Saturday, March 27

Clothing Distribution

We just want to give a very big THANK YOU to our home church of Landisville Mennonite for their generous donation. With the funds they donated, I was able to buy clothing and powdered milk for several preschools.

The first distribution was this past Thursday, at Dona Arcadia's house. Abby was able to talk with the teacher at a nearby preschool, and obtained a list of all the children and their ages.

With this information in hand, we went to a used American clothing store in town and bought age and gender specific clothing for all 30 children. I also bought an age specific powdered milk for the teachers to use when they give food to the children.

Below, the powdered milk.

We arranged for the ladies to come to Dona Arcadia's house, and with the list in hand, called out the name of each child, who came forward to receive their clothing. We then handed the powdered milk to the teachers.

There is always the argument that this kind of "help" is not sustainable. While I generally prefer to employ more sustainable methods of assistance, I felt like this was worthwhile. It's true that the kids will not always have the powdered milk, but they will at least receive some added nutrition for a few months. And perhaps if their mothers see a difference, it will motivate them to find a way to buy milk for them, although it is quite expensive.

At this point, we have 2 other preschools waiting for distribution. I hope to use the time I have during this next week of vacation to buy the clothing and milk for these schools. THANK YOU LANDISVILLE!

Water Tanks

Steve is furiously working to make sure the rest of the ferrocement tanks are built before the start of the rainy season in May. He is not personally constructing them this time around, but has contracted a man who learned from Steve to build them. And Filimon is doing a fantastic job. He is patient, thorough and careful.

There are 2 sizes of ferrocement tanks that are currently being built. Generally the smaller tanks are built for homes with one or two families, and the larger size is built for churches or schools.

Below is the smaller sized tank.

It's funny to think back to when Steve first started building the ferrocement tanks. Although they are common throughout the world, especially in Mexico and Thailand, nobody had ever seen them here before. When Steve first proposed the idea, everybody here thought he was crazy, especially since he had never actually built one. People asked him, Are you a mason? No. Have you ever built one before? No. All he had was a book and of course, his mechanical engineering degree.

But the whole idea behind these tanks is that they are relatively easy to construct and don't require any special skills or technology. All the materials are available here in the community. Which is why the tanks are a perfect example of "appropriate technology".

The basic idea is to fill a mold, using sawdust, rice or coffee hulls, then wrapping chicken wire and wire around the mold. Mix cement and plaster it onto the chicken wire, using two layers. After the concrete has cured in a few days, you can take out the mold, and then put another two layers inside the mold. And voila! You have a strong, durable and easily reparable water tank. These have been known to last more than 30 years in Mexico.

Up close and personal with violence

There have been several incidents in the past month that have left me speechless, angry and sputtering the infamous and childish phrase, It’s not fair!

One incident involved our neighbor’s daughter. The neighbor has 3 teenage daughters, but divorced from his wife and has remarried, and it is obvious this has caused strife between the father and his daughters. One morning, one of his daughters appeared at my doorstep, with a large suitcase. It seemed so out of place, both her and the suitcase. They have never come to our house before. Softy, she hurriedly asked for “a favor”, explaining that she didn’t want to return her father’s suitcase to him, as they had been fighting, and would I return it for her?

Sure, I replied. I didn’t see the harm in that. She seemed really shaken, so I invited her inside to rest for a bit before heading back to her mother’s house. She sat down wearily, a bit nervous.

As I tried to make her feel at home, she quickly blurted out her story, that her stepmother had wanted her to clean some of the stepmother’s things, and the daughter refused. Apparently, they don’t get along well. As punishment, her father had whipped her with a large belt, and she lifted up her skirt to show me the back of her thighs, which were covered with large red welts, as well as both her upper arms. I was appalled. The young woman standing before me was not a child; nay, she is about 16 yrs old. That her father would do such a thing incensed me. Since it was lunchtime, I gave her some food, which she ate, and then she was on her way, after repeating her request that I return the suitcase.

After she left, my housekeeper chastised me for getting involved. I wasn’t really getting involved, I explained. I was just going to return the suitcase. It wasn’t like I was in the middle of the fight, I stated. No, you don’t understand, she shook her head emphatically. What if she presses charges? The police could take you in as a witness, since she showed you her marks. What if they make you testify? What had I to worry about, I asked her. Yes, it’s true I saw the marks. If she wanted to press charges and needed my testimony, I would gladly give it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, why should I be afraid? She looked at me like I was crazy.

