March 27, 2015

Student Teaching

Do the names Rick Mirer, Shawn Wooden, Jerome Bettis or Lou Holtz mean anything to you? In the early 90's, I (Kevin) fell in love with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. It was the time of Rudy, the end of the glory years, when Charlie Ward's pass got knocked down in the game of the century, when Notre Dame expected to win each and every Saturday and the luck of the Irish seemed like it would never run out. 

I was a horrible student in high school; lets just say I did not believe the many teachers who told me that someday I would need to know various topics associated with Spanish, Science, English or Math. I rarely applied myself, am pretty sure I was voted as most likely to be "homeless" as a senior. Also I am pretty sure that during these years I did not miss a Notre Dame game. All things considered, I filled out the various forms and sent in the various dollars necessary to apply to Notre Dame during my senior year of high school; assuming that my obsession, dedication and love for the school would help them overlook my sub 2.0 cumulative GPA.

My mother, not a football fan in even the loosest of terms, always seemed to support me in almost all my dreams and endeavors that I have ever taken on and for that I am grateful. She has always commentated that I would someday end up at Notre Dame like Rudy - again a reference to the movie which she has seen and loves.  For those of you who have not seen it, my mother and I, highly recommend this tear jerker.

Mom, I wanted to let you know that I am finally here, I have arrived at Notre Dame and they were so impressed that instead of studying they have actually given me an adjunct position so to speak - oh just imagine the seats I am going to get this coming fall at the home opener vs. Texas on the 5th of September.

You may be confused or laughing, so just to clarify, no I am not in South Bend, I am still in Managua. I am currently taking a leave of absence from MCC in order to finish my practicum in student teaching from the one college (Dordt) that did originally accept me after my dismal showing in high school. It just so happens that the excellent high school where I am doing my practicum happens to be named Notre Dame.  I should see what I can do about getting them to change their mascot from the panthers to the Fighting Irish - "go ND!"

March 22, 2015

Imagining the Good

Many times in life it is easy to focus on the negative, on the problems that surround us, on “what is”.  It is very easy, especially in a developing country such as Nicaragua to lose hope.  When almost everyone around me has economic hardships, hungry children, poor access to employment and lack of access to basic services such as water (some neighborhoods in Managua were recently out for two days), it can be challenging.  Add to that the heat, dust, traffic and trash of Managua, it can feel depressing.
Last month, I (Cassie) facilitated three workshops at Accion Medica Cristiana on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation.  One of the activities that I asked participants to complete, was a piece of artwork imagining and dreaming of what could be in their communities.  Instead of thinking, “what is,” they thought, “what can be.”  They divided into groups and dreamt of their futures, of a Nicaragua that could be.
As you can see, their drawings were beautiful.  They were filled with green trees, clean rivers and bright flowers.  Each community had a park, a hospital, a church and a school for the children.  The parents had employment, a way to provide for themselves and their families.  There was no violence in the home or community.  There was hope.
After the workshops, I decided to do this activity with the kids in our neighborhood.  Their final result may not be as aesthetically appealing, but these kids have dreams for our neighborhood of Tierra Prometida.  They would like to have our dirt road paved.  They would like to have trash cans available for people to put their garbage.  They want to have lots of flowers and trees.  And not just trees, but trees that are filled with fresh fruits.  One boy mentioned that he doesn’t want the gangs to be here anymore.  Another girl mentioned that it would be nice if all of their parents could have jobs.  They wanted a school to go to along with a community health clinic.
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Let's all dream of this world as a better place.  First, start in your family and in your immediate community.  How would you like it to look in five or twenty years?  Instead of focusing on “what is,” dream of, “what can be!”  Be inspired and take steps so that these dreams can come true.

March 15, 2015

Making Our House Our Home

In following our value of simple living, while enjoying the place that we are living in, we have done a few projects around the house that we thought we would share with you. 

After seeing pallet book cases all over the internet and then having a friend (hey Chels!) show me one that they had recently made for their baby room, we decided to try them out for ourselves.  Kevin made this darling bookshelf while I was in Honduras.  It is now hanging in our kiddo’s future room.  I love it!

