooperative.


(Part of the warehouse, ready for shipment)

DSCN0283 DSCN0284 

(More painting.  We were happy to see that babies are allowed to come to work)


My siblings and I purchased the above stool for my mom for her birthday last year.  She saw it at Ten Thousand Villages and fell in love with it and it now sits proudly in her porch.  It was so neat to see where the stool actually came from.

If you are looking for ways to buy ethically for Christmas, I would suggest that you take a look at MCC’s Christmas Giving Website.  For Christmas, you can give education, give peace, give food, give health, give livelihoods and give hope.  You can give a gift that both you and the receiver will be happy about.

And lastly, I saw the following suggestions for holiday shopping on Rage Against the Minivan last week and thought it would be appropriate to share here.  We hope that your Christmas season is merry and bright!

Ideas for avoiding the consumerism crazy this Christmas

December 1, 2013


We hope that each of you are enjoying a restful Sunday after Thanksgiving.  We are enjoying an afternoon at home, lying on our couch, watching some football while burning a pumpkin candle and eating pumpkin pudding.  Because a big part of our time in Nicaragua has centered around gratefulness, we thought we would each share a few things that we are thankful for.


Cassie is grateful for: new blossoms on our plants, generous friends, the smell of pine, an afternoon at the pool, busy but fruitful work days, a good workout, candles burning, facetime and skype, coloring with the neighbor kids, an addictive book, trying out a new recipe, my lovely nieces and nephew, chatting with a girlfriend over tea, safe travels, an upcoming Christmas visit from my family, scrambled eggs made well


Kevin is grateful for: engaged students, warm weather, peanut butter, the possibility of growing our family, a comfortable home, a thoughtful and loving wife, dark chocolate with a cup of hot, strong coffee, caring neighbors, having all of our needs met, good books, dedicated friends, a wonderful work community, seedlings growing in our garden, new and comfortable furniture, public transportation, shade trees, our kitty Brisa


If you are interested, take a look at my New Year’s Resolution back in 2012.  For a year, I wrote out three things that I was grateful for.  I posted more about it here and here .  It really changed the way that I view the world and I often find myself listing off these things throughout my days.

DSC_0021 DSC_0026 DSC_0016

We continued with our MCC Thanksgiving Piñata tradition.  Isn’t he darling?  Unfortunately he didn’t look this way at the end of the night.