Saturday, 28 January 2017

Vacation means VACATION :)

Wow! Sorry we’ve  been MIA in Bloglandia…When school let out and we wrapped up graduations we took the word vacation very seriously…and stopped blogging. Ha! But we are back and gearing up for another school year. Classes begin on February 6th and we are ready to start out English classes again and reconnect with the students and teachers.

December and January have been a great mix of relaxation, connecting with our community, San Nicolas fiestas partonales (homeland parties! Complete with bull riding, approximately 10 parades and lots of food and drink) visiting places in Nicaragua we had not yet seen, and hosting friends and family! We enjoyed having Kyle’s brothers for a visit when we were able to explore the island of Ometepe for the first time (AMAZING!) and then my siblings came to visit the week following Christmas. We went volcano boarding and celebrated the new year in Leon! It was a lot of fun. And great to be surrounded by family around the holidays.

Christmas day looked VERY different for us this year. We were ALONE! It was, honestly, quite relaxing, and we enjoyed it. But we are also looking forward to being surrounded by our families again for future holidays. While we enjoyed a relaxing day of Christmas snacks and movies, it just didn’t quite feel like Christmas, especially with no snow :) We did spend Christmas eve with our host family and shared some of our favorite dips and Christmas treats with them (spinach artichoke dip and Pretzels with a chocolate kiss in the middle). We also made a few other cookies and  treats and delivered plates to our neighbors and friends. I would say a pretty successful Christmas :D

We have continued to host our adult English classes and help out at the high school as needs arise. The school director had been on a well-deserved week-off, so we have also enjoyed our time at home, cleaning the house, sprucing up the yard, and inviting friends over for meals. We just recently arrived back in Nicaragua after traveling through Central America with my parents. We had a great time reconnecting with them and seeing beautiful parts of this slice of the world. Now we are refreshed, ready and excited dive back into the 2017 school year! We are ready to see our students and fellow teachers and we are excited to continue to our work with English and building relationships.

I think that about sums up our vacation time so far! Here are a variety of pictures from school vacation 2017 :D

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The Bishop came during our town’s fiestas patronales in San Nic to lead a mass. Our priest (padre patricio) is in the white shirt and khakis. Fun fact: he is also our landlord :)

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Kyle and his brothers at Volcan Masaya

20161216_172618_Richtone(HDR)One of the amazing lookout points on Ometepe

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I love this picture :D We did a tour of Flor de Cana Rum factory tour with Kyle’s brother and had to get this shot!

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Flor de cana tour

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Kyle helping a friend with some accounting/excel work.

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We were lucky enough to cross paths with my lovely aunt and her super fun family! :) Thanks for letting us crash your party!

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Pizza making with some of the high school students

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My siblings visited and we did a lot of puzzles :) We also visited Leon and went volcano boarding.

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New years eve dinner in Leon!

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With my siblings, we visited Somoto Canyon and jumped, floated and walked our way through the canyon. Beautiful!

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We made a delicious lunch with our friend, Albertina. She brought veggies from her beautiful organic farm.

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Albertina preparing the salad in our kitchen.

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Hanging out with your parents is so much more fun when you are older :D

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Lovely dinners, great weather, and lots of laughs shared!

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And, of course, amazing sunsets at every turn. I swear that Nicaragua has some of the best sunsets in the world! Can’t beat these views!

Happy 2017, let’s make it a good one!

Love. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Graduation Season part II

This is our second (and last…what??!) round of graduations. I am really not very good at good-byes and endings. So the end of the school year, saying good-bye to the seniors, and the thoughts of the end of our term has made this past week a bit emotional for me! It’s just another reminder of how quickly our time has gone here. I know we won’t be leaving until the middle of next year, but I can’t help feeling the weight of those good-byes already. But enough of those sad emotions for now… it has been a very happy and celebratory week. Our students have graduated from Pre-school, 6th grade and from high school! It was fun to experience a wide range of graduations ceremonies (although EVERY one included the “graduation march song” on repeat at least 10 times…we have been dreaming with this soundtrack in the background…)

Last Thursday, Kyle and I divided and conquered. I attended the Quebrada de Agua graduation where I help on Monday and Tuesday. I celebrated with 3 awesome, intelligent 6th graders and my favorite teacher profesora Maria :) Kyle headed up the hill and out into the reserve to La Garnacha where we clean veggies on Thursdays and teach an elementary English class.

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Quebrada de Agua’s Graduation was in the school house. I helped make the banner.

