December 28, 2015

Joy In A Bottle

Estela and I recently went to play at our nearby park which Estela likes to refer to as hers. The park was not very busy as we arrived pretty early in the afternoon and the sun was still shining bright. We played a bit on the monkey bars, moved on to the tire swing and had spent over a half hour on the teeter-totters when a group of young boys showed up to play soccer.

The group was from the neighborhood. A bunch of somewhat unkempt young boys, with dirty clothes. Estela noticed that many of them were shoeless as they walked by us on their journey to the cement soccer field. I noticed that the young ones seemed to have not brought a ball along to play. As we continued on to the swings one of them approached me and very respectfully asked me if he could have a Córdoba (which is equivalent to about 4 cents.) I dug into my pocket and pulled out my change and placed a Córdoba into his hand and received a smile and thank you. The young boy went running out of the park with the Córdoba in hand.

Estela was still swinging when the young boy came joyfully running at full speed back into the park. He was carrying a small bottle of cheap soda (Big Cola for those of you who know). My first thought was, really, I gave him the money he needed to buy a soda? Estela’s eyes widened as if to say, hey, where can I get a bottle of soda from? The boy ran onto the court and was soon joined by his group of friends. They passed the bottle around and quickly drank all of its contents which made me feel a little better about the small donation.

The game then commenced, the emptied bottle filling in as the ball. This series of events made me think about so many things about my childhood, how I hope to raise Estela and the differences between the various cultures that Cassie and I have had the opportunity to live in. I wondered if I would have ever been satisfied playing soccer with an empty pop bottle? I wondered if Estela would be able to find joy in such a thing? I think she would now as she is amazed by the smallest things, but what about in the future? I thought about the ways in which young ones here are often (due to necessity) able to find joy in the small things of life.

I have no answers to my questions now. I feel a deep sense of joy as I think about those who have less and yet seem to experience so much joy. I hope that Cassie and I can work to make that joy an evident part of our daughter’s life as we seek to instill the goodness of the little things in life and take joy in those precious moments.

December 22, 2015

A Non-Traditional Christmas Letter Shared Electronically (for that reason we kept out all those intimate details)


The first time I found myself in a warm climate for Christmas I did not feel right; we were in Florida, there were palm trees, the sun was hot, I was sweating. I probably said something to Cassie about how I never wanted to leave the frosted tundra of the north-lands as we walked on the beach in our bathing suits and sandals. This will be only our fourth Christmas in the tropics as we have taken various opportunities to go to our native lands to visit friends and family during the holidays. And yet something feels so strange as we prepare for the yuletide. The calendar does not coincide with the changing of the seasons that Cassie and I become accustomed to during our childhood. There is never a white Christmas here and whenever we hear the song "I'll be Home for Christmas" we get a little teary-eyed.

That being said, Christmas here in Nicaragua has proved to be a memorable and joyful occasion filled with all kinds of seemingly abnormal forms of celebration. We have celebrated into the morning, on two different occasions with our Nica families, waiting for the sun to rise on the 25th in memory of the Christ child. The 24th into the 25th is a time for family and we are so blessed by the ways in which we have been invited into the lives of those who we consider to be very dear to us.


This year we are thinking about the ways in which we will celebrate Christmas with Estela. We have been working through a Christmas advent litany on Sundays focused on hope, peace, joy and love which you can find here -  We are also partaking in a Christmas activity each day; learning a holiday song together and doing something Christmassy like baking cookies, drinking hot chocolate together, making snow flakes or reading A Charlie Brown Christmas as we work our way to the 25th. 

We are planning an activity for our neighborhood kids much like we have done years previously and are hoping to carol and bring cookies to our neighbors in the coming week. For those of you who may wonder, we have made star blossoms with kisses (instead of Brachs stars - so sad about that), Connie’s famous peanut butter balls which is a secret family recipe, rosemary shortbread cookies in the shape of trees, Grandmas no fail recipe of lemon bars with pomegranates on top, Suzy's red-hot wreaths and Matt's molasses mounds. If you live somewhere close we may be trudging through the dirt stones to your door in our sandals and shorts to bring you a plate of the goods.