I explained that this was one of the many reasons why domestic violence and sexual assault are so prevalent in Nicaragua. Because NOBODY wants to get involved or say anything. How is anything going to change if everybody is silent?

This is Nicaragua, she stated. Everybody beats their children here, emphasizing the word everybody.

Now it was MY turn to look at her like SHE was crazy. So that makes it right? I questioned. What if everybody in the world wanted to have a big orgy, I asked her. Would that make it right? Well, no, she answered. Exactly, I said. God’s word is always true, no matter the culture. If God loved us so much, as his children, that he sent his son Jesus to die for us, shouldn’t we love our children just as much? True, there needs to be discipline. But beating and discipline are NOT the same thing. God disciplines us, and yet He LOVES us. He disciplines us because He loves us.

How do we show that same love to our own children by beating them? I asked her. She only looked at me, unable to speak. I could tell she was really thinking about what I said. I hope I gave her something to think about. To understand that cultural rules are not always right. That "everybody is doing it" does not make it right by God's standards.

The sad part, well, ONE of the sad parts, is that there are so few resources for women in this country who deal with domestic violence on a daily basis. As far as I know, there are only a few safe houses in the entire country…located in the capital. Every week there is a report in the paper about a woman or her children that are killed, by machete.


There is such a need for more resources, more counselors, more workshops and training for the women here, both the survivors and the workers. But let us now forget about the men. Helping the women is only half of the solution. If we are going to overcome this vital gender issue, we have to work with the source of domestic violence – the MEN.

Please continue to remember women, AND men, both in your home community and around the world, in their fight towards equality and mutual respect, that it would continue, even against seemingly insurmountable odds. That the love of God WILL overcome.

Friday, March 26

In between Selva Negra and our city of Matagalpa, there is a community down in the valley, off the main highway, called Pasilia. What makes this community so different from others is that the people here are…white, with blue eyes and sometimes red hair.

Where did they come from? How long have they been here? Nobody seems to know. It is a great mystery. However, since the Spaniards came to Nicaragua in the early 16th century, it is quite possible that a small group of Europeans made their way inland and settled here, never marrying with the Nicaraguans and keeping their customs. The way they farm, do business…even the houses look different. They remind us of the Amish in our own Lancaster County. It’s like entering a new country, inside a country. How mysterious!

If you look closely, in the left hand side, you can see a white church built into the mountainside.

Below, our beloved Matagalpa in the distance

Ahhhh…it might have only been 22 hours, but it was the FIRST 22 hours we have had without kids in 20 months. We have not had a night away without the kids since July 2008…unbelievable, I know! We had planned on going away while I was pregnant with Sebastian but being on semi-bed rest prevented it.

A fellow MCCer, Beth, came up with her roommate, Alicia, and spent the night with our precious bundles of joy and energy. Thank you for making this happen! We had thought we were going to have to wait until I was done nursing Sebastian to get away, but I had just spent the previous three nights doing the old “pump and dump” trick as I was on strong parasite medication. So Sebastian was used to not nursing as usual and had taken a cup with formula without any complaints. The timing was perfect!

We decided to stay close, we wanted to relax as much as possible and not spend time traveling, so we chose Selva Negra, a mere 20 minutes away. A perfect place for a much needed getaway! It was quiet, cool and the food was delicious. We enjoyed listening to the howler monkeys while we ate. I must have been very tired, because I barely made it through supper and back to the cabin when I fell asleep, at 8:30!

We woke up briefly at 6 am, as usual, but were able to sleep for another 2 hours before heading to breakfast. One of the best parts of our time away was the incredibly comfortable couch in our cabin. We even thought about hauling it away on our Jeep  We have never felt such a comfortable couch anywhere here in Nicaragua…we had almost forgotten they even existed. All you who live in the States…don’t take them for granted!

Steve enjoying THE couch

Below, Steve stands in front of the tank that marks the entrance to Selva Negra. The tank is left over from the civil war in the 80's.

It’s SO important to take time away; away from the kids, work, the daily routine and grind of life. We hope to get away once a month until we leave Nicaragua. As we look ahead to the end of our time here and to the rest of the year, we realize that we have a lot of changes, and extra stress, coming our way and know that being refreshed will help ease the transition.

11 months...

Sebastian is now 11 months old and quickly developing more of his personality. Lately he seems to be stubborn and independent…a sure transition into toddler-hood!

One way he shows off his independence lately is by feeding himself. That’s right!