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Two 6th grade graduates, and a pre-school sister graduating.

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Prof Maria and I. She was the MC of the event and I ran the music :) I think we make a pretty good team!

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Our three 6th grade graduates!

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The graduates of 2016-Pre school and 6th grade!

DSC04306On Friday, I attended the primary and pre-school graduation in town at the catholic church. I went to support all the students we see walking to school everyday(about fifteeen 6th graders), but most definitely to see our “host sister” graduate from pre-school. Serling is part of the family that we lived with for the first few weeks we lived here in town. She gave us a very direct and QUICK introduction to Spanish. She didn’t have much patience for our slow understanding of Spanish at the age of 4 and when we asked her to slow down, it just seemed like she sped up! :) She is such a sweetheart and we love that family, so we were excited to celebrate her promotion with her and give her a special gift, too!
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Friday night, we helped clean and organize the church for the high school graduation the next day. It was a lot more fun this year, because it felt like we knew more of what to expect and we were able to be more helpful/useful to the director and the teachers.

On Saturday, the high school graduations! We watched 22 daily students graduate with the bachelors degree and 54 Saturday students graduate with their bachelors. It was a really exciting day. A common theme throughout all these graduations are the speeches about being thankful for the educational opportunities these students have access to. They often say, fifteen years ago you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this area with a even a high school diploma, but now you can find students in university and individuals holding college degrees. We really hope this message resonates with these students, as much as some of them see opportunities elsewhere (going to the states, working on the family farm…), we totally believe in the value of education for these students. We know it’s not the answer for each individual, but if just a handful end up going on to get a degree and a job that follows that will send huge ripple effects throughout these communities. We always love what our school director says: “Educacion: La unica cosa que nadie puede tomar de vos” // “Education: The one thing no one can take away from you”

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The graduation mural. Another piece by Allison :) But really guys…I am getting pretty good at cutting out letters and pasting them in  straight line!

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The parade of graduates walking into town to arrive at the church! So many proud students and parents.

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Some of the graduates

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I helped run the music/sound system and got to sit by this cool dude!

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Graduates Galore!

It was also really neat to see one of our favorite teachers at the high school be recognized at the ceremony for his 35 years of service to the ministry of education. He is definitely a highlight in our days at the school and is a wonderful educator and friend! We were so excited that he was recognized in this way. We were also recognized with a certificate recognizing our solidarity with the community and the school. That was also a nice surprise, especially with the news that we will be the last volunteers from VMM in San Nicolas (see this post: VMM Organizational Update).

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Juan Jose: 2016 teacher of the year!

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The MC’s Prof Elvin and Prof Idalia

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With the school director, Prof. Idalia

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Photo op with a few other teachers

We had a great time celebrating with all the students and families who achieved another great success in their educational journeys!

What I’ve been writing in all my graduation cards and notes to the students: Nunca dejes de aprender! // Never stop learning!

Love.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

VMM Organizational Update

Recently, you may have received an email or a letter from our organization, VMM, stating that our cohort of volunteers will be the last and that VMM will be closing their doors. While this is sad for us, we also realize that there is a time for everything. That ending on a good note is important at an organizational and community level. Rather than making promises to future volunteers, funders, and project partners, we can tie up loose ends and make a good exit, being proud of what VMM stands for, what volunteers have accomplished and the way these programs have changed a multitude of lives. We are sad for the loss of opportunity for another married couple to follow in our foot steps. Davie and Sarah, Billy and Kristin, and Kyle and I would all attest to VMM being a life changing experience, as individuals but as a couple as well. An opportunity that isn’t always readily available to married couples in this type of setting.

So while this is a sad loss on a variety of levels, we are thankful for the opportunity that VMM USA has given us these two years and are thankful for the critical discernment that took place over the last few months through board members, former VMMers and other stakeholders. We know that the vision of VMM will continue through the VMM-Europe branch, and we know that seeds of the VMM USA branch are just beginning to grow in the communities where VMM volunteers have been. We know, for a fact, that VMM’s work has impacted the lives of many--the people we all have met in our communities, and in our lives, as volunteers who have been the hands and feet of the VMM for 35 years.

We know that transitions and endings can be difficult, but also know that this decision has not been taken lightly and in the end, is the best decision for this time in VMM history. The conversations we have begun having with important individuals here in San Nicolas are difficult and sad. But also a great reflection on the great work VMM has done sending awesome volunteers to this community. Not a bad word can be said about any of the volunteers that have lived and worked in the community, and the individuals we have spoken with really express their sincere gratitude for the past 6+ years of relationships that VMM has had with San Nicolas (And special thanks to Chepe Barnett who started the process of finding this amazing volunteer placement!). We will continue to have these conversations and will reflect on the time VMM has spent in San Nicolas, but also look to the future as individuals and as a community.