Love you all, and Merry Christmas,

Kevin, Cassie and Estela

December 15, 2015


You remember when your mom used to serve up a deliciously tender piece of pot roast that had been either simmered in a crockpot, pressure cooked on the stove-top or slow roasted in the oven? My mother would often plan this meal on Sundays. We would return home from church with a house filled with smells of cooked meat and simmering vegetables waiting for our consumption. The tender meat required no fork and the vegetables would melt in our mouths as we enjoyed the scrumptious meal together.

In Nicaragua there is the tradition of Baho. We have never made this very work and time intensive meal ourselves, but continue to enjoy it almost on a weekly basis. Near our house there is a group of women who set up there restaurant every day. They only sell baho, nothing else. On my way to work each day I see them setting up there stand at six in the morning. Assembling there plastic tables and chairs. Putting a roof up to block the sun and the possibility of rain.

The food has already been cooking for hours at this point. Already the night before the women started preparing the baho for the next day. They begin by lining a huge aluminum pan with large banana leaves. They then fill these leaves with huge quantities of goodness. A mixture of beef, yucca, three different types of plantains in various stages of maturity, onions, tomatoes and peppers. They then begin to cook the baho over a fire about 12 hours before it will be served. It seems like somewhat of a vicious cycle to me.

                                                                                                            We love the dish, it makes both of us salivate. Estela also seems to enjoy it as well as she will eat a whole serving of this scrumptious plate all by her little self. 

December 10, 2015

So Long, Farewell

In July of 2012 Cassie and I moved to our current location in Tierra Prometida. We made our home a home, filled with Cassie’s beautiful décor and lots of work on the inside of the house as we sought to enjoy our living space and make somewhat of a place of respite here in Managua. We have often written about our house, about our neighborhood and those who we have been doing life with here in Nicaragua because our location has seemed like a perfect fit. Not only have we enjoyed to call this house our home, but we have relished getting to know those who live here in our neighborhood.

Unfortunately, we are being asked to leave our home this month. The owner’s ex-wife has moved back from Spain and wants to live in the home again. For this reason we are moving. We are saddened by this news, but are also thankful that she is allowing us to stay a few days longer than the end of our rental agreement which ends on Christmas day.

                                                    We are also thankful that we have been able to find another place to live in a neighborhood that is close to Tierra Prometida. Before finding our home in Tierra Prometida we spent a few months living with host families, a month a part from one another living in Estelí and La Concha and a few months living in the MCC office. During our host family stays we called Barrio 3-80 home for three months. While there we lived with our host “mom” Grethel, a mother of three who happened to be younger than us. We have continued to grow this relationship and consider her and her entire extended family dear friends.

                                                    It just so happens that in 3-80 there is a house for rent right next door to our Grethel and family. We met with the owner’s soon after finding out that we would have to vacate our house and have now signed a rental agreement for this new property. We are saddened, but also looking forward to the change that will soon be coming to our lives. We are in the midst of planning a Christmas celebration for the neighborhood kids (pictures to come)and are spending lots of time with neighbors as they express their sadness that we will soon be leaving the neighborhood.

The people is what we will most miss – Diego who we always buy our hot cooked beans from, Marta who sells us fresh fish every Sunday, Lela who we purchase our produce from, Marcos whom we buy our cheese from, Esmeralda who sells us tortillas, our Sunday night fritanga vender Maria, the jovencito who is always willing to repair our suitcases, but most of all, all of the children, Genesis, Solkey, Daniel, Elmer, Nielson, Sarai, Derrick, Natalia, Freddy Jr., Xilone, Casey, the kids who greet us with hugs and smiles each and everyday.

We love you Tierra Prometida!