At 11 months old, he is quite determined to get the food from his own hand to his mouth. Let’s just say that he could really use the practice! He is quite the sight…all bathed in whatever food that had been in his bowl only minutes before. And he seems quite proud of himself, mess and all. As you can see here, he is working on some refried beans, which he enjoys, although not as much as papaya or avocado. I don’t even bother trying to wipe him down. I untie his bib, gently lift him out of the high chair and keep him at arm’s length, then whisk him away to the bathtub. And then the next struggle begins, keeping him there long enough to get cleaned up before he explores the house in his dripping wet birthday suit.

If we aren’t quick enough about getting him out of the high chair, then he sees to it that he gets out himself…and gravity helps him get there quickly. This first happened the other day. I had just finished giving him his breakfast, and had gotten up to go the kitchen. From the kitchen I can see the high chair. I turned my back and only seconds later, heard a loud thump! (which could be many things, neighbors, an accident outside, drunk at our door, etc.) so I didn’t give it much thought until it was followed by Sebastian crying. I look over to see him on all fours, as though he is about to crawl away.

Huh, I thought to myself. Wasn’t he just in the high chair?...Yes, yes he was. And now, he had landed like a cat, thank God! On all fours.

Only a little red mark on his forehead revealed any contact to the hard ceramic tile floor. My mind ran the gamut of possibilities, the much MUCH worse possibilities of falling from a height of 4 feet and headfirst, into a tile floor. Ouch! I’m so glad God protected him and kept him from serious injury.

Overall he is a happy baby, only fussing when hungry or tired. He seems anxious to grow up, trying to get involved with his brothers activities whenever he can. It is amazing the physical resemblance between Sebastian and Nathaniel. We look at photos of Nathaniel around 10 or 11 months and we cannot tell the difference between the two! It is fun to watch him grow up, and will be interesting to see more of his personality develop as he gets older, and if he keeps his twin-like appearance with Nathaniel.

Knowing that we have about 16 weeks left here in Nicaragua has motivated us to proactively travel and see more of the country, or even areas in our own city.

A few weeks ago, we visited a much loved, and different, park near our home. The park is called Santa Julia Billiart, named after Santa Julia (the park and school are Catholic). This park is different in several ways: you have to pay a small fee to enter, there is never any trash lying around or sketchy characters, and it is made especially in mind with those who have handicaps. There is also a small school, funded by an organization from the States, that works with these children, teaching them and also various rehabilitation techniques. It’s a park like I’ve never seen, either here or in the US.

There are special swings, made so that a child in a wheelchair can get on, ramps to access every area of the park, a small pool for therapy, bright colors, a small “house” that is wheel-chair accessible, and all sorts of monkey bars in the forms of animals.

A truly inspiring park.

Our boys enjoy it thoroughly. And we enjoy giving money towards such a good cause, especially considering how few and far between are the resources here for children with handicaps.

Monday, March 22

It goes on, and on and on...

I had a roommate in college that loved birthdays. She was great about remembering them and really enjoyed celebrating them. And the best part was that the birthday lasted a whole week for her. You didn’t just have a birth DAY, you had a birth WEEK. So of course, you felt extra special.

This year for Steve’s birthday, we did something a bit similar. His birthday didn’t last a whole week, but we did manage to spread it out over 3 days, although not on purpose (blame it on lack of energy, sickness, etc). Saturday we celebrated his birthday by going to Esteli (see below post).

By the time we got back, it was too late to make a cake or get a piñata. Zach would have none of it. He insisted that Daddy didn’t have his birthday yet because there was no cake or piñata. So the next day I made his cake, which the boys enjoyed thoroughly. But Zach STILL insisted that we get a piñata.

What is a birthday, after all, without cake or piñata? (Steve was really suffering :)

So on Monday, we went and bought a NEMO piñata, filled it with candy, and all the boys, both big and small, got their chance to hit it. Zach was finally satisfied and declared that, Daddy finally had his birthday!

Tuesday, March 16

Zach's Art

I've decided to keep the series going of Zach's art. His hobby, well, should I say? His obsession, continues. He draws, paints and colors with a fascination that is wholly impressive.

His artistic eye and natural bent for colors and perspective are amazing. Lately he discovered on the Veggie Tales movies the special section that illustrates how to draw some of the characters. He has been in love with it since. And his similarities are striking.

So anyways..I'll stop bragging now :) Enjoy his latest and greatest. I've only picked a few. If I posted every single picture he drew, it would be AT LEAST 4 or 5...a DAY. I kid you not.

Workshops on Goat's Milk

Last week was a really busy week, for all of us. Steve went out to the campo (countryside) every single day. On Monday Abby and I spent some time prepping for our goat’s milk workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday. The goal of the workshops was to talk about the nutritive benefits of goat’s milk and to give show them some uses for goat’s milk.