An important note, is that Kyle and I and Clare (Managua Volunteer) will be supported and funded until the end of our 2 year term (mid year 2017).

We also want to take this opportunity to thank ALL of you who have given us, and VMM, your support of over our time here, financially, spiritually, and in community. We appreciate it more than you know! And thanks to VMM for being an awesome organization that has given us this amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and accompany the community of San Nicolas.

We also know, deep down, that this will not be the last connection we have to San Nicolas. We want to stay connected in whatever way we can and hope that whatever this connection looks like, it will open doors in our future and the future of the community. Until then, we know that there are many more seeds to plant until we wrap up our time to, and many more memories to make! And we are excited for what the next few months will bring. 

Below you can read the letter that was sent out to donors, partners, and newsletter subscribers:

VOLUNTEER MISSIONARY MOVEMENT
November 29, 2016
Dear VMM Supporter,
As many of you know, Volunteer Missionary Movement has spent the last six months discerning its future.  We are deeply grateful to all those who contributed to the conversation about what makes VMM so appealing and discussed ways to keep VMM viable. It is evident that the Spirit has been present in this process. The rich wisdom literature from the Hebrew Scriptures spoke to our decision:
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot
the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3)
We, the Board of Directors of VMM, have decided that 2017 will be the final year of Volunteer Missionary Movement USA.  Our sister organization, VMM-International will carry on the Spirit and Lifestyle from its offices in Ireland and the UK. The words of Edwina Gateley, our foundress, helped support our conversation:

Maybe the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing - as She did with the VMM 46 years ago... The vision is yet dim - we see "in a mirror darkly" but we know it is there, for God is faithful and will create anew on the foundations of what we, in the VMM-USA, have so faithfully built in the last 35 years.
We have achieved much,
We have made a difference in the world.
We must recognize that and celebrate it.

This decision was not made lightly and the focus has always been on our missioners and the communities in which they serve.  A recent blog post by Alli Stiffney sums up the "onda," or feeling, VMM volunteers have about their commitment to accompany the people they live and work alongside:

"It has been such a blessing to feel accepted by our community here in San Nicol├ís. I thought I knew about hospitality and what it means to be a good host, but so many here in Nicaragua have shown us what it means to TRULY host someone with time, talk, and a cafecito (a bit of coffee!)  We feel like the luckiest volunteers in the world."

All those who have served with VMM likely feel the same way.  They could not have lived through their experience without the financial and spiritual support of so many of you: benefactors, families, friends, and religious communities.  To all of you, we say THANKS.

At this time we are not soliciting donations for VMM-USA however monies that continue to be received will be used to support our current missioners. Monies remaining following our closing will be distributed to likeminded organizations

Just like we hear in Ecclesiastes, "there is a time to laugh and dance," we intend to do just that and close VMM with a celebration.  The Board plans for 2017 to be a year of gratitude.  The plan is to celebrate and remember while walking with our final round of volunteers: Kyle and Alli Stiffney and Clare Morrison. 

Over the next few months VMM will be reaching out to you for input as to how to finalize VMM-USA. Please do take a few minutes when you receive the survey that will be coming out, to share your input.  VMM-USA will also be asking for your stories, experiences, and pictures that you would like to share that speak to your VMM experience so as to archive our wonderfully enriching history.

Again, thank you for your sustained support of VMM and we hope you will join us in celebrating the 35 transformative years of VMM-USA.
Con Paz

Monday, 28 November 2016

Turkey Day

Thanksgiving week, Max and Kayla were here to visit, but we, of course, had to make time for our annual thanksgiving feast  (annual—started by David and Sarah, I believe?). We invited the school director’s family over and our original host family to our dinner. We ended up eating our meal on a Tuesday, due to some of our travel plans, but there was lots of delicious food to eat and lots to be thankful for. We went around the table and each said something we were thankful for, here is a short list of what was said:

Estoy agredecido por…I am thankful for…

  • Peace in the country and peaceful elections for Nicaragua.
  • Community
  • Family and friends
  • Health
  • God and his love
  • Solidarity of volunteers and sharing culture with other people.
  • The opportunity to work in the San Nicolas community.
  • A community that is open and caring.
  • Great English teachers (they were talking about us! ha! A+ for them!)
  • The end of a successful school year and the ability to receive free university education.
  • For each person around this table.
  • The ability to travel and to learn new things.
  • For this delicious food. 