November 28, 2015


Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I would hope that many of us have been reflecting on the things that we are grateful for.  I (Cassie) have continued my practice of intentionally looking for the things that I am grateful for.  This daily practice has been an essential part of my life since we moved to Nicaragua.  It has helped me to focus on the small, beautiful, sometimes easy to miss gifts of my day to day life.  Here is a list from this past month:

Estela (how could I not start the list with her?), palm trees, mountain runs, good morning hugs, a new city to explore, a love story, rosemary twigs in my drinks, fans that blow cool air, new neighbors, two people to cuddle with, delicious fritanga after church, a seat on the bus, my sewing machine, access to water, “Te Amo” and “I Love You”, newly blooming flowers, i-messaging, visitors at our door, a friend lending us their working washing machine, a new leather purse, friends buying flights to come and visit, sleeping in, a lovely Thanksgiving table filled with friends, the budding of squash in our garden, a night with no internet, BINGO Night, a classroom full of eager learners, the ability to change, my sister’s wedding next week, safety, pineapple and fresh starts.   

I will leave you with a few photos from our Thanksgiving Day Celebration.  Thanks for reading!


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November 22, 2015

Life Lately

Well as you can assume, we have been adjusting to our new life as a family of three.  Estela has been with us for almost eight weeks and we are thoroughly enjoying this new phase of life.  She seems to enjoy being out and about, so we have continued a lot of our day to day activities.  Enjoy a glimpse at what we have been up to over the past month.

*Because we are currently in the adoption process and are not yet legal parents of Estela, we are not able to share any identifying pictures of her.  We can assure you that she is adorable!

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This is our last picture as a couple before Estela’s arrival.  We were on our way to Alison’s Quinceañera and made a stop for some refreshing coconut water.


On Estela’s first weekend with us, we headed to the Masaya Market.  We wanted to pick up some footwear for her, along with some traditional Nicaraguan dresses.  The markets in Masaya are the place to shop for handicrafts and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there making purchases for our sweet little girl.

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We are now park frequenters and to our luck, the Sandinista government has done an excellent job at remodeling and adding new parks over the past few years.  There are several very impressive parks here in Managua and we are thoroughly enjoying them on a regular basis.

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We enjoyed an amazing visit from my (Cassie’s) parents, Abuelo Tim and Abuela Suzy.  Estela loved meeting and being spoiled by them!  We spent time swimming at the beach, hiking through coffee plantations, eating yummy Nicaraguan food and hanging out at home.  It was magical!

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We have done our fair share of hiking over the last month.  We spent some time in El Crucero at Las Nubes, at Selva Negra with friends for Oktoberfest and on Volcan Mombacho for my birthday.

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We have been spending a lot of time by water.  Whether it is at the ocean, the pool or the pila, it is a fun and relaxing way to pass time with a toddler, and always helps with the heat of Managua.


Kevin planned an amazing birthday celebration weekend for me in Granada.  We ate a cinnamon frosted carrot cake, watched Notre Dame football, walked around the colonial city, frequented the restaurants on Calle Calzada, swung in the biggest hammock in the world, played at the beach, stayed up late and slept in late, hiked a volcano and drank lots of yummy coffee.  Happy 32nd Birthday to Me!  It could not have been any better!

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We love going to the National Theater and were able to get there a couple of times this past month.  The first show was a feature of Nicaraguan dance in which our good friend performed in.  The second show was the Sound of Music, which was a marker of Kevin’s childhood.  He was very excited to share this with Estela.  We enjoyed listening to Maria sing, “The Hills are Alive,” even though the show went on for over four hours.

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We have been busy teaching.  Cassie recently finished her semester long Cross Cultural Exploration course with study abroad students from Dordt College.  This past week we finished our Conflict Transformation class and had the students to our home for a meal.  Kevin will be finishing up his first semester at Notre Dame High School in mid-December.  We are looking forward to some time off together!

That is all for now.  As always, thanks for reading!