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Kevin made two bookcases for our kids’ room, but they both didn’t seem to fit.  So we hung one in our living room and I have started to decorate it a bit.  It still needs some work, but I love the direction that it is going. 

Here is the tutorial that Kevin followed.  Both of these bookshelves cost us under $4.00.

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When we first moved in three years ago, we put together a gallery wall of photos.  However, I wasn’t loving it anymore and so I decided to add some more prints, along with other textures.  I made a few prints on photoshop, found a few online and also used a lot of scrapbook paper, doilies (your fav Mandy!) and washi tape.  We put this together in one evening and were able to reuse the majority of our old nail holes, which is great because concrete walls are not always that forgiving and the grey wall paint is gone.

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I have been shopping at La Tijera at the Mercado Oriental for the past few years.  While they don’t have a large selection of cotton knits, they do have a lot of beautiful upholstery fabric for cheap.  I recently sewed these curtains for our bedroom, and I believe that they cost me under $5.  In January, I sewed twelve new curtains for a friend’s home and that was under $40.


I added this Minneapolis print to our other place prints.  It was a Christmas gift from a close friend (hi Sarah!) and every time I walk past, I think of her.


I have been in love with these Mexican flags for years.  They cannot be found in Nicaragua, so about a year ago I started looking on esty and amazon.  Everything that I found was expensive, so I had decided to wait.  Then when we were home in December, I was shopping in a Mexican grocery store in St. Paul and came across these beauties for $3.  I love the color that they add.  I found the bird piñata at the local market and decided that it fit just perfectly.


We are working on getting our garden back to life.  The couple months that we were gone, meant a lot of dead flowers and vegetables.  But we are getting there.  Here is a new flower planted and placed in a beautiful handmade box that was used at our friend’s wedding in January (thanks Bethany!).


To see other posts on how we have made our house our home in Nicaragua, see:

Home Sweet Home – Part 1

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Part 2

Our Nicaragua Finds – Part 3

Creativity is the Key – Part 4

Recipes and Projects of Lately

Some Projects as of Lately

March 8, 2015

Enjoying the Arts

**3/15 update – We just listened to this beautiful On Being Podcast featuring Eve Ensler and wanted to share it with you.  In their conversation, Eve shares about her journey living with cancer and how she has made sense of this in her effort to advocate for the telling of stories of women and girls around the world.


Nicaragua’s art scene is alive and well.  From the national theater, various embassies, cultural centers, book stores and local bars, there is always an art event to attend.  Each week in February, we attended a different type of performance and thought that we would share more about this with you here.

The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler was first produced in 1996.  Each monologue touches on a different aspect of the women’s experiences, such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, genital mutilation and birth.  Since its creation over 100 million dollars have been raised in proceeds, which have been donated to groups working to end violence against women and girls.

I (Cassie) first saw the performance in 2005 when a friend was a part of the cast at her University.  On my last night in Honduras, a friend and co-worker Elizabeth invited me to join her at the performance and I have not stopped raving about it.  The performance was very well done, incredibly professional and each of the actresses were very talented.  It was also interesting to see this performance in Spanish, as there is a lot of slang, but I was excited by my ability to follow along.


On Valentines weekend, Kevin and I attended the III International Bolero Concert at the National Theater in Managua.  It was a night of beautiful music from around Latin America.  Cuban artists sang alongside Columbian artists, in fact, almost ever Latin American country was represented.  The concert was in honor of Marina Cárdenas, a famous Nicaraguan bolero singer who passed away in 2014.

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In mid-February, we attended the International Poetry Festival in Granada.  Our friends and former MCC workers, Adam and Marisa, first invited us to attend in 2012 and we have not missed it since.  Granada sets up a large stage in Central Park and people can enjoy poetry readings from sunup to sundown for two weeks.  We attended the festival on its last night, which included readings from poets around the world.  This event will always be a highlight of our time in Nicaragua.

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At the end of February, I headed back to the National Theater with hopes to see Katia Cardenal in concert, or at least that was the plan.  I invited three of my neighbor friends, one who has a baby, who had never been to the theater before.  Lela, who is sixty and has lived in the capital for her whole life, did not have a huge interest in visiting the theater.  But her daughter and I convinced her that for just $3 each, there was nothing to lose.  We all piled into a taxi and headed over to the theater, but when we arrived, we were told that children under four years of age were not permitted in the concert hall.  Thus, we scalped our tickets, found a taxi to take us home and laughed for the duration of the ride.  Fortunately, everyone is in agreement to return sometime soon.