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Our 14 lb. turkey baked to perfection!

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The stuffing ready to go into the oven. Other menu items: Mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, crescent rolls, pumpkin and apple pie. YUM!

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Thankful for these people! :) Our school director (Idalia) is in the blue sweater on the left and our original “host mom” when we first moved here is in the black sweater sitting by Kyle. Her name is dona Ines and she is a great cook! I hope our food lived up the her expectations :)

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So much to be thankful for! The director’s daughters joined us, as well as some of dona ines’ grandkids!

Love.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Friendly Visit

The week of Thanksgiving, we had 2 special visitors head south of the border to spend the holiday with us, see where we live and work, and travel throughout this beautiful country. Max and Kayla (friends from high school—go bruins! and just lifelong friends—go friends!) came for a little more than a week. They helped us cook a delicious thanksgiving meal, we visited our school/work sites, we ate lots of rice and beans, visited the beach and survived a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm and a tsunami warning. Quite the trip!! :) Thanks for visiting and thanks for a memorable week and lots of laughs. We love you guys!

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Visiting the Masaya Volcano

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A real Thanksgiving feast

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La Casita cafe visit (photo cred: Kayla)

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Hurricane Otto/tropical storm clouds on the beaches of San Juan del Sur

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Radar as the tropical storm (hurricane otto) passed over us during the night.

Love.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

October: The Best Month Ever!

For my 29th birthday (October 31st), I was able to spend the week with some of my favorite people :) My mom, grandma, and aunt came down to visit for the week and to spend my birthday with me. We were able to visit our schools and they were able to see some of our work here. We had a pinata at my elementary school and ate lots and lots of cake! We also were able to take a few days of vacation to visit Granada and see some of the tourist sites around that area. We had a great time showing our family where we are and what we are doing! Thanks for visiting, Mom, Gma B and aunt Julie! We had a lot of fun and hope you did, too! Here are some pictures from our adventures:
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Gma Bertha, El Gigante (the giant), Alli, Mom-Cindy, and Aunt Julie
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Gma B brushing her teeth at the Pila
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Our school director—Idalia—and Kyle planned to make a surprise dinner for my birthday! Her daughters were able to come over and teach us how to make a good fried plantain and grill steak, fritanga style :)
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Sunday evening birthday surprise dinner
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Filling Pinata Elsa with candy for our elementary party the following day
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We visited my elementary school so my family could see where I spend a lot of my time. They had made a sign for me and sang Las Mananitas (the Nica birthday song).
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Then we had a to have a pinata!
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Crazy kiddos! It was fun to celebrate with them.
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Pinata action
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Turns out the Elsa pinata was super strong. So in the end, our string-man had to break open her head and drop the candy from above :)
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Some of the girls picked flowers for our special visitors.
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We visited Maria’s mom’s house for traditional Birthday soup! (Sopa de Gallina…Chicken soup) It was delicious.
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We taught our adult English class. One of our favorite parts of our week! We tried to have conversations between our guests and our students. But then it started POURING rain. And there are no conversations to be had under a tin roof when the rain is coming down! We still had fun, and ate MORE cake :)
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We visited my FAVORITE spot in all of Nicaragua. The lookout point at El Rancho. You can see about 9 volcanoes from this point, with our little town tucked in the valley. At sunset, it is just spectacular! And it’s only a 10 minute bus ride from our house. Favorite!
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It was cloudy, but it’s always beautiful!
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We visited Masaya volcano to see real-life lava!
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Granada horse carriage tour
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We also went on a boat tour with a really funny tour guide. We saw birds, monkeys, private islands, and great views of the Mombacho volcano.
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We  found a cute little bistro that was showing the Cubs vs. Indians Game 7! It was fun to watch the Cubs win and eat some delicious food, too :)
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We enjoyed some delicious Nicaraguan coffee
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And enjoyed the sights and sounds of the central park in Granada.
We had such a great time celebrating my birthday, and sharing our experiences with family. I know we will be so thankful when we are home and can talk with our community about where we were, what we were doing and our feelings about our time in Nicaragua. They will now have a deeper understanding of our experience! We feel blessed to have visitors who are flexible, excited and open to new things. It’s ALWAYS fun to show people our life here!
Thanks for making my 29th birthday a special one.
Love.