November 15, 2015

Four Years

We have just finished up our fourth year of living in the lovely country of Nicaragua.  Currently we find ourselves in a considerably different place than when we reflected at this time last year when we were enjoying a respite in the U.S. with friends, family and a cold climate.  This year, we are working for different employers and are learning what it means to be parents!  In the same format that we used for our first, second and third years we want to share with you how this last year has gone.  We hope that you enjoy reading.

Things we love:

  • Our daughter - Estela! In case you have not heard, on September 29th, our sweet little girl became a part of our family.  Our lives have changed to say the least.  Beyond that we are thrilled, working out what this new phase of life looks like, and seeking to love our little one dearly.
  • The land - We have spent a lot of time traveling and enjoying the beautiful Nicaragua that surrounds us.  We have spent time on the beach, in the mountains, hiking volcanoes and traveled out to the Caribbean coast on a couple of occasions, one for a quinceañera and another for work.
  • Nicaraguan beaches - We are making a point of visiting the ocean each month this year.  Our thought process tells us that Minnesota is far from warm tropical beaches, thus we are making the most of it!  It also helps us, more specifically myself (Kevin), deal with the heat.  Estela joined us for her first ever beach visits in October and November and loved playing in the sand and water.
  • Our Nicaraguan friends and family – Life continues here and our friendships are why we have continued to stay.  This year brought joy and sadness as we remember those lost and the challenges that life brings, while celebrating the accomplishments and milestones with those dear to us here in Nicaragua.
  • Nicaraguan food – One should not be surprised to know that food has made it onto the list every year.  This year we have really enjoyed learning about how to prepare our Nicaraguan favorites.  We still frequent the local eateries, but you are now more likely to find a Nicaraguan dish being prepared in our very own kitchen.  We are also continuing to eat all the various fruits and vegetables that we can get our hands on as they are astoundingly delicious.
  • Nicaraguan sports – Having the opportunity to go to a Nicaraguan a world cup qualifying game was spectacular.  Not only did we witness a really exciting game, but we also got to join in the celebration of Nicaragua.  The pride that we saw exhibited on this night was incredible.  To sing Nicaraguan traditional songs, the national anthem, wave a large Nicaraguan flag and root for the national team made this night one that we will never forget.  Beyond that, we always enjoy a Sunday afternoon baseball game at the national stadium.

Things we find difficult:

  • Cultural difference – At some level Cassie and I are strangers in this land.  We are continually learning about where we come from and where we are now.
  • Not like mom used to do – We are constantly open to new things and really do seek to learn from our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters. However, there are some things that we find a bit more challenging.  A minor example is a Nicaraguan neighbor telling me that I was cutting a tomato wrong and that by doing so I would burn my mouth because of the acid.  A larger example would be parenting ideas and styles.
  • Being white, Spanish acquisition, violence against women and children and knowing how to respond to those around us, especially those in abject poverty, all remain difficult.  Who knew there would be no easy answers to any of these challenges?  That being said, we continually strive to bring hope and joy each day to those that we encounter and are thankful for the hope and joy we receive from others.

Things we have learned:

  • Parenting – We are so very thankful that Estela has transitioned well into our family.  She seems to enjoy her relationship with us.  She cares and shows empathy to those around her.  We are so overjoyed for her and her resilient little self.  That being said, we have also started walking down the road of parenting, finding out what that exactly means and doing our best to love and care for our daughter.  We are on a learning curve as each day provides us with a new lesson.
  • Work – Working in the Nicaraguan context is a difficult task.  Beyond the challenges of underemployment and unemployment, there are different management styles in the workplace.  We worked with MCC, a North American based NGO for over three years.  Though we were partnered with different local organizations we were also involved in a different work environment that provided us with various parts of our home work culture that seemed to make our professional lives a bit easier.  That is no longer the case.  Now checking in or out a minute late or early is a serious matter, dress code is extremely rigid and government educational regulations are needed to be followed strictly.
  • Car ownership – Having a car has its benefits and its drawbacks, here in Nicaragua, as there are positive and negative aspects related to almost all areas of said ownership:
    • Repairs are cheap – ($37 for a distributor cap, plugs and wires), but parts are never originals and may or may not work (there are no return options).
    • Labor is cheap – ($15 for most services), but the mechanic may or may not fix it the first time.
    • Insurance is astronomically inexpensive – ($51 for the year), but we are unsure of the actual coverage.
    • Getting around – (especially with Estela) is so much easier, but we are somewhat removed from the majority of those who we do life with.  For this reason, Cassie and I (with Estela’s approval – she loves the bus) are making a point of using the public busses whenever it makes logical or financial sense.
  • Conflict transformation – I think that after four years we find ourselves really understanding what we need to do in-order to work out conflict transformation in our own lives, with our community and within our classes at the Baptist seminary.  Conflict transformation is a difficult, arduous, yet worthwhile process, especially when there is a cultural difference that needs to be accounted for as well.  We are very thankful for the patience and the flexibility that our students have afforded us as we have undoubtedly grown in various areas as well throughout this journey.

Things we do automatically:

  • Put dirty diapers into a vinegar and essential oil mixture – We have decided to use cloth diapers for Estela.  In-order to aid us in this process, we are placing her used diapers into a mixture of vinegar and essential oils to help clean them.  It does add an extra load of laundry each week, but our budget and the environment seem appreciative.
  • Write down all of our expenditures – Some of you may not know this, but while we were working with MCC we were required to track all of our expenses.  We needed to record each and every single Córdoba spent.  Well, Cassie loves quicken and she also likes to be organized with our money, therefore this practice has continued.
  • Get things in writing – We have learned the importance that a piece of paper with a hand-written or typed explanation and a signature has.  A co-worker explained to me that the Spanish culture of formalities is truly imbibed in Nicaraguan culture.  For this reason, a signed explanation, whether bill of sale, some sort of work contract or any other little minor detail is recorded and noted.
  • Make brownies – Brownies are a staple in the Zonnefeld household.  It is always useful to have this treat on hand.  Whether guests pop-in unexpected or we need to bring a snack to a friend, brownies seem to be a pretty sure answer.  For this reason, you will almost always find a container filled with brownies in our refrigerator.
  • Diaper bag – You just cannot leave home without it!

Things we are looking forward to:

  • The Zonnefeld’s are coming in December for a twelve day visit to meet their little granddaughter and get to know the place that Cassie and I have called home for the past 4 years.
  • A year of teaching completed for Kevin.
  • Shawna and Tommy’s’ wedding on December 6th.  Unfortunately only Cassie will be able to attend due to our adoption process.
  • Baseball season beginning again in Nicaragua this December.
  • Celebrating Christmas and New Years in Nicaragua.  This time of year is “muy alegre.”
  • Visiting friends who live outside of the Managuan heat.
  • Other friends and family who also have trips planned!
  • Hanging out with the kids and adults in our barrio.
  • Continued work in Peacebuilding at the Baptist Seminary

How do you measure a year in the life:

  • In gallo pinto: 350 (the fried rice and bean mixture is still good, and we find ourselves eating even more of it as Estela absolutely loves it!)
  • In tortillas: 400 (Kevin eats one everyday on his way to work and Estela is eating her fair share these days as well)
  • In diapers changed and washed: we lost count along time ago (it is hard to remember life without them)
  • In bus rides around Managua: 1,790 (on average we take three busses a day, each bus ride costs us 12 cents)
  • In bars of chocolate received from home: at least 35 (each and every one was greatly enjoyed, this number has increased due to Cassie’s reinvigorated love for this delicious treat)
  • In pounds of coffee: 28 (it is delicious and always freshly roasted, during this past year we have gotten into the habit of making a coffee concentrate that we pour over ice and have with a little almond milk)
  • In animals killed: no longer measurable (Brisa continues to kill anything that moves - this seems to be her favorite activity, whether it is a gecko, rat, mouse, bird, bat, cricket or butterfly she is on top of it in no time, Estela was quick to notice Brisa’s hunting tendencies and was very upset the first time she saw a butterfly killed)
  • In floors cleaned: more than 365 (at least once a day we sweep our floors, both inside and out - yes we sweep our “lawn” - and we are sure to mop at least three times a week, which unfortunately is much less than our neighbors)
  • In Cokes drank: 52 (every week, Kevin takes pleasure in a Coca-Cola, an exquisite treat here in Latin American simply because it is still made with sugar instead of corn syrup)
  • In papers graded: 1934 (our time spent grading papers has increased significantly due to our work at the Baptist Seminary, Dordt College and Notre Dame)
  • In foreign visitors we’ve had: 11 (we always enjoy your visits!)
  • In countries visited: 6 (Cassie went on a work trip to Honduras, we took a vacation to Mexico this year over Holy Week, but spent most of our time visiting various sites in Nicaragua)
  • In books: 44 (for Cassie) and 11 (for Kevin)