Tuesday we went to the community of Mil Bosque. While we met with a few women, Steve held a veterinary workshop for some of his male beneficiaries down the road. At our workshop, we first had a taste test in which the women were given a cup of cow’s milk and goat’s milk, and then asked to guess which was which. We did this to disprove the myth that goat’s milk tastes bad or has a foul odor. Surprisingly, none of the women guessed correctly! All the women thought the goat’s milk was cow’s milk, and vice versa. They were quite surprised when we told them the truth.
Then we talked about some of the benefits of goat’s milk and how healthy it is, especially in comparison to cow’s milk, and a substitute for babies if the mom’s don’t have milk and formula is not available.

Below, the women wait for the workshop to start.

We talked a bit more in depth about specific vitamins and why they are necessary for the body. We especially tried to emphasize the importance of milk to pregnant and nursing moms as well as children.

Then we asked one of the ladies to show the rest how to make cuajada (a type of farmer’s cheese) and we explained the process to make sweetened condensed milk. The one upside to making condensed milk is that it can be stored in any container with a lid for several months without spoiling. This is important as the vast majority of people don’t have refrigerators and have no way of storing any extra milk they may have. Because goat’s milk has a higher fat content (especially true for tropical breeds), the cuajada came out creamier than usual. Afterwards, we ate the cuajada with fresh tortillas, yum!

Below, separating the curds from the whey (solids from the liquid)

Me, stirring the pot of milk to keep it from burning.

The next day we went to the community of Yucul and repeated the workshop, although we added more in-depth topics of overall health and nutrition. I went over the basic food groups and tried to emphasize the necessity of each one. The women in both communities were really interested in the information and seemed to enjoy learning how to make the cuajada and condensed milk and I enjoyed getting to know the women more and interacting with them again. I counted the other day and realized that it’s been almost a year and a half since my last workshop!

Abby joking around with the women.

Monday, March 8

Feliz Cumpleanos a Ti! (Happy Birthday to you!)

Aunque sea un pedacito, ya queremos pastel! This line comes at the end of a very long traditional birthday song…and translates to, Although it might only be a small piece, now we want cake!

For his birthday, Steve received a few small items, with a few more on the way. First, a shirt he picked out some time ago. The T-shirt reads, Wonderful climate, relaxed people, Matagalpa. Perfectly stated, we couldn’t have agreed more! He also received a leather wallet, made here in Nicaragua, close to Matagalpa.

He also decided to do some traveling, so we packed up and headed out around 10 am to Esteli, the city in which we spent 6 weeks for language study. Hard to believe it's been 2 years since we last visited this pretty city. We head south from Matagalpa and after meeting up with the Pan-American Highway, we headed north. It is always
interesting to see all the rice fields, tractors and wildlife along the valley. Such a different landscape from our home in hilly Matagalpa.

We first visited La Casita, situated just south of the city, and set up by a Scotsman who spent some time doing development work here. La Casita is an experimental/demonstration farm, as well as small restaurant, plant nursery and artisan craft shop. I enjoyed a delicious swiss cheese, tomato and whole wheat bread sandwich, all organic and grown/made right there on the premises, as well as a refreshing banana milk shake. The kids enjoyed some time in the playground.

We then went down to the central market in search of some cheese with chilies, but weren’t able to locate any. So we then went to a fast food restaurant with a large play area for lunch, then headed to a nearby reserve and enjoyed the waterfall. The water was quite cold, and although a nearby group of Europeans jumped in, they quickly got out and sunned themselves. As we were getting ready to leave, one of the girls approached us and asked if we were leaving. Could she get a ride back to Esteli?, she wondered. She had been quite sick the day before and wasn’t feeling well again. So we took her back to the city, and enjoyed chatting with her for a few minutes. From Canada, she was slowly making her way through Nicaragua, and eventually hoped to make it down to South America. She was backpacking by herself and her Spanish needed a lot of work. It’s truly amazing to meet people like her that travel alone and without good knowledge of the local language…something that Steve and I can’t quite see ourselves doing, but always interesting to talk with others about their experiences. Very brave!

After dropping her off, we looked at an old map of the area, and decided to try to make our way back home using some back roads. We questioned a man at the nearby gas station who pointed us to a very smooth looking road, and we were off! The road was in very good shape, just haven been repaired and all new cobblestones put down ( a common method of street construction here). The view was glorious as we passed by tobacco upon tobacco fields and their gigantic wooden sheds. Esteli is known as the tobacco capital of Nicaragua and actually produces Cuban quality cigars, from which the plants are originally from. We passed farms and even bigger farms, rock walls, horses and of course, cattle.