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To finish off our February art experience, I thought I would share about a new exercise class I have been going to with three of my co-workers on Thursday nights.  Unfortunately I do not have any photos to show you, but just imagine fifty woman crammed into a tiny room filled with mirrors, no fans, no air conditioners, Managua heat and loud, bumping music.  I am improving my salsa and bachata, while learning how to get dance it up to Latin music.  For 15 cords (56 cents), it is a great workout (I track over 8,000 steps on my fitbit) and it is a good time to connect with co-workers.  I plan to keep heading back.

I hope that this post inspired you to check out the art scene in your part of town.

March 1, 2015

Friendships from Minneapolis to Managua

*This post was reviewed and published with permission from our friends Shania and Jacqueline.

**Additional note: We are personally hoping to assist Shania and her brother in coming to Nicaragua this summer (before she heads off to college on her full-ride!) so that they can meet their extended family for the first time.  If you would like to help make this dream come true, please send me an e-mail at:

Back in November, when we were in the United States on our home leave, I was contacted by a friend who asked me if I would be willing to meet with an adolescent girl, seventeen years old named Shania.  Shania is interested in studying Social Work and while she was born in the United States, her parents are both from Nicaragua.  I immediately said “yes,” even though I had been trying to say “no” to additional commitments on my calendar.  This felt like an important thing for me to do, as I enjoy chatting about the wonderful field of Social Work and I was also excited to meet a Nicaraguan that lives in Minneapolis.

Shania and I met for coffee on Lake Street one chilly afternoon.  We chatted for a couple of hours about her history, current plans and future goals.  It was so refreshing for me to chat with a young woman who is engaged in the world around her and is inspired to make a difference.  Shania is a special person and I am excited to see where life leads her.

Our conversation led to a follow-up date with her mom, Jacqueline at the same coffee shop on Lake Street a couple of weeks later.  Kevin and I sat across the table from Jacqueline and felt so “at home” in our conversation with her.  As we often experience in our relationships here in Nicaragua, Jacqueline had nothing to hide.  Jacqueline shared her story with us, her childhood in Batahola Norte (which is only five minutes from our house), her journey to the United States, her experience of life in rural Minnesota and later urban life in Minneapolis.  She shared the joys and challenges that she has experienced with courage, something that I am still learning how to do.  It was refreshing to spend time with her and made us feel like we were back in Nicaragua, sitting on our green plastic chairs on our dirt road with our neighbor ladies.  Furthermore, she gave us advice on where we could find cuajada cheese, pupusas and the most freshly baked tortillas in Minneapolis.  It is good to have friends like this!

Our friendship with Shania and Jacqueline is very special to us.  We have often thought about our future life and adjustment back to Minnesota and how we will maintain our connection with Nicaragua.  While there are many Latinos in Minnesota, there are not a lot of Nicaraguans, so we feel very fortunate to have started to develop a friendship with these special people.  We look forward to seeing Shania graduate high school, head to college and possibly practice as a Social Worker.  Whatever she does, she will do it well.

We are also hopeful that Shania and her brother will be able to come to Nicaragua this summer before she starts her freshman year of college.  Sadly, due to U.S. immigration practices, Shania and her brother have never met their grandmother, aunts, uncles or cousins who only live five minutes away from us.  We would be overjoyed if they could hug for the first time.  We would also be thrilled to show these two young people the beautiful country that they come from, the diverse groups of people, foods and customs along with the spectacular land.

Just last week, I was able to stop over at the home of Jacqueline’s mother’s, Shania’s grandmother.  Because of where I was born and the papers that I have, I was able to visit her quite easily.  She welcomed me with open arms, along with a hot plate of food and a lovely conversation.  I was able to bring her pictures of her grandchildren, a new pair of shoes, and a souvenir from Shania’s quinceañera, along with a few other items that were sent for her and the extended family.  I am hopeful that very soon Shania, her brother and Jacqueline can also greet their loving grandmother and mother on her front porch.
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The story of our friendship will continue…