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.

November 8, 2015

Estela’s Room

I wrote a draft of this blog post over two years ago.  This little and cozy room, which sits off from our bedroom has been waiting patiently for a sweet little child to come and fill it.  Dreams come true, and on September 29th, Estela walked into her room for the first time.  While she is not quite ready to sleep in her room, she enjoys playing and reading in it during the day.  We have been adding some finishing touches since her arrival and are happy with how it has come together.  Enjoy!

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We painted three of the walls a light grey and kept the yellow and white stripes that we had painted when we first moved in.  Because we are painting concrete walls, the finish doesn’t look the greatest.  But hey, it is the best that we can do right now.


There is a street of vendors in Managua that sells pallets.  It is one of my favorite places to visit!  We were inspired by ideas such as this and this to make pallet beds for this room.  The headboard and frame are made out of five pallets, for a total cost of $15.00.


The Krakris bedding, which is easy and simple, is from Ikea.  The two fabrics for the pillows are also from Ikea, but are no longer listed on their website.  I love the orangey polka dots and have always been a fan of birdies.  I knew that my kiddo needed a little bird action in her room, even though we did not end up naming her Wren.  Tweet, tweet!  My Mom/Abuela Suzy made the curtains out of the orange polka dot fabric.

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I kindly donated the shelf that Kevin built for me a couple Valentine’s Days ago.  I do miss it for my crafting and sewing items, but it looks much cuter in her room.  I love the Nicaraguan print, family photo and books that sit on its shelves.  The beautiful doll, named Maya, is from a fellow Nicaragua adoptive grandmother.

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We used some items that we had around the house, including our gracias sign I painted awhile back.  After not loving my cursive painting, the sign is now white again and I am trying to decide what to do.  Any suggestions?


These world and bird prints are also from Ikea.  The middle hanging is a piece of fabric placed into an embroidery hoop, a birthday present from a friend back home.

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This is her gallery wall, which is still in process.  I scoured pinterest for free printables, many of which are adoption themed and took them to the local photo shop to have them developed.  I was able to find a few in Spanish which is extra special.  I also have some embroidery hoops filled with fabric and the white Z was a garage sale find from my mom.

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This book shelf was made by Kevin.  It is also from a pallet, we wrote more about this here.

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This customized print, “E for Estela” is from this site.


Estela loves anything that twinkles and these lantern lights from World Market are some of her favorites.  Christmas will be so fun!

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This little corner is the home to some of Estela’s favorite wooden toys and books.  They are housed in baskets that we purchased at the Masaya Handicraft Market.  The rug is from Ikea and we have now realized that a white rug where there is a lot of dust and no vacuum is not the best fit.


Being a big Amos Lee fan, I knew that I had to hang this printable from his song, Sweet Pea.

And below are a few more pictures for you to enjoy!  We hope that Estela feels warm (not a problem here in Managua), cozy and loved every time she is in her room.

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I saved the best photo for last.  It is a picture of Estela hanging out in her bedroom!  The room is now complete!

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