We started to climb and the temperature quickly dropped, which was a nice respite at first, but then I soon had to roll up the window as it became too cool for me. After winding our way through several small towns, then an even larger town and then eventually into Jinotega, our sister city to the north, we stopped for ice cream. Being so cold, we were the few customers, but kids always want ice-cream, right?

After quickly slurping down the ice-cream, we climbed over the mountains once more and headed home. Normally the commute to Esteli takes about 1 ½ hours, taking the Pan-American highway, but the back roads took us 3 hours. No matter...upon arriving home we quickly devoured a hot meal of beans with cheese, gave the boys their baths and put them to bed. Within minutes they were asleep.

Zach was disappointed that we didn’t have cake or a piñata, and soundly proclaimed that we needed to celebrate Steve’s birthday again tomorrow, the RIGHT way. But Steve seemed pleased with his low-key, adventuresome birthday.

So Sunday I made a cake, and today we bought a pinata...nothing like dragging out a birthday celebration!

MCC Kits brighten some faces

Last week, Abby and I were privileged to distribute some MCC newborn kits to pregnant women and mothers with newborns in San Pablo, a community in which we work. The list of women was not exclusive; it didn’t matter if they were evangelical or Catholic. If they had a need, they were included.

The newborn kits include:
# 2 gowns/sleepers (flannel or similar warm, soft material)
# 2 undershirts/onesies (short or long sleeves)
# 4 cloth diapers (flat-fold preferred)
# 1 receiving blanket (light weight fleece or flannel; minimum 92cm / 36 in)
# 4 safety pins (5cm / 2in)
# 1 large bar mild soap (leave in wrapper)
# 1 pair of socks
# 1 cap
To help make a kit or donate supplies, go to

As the womens names were called and they timidly stepped forward to receive a kit, I couldn’t help but notice the babies, dirty, skinny and sometime wearing nothing more than a rag for a diaper. The children wandering around were also dirty, barefoot and very curious, but none wanted to hold still for a photo!

After receiving the kits, they profusely thanked us and slowly walked back to their homes, laughing and talking excitedly amongst each other.

Monday, March 1


What to do for Lent?

Lent came up so quickly, before I realized it, it had already started, and I had yet to decide on what to give up for Lent. I really felt like I was supposed to give up something...and put that time towards seeking God.

Lent is generally a time of searching for God. So this is a special Lent for me, as this season of my life is looking ahead to many changes, and I feel like I have so many questions for God. Where will we live? What kind of work should Steve do? What do you want as our vision, for our family? For ourselves, personally? For the rest of Lent, I hope to spend some time on my knees, and seeking God as we embrace our "new" life back in the States.

In some ways, we feel more afraid and unsettled of moving back to the US than we were when we came here. Will we fit in? Will we adjust to our new way of life? Will we forget our Spanish? and what about school for the boys? There are SO many unknowns.

There really aren't that many choices, since I don't do very much here. But in the end, I decided to give up Facebook and the internet in general, when I'm at home. I decided to put my time towards my boys, my spouse and God, while I'm at home.

So if you haven't heard from me in a while, yes, I'm hiding. Hiding with my little men and in search of the Almighty.

This is the way we wash our clothes...

Just a quick peek into how we wash and dry clothes...without washers or dryers.

The first step in washing clothes is to soak them.

Then you put them on the lavandero (the concrete washboard) and scrub them with another type of bar soap, and then hang them to dry. Repeat for as many pieces of clothes you have!

Meet our washer...also our cook, floor sweeper and occasional babysitter.

Making a Splash!

Less than 5 months left, do we buy one..or not? That is the question we ask ourselves whenever we are tempted to buy something here. Our time here is quickly drawing to a close and so, everything we buy will soon have to be sold or hauled back to the US.

So do we..or don't we? But with the intense heat, we finally decided to buy our first, and last, kids pool. We figured that with no rain and only intense heat for the next 3 months, it would get lots of use.

So we managed to squeeze in the pool into our tiny space of a patio, amidst the plants and drying clothes. The boys love it and spend most of their time playing and splashing. Sebastian isn't too sure yet...he's not a water lover like his brothers. But with the temperature already climbing into the 90's and only threatening to get worse in the coming months, it was definitely worth it.

Below, Jacqueline (our housekeeper) watches Seb and